I recently gave a talk to the local Student Atheist society on the subject ‘Is it racist to criticise Islam’. A title inspired by the seemingly inevitable accusations of racism a consistent atheist can expect to receive if they stray from Christianity and critique Islam. This brought forth a far from unexpected storm of accusations of racism and inciting violence from Muslims and the pro-Islamist left. Such as:
Assorted meetings critiquing; Christianity, Catholicism, Religion in general, Scientology… elicited barely a murmur of complaint yet when the Atheist Society dared have a meeting on Islam the floodgates opened.
The reasoning would seem to be: Muslims are a minority in the west, a minority which experiences some discrimination is subjected to crude abuse by the far right and even violent attacks. Therefore any and all criticism of Islam is racist and contributes to violence against Muslims.
As it happens this is by no means the first time that people have falsely accused me of bigotry and inciting violence in an attempt to try and cow me into silence. Back when I was at Uni I was chair of the Palestine Society and we were regularly accused of being ‘anti-semitic’ and ‘contributing to anti-semitic violence’ simply for arguing that Palestinians are people who should have their basic human rights respected.
The reasoning behind these attacks followed a similar pattern: Jews are a minority in the west, a minority which experiences some discrimination is subjected to crude abuse by the far right and even violent attacks. Therefore any and all criticism of Zionism is anti-semitic and contributes to violence against Jewish people.
Back then no Muslims or members of the far left seemed to find this logic convincing. They would nod when I pointed out that it’s perfectly possible to critique the ideas contained within the ideology of Zionism the ethnic cleansing and other abuses of human rights being carried out by true believing Zionists without being motivated by anti-semitism or contributing to anti-semitism.
Muslims and members of the left in the audience also tended to agree when I pointed out that by no means are all Jews Zionists and that in fact most Zionists aren’t Jewish at all but American Christians (who’re ironically often rather anti-semitic) who want all the Jews in the world to return to Israel to kick start the 2nd coming.
Members of the left and Muslims would concur when I argued that the undoubted existence of crude anti-semitic attacks upon Jews in general and the state of Israel didn’t automatically render any and all criticism of Zionism as anti-semitic. They would further agree when I argued that cynically using the term ‘anti-semite’ as a weapon to try and frighten people into silence was eroding the power of the term ‘anti-semite’ that could backfire in the future.
Overall there seemed to be a general acceptance from Muslims and members of the left at meetings I spoke at that criticism of an ideology, in this case Zionism, isn’t the same thing as inciting hatred against people who subscribe to that ideology.
Yet strangely for some Muslims and members of the far left this ability to differentiate between an ideology and people seems completely absent when it comes to Islam and Muslims.
That double standard aside the way in which unequivocal condemnations of the EDL were interpreted as support for the EDL was rather perplexing, as was the odd accusation that:
“your stupid meeting is a racist fest. You are racist, pretending to be humanists. You have no idea what atheism means”
As if the society members had been organising meetings upon Atheism, Christianity, Catholicism, the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal, Scientology. Creationism… for all this time as a rather convoluted cover to one day launch a racist attack upon Muslims under the cover of atheism.
Another thing I found a little confusing was the way in which the Student Broad Left & Socialist Action members kept on making specific attacks on the meeting in blissful ignorance of the actual contents of the talk:
“the argument is that the Atheist society presents Islam (not even certain Muslim clerics…) as almost the sole source of oppression against the LGBT community. I’d say it has the least influence.”
“This meeting assumes there is no debate and disagreement amongst Muslims about the many interpretations of Islam.”
Now I tend not to make detailed attacks upon a talk, article, book, film… until I’ve gone to the trouble of hearing/reading/watching it. Sure it takes a little more effort than condemning what you imagine what the content might be but even so I think that effort is worth it. It would seem Socialist Action/Student Broad Left have no time for such niceties.
If SA/SBL members actually cared about evidence they’d have spent a little time researching the society they were attacking and learnt that the Atheist Society has long standing critiques of the homophobia of many faiths & particularly the Christian Churches campaigning against gay marriage and that the talk included passages such as this:
“When critiquing minority faiths we have a particular responsibility to be clear of the range of beliefs encompassed within that faith. Most Brits know atleast a few Christians and so they know that the “God Hates Fags” crowd for example are not typical Christians. Whereas they may well not know any Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims… to provide a counterexample. This doesn’t mean that we can’t critique religions other than Christianity, it just means we have to take additional care when doing so.”
Given that such intemperate attacks were a major motivation to hold the meeting in the first place the abuse we received for daring to hold such a meeting is sadly only to be expected. This doesn’t make the way in which some muslims and members of the pro-Islamist left are so determined to cry wolf and throw around accusations of racism to try and bully people into silence in such a cavalier manner any less depressing though.