Are Liberals Going to Finally Get It This Time About Islam? (& Polish Translation)

May 2, 2013

See end of article for Polish translation

I’m a liberal American. I see my liberal friends eagerly condemn the Christian Right every hour of every day on Facebook and twitter.


I wrote a book with a strategy for how we can push back against the many religiously biased American laws, so I’m glad liberals boldly condemn Christian fundamentalism’s impositions on the rest of society.

Take for example Westboro Baptist Church, a tiny group of publicity-hungry lunatics. They are vociferously condemned by liberals in social media on a constant basis.  It’s right to condemn such unjust behavior, but please note that the Westboro Church:


1) is a weak and tiny player in the fundamentalist world;

2) has not killed anyone.


A few other Christian extremists are violent. Anti-abortion Christians have killed a grand total of fewer than ten Americans in the last twenty years.  This absolutely vile and immoral crime must be condemned no doubt.  

Whether they are the Westboro Baptists or more violent anti-abortion Christian extremists – such fanatics violate a principle that I’d summarize as follows: any ideology, religious or not, that seeks to undermine the human rights of others must be condemned. This principle is particularly important when an ideology advocates or accepts calls to violence against non-violent people.

Sound reasonable? Liberals eagerly apply this principle to Christian Right groups though violence is rarely seen from that quarter.

And yet American liberals, so vehemently opposed to the Christian Right, will cry  “Islamophobia!” if one dares to apply the exact same standard I suggest above to Islam.

I’ll repeat the principle: any ideology, religious or not, that seeks to undermine the human rights of others must be condemned. This principle is particularly important when an ideology advocates or accepts calls to violence against non-violent people.

Anticipating the cry of Islamophobia, I’d ask liberals to pause before attacking: I served a decade in my state legislature, so my stands are public record. I served on committees that dealt with human rights.  I was elected Whip by my Democratic colleagues.  I made many public decisions about human rights and minority rights. I had a 100% voting record with a premier liberal group in my legislature (The Maine Women’s Lobby). I had that 100% record not for one term — but 100% for ten years running.  I initiated numerous pieces of legislation that became law – over thirty laws in fact – laws that, in most cases, would be described as liberal.


Combine this record with my stands on issues pertaining to Muslims.  For example, I:


  1) support immigration reform (including for Muslims).

  2) condemn any and all prejudice against Arab people.

  3) publicly opposed the invasion of Iraq and did so early – in 2003 – while I was an elected official — at a time when that insanely stupid idea was quite popular.  

  4) support that Mr. Tsarnaev (the surviving Marathon bomber) gets his full due process rights under American law.

  5) Oppose what is commonly known as profiling.


Liberals, seemingly by rote, attack anyone who mentions facts connecting Islam and violence as an "Islamophobe."  However, given my history and positions, that  assertion is a big stretch.

Let’s address the merits instead. I challenge liberals to ask themselves, is their stand on human rights consistent?

Just imagine the screams of outrage and calls for action amongst American liberals if there were, let's say, ten examples of attempted acts of terror with the intent to kill committed in the last ten years on American soil by those who, themselves, say their violence was motivated by their belief in fundamentalist Christianity. Liberals would never stop spewing with outrage – and good for them. That would be the entirely appropriate reaction.


Now consider this:


A 2006 Pew survey asked adult Muslims under age 30 how often suicide bombing could be justified to “defend Islam.”

 Of that category 26% answered either sometimes or rarely in the United States, 29% in Spain, 35% in Britain, and 42% in France.   I heartily commend the Muslim majority in these western countries that opposed such violence — flat out.  The great majority of Muslims are good decent peaceful people.  No one – ever – should say all Muslims think A or B.

But the idea that violence is accepted only by some vanishingly small minority of Muslims is just false.

Violence is viewed as potentially justifiable by a significant minority of Muslims. 26%? 29%? 35%? 42%? Those percentages constitute hundreds of thousands of people (just in these few Western countries) – people who are Muslim and who connect that ideology – their ideology — with a justification for violence.

Forty per cent of the British Muslims surveyed said they backed introducing sharia in parts of Britain.

In another poll 24 per cent agreed or tended to agree that the 7/7 London bombings were justified. (Please note that there were 52 innocent people killed in the 7/7 Islamic terrorist attack and more than 700 injured).

Of British Muslims age 16-24 polled, 
36 percent think apostates should be killed.

In America the percentage of Muslims who think suicide bombing, for example, is sometimes justified is much smaller than in most other nations. And yet that “small” number (about 8%) is about 200,000 people – in America – who think suicide bombing can sometimes be justified. 

In a recently released Pew poll, 29% of Egyptian Muslims think suicide bombing is sometimes justified.  And 65% of Muslims in the highly populated nations of Pakistan and Egypt think the death penalty is justified for leaving Islam.

Mohammed Atta grew up in Egypt. Mr. Atta became famous upon his death on September 11, 2001 when he and other terrorists killed 2977 innocent people. Some will argue that 9/11 was anomalous. I’d argue that the Oklahoma City bombing (that killed 168 people) was, in part, justified by the fundamentalist Christian beliefs of Mr. McVeigh but others disagree.  

If we leave those two largest attacks aside, we still face the reality that there were over forty documented successful or attempted terror attacks in the United States with an Islamic radicalist motivation since 1990. 

It is simply recognizing reality to acknowledge that no other self-identified religiously-affiliated terror effort has a similar record.  Approximately four times as many people in the United States died from attacks based on Islam than on Christianity since 1990 – IF we leave out 9/11 and Oklahoma City. But the overall number (over forty attacks or attempted attacks) is perhaps the most telling.

It is the combination of these factors that is uniquely troubling. Islamic culture is a culture – even in the west — in which — NOT a majority – but a very significant minority — say that violence is justified in reaction to apostasy and insult to Mohammed.  A considerable minority of Muslims support suicide bombing in some circumstances.  From this culture we see over forty acts of terror or attempted acts of terror in the United States. America has been subject to fewer such attacks than many other nations.


My fellow liberals: please stop ignoring reality.


I know why you do it because I’m a liberal too. I vehemently oppose mob mentality. I adamantly commend the solid majority of Muslims in many western countries for being good peace-loving citizens.   I commend, and share, the American liberal commitment to thwart mob behavior in a nation that once put Japanese in camps, and that enslaved African-Americans. It is a very noble principle — but there must be a way to avoid mob rule — and still tell the truth and take wiser action in the face of that reality, and that is what I here to suggest.

Because it is the truth.  Most of the victims of Muslim extremism are not in America, or other western nations. They are the citizens of numerous Muslim majority countries where women’s rights are denied in torturous and deadly ways, and so-called apostates and violators of Sharia are regularly physically attacked, imprisoned, or killed.

The polls show how serious the problem is — not because most western Muslims themselves would engage in such action — but because there is a widespread culture within even Western-nation Islam – not the majority mind you – but a population of millions nonetheless, that says violent action is acceptable.  Some people find their “answer” in life within that culture, within that allegedly “moral” religious authority.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s interest in radical Islam was not some hyper-rare exception. It was a religious path that has become familiar.

Nidal Malik Hasan, a doctor, expressed religious motivations when he slaughtered people at Fort Hood – but many liberals seemingly want to ignore his sincerely stated religious beliefs.

Najibullah Zazi, who planned the subway attack, said he was motivated by Islam.

Faisall Shahzad, the Times Square Bomber, said he was motivated by his religion.

Anwar al-Awlawki, the quite popular New Mexican Imam, who preached — successfully in some cases — for the killing of Americans, was an expressly religious figure who cited religious texts eloquently — with the goal of inciting violent action.

It is a very small percentage who carry out the terrorist actions, but a large subset of Islam, more so than any other religion today, that provides the imprimatur of Godliness — supported by many Imams and other authority figures – an imprimatur for terror and killing. Yes, the Christians did many violent things centuries ago, and  Christians do some violent things now. Right-wing Christians, as I document in my book, lobby successfully to create many horrific and unjust American laws, but it would be dishonest for me not to concede that what we see in a large minority of Islam is on a whole different level.

Mohammed Atta, a man of achievement in higher education, was the cell leader who – justified by a stunningly sincere religious belief — annihilated himself and thousands of others on 9/11.  

America’s invasion of Iraq was a blazingly stupid decision certain to inflame hatred against American in the Middle East, but, just as a mob mentality against Muslims is wrong, it is also wrong to accept a mob mentality within a significant portion of Islam (e.g. it’s acceptable to kill the apostate, impose Sharia on others, suicide bomb in some cases, treat women in a deeply sexist and often dangerous manner).

Globally, the Muslim population is forecast to grow at about twice the rate of the non-Muslim population over the next two decades – an average annual growth rate of 1.5% for Muslims, compared with 0.7% for non-Muslims. If current trends continue, Muslims will make up 26.4% of the world’s total projected population of 8.3 billion in 2030, up from 23.4% of the estimated 2010 world population of 6.9 billion.  

Facing reality is the first step to progress.   So, can American liberals  now  — after the Boston Marathon, after the recent Al Qaida terror attempt in Canada — finally accept reality. The next step is to ask what to do. Pitchforks? Torches? Denial of civil liberties? Not a bit of it.  

However, we must seek direct engagement — not attack. Not personal vitriol. Direct engagement.

If liberals can – with great vitriol – condemn the Christian Right (as they do constantly), then liberals can treat Islam like any other ideology — because Islam is just another ideology – like the Tea Party, like the Christian Right. Islam must be subject to the same rough and tumble of ideas as is any other ideology.

Of course the strong majority of Muslims are good decent law abiding citizens — but for those who embrace the term moderate Muslims, it is now time for increased direct engagement:


1) Let us all, Muslims and liberals, join together directly, forcefully and publicly condemn the level of acceptance of violence indicated in the polling I cite.  Ask the question: will imams and other Muslims leaders take substantive steps beyond a mere post-bombing statement (“we condemn the most recent terrorist attack.)”  To warrant the term “moderate” Muslims, particularly community leaders, must, in partnership with liberals, do the following:


  • publicly and vehemently condemn all those who accept any form of violence in response to apostasy – not              merely condemn the violence itself – condemn those who say it is an acceptable action by others.
  • publicly and vehemently condemn any acceptance of violence in response to the satirizing of Islam or of Muhammad.
  • publicly and vehemently condemn any acceptance of violence in furtherance of the political aims of Islam.
  • State with vehemence that the Muslim community is failing to meet its moral obligations if 5% or more of Muslims in polling accept violence in the name of Islam. Muslim leaders who call themselves moderate must publicly condemn those Muslims who disagree with meeting this standard.


Only the Muslims who embrace these steps can truly call themselves moderate.


2) Liberals and moderate Muslims must celebrate those in the Islamic world who stand up for freedom of conscience, specifically including those who disagree with an aspect or all of Islam. Otherwise they are not liberal. Otherwise they are not moderate. Those in majority Muslim countries who say they don’t believe Islam should be celebrated for expressing their own ideas – not chopped up with a machete – as recently happened in Bangladesh. There are groups taking action on this topic now that need support. For example, Maryam Namazie is a brave women of Iranian descent who is a spokesperson for ex-Muslims in Britain.  People like Maryam,  who speak out against Islamic sexism and violent ideology, must be celebrated by American liberals and moderate Muslims alike — celebrated as the heroes they are — because these heroes are voices for civil liberties facing the reality in many circumstances in which their lives are in danger simply because they speak their mind.  Liberals must welcome and encourage former Muslims who say they have had enough of a culture that teaches sexism and, in many cases, violence.  Moderate Muslims, to be called moderate, must embrace and praise these brave “apostates” who speak for their own conscience, even when — particularly when – they reject some or all aspects of Islamic doctrine. These heroes can only be celebrated if liberals speak out adamantly and publicly against a right-wing culture in some Muslim-majority countries that facilitates killing and maiming of these people of conscience.


3) Those who are in fact liberals and those who are in fact moderate Muslims will adamantly call on the US government to openly and forcefully challenge the flagrant violations of human rights in the Islamic world – the rampant and violent sexism, the attacks on so-called apostates. The US Government and the international community must invest in coordinated effort to get secular education funded, and women’s rights organizations funded, in nation’s most vulnerable to extremist ideology. These must be a public high priority of the US Government and the combined force of moderate Muslims and liberals can do much to achieve this human rights imperative.


4) The Richard Dawkins Foundation is helping to organize freethought conventions in every US state and in every nation. Often religious people come in contact with secular ideas at such conventions and choose to embrace an Enlightenment worldview.  I see this regularly when moderating the Richard Dawkins Foundation Facebook page where, for example, people who came from fundamentalist Muslim background find themselves coming to embrace an Enlightenment worldview.  Liberals and moderates must celebrate this effort. Liberals should help lead it, and encourage people of all religions who support a secular viewpoint to participate in Freethought conventions.  Former-Muslims should be invited – current Muslims should be invited! – to such conventions.  The Dawkins Foundation can help with this important human rights effort that can and should be supported by all moderates and all liberals.

These steps are the steps appropriate to real liberalism. These steps are the actions of truly moderate Muslims.  It is time for liberals to face squarely fundamentalist bigotry , as they have with the handful of people involved in the Westboro Baptist Church, and face, sadly, a fundamentalist bigotry that involves much more loss of human life.

We must never attack anyone personally, or condemn any people as a category — but we must condemn any and all violent and sexist ideologies relentlessly on all fronts and challenge Islamic leaders to really step up and create a zero tolerance policy against such attitudes. That is the true path of real liberals. That is the true path of moderation. So far liberalism in the US has failed in this important human rights cause. That must change.  The people who have the most to gain are Muslims — particularly women.  It is time for American liberals to join this important human rights movement.

Sean Faircloth is author of Attack of the Theocrats: How the Religious Right Harms Us All & What We Can Do About It.  Faircloth is Director of Strategy & Policy at the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. Faircloth served ten years in the Maine legislature.

Czy liberałowie tym razem wreszcie zrozumieją? 

Autor tekstu: Sean Faircloth

Tłumaczenie: Małgorzata Koraszewska

Jestem liberalnym Amerykaninem. Obserwuję każdego dnia moich liberalnych przyjaciół gorliwie potępiających chrześcijańską prawicę na Facebooku i na Twitterze.

Sam napisałem książkę o tym, jak zwalczać w Ameryce ustawy uchwalone pod wpływem nacisków fundamentalnych grup religijnych, cieszę się więc, że liberałowie śmiało potępiają narzucanie chrześcijańskiego fundamentalizmu reszcie społeczeństwa.

Weźmy na przykład Westboro Baptist Church, małą grupę szukających rozgłosu szaleńców. Są oni nieustannie potępiani przez liberałów w mediach społecznościowych. Potępianie tak fanatycznego zachowania jest słuszne, ale warto zauważyć, że Westboro Church:

1) jest w świecie fundamentalistów słabym i małym graczem;

2) nikogo nie zabili.

Niektórzy inni ekstremiści chrześcijańscy stosują przemoc. Chrześcijanie przeciwko aborcji na przestrzeni ostatnich dwudziestu lat zabili w sumie mniej niż dziesięciu Amerykanów . Nie ulega wątpliwości, że ich potworna i niemoralna zbrodnia musi być potępiona.

Czytaj dalej

Written By: Sean Faircloth
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