It is very common for liberals and multi-culturalists, who are great defenders of human rights, to vilify criticism of Islamic racism and terrorism. Even the CBC, Canadian bastion of human rights, went into full panic and attack mode when Robert Spencer visited Calgary. Leftists are worried that any critique of Muslims, however rigorous, scholarly, or true, might spark a backlash against Muslims or lead to Islamophobia. They try to deflect criticism of radical Islam by arguing that not all Muslims are terrorists, Muslims might be offended by the critique, Islamist terrorists are not really Muslims, or that we need to bring our communities together rather than tear them apart with criticism. While I strongly agree that criticism of radical Islam should not be racist or incite racism against Muslims in any way, I believe that this project of shielding Muslims from criticism is misguided in the extreme. While the intention of these leftists is to protect human rights, they have trapped themselves in an anti-humanitarian position of defending, protecting, and enabling Islamist crimes against humanity. I have argued with my fellow liberals dozens of times on this issue and they always take the position (without fully seeing it) that it’s more important to protect Islam from criticism than to protect human rights—than to protect people from Islamic terrorism. Here is part of my response to these liberals — to their untenable and dangerous position on this matter.
“Why criticize Islamist racism and violence; shouldn’t we be bringing communities together?” I definitely agree that community building is job number one. Every community in the West should be reaching out to the local Muslim community to build relationships, community, and citizenship — and generally enrich the culture as a whole. This exchange goes two ways; we can learn from each other. But most importantly, we need to respect each other and learn how to live well together.
Nevertheless, a second kind of project is equally important, namely, trying to understand and resist or oppose Islamist racism and terrorism. I would question the sanity of any person who does not agree with me on this point, i.e., anyone who believes Islamist racism and terrorism are ethically and morally acceptable, that they are welcome in Canada and the US, and/or should never be called into question.
Not everyone, of course, is obligated to work on both projects (community building and opposition to extremism). Some people are more passionate about one than the other; some are better (more skilled) at one than the other; many don’t have time for both projects; some don’t have the courage to stand up against extremism… Nevertheless, in my opinion, we all have to acknowledge the importance of both projects. At the end of the day, regardless of the project one chooses to work on, we have to conduct both without racism. We want to understand and fight racism, not add to it.
Here is where I might disagree with the liberals. I interpret Spencer’s work in this way. Spencer is focusing on the second project—analyzing and opposing Islamist racism and terrorism—and I am grateful for that. I am also inspired by his courage. (As you know, everyone who opposes Islamism gets death threats.) Spencer is not painting all Muslims with the same brushstroke; he is not generalizing to all Muslims; he never claims that all Muslims are terrorists. In the talk I attended, Spencer held a lengthy discussion about the diversity of the global Muslim community: from peaceful to Jihadi, from moderate to fundamentalist, from progressive to reactionary, and so on. His critique is clearly not racist, nor does it promote racism. Spencer is clearly fighting against racism. And criticizing racism is not racist. Criticizing racism is an obligation for those who believe in human rights. (I am using the word racism to cover racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination, including, genocide, ethnic cleansing, sectarian violence, violent Jihad, etc.)
Spencer’s project is twofold:
First, Spencer argues against racism and terrorism as violent, destructive, and unethical practices. Who could be opposed to this point of view except for the terrorists themselves? There is a point at which we have to agree that fighting Spencer on this point puts you on the side of the racists and terrorists.
Second, Spencer is analyzing Islamist ideology. He is assessing where their views actually come from. There is so much propaganda and misinformation that this is actually difficult to do. The terrorists themselves argue that it is their religious duty to kill and subjugate infidels…and Spencer is assessing the truth of those claims. The terrorists are citing passages from the Koran and Hadith, and Spencer is checking to see if those passages actually exist.
Sadly, Spencer (and dozens of other scholars) have found that the terrorists are not making it up. The passages from the Koran & Hadith the terrorists cite are actually there—they exist, they are real, and they are exactly where the terrorists said they would be. It turns out that it is their religious duty to kill and subjugate infidels, conduct violent Jihad, oppress minorities, promote racism, and the like. While most Muslims, fortunately, do not believe in or practice those particular aspects of Islam (Spencer speculates that many Muslims don’t even know about those passages), those discriminatory, racist and violent passages are in fact there in the religious texts and thus authentic possibilities of Islam.
At this point, the liberals totally freak out. They argue that if you criticize the Koran, the holy book for Muslims, you are a racist. They argue: “You can’t attack a people’s holy book; attacking a religion is by definition racist (discriminatory).” What this argument misses entirely is that Spencer is only confirming what the terrorists themselves have said. Spencer didn’t put those passages in the Koran; he didn’t write the Hadith; he wasn’t even alive when the Koran was written/revealed. Obviously. Either the passages are in there or they are not. How could it be racist to study and report on those passages? Whether you like what the Koran has to say or not, reading it closely is a sign of respect, not racism. It is widely acceptable to publicly criticize reactionary passages in the Old and New Testament. But that same discuss with respect to Islam is unofficially verboten – by many liberals, western governments, and western media outlets.
The service Spencer is doing for humanity is, first, helping us criticize racism and terrorism without being racist ourselves (he is teaching us to use scholarship, not insults); and second, helping us understand where Islamist racism and terrorism come from. Again, it turns out that it comes from exactly where the terrorists say it does. If you don’t like that, be angry with the terrorists and their sources of inspiration, not with Spencer.
Liberals always raise the issue of not wanting to offend Muslims. On the surface this seems like a reasonable, sensitive, and ethical concern. I agree that we should not go around offending people, and that free speech should not be used in that horrid way (just because it is legal does not make it moral/ethical). But I personally don’t find this to be a problem at all. It is a complete non-issue — it is misdirection, a slight of hand, part of the terrorists’ propaganda war. Just ask yourself this: Which Muslims will be offended by criticism of racism and terrorism? The vast majority of Muslim are peaceful and don’t want racism and terrorism any more than we do. A peaceful Muslim, by definition, is a Muslim who opposes racism and terrorism. That’s what peaceful means – or should mean. In fact, many Muslims who are in Canada are themselves fleeing Islamist violence and oppression (and some oppression that is not specifically Islamic). The only Muslims who will be offended by a critique of racism and terrorism are the racists and terrorists themselves—a tiny minority of Muslims, and in fact, a group of Muslims who have already declared war on Jews and the West. You can immediately see how absurd this logic is when we apply it to other ethical issues. Two examples:
First: We don’t worry about hurting the feelings of rapists when we study and criticize rape. The vast majority of men, who are not rapists, should not be offended when we criticize rape. In fact, we should expect that most men join women in standing up against rape. I certainly don’t want the women I love to be raped, and I would be incredibly disappointed and suspicious about a man who, whenever the topic came up, always and only says: “Hey, don’t worry, not all men are rapists.”
Second: We shouldn’t care if we offend white supremacists when we analyze and criticize white supremacism. The vast majority of whites are not supremacists, and they shouldn’t be offended when we criticize white supremacism. The only people who are going to be offended by a critique of white supremacism are the supremacists themselves. Should we care about their feelings so much that we stop criticizing white supremacism? I assume that every rational person, even the liberals, would agree that the answer is a resounding “No.” Liberals criticize injustice all the time, including racism and discrimination.
When we criticize Islamist supremacism (which leads to racism and terrorism), we have to do so directly, honestly, openly, without fear…and of course without racism—not all Muslims are supremacists; some supremacists learned to be racists as children (from their parents); Muslim supremacists, like white supremacists, are not lower forms of life (e.g., apes & pigs); their human rights should be respected… But their supremacism is morally repugnant—and I don’t care if that statement hurts their feelings.
Note: My reference to “apes and pigs” is ironic: that is a racist slur against Jews that comes from Muslim communities—and Muslim leaders—all over the world. It is disgusting. What kind of person teaches their community and their children that other peoples are apes and pigs? Almost as sickening as this racism is that western intellectuals and governments are more freaked out about criticizing this racism than the racism itself. This is dishonest, cowardly, and highly offensive.
In conclusion, we should not care too much about whether our legitimate political critique of Islamist racism and terrorism is going to hurt the feeling of the Muslims who have declared war on the West and the Jews. And I expect the vast majority of Muslims, who are peaceful, to stand en masse behind Robert Spencer, supporting his critique of violent and racist extremism that is committed in the name of Islam. There is copious discussion of the importance of reform in Islam. Robert Spencer is helping us understand why reform is important, what parts of Islam need to be reformed, and why we have to align ourselves with moderate Muslims. Again, this is work that the moderate Muslims themselves are already doing, and that western liberals have already accepted as important. And yet, they are still freaked out by people doing this work.
Now, what happens if we take the position that we should not criticize Islamist racism and terrorism? In that case, we put ourselves in the terrible position of not being able to analyze, criticize, or defend ourselves from Islamist racism and terrorism. This is a contradictory position: if you are for human rights and against racism, then racism and terrorism need to be analyzed, criticized, and opposed. Silence is not a sensitive concession to the Muslim community, it is a capitulation to the terrorists—who, I might remind you, are far, far, far to the right of Bush and Cheney.
I would say that I am in agreement with the liberals on the big issues: racism and terrorism are bad and community building is crucial. The big difference, as far as I can see, is that the liberals (including western governments and media outlets) are nervous about publicly analyzing and criticizing Islamist racism and terrorism. They are happy to criticize Western racism but extremely anxious about criticizing Islamist racism. I hope I have shown that this anxiety is irrational and untenable as a political position in a global, multi-cultural world—and that it also contradicts their own values.
I would go even further by arguing that our community building should (as much as possible) encourage Muslims to stand up against Islamist racism and terrorism – in Canada, in Europe, around the world, and as visibly as possible at the UN. I hope we are in agreement about that, even if that is not work that the liberals have the stomach for.
This issue, while uncomfortable and inconvenient, is one of the most important global political issues. Sectarian violence is killing tens of thousands of Muslims throughout the Muslim world; some Muslims communities are ethnically cleansing their minority populations; and Muslims are attacking Jews all over the world. Muslim leaders all over the world are encouraging racism and violence against Jews—as everyone knows. Regardless of the percentage of Muslims who hold these views (regardless of how tiny the minority), the racism and violence are real, destructive, and morally repugnant. I am grateful to Robert Spencer for trying to be honest about this issue (despite the personal danger), and frankly, I am disappointed that the local Muslim community did not come out en masse to his talk in Calgary to support him in combatting racism and terrorism. Islamist violence should inspire reflection and reformation, not useless, cowardly, and suspicious defensiveness.
My only qualifier is that the motivation for this work must be ethical. If you are going to oppose Islamist racism and terrorism, you need to do it as a way of protecting human rights. Multiculturalism only works in conjunction with other fundamental ethical and political values, including universal human rights, freedom from discrimination, equal rights for women, separation of church and state, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. Freedom of religion should never extend to the freedom of one religion to oppress another. You have a right to practice your religion in any way you want, and wherever and whenever you want, but never at the expense of my rights and freedoms, never in a way that discriminates against and oppresses others. I will tolerate all of your values and peccadillos — but not racism and discrimination. That’s where communities have to the draw the line, and do so for the good of the community and its members. This will also be great for the vast majority of Muslims who are peaceful. But take caution because it won’t be very nice for the terrorists.
Joel Shapiro, Ph.D., is a former athlete, scholar, and business person. He now helps organizations find the perfect blend of humanity and business performance.