Oct 13, 2014

A Deeper Criticism of the Maher-Harris/Affleck-Aslan Debate

First, the obvious:

Now that we're all done wetting ourselves and googling Dogma clips (which I note in passing may be the greatest Christian movie ever made), the beef.  The debate consisted of four men--all rich, three white--spouting off about Islam.  We can talk about what each of them got right and wrong--Affleck doesn't seem to know anything; Maher's not exactly a paragon of feminism, himself; Harris is largely on-target; Aslan is an apologist and shares the prerequisite difficulties with honesty inherent to that profession.  While his New York Times article admits that "people of faith are far too eager to distance themselves from extremists in their community, often denying that religious violence has any religious motivation whatsoever", it steadfastly refuses to draw any conclusions whatsoever from this "savagery and ... religious bigotry", instead claiming that "People of faith insert their values into their Scriptures ... scripture is meaningless without interpretation".  The ability of the violent and bigoted to find such easy, plain-meaning-of-the-text, "thus saith the LAWD" justifications in scripture is apparently not an issue that others claiming allegiance to said texts need address.  As I told the door-knocking proselytizers the other day: "I'm an apostate, and the Bible says I should be killed.  That fact tends to color my perception of the rest of the things it says--and of the people who quote it."

But I digress.

What's missing from the discussion are the voices of women.  The voices of victims.  The voices of apostates living under death threats from followers of the religion of peace.  Let's correct that--in my own, small, maybe-five-people-will-read-this sort of way. First, we have Heina Dadabhoy, 'Bill Maher / Sam Harris vs. Ben Affleck / Reza Aslan: I Choose Neither':
I would be remiss if I were to continue without a reminder that more nuanced discussions and arguments about this very topic have happened and will continue to happen among people far more qualified to talk about the issue. As the participants aren’t famous white men making soundbite-ready generalizations on network television, you probably won’t hear about them and most people will continue to not care about them.
I disagree with both the racialized criticism of the Maher/Harris types and the gloves-on “Not All Muslims” tactics of the Aslan/Affleck types. The former reinforce the kind of generalizations that make my life as a non-white person of Muslim background more difficult in the Western world, since racist bigots who target me hardly pause to ask me if I’m an apostate before they harm me. The latter overemphasize the “nicer” Muslims and parts of Islam in a misguided attempt to respect collective beliefs in a way that harms individuals.

Racism that calls itself criticism of religion or racism that hobbles efforts to extend human rights to all people in all cultures? I pick neither.
Taslima Nasreen's 'Gun in One Hand, Quran in the Other':
ISIS will not be destroyed if you do not allow critical scrutiny of Islam, if you do not stop brainwashing children with Islam, if you do not stop building Quranic schools, and if you do not abolish sharia laws.
Sadaf Ali guest-blogs for PZ Myers:
I have a personal appeal to Ben Affleck, after his participation on Bill Maher’s show, because it is attitudes like his that have historically made little to no room for ex-Muslims, secular, reformists, liberal or progressive Muslims to own a dialogue that is supposed to be ours to discuss.
One: Muslim is not a race. Two: Islam is an ideology. Three: Islamophobia is not real. Four: Anti-Muslim bigotry is.
The Middle-East and Central Asia is comprised of several ethnic and cultural identities with a range of religious affiliations (and like in my case, no religious affiliation at all). In the same way one conflates the criticism of Islam as a racial issue – i.e. treating all Muslims as one and the same – Affleck himself is treating all of the Middle-East and Central Asia, where the US intervenes often, as a monolithic race of people.
When bombs drop and when bullets fly, how does one know the religion of a target or civilian? I am an Afghan Tajik and I am an atheist. Afghanistan and Iraq consist of Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists, Zoroastrians, Bah’ais, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and more. So, chances are, not every person that has been a victim of these conflicts are Muslim. Shame on you, Ben. It is people like you who are complicit in denying our diversity.

Affleck uses the death and suffering of my peoples as a tool to suffocate the discourse of Islam and as an Afghan-Canadian, I am upset by this. How dare you? Islam as an ideology is not flawless. No ideology is. Much in the same way Affleck played a part in the film ‘Dogma’ to satirize or criticize Christianity, others are allowed to criticize Islam. Furthermore, Islamists must be confronted. Those who preach the death of apostates and LGBTQ peoples, and seek the inequality of genders and wish to marginalize minorities must be condemned.

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