A definite tension between two liberal constituencies, atheists and Muslims, has been brewing for some time. Liberals traditionally have valued non-believers as trusted allies against Christian conservatives. However, they find it troubling when atheists also go up against Islam, despite the fact that any honest atheist would have to be opposed to Islam as well as Christianity and Judaism. But unlike attacks on the latter two, they find criticism of Islam racist.
This came to a head with that famous confrontation between conventional liberal Ben Affleck, and atheist figureheads Sam Harris and Bill Maher on the latter’s show a few weeks ago. Harris and Maher were arguing that Islamic extremists are even worse than Christian conservatives in assailing liberal values we hold dear, such as equal rights for women and religious tolerance. Affleck, in turn, basically fell back to the usual racism charge. How dare they question a culture that is not our own. Racist!
Worse, conventional liberals say, daring to say a negative world about Islamic extremism only gives ammo to the neocons who look for any excuse to bomb brown people. Indeed, some liberals compare Harris and Maher to racist Southern whites for this reason, giving aid and comfort to the Cheneys of the world the way the latter gave aid and comfort to the KKK even if they were not actual members.
Glenn Greenwald is perhaps the ultimate enforcer of this prohibition of criticism of Islam. Greenwald, who is of Ed Snowden fame, lays down the law here:
Beyond all that, I find extremely suspect the behavior of westerners like Harris (and Hitchens and Dawkins) who spend the bulk of their time condemning the sins of other, distant peoples rather than the bulk of their time working against the sins of their own country. That’s particularly true of Americans, whose government has brought more violence, aggression, suffering, misery, and degradation to the world over the last decade than any other.
And by “extremely suspect,” he means “racist.” In case you weren’t able to figure that one out.
Greenwald’s rabid anti-Americanism was made explicit in this quote (and, thus, his true motivation for encouraging Snowden to make his leaks). I doubt Affleck shares his hatred for America, but if critics of Islam are fellow travelers with the KKK, then by the same logic Affleck is a fellow traveler with this virulent enemy of Affleck’s country.
The problem is that Islamic extremists really are far, far worse than our homegrown Christian fundamentalists, and no amount of America-hating can change that fact. Our religious crazies want to ban abortion, reduce women’s rights and teach creationism in school. Their religious crazies want to execute heretics, literally enslave women and annihilate New York City. Christian fundies believe that other types of Christians are wrong. ISIS believes that other types of Muslims should be executed. I think it’s possible for one to acknowledge this teensy difference in magnitude between the two types of crazy without having to join the Republican Party.
And no, America’s various misadventures in Iraq and Syria are not the malfeasance of a Christian nation. In fact, there is no such thing as an explicitly “Christian nation” in the world anymore, unless you want to count Vatican City. On the other hand, most Muslim countries have it explicitly written into their laws or constitution that Islam is the official state religion and the country is subservient to Islam, Allah and/or the Prophet Mohammed. Besides would Greenwald or his ilk really try to accuse Obama of being an evangelical Christian? No, all of our ill-thought campaigns over there have been triggered by the distilled hate and evil of groups like al Qaeda or ISIS, groups who make even our most batshit Jesus freaks look like Neil deGrasse Tyson by comparison.
This does not mean at all that crazy is somehow baked into Islam, or the Arab world. A thousand years ago, after all, the roles were precisely reversed: Christian Europeans were the backwards, primitive, bloodthirsty ones while the Arab world was relatively peaceful and enlightened. The Arabs also regularly kicked the barbaric Christians’ asses during the Crusades. And who knows? In a thousand more years, maybe the pendulum will swing back the other way again and prove Greenwald right.
But that isn’t relevant to our day-to-day lives right now. What is relevant is that the pendulum of crazy as of 2014 is wayyyyy in the direction of the Muslim world, and acknowledging this doesn’t make you a neocon or a racist. It makes you right.