The Fear of Islamophobia, and the Stifling of Debate

I recently saw an interview on CNN with Reza Aslan, the Islamic scholar and author, whose most recent work is “Zealot”, which is basically a biography of Jesus (who I don’t think even existed, but that’s another story). He was brought on to comment on the recent comments made by Bill Maher on his end-of-show monologue in the most recent episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher” (You can see both the relevant clip and interview with Aslan here). Mr. Aslan than proceeds to call Maher’s comments “facile”, and goes on to say that we shouldn’t paint all Muslims with a broad stroke; that only a small percentage are extremists, and also calls critics of Islam “bigots”.

Of course, it goes without saying that the vast majority of Muslims are peace-loving moderates who abhor the sort of acts of barbarity done in the name of their religion. The same is true for any religion, be it Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, etc. Most humans hate just want to live out their lives in relative obscurity, regardless of religion (or lack thereof).

Let me say also that while I love watching Maher and often agree and even find humorous most of what he says, he can often generalize and generally be an arrogant prick.

But that doesn’t mean that he’s necessarily wrong. And this where I have issue with Mr. Aslan. Or, more specifically, some comments he made regarding female genital mutilation and the treatment of women in general in most Muslim countries.

He states:

I mean, the argument about the female genital mutilation being an Islamic problem is a perfect example of that. It’s not an Islamic problem. It’s an African problem.

further:

It’s a Central African problem. Eritrea has almost 90 percent female genital mutilation. It’s a Christian country. Ethiopia has 75 percent female genital mutilation. It’s a Christian country. Nowhere else in the Muslim, Muslim-majority states is female genital mutilation an issue.

While those statistics are correct for Eritrea and Ethiopia, he fails to mention that of  the top 10 countries on the UNICEF list for FGM, nine of them are majority Muslim countries. And to say nowhere else but Central Africa is it a problem, is just patently false: Number four on that list is Egypt, which is Northern Africa.

He also says we should not judge Saudi Arabia and Iran, which everyone would agree were extremist in their interpretation of Islam, to what he considers more moderate countries such as Indonesia and Turkey, and this is true: every nation is responsible for its own actions. Saudi Arabia and Iran, however, use Islam to justify their oppressive laws, with punishments including stoning and beheading, as well the chronic oppression of women. These laws exist in other Muslim nations as well, not just the two “extremist” states.

As not only an atheist, but also an anti-theist, I believe that religion is one of the most destructive forces in history. Islam is not the only religion guilty of horrible crimes, certainly: Christianity has a hold on the far-right in the U.S., who want to establish it as a the State religion, and it’s also used to justify bombing abortion clinics and murdering doctors who perform those abortions. But to pretend Islam is not at least partly responsible for the actions of these Muslim extremists is ignoring the facts, and calling anyone who presumes to question the role of Islam as a motivation for these actions “bigots” only serves to stifle debate, and this is an issue that very much needs to be discussed.

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