Ahoy, friends and strangers. It's been a long time.
I'm an American. In 1992, I voted for Perot (everybody gets a mulligan, come on people). In 1996, I voted for Clinton. In 2000, I voted for Gore. In 2004, I voted for Kerry. In 2008 and 2012, I voted for Obama. I was in horror during the Bush era. I watched the Daily Show religiously. I campaigned locally for Democrats a little. Anyone who shared beers with me then will confirm that I held forth loudly (and sanctimoniously) about the sanctimony of the American right wing. I still cringe at the stuff that comes out of the mouths of Ted Cruz and Sean Hannity. I still roll my eyes when I see some dumbass selling a tshirt outside of a Tea Party rally that has Obama with a nose ring. I suspect if you go far enough back in this blog, you'll see me gnawing on an arm about this kind of stuff.
But for some time now, I've been going through something of a political crisis of identity. For as long as I can remember, I've been an atheist and a skeptic. My ire for the religious American right comes from my nonbelief, for hopefully obvious reasons. I don't care whom you pray to, or whom you have sex with. I don't care what sex you were born as or what sex you now identify as, or if you don't want identify as any particular gender. Likewise, I don't care about your skin color, or your ethnic heritage. I've hever consciously held a dogma urging me to think otherwise. In fact, if you don't willfully physically hurt anybody or promote hurting people, we almost certainly can be buddies.
But, my progressive friends, I fear we've now parted ways ideologically through some extinction-event-level weirdness that I still don't quite understand. I became aware of this sometime in 2012, although I'm sure it was happening well before then. In 2012, I saw the guns of identity politics turned towards everyone, instead of squarely aimed on the enemy, which has always been -- and whom continues to be -- religious loonies and repressive regimes whom actually marginalize and hurt people. I have other beefs with this reset of the azimuth, but today I can only think about the relationship between progressivism and Islam. Gulp, hang tight. It's about to get real.
Mainstream progressives wring their hands about offending Muslims, even after bloodbaths that are clearly ideologically motivated. The article I linked just there is a towering, Olympic display of cognitive dissonance. It's astounding. Like Christianity, Islam is completely intolerant of homosexuality on a scriptural level. And it's not just scripture. Islamic culture -- even in the West -- is just not too keen on homosexuals. I think that even brave, liberal Muslims will admit to this publicly, and they struggle to try to change it (sadly to little effect thus far). And yet, I see my online peer group of liberals, many of whom are trans or gay, furiously defending the ideology of Islam after every brutality committed in its name. It's bizarre, and I feel like I'm living in an alternate reality.
Islam may indeed be a religion of peace, but boy, these days you really have to stretch the definition of peace to account for the shedding of blood done in its name. I was horrified after 9/11 when it was clear we were going to invade a country (turned out to be two) in order to attempt to kill a small band of Jihadist lunatics. I was horrified because I didn't trust our leadership, and I knew a lot of people were about to die. And they did. And we're still embroiled, shamefully. But my horror was never about intolerance towards Islam. The Quran and the various Hadiths describe a religion which promotes many positive behaviors. But it clearly also can be (and is) interpreted as representing a brutal, intolerant cult, just like Christianity was a few hundred years ago. And you can't successfully combat a cult by killing its followers, you combat a cult by fighting its ideas with better ideas.
You can't align yourself politically with an ideology that holds indefensible brutal and hateful ideas in its scripture as and call it "tolerance". Without also arguing for better ideas, "tolerance" isn't the right word at all. A much better word is "enabling". Maybe "providing cover for". I know it's frightening that those ideas might be in direct conflict with the ideas of some of our Muslim friends. I know our mothers told us "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." I know it's just plain difficult to disagree with people. But sometimes you have to fight. There is only one way to stop the killing and stupidity, and it's denuding hateful ideologies of their shiny outer PR shell, to expose the rottenness and illogic within. To show it for what it is and to make it uncool. And yes, there is lots of illogic and rottenness in the world. But not all of it kills random people on purpose violently. We just cannot ignore that the vast majority of terrorist attacks in the last century have been committed in the name of Islam. We cannot ignore that doctrinal Islam preaches intolerance towards homosexuals. We cannot ignore that Islamic culture limits the choices of women. We can ignore these things no more than we can ignore the Christian tenets that do the same.
You don't need to personally argue against the ideas of Islam that are bad if you don't want to. There are lots of other people who will. But if you're not helping, please at least don't hurt by requiring that we argue the obvious over and over again. We know, yes, of course the vast majority of the billion and a half Muslims on Earth are completely peaceful people. But defending Muslims against marginalization after every horrific, ideologically-motivated bloodbath is a non-sequitur. I recognize that this is a good instinct. Nobody wants to see people hurt, even non-physically. And yes, some people are hateful towards individual Muslims, it's undeniable. Those people are assholes. But a ton of people are a lot more reasonable: they can separate the bad ideology from its followers, and argue against the idea instead of the person. You don't need to protect the ideology on behalf of its believers, particularly from people whom simply disagree with the idea that homosexuals should be beaten or killed for being whom they are, or from people who believe that women should not have to wear bags over their heads if they don't want to.
I hear you starting to analogize by way of argument. "But would you accuse Christianity of being a brutal cult due to the actions of a few KKK?" Yes, I would. Christianity was a brutal cult, and the old fire and brimstone leaks its way back out again occasionally. The more extreme members of any cult will eventually work out some completely ideologically pure reason to commit mass murder of infidels. It's just how things go. (That said, as an aside, the analogy is irrelevant. The implication is, of course, that Jihadists are not "true Muslims". Interestingly, that's falsifiable according to the faith; any Muslim who says he's a Muslim is a Muslim, as long as he upholds the five pillars . He might be a bad Muslim, but he's still a Muslim.)
The only reason you don't see "Christian extremism" next to any attack on that long Wikipedia terror attack list I linked above is that Christianity has been battered over centuries into submission by extremely brave secular and moderate people whom were willing to lay down their livelihoods and sometimes even their lives in order to promote reason and liberal ideas. They fought the bad idea of the ideologies with better ones. And yet, we still have creationist bible thumpers. Thankfully, with a few tragic exceptions, they don't commit mass murders these days. But murder in the name of Christ didn't become rare by hugging Christians and protecting them from people who disagreed with them. It became rare because those disagreeable people succesfully argued with Christians in power. They proved that the Earth was more than 6000 years old, and that humans evolved from apes, and they didn't let Christians forget it. This made fundamentalist Christianity uncool, and that, praise be upon Allah, eventually made its cult less fond of death. The same thing can happen in Islam. It will take hundreds of years, of course, but uncool it shall become.
Now I'm sure if you're a certain kind of progressive, you've heard stuff like this before. You've written off similar screeds as some such nonsense as "Islamophobia" or "racism." But one way to not get rid of a problem is to shout down the people who point the problem out. The problem will continue to exist even if you successfully shut them up. And so far, progressives have shut them up. Any disagreement with an ideological ally (even the unlikeliest ally) of progressives is presumed to be an attack on the individuals that hold the ideology. Progressives watch social media and mass media, identifying transgressions of various ideological speech boundaries. They forward a skeptical tweet or blog entry or article to their homogenous circle of friends. "Oh my god look how racist he is." And if he is unlucky enough, if that circle of friends contains, say, his convtroversy-averse employer, that person is marginalized. Permanently. Tactical accusation of someone being an -ist or -phobe can be devastating to their reputation, and thus any further things they might have to say. Ever. It shuts down conversation permanently. It's the nuclear option. Worse: it's indiscriminate. It's as likely to marginalize an actual liberal ally as it is a hateful bigot, because it seems that some progressives just aren't very good at being able to spot the difference.
I realize this behavior is coming from a good place in the heart of non-Muslim progressives. You want justice. You want peace. You want equality. You don't want to see good people get hurt, or become marginalized due to the the actions of a few lunatics. You don't like seeing conflict related to ideology, because others might take the the conflict as an attack on a culture. And attacks on culture make the people in that culture fearful. I certainly wouldn't want someone mischaracterizing my beliefs, and causing others to hate me as a result. Please, by all means, call out actual misanthropy and hate wherever you see it. But meanwhile, understand that the problem of Islamic intolerance goes on, and it hurts a heck of a lot more people than the actions taken as the result of people calling for reform. Silencing a person arguing against the ideology but not against the people who follow it does not help. It's a cheap move, and it doesn't change anything for the better. You might disagree. You might instead say "arguing with ideology is dirty business, who is to say whether another person's ideology is good or bad? It's much easier to strategically change ourselves and, as a result, eventually the problem will get better." To that, I say that, try as we might, we can't self-flagellate our way out of others' bad ideas. We should be introspective and we should not blindly assign evil to others' motivations just due to their circumstance. But we can't change ourselves enough to appease an ideology short of joining that ideology. The only other option we have is to support brave liberal allies who have credibility within the ideology whom can slowly work to make the hateful parts uncool. But for them to have any chance of success, they need to be encouraged, not condemned as -ist or -phobe or oppressive. Likewise, as difficult as it may be to build a bridge over all the bombs tossed between the camps, true liberals -- ones who believe in individual rights and basic human agency -- should band together with reasonable conservatives who believe the same.
If you're a progressive, know that I want the same things you do: I want the killing to stop, I want people to live in peace, and I want all people to have equal opportunity. We just disagree about how to get there. If you're a conservative: your historical alignment with religion still creeps me out, but I have newfound sympathy for the suppression of speech I can see that you've experienced over the last 40 years from people using cheap identity politics tactics that ignore actual issues. If you're a Muslim: please realize that I'm not criticizing you, I just hate ideologies that can be (and are) interpreted as murderous and illiberal. I'm not your enemy, I just want your ideology to stop inspiring people to hurt other people.
PS: I realize that, ironically, by way of writing this, I've outed myself as an apostate from the current ruling strain of the left. I have no idea where I'm going, because there is no organized place for me or people who think like me today. I'm not a conservative; I'd be thrown out of that room in about 30 seconds. But I have to believe that I'm not the only tradtionally left-leaning person in my peer group who thinks like I do. There is currently no indication that I am not alone, but I have my fingers crossed.