The following is a response to the tendency of atheists to argue Islam is worse than any other religion. I’m specifically thinking of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Bill Maher, but many other atheists espouse the same line of argument.
I’m tired of people defending their ignorant bigotry with, ‘it’s a fact.’ Yeah, it might be, but it’s about the presentation, focus, and judgment drawn from the fact than truth of a statement. Even if more, let’s say Muslims, are violent, backward, etcetera you have to consider the reasons why and make judgments based on the explanation more-so than the fact. First, you have to avoid drawing undue attention to a fact. Just because something is at face-value true, doesn’t mean you’re presenting the appropriate context of that truth. You also need draw some judgment from the fact, which relies more on the explanation of the fact than the fact in itself. It’s lazy, at best, to assume a fact is true because of someone’s race or religion. That completely ignores the complexity of the world and generalizes more than most facts allow. Similarly, just because people believe in a religion, Islam let’s say, doesn’t inherently say much of anything about them. Sure, you might be able to draw some reasonably fair inferences, say they believe in the five pillars, but that completely ignores the interpretation individuals make about the tenets of their belief. Context, while impossible to provide for every individual, enables better inferences. So, to say all Muslims are backwards and violent, beyond being obviously untrue, is lazy and ignorant.
Similarly, to say that Islam promotes, or is, a religion of violence or is inherently backwards is ignorant. Let me put it this way, Muslims throughout history have interpreted their religion in a multitude of ways. You already know this, what else could Shia and Sunni Muslims be? Beyond those, there’s the Muslim mystics, Sufis, and there are multiple sects of Shi’ism, and that’s a shallow analysis of Islamic sects. Everyone in the West acknowledges Christians interpret their religion, essential everyone interprets it in their own way. You don’t think the same think is true of Islam? Really? This is where my criticism of popular atheists comes from. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris just sound ignorant when they talk about Islam, history in general really. Christopher Hitchens went full neo-con over his hate of Islam, even after writing a book that absolutely slams Henry Kissinger from the left for being a neo-con. He probably died agreeing with Kissinger on foreign policy, sad. The mighty surely fall. They always fall back on the same shallow analysis of Islamic history and supposed geo-politcial ‘truths.’ Islam started as a religion of war, they say, before concluding that Islam must be a religion of war now too. Islam also started as religion that unified the Arabian tribes, is doesn’t do that now. Beyond that, Islam technically started as a minority persecuted religion. You know the Islamic calendar begins when they fled persecution in Mecca to Medina right? Then they quote passages from the Koran. I don’t know why so many atheists think this proves anything. Words and books are always open to interpretation, in fact, they have to be interpreted, that’s literally how words work. They usually have multiple meanings, so combinations of words have tons of meanings. I’d just add, quoting the Bible is equally pointless. Just because it’s in a book they believe God authored or inspired doesn’t mean they read it the same way you do. Examining the history of anything and drawing modern judgments is seriously flawed historiography. History can be presented to prove almost anything, it’s more about the biases of the ‘historian’ than the truth. History is always a fiction. That doesn’t mean history isn’t true, it means that history is always a story. Stories always miss details, judge what facts are important, and are used to make a point. Even if that point is the truth, you’re still missing details and nuance. I recommend that atheists either spend more time studying history or leave history to the experts. They don’t like it when non-scientists make silly scientific arguments, I don’t like it when they make silly arguments about history. There are plenty of historians, atheists should leave the historical judgments to them; just like non-scientists should leave the science to the scientists.
The next criticism atheists lay at the feet is Islam is Sharia law, which, to them, proves that Islam can’t be compatible with Western, Enlightenment inspired social democracies. Ignoring, of course, the fact that plenty of Muslims live in these countries and they seem to be doing alright; other than the bigotry they face. Sharia law, while in some aspects political, isn’t really all that different from the law of Moses in the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses. Christians quickly learned to ignore those laws, even though it seems pretty clear Jesus didn’t mean for them to be ignored, but let’s just consider Jews who have always believed in the law. Is modern Israel following a strict interpretation of the law? No. Sharia law plays a similar role in many Islamic countries. They have mostly been dominated by secular dictators for close to fifty years. Dictators that have been propped up by Western democracies for economic reasons; modern imperialism if you will, the definitive form of American imperialism.
That brings us to final ‘true’ criticism of Islam, terrorism. Terrorism, they argue, clearly demonstrates Islam is particularly bad. Consider first, most Muslims aren’t terrorists nor do they support terrorism. Do you judge all Christians and Christianity on the extremists that bomb abortion clinics? Those are terrorists that clearly demonstrate terrorism isn’t uniquely Islamic. They also don’t define the image of Christianity for most people in the West. We all know about the bombings and murders of abortion doctors, but we also all know Christians personally. So we can tell that many Christians are decent people. Therefore, we know Christianity isn’t entirely bad. How many Muslims do you know? I doubt it’s even close to the number of Christians you know. So, consider that before ascribing the barbarities of terrorism to all of Islam. Some atheists will concede these points, but, they’ll argue, the Koran is uniquely positioned to support violence and terrorism. I’d remind them of the point I made about the meaning of words above and add that, even if the texts they quote mean what they say they mean, they aren’t particularly damning. The Bible says and implies equally terrible things. No one follows those now, they say, but no one has to follow the ones in the Koran nor do most Muslims. This is where the perception comes in, a higher percentage of atheists knowledge of Islam comes from critical reports compared to Christianity, so they have a warped view of what a typical Muslim is. It’s really that simple, but context matters too if you’re trying to explain Islamic terrorism.
Muslim regions, specifically the Middle East, have been dominated by economic or American imperialism for close to fifty years. As part of our quest for oil. Were we wrong to throw off British imperial rule? Hell, the British invested more in America than America ever gave to the people living in Muslim countries. We’ve preferred to create a small class of wealthy elites to rule over them. The Boston Tea Party, something we all learn to celebrate, surely was a terrorist attack. They we’re trying to stop the importation of tea, well more the tax, by throwing some tea off a boat. Does dressing up as Indians, and I use that word to imply the level of racism required to do that, and throwing the tea into the bay one night do that? No, unless the British react to the terror, or the implied implication of the attack; that colonial Americans wouldn’t receive British tea. I’ll admit it’s a light terror, but it still required a political reaction to throwing the tea in the water. Similarly, some Muslims, we’ve already established it’s only a small portion, wanted American troops to leave Saudi Arabia after the first Gulf War. Mostly because, they argued, foreign troops infringed on the sanctity of the holy cities. Even if the reasoning is not something we agree with, I think we all can understand why someone wouldn’t want foreign soldiers in their country. They also had problems with Israel existing, for complex political reasons as much as religious motivations. So they acted in a way that would have an impact. Is killing innocent people acceptable? No, it’s not, but plenty of innocent people have died in every revolution and every attempt to throw off the chains of imperialism; from the American revolution to the French revolution to the Russian revolution. People die, either we don’t believe in throwing off the shackles of imperialism or we have to accept that some people will die. I realize Gandhi showed the world a different example, but then you have to consider the violence that occurred while dividing imperial India into modern India and Pakistan; the consequence being a massive forced migration and war. Imperialists don’t want to lose power, or the wealth the power brings, so in order to free yourself you must struggle. This is a relatively simplistic explanation of terror, but it shows there’s more to it than the tenets of Islam.
I’m not saying there aren’t any flaws in Islam, there are. Beyond it just not being true, there are plenty of points worth criticizing, but it’s not inherently worse than other religions. So suggesting it is borders of racism. This is where atheists respond, Islam isn’t a race. Agreed, but when you say Muslim almost all of the West conjures a single, ignorant image. So while Islam actually encompasses believers of all races, to the minds of the West saying Islam evokes a single race. Even if you don’t intend for it to be racist it seems like it might be, that’s why I used borders on. Islam, like Christianity and every religion, is flawed and worth critiquing, but atheists’ focus on Islam alone is ignorant. They deride the fundamentalist Christians, then you see them nodding their heads when the same ignorant, bigoted Christian talks about Islam. Atheists need to consider their biases, specifically the desire to worship Enlightenment liberalism as expressed in the West. Islam, I would argue, draws more ire because it is farther away from liberalism than Christianity, rather than due to it being inherently worse.