Friday, November 13, 2009

On Filthy Mohammedans

There's been a bit of a tiff over at Roberta's about Muslims and America, in which quite a few smart people have been defending the opinion that Islam is inherently evil, that Muslims are inherently dangerous (at least enough so that a Muslim should be assumed dangerous until he proves himself trustworthy), and that a "good Muslim" is a rarity because of the religion's inherent incompatibility with western values.

One semirepresentative comment from Mr.B says:

Have [your good and decent Muslim friends] explain to you (and if possible, to me) how they can exist in both worlds, and how they can be a good muslim, and follow the words of Mohammed, yet be a good citizen in the US.

One or the other has to fail.

On the drive to work today, it occurred to me exactly what was bothering me so much about these arguments: the people making them sound just like militant atheists. I know the tone and argments very well from my angry-atheist days. "The Bible says you must not suffer a witch to live, so if you call yourself a Christian you're condoning the murder of pagans." "The Bible says a father can sell his daughter into slavery, so if you call yourself a Christian you're condoning the exploitation of children." Repeat for less destructive but sillier things, like bothering yourself with others' sex lives or wearing clothes made with more than one fabric. The bottom line was that, because the religion's source material contains some intolerant, violent, and simply antiquated stuff incompatible with our western values, that fundamentally tainted anybody who professed to follow the religion. Sound familiar?

The problem with all these arguments is that they don't take into account the real-world complexity of human beings, and how those people integrate very old traditions and values into their modern lives. In the end, all religions with any time under their belts will have embarassing, outdated cultural mandates that believers either interpret in ways consistent with modern standards or simply downplay and ignore. In my experience, because of the amount of personalization and interpretation that all people do, a person's religion is a very poor indicator of what kind of person he'll be.

[* - I'm speaking factually, not playing the bigotry card.]


  1. Oooh, look at me! First commenter on a new blog!

    Too bad it took an issue like this to prompt you to start.

    Anyway. Agreed. In fact, you wrote the post I was going to write, with the added attraction that I would have had to go look up stuff in the Bible to point to as examples of "inherent evil."

    Not terribly comfortable with some tenets of Islam, but am also aware that some of what are commonly viewed as Islam's core beliefs are actually cultural artifacts, possibly rationalized by pointing to something that someone said they thought the voices in Muhammad's head meant. Burqas, for example.

    I had also thought of the example you gave in your comment at Roberta's, re: Catholics being obedient to the Pope, and that taking precedence in their hearts over loyalty to the USA; there were people convinced that JFK was going to take the Oath of Office and immediately turn the US into a Theocracy.

  2. Catholicism, and other religions are not cultrural things as much as religionss. Whereas Islam is both a cultural AND a religious philosphy. If you are muslim, you are, essentially, a slave to Allah. THe word of Allah is the Kiran (Quran).

    Larn about muslims, live with them, and then make your arguemnt.

    Until then, you have no idea about that which you speak.

    My statements stand.

  3. DW:

    Thanks for the follow. I've been meaning to start up a "real" blog for a while now, and with a meaty post buried in somebody's comments, figured there was no time like the present. Frankly, I was shocked to look here and see I had comments. ;)

    Mr.B: I'm deliberately not taking a position on Islam, exactly because I know very little about it. My point is simply that I know _people_ fairly well--at least well enough to know that people in real life aren't slaves to the laws of their religions. No matter how you define the players, the Christian holy text goes on for books and books telling you how to live your life, what you are and are not to do in your home and community, and what behavior you are to force and forbid in others. If we were to judge Christians by what the Bible tells them they must do, we could only conclude that Christians have no place in a society based on individual liberty.

    I know from experience that Christians _aren't_ defined by what they're ordered to do by the book they profess belief in, so telling me I should define Muslims by what their holy book orders them to do doesn't carry much weight.

    If you want make the case that real-world American Muslims _do_ overwhelmingly hold beliefs incompatible with American values, I'm open to that discussion. But it's a separate point.

  4. Well said. The analogy is precise.