Sometimes an issue serves as a value check on what you really stand for: Do you actually support something of inherent worth, or do you merely oppose some specific thing you find personally irritating without understanding why? The bizarre dichotomy on the left of attitudes toward Christianity vs. Islam is a case in point that separates the liberals from the posers: We see a reaction to two religions not by the ideas they promote or the behaviors normalized by their respective cultures, but simply how the identities involved relate to the political convenience of the speaker. The results can be surreal, and attacks from the left on Richard Dawkins for criticizing Islam have been some of the clearest and most appalling examples.
As a modern social phenomenon, Christianity deals largely in moral hypocrisy, self-adulation, and corrupt fundraising, while Islam as a norm deals in what the former only deals with at an extreme - absolute demarcation between Us and Them, with most forms of anti-social or authoritarian behavior being excusable by the ingroup vis-a-vis Others and an infinite plethora of unhinged conspiracy theories being considered plausible on the part of outsiders. Most of the Islamic world not only appears to believe 9/11 Truther conspiracy theories, but doesn't seem to be aware that any other history exists. In fact, for the most part, Islamic history in these countries is almost all concerned with weaving a WATB fantasy of the infinite evil of Westerners, the infinite suffering of Muslims at their hands, and largely ignores anything else unless it's to demonize other sects of Islam than the dominant one.
There is no part of core Islamic belief that's liberal. If you do anything good, it's not because it's good inherently - it's because an all-powerful tyrant says so and will slaughter those who defy Him: Basically the same moral origin as fundamentalist Christianity, only with scriptural examples of militant political religion by the central spiritual figure and his followers. God is not good in the Islamic framework, but "Merciful" - i.e., one who is malevolent but restrains himself if you are obedient. And the concepts of "peace" and "submission" are thus considered identical: You do not speak. You do not think. You do not change. You adhere to the rigid structures which you inherit or there will be horrific consequences. There is no guarantee there won't be horrific consequences anyway, but as long as you are "on the team" you have the comfort of rigid identity and can make whatever excuses are needed to believe yourself righteous. Again, the same phenomenon occurs in Christianity, but it isn't a codified structural element of the underlying belief.
And the beliefs of Islam are completely ridiculous, Dark Age gibberish no more rational than anything else from Abrahamic tradition, yet somehow manages to be even darker - silly numerological fetishes, arbitrary attributions of very specific practices or meaningless acts to divine purposes, etc. Basically the Old Testament raised to the power of Yuck. It's awful, and even worse when you realize that a billion people would fear for their lives to say so. Texas evangelicals can only fantasize about the level of fear, ignorance, and conformity that people are born into in the Islamic world. I find it infuriating that someone in another part of the world could be exactly like me in their minds, but if they spoke the scientific / curious / inquiring thoughts that have been going through my head since childhood, they would be endangering themselves and their families - possibly facing danger from their families.
There are people in these parts of the world working and risking themselves to change that, but they at least know the problem exists, and some of them at least know that Islam is part of the problem - that it's the most religious of religions, and that everything wrong about religion is especially potent and concentrated in Islam. Where religion is ignorant, Islamic religion is almost entirely epistemically closed. Where religion is about controlling people, Islam is nothing but control - except in the few places where people are allowed to unleash their violent passions against designated scapegoats. All other competitors for passion are strictly regulated or prohibited: Women, alcohol, art, music, everything. Christianity is less explicit on these subjects, and where it is, Christians mostly ignore it because (a)most of them know it's crap, and (b)people who say it's crap aren't targeted for murder, dismemberment, or imprisonment. Christianity is open enough to allow its followers to outgrow it.
I am not a moral relativist, and I will not create artificial barriers between the reality that pertains to the planet Earth I live on and one where people who dress differently live. There is one reality, and in that reality human beings and all other living things evolved from other species. There were no talking serpents, a burning bush did not scrawl 10 commandments into a rock, the magic carpenter did not hocus pocus an infinite picnic from a bottomless basket, and a desert bandit did not hear the voice of an omnipotent being telling people to not drink alcohol and to walk five times around a box. Muslims can hear that without turning into terrorists or feeling like oppressed victims, and they can handle hearing that their religion has been by and large a bad thing for humanity and deal with the fact constructively. If they don't like it, they can change their religion, or they can choose some other religion, or they can support science and enlightenment, but if they deny the history of what Islam does simply to protect their identity they'd be no different from any other idiot religious people and equally deserving of ridicule.
I will not deservedly mock ignorant, repugnant evangelical Christians for their silly beliefs and bigoted attitudes while treating Muslims like psychologically delicate pets who have to be protected from criticism of their religion and can't handle 21st century thinking without flying off the handle. If that's what does happen - if culturally Islam is that sensitive - then that just proves it's in dire need of far more criticism and mockery than it gets. Richard Dawkins, who has been a tireless advocate for reason and sanity, deserves immense credit for having enough respect for people who happen to be Muslim to laugh at their religion the same as he laughs at Christianity - especially in Britain, where the WATBism of conservative Islam goes far beyond even Tea Party Christianity in the US.
When I look at Islam, I don't see some delicate alien culture that needs protection from us big, bad, omnipotent Westerners - I see a bunch of obsolete ideas that hurt people and have been allowed to dominate the lives of a huge swath of the world for long past its point of usefulness. Ideas are what they do, and we know what Islam does: At best, nothing. It is the ultimate status quo, and because it came into effect in Dark Age Arabia, that's the standard of "normal" that that religion gravitates toward - as opposed to Hellenistic Rome or late medieval Germany. The more rigid, the more self-absorbed a religion is, the more its domination crushes cultures into stagnation. Why pursue such a rigorous, arcane, and uncertain pursuit as science when it's so much easier to memorize and recite verses like a machine? The brief flowering of Islamic science in the Middle Ages was rapidly crushed beneath the jackboot of devout unconsciousness and still hasn't emerged.
The only reason anyone disputes it is precisely the attitude of victimhood that Islam teaches and the paternalistic attitude by some on the secular left that see Muslims as emotionally unstable zoo animals who can't deal with vigorous 21st century thought like what Christians are exposed to. Well, they can deal with it, and should be respected enough to be told that their religion is bullshit like any other - the sooner the cultural PTSD bubble of history is shattered, the sooner those cultures can create something better. Who the hell wants the final word on their culture to have been written in the 7th century? What kind of asshole idolizes the Dark Ages? And what good is pasting a 21st century patina over cultural ideologies that still revolve everything around superstition, power, and conformity? In Dubai - that oh-so-modern skyscraper playground of billionaires - they recently convicted a woman of the crime of being raped. I don't think it was because their stockbrokers told them to.
Just because a set of ideas came from a desert is no excuse to let them make everything else into a desert to perpetuate them. Life is a lot better now, almost everywhere, and depriving people of alcohol had nothing to do with it; making women cover their awesome bodies had nothing to do with it; prayer had nothing to do with it; and obedience had less than nothing to do with it. All the good things that exist today were created by the impious and unsatisfied, the inquisitive and blasphemous, because such are the energies of Life. People stopped being their ancestors' puppets and got on with it. God is dead, and you are already dead if you subscribe to a culture obsessed with reliving the fantasies of some dead cult leader, schizophrenic, or con man. So leave the desert in the desert, and leave the past in the past, and life will grow in places once desolate.
Fri Aug 09, 2013 at 4:22 AM PT: Who could have predicted that criticizing Islam would result in spammed personal attacks, Orwellian false equivalencies, and threats?