Some things truly bear repeating. That was the reminder I received from Reason Magazine today when they published an article entitled "Stop Smearing Critics of Islam as Islamophobes." The author started off by pointing out that the Islamic Human Rights Commission labeled murdered Charlie Hebdo staff "Islamophobe of the Year," which is tomfoolery. That introduction led to illustrating how people have reached the point of pathologizing dissent. You know what? They're right. We have reached a low in which "polite society" means that we cannot risk offending others, particularly if they are of the Islamic faith.
If the Charlie Hebdo attacks back in January taught us anything, it's the importance of free speech. As I brought up shortly after the attacks, society benefits from freedom of speech because it enables good governance, a sense of self-empowerment, and a more educated populace, all of which help reduce poverty. If freedom of speech is so good for society, then what do practitioners or sympathizers of Islam have to fear?
Answer: not wanting to have to deal with legitimate concerns with Islam and the way it is practiced. There is a world of difference between actual Islamophobia and bringing up valid criticisms of Islam and Sharia law. I actually pointed out this distinction a few months ago in a previous blog entry. Islamophobia consists of an irrational fear simply because you either don't like the unknown or anything that is different from yourself. With Islamophobia, it's about hatred and/or ignorance, plain and simple. Aside from being part of a historically persecuted religious minority, I also have a wide diversity of friends, whether the difference is in religion, political ideology, race, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. I have been exposed to a wide variety of people and their experiences, and as such, I don't suffer from anything remotely resembling Islamophobia. What I can tell you, though, is that I have my valid, well-supported criticisms of Islam.
And why should Islam get a free pass in the criticism department? What makes Islam so special that it is beyond reproach? Personally speaking, I have criticized Christianity (see here and here). I have even criticized my own religion for some of the ridiculousness that goes on within Judaism (e.g., here, here, here, here, and here). Look at my blog, and you'll see that there's plenty of criticism to go around. Bad ideas are bad ideas, regardless of their origin.
As long as it's not excessive, criticism is a healthy thing. Criticism is what keeps people honest. It's what makes people aware of shortcomings in the hopes that they will be fixed. It's no accident that the biblical verse of rebuking your neighbor (Leviticus 19:17) is shortly before the famous verse of loving your neighbor (Leviticus 19:18). Criticism helps us grow, and it is what keeps a robust marketplace of ideas. If it is to survive in the marketplace of ideas, Islam should be able to stand on its own two feet and fend off criticism either of Islamic theology, culture, or how Islam's practitioners act in Allah's name. No one should be exempt from criticism, which is precisely the point I am trying to make.
Anyone who is intellectually mature enough will address shortcomings that are experienced. Practitioners and sympathizers of Islam should be able to explain why women, homosexuals, apostates, or non-Muslims in general have been and still are treated poorly under Islamic rule, as well as other shortcomings that are within the Islamic religion. We shouldn't be shielding Islam from criticism simply by calling the other side racist, bigoted, ignorant, or spiteful. If one uses that sort of ad hominem attack to exempt Islam from criticism, how are they all that different from what they're accusing the critics of? Instead of succumbing to hypocrisy, what should be done is the fostering of honest debates in which we can discuss the finer points surrounding the debates on Islam. This would be the sign of a well-developed, mature society. Anything less makes me wonder what practitioners and sympathizers of Islam are afraid to confront.