“Since the moment I began criticizing religion in public, I have argued that Islam merits special concern—because it is currently the most militant and retrograde of the world’s major religions. This has always made certain people uncomfortable, because they find it difficult to distinguish a focus on Islam—specifically, on the real-world effects of its doctrines regarding martyrdom, jihad, apostasy, and the status of women—from bigotry against Muslims. But the difference is clear and crucial. My criticism of conservative Islam has nothing to do with race, ethnicity, or nationality. And, as I have often said, no one suffers the consequences of this pernicious ideology—the abridgments of political and intellectual freedom, the mistreatment of women, the fanaticism and sectarian murder—more than innocent Muslims.”
— Wrestling the Troll : Sam Harris
Good article. Most people who criticize Sam Harris do not understand what he is talking about in the first place.
I’ve been giving this issue a lot of thought after the whole Laci Green debacle. Namely: criticism of Islam vs. Islamophobia/racism. There have been serious suggestions that non-POC should refrain from criticizing Islam. That this should be solely the responsibility of Muslims or ex-Muslims of color. Thinking this way, I can see two red flags being raised by Sam’s passage above: 1. The claim that Islam merits special concern. 2. At the end of the paragraph a white man is “talking to,” “talking over,” or “speaking for” POC about the experiences of POC.
I believe that based on his words above the same bloggers who called Laci Green racist/Islamophobic would call Sam Harris racist/Islamophobic too.
I might write about this someday. Are social justice bloggers just using the ad-hominem fallacy wrapped around progressive racial politics? Is Islam inextricably linked to race and therefore out of bounds from non-POC western atheists? It would be a long ass article, would not be ready any time soon, and maybe 5 people who follow me would read it. Having said that I’m glad this is popping up on my dash. I think the atheist community should have this discussion.
To address the-noise-figure’s point, yes, I think lots of social justice bloggers just using the ad hominem fallacy wrapped around progressive racial politics. I think anyone who defines themselves using amorphic words like “justice” (or “freedom” - that’s a good one) doesn’t really have anything concrete to argue.
As to whether or not Islam is inextricably linked to race and whether or not it is “off-limits” for non-POCs: Islam is not necessarily linked to race because there are Muslims all over the world (and contrary to Western opinion, most of them do not live in the Middle East.) Also, I personally think very little is off-limits when it comes tointellectual discourse. Again, intellectual discourse. I think everyone is entitled to an argument provided they can back it up. I think everyone is entitled to an opinion (different from an argument) provided they can articulate why. Therefore, no, I don’t think intellectual or theoretical criticism of Islam is by default “off-limits.” I think you need to so your research and I think harsh and specific criticisms that are applied is great sweeping generalizations are stupid, invalid, and at times quite harmful.
With the Laci Green situation, as far as I know, her supposed Islamophobic comment was that she thinks Islam is a very sexist religion. And that’s all I got. Regardless of whether or not she actually said that, this woman has received very real death threats. In my opinion, that is never okay, especially as a response to a single comment expressing a very generalized opinion. I’m not going to go into “if she had said this” or “if she had said that” because we’f be here all day (though who am I kidding, this is Tumblr, we will be here all day.) I for one wouldn’t call her comment Islamophobic. A phobia is a fear. I really don’t think Laci Green is afraid of Muslims. I think she might be now that she’s received death threats. I can’t really blame her for that. She says she thinks Islam is sexist, and from her perspective, maybe it is. That’s her opinion and it’s my opinion that she has a right to it. Not necessarily that she’s right but that she has a right. My biggest problem with Laci Green-gate 2012 is that people got way sidetracked. Laci Green is a sex educator. She has made a name for herself by providing accessible, easy-to-understand information about things that many people don’t have information about. And I think she does a pretty damn good job of it. I don’t think she presents herself as a religious educator, as an expert on religion, as a credible source for religious information. I think she’s a sex educator who is a human being and therefore has opinions of her own which may or may not be factual. The fact that she made an offhand comment stating her opinion should not negate all the great work she’s done in her intended field, and itdefinitely should not be reason for people to attack her, bombard her with hateful messages, discredit everything she’s ever done, and make threats to her safety. And that’s all I’m saying about that.
Now, I don’t know much about Sam Harris. I’m basically going off the above quote, the linked article and Wikipedia. I don’t understand why he thinks Islam merits “special concern.” I just don’t. “The most militant and retrograde of the world’s religions”? I really don’t know what he means by that. I think he’s definitely right that people (read: Westerners) find it difficult to distinguish a focus on Islam from bigotry against Muslims, and I think he’s definitely right that innocent Muslims are negatively affected by that. (Yeah, that’s big “ya think?!”) The irony is I think Sam Harris is one of those people who can’t make a distinction. He refers to on “the real-world effects of its doctrines regarding martyrdom, jihad, apostasy, and the status of women” as though those are concrete, exact, and unchanging elements that are universally accepted and enforced across the entire Muslim population. And that’s just not true.
Islam is interpreted different by different people. (Like how “jihad” is translated in English to “holy war,” but translated in Arabic to “struggle.”) Islam is practiced differently by different people. Some of those people are horribly misguided terrorists who think suicide bombs are a good idea, but clearly the vast majority of Muslims are not like that. This can be applied to any terrorist. The shooter at the Sikh temple? He was in the US Army. He was also an obviously disturbed, white supremacist in a neo-Nazi band. That does not mean that every member of the US Army is an obviously disturbed, white supremacist in a neo-Nazi band who is going to commit mass murder.
I’m going to do some more reading on Sam Harris, but until then anyone else is welcome to chime in.