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.”