Thursday, 25 July 2013

Islam and the New Atheists

I do like James Bloodworth and I think he's done a great job building up the profile of Left Foot Forward since taking up the reins. But his recent piece for The Speccie, It’s fine to be a ‘new’ atheist, so long as you don’t object to Islam reads like it was written in haste. As such it is unsophisticated and limited, the article fails to think through the object of his polemic. And it lacks the unpardonable N-word: nuance.

The point he makes is a well-worn one. James argues that the so-called New Atheists of the Dawkins/Hitchens type are getting it in the neck for criticising Islam from some parts of the left. The exhibits wheeled out are Glenn Greenwald and Owen Jones, but you could take your pick from many, many more. Comrades like Glenn and Owen contend that against the background of a generalised antipathy toward Islam which, in turn, is stoked up by powerful vested interests on either side of the Atlantic; the reactionary and the bigoted can use the critiques of Islam by the trendy atheists for their own ends. Hence the latter have culpability for their arguments. After all, the right to free speech comes with the responsibility for it.

Think of it like this. Imagine the new atheism arrived in Britain three or four decades ago. The Provisional IRA's campaign on the British mainland was in full swing. Irish people living here have to put up with a press backlash, which gives succour to occasional bouts of harassment, victimisation and violent assaults. Now, if the Dawkins analogue or one of his apostles went out of their way to attack Catholicism in the name of secularism and atheism, what are the likely consequences of those arguments? No effect at all? Or, when among the more backward and lumpen elements of the population, Catholicism and 'being Irish' is synonymous; will it add to the climate of hostility Irish residents had to face?

Well, we don't have to play historical thought experiments because this is the case now, albeit Muslims are the scapegoat and hate figures for the Tory press and far right. Take, for example, the recent controversy over Anne Marie Waters' shortlisting for the Brighton Pavillion seat and her endorsement of Catriona Ogilvy in Croydon Central. Naturally, Waters has every right to claim Islam is "new to Europe" and argue "it is not a peaceful religion". But in so doing, she absolutely deserves to be called out for it. After all, what kind of leftist sets themselves up as the atheist scourge of Islam when Mosques are getting bombed, fascist thugs are on the streets "protesting" against Muslims, and that for large swathes of the population 'Muslim' is just another word for 'Paki'. That to me is a "leftist" who needs to re-examine their politics.

It's a question of bridging the gap between criticising Islamism and attacking Islam. Some elements of the left are prepared to soft pedal the former because, despite themselves occasionally, they believe there is a fundamental identity between each. Anti-Islam secularists and atheists are of the same view, but draw diametrically opposed conclusions. I think it's perfectly reasonable and possible to distinguish between the mainstream and the extreme, have a critical relationship with the latter, and yet defend Muslims from the racist right and their useful idiots in the liberal-left.

James concludes, "should you wish to apply your critical faculties objectively to all religions, be prepared for the shrill accusations of prejudice that will inevitably follow you around – not so much from believers, but from your fellow liberal atheists." This won't do. Context, as they say, is everything. James's plea to abstract rationalism is naive in the extreme and treats this dispute as a question of debating ethics. It's not, it's a political problem and as such is tied up in a mess of interests and struggles. And as such, whatever the intentions of the new atheists and their fellow travellers, the way their arguments are pushed and framed have consequences in the real world - consequences that are ultimately inimical to the rationalist values they hold dear.


SarahABUK said...

Good piece - I very much agree in both liking James B and LFF and having doubts about this post. I have expressed some concerns about the way Richard Dawkins and Anne Marie Waters express themselves too. For example:

My comment on James's post earned me a hammering BTL.

Anonymous said...

Livingstone was happy to divide London on religious grounds, when it was pointed out that some of his chosen clerics were hugely anti-Semitic he claimed it was Mossad lies. I was ashamed to be on the left then. Dawkins has no agenda other than highlighting hypocracy. Never be afraid to speak the truth ... And if that offends deluded people then so be it.

James Bloodworth said...

There are a number of problems I have with this critique and there are a number of faulty assumptions I believe it rests upon.

The main thrust appears to be: don’t criticise Islam, lest you give succour to the domestic white far-right.

This isn’t a new argument (Islam is simply the latest in a long line of ‘actors’ that should seemingly be sheltered from criticism), but it is nearly always a deleterious one. The reason being that it always amounts to the following, as Orwell puts it:

"Whenever A and B are in opposition to one another, anyone who attacks or criticises A is accused of aiding and abetting B. And it is often true, objectively and on a short-term analysis, that he is making things easier for B. Therefore, say the supporters of A, shut up and don’t criticise: or at least criticise “constructively,” which in practice always means favourably. And from this it is only a short step to arguing that the suppression and distortion of known facts is the highest duty of a journalist."

It’s quite easy from this to argue, as UAF have done, that criticising even the most extreme Islamists “feeds Islamophobia”. From here it is (as we have seen again and again from numerous leftists and left organisations) only a short step to openly embracing clerics who call for the murder of homosexuals as well as groups like Hamas, who view women as chattel and wish to (let’s be honest) wipe out the Jewish people.

James Bloodworth said...

Once you accept the premise that it’s good politics to lie (or remain silent, which often amounts to the same thing), anything which may ‘aid the enemy’ soon becomes off limits.

You ask: “what kind of leftist sets themselves up as the atheist scourge of Islam when Mosques are getting bombed, fascist thugs are on the streets "protesting" against Muslims, and that for large swathes of the population 'Muslim' is just another word for 'Paki'.”

I must say that it would be very nice if some on the left did position themselves as opponents of Islam (not only Islam, of course, but all conservative religion). It would then be much less easy for racists like the EDL (the ones who do bomb mosques) to portray themselves as speaking up for secularism (an absurd proposition, but one believed by many white working class people because the left has singularly failed so abysmally in this respect ).

It would also be welcomed by the increasingly well organised groups of Ex-Muslims and atheists in the “Muslim community” who, tellingly, aren’t even worthy of mention in the above criticism.

One of the assumptions in your post seems also appears to be that criticism of Islam by the ‘new atheists’ is comparable to the scapegoating of the Tory press and the far right. I find this criticism strange in that the Tory press and the far right aren’t really bothered about Islam as such, but non-white people. Presumably you are aware of that - so why take groups like the EDL at face value for the sake of argument? If we already know that the EDL are not coming from the same place as liberal secularists when they rant about Muslims, why pretend that it is hard to tell the difference between their pseudo and politically expedient ‘secularism’ and the genuine secularism of liberal atheists? Or is it only hard for dim working class folk (who might be drawn to the EDL) to tell the difference between the two?

I don’t, as it happens, believe that it should ever be left to the likes of the EDL to point out that Salman Rushdie can publish whatever he likes and that cartoonists should not be murdered for mocking the “Prophet”. Nor do I believe that pointing out that Islam, like all religions, is a manmade delusion, has anything to do with mosques being bombed. Muslims in Britain and abroad are attacked and killed in large part by the white racist right and by other, more fanatical Muslims. Neither of these movements is in any sense the result of liberal critiques of religion. In fact, the opposite holds true: both are mirror images of each other that share a comparable hatred for the open society.

A consequence of the left’s mollycoddling of not only Islam but, inevitably, of extreme interpretations of it, ultimately has results not dissimilar to the thuggery of the white far-right, for brown skinned fascists are no more tolerable to the vast majority of Muslims than the white skinned sort.

Fraternally comrade,

asquith said...

A theme of mine...I basically am a New Atheist and admirer of, in particular, Dawkins. And I do think, as a slagger-off of all religions, that Islam comes off even worse off than the rest. Have you read "Does God Hate Women?" by Ophelia Benson or anything by Maryam Namazie, for instance?

What I think is not acknowledged is that the average self-styled Christian isn't generally too serious about religion, as is dealt with here:

The reason why it's Islam in general is that, within Islam, the "moderate" position is much further to the right than it is in Christianity. They are more likely to have censorious attitudes towards women and LGBT people, who have too often been thrown under the bus.

Someone who is there to slag off all religion WILL be talking about Muslims "disproportionately", in the same way that someone who slags off sexist politicians will pick on some of the left and some of the right, but mostly of the right.

It's true that the discussion is often taken over by the likes of the EDL (none of the writers I've cited have links to such organisations... Robinson tried to "reach out" to some and was rebuffed) but that's because so many, and Owen Jones is definitely one of them, have a weird refusal to address the issue.

Apologies for anything I've left out or if I'm teaching you to suck eggs but it's a bit late for me because I don't do late nights. Also if you don't do so already, read Jesus and Mo. :)

SarahABUK said...

I think it is possible to try to think about the dangers posed by both extremism and theocracy and by far right bigots/racists. I think it is also possible to support ex-Muslims and the right of Salman Rushdie to publish what he wants, in safety, without opposing Islam.

Anonymous said...

'One of the assumptions in your post seems also appears to be that criticism of Islam by the ‘new atheists’ is comparable to the scapegoating of the Tory press and the far right.'

It is comparable when you consider some of Sam Harris' statements, such as this one

'Islam is the fastest growing religion in Europe. The demographic trends are ominous: Given current birthrates, France could be a majority Muslim country in 25 years, and that is if immigration were to stop tomorrow. Throughout Western Europe, Muslim immigrants show little inclination to acquire the secular and civil values of their host countries, and yet exploit these values to the utmost—demanding tolerance for their backwardness, their misogyny, their anti-Semitism, and the genocidal hatred that is regularly preached in their mosques.'

SarahABUK said...

@Asquith - I don't really disagree with anything you say, apart from the beginning bit about Dawkins. I do not always agree with Ophelia Benson but I don't believe I have ever felt she was bigoted about these issues. I have however spotted both Waters and Dawkins appearing to verge on anti-Muslim bigotry, although I wouldn't say that's probably their intention, and it's certainly not (I'm pretty sure) the motive behind their secularism.

Speedy said...

Perhaps you could help me out here Phil - I've no "political" background or education. I've not read Marx. That's not to say I'm not educated, but time and again the "Left" line on Islam utterly defeats me.

What James said at the end of his second post about "mollycoddling" rang true to me - that doing so sustains the inequalities therein, particularly around gays and women.

It seems to me for complex reasons the Left has a blind spot here. One of them is a form of "orientalism" - a kind of patronising respect mixed with an assumption of superiority which leads it to view Muslims as a bit like children who should not be treated to harshly, they'll grow up one day.

There's also the hard-Left view which regards them as the "new" working class, embodying many of the values of the old. Livingstone and Galloway I believe fall in to this category.

I like your argument, but I think it makes (if I may risk a wagging finger by the more learned) a "category error" in comparing Irish Catholics and Muslims, just as the the above two approaches also fail to understand Islam and give it the respect to which it is due.

Talking about Islam as a religion is like talking about Microsoft as a software manufacturer. We impose our "Western" view of an ideology with a religious component without understanding it as the greatest imperialistic force between Rome and Capitalism.

Islam is a political system every bit (actually much more) cohesive than Communism with its own system of leadership, cultural practice and law. It is proud of its difference and makes no apologies or concessions. This is ordinary Islam in which between 40 and 60 percent of UK Muslims would like to see Sharia (the info is not clear whether this applies to both civil and criminal).

Of course most Muslims are "peaceful" but the "violent" component, which of course was responsible for much of its success, will always attract a minority - not just in the UK but in every country with sizeable Muslim populations. Look at what's happening to the Christians in Egypt for example, even before the coup.

These are facts. It is also a fact that the UK now has a sizeable (although not as sizeable as its profile) Muslim minority.

Honestly, it is difficult to see how things will get better - it has only been 40 years and a form of self-imposed cultural apartheid is already taking place. British government policy appears to be to import "colonial" practice, so expect to see increasing acceptance of sharia - the UK will mirror India in around a century or even earlier. Criticism of Islam will be outlawed (under the mask of "offending religion") and communal violence will be more common.

The Left has a chance to stop this drift with its own ideological vigour. Instead of appeasing religious intolerance, it should support the likes of Anne Marie Waters and "one law for all".

Yet it appears to be assisting a process that will, let us never forget, lead to the actual oppression of literally millions of women and the suppression of freedom of speech. "Imperial" Islam will have won without the Left having even fought it.

asquith said...

Sarah (and all), I don't in fact follow Dawkins on Twitter. I have his books and I formed my views on him based on the arguments therein. I gather his tweets aren't universally welcomed and I couldn't tell you my view because I haven't got one.

"The God Delusion" is one I much appreciate though the arguments in "The Greatest Show on Earth" are more in the vein I'd make. In chapter 1, which I'm sure can be sourced online, he asks how you'd feel if you were a history teacher trying to give a lesson about the Romans, and a number of children simply refused to acknowledge that the Romans existed.

We have got that about evolution and increasingly about the holocaust, even. And these well-funded lobbyists are right behind deniers.

That is what drives the rage of the new atheists. They'd rather be using their passion and conviction to share science with the world because they think it is both beautiful and useful. And it's just like being a GP faced with anti-vaxxers, or the like.

Living in Stoke I do meet the kind of people who turn out to support the EDL on marches. You can guess how much time I have for them, none at all.

There are other things to say, as articulated by Speedy. Islamists can take advantage of "our" established religion. Why state-funded Catholic schools and not Muslim schools? Well, I'm pretty sure the teaching at Muslim schools would be more right-wing. But better to have a fully secular state at last.

Simon said...

Phil, I find it concerning that your post doesn't even touch on the actual issue of solidarity with people (especially women) in the Muslim community, both at home and abroad, who suffer all kinds of oppression.

Why should the left ignore the struggle of these people?

When Waters and Namazie criticise Islam it is not as part of an attack on Muslims but as a defence of the rights of ordinary members of the Muslim community. Meanwhile, it seems so much of the UK left is content to defend the rights of Islam at the expense of the rights of actual Muslims.

Speedy said...

Personally I think the Left should stand for a ban on ALL state-funded religious schools.

If there is one thing that is going down the road to voluntary segregation - and mutual distrust - it is this.

But then I would also like to see a ban on all private education too.

It's funny this sounds so radical, yet it's pretty much the situation in France and the US where okay there is private secondary education but it is extremely rare.

And I say this as a non-New Atheist. Just a socialist.

And as a socialist I would imagine it would be a no-brainer, but the Left seems incapable of any kind of clarity on the issue of cohesion.

But then it is probably a mistake to conflate Left - which to me increasingly stands for "bourgeois self-interest" - and "socialist" which is about an equal society and "speaking the truth to power".

Bourgeois self-interest defends religious schools because a disproportionate number of its own kids go CoE (or private, which is another side of the same coin) and the consequences of segregation will never truly be felt by the bourgeois - they don't live in Luton!

Yakoub said...

'Nuance' might include flagging up the Eurocentric presumptions around secularism, a recognition that radical left thinking and activism has a long neglected its global history, a genealogy of the concept of religion that many academics locate squarely within the European colonial project, a recognition that Islam is neither monolithic nor a sole defining social category of Muslims, that Islamism is such a woolly term some academics won't touch it with a barge poll, and an admission that atheist discussions about 'religion' - that includes Dawkins and especially Hitchens - are risible. Don't expect any of that from LFF, even on a good day.

James Curtis said...

Given that anti-Semitic attacks across Europe peaked during operation Cast Lead back in 2009, does the author think the same thing about criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism? In the Swedish city of Malmo things apparently got so bad that a Swedish Minister told the city’s Jewish population to “distance themselves from the foreign policy of Israel.”

When among the more “backward and lumpen elements of the population” as you put it, being Jewish is synonymous with the state of Israel, should we therefore mute our criticism of Israel because of the risk of fomenting anti-Semitic attacks? No, of course not, and neither do other people on the Chomskyite left like Glenn Greenwald and Owen Jones who have made a career out of attacking Israel. Which shows that this line of argument is more about ideology than some pragmatic attempt to prevent the spread of Islamophobia.

Anonymous said...

Can we cut through the bollocks please and get to the nitty gritty:

We criticise the decents for their support of imperialist wars, fought in the name of 'liberation'. The Neo Con clash of civilisations. Anti Islamism is the liberal wing of neo liberalism, at least when in the hands of decents. I personally have no problem with Dawkins and how he expresses himself. I just hate leftist pro imperialists.

I support the Palestinians against what decents would call the only genuine 'democracy' in the middle east, and I support them whether they vote Hamas or not.

I also support the Muslim community against fascists and anti immigrants

I also think secularism has a lot to answer for, rampant consumerism, total irresponsibility towards fellow humans and the environment and, at the moment, cretinous royalism. Oh and military despotism in Egypt!

Speedy said...

Good point James Curtis!

Thank you Anonymous for providing an excellent example of the kind of straw men the "Left" generates to justify itself.

Obviously any thinking person rejects attacks on Muslims, the knee-jerk support of HPers for the war in Iraq and the policies of Israel, and the idiots in Egypt.

However they've got bollocks to do with this debate except to illustrate the intellectual poverty of "oppositionalism".

asquith said...

Yes, it's not as though every brown person is the same. Inasmuch as we have a role to play, it's to support the likes of this gent in their struggles. There's no more fight for him, but there needs to be a world safe for the Malalas of this world.

You know these things about "which law would you repeal". I don't like prohibitions on drugs and sex work, or whatever it is that keeps agriculture barons in public money. But I would just utterly sweep away anything forbidding "blasphemy", including in the watered-down version Bliar was enamoured of. This is bad enough when used for its intended purpose, but it's used for economic and social reasons too.

All so that those in power can stay in power. I am disgusted. And sometimes it's hard to see how to fulfil our goals, but it must be undeniable that they ARE our goals.

SarahABUK said...

@James Curtis - I think the two situations are indeed rather similar (though obviously not identical). Islam and Israel/Zionism are not people to be protected, but issues which should be debated. BUT both criticism of Islam and criticism of Israel/Zionism can be vectors for anti-Muslim bigotry and antisemitism. There's no scientific formula to work out when the line has been crossed - that's up for debate. Often it's about avoiding certain tropes rather than censoring any particular kind of criticism of anything substantive. It's tricky - Phil is arguing that the wider political context might make one not want to be the 'scourge of Islam' - and that could be read as a demand to go soft on Muslim individuals or groups, or on reasoned criticism of the religion. But I think nothing really important needs to be sacrificed - standing up for women's and gay rights, criticising extremist and reactionary groups, defending the rights of ex-Muslims, defending free speech. And you'll get plenty of Muslim allies for these positions. But I have specific objections to Dawkins and Waters (though I think they are probably driven by good impulses) and feel both could make all the important points they want to without producing a dog whistle effect tapping into fears about foreigners/immigration (Waters, and that's just my perception, and I'm sure it's not her intention) or giving every impression of trying to wind people up and recklessly retweeting unambiguous anti-Muslim bigotry (Dawkins).

Anonymous said...


there is no straw man, the decents on the left have been the biggest cheerleaders for Bush's war on terror, have you not been party to this decade long debate on the left? Have those disputes gone unnoticed by you? Though I think I have highlighted on previous threads how very selective your thought process is, I think you have been outed as an apologist.

But let us put those to one side for a moment. Why this preoccupation with anti Islamism anyway? When the pressing problem, at least in the West, is secularist consumerist idiocy breeding apathy and obedience. Or attacks on Mosques by a rising tide of anti Muslim hysteria. Where are the left criticising secularist consumer mania, and the effect it has on billions of people throughout the world? What about their rights? Why is this not the primary focus of attention?

Secularism hasn't led to a society of free individuals freely debating the meaning of life and discussing high ideals and concepts but has led to idiots consuming without responsibility or without question. Idiots consume and those in charge can spy on everyone, start wars, bailout out the rich at the expense of the poor and no fucker really bats an eyelid, nothing stops the relentless need to consume, consume, consume.

This is what your secularism has led to. It isn't worth defending relative to anything and in the West this is the pressing problem.

Outside the West, in places like Egypt, secularism has led to military despotism. Which should indicate that the problems of those regions go beyond Islam.

The decent left criticism of religion is all superficial liberalism in my opinion. It never digs beyond the surface. It just reads like arrogant twats pontificating to deluded fools.

Speedy said...

Sarah AB - the authentic voice of bourgeois liberalism (actually no offence meant as I respect your contributions to HP).

However your perpetual urge to compromise will lead directly down the road to division, conflict and censorship.

What's desperately needed is a national debate about what England is and what it can be (and I use England advisedly being a fan of Tom Paine and the English liberal tradition).

This will not happen because the bourgeois is busy quietly packing its bags economically, educationally and geographically speaking and leaving the lumpen proletariat to fight it out. Quite literally.

Abdallah the Adite said...

"I also think secularism has a lot to answer for, rampant consumerism, total irresponsibility towards fellow humans and the environment and, at the moment, cretinous royalism. Oh and military despotism in Egypt!"

Care to explain what these have to do with secularism?

Anonymous said...

The point at issue is what critics of Islam want to achieve. That ought to be obvious, but is usually ignored. No-one is criticising Islam simply to pass the time. People criticise Islam and its current position in European societies, because they aspire to some alternative for Islam, and for its current position in European societies.

What are those alternatives? Generally, either some form of prohibition of Islam as a religion, or some form of restriction on the numbers of muslims. Out of a misplaced sense of political correctness, discussion of these alternatives is taboo, which does not help.

It is much better to 'have it all out in the open'. The question for prominent critics of Islam such as Dawkins, should be: what policies do you advocate? Only if they answer such questions, is it possible to make comparisons with for instance the EDL, or its counterparts in other countries.

If for instance Dawkins says: 'all mosques should be closed', and the EDL also says 'all mosques should be closed', then it is rational to conclude that they advocate identical policies. That is much better that vague speculation about 'playing into the hands of racists', and so on. Equally if Dawkins does not want mosques closed, and the EDL does, then we can conclude they do not share a policy on that issue.

It ought to be that simple. However, that does require open statements of political goals, and that is surprisingly uncommon.

Some people take the position that Islam is an evil religion, that all Muslims are intrinsically evil, and that they should be expelled from EU countries. Some people want them expelled from Bosnia too, and European Turkey, and indeed Anatolia. Some people want mosques closed. Some people want pornography banned. Some people want meat banned, and/or alcohol. Some people want to introduce Sharia law in Europe. Some people want the death penalty for gay sex.

These are facts: some people have these aspirations. Whether the aspirations are desirable government policy, and what the government should do with people who do not share these aspirations, is a matter for assessment. However, the assessment is impossible if no-one is allowed to talk about the aspirations. To talk about the death penalty for gays or the expulsion of muslims from Europe, is not the same thing, as advocating the death penalty for gays, or the expulsion of muslims from Europe. There is a moral need to talk about these things, because they exist and because they can influence society, and indeed result in harm to third parties.

Speedy said...

oh THAT anonymous. Well i hope you saw my response to your Egypt comment, belated though it was.

I don't know how I come off as an apologist for "decents". I was for Afghanistan, against Iraq, am pro-Palestinian, but not always agin Israel either. It's about "nuance" (our word of the week) see?

I have articulated my views about Islam in this thread. I'm not going to add to them except to say Phil raised the topic!

Blimey - "secularism"?! Basically most Western history since 1776 I'm sure has come up with some pretty inspiring, free-wheeling and intellectual debate at some point. I'm sure it hasn't been all about shopping - after all, this isn't, is it, but if I was a blogger in say Iran or MB Egypt I might have to mind my Qs and Ts.

Arguably both the Caliphate and Catholic Europe developmentally declined precisely because they stifled debate (Galileo) and the secular states - including the UK, France and the US left them in the dust. Without secularism who knows where we might be - probably without the internet for one.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous comments should not all be attributed to the same author.

Anne Marie Waters seems a good illustration of the problem with policies. She is a controversial figure because of her views, but what are they exactly? What exactly does she advocate as government policy? It is very difficult to find that out, and this blog does not help because it does not say.

Instead there are vague references to effects that might follow, from views that are not stated. This is an impossibly vague basis for discussion.

It would be much simpler if this blog could simply write, for instance: "Anne Marie Waters advocates arresting all adult muslims and shooting them, and this blog opposes that policy". Now probably she does not advocate the execution of all Muslims, but we don't learn that from this blog, nor from the links provided, not anywhere else.

What does she advocate, then? I don't know, and this blog does not tell me. Why not post that information? Is it a secret? How can she apply to be a candidate for parliament if she keeps her political views secret?

It would also be helpful if James Bloodworth disclosed his policy preferences. This post is in reaction to an article by him, and he has commented here himself, but what does he think about issues such as Islam in Europe and policy towards Islam? He runs a political blog, but it is not explicit either.

If readers don't know people's views, especially their policy preferences, then it is very difficult to form any judgement about those people.

Glass said...

Sarah AB:

"I think it is possible to try to think about the dangers posed by both extremism and theocracy and by far right bigots/racists."

Uhh, what about leftist bigots who respect religious fascism? Why is it always the right when most crimes and totalitarian politics are committed by the left, in the name of their God, the nebulous and comically named "working class"?

SarahABUK said...

Speedy - no offence taken - perfectly happy to be bourgeois and liberal! But I'm not sure why compromise should lead to censorship - and if my views seem to compromise, that's not a deliberate strategy, it's just where they fall. I don't think we should compromise on freedom of speech, for example.

Anonymous - you implicitly set the barrier very high for finding someone objectionable. David Ward and Lord Ahmed don't, I'm sure, want to legislate in any antisemitic way, but it's still possible to think their words have been antisemitic. I assume Anne Marie Waters supports curbing the activities of Sharia law courts, and being tougher on forced marriage and FGM (which many would say had nothing to do with Islam, but are often associated with Islam). A good way to get a sense of her views is to watch this short video. It sends out slightly mixed messages - she seems opposed to anti-immigration rhetoric (and I certainly think she's anti-racist) yet, she talks of Islam as something foreign to Europe, which isn't entirely accurate, and in any case Christianity is hardly indigenous, and also talks of her fear of Islam - which is certainly a view she should be able to air, and she raises some reasonable points in support of that, but they would also be supported by secular and reform minded Muslims. At the very end of the clip she suggests that those who don't accept British freedoms should leave - and that's what I referred to earlier when I said she seemed to tap into far right tropes. But I think Andy Newman presents an exaggerated account of her as an anti-Islam extremist, as though she was a Pamela Geller

although I think Howard Fuller goes too far the other way.

Sarah AB said...

Sorry - forgot to link to video, but it's linked bo in Andy's piece on SU.

Speedy said...

Sarah, Christianity IS indigenous to Europe. It was the Roman religion and goes back as far as anyone can remember. What's more it is the ultimate expression of European identity combining as it does Greek and Jewish tradition - ie a near east tradition merged with a "purely" European one.

Of course there are many non-Christians - atheists or agnostics for example - but if you look at the history of European thought it has been indelibly shaped by Christianity. Hence "cultural Christian". Even Dawkins is a cultural Christian, as he may have admitted himself.

Simon said...

Can we stop pretending this has anything to do with a clash of civilisations, please?

The principle war isn't any which may be waged by western secularists against Islam but but the war being waged by Muslim and non-Muslim people in Islamic countries and communities against their oppression.

Any one on the "left" who, in the name of "anti-imperialism", refuses to offer solidarity to those struggling against their oppressors isn't part of the same left as me.

Anonymous said...

The short video does not specify any policy which Anne Marie Waters advocates. This is the problem once again, the reader is left completely in the dark about what he/she is supposed to support. And it is not just this blog, this whole issue of 'left responses to Islam' and indeed the broad issue of Islam in Europe are talked about in such vague terms, that we simply don't know what people are saying.

An example: Waters makes vague comments about people who 'don't support rights and freedoms' leaving Britain. Which rights and freedoms? Nobody knows. And does she mean they should be deported? And who exactly? Nobody knows.

Glass said...

Sarah AB: I think it is also possible to support ex-Muslims and the right of Salman Rushdie to publish what he wants, in safety, without opposing Islam.

So why not oppose Islam that has a stranglehold on 1.6 billion Muslims, brainwashing their innocent children to garbage and dogmatism, totalitarianism, and potential of violence?

Why do you like Islam to the point that you do not wish to criticize Islam? Have you studied Islam?

Isn't the misogyny of Islam enough for you? What about slaveownership and islamic racism and supremacism? What about glorifying a charlatan murderer as an example of the most perfect human being ever lived that has to be emulated till eternity?

Are you so apathetic that you will renege on your enlightenment duties and "not oppose Islam" for all the atrocity and dogma that it imposes on innocents? Or is it Leftist dogma that opposing the wrong will give succor to the enemies of the "proletariat", whatever that is?

This article BTW is incoherent and evasive, and James Bloodworth is absolutely correct.

Glass said...

Muslim signifies an ethnicity based on an Islamic upbringing and located primarily in the middle east and south Asia.

But the left consistently conflates a Muslim with an Islamic. Muslims by and large are not Islamic. Some Muslims hate Islam passionately and there are many good examples of that. Some Muslims consider Prophet Mohammad, the perfect man unto eternity, a lowlife and a charlatan.

When the Left says that by criticising Islam, all Muslims are being denigrated, they are absolutely wrong and commit a category error. Many Muslims in particular the educated ones have no problem criticizing Islam. It is the minority of Islamics that react to such criticism in negative ways.

So why is the Left trying to support a bunch of relgious bigots, i.e. the Islamcics, at the expense of other Muslims? What is it about Islam and Islamics that the Left favors? That it is an authentic sigh of the masses?

The support of the minority of Muslims known as Islamics, who have hate and racism ingrained in their beliefs, just goes to show the nature of Leftism - that it can commune with totalitarian ideologies, including Islamic fascism, as its primary function is to oppose liberalism and democracy.

Simon said...

I'm not sure I would embrace Glass' terminology but I completely agree with the essence of the argument in his last post.

Worldwide Muslims, non-Muslims and ex-Muslims in Islamic countries and the Muslim community are struggling against oppression by patriarchs, clerics and the religious state. Criticism of Islam is, far from being an attack on Muslim people (and non- and ex-Muslim people), it is an act of solidarity with them.

Glass said...

Phil says: the reactionary and the bigoted can use the critiques of Islam by the trendy atheists for their own ends. Hence the latter have culpability for their arguments. After all, the right to free speech comes with the responsibility for it.

I contend that this so-called 'nuanced' statement is itself quite reactionary and counter-enlightenment, if not bigoted against freethinkers, critics, and Muslims themselves. It would be akin to saying back in the 18th century that any criticism of the Church and Catholicism can be used by the "reactionary and bigoted"to attack the so-called "working class" because the working class is by and large Catholic (as in France), and hence it would be an attack on the poorest strata of society, that serves the benefits of the bourgeoisie and the wealthy class.

If Voltaire and Diderot were alive today, they would find Phil's statement utterly reactionary, counter-enlightenment, and even comic.

Islam is oppressing a billion Muslims worldwide. But Phil's 'nuanced' position is to hell with them, because if we criticize the doctrine, then we are condoning the EDL and racism. Does Phil find the EDL in Pakistan too? How about Iran? EDL under everyone's bed? How did Phil arrive at this reductionist cause and effect is beyond my comprehension. How would saying Mohammad was a historic person committing crimes, results in Muslim discrimination at the workplace? In fact Phil takes a bigoted view by painting ALL Muslims with the same brush that they invariably love Islam and have no misgivings or criticism of this doctrine, and that ALL Muslims are so daft that they have no desire to see Islam harmonized with modernity and be reformed.

This sweeping generalization by Phil and many others on the left is very curious and certainly reactionary. Is it truly the case that Phil wants to prevent another March by the EDL in Pakistan, by telling us to shut up and not mention that Mohammad was a paedophile and slaveowner?

Or is it more the case that as a socialist Phil respects the authoritarianism in Islam, and he finds that congruent to his own leftist ideology that all of history is reduced to a class conflict between the guy who has a BMW and the guy who only has a bicycle, which can only be rectified through totalitarianism? And why does Phil sound so much like the counter-enlightenment movement of the 18th century trying to ban criticism of religion?

"trendy atheists"? Since when was this evar a trendy? Humanism and atheism is not a dogma to be trendy to begin with, and anything based on logic and empiricism by definition defies trendiness.

I hope Phil would take the time to respond.

Phil said...

Wow, where do I begin? I guess the best place is not to and promise a post replying to some of these critical comments on a quiet day.

KBPlayer said...

Akkari’s days as an imam are now behind him and he says that he is “no longer a part of the Islamic mission". He further claims that many of his former colleagues are hypocrites with a mindset that is “horribly wrong”.

“The world doesn’t need a lid on human expression. That also goes for people you might disagree with. There was something deep-seated in the mentality of the group I belonged to, which I just didn’t notice. There was this fundamental idea that people were not allowed to express themselves freely, and that is just wrong,” said Akkari.

Were the cartoons misused?

“The way I see it today, yes. Behind all the talk of protecting religious imagery, there is always power and abuse," he said. "It is simply revolting.”

KBPlayer said...

That last comment of mine was a late night copy and paste from an OP I was writing. It should be deleted, thanks.

Proper comment:-

"Think of it like this. Imagine the new atheism arrived in Britain three or four decades ago. The Provisional IRA's campaign on the British mainland was in full swing. Irish people living here have to put up with a press backlash, which gives succour to occasional bouts of harassment, victimisation and violent assaults. Now, if the Dawkins analogue or one of his apostles went out of their way to attack Catholicism in the name of secularism and atheism, what are the likely consequences of those arguments? No effect at all? Or, when among the more backward and lumpen elements of the population, Catholicism and 'being Irish' is synonymous; will it add to the climate of hostility Irish residents had to face?"

First of all, Irish nationalism does not bear the same relation to Catholicism as Islamism to Islam. There is certainly a religious-cum-tribal element to the Northern Irish disputes, but the Provos weren't cheering for the Pope or reciting Hail Marys after an atrocity. Their struggle was nationalistic.

Secondly, according to this argument, if the revelations of sexual abuse among the priesthood and its cover up by the Vatican and other scandals like the Magdalene laundries had come up three or four decades ago they should have been downplayed or ignored in case it might make Catholics look bad and reinforce prejudices against them. Well, it's always the weakest who suffer, isn't it? Never mind the abused child or the laundry slave - we won't make anything of them in case it gives more fuel to religious bigots on the other side. Which means being very soft on religious bigots on this side.

So the Muslim who wants to leave their religion will receive no aid or comfort from the left because any revelations they have about bullying imams, jihadists and preachers who preach sectarian murder, antisemitism or contempt for women will just make Islam look a bit bad - which is nice for the bullies, the jihadists and the preachers but not for those who would like to escape them. It's the left siding with the strong against the weak - which makes the left look craven and duplicitous.

How about telling the truth, however politically inexpedient?

James Bloodworth quotes Orwell. I Imagine he has seen the glaringly obvious parallels with the old left's double standards re the USSR & communism and the new left's double standards re Islam and Islamism. There isn't even the excuse of hopes for a radiant future.