Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Fareed Zakaria: Criticizing Islam Will Not Change It

It seems that almost every week on Real Time with Bill Maher the topic of Islam comes up and its relationship with violent terrorism. Last week Fareed Zakaria was on and criticized Maher's attitude towards Islam when they were talking about the recent conviction of the Boston Bomber.

“My problem with the way you approach it,” Zakaria said, “is I don’t think you’re going to reform a religion by telling 1.6 billion people — most of whom are just devout people who get some inspiration from that religion and go about their daily lives — I don’t think you’re going to change religion by saying your religion is the motherlode of bad ideas, it’s a terrible thing, you know. Shape it up and change it. I think frankly, you’re going to make a lot of news for yourself and you’re going to get a lot of applause lines and joke lines out of it. But if you really want to change those people, if you want to change that religion, then what you have to do is push for reform but also with some sense of respect for what the spiritual values that people think.”  

Salon is running a headline that Maher is a bigot and that anyone who's a fan of Maher is a bigot too. He's not. Maher is simply acknowledging the facts. He's not selling "blanket intolerance." But he's not going to issue blanket tolerance either. The problem is that the "spiritual values" that a large number of Muslims think are not quite so pretty, and it is not bigoted to point this out anymore than it is to point out the nasty beliefs that many other ideologies have. Sure, hundreds of millions of Muslims are hard working people who get spiritual strength from their religion, and who are peaceful people. We all know that. But why should I have to pretend that Islam is peaceful religion, with a peaceful philosophy, in order to reform it? Maher, Zakaria, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and I, along with millions of moderate Muslims, all want Islam to reform. Some of us, like Maher, Ayaan, and I, don't want to have to lie to achieve a strategic goal. We don't want to have to act like politicians. We want to be honest.

I'm not even sure that pretending Islam is a religion of peace in order to reform it is the best strategy to reform Islam. Maybe it is. Maybe harsh criticism of Islam is. I don't know. At least some people leave Islam when they see harsh criticism of it. The problem with a large part of the Islamic world is that there is little tolerance for free speech that criticizes Islam, and religious indoctrination is rampant. Perhaps a little criticism will do some help. I honestly think both strategies should be employed. You can have your firebrands and your accommodationists each doing their part, each making the case in their own way, that religions need to live exclusively in the twenty-first century.

Things get worse for Zakaria as the conversation goes on.

"You go to Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world," Zakaria said, "and they have lived happily with minorities, women are given respect."

Indonesia (along with Turkey) are the two most cited countries when it comes to "moderate" Islamic societies. Yes they are comparatively "moderate" to most of the Islamic majority countries, but that's not saying much. Zakaria is either ignorant of, or is lying about the fact that there have been a lot of religious conflicts in Indonesia where the non-Islamic minorities have faced discrimination. And to say that in Indonesia "women are given respect" forgets to acknowledge that in the more hardcore Islamic provinces, like the Aceh province, women cannot straddle the person they are behind when riding on a motorcycle, women are barred from dancing in public places in Bireuen, and cannot wear skirts in Meulaboh, and female government employees are forced to undergo humiliating, unscientific virginity tests to keep their jobs, as Al Jazeera reports.

If Indonesia is the best example of a moderate, progressive Islamic majority country, then this doesn't say much in favor of the state of Islam and its effects on society and the law.

"To say that hundreds of millions of people believe what ISIS does," Zakaria then says, "you would have a lot more problems than the number — than the terrorists." Yes Fareed, hundreds of millions of Muslims believe killing for apostasy, adultery, suicide bombing in defense of Islam, and corporal punishment is OK. No one's saying they agree with all of ISIS' views, like burning people alive, but there are a lot of common values held by ISIS and hundreds of millions of Muslims.

Like Reza Aslan, Zakaria is lying about Islam and what hundreds of millions of Muslims think around the world. They both want reform in Islam, like most of us do. We just disagree on how it should be done. I'm not going to lie about religion and pretend it is better than it really is to try and reform it. I must be honest about the facts and the relationship between religious belief and human behavior, and I'm not going to let political correction stop me from doing so. Honesty is often the best policy, and we have to stop this idea that criticizing Islam or reporting the facts on what hundreds of millions of Muslims believe is somehow bigotry simply because it doesn't conform to the views politically correct liberals wish were true.

See their conversation below:

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