Sunday, October 5, 2014

Ben Affleck ignores Islam's blood and beheaded

Ben Affleck vs. Bill Maher on Islam: Bill's right.

On HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, Ben Affleck (who I have great respect for on most occasions) sparred with Bill Maher (who I also respect) on the topic of the meaning of Islamophobia, and to what extent criticism of Islam as a set of ideas can be distinguished from bigotry against Muslims. Here is the discussion:

Affleck appears to take the position either that criticizing Islam is indistinguishable from bigotry against Muslims, or that it's a much higher priority to combat the latter than to stand up for the former - and thus implying that criticizing Islam is antagonistic to standing up for Muslims. I find this position shockingly illiberal and irrational.

Maher, however, appears to assert that fighting theocracy is an inextricable responsibility of liberalism, and that liberals can and must acknowledge how widespread theocratic opinions are in Islam. He makes the point that doing so is standing up for Muslims, since they are overwhelmingly the victims when the opinions of their communities lead to theocratic laws that punish them for either leaving or attempting to change their religion in some way.

I have to say that Maher is simply correct. There is no ethical option for a liberal to tolerate intolerance under the aegis of "cultural differences," or to pretend that an objective fact isn't true because it makes the job of fighting bigotry more complicated. Simply by the numbers, the political opinions of Muslims worldwide (though this might be different in the US) veer sharply toward legally imposing the core tenets of their religion - e.g., punishing blasphemy, punishing apostasy, etc. Maher noted one poll that found British Muslims overwhelmingly thought that criticism of Islam should be legally punished.

Another poll, reported by the Washington Post, which is far more disturbing, found that 78% of Afghans, 64% of Egyptians and Pakistanis, 59% of Palestinians, 58% of Jordanians, and 53% of Malaysians...supported the death penalty for leaving Islam. In other words, majorities in these countries were found to support killing other Muslims who decide not to be Muslims anymore.

Now, it's not a monolithic picture of worldwide Islam, because "merely" large minorities (38% and 36%) favored killing apostates in Iraq and Bangladesh, and it is actually good news that only 13% were on board with that in Indonesia (the most populous single Muslim country) and only 2% in Turkey. But it still means that in huge swaths of Islam, this is considered a legitimate or even mainstream political position to take, and the numbers are likely far more staggering if you were merely to ask about lighter punishments like imprisonment or fines.

I haven't seen the numbers for other religions, but I'm willing to bet substantial money that they're not comparable in their respective countries. So...this problem has to be acknowledged and dealt with, and the fact that bigots will exploit it doesn't change that. The current cultural state of Islam worldwide is radically conservative and authoritarian, and the only way to change that is to confront it - not be morally relativistic.

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