This is a subject I have been grappling with for quite some time. For those of you who do not know me, I am unashamedly left wing in my views. I am also an atheist. I am a person who believes firmly that religion has done far more harm to the world than it has done good. This is that belief that has put me on a collision course with other liberals and left-wing commentators over one hot potato of a subject: Islam.
I have long argued that religion has been a force for evil more than good. From the brutality of the crusades, the sadistic inquisition, the various cruel witch trials over the centuries – right up until the modern day with the conservative religious right, demonising abortion and gays with a hatred only puritanical fanaticism can muster. Religion causes, and propagates hatred. It ignores and lies about scientific fact, and I do not believe it has any place in a progressive world. It is because of this belief that I have crossed verbal swords with more than one fellow liberally minded thinker.
I will not refute the fact that Muslims have taken a hard rap, in particularly over the last 15 years. Various right-wing news channels and tabloid newspapers have made careers out of inventing ever more disgusting xenophobic and racist ‘news’ stories to publish, fuelling the public’s antagonism for the outsider. The western world has fully invaded two countries in which Islam is the prevalent religion, and we have waged secret drone and aircraft wars on at least three others in the name of pre-emptive defence. This kind of demonization and covert death dealing of course inflames tensions, sows discord, and breeds hatred. The fact that a NATO aircraft or drone can carry out an airstrike in a Muslim country, killing scores of civilians and no one in the west bats an eyelid, is one of the greatest sources of shame to me as a resident of a NATO country. The vilification of Islam by the resurgent right-wing commentators and information outlets in Europe and America does nothing but create hatred on both sides of the spectrum.
I accept all of the above, and I fully understand that much has to be done to combat racist and fascist views, which are making a disturbing comeback in ‘civilized’ society. That said, I do believe that Islam is deserving of criticism. It has become an almost subconscious knee-jerk reaction by many on the left to put down any and all criticism of Islam. The viewpoint goes something like this: Islam has long been the target of abuse from the right – Therefore, the left must counter this by exonerating Islam of wrong. I believe this view to be utterly counter-productive. This is to not only whitewash, but also excuse for the religion’s wrongs. The fact of the matter is – and I would say the same for Christianity – Many, many horrific and brutal acts have been committed in the name of Islam.
Islamic law contains extremely detailed regulation in the use of violence – including within the family. It appropriates the use of corporal and capital punishment, and how and when to wage war. Sharia law is a major source of legislation in many Muslim countries. Sharia legislates and encourages capital and corporal punishments such as beheading, flogging and stoning. These horrific acts are practiced to a disturbing level in many Islamic countries, including Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, the UAE, and Qatar among others. These brutal penalties are practiced at the behest of state-sanctioned and Sharia-based courts, or oft times extrajudicially, at the hands of a mob. The spread of sharia law is a longstanding goal for Islamist movements and factions across the Muslim world.
In Islam, Jihad is view as a duty by many Muslims. Jihad is a term controversially translated as ‘’holy war”. The actual translation is ‘’to strive, to apply oneself, to struggle, to persevere”. The origins of Jihad can be traced back to the prophet Muhammad and original texts from the Quran, which encourage the use of violence against enemies of Islam. The fact remains that throughout hundreds of years, practitioners of Jihad – known as the Mujahedeen – have interpreted their duty of Jihad to be absolute war against non-believers. Believers can interpret the Quran in different ways, however Mujahedeen often quote the following Quranic verses as license for their war.
Quran (3:56) – “As to those who reject faith, I will punish them with terrible agony in this world and in the Hereafter, nor will they have anyone to help.”
Quran (8:12) – “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them”
” I believe it is possible to be a left-leaning person who condemns the warmongers and hawkish right-wing, and who condemns the demagogue imam who preaches hatred, or the Sunni mujahideen slitting the throat of a journalist, or Shia child.”
This is a religion that consistently sanctions and commits horrific acts against many sections of society. In Islam, animal rights are non-existent. Women have no rights and exist only to please the patriarch. The LGBT community is something to be destroyed. These are teachings of mainstream Islam, and horrific acts are committed against all of these groups every single day in the name of Islam.
Do I believe that because of all this, we, the West, should drop countless bombs on Islamic countries, decimating families, maiming innocent people, and destroying homes and cities? Of course I do not. The way in which the west has conducted itself over the last 15 years is nothing short of reprehensible, and I wholeheartedly condemn my own government and allies for their wanton and brutal destruction of Islamic countries. However, I do not believe that the West’s disgraceful conduct absolves Islam of its sins. I believe it is possible to be a left-leaning person who condemns the warmongers and hawkish right-wing, and who condemns the demagogue imam who preaches hatred, or the Sunni mujahideen slitting the throat of a journalist, or Shia child.
I have found recently that among educated and intellectual circles, the condemnation of a horrific act perpetrated in the name Islam is met with seething rebuttals seeking to absolve or excuse the perpetrators. Universities have been forced to cancel appearances by authors who have expressed concern at Sharia law’s teachings. When Islamic terror claims yet more lives in ever more brutal attacks, world leaders denounce the perpetrators as ‘Not Muslims’. I would argue that very thinking contributes to the problem. The fact is they are Muslims. They belong to the Islamic religion, they cite Islamic teachings in their reasoning, and a disturbing amount of Islamic law cements their views. Calling these people ‘non-Muslim’ is to bury ones head in the sand, and refuse to tackle the root of the issue. The root lies with Islam, and it must be faced up to, not buried in fanciful words meant to unite.
“I believe that the majority of Muslims across the world are good and kind people. I also believe that Islam has a serious problem, which can only be addressed from within itself. The first step to addressing a problem is to acknowledge it exists.”
In the 21st century, were the religion perpetrating these horrific acts to be Christianity, Hinduism, or Buddhism, I would be writing the same things. The fact is, these acts are sanctioned by Islamic law, and committed by followers of Islam. Can what we’re seeing be attributed to young religion syndrome? Perhaps, in part. It is true that Christianity featured a prolonged period of brutal violence throughout the middle ages. However Christianity’s violence was never based on such a volume of texts and teachings encouraging violence, as is Islam. The case of Islam is a unique one, and the comparison can only be taken so far. I believe that the majority of Muslims across the world are good and kind people. I also believe that Islam has a serious problem, which can only be addressed from within itself. The first step to addressing a problem is to acknowledge it exists. The left burgeons with excuses for Islam’s behaviour – precisely because it is the antithesis of the right wing’s rhetoric. I believe that our duty on the left, is to call out and condemn injustice wherever we find it – Whether that be in the hawkish news tycoons who profit from perpetual war in the Middle East, tabloids exploiting people’s fear for their own personal gain, or Religious demagogues who preach death and destruction and their fanatical followers who commit atrocious acts in the name of their god.
The left’s duty is to condemn all injustice and brutality, not defend it. We should always promote tolerance, and encourage the furthering of science and progressive thinking. Islam must not be let off the hook because of the treatment they have received. Two wrongs do not make a right, and we should consider our position as progressives very carefully before leaping to defend Islam.