Monday, November 16, 2015

How to Be Wrong On Both Islam and Guns

A few months ago, I rebutted Allen Clifton on the issue of Islam. After the reprehensible and shocking attacks in Paris, I was not surprised to see him spouting the same points again. While Clifton is just one person who seems to have little contact with reality in many departments, I believe his thinking in this area is representative of a large, and probably growing, number of people, including many self-described liberals. That's what makes his latest article about Islam worth rebutting.
Image from Clifton's original article.
The article bears the verbose title, "Many Liberals Defend Islam the Way Conservatives Defend Guns." Stylistically, this is pretty bad, but the content is worse, believe me. Clifton starts off:
Following the horrific attack in Paris, France on Friday, there was no shortage of opinions to be found on the matter. Before most people knew much about the heartbreaking details concerning the attack, I found myself engulfed in debates with two very different groups of people:
  • Liberals defending Islam. 
  • Conservatives defending guns. 
That’s when I had an epiphany of sorts: Defending Islam is to many liberals what defending guns is to many conservatives.
Uh-huh. The right-wing obsession with deadly weapons that at times raises them to the level of family members and is often backed by insane paranoia is totally comparable to liberals defending the idea that we shouldn't blame the entire religion of Islam for the acts of its fanatics.
Before going forward, I know writing this is going to invite a litany of attacks from liberals who tend to do what they always do whenever someone like myself (or Bill Maher) factually criticize Islam. 
Right, "factually." As I've already picked apart both Maher and Clifton's "factual" attacks on Islam, I won't say much more about the absurdity of that idea. But it's worth noting that Bill Maher has talked about Muslims bringing their "desert stuff" to the West and said Arabs, as a group, treat women badly, which seems a little less than factual criticism.

After briefly giving us a spiel on how he actually hates all religions (even though he's a self-identified Christian the last time I checked), Clifton goes on the attack.
That being said, it’s undeniable that Islam, more so than any other major religion, is linked to violence, oppression, inequality, instability and anti-women beliefs. Even if you remove the radical extremists such as ISIS or al Qaeda, Muslim nations such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kuwait and Egypt aren’t exactly beacons for freedom, free expression, equality, women’s rights or many other ideas liberals claim to support.
 Clifton's claim in the first sentence is far from undeniable. As I've mentioned before, George W. Bush and General William Boykin both used religious justifications for the Iraq War, the worst crime of the century so far. Then, of course, we have the horrific violence committed by Israel against the Palestinians, justified and enabled by both extremist Christians and extremist Jews. That would also nicely cover the territory of oppression. It's also worth noting that apartheid South Africa considered itself Christian--and it's only been gone for a few decades, a pretty brief time, historically speaking. In the modern day, we have Uganda, where you could be sentenced to life in prison for homosexual acts (until the courts annulled the law--but don't worry, they're already working on a new one). As for misogyny, it's worth noting, as Reza Aslan has pointed out, that several African countries with jaw-droppingly high rates of female genital mutilation are, in fact, majority Christian countries. With that said, it should be clear that the picture is, at least, far from Clifton's portrayal.

As for the Muslim countries he mentions, he is correct in noting that they aren't "exactly beacons for freedom, free expression, equality, women's rights or many other ideas liberals claim to support." Egypt is currently not that way because of a US-backed military dictator, who deposed its democratically elected president, and has laughably positioned himself as someone who wants to take the violence out of the Muslim world. Saudi Arabia is, similarly, a close western ally. Of course, there are countries that, even without western help, are pretty ugly in the climate that exists there, and several of them are Muslim. But if you look at majority Christian countries like the aforementioned Uganda, Papua New Guinea, Jamaica, Zimbabwe, and Kenya, you'll find they fall a little short of the mark in a lot of areas, too. And often, religion is used to justify the violence and oppression in such countries.
That’s why I wholeheartedly agree with Bill Maher when he says it’s difficult to call yourself a liberal if you defend the culture of Islam.
Saying that there is a single "culture of Islam" is flatly absurd. This is a religion of 1.6 billion people, some of whom are killing each other over cultural differences, and with many others who are arguing about cultural values and ideals. Acting as if the religion has one single culture associated with it is the epitome of simple-minded orientalism.
As a progressive, I’m a staunch defender of women’s rights, gay rights, religious freedom and equality. Those are values I don’t see reflected in the vast majority of Muslim nations, especially in The Middle East and south Asia. Right now in Saudi Arabia there are people in prison for preaching equality and freedom. In several large Muslim nations, women aren’t allowed to be out in public unless they’re covered.
Obviously terrible things, but in no way representative of Islam as a whole. Syria, for instance, has outright banned full-face coverings within its universities, and it's a ninety percent Muslim country. Saudi Arabia is a horribly oppressive country, but is essentially the worst theocracy on earth, making it ridiculous to use it as if it's representative of Muslim countries in general. As for freedom of speech, Clifton might want to note that Muslim-majority states Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait, and Lebanon all rank above the world's only Jewish-majority state, Israel, on the 2015 World Press Freedom Index. So if he's picking which religions to criticize on the basis of how well their respective countries respect liberal rights, he might want to include Judaism somewhere on the list.
In at least a few others, homosexuality is still punishable by death.
Correct. And in Uganda, as mentioned, homosexuality could until last year be punished by life in prison. And the country that has been called by some the most homophobic on the planet, due to the violence directed against gays, is Jamaica, a majority Christian country. Still waiting on Allen Clifton to tell us how Christianity is really a bad religion. Not to mention, of course, there are Muslim countries that offer legal protection to gays, on the other side of the coin.
I’m struggling to understand this; can someone explain to me how any of that is liberal or why liberals would defend this religion, while seemingly never having any problems bashing right-wing Christian idiocy?
None of what Clifton has mentioned is liberal, obviously, which is why there are no liberals actually defending it. I have yet to encounter one liberal who actually has a problem with criticizing Islamic theocracy and extremism. Likewise, liberals--many of whom are Christian--are perfectly willing to criticize Christian extremism, but they don't blame the entire religion for the bad things done in its name, as Clifton is doing with Islam. There are not many liberals I've seen who have expressed some eagerness to attack Christianity as a whole while showing some reluctance to do the same to Islam. The parallel to what Clifton is doing here is not "bashing right-wing Christian idiocy," but using that idiocy as a way to attack Christianity as a whole. Somehow, I think Allen Clifton would have a problem if anyone did that.
Like I said, liberals defending Islam is similar to how conservatives defend guns. 
No matter how many horrific acts are carried out in the name of Islam, it’s never the religion’s fault – always the crazy extremists.
Of course it's never the religion's fault. It would be nonsense to tell Malala Yousafzai, Keith Ellison, or Malcolm X that it was their religion's fault that such horrific acts have occurred. Obviously, the Islam of people like these is nothing like the Islam of Saudi Arabia's government or ISIS, and trying to tie them together as if they're ultimately the same thing is preposterous. Different people have different interpretations of the same religion, so saying that Islam as a whole is guilty for acts of some of its followers, despite the others who would condemn those actions, is insane.
If you use facts to show that Islam and Sharia law are linked to a lot of this extremism and oppression, even in the non-terrorist aspects of Islam, liberals will often respond with ridiculous comparisons. They’ll harken back to the Crusades from a 1,000 years ago to try to make a point, or they’ll claim any white male who carried out a horrific act of violence over the past several decades is a “Christian terrorist.” 
Why is it ridiculous to use an example from a thousand years ago to illustrate Christian violence? The religion is twice that old, so the example still seems relevant. If we're only talking about religions as they currently exist today, then Clifton needs to stop attacking Islam as a whole, since it's existed in various forms for many centuries. And, of course, as I've mentioned, there are far more recent examples of Christian violence on a massive level. As for labeling any white male who's committed a "horrific act of violence" a Christian terrorist, I honestly have never seen anyone do this, and doubt it's at all a common argument.
But it’s the same type of argument gun fanatics use to defend guns. It’s never the gun, or the gun culture, it’s just the “crazy extremists.” No matter how many statistics you show linking guns to violence, they’ll ignore the stats or dismiss them as biased or inaccurate. It’s never the gun, it’s always the “bad guys.”
Why would it make sense to blame guns for gun violence? Obviously, we need to control whose hands guns fall into, but acting like inanimate objects somehow bear responsibility for violence is pretty silly.
It’s the same way many liberals react when confronted with stats about Islam. That’s ironic considering when it comes to guns, many liberals blame the guns just as much as the psychopaths using them. Yet that’s not the case when it comes to frequent bouts of violence driven by Islamic fanaticism.
Plenty of liberals do seem to have an animosity toward guns themselves, but as I've written before, I don't think the attitude makes much sense.
This is what I call the world of “reactionary politics.” If liberals are for it, conservatives are against it and visa versa. It makes absolutely no sense, based upon normal political ideologies, why liberals would defend Islam. If I write something mocking Mormonism, Catholics, Baptists or Scientology, I’ll rarely see a single complaint from liberals. Yet on an article such as this, I’ll get slammed relentlessly and called a bigot and a racist for pointing out facts.
Obviously, as demonstrated, Clifton is not "pointing out facts" here. As for why liberals would defend Islam, it's because acting as if Islam is purely a violent, oppressive religion naturally reflects poorly upon devout Muslims as people, since it means that they must be promoting oppression and violence. It would make no sense if liberals defended Saudi Arabia or ISIS, but those who disagree with Clifton's characterization of Islam aren't doing that, they're trying to argue that it's unfair to act as if the actions of extremists like those is representative of the religion that also has had adherents like Malcolm X and Malala Yousafzai. And if Clifton wrote as harshly about any of the religions he lists (with the possible exception of Scientology) as he's writing about Islam, I'm sure he would receive some complaints.
It never ceases to make me laugh when I’m told by liberals that I’m intolerant of Islam, therefore a bigot, whenever I use the same arguments against Islam that I do Christianity. The hypocrisy is palpable.
How can Clifton sincerely claim he's using the same arguments against Islam as against Christianity when he's indicting the whole religion of Islam, and is an adherent of Christianity? And earlier in this piece, you'll recall, he wrote, "it’s undeniable that Islam, more so than any other major religion, is linked to violence, oppression, inequality, instability and anti-women beliefs." Has he made an equivalent statement about Christianity?
The truth of the matter is, the beliefs of a nation like Saudi Arabia aren’t all that different from a group like ISIS. In Saudi Arabia, Christianity is illegal, women are highly oppressed and homosexuality is sometimes punished by imprisonment and/or lashings.
Again, Saudi Arabia is the worst theocracy on earth, and is in no way representative of Muslim countries as a whole.
While ISIS is clearly a far… far more extreme interpretation of Islam, both are driven by the same belief in Sharia law. Which when you get right down to it, is at the core of most of the oppression, inequality and, yes, fanatical extremism found in the Muslim world. It is the belief that a society should be ruled not by laws derived from freedom and equality, but by the Quran. And the truth is, most of the Muslim world supports Sharia law.
I don't know if Clifton is right to say that most Muslims in the world support Sharia law. I do know, however, that there are numerous countries in which the majority of Muslims do not support Sharia law, and that even among those who do, there are several countries where the majority of sharia law-supporters still are not in favor of corporal punishment, stoning for adultery, or the death penalty for apostasy. Of course, there are plenty of Muslims in the world who hold beliefs that have no place in the twenty-first century, including even Muslims who oppose all of the things I just mentioned. (The same can be said about Christians and Jews.) But acting as if the Muslim world, on the whole, is supportive of sharia law as westerners normally think of it is utterly wrong.
Do they support ISIS? No, of course not. That’s not what I’m saying. But most do support laws that are against abortion, women’s rights, homosexuality and the general pretense of freedom and equality.

Again, this makes it all the more confusing why liberals are so quick to defend this religion.
Again, because "this religion" is a religion shared by plenty of entirely decent people who have used it as a justification for good causes, and thus it's short-sighted and simple-minded to act as if the "real Islam" is that of Saudi Arabia or ISIS.
Some liberals have asked me, “So, what’s your solution?” Are these folks asking me to solve the problem of Islamic oppression? If so – wow. If I had that answer, I’d probably be a very rich man.

The only way this gets “fixed” is by the moderate Muslims changing their own religion. Is that happening on some level? Yes. But it’s a slow… slow process. The number of moderate Muslims who embrace equality and liberal ideas is a slim minority that’s being drowned out by those who don’t.
Part of the solution would be for the US and other western countries to quit doing things that feed into Islamic extremism, as I've talked about before. As for Clifton's claim about moderate Muslims, he cites no evidence whatsoever to back it up. Rather, he puts forward a pretty dumb example.
Just ask Asra Nomani, a feminist activist for Muslim reform who’s frequently attacked by Islamic fundamentalists – and liberals, ironically – because she dares to call out the oppressive nature of many aspects of Islam, especially against women. And even though she’s a Muslim, she’s been accused of Islamaphobia. It’s absurd.
Considering that Nomani has applauded the police surveillance of the Muslim community, the accusation seems less than absurd. It is, of course, possible to feed into Islamophobia as a Muslim, as much as it's possible to feed into racism as a black person or misogyny as a woman.
Again, I am not talking about terrorists, I’m talking about average, everyday Muslims from most of the Muslim world where Sharia law is still the preferred form of governing. The truth is we’ll never have a free, accepting society that embraces equality for all based on Sharia law – or any religious rule for that matter.
No, we won't--as many of the "average, everyday Muslims" Clifton mentions realize.
When it comes to liberals and conservatives, on the issues of Islam and guns, they choose what they want to blame based upon their own personal biases.
Many conservatives will blame all of Islam, not just the extremists, for Islamic terrorism. Yet when it comes to guns, they never blame the guns – only the extremists.
Many liberals will blame guns, not just the extremists, for gun violence. Yet when it comes to Islamic terrorism, they never blame the religion – only the extremists.
As for myself, I believe I’ve been consistent. When it comes to gun violence I blame guns and the gun culture the same way I blame Islamic radicals and the culture of Islam itself. In my opinion, it’s all linked.
I, too, have been consistent, but in the opposite direction. And I don't know how "gun culture" is the cause of a lot of violence we see, given that the perpetrators would probably be willing to use weapons other than guns if they had to, at least assuming those weapons would be effective.
I’m not anti-Muslim – not even close. The facts are, while all organized religions have their problems, there’s only one that’s frequently linked to consistent acts of global terrorism – and has been for decades.
Wrong. Christianity has been linked to western and western-backed state terrorism for decades, and Judaism has been linked to Israeli state terrorism for decades.
Ultimately, my dream is to see a day where Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists and anyone from any other group stood side by side, together. Because no matter which ways we might try to divide ourselves – be it by skin color, nationality, ethnicity or religion – the undeniable fact is that we are all humans.
Unfortunate, then, that you're contributing to a narrative that only increases division and animosity.
Every other label we give ourselves is nothing more than a human-made construct meant to divide us. And at the root of that divide, throughout most of human history, organized religion has been at the heart of that division.
Fair. But this piece isn't a criticism of organized religion, it's an attack on Islam that's extremely factually challenged and misleading. Criticism of Islam and Islamic doctrine is, of course, perfectly acceptable and potentially valuable, but that isn't what Clifton has even done here. He's simply picked out the worst things in the so-called Muslim world and pretended those acts are representative of Islam as a whole. This is the same logic as that used by white racists who criticize black people or "black culture" by cherry-picking the worst things they can find about black people as a group and ignoring all complexity in the picture, while at the same time downplaying the crimes committed by members of their own race. Clifton may very well have no personal animosity against Muslims, but he is indeed buying into, and promoting, a jaundiced and prejudiced narrative that conveniently makes non-Muslim westerners like him out to be the good guys and pretends the biggest problems come from Those Muslims Over There. This is the same narrative peddled by people like Maher and Sam Harris, and which a troubling number of people--including liberals--buy into. We can only hope that presenting actual fact-based arguments will stop it from spreading.
Following the horrific attack in Paris, France on Friday, there was no shortage of opinions to be found on the matter. Before most people knew much about the heartbreaking details concerning the attack, I found myself engulfed in debates with two very different groups of people: Liberals defending Islam. Conservatives defending guns. That’s when I had an epiphany of sorts: Defending Islam is to many liberals what defending guns is to many conservatives.

Read more at:
Following the horrific attack in Paris, France on Friday, there was no shortage of opinions to be found on the matter. Before most people knew much about the heartbreaking details concerning the attack, I found myself engulfed in debates with two very different groups of people: Liberals defending Islam. Conservatives defending guns. That’s when I had an epiphany of sorts: Defending Islam is to many liberals what defending guns is to many conservatives.

Read more at:

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Fetishization of Insensitivity

Germain Greer (source)
Liberation feminist Germaine Greer recently sat down for an interview in which she discussed her views on transgender women--her view being that they're not real women at all. When asked by the interviewer if she understood why some people might find her view offensive, her response was pretty straightforward: "I don't care!" Greer's attitude toward trans women is pernicious and ubiquitous enough to deserve its own discussion, but her attitude toward those who might find her statements upsetting is the perfect epitome of an awful new trend. She doesn't care if some people find what she says hurtful or upsetting, because why should she? It's not like other people's feelings matter.

And this is an attitude that's all too easy to find. What can we say about Charlie Hebdo, the winners of the PEN Freedom of Expression Courage Award, except that they don't seem to care at all about whom they upset or offend? They've just published cartoons that essentially make a joke out of the Russian plane crash that killed 224 people, even going so far as to feature a talking skull--presumably from one of the deceased--in one drawing. Nor is this a new turn for the magazine; previously, they've had a cartoon featuring a man being shot to death through a Qur'an--referencing Egypt's military coup and massacre of protestors--with text reading, "The Qur'an is shit. It doesn't stop bullets." The legions of supporters who rushed to the magazine's defense after its own journalists were similarly massacred showed their solidarity with Charlie's total insensitivity by holding "Draw Muhammad" days, serving little discernible purpose other than to show Muslims worldwide that they don't care if they're offended (after all, it's hardly making a statement in favor of freedom of speech to use that freedom to be callous toward a largely disliked, relatively powerless minority).
From Al Jazeera

Obviously, no one should keep from speaking an important truth just because it might upset some people. Nor should art that actually carries some real meaning be made to avoid rubbing anyone the wrong way. In fact, deliberately offending people can even serve a purpose; sometimes, offending people is the first step to getting them to think twice about ideas they've taken for granted. Certainly, it was offensive to many white racists to preach the idea that blacks should be viewed as equals. There have been plenty of people who have been offensive, even deliberately so, in ways that helped push society in the right direction--Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Marilyn Manson.

But there's a difference between being willing to offend, and even intentionally offending, people in order to make some sort of important statement, and being callous and insensitive gratuitously, because those attributes are seen as a virtue. Getting a society to reexamine its taboos and its norms when they may very well be outdated or dangerous is a purpose easily worth offending people over. But, even if we assume Greer believed she was speaking some important truth with her transphobic comments, what's the point in displaying cavalier disregard for the feelings of people whose great sin is trying to make their bodies match how they've always felt about themselves? What was the point of Charlie Hebdo's cartoons mocking the Russian plane crash or the Egyptian massacre? What's the point of Bill Maher's mockery of Muslims and contribution to the idea that they have some unique tendency to commit terrorism?

From The Electronic Intifada
Just by arguing this much, I certainly open myself up to the accusation of being some sort of whiny, oversensitive, crybaby PC social justice warrior who's getting offended just because people refuse to censor themselves. But I'm not asking that people avoid saying or doing anything that anyone might find offensive--that would be utterly ridiculous, and I can't stand the sort of political correctness that really does push toward that sort of mentality. I'm asking that people actually care about each others' feelings. I have no interest in catering toward the moralistic, self-indulgent outrage that many people will display over anything that offends their sensibilities (I've even written an entire post criticizing it), but the examples I've cited here (as well as innumerable others) don't just elicit moral outrage, but rather feelings of alienation emotional hurt. Transgender people go through enough without some bigot like Greer showing a total apathy toward whether what she says bothers them. Certainly, the friends and relatives of those who died in the plane crash have suffered enough without their dead loved ones being made into some kind of grisly punchline by Charlie Hebdo. And God knows that Muslims deal with enough hatred and prejudice without Maher's "comedy" and Draw Muhammad Day.

What I'm asking is, is it really necessary to make people feel belittled and unimportant for the sake of comedy or whatever else? Is it that hard to avoid pointlessly upsetting people? And, if nothing else, can we at least stop applauding the people who display this insensitivity, often toward already-marginalized groups, as somehow being admirable by openly showing that they don't care if they hurt other people's feelings? As co-inhabitants of this planet, we have to find some way to get along, and stepping on each others' toes just for the fun of it doesn't seem like the best route.

Alternatively, if we accept this new standard of insensitivity as being a sign of courage and honor, perhaps we should reevaluate some things that have happened throughout history. How about minstrel shows, for instance? After all, the performers didn't care if black people found it upsetting to be portrayed as laughably stupid. How brave of them! How about the American Nazi Party? Doesn't one just have to admire how little they care whether Jewish people and ethnic minorities find their slurs and propaganda offensive?

Not surprisingly, this standard of "who cares if it offends or upsets other people?" seems to magically vanish when the tables turn on the most vehement promoters of this standard. Bill Maher's critics are just mean-spirited bullies, he'd have us believe, who don't care about how their mean words make him feel. Germaine Greer has accused people who deviate from her transphobic views as being misogynist. And defenders of Charlie Hebdo's Islamophobia were predictably infuriated when Marilyn Manson called the magazine's continued Muslim-mocking cartoons a "dumb idea". Cavalier disregard for their feelings or views is, of course, unpardonable.

As I've said, we certainly shouldn't be too afraid or reluctant to offend other people. When it comes to genuine artistic self-expression or pushing for important causes, let people be offended if that's what they decide to do. But, as usual, there's a balance to be found. Not wanting to be oversensitive to the point of self-censorship is not the same as embracing the idea that other people's feelings should be irrelevant. But, while the advocates of insensitivity are convinced they're under attack and the culture is being overrun by political correctness, I fear that their attitude of callousness and disregard for others may be what's truly taking over. If that's so, it's just one of many ways in which the future could be a very grim affair.