Marwa’s suggestions for discussing Islam in better ways

I know Harry’s Place has been, as usual, well supplied recently with Islam-related posts, but I did particularly want to flag this piece by Marwa. Ex-muslims are not of course a monolithic group when it comes to attitudes to Islam.  Alom Shaha and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, to give just two examples, have decidedly different approaches to the topic.

Ex-Muslims are particularly effective ambassadors for robust secularism. There are a few exceptions admittedly, but generally they will have no truck with racists and bigots.  They have the expertise to distinguish Muslim friend from specious, faux liberal foe. And – they are particularly well placed to persuade anxious liberals that there’s nothing racist about standing up for the rights of apostates or supporting freedom of speech.

Marwa’s post exemplifies this approach, steering a careful path between the problems she associates with Islam and the problems associated with its opponents.  Some of her analysis might invite reasoned counter-arguments from a Muslim perspective – her implied association between honour killing and religion, for example, or her particular emphasis on the political nature of Islam.  (She discusses the way Christian countries have legislated against homosexuality, and perhaps it could be argued that in a sense that too was a manifestation of religion as political doctrine.)

But what distinguishes her from some other critics of Islam is that she actively and positively keeps a door open for more liberal Muslim voices, and emphasizes that they should be supported. I also liked her exasperation with those who attack Islam with no apparent purpose, or with a malign purpose.

It is not merely about stating or proving a truth using inflammatory language because you can support the claims you make through reason-giving processes. It is a political problem, one that deals with real things that real people do and believe and the political power structures that enable them to do and believe these things.

There were some elements in her argument and her rhetoric which I was unsure about, but I did very much like her practical suggestions for talking about Islam in better ways:

  1. Recognize that people are not going to abandon Islam, that they work from within a framework of the faith, and completely throwing their initial premises outside the window as fairytales, delusional, evil, or wrong will not convince them of anything.
  2. Recognize that it is not one thing or the other, that racism and anti-Muslim bigotry occur and damage real people just as Islam-inspired violence and misogyny do, and fair discourse will pay attention to both of these things.
  3. Recognize that rhetoric is important consequentially, that language is burdened with connotation and connotation feeds stereotype and stereotype leads to discrimination that actively harms people.
  4. And this is the most important one: Encourage, enable, and normalize the voices of progressive Muslim activists, LGBTQ Muslims, and ex-Muslims looking for peaceful reform of laws against women and children. ESPECIALLY the voices of women, (because women of color have had enough white men speaking for them to last several lifetimes). Normalize those voices in mainstream media. Listen to them. because their voices are too often hidden and discounted

The first point here reminded me of something I was struck by in Owen Jones’s recent post.

What is really meant is that while skin colour is not optional, religious conviction is. This is a claim I simply cannot subscribe to. It understates just how powerful and life-consuming beliefs can be – ironically, something that is simultaneously used as a criticism against religion by anti-theists. Personally, I cannot imagine being me without my atheism or my socialism. For those brought up all their lives in a religious environment, who are strongly emotionally welded to their beliefs, their faith is not something that can simply be switched off. It is beyond unrealistic to describe religious belief as a “choice” like, say, what clothes you should wear to a friend’s party or whether to have a ham or chicken sandwich for lunch.

Yes religions, or particular religions, are ideologies which we should be able to question, and must challenge if they do harm. But I too can’t imagine not being an atheist (though I can imagine changing my political views) and I assume most religious people feel the same.  From a pragmatic perspective, this seems worth bearing in mind when considering how best to discuss issues relating to Islam in a critical way.