Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Response to Allen Clifton on Islam

I've written a few posts addressing articles written by Allen Clifton, where I criticized him for basically being a Democratic Party mouthpiece. Here's another rebuttal to one of his articles, but this time with a new twist: this time, I'm criticizing him for spouting right-wing/New Atheist talking points about Islam. That's right, the one area that Allen Clifton chooses to deviate from mainstream liberalism in regards to is Islam, where he's defended Bill Maher's error-filled attacks on the religion and praised that Islamophobe par excellence Sam Harris. To make things better, Allen Clifton is a Christian, which just plasters on another layer of hypocrisy (given the various awful things done in the name of Christianity, including quite recently) to this screed about the problems of Islam. 

Amusingly enough, he chose to call this article "I'm Simply Running Out of Ways to Defend Islam," which says little seeing as I've never seen Allen Clifton defend Islam. It would be a little like if I wrote a blog post called "I'm Simply Running Out of Ways to Defend Capitalism," for instance. His article is to a significant extent a rehash of a piece he wrote after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, which had the exact same title minus one word. I didn't bother responding to that one because I already had my hands full when it came to stupid reactions to the shootings, but this time around Clifton's piece has the good fortune of being one of the first reactions to the recent Chattanooga shooting that I stumbled upon.

Clifton begins:
As I sit here overwhelmed with feelings of frustration and sorrow following yet another tragic shooting in this country, there aren't words to describe my disgust. I refuse to believe that this is the "new normal" for us here in the United States, but it's also hard to deny that these shootings now seem to be happening more frequently.
I'm not sure who's asking him to accept regular mass shootings as the new normal, but aside from that, fair enough. He goes on, "One of the most frustrating aspects of this attack is, yet again, it was perpetrated by an Islamic radical." Frustrating, yes, but largely because it will inevitably lead to articles like this one. That's not to be insensitive to the victims; what happened was, of course, tragic. But my thought upon hearing that the shooter was Muslim was basically that, inevitably, we would just have to hear more of the sort of nonsense Clifton produces in this article.

Clifton goes on to quote from his Facebook post after the shooting, "At some point we have to come to the realization that Islam is a problem. It’s not a coincidence that the vast majority of terrorist attacks committed in the world are done by Islamic extremists." This statement is accurate, at least in terms of fatalities from terrorist attacks, if one only considers non-state terrorism. However, if Allen Clifton wants to actually focus on terrorism as a whole, he'd be well-advised to consider, for instance, Israel's massacre in Gaza a year ago that killed around 1,500 civilians, the drone war the US has engaged in (and whose civilian casualties the government has deliberately obscured), and, of course, the worst war crime of the century thus far, the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the US and UK. According to a joint study done by Physicians for Social Responsibility, Physicians for Global Survival, and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War--highly accredited groups--the US-led War on Terror has left a body count of 1.3 million in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. So, in short, the biggest terrorist threat does not come from the Muslim world.

As for the Islamic extremists Clifton has mentioned, their origin is a little more complicated than some sort of inherent problem in Islam. Rather, they often draw from Wahhabism, a radical (or, more accurately, ultraconservative) form of Islam popularized by Saudi Arabia--a close US ally whose regime we've supported for decades. Then, of course, there was the decision under the Reagan administration to arm the Mujahideen--Muslim fanatics--and organize them to fight the USSR in Afghanistan. Throw in a few more instances of Western interventionism and it becomes a bit easier to see how we got where we are. This isn't to gratuitously blame the West or the US, as Sam Harris might think, or to deny that any other factors came into play. But if Allen Clifton, an American Christian, is going to criticize Islam and talk about Islamic fanatics, he might as well understand how others of his ilk helped create this problem; in the words of his savior, to "first take the plank out of [his] own eye [so as to] see clearly to remove the speck from [his] brother's."

Continuing on in Clifton's diatribe:
I’ll use the South Carolina shooting as an example. While you can’t blame all white people for the act of one vile animal, you also can’t deny that racism is still a very real problem. Well, the same goes with this shooting. While not all Muslims are to be blamed for yet another terrorist attack seemingly carried out in the name of Islam, you also can’t deny that Islam, and the increasing (and growing) radical aspects of it, are very real problems.
This is a profoundly stupid comparison. Saying that racism is a problem does not in any way indict white people who aren't racist; saying Islam is a problem by definition indicts Muslims, given that it's saying that their religion itself is a problem. Being non-religious, and not particularly fond of religion, I'm fine with the idea that Islam is, in some respects, a problem; but it's certainly not fair to try to connect the religion of over a billion people who often overwhelmingly reject this type of violence with the actions of a minority. If, for instance, we were to say that Christianity is a problem given Bush's indication that he invaded Iraq under God's direction and top general William G. Boykin's explicit use of religion to justify the War on Terror, Allen Clifton would probably object, and fairly so.
As badly as I want to stand in the face of some right-wing radical who’s proclaiming that Islam is a violent, hateful religion and tell them that they’re an idiot and nothing but an ignorant jackass – I don’t know if I can say that and still honestly mean it. I used to – without hesitation. I’ve always stood against prejudice, bigotry and intolerance. But with the increasing violence in the Middle East (at the hands of Islamic radicals), Boko Haram slaughtering innocents seemingly every day all across Africa and the increasing number of “lone wolf” attacks we’re seeing carried out throughout the world – how can I honestly sit here, as someone who believes in facts over emotion, and continue to say Islam has nothing to do with it?
This is just another false dichotomy concocted by New Atheists and other Islam-bashers. There's a difference between claiming that something has "nothing to do" with Islam and not pretending that it's representative of Islam as a whole. Certainly, we can say that while Bush and Boykin's actions don't have "nothing to do" with Christianity, they don't represent Christianity as whole; likewise, while the actions of Islamic extremists don't have "nothing to do" with Islam, that doesn't mean that Islam itself (as if it were some monolithic entity) is the problem.

Clifton goes on, "The world is filled with various religions, and some people do in fact carry out horrific acts in the name of religions other than Islam. But it’s undeniable that the vast majority of terrorist attacks - for decades - have been linked to Islam." Again, wrong. Going back decades just allows us to find even more examples of non-Muslim terrorism, such as the Reagan administration's treatment of Central America.

So, what’s the “solution”? To be honest, I’m not sure if there is one. The only thing I can think of is Muslim leaders, and non-violent Muslims around the world (hundreds of millions of them), are going to have to start taking a bigger stand against these attacks. Simply condemning them publicly isn’t working, nor is it enough. (!) We need Muslim nations to take the lead against radical Islam – but they’re not doing that. At least not in ways that are making much of a difference.

The "us-and-them" mentality of this paragraph is so strong it's completely absurd. Clifton writes as if Muslims are all some interrelated group, and aren't largely people with their own lives to live. How would Clifton feel, one wonders, if someone told him he needed to counter Christian acts of violence in some way that goes beyond "condemning them publicly"?

And, of course, unsurprisingly, Clifton misses completely the fact that there are a lot of things the United States could do to curb the spread of radical Islam, such as no longer supporting Saudi Arabia, ending the drone war and other policies that destabilize the Middle East, and not backing Israel's aggressions toward Muslim countries and populations.
Muslims have to want – and demand – actual democracy. They have to build nations not ruled by the Quran, but by basic human decency toward everyone regardless of gender, religion or sexual orientation. As long as Muslims continue to flock toward nations founded, built and driven by Islamic rule – none of this is going to stop. Sadly, far too many continue to do just that.
Yes, of course. Muslims just don't want democracy enough. It's not that we've deliberately intervened to prevent democracy in Muslim countries or supported oppressive, dictatorial regimes, it's just that those darn Muslims don't seem to want real democracy. They've really got some soul-searching to do.

And we finish off with:

Before you start calling me anti-Muslim, just understand that I’ve reached a point where I really don’t know where to go or what to say anymore about this subject. It’s hard for me to keep saying “it’s not Islam, it’s just the bad guys” when these sorts of attacks are becoming more and more frequent and are almost always tied to the same religion. When I see videos of hostages being beheaded by ISIL, hear about 145 people killed (including 132 children) in a Pakistan school suicide bombing, read about hostages being murdered in Australia, a satire newspaper where writers were brutally gunned down because of a couple of cartoons, 28 people dying in Tunisia, the continued acts of violence all throughout the Middle East and the countless atrocities carried out by Boko Haram in Africa – all in the name of the same religion – how can I keep defending it from those who spew hatred toward it? I want to, I really do – I’m just not sure if I know how to do it anymore.
If you honestly don't understand how to defend a religion whose adherents widely oppose this sort of violence, you're probably too stupid to be helped. Clifton also conveniently neglects to mention that, by and large, the victims of Islamist terrorism are, in fact, Muslims. And what a good service to the memory of those victims it is to trash their religion and blame it for the very terrorism that killed them!

To reiterate, I have no problem with criticisms of Islam, but criticisms have to actually make sense to have any value, and Clifton's doesn't. It patently doesn't make sense to blame an entire religion for the violence of some of its members when that same violence is condemned by many others--strong majorities in many countries, even.

It's bad enough when atheists spout these absurd criticisms of Islam, but the fact that Clifton doesn't see the hypocrisy in doing it as a Christian is truly ridiculous, given the similar violence done in the name of Christianity (and, of course, the fact that you wouldn't have to look too hard in the Bible to find justifications for that sort of violence). But it's not exactly surprising, given his obvious and blinding ignorance on the topic of Islamic extremism. Truly, whether he's spouting anti-Muslim propaganda or just parroting the Democratic Party line, Allen Clifton brings the same level of insight to all that he discusses.

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