The Problem with Islam: Seeing the Forest from the Trees

I hate being called a coward.

But that is exactly what I suppose I would be in the eyes of Sam Harris. Also, I would be a proponent towards the infringement on free speech around the globe. Why? Because I refuse to fall into the same Islamic hatred that he does.

It’s an interesting essay, to say the least, and one that fails to see the forest from the trees at just about every bend possible. The basic premise of it being that Islam really is evil, and that it is a crime, an act of cowardice, and an infringement upon the freedom of speech that authors and cartoonists and film makers can’t use their mediums to point this out.

About the only actual valid point that he does make is that on freedom of speech. In some countries, actual anti-Islamic sentiment has been banned, but even this is blown out of proportion in that he is lumping his own struggles to publish his own book, along with other difficulties faced by other authors and such who have met with equal or more difficulties, with that of true restrictions on the freedom of speech.

Now, look, I’m the biggest freedom of speech guy there is. In no way do I ever condone the government to keep people from speaking what’s on their minds, and I’m very absolutist on this. But what has to first be understood is that freedom of speech does not equate to a mandate to be heard, which is one of the many problems that Harris has with his essay.

Despite the fact that I write upwards of ten articles a night, I continue to not be published in such esteemed journals and newspapers as Newsweek, New York Times, Washington Post, and so on and so forth. Is my freedom of speech being infringed upon? No; these institutions simply don’t see me as being profitable enough to hire me, or, more likely, don’t see me at all (their loss, totally).

This much like Don Imus’ “nappy headed hos” comment. it was a disgusting and unacceptable comment, and I feel that deeply, but I also think that the government had absolutely no right whatsoever to do anything about it. The broadcaster that fired him, though, was well within his right, and was not infringing upon his freedom of speech in the slightest. Instead, they had assessed his message and determined that they did not wish to promote it any longer (Or, from the more cynical point of view, they were pulling their hands out of the fire while they waited for the situation to cool off).

The point of this being that while governments banning films like “Fitna” is a legitimate gripe, going to war against the publishing industry isn’t; that’s what true freedom of speech entails. You get to say what you want but you have to be willing to take whatever the outcome for your words or works will be. If what you say means you can’t get a publisher to pick up your book, than that’s just how the system works, and you better start reading “Publishing for Dummies” if you want to have a prayer of seeing your books on book shelves. If book stores won’t carry your self published book, get used to selling copies out of your truck.

No one is beholden to promoting your views, and any reason at all, from thinking you’re being disingenuous and dangerous, to the possibility that your breath smells like a cat box, is perfectly acceptable and just.

But Harris’ misunderstanding of free speech is hardly the worst of this essay. As the Newshoggers point out, the very double standard that Harris claims Islam enjoys, is actually the double standard that does them so much injustice.

It’s not that hard to see, really. Whenever some lunatic Christian group goes off and does something like start up a bizarre polygamist cult, or bomb an abortion clinic, or anything for that matter, it is quickly denunciated as just a lunatic fringe group. No one looks at the hate filled spew from people like the late Jerry Falwell or John McCain’s bestest buddy John Hagee and concludes that Christianity is inherently evil, and that all followers of Christ must also, by necessity, be just as looped and fanatical. People don’t look at the KKK and decide, oh, man, all Christians are racists, and people don’t look at Fred Phelps and think that all Christians are homophobic assholes.

Christianity gets a pass that is spared when it comes to Islam.

And the real shame about this is that we can’t learn the right lessons from this perspective. The reason why the ideas that Harris put forth are so dangerous is not because, as he implies, the Muslims will kill us all if we speak up against Islam, but because it prevents us from learning the real lessons of what we are seeing from the rise of radical Islamic terrorism, and despotic Islamic states.

It prevents us from seeing that the phenomenon that we are seeing here is not unique to the faith in question. Instead of being the ends, religion in such instances is the means, a tool, as faith is a very powerful part of many people’s lives.

Which is why this modern era has become a cautionary tale about religion in government. The basic precepts and tenets of Islam are not what create the problem that we see, but instead a deeply and widely held belief in a faith that motivates large numbers of people to bend to the will of the few. That the Muslim world is antagonized on all sides merely intensifies the effect by creating a back against the wall mentality.

We see a much smaller version of this in America with the current running battle of creationism and evolution. Many Christians feel as though the exclusion of their religion in the classroom is an attack on their faith, so they get their backs against the wall and they fight back. Take the uproar that this debate in this country has caused, and now multiply it by a pocket of countries against the world, and you might begin to see what I’m getting at.

But, as I say, this isn’t Islam, this is faith thrown in a specific set of circumstances from economic doldrums among the populace, to antagonism all about. it begs the question that, if roles were reversed, would Christianity be any different?

It’s difficult to say, though many I’m sure would instantly rise to the defense of Christianity, and I am not attempting to disparage the faith. In fact, that would go exactly to my point. It’s possible that in the right circumstances Christianity could provide as massive and as deadly a movement as Islam, and historically it has definitely provided some analogous examples. But in such cases, it would not be because Christianity is a violent faith, but because violent people exploit it for violent causes.

It goes from God, to the prophets and clerics, to the people. It is as simple as that. God, in this discussion, is irrelevent, for it is the interpretation of the prophets and clerics that becomes the message to the people, and it is the faith of the people in the prophets and clerics that determines their actions.

When people believe in a God, and they put their faith in the spiritual advisors of that God, those spiritual advisors wield an awesome power over the minds of the zealous. This is true regardless of the name of the God, and the book that carries His word. This is the truth that we have seen throughout our existence, and yes, to claim that Islam is uniquely dangerous, that it is unique among the exploitation of faith by the few, is highly irresponsible, and it takes the focus away from this greater reality of the human condition.

Call Islam evil all you want, you are free to do so, but understand that stamping out the religion will not make the problem go away, but only make room for a new problem using the same basic principles that saw the rise of radical Islamic terrorism.

(edited by DrGail)

4 Responses to “The Problem with Islam: Seeing the Forest from the Trees”

  1. Dynamic says:

    “No one looks at the hate filled spew from people like the late Jerry Falwell or John McCain’s bestest buddy John Hagee and concludes that Christianity is inherently evil, and that all followers of Christ must also, by necessity, be just as looped and fanatical.”

    What is important to bear in mind is that Sam Harris has made a living doing precisely that – calling out Christianity for it’s failings and flaws and sins. He’s hardly singling out Islam.

    Look at Dawkins and the atheist movement. It’s not really an atheist movement at all – it’s an anti-Christian movement. Now, I have no problem with that – as a Christian, I’m fed up with the miserable acts so many of these church’s perform in God’s name that give the rest of us such a bad name, and I’m grateful to the Dawkins crew for calling them out – but by and large you don’t see calls for the murder of Dawkins or his ilk, and Dawkins routinely challenges well known uber-Christians to debates that are open to the public.

    By contrast, the Danish cartoonists are living in hiding or with 24 hour personal bodyguards because of what they drew.

    If you say something, and you are then assaulted for it – physically assaulted, and threatened with loss of your life and your loved ones – it’s unlikely you’ll say anything like that again. How is that freedom of speech?

    Please bear in mind that I’m not disagreeing with you, for the most part – the radicals who have hijacked Islam (like the lesser radicals who have hijacked Christianity) wouldn’t have been able to garner anywhere near this kind of support without our bombs dropping around them and our oil tankers carting off their wealth. We are in many ways responsible for the problem, both for the reasons you cited and for the reasons Harris did.

    I’m about to watch Fitna and see what the fuss is about. I’ll check back later with my thoughts on it.. I’ll leave the link below and if you get the chance, I’m interested in your thoughts too.

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3369102968312745410

  2. Rev Don says:

    You seem to imply there is something wrong if a babykilling abortion mill is burned or bomb. What do you prefer, dead babies or a pile of bricks? Innocent unborn babies deserve to be protected just as born children deserve to be protected. You would have no problem protecting born children if they were about to be murdered.

    SAY THIS PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I am a sinner and am headed to eternal hell because of my sins. I believe you died on the cross to take away my sins and to take me to heaven. Jesus, I ask you now to come into my heart and take away my sins and give me eternal life.

  3. Dynamic says:

    ^^^ Argh.

    I’ve been fighting a losing battle for pro-life understanding for years. There is every reason – purely logically and scientifically – to be against abortion in all but the most extreme cases. And it’s almost impossible for me to make that case, because people like “Rev Don” come along and start praying at people instead of reasoning with them.

    Rev Don: do you really think your tactic is going to work? Do you really think that coming in here and spouting off a prayer is going to make people suddenly see the light?

    Or do you think it will simply show that you’ve judged our community and found it wanting, based on your own standards and what you perceive to be the standards of God? Because if that’s the case, might I remind you that it is neither your place nor mine to judge another human being’s sins – and that to claim to know the mind of God, without error or sin, would be the very height of arrogance, if you consider it logically. I cannot know the mind of God with perfect certainty. I have trouble believing that you do.

  4. matttbastard says:

    Um, Timmy, “Rev Don”‘s preferred tactic isn’t ‘prayer’, but rather terrorism. Gee, Kyle–first “National Socialists”, now clinic bombers–you’re really starting to cultivate a diverse fan base. ;-)

    Great post, btw–Sam Harris and his ignorant brand of bourgeois pop-secularism is nothing but a dumbed-down riff on Huntington’s clash of civilizations theory, classic cultural imperialism at its finest. The End Of Faith contains many passages that would make even Ann Coulter blush. See Lenin’s Tomb on atheism done right and Chris Hedges on the dangerous utopianism of the so-called “New Atheists” (Hedges’ latest book, from which the preceding AlterNet was adapted from, is a must read, too–just finished it last weekend. Don’t entirely agree with his premise, but I do think he pegs the dangerous amoral bigotry of Harris, Hitchens, etc quite well.)

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