It seems every other day I wake up and read about an act of Islamic-inspired terrorism in the world — an explosion in Manhattan, two men storm into a church and slash the throat of a Catholic priest, bombs explode in crowded markets in the Middle east, a suicide attack in a major European city, airport — the list goes on.

The reaction is predictable here in the USA: large, incendiary attacks often draw out the hyper-nationalists, xenophobes, Christian fundamentalists, and general racists of the right who seek to paint every Muslim (a follower of the teachings of Islam to differing degrees) as a terrorist or on their way towards radicalism. However, the “champions” of the left (the apologists), also crawl out carrying their #notallmuslim flags, their “terrorism has nothing to do with Islam” rhetoric, and touting geo-politics, western foreign policy, colonialism, oppression and Zionism as the root of all terrorism.

Which begets the question: Who do I believe about Islam?

At the start of 2016, Kamel Daoud released a piece in the NYT Op-ed section called:” The sexual misery of the Arab world,” slamming the practices of Islamic countries for their treatment of woman. Before that he wrote a piece for La Monde, titled:” Cologne, The Scene of Fantasies,” highlighting the cultural differences held by many Muslim men migrating over to Europe in relation to how they see women — and how those differences fueled the now infamous Cologne attacks.

Both essays were met with some support and alternatively, louder cries of “Islamophobia,” furor, and for the La Monde piece, a collective letter by 19 Western and French Academics regarding the perceived fallacies made by Daoud.

Adam Shatz, a self-professed friend of Daoud’s, and NYT published author offered a nuanced, though ultimately condemning take on both of Daoud’s pieces. On the London Review of Books‘ website, he wrote:

Daoud, who joined the Islamist movement as an adolescent only to repudiate it as an adult, sometimes writes as if the sinister hand of Islamism, even the ‘culture’ of Islam, were responsible for all of the sufferings in ‘Allah’s lands’, not to mention Cologne. The exaggerations in Daoud’s New York Times piece about behaviour in the Arab world were too sweeping, the leaps of judgment too swift. He seemed to be breaking taboos about Muslim ‘sexual misery’ for their own sake, without realising that some of these taboos are clichés in the West, in racist circles where he would not be welcome except as an ‘Arabe de service’. Daoud has always refused to be muzzled by fears of the ways others might use his writings; if racists choose to exploit his criticisms of Islam, he can hardly be blamed for it. It is an admirable stance. But to write in blithe disregard of nuance and complexity  —  and of the battles waged by the Arab women in whose name he spoke  —  struck me as irresponsible, and unworthy of him. I wrote to him in the hope that he would climb down from this mountain of hyperbole, and instead explore the ambiguities of sex and power in his fiction. He replied that my letter had confirmed his decision to ‘return to literature’ and ‘leave journalism’.

Similarly, and perhaps more tellingly, take the case of Faisal Saeed Al Mutaar, an Iraqi-Born human rights activist who went to school under Saddam Hussein, fled his birth country for fear of his life, traveled through Lebanon and Malaysia, and finally made his way to the United States as a refugee. In an interview format conversation with Ali A. Rizvi for the Huffington Post, he covered what disappointed and angered him the most:

Ali (INTERVIEWER): I’ve been amazed recently by white liberals right here in the West alleging that you  —  a man who fled Iraq after losing loved ones and having his life under threat for years  —  are an “Islamophobe” who is somehow “out of touch”. How do you respond to them?

Faisal: It is disappointing. As a secularism and human-rights activist as well as a liberal myself, I have defended the right and will always defend the right for people to practice their belief system, including Islam, despite all my disagreements. As I mentioned in our previous conversation, the Bill of Rights and the Human Rights Declaration are my bibles. Actually, the worst titles I have gotten are not “Islamophobe” or anything of that sort but “Uncle Tom” and “white people puppet,” after spending little more than a year in America and integrating, to some extent, into the culture. So they accuse people criticizing religion and Islam of being racist, but they use the most racist terms in describing people like me. This double standard is what angers me the most.

I bring up these instances because they frustrate me — and also because I imagine they lend a hand to increasing the confusion we’re having in the Western world on this issue.

The story goes something like this:

1. ex-Muslim or secular Muslim makes a case that there are current issues with Islamism or the way Islam is interpreted by large populations or cultural differences between some refugees that may be arriving.

2. ex-Muslim or secular Muslim is then harassed as racist, considered delusional, called such things as a “native informant” or “uncle tom” by (pseudo) “liberals,” Muslim conservatives, and some Muslim moderates.

3. (Pseudo) “liberals” feel good. They have stood up for the rights of oppressed minorities. After all, their doctor, friend, or favorite restaurant owner is a Muslim, and they’re a fantastic person.

Examples like these, which are numerous, are where I believe the crux of the matter lies — and symptomatic of too many individuals on the left.

While parts of the right are eager to condemn all Muslims as misogynists, terrorists, and satan re-incarnates (possibly due to their religious motives), parts of the left fervidly and openly denounce any criticism of Islam and its adherents as “Islamophobic” — so much so that they’re unwilling to allow any conversation, unwilling to admit there might be a link between belief and action — even when that talking point is coming from people who are highly studied, experienced, and are often from Islamic cultures.

Say a word against Islam and “Islamophobe” is shoved down your throat quicker than you can finish your thought. Interestingly, these leftists are often proud of being atheists or secularists; they gleefully denigrate Christianity, but are afraid to say: “all religions, in their current forms, are not equally bad — some are worse than others.”

They are unable to differentiate between anti-Muslim bigotry (against people) and genuine criticism of Islam (against a set of ideas people hold). If you’re having trouble delineating between criticism of Islam and straight up bigotry towards Muslims — read this, by Faisal Saeed Al Mutaar to help you in your cause. I think it’s one of the best, most succinct articles written on the issue.

But what confuses me the most is the amount of smugness with which these individuals assert their claims of racism and bigotry against anyone wanting to take part in this conversation. They genuinely believe they’re on the higher moral ground when they spit out the terms “Islamophobe,” and “Islamophobic,” rattling them out like trigger happy amateurs at a shooting range with unlimited ammunition.

It seems the honest, balanced, non-bigoted, and open conversations people are wanting to have about Islam, Islamism (in many cases by ex-Muslims or secular Muslims), are being censored and sabotaged. Not by the right as we would expect — but by the left. It is often the well-meaning, (or sometimes not well meaning i.e. Nathan Lean, Cenk Ungyur, CJ Werleman, etc.) individuals who cause the most damage in this space.

I can understand, though. When I first saw criticisms of Islam, my knee-jerk reaction was to defend those being accosted.

I had to parse together that criticizing Islam ≠ condemning all Muslims.

And that it was fine to discuss it — the same way I’d be happy discussing Christianity and pointing to its problems without being “bigoted” or “racist” towards Christians or speaking out against the Catholic church without worrying of being “bigoted” or “racist” towards Catholics.

The author and mathematician, James A. Lindsay  coined an interesting and what could be a highly applicable term for this phenomenon: Ophobophobia.

Ophobophobia is the irrational fear of being perceived a bigot (by self or others) by being deemed insufficiently sensitive to the experience of some identifiable group of others.

This is what I propose is happening on the left. Influenced partly by the need to virtue signal as being accepting and welcoming (and quite possibly the utter garbage that is The Young Turks) these days.

All of which leads me to my second point: we should not be afraid to criticize other cultures and ways of life — if our only fear is being called “bigots” or “racists.”

If you apply different standards to different people based on their race and skin color, that in itself is inherently racist. Individuals should be held to the same standards — morally, ethically. President George Bush (or his speechwriter), among his many blunders, coined a sensible concept. He called it the “bigotry of soft expectations,” an idea which is actually championed by Bill Maher these days.

The inability of the left to correctly handle these issues is of course, as noted by many, creating a vacuum where the far right will, and has, already stepped in —  as demonstrated in parts of Europe, where political parties with far right leanings are rising rapidly in popularity.

Indeed, in the past year or so, this sort of mentality has even been popularized as the “regressive left.” Defined as: a political epithet used to negatively characterize a section of leftist who are accused of holding politically regressive views (as opposed to progressive views) by tolerating illiberal principles and ideology for the sake of multiculturalism. It’s an interestingly curious phenomenon — if it were not so damaging to the progress these reformers wish to make.

So then, who should I believe about Islam?

People like Ali A. Rizvi, Asra Nomani, Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, Maajid Nawaz, Raheel Raza, Sarah Haider, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali (all ex-Muslims, or currently believing Muslims who have grown up in Islamic cultures) are perhaps a good place to start.

I finish with this from Mr. Al Mutaar:

For U.S. media consumers, the most important distinction to make may be the one between Moderate and Pseudo-Liberal Apologists and Muslim Reformers. Muslim Reformers admit that there is a connection between certain radical interpretations of Islam and terrorism; also, they don’t blame all the ills of the Muslim world on Jews and/or U.S. foreign policy. As you can probably tell, my own sympathies lie with them, and they deserve your support.

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