Thursday, May 9, 2013

Free Speech Vs. Islamism

Free speech is a complex topic, certainly more true in some countries than in others. While I personally am an ardent supporter of as much free speech as possible, including (especially) the public criticism of religion, I am fully aware that there are forces out there opposing this kind of speech and are working towards having it muffled. This is true among many Muslims in the West who oppose criticism of Islam that they deem isn't "intellectual". They'll point to the double standard in many European countries on speech laws and say things like, "In the West you can criticize Islam, but if you question the holocaust, you go to jail! Why not give Islam that same benefit?"

These critics have every right to point out this double standard. That's why I strongly oppose laws against holocaust denial am I'm thankful we don't have such laws in the US. But rather than make the critics happy by affording Islam the same benefit the holocaust has, I say open the gates to all criticism of historic events, historic figures and religions and ideologies.

If you check out some Islamic websites, as I do occasionally, you'll read that many organizations not considered at all extreme, support the restrictions of speech they deem anti-intellectual, or unconstructive. They also oppose the idea of secularism and human rights as it is commonly understood in Western liberal democracies. Some even oppose democracy itself.

Consider the UK based Muslim Debate Initiative whose website argues against secularism by stating "If we looked at Secularism, we notice that it stipulates a separation of religion from lifes [sic] affairs (politics). If this is the case, does that make sense? How can man’s purpose in life be separate from his life’s affairs?" And it concludes by saying, "Instead of aping the West and prostrating ourselves to western political theory and solutions, let us be proud of Islam, strive to establish it and create a noble, progressive and advanced Khilafah, to take us into the 21st century and beyond."

Now of course not all Muslims believe in establishing a 21st century caliphate in the West, but it is not a tiny fringe minority that do. I think that if large numbers of Muslims in the West are arguing for Sharia law being implemented onto non-Muslims, that is certainly a good reason to be attentive to the motivations and growing presence of Islam in the West.

What these Islamists want is the destruction of the wall separating religion from government so that they can have their Sharia courts side-by-side with Christian ones, Jewish ones and (I assume) non-religious secular ones. That way the law is separate and unequal for everyone! Just as god intended it to be. Many of these Islamists are publicly saying that they will stop there and that they will not force Sharia onto non-Muslims. But, if criticism of Islam will be deemed illegal (by who exactly is not known to me at least) then it seems impossible that I as a non-religious person would be able to live freely as I would be able to in free secular democracy.

This is why I consider the debate over secularism the most important and practically relevant aspect of the overall conflict between religion and atheism.

Stand for secularism! Stand for freedom of speech!

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