I’ve come under fire recently from a friend over the way I criticise some interpretations of Islam and some of its adherents. For those of you not familiar with my facebook wall or for those who need reminding, I often post articles on some religiously-justified actions that I find particularly horrible. While these postings are not exclusive to Islam or to Muslim countries/communities, they still focus more on Islam and Muslims than on other religions and peoples. There are a couple reasons for this. The first is that most of the articles I come across on the BBC, Guardian, Haaretz, or Fark (my morning standard) fitting into the category of ‘horrible religiously-justified actions’ describe something happening in a Muslim community. The second reason is that I’m interested in Islam as an academic and have studied more about it than I have other religions, so I feel more comfortable commenting on it.
For example, I posted this article on the suicide bombing of a Moscow airport by militants from the North Caucasus with the caption ‘Fuck Wahhabism’. In fact, I regularly post articles on Wahhabism in its full and ugly practice with that caption, beginning with when I posted this. Strong words, I realise, but I felt the need to express my outrage at one of the most oppressive and cruel ideologies and set of practices I’ve ever encountered. This article was the one that seemed to be the last straw for my friend, though, particularly as I’d highlighted the following quote:
Prof. Ephraim Yaar, head of the Tel Aviv University mediation and conflict resolution program, studied the public’s attitude toward various values in the West and in Arab countries. He found that in both regions, the respondents felt democracy was the best form of government and that the regime should be popularly elected. However, the Muslim public largely rejected key democratic values such as equality between women and men, and between religious and secular people. Most of the Muslim respondents also believe only religious people should be allowed to rule.
The criticism I received was that I could not be confident in the methodology behind this survey and that it contradicted other studies that I should be familiar with. Therefore I should not highlight Prof. Yaar’s findings without some sort of qualifier. Incidentally, Yaar appears to have solid academic credentials as well as close ties with Arab scholars, and those other studies with which I should be and am familiar don’t necessarily contradict Yaar’s findings in my opinion.
Am I ‘fomenting bigotry’ through my focus on the worst forms of Islam? I don’t think so, but I’m not sure. I certainly don’t think that I’m a bigot.
I try to follow certain ‘codes of conduct’ when criticising Islam because I’m aware of how politically sensitive such criticism can be:
- I try to be rigourous in identifying which interpretation or version of Islam I’m criticising
- I try to specify when relevant that the interpretation I’m criticising isn’t necessarily the dominant one, and that other Muslims have other ideas
- I try to specify what those other Muslims think as a counterpoint, while being honest about the prevalence or lack-thereof of these ‘better’ viewpoints
There are also some things that I’m not currently doing, because I don’t think I need to do them.
- I don’t often post on my facebook articles that describe interpretations of Islam that I think deserve praise, to ‘counterbalance’ the ones that I think deserve condemnation. This is because they don’t provoke the same emotional reaction from me when I encounter them, because I don’t often encounter them, and because I don’t really feel the need to applaud people for doing what I think they should be doing anyway.
- I don’t always present a full discussion of an article’s content when I post it on facebook unless someone engages with it. I don’t think that doing so is important enough to spend the time on it, unless someone particularly cares.
I am definitely not claiming to be great at offering palatable criticism of Islam. Clearly I’m pissing people off. I’ve outlined my perspective and my methods here, but I’m very open to constructive criticism. I do not want to be seen as a bigot, nor do I want to inculcate bigotry in others as I’ve been accused of doing.