Secularism

‘Islamophobia’ again

There have been a couple of responses to the post about ‘Islamophobia Watch’ that I put up here the other day.

First up is Paul Anderson who judges himself against the Runnymede Trust’s definition of Islamophobia.

Second up, Bob Pitt of Islamopobia Watch itself responds directly to my post:

Interestingly he very quickly manages to prove how useless the definition his site uses is for defining Islamophobia by proving that even the BNP could manage to wriggle their way out of it. Well exactly. It is a definition that fails in its task.

Bob Pitt says: If you take the Runnymede Trust definition absolutely literally, then Islamophobia doesn’t exist anywhere in the world. Well then perhaps you need a new definition Bob?

His main point is that there are a whole host of people who adopt hostile attitudes to Muslims who could use the ‘get out clause’ that they support ‘moderate Muslims’. In doing so he gets rather too close to putting my argument and those of Peter Tatchell in the same category as the BNP.

Rather than focus on that, or an examination of the views of Anthony Browne and Daniel Pipes, I’d rather just explain my position on Islam and religion in general a little bit more clearly.

When people talk about ‘moderate Muslims’ are they talking about religious views or their political views? Personally I try not to use the phrase ‘moderate Muslim’ and would rather use more specific political terminology. But whenever we have sought to address questions relating to Islam here it has generally been about the political movements associated with the religion and not the religious views of individual Muslims.

I couldn’t care less about the theology. I don’t get involved in debates between Catholics and Protestants about the Pope. I’m interested in the politics.

My attitude to religion in general is this – everyone is entitled to their beliefs, to practice them and to try and convert others to them. Those rights should apply to everyone and everywhere. Let religions have their ‘sphere’ and the opportunity to act within it. As an atheist, I’m not interested in entering that sphere and I respect its right to exist, in Mosques, in Churches and Temples, without undue interference from the state or anyone else. I don’t care whether the theological beliefs in those places of worship are defined by others as fundamentalist, reformist, moderate or heretical. It’s not my patch.

But when religion steps out of that sphere and begins to seek to enforce a code of behaviour in societies or to raise issues for legislation etc it enters the realm of politics and then I am interested.

When people are oppressed in the name of religion I am not interested in theological debate I am interested in ending the oppression. The actions of the Taliban therefore, when they threw acid in the faces of unveiled women, were political acts that should have been opposed politically. The same goes for the thuggery of the Al-Sadr gangs attacking students in Basra recently. The progressive is not interested in Al-Sadr’s interpretation of Islam but his acts, his political strategy and the behaviour of his political movement. The progressive stands with the oppressed and not the oppressor – with the students of Basra and the women of Afghanistan.

The same goes for Yusuf al-Qaradawi. I couldn’t care less if his view is that women were born inferior to men. That’s his problem. When it becomes womens problem and everyone elses is when he states that it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife – an endorsement of a specific act of oppression. I couldn’t give a hoot if he thinks we infidels will go to hell, primarily because I don’t believe in hell. But when his movement wants to create an Islamic political state based on Sharia law, as the Muslim Brotherhood does, then they have moved out of the realm of theology and into the battleground of politics where they should be strongly opposed.

The same applies for supporting so-called ‘moderate Muslims’. Its not theological moderation that is the issue but the political position taken. I’m talking about Muslims who support a seperation of state and religion. Muslims who support democracy and the rights of the individual. Muslims who accept the right of other religions to exist and operate. ‘Moderate Muslims’ is the wrong phrase – we are talking about democratic Muslims who accept a secular, democratic state regardless of their individual theological beliefs.

Now let me throw a couple of points over to Bob Pitt and Islamophobia Watch.

The site states that Islamophobia is “a racist tool of Western Imperialism” and elsewhere states that the hosts of the site maintain their old-fashioned sympathies with the victims of imperialism and racism.

This is a familar argument from a part of the left which seems to see oppression of people of the Muslim faith only coming from ‘Western Imperialism’. The recent historical record shows this view to be utterly without foundation however.

The overwhelming majority of victims of Islamist violence, mostly ignored by the west before 9-11, have been other Muslims or other citizens of Muslim majority states.

To take just two examples. In Iran it is well documented that the Khomenei movement slaughtered thousands of democrats, socialists and communists. In Algeria between 1992 and 1998 an estimated 150,000 people were killed as a result of a campaign launched by the Armed Islamic Group and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat.

In Iraq at the moment, the main victims of Islamist terrorism have not been the US army, supposedly the enemy of the ‘resistance’ but in fact ordinary Iraqis most of them Muslims. It is Islamists who have planted bombs at Mosques killing Shia Muslims at prayer.

While it is obviously true that many Muslims died as a result of the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the idea that those wars were about racism or hatred of Islam as a religion is nonsense. No-one but the most deluded Christian right-winger or Islamist would believe that those two wars were religious wars or about race. It is odd that a Marxist appears to believe that.

While I don’t expect Bob Pitt to accept my view that both Afghanistan and Iraq were, in effect, wars of liberation, there can surely be no doubt that the actions of ‘imperialism’ saved the lives of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and ethnic Albian Muslims in the former Yugoslavia. There the oppressors were the mostly Orthodox Christian Serbs – who were militarily opposed and eventually defeated by western forces. Surely if the motivation of US imperialism is racism and hatred of Islam then they would have cheered on the Serb death squads rather than defeating them?

But there appears no room in Islamophobia Watch’s perspective for the idea that the US and others might be opposed to a specifically political ideology which has emerged from Islam and is fighting against the armed wing of that political movement – namely Islamist terrorism.

In fact it is precisely those who shout ‘Islamophobia’ at opponents of political Islamism who are actually guilty of treating Islam as a uniform bloc, who have failed to draw a distinction between a religion and a political movement.

The majority of the anti-imperialist left are well aware of such distinctions but choose to ignore them because the ‘main enemy’ is imperialism. In doing so they turn their back on the students of Basra, the women of Afghanistan and Muslims worldwide who do not wish to live under a theocratic state but would prefer to live with democratic rule and human rights.

Also, by blurring the distinction between a political opposition to political Islamism and the hatred of all Muslims that does exist in some quarters, they find themselves in the ludicrous position of reinforcing the views of those who truly do see the world as a ‘clash of civilisations’ – those on the right who hold out no hope for democracy and human rights in places like Afghanistan and Iraq because “democracy and Islam are incompatible” and those Islamists who hope they are right.

Update: Bob Pitt responds briefly to this post here. I think I’ll let him have the final word.

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