Other than the confrontationism vs. accommodationism debate, there is no greater division within the secular/nonbeliever community than the issue of condemning Islam as the major contributing factor in the prevalence and barbarity of Islamic jihadists.
Why is that so? Why are so many secularists, who are so willing and quick to criticize Christians and Christianity, perfectly willing to give Muslims and Islam a pass for similar flaws and actions? And worse, they are perfectly happy to vilify not only more strident people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but Sam Harris and Bill Maher and others who are outspoken and unflinching in their criticism of Islam – even though they are committed secularists and equally critical of other religions.
I’ve thought of and heard a number of reasons for this phenomenon, but none of them sound reasonable; some of them even completely irrational. One is the likelihood that people are subscribing to the old post-modernist crap that every idea has merit and is equally valid. But you would think that this thoroughly discredited notion would have no place among rational people, especially among people who have no problem criticizing Christianity and Christians-behaving-badly. So I don’t think that is the problem.
Another possibility is the fear of offending Muslims and the possibility of violence stemming from that. We probably all remember the violence after the Danish cartoons were published where 35 people lost their lives. But isn’t that just another one of the problems with Islam that need to be addressed? And if the Islamists are able to cow their critics and silence all criticism, then the problems will never be faced and/or addressed.
Of course, another offshoot of this fear of violence is the fear of being labeled as a “racist” or “Islamophobe”. This has been a very successful campaign by the Islamist thugs to brand anyone who criticizes Islam, regardless of the merits of such criticism, as an “Islamophobe” – a term that was coined for just that purpose, to be used as an epithet. And just like the threat of violence, the purpose is to shut down criticism. I think that this is one of the more likely reasons behind the phenomenon of disowning outspoken critics of Islam.
One of the problems with being an ardent and vocal critic of Islam and Islamic culture is that it makes for uncomfortable bedfellows – namely the neocons and other right-wing factions. For most secularists, who usually tend toward very progressive worldviews, this can be pretty uncomfortable. Unfortunately, it tends to bring out the “if he’s fer it, I’m agin it” mindset. But aren’t we better than that knee jerk reaction? Aren’t we supposed to be rationalists and judge ideas/policies/stands on their individual merits and not on who is proposing or agreeing with them? Isn’t that one of the most important things we pride ourselves on? We don’t need to be behaving like Congressional Republicans.
Frankly, I too, find it distasteful, even repulsive, to be on the same side of an issue with the neocons, but if that is the way that it shakes out, then c’est l’guerre. Even they are entitled to be right once in a while. And just as we can work together with a religious institution on an effort where we have shared goals, we can agree with the neocons that the role that Islam plays in barbarism, terrorism, and the destabilization of large swaths of the world needs to be addressed. Not to mention the rejection of modernity and the brutal subjugation of huge numbers of women. We don’t necessarily have to agree with them on everything.
I had someone tell me that the reason that they could not support Ayaan Hirsi Ali was because she works for the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, so by supporting her, you are also supporting AEI. That may or may not be true, but is that any worse than supporting Islamic apologists like Reza Aslan and groups like CAIR (the Council on American Islamic Relations) both of whom are intent on shutting down any and all criticism of Islam, thus supporting the status quo – Islamic terrorism, FGM, and all of the other evils Islam is used to justify.
So I submit: Not only do we need to make our voices loud and clear in our criticism of Islam and the evils that it is used to perpetrate, but we need to support those members of the secular community who have access to a megaphone and can make the voice of criticism project more completely into the public discourse.