People do not want to appear racist or prejudiced, and so many in the West find themselves unable to criticize religious practices, even including those that ought to be criticized. But there are right ways, and wrong ways, to criticize Islam. Racism, xenophobia and anti-Muslim tirades are morally wrong, and only make the problem of sectarianism worse1. We must make sure that an atmosphere of open debate is always embraced, else, no-one will ever change their position, and evidence-based progress will cease. Criticize ideologies and ideas, not the people!
The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) states that racism, xenophobia and personal anti-Muslim prejudice makes the problem of sectarianism worse and reinforces social exclusion and alienation1. The sociologist of Islam, Jocelyne Cesari warns in "When Islam and Democracy Meet" (2004)2 that Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism causes victims to adhere more strongly to Islam as a part of self-identity. It leads to Muslims seeking out and learning from Islamic outreaches that present a stronger and more dominant image of Islam, such as those from Islamic countries, and therefore works against integration with the West. It isn't just the actions of individuals that cause this reinforcement, but, the apparent bias that also appears in Western news reports about Islam3. This has been affirmed by European studies into anti-Muslim racism; the EUMC says the situation of entire Muslim communities is put out on a limb when they are all considered potential terrorists:
“The disadvantaged position of Muslim minorities, evidence of a rise in Islamophobia and concern over processes of alienation and radicalisation have triggered an intense debate in the European Union regarding the need for ex-examining community cohesion and integration policies. A series of events such as the September 11 terrorist attacks against the US, the murder of Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands, the Madrid and London bombings and the debate on the Prophet Mohammad cartoons have given further prominence to the situation of Muslim communities.”
"Muslims in the European Union: Discrimination and Islamophobia" by EUMC (2006)4
It was once the Communists, it was once also the feminists and gays. Goths still get it hard. But nowadays it is the Muslim, dressed in Muslim gear, which is the ultimate example of the social enemy in the West. This is unfair. To criticize people on appearance is simple xenophobia and racism. Many in Europe are nervous when criticizing Islam because they don't want to be confused with xenophobes and racists, although, studies in the USA have found that critics of Islam are not racist, and, abhor discrimination towards Arabs, Asians or Blacks, and, believe that Muslims' human rights are as important as anyone else's5.
See: Growing Fundamentalism in Islam: How Moderates are Subjugated by Muslim Hardliners for a full discussion on Muslim moderates.
Many Muslims observe their religion and live their lives with no intent to either support or oppose fundamentalist extremism. Some critics proclaim that because mainstream Muslims fail to act against extremists, it allows extremists to prosper. But many active Christians are the same: they may well disagree with the actions of their fellows during the crusades, they neither support USA Christian fundamentalism but nor do they do anything about it and, they are also (I'm sure) disgusted by the sexual abuse of children by priests, and its cover-up by their own Churches. It is Human nature just to want to get on in life, in peace. But we rarely hear the popular press berate them for failing to stand up to horrible people in their own ranks. The opposition of the ordinary lay person is rarely recorded on the news, and rarely published. Muslims are in the same boat: extremists are always louder than the mainstream. The last census showed 1.5 million Muslims in Britain, and they make up 6% of the EU: it is clear that most of these are part of a peaceful and quite undramatic ethnic culture within the West. When we want to curb Christian extremism the best technique is to criticize their ideas and show them to be ridiculous and unfounded. We'd be fools to start criticizing ordinary Christians just because some insane and outspoken Christians want to fight against the world. We'd only supply evidence to them that the world is against them, therefore, they should continue being against the world. No, this technique doesn't work. To fight against Islamist supremacists, we need to (all) fight against their ideas and to support the questioning of all ideas and promote the scientific method of inquiry. But the West has grown placid and we have forgotten what it is like to debate. Now, we tiptoe around people's beliefs far too much!
“Criticizing any strand of Islam is any way felt too much like voicing racial or ethnic prejudice. Indeed, the Dutch (like Western Europeans generally) viewed Islam less as a religion than as an expression of ethnic identity.”
"While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within"
Bruce Bawer (2006)6
Many in the West actually fear criticizing religions for fear of appearing biased. This is a shame, as religion in general generates many crazy and absurd ideas that should indeed be criticized more frequently. In an atmosphere where people can ask questions and point out shortcomings in beliefs, the chances of sectarian and dangerous cults arising is much reduced. This applies to Islam too. In the West, intellectual and religious freedom means that no religion is protected from equal debate alongside others. Yet many hold off from criticizing religions that appear to be tied to an ethnic minority. People dare not criticize Islam because they don't want to appear racist against Muslims; they daren't criticize even the crazy elements of Jewish practice, because there is a Western-wide fear of being accused of being an anti-semite. This is daft: All religious ideas and all religious practices can be openly questioned. Just be respectful and critical without an aggressive attitude.
“Crazy beliefs are not harmless. Take, for example, a theory which started out as amateur science, and proceeded to win approval at a national level despite the protests of the scientific community. The theory of a 'hierarchy' of delineated human races, with Nordics at the top and Negros at the bottom (with a special place reserved for the Christ-rejecting Jews), combined pseudoscientific anthropology with religious prejudice to create history's most horrific apparatus of prejudiced murder. The Nazi's ideology of race and euthanasia derived from erroneous beliefs based on faulty theory; and it blossomed into a wave of terror. It is no exaggeration to say that, in a world where nuclear weaponry is becoming more easily available, that beliefs need to be questioned and challenged continuously and vigorously.”
Authors such as Robert Spencer have documented many examples where even mild and correct criticisms of Islam have been met with outrage and claims of racism and bias, when in fact the questions were quite within the reason of intellectual debate. It is this over-reaction which puts off some Westerns from even discussing the merits of Islamic theology.
Unfortunately, some Muslim individuals consciously and sneakily seek to create outrage when it is not warranted. I mean, it is on purpose, as part of a strategy of subduing Western protests to Islamic mores. In other words, "the racism card" becomes a weapon and a tool in a perceived war between Islamic supremacists and the West.
One of the most famous examples was the Danish cartoons row. The Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper, published some cartoons that featured Muhammad, the Islamic prophet. They were not offensive and, of the 12, some didn't feature Muhammad. The purpose of the publication was to continue the debate after a long series of complaints by Muslims against having their religion questioned intellectually or socially. All other Western religions and philosophies are continually questioned, often ridiculed, by the popular press and in routine debating in the West. As a result of a Muslim outcry against their religion being treated the same way, this newspaper took a stand for freedom of expression and freedom of religion (which includes the freedom to criticize religion and speak out against it). The outrage from the Muslim sector spread across the world.
“On 30 September 2005, Jullands-Posten, a Danish newspaper based in Århus, published a series of cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad. In the accompanying test, it read: "Some Muslims reject modern, secular society. They demand a special position, insisting on special consideration of their own religious feelings. It is incompatible with secular democracy and freedom of expression, where one has to be ready to put up with scorn, mockery and ridicule." [...]
Muslim religious leaders in Denmark called for Jullands-Posten to make an apology. On October 14, some 5,000 Muslims demonstrated in Copenhagen. Also in mid-October, two of the artists were sent death threats. One week later, diplomats from 11 Islamic nations complained to the Danish prime minister about the cartoons. [...] Several Muslim organisations brought forward legal charges against Jullands-Posten in October 2005 that were eventually dismissed [...]. Apologies from Jullands-Posten and the Danish prime minister "triggered a backlash by a number of European newspapers which decided to republish the images. That decision sparked angry and partly violent protests around the Muslim world. The EU and major intergovernmental organisations, including the UN and OSCE, published statements in which they expressed their support for freedom of speech, while at the same time speaking out against the infringement of religious beliefs."”
"Muslims in the European Union: Discrimination and Islamophobia" by EUMC (2006)7
In "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam" by Robert Spencer (2005) the author traces many occasions when people subconsciously or intentionally avoid talking about Muslim and Islamic causes of murder and violence. (p205-6)
But the EUMC also mentioned briefly a few Danish imams who put together a dossier on the cartoons. With this, they disseminated this far and wide, running a long, dedicated and bitter campaign, stirring up much hatred. It is briefly mentioned that they added additional material to it. They added some racist and insulting images of Muhammad that were never published in any mass media, claimed that the newspaper was government-ran, and included a series of anti-Islamic hate letters. One of the added photos was of a French pig-squealing contest which was completely unrelated to anything, but when added to their dossier, looked very damning. This was conscious fraud for the purposes of crying foul: it was playing the racism card and it resulted in mass protests and riots over a long period of time. There were 139 deaths in total, and death threats remain outstanding. Several of those involved with the drawings are in hiding.
This entire shameful escapade was a fabricated case of fake-outrage that became real, of an entire network of, it seems, professional pseudo-victims who concoct outrage in order to achieve political and social ends, which are, primarily; the domination of Islam over free speech.
The moment you stop asking questions, and freethought fails to produce free action, society starts go backwards in time towards the dark ages and theocratic barbarism.
The Koran. Translation by N. J. Dawood. Penguin Classics edition published by Penguin Group Ltd, London, UK. First published 1956, quotes taken from 1999 edition.
(2006) While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within. Published by Broadway Books.
(2004) When Islam and Democracy Meet. Published by Palgrave Macmillan, New York, USA.
(2006) "Islam: A Critical Look at Contemporary Issues" (2006). Accessed 2015 Apr 08.
EUMC. Published by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, Vienna, Austria.
(2006) Muslims in the European Union: Discrimination and Islamophobia.
(2003) Islam: A brief history. Revised edition. First published in UK 2002 by Dorling Kindersley Publishers Ltd, London, UK.
(2005) The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam. Published in the United States by Regnery Publishing, Inc, Washington, DC.