Dear Liberals: Being Critical of Islam is not Racism

As a slight break-away from my usual travel writing, I´ve published a piece in Huffington Post´s World Post about free speech and Islam.  Free speech and the ability to debate intelligently and freely is extremely important, especially for writers.

Thanks to Huffington Post´s blog team for plastering the giant photo of Reza Aslan below the headline.



4 thoughts on “Dear Liberals: Being Critical of Islam is not Racism

  1. This conclusion:
    Perhaps it needs to look to real liberals in Muslim societies abroad, like Malala Yousafzai and the countless others who speak out against their theocracies, fearing for their lives daily. It is time for the left to put as much intellectual muscle into criticizing harmful religious ideas as it does into protecting the sensibilities of the everyday Muslim living in London.

    The first part talks about theocracy
    The second harmful religious ideas.

    I assume your intent is to ameliorate situation one.
    And it’s odd that rather than look at the problem of abuse in theocracy (in this case Islam. In other cases of religious abuse, like settlement states in occupied Palestine. Or with Buddhists in Burma) within a specific context, you take to generalizing it as a whole.
    Would you like to spend the same intellectual muscle criticizing Jewish ideas? or Buddhist?
    Maybe you’d be worried that you’d be classified as an anti-semite.

    I see the same fear in critcizing Israeli policies being conflated with anti-semitism.

    Anyways, as much as you decried the value of expertise in an area, this lecture/writer may interest the rational seeker of information in you, or not : )
    By Suzanne Schneider

    Judging from mainstream media coverage and policy reports, the world today is engulfed in the inextinguishable flames of something called religious violence. Though more often invoked than defined, “religious violence” appears to many as a self-evident phenomenon – a category of particularly barbaric behavior that is responsible for a wide range of atrocities, usually perpetrated in the name of Islam. Reflecting this sense of obviousness, notably few public figures have stopped to question whether religious violence is a useful category through which to apprehend upheavals in the world around us. For instance, is it possible to attribute the rise of ISIS to the Islamic textual tradition while leaving material factors—ranging from the location of oil resources to social media networks, insurgency theory, and the Syrian civil war—mostly unaccounted for? Posed in such stark terms, the absurdity of such an approach becomes evident, and yet the public still encounters a slew of self-appointed experts who read verses from the Qur’an as if there is nothing left to explain.

    The obviousness of religious violence within popular discourse finds its inverse within academia, where many scholars of religion have abandoned “religious violence” as a meaningful or useful term on account of the ambiguities embedded in the concept of religion itself. How can we separate religious concerns from economic or political ones and thereby attribute acts of violence to religion alone? It is this difficulty of isolating religious motivations from all others that has led scholars like William Cavanaugh and Talal Asad to suggest that, as a concept, “religious violence” tells us more about the politics of Western countries than it actually explains the actions of al-Qaeda or Boko Haram. How then do we account for the enduring appeal of religious violence as an explanatory device?

    In an attempt to address this question, this article—the first in a three-part series—will explore what we talk about when we talk about religious violence, and how this conceptual apparatus came to be. Along the way, we will examine the peculiar position of religious violence within the tradition of political liberalism, explore concrete historical case studies, and reckon with the different paths that politicians, pundits, and pontificators have followed in coming to terms the phenomenon.

    1. Criticizing Israel´s policies in the middle east is another issue, and it still leaves us in the same place as before, meanwhile contributing nothing to the premise of this article. And Suzanne Schnieder´s criticism of the media´s difficulty to separate political motivations with religious ones rehashes an old argument, and it implies that not ignoring religious motivations for terrorism is somehow minimizing all other motivations. I made an effort not to do that.

  2. Hey there, just sharing some thoughts as I read the article
    -Important quote from Obama’s G20 speech. He suggests pushback against extremism. That their hasn’t been enough.
    Is this a fair claim?
    My inclination is to say yes, because extremism still exists. But one must acknowledge that there has been pushback from Islamic leaders. This list is a good place to start:

    One example:
    Hamza Yusuf, American Muslim leader:
    “Religious zealots of any creed are defeated people who lash out in desperation, and they often do horrific things. And if these people [who committed murder on September 11] indeed are Arabs, Muslims, they’re obviously very sick people and I can’t even look at it in religious terms. It’s politics, tragic politics. There’s no Islamic justification for any of it. … You can’t kill innocent people. There’s no Islamic declaration of war against the United States. I think every Muslim country except Afghanistan has an embassy in this country. And in Islam, a country where you have embassies is not considered a belligerent country. In Islam, the only wars that are permitted are between armies and they should engage on battlefields and engage nobly. The Prophet Muhammad said, “Do not kill women or children or non-combatants and do not kill old people or religious people,” and he mentioned priests, nuns and rabbis. And he said, “Do not cut down fruit-bearing trees and do not poison the wells of your enemies.” The Hadith, the sayings of the Prophet, say that no one can punish with fire except the lord of fire. It’s prohibited to burn anyone in Islam as a punishment. No one can grant these attackers any legitimacy. It was evil.”

    1. That is not backlash. Hamza Yusuf´s most telling phrase there is, “…I can´t even look at it in religious terms.” Therein is the problem. Cherry picking verses does not help.

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