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Civility costs nothing, and buys everything.
Mary Wortley Montagu

“The Institute for Civility in Government defines civility as “more than just politeness, although politeness is a necessary first step. It is about disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same. Civility is the hard work of staying present even with those with whom we have a deep-rooted and fierce disagreement.” Angela Andrews

Be civil to all; sociable to many; familiar with few; friend to one; enemy to none.Benjamin Franklin

In this week’s edition of More than Meets the Eye I am writing on a very difficult subject. It is not just a difficult subject for me, it is difficult for everybody. It is an extremely difficult topic because it forces us to face our own fears, cowardice, and lack of integrity.

There are plenty of mainstream sources that attempt to address the issue of islamophobia in the United States and Europe, but they do so while missing the critical point completely. They miss the point by leading with their fear and not their reason. They have attempted to turn their fears into their virtues. Fears turned into virtues are seldom more than putting a gold ring in a pig’s snout and calling it a beauty queen. 

When we are driven by our fears, even if we attempt to turn them into virtues we effectively shut down any form of social intercourse, and to put it more simply, we just stop listening. We no longer care about what someone else thinks because it falls outside the scope of our understanding.

Gradually, our virtues that have been artificially manufactured become so ingrained within us that we no longer seek to understand, we only want to be understood. Why? because I am right and you are wrong. I am backed up by my epistemology, which in turn is backed up by science. If you do not agree with me, you are beyond the scope of reason and you no longer have anything valid to say.

This is what is happening in the world today. It is happening in multiple realms, but for the purposes of More than Meets the Eye, we will address the matter of Islamist extremism, violence, and islamophobia. If anyone offers up even the slightest critique of Islamic doctrine they are immediately labeled a racist, bigot, or islamophobe. They are marginalized and their voice is counted as irrelevant and even worse as hate speech. The hypocrisy in this is that if the exact same criticism of Christianity was offered up, it would be met with an existential yawn and if anyone objected they would be relegated to the pool of over-exaggeration.

This week’s edition is going to look a lot like an OpEd, so let me start by outlining my presuppositions and giving a disclaimer. I do this with trepidation because most of the readers of More than Meets the Eye by now know what my presuppositions are, but should an accidental reader pick this up, I do not want them to think they know me by reading one sentence and quoting it in a less open-minded publication.

I have lived and worked among Muslims for the better part of 30 years. I have given my life to serving them in a myriad of ways from humanitarian efforts providing food, water, safety, and security to educational initiatives helping entire communities rise from illiteracy to a place of learning job skills and even advanced learning. I have devoted myself to be good news to them and a blessing. I count many Muslims as my dear friends and colleagues.

So let that disclaimer serve as a starting point by saying. I am not anti-Muslim. I am a Christian and I recognize that we share very little in common theologically. We share a lot in common as human beings though. We are both in great need of a savior.

What I am hoping to uncover this week, and we will see how long it goes, is the reason that the liberal elite is so afraid to openly discuss the extremities of many Muslim groups and how this can and does lead to theologically supported forms of great confusion and violence. 

The reason this is a poignant subject for discussion in our More than Meets the Eye publication is that without addressing the critical issues behind the missing engagement of Islamist extremism and proliferated violence there will be a continued escalation of misunderstanding between the non-muslim and Muslim adherents, leaving plenty of space for continued violence from both sides of the inter-religious divide.

I will discuss the confusion as best as it can be unpacked and will present some of the reasons for this confusion from both the leftist/extremist side and the right/extremist side of Islam. This issue is not about whether Islam is a religion of peace or violence. It is not about the doctrinal accuracies or inaccuracies of Islamist teaching, it is about the global milieu where civility has been put to death; a world that currently exists where the delegitimization of any critique of Islam is tainted by the threat of violence by one side or another. 

Review.

The whole issue of the refusal of the left to discuss Islamist extremism revolves around the purposeful ignorance towards the meaning of words and the unwillingness to discuss and define a deep and global problem.  A good part of the problem is the players. There is more than meets the eye when it comes to the voices in this sad and unfolding saga. There are those who travel to the Middle East or Central Asia once and then present themselves as subject matter experts. There are many who think that because they made a movie with a Muslim in it that they too are now subject matter experts. The root of the problem is ignorance. There is ignorance around even being willing to define the problem. There is ignorance around understanding the global variables within Islam and lastly, there is a concerted effort to stifle and delegitimize the more intelligent voices and the people themselves through threats of both character assassination, marginalization, and violence.

The first question that needs to be asked: is it dangerous to critique Islam and its doctrinal tenets as well as orthopraxy and who are the guardians of these tenets and deniers of the freedom of speech so valued by people all around the world?

It’s not only people in the United States and Europe who are afraid to critique Islam. Over the years Islamist radicals have responded violently and often maliciously to any kind of criticism of Islam and its prophet. But even worse, Islamic authorities and national leaders have responded to these same criticisms with fatwas (legal judgments) and death threats. 

This is an important and key part of the discussion. Many will deminuate the reality of Islamist aggression and suppression of human rights in the Islamist world, but it is not only a radical fringe minority that advocates this kind of violent response. 

If you think, as many do, that it is just a minuscule minority that holds to medieval interpretations of Islamist ideas, you need to think again. A new Pew Research Center analysis finds that 79 countries and territories out of the 198 studied around the world (40%) had laws or policies in 2019 banning blasphemy, which is defined as speech or actions considered to be contemptuous of God or of people or objects considered sacred. Twenty-two countries (11%) had laws against apostasy, the act of abandoning one’s faith and converting to another. These are not insignificant numbers.

These laws were most common in the Middle East and North Africa, where 18 of the 20 countries (90%) in the region have laws criminalizing blasphemy, and 13 of them (65%) outlaw apostasy. To be fair, there are still anti-blasphemy laws in 14 other countries, including Europe.

Any set of ideas that proscribes death for the rejection, denial, or criticism of those ideas – as Islam often does – feels a lot like intellectual tyranny. Unfortunately, many people have swallowed the trope that to speak these truths about Islam and its prophet is instantly Islamaphobic. Even when the brave few exercise their right to free speech by pointing out the inherent absurdities of Islam, there are people who profess to be advocates for free speech and liberalism who label it as racism or bigotry to criticize Islam in any way. Many times their passions run deep, feeling it their obligation to right that wrong even if the government does not step in and make it right.

There are two main threats to those willing to step out and critique Islamic ideology. 

  1. Those whose lives are at risk from assassination by the violent religious zealots who are willing to kill those who speak up. 
  2. Those whose character and motives are at risk from character assassination by those who are willing to sacrifice free speech on the altar of complacency.

The truth is that any set of beliefs that has to resort to fear and coercion to silence dissent and debate feels illegitimate itself. It is a good idea of all those who value humanity to stand up against this “mother-lode of bad ideas” and relegate it to the dustbin of history where it belongs.

Why.

 “Why is this extremely important?” and believe me when I use the word “extremely” I have chosen its use meticulously. Here is what is happening throughout the global conversation today. Anytime that the Islamist or jihadist point of view is critiqued, there are those who will attack with little abandon, because they have allowed their fears of illegitimacy to be turned into virtues. Once their fears become virtues, their point of view is now unassailable and you are no longer critiquing a fragile religious movement, you are attacking every person’s personal right to their virtue and this becomes extended to everyone who is connected to that religious dogma.

A warning that we should all consider. When you begin to turn your fears and anger into unassailable personal virtues you have set in motion a series of behaviors that can easily be ignited into acts of terrorism. These egregious acts will all begin with the death of civility and your acquiescence to anger and violence.

Action.

Our only hope is to love others as we love ourselves. We must afford those with whom we disagree and who disagree with us the room to grow. We need to give ourselves room to grow. That growth will happen only in an environment of civility, where kindness, respect, and politeness prevail. 

Most of all, it is imperative that we not allow ourselves to fall into the trap of becoming potential terrorists or at a minimum tyrannical, by disallowing others to voice their opinions and exercise their right to free speech, no matter how ludicrous it is to us. When we do, we too will begin by marginalizing the voices of others, relegating them to the garbage heap of ignorance. We will turn their voice into silence and our voices into the only voice of reason. Soon our fears will turn into virtues and we will become unassailable in the expression of our opinions as facts. When our opinions, turned virtues, become the only voice of reason we will find ourselves one step closer to becoming a terrorist ourselves.

The follow-up.

UN experts: `Terrorist groups’ enjoy freedom in Afghanistan…https://apnews.com/article/islamic-state-group-afghanistan-asia-united-nations-syria-55a15d0a370f657aa60ccc1282b603c6?utm_source=iterable&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=3669175_

India Has Its Own Ideas About Russia and Ukraine…https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/02/07/india-russia-ukraine-modi-putin/?utm_source=PostUp&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Editors%20Picks%20OC&utm_term=39411&tpcc=Editors%20Picks%20OC

The feed-back.

For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at:  david@morethanmeets.co

Resources.

https://www.economist.com/international/2021/09/11/societies-that-treat-women-badly-are-poorer-and-less-stable

https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/01/25/four-in-ten-countries-and-territories-worldwide-had-blasphemy-laws-in-2019-2/

https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/18206/france-freedom

https://www.quora.com/profile/Diresh-Thevanayagam-1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_former_Muslims

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_critics_of_Islam#Contemporary_critics

https://www.quora.com/Are-people-in-the-West-afraid-to-criticize-Islam

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/10/is-islamophobia-real-maher-harris-aslan/381411/

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/11/18-countries-where-women-need-their-husbands-permission-to-get-a-job/

https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/lgbt-rights-by-country

https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/best-worst-countries-for-women-gender-equality/

© 2019 • More Than Meets