Secular Right | Reality & Reason



Liberal de facto apologia for Islam

In the comments to my post “The double standard” many liberals objected to my assertion that much of the Left engages in a situational criticism of religion, whereby conservative Christians bear the full front of the secular critique, where Muslims do not. My own personal experience with this is that almost everyone I have close personal contact with is a liberal, because of the scientific-technologist Left Coast circles in which I move. They’ve often absorbed a set of mantras about “moderate Muslims” which indicates little deep understanding, comprehension, or concern. In other words, they are the unreflective inverse of the right-wing Islamophobes whom they detest!

My issue is not that American liberals strenuously defend the civil liberties of Muslim Americans. My issue is that they often expand their defense to an inaccurate characterization of the religion. See this exchange by Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches and Michael Brendan Dougherty:


On the merits there are many things about Posner’s argument I think have merit. But instead of disputing Dougherty’s assertions in a narrow sense, she comes very close to simply taking the position of a particular group of “moderate Muslim” apologists for the religion. Religions naturally need apologists, and there’s a role for them in the broader ecology of fictitious ideas. But to my knowledge Sarah Posner is not a Muslim, and there’s no need for her to defend the honor of the Islamic religion so robustly. A general criticism of the specific imputations Dougherty makes would have been sufficient, and Dougherty himself wisely notes that it is peculiar to be in the business of characterizing the “true Islam” if one is not a Muslim.

The reality is that like many fictitious system of ideas Islam is what Muslims make of it. There is a wide range of belief and conception of “orthodoxy” among Muslims. I know this personally, as I have relatives who are professed Muslims who drink alcohol, date, and wear “immodest” clothing on beaches, and relatives who look like they’re straight out of central casting for Frank Gaffney (in appearance, if not ideas). As a tactical matter non-Muslims should probably give more weight and publicity to the partisans of the faith who wish to move it toward the more liberal direction, but unless you believe in Islam itself as a system of valid truth claims it makes as much sense adjudicating aspects of the “true Islam” as much as it does asserting the “true rules of Dungeons and Dragons.”



  • Lorenzo from Oz · March 17, 2011 at 12:39 am

    Try gay activists in the UK wanting a gay pride march cancelled to avoid inflaming Muslim sentiment.

    When was the last time gay activists wanted a gay events cancelled to avoid inflaming Christians?

    The notion of “Islamophobia” is a nonsense: when it is Christianity we can see that criticising a religion is not a form of bigotry, apparently not so for brown folk. Just as the concern for Muslim’s civil liberties sits rather poorly with the silence about oppression of Christians in Muslim countries.

    Yes, of course there is a double-standard. The “protecting Muslim civil liberties” is the justification, but that is part of how it is all about moral mascots.

    Just as anti-gay activism by the Mormon Church is treated quite differently from anti-gay activism by black Churches. Or bloc voting by blacks is treated differently from any hint of a racial element in white voting. (Which seems to be increasing just recently.) More differential treatment of moral mascots (to use Thomas Sowell’s useful term).

    Bruce Bawer moved to Europe and found that, as a gay man, he was confronted with a much more violent and threatening Religious Right than in the US: except this one was Muslim. It should be possible to do the “disagree with everything you say but defend your right to say it”. Except that standard would have some difficulties for much of the rhetoric against the Christian Right.

  • Lorenzo from Oz · March 17, 2011 at 12:45 am

    To give another example: imagine the response if a Christian anti-abortion activist had shot up an abortion clinic in the way Major Nidal Malik Hasan shot up Fort Hood. Would we have had all the reticence and rhetoric about being cautious about motives? The NYT claiming he was “still an enigma”? Of course not.

    Contrast that with what happened after the Oklahoma bombing or the Tucson shootings. The double standard is stark.

  • D. Bandler · March 17, 2011 at 4:34 am

    I question the argument that Islam is whatever Muslims make it. I think that there are parameters here that are tough to transcend. I have read the Koran and sections of the major Hadiths. One of the central themes of Islam is the demonization of non-believers. I don’t see how that can be interpreted away and historically it hasn’t been. There very well may be various different strains of thought within Islam but I don’t think you can legitimately take out the violence and still call it Islam. Its not that malleable.

    As for the “Right-Wing Islamophobes”, that expression just doesn’t hold water for me. Robert Spencer, David Bostom and the rest of them don’t strike me as mindless haters of Islam. Some of them may be Christian apologists but they dispassionately write on the history and doctrines of the major schools of Islam. Their main point is that there are features built into the Islamic holy texts themselves that lead inexorably to violence. There are good, non-violent Muslims. But the violent ones have better textual and historical support for their views.

    I have many disagreements with today’s Right but the anti-Jihad contingent strikes me as one of the better elements of it. I wish the fiscal Conservatives were as determined. Calling them mindless “Islamophobes” strikes me as completely unwarranted.

  • Author comment by David Hume · March 17, 2011 at 5:12 am

    I don’t see how that can be interpreted away and historically it hasn’t been.

    you underestimate the creativity of the primitive superstitious mind. the question of the contingency of the nature of the beast on the initial parameters is interesting, but if you read the new testament it is hard to see how constraining it was on christianity.

    But the violent ones have better textual and historical support for their views

    this is correct. but the same is correct for christians who argue for slavery or submission of women.

    you do point to something i hadn’t thought about about the “anti-jihad” writers. many of them are religious believers, and so superstition addled themselves, and take primitive fictions, whether islamic or not, seriously in a substantive matter. if you are religious and believe in revelation through scripture, you start with a bias in thinking muslims actually do base their barbaric behavior on the koran.

  • mike · March 17, 2011 at 9:38 am

    “christians who argue for slavery”

    Name one.

  • Meng Bomin · March 17, 2011 at 9:45 am

    I’ve noticed Sarah Posner acting as an apologist for moderate Islam on past Bloggingheads diavlogs, perhaps most strikingly in the episode with Haroon Moghul:

    It’s been a while since I saw it (it was put up over a month ago, after all), but I remember her essentially trying to make all the arguments, leaving Haroon to fill in details, and often he didn’t take as adamant a position as she did. It was a strange juxtaposition.

  • Author comment by David Hume · March 17, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    Name one.

    dumbass, i was indicating that christians don’t argue for slavery. this is in contradiction the texts and tradition of christianity. up to ~1800. slavery was a normal custom in all societies.

  • Author comment by David Hume · March 17, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    and some reformed calvinists such as doug wilson pretty much make a *principled* defense of slavery, even if they don’t endorse its resurrection, because of its scriptural defensibility.

  • John Emerson · March 17, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    A lot of liberals put energy into damping or minimizing ethnic disputes, particularly of the lynch-mob type. It’s an institutionalized reaction going back as far as you look — Germans in non-German areas were abused in WWI (not so much WWII). It’s a knee-jerk reaction, but that’s how political customs are. A pluralistic society swings between bigotry and knee-jerk tolerance, and liberals are on the knee-jerk tolerance end.

    You don’t have to go far to run into knee-jerk bigotry, but it’s been pretty effectively suppressed.

    Sometimes the truth gets lost in this. If I wanted to make a case against Koreans or Nigerians or Muslims or Moldavans or Quechuans or Amish, with a few days in the library I could do it without using lies. But I avoid that.

    So why am I not similarly tolerant of rednecks and fundamentalists? Mostly because they run Congress.

  • Chris · March 17, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    I think the issue is that most liberals don’t actually believe in the things they purport to believe in. Tolerance is not an automatic part of the human psyche, and many liberals, rather than being tolerant, are tribal and universalist in the old American protestant tradition. Their tribe is a certain set of cultural assumptions that lead them to assume the existence of “moderate Muslims” is proof their own beliefs are universal and true. While giving lip service to civil liberties, they actually support non-caucasian ethnicities on the assumption that “conservative” values are a cultural anomaly of stupid people.

    “For, in spite of all tem-tay-ay-tions; to belong to other nay-ay-tions; he-ee is a lib-er-al… he-ee is-ah li-he-he-he-he-he-he-he-ib-er-al…”

  • Rich Rostrom · March 17, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    Apples and eggs are being compared here.

    Slavery was practiced by Christians, and some Christians have argued that slavery is “scripturally defensible”.

    But slavery has never been a Christian religious practice, and there is a vast gulf between “scripturally defensible” and “scripturally mandated“.

    Jihad – making war on unbelievers – is central to Islam. Mohammed waged jihad, and his victories in jihad were the foundation of Islam. His successors waged jihad, and their victories spread Islam from Spain to India.

    The Koran states that jihad is a solemn duty for all Moslems, and that those who die in jihad are especially rewarded by God. Those Moslems whose jihad is successful may seize the goods of defeated infidels. An entire Surah (Number 8, “Al-Anfal”) is about the distribution of these literal – not figurative – spoils of war.

    Nowhere in the Bible, not even in the Old Testament, is there any statement that anyone should own or be a slave. There are rules and suggestions for how slaveowners or slaves should behave, but these passages address slavery as a pre-existing institution, whose continuance is beyond the scope of religious authority.

    Neither Jesus nor any of Apostles ever owned a slave, AFAIK. If any of the early Popes or other Fathers of the Church owned slaves, it is either unknown or an obscure detail.

    Moslems celebrate the jihad victories of Mohammed and the Caliphs. Do Christians ever celebrate the slaveowning of other Christians?

    Some Christians have asserted a religious duty to make war – against heretics or infidels – but this idea is a derivation from the premise that Christianity is true religion, not a doctrine of Christianity itself. Christian “crusades” are comparable to “jihad”, but crusades have been episodes, not a continuous practice. (The “First Crusade” was in 1096, more than a millenium after the founding of Christianity; the last Crusade was in 1444.)

    John Emerson: When I was in college 40 years ago, I had a roommate from a small town in southern Illinois. He told me a story (which I presume he had from a relative, as the events would have been 50 years before that) of an area man who was German-American, and noisily pro-German (he even wore a Kaiser Wilhelm mustache), who was lynched after the U.S. declared war in 1917.

  • Author comment by David Hume · March 17, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    Rich, you’re a smart dumbass. This is for the benefit of other readers who aren’t informed enough to see how you mix & match fact with shading. You have a long record of not knowing enough not to know what you don’t know, since I know a lot more than you. So don’t respond to me, or I’ll ban you 🙂 I find your self-righteous stupidity offensive. I wonder if you hang out wioth morons and so fancy yourself able to say something worth listening to.

  • Author comment by David Hume · March 17, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    For the benefit of readers, here is an example of Rich Rostrom in full-moron mode (I think he is too ignorant to know his stupidity in this case):

    Moslems celebrate the jihad victories of Mohammed and the Caliphs. Do Christians ever celebrate the slaveowning of other Christians?

    During the medieval period both Christian and Muslims had pretty similar rules for enslavement: unbelievers could be held in bondage, believers could not. In the case of Christians the prime candidates were pagan people who lived on the Baltic coast. An amusing incident from one of the “Baltic Crusades” was the laying siege of a pagan West Slavic town by German Christian knights. Their intent was materialist: booty and humans to sell. Unfortunately for the knights the town had converted recently to the “German religion” (Christianity), and so was off limits. Some of the knights basically wanted to argue that they were still de facto pagans, and they should sack the town anyhow, but eventually there were enough defectors who pushed on to the fully pagan frontier that they had to disband.

    This from the excellent book God’s War: A New History of the Crusades.

    I enjoy having discussions with people whose knowledge of history and religion is at that level of “thickness,” not Rich et al.’s 6th level.

    In any case, my criticism of Posner was because I think she was shading and weighting her argument in a way that I find deceptive and offensive. But the rank ignorance and stupidity which some of you proudly display, either due to laziness or lack of innate cognitive inabilities, has irritated me to the point where I’m going to close this thread. I like exposure to unstupid thoughts.

    Addendum: I think I will put up a post with a “reading list” soon. I understand some of you are probably offended by my attitude here, but if you could experience the pain at the ignorance so easily banished by a few overdue library fines, you would empathize. I’m not an egalitarian, there is a hierarchy of things. Most people who speak on the internet should not, and most of you should be cautious about expressing opinions on things which you have a 12 year old’s level of comprehension.



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