It is clear that Islamic fundamentalism is violent. For the record—to once and for all dispel the popular myth of liberal apologetics—I am a liberal denouncing Islamic terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism.
It is not an apology to terrorists when liberals remind conservatives that ALL fundamentalism is bad, no matter what religion it is coming from. Christian and Republican hardliners in America who call for bans on Muslims and for military adventurism in Muslim countries are pretending hypocritically that their fundamentalist shit don’t stink.
To knock Christian conservatism off its high horse, let us not forget the blot the dark ages of Christian fundamentalism and medieval feudalism made on history, nor the jihadist Christian Crusades, nor the following centuries of western colonial conquest, nor the continuing moral stain of the west’s forced neoliberal globalism.
But what about Muslim on Muslim violence, one might ask. Again, Christianity sets a precedent with centuries of Catholic on Protestant violence. Beyond inter-faith oppression, Christians around the world also have a humbling history of oppressing Jews over mistaken accusations of guilt for Jesus’s martyrdom. Just saying…
It’s important to keep in mind that, in acknowledging history, liberals are not defending Muslim terrorists. They are simply examining the hypocrisy and ethnocentrism with which some Christian Americans disgrace the massive populace of moderate Muslims while ignoring their own extremist Christian heritage and contemporary fundamentalist political beliefs and policies.
However, Islam is a much more multi-faceted religion than most American conservatives understand, as the majority of things they hate about Islam are really just things they hate about Arabs, or the Muslims in the Middle East who speak Arabic. Surprisingly, the majority of Muslims do not even live in Arab-speaking nations, and Indonesia happens to be the most Muslim nation on Earth by population.
Some of the backward societal traits associated with Islam, such as institutionalized misogyny, are prevalent mostly in Arab cultures. Many non-Arab Muslim countries have tremendously better representation of women, for example, than the US, and some go as far as requiring quotas of female representation in order for political parties to compete in elections. In contrast, female quotas are not likely to gain the support of conservatives in America anytime soon.
On the issue of sexual mores, it may be acknowledged that Muslim nations in Southeast Asia do have somewhat notorious sex-trafficking problems, but, again, the abstract nature of Islam is not the direct culprit of societal ills. Poverty and underdevelopment in nations are typically the direct causes of sexual discrimination and exploitation, and religion can be conveniently hijacked and converted into a totalitarian legalism that enforces suppression. But it’s not just Muslim nations, as much of the third world has cultural and social suppression. Coincidentally, some of the third-world happens to be Muslim.
In this way Arab Muslim nations are outliers within American conservatives’ relatively limited awareness of global issues or geography, which is why conservatives mistakenly blame global Islam for specific crises in the Middle East. Certainly no Muslim country outside the Middle East is as existentially misogynistic as ISIS’s caliphate, with its widespread sex slavery. These Sunni fundamentalists wasted no time codifying their sex slave rules the moment they gained tangible territory. Yet still, it is unwise to generalize even with ISIS’s regional neighbors as the Middle East has wide-ranging diversity in religious, political and social matters.
This is why liberalism does not see “Islamic terrorism” as the politicized issue of foreign policy, that the conservative “culture war” battle is really over whether or not the nation should accept conservatives’ blatant Islamophobia as a reasonable course moral worldview. Liberals and conservatives alike can agree that SOME Muslims are culturally offensive, but conservatives are xenophobic in condemning ALL Muslims and calling for mass civilian genocide. But even if voters in America decide that America should not descend into fundamentalist hatred or bomb or ban Muslims, mainstream conservatism campaigns endlessly for cultural genocide of the Muslims already in this country.
This is why blanket Islamophobia towards ALL the world’s Muslimry is not an accurate understanding of Islam as a truly global religion. Islam, like any religion (especially Christianity) can be practiced or preached in any number of ways, and anti-Muslim sentiments in America should be more specifically aimed at the Arab Muslim region rather than the entirety of Islam.
Liberalism’s multiculturalism is an articulation that sinking to extremist jihadists’ level with indiscriminate hatred and vows to bomb their countries into the Stone Age will not pacify radicalized Muslims or show them how hate and evil make unsuccessful political strategies. The goal is to prevent and reverse Islamic extremism, not to wrestle it with endless drone strikes and occupations. Neoconservatism’s strategy to fight fire with fire has been a decade and a half Sisyphean foreign policy of jihadi whack-a-mole.
It is relevant to note here that Islam is a largely conservative religion, and that many of the areas in which American conservatives criticize Islam are areas in which they are criticized by liberals here, especially within the Christian-skewed Republican delegations of the US Congress. Women’s rights is one such topic. American conservatives are still shocked at the federal idea that women workers should be legally as expensive as male workers.
As further examples of American conservatism’s religious-political hypocrisy, conservatives here in America work tirelessly to defund women’s health centers, and in Congress, women happen to be wildly under-represented. Unsurprisingly far fewer women are represented in the Republican Party than the Democratic Party nationally. American conservatives are also supportive of the death penalty, mass incarceration, and the oppression and disenfranchisement of minority groups. American conservatives advocate strict punishments for drug use; vehemently try to police sexual conduct, ban pornography and censor sexually suggestive art; and it is not liberal, cosmopolitan counties that legislate dry liquor laws.
In terms of foreign policy Republicans eternally call for violence through war and occupations, and fear monger for military rivalries and advocate for arms races in every election. Some Republicans even advocate ending the separation of church and state, and replacing it with a Biblical basis of law that would not be unlike some Muslim theocracies. Despite criticizing Muslims for honor killings, conservatives routinely blame women for rape, and an increasingly acceptable conservative argument is that women should be forced (arguably, punished) to birth rape-conceived babies.
When examined, conservatives in America are not that different from the conservative Muslims they denounce, and both are revealingly fundamentalist. Stealing from the conservative playbook, I could mimic Republicans’ anti-Islam generalizations and say that ALL Republicans are backward and ALL American conservatism is inherently evil, except I know that not ALL Republicans are evil and full of hate. I also know that not ALL Republicans are racist, sexist, homophobic, or misogynistic, even if I know SOME Republicans are. The lesson here is that we should not condemn the many for the acts of the few.
This is the essence of why liberals defend Islam as a whole, while condemning the acts of a relatively few radicalized Muslims. There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, and we certainly would be aware if Islam was as inherently violent and destructive as conservatives say.
If there were one million actively violent Muslim terrorists in the world—a gross exaggeration—there would still be 1,500,000,000 peaceful Muslims. Outside the echo chamber of Islamophobia, the reality is that the vast majority of Muslims are simply trying to live their lives, and most have not committed themselves to an epic rivalry with Christianity nor the West. Many Muslims around the world do not exactly have the economic freedom to focus on anything beyond the daily grind of life anyway.
Iraq is a perfect example. The Iraqi economy is largely organized at the local level, and most Iraqis are simple farmers or workers meagerly supporting themselves in a volatile region. Despite decades of continued violence, most Iraqis just want to live their lives with as much peace as possible. And they have been trying to since Saddam Hussein ruled tyrannically over them. Yet they lived through Hussein’s despotism with as much peace as possible. Then America occupied Iraq and wrestled control from sectarian groups, but most Iraqis continued trying to live their lives with as much peace as possible. Then open civil war broke out, but still they tried to live with as much peace as possible. Now ISIS is in control, and they are continuing to try and live in peace. The vast majority of Muslims are not evil, they are simply trying to not be murdered or starve.
Throughout their calamitous recent history, Iraqis have offered token and superficial support to Saddam, America, Shia groups, ISIS and whoever else has ever temporarily occupied their localities. Iraqis just want to avoid violence, and oppressed Iraqis are certainly not an existential threat to America. They are moral allies of American conservatives, as they are mutually opposed to Islamic fundamentalism. Unfortunately, fundamentalist American conservatives do not realize it.
Peace is the ideal for most people on planet Earth, and most spend their time worrying about nonviolent concerns such as how to make enough money to feed their families, what they can do to attract love, how they can assist with their parents and grandparents’ health problems, how to raise their children, or even just how they will spend their night after a tiring day of work. Muslims around the world are no different, and an abstract arms race between Islam and Christianity in the minds of American conservatives will be as productive toward peace any other smoldering arms race littered throughout history.
America, let’s stop scapegoating, let’s stop repeating history, and let’s oppose fundamentalism everywhere it takes root. This means we must fight our own fundamentalist impulses as well.