Sarah Haider: Islam and the Necessity of Liberal Critique (AHA Conference 2015)

Jun 15, 2015

Presented at the American Humanist Association 74th Annual Conference, May 7-10, 2015, in Denver, Colorado. #ahacon15

Reformists in Muslim countries are routinely silenced, through persecution or violence, which has been increasing over the last few decades as Islamism gains traction. Liberals are in a unique position to make a nuanced and compassionate critique of harmful conceptions of religion- a position which we are ceding. As a result, the only visible voices are those of hate-mongers from the far-right, Islamists and outright apologists. It is of the highest priority that liberals exert pressure on both groups towards positive change.

Sarah Haider is a co-founder of Ex-Muslims of North America, a community building organization for Ex-Muslims across the non-theist spectrum, for which she currently works to reduce discrimination of those who left Islam.

16 comments on “Sarah Haider: Islam and the Necessity of Liberal Critique (AHA Conference 2015)

  • As an unapologetic leftie – in fact, proud of being on the side of ordinary people as opposed to being on the side of wealth, greed and privilege – I take exception to Sarah’s misrepresentation of our views regarding Islam. Our opposition to anti-Muslim cartoons, etc., is that they serve only to deliberately inflame the situation. To deny Islamophobia which is motivated by Western insatiable greed – and no friend of free thinkers – is a sad denial of reality. As she said, American Muslims are less radical that Muslims in theocratic countries. Education and exposure to alternative cultures is the only positive way forward.



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  • Please elaborate on how islamophobia is motivated by Western insatiable greed. Don’t you think “Islamophobia” is rather motivated by the violent acts of muslims? If we ban anti-Islamic cartoons then what should we ban next? Homosexuality? That is roundly condemned in Islam and carries capital punishment. Its not about purposely insulting muslims. Charlie Hebdo published cartoons that were insulting to all religions but it was Islam that took violent action. These cartoons are not made for the sole purpose of insulting, the bigger picture lies in the principle of free speech which the left seems to take for granted…



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  • 4
    permafrost says:

    In fact, Charlie Hebdo “insulted” Christianity way more often than Islam. Only (or mostly) Muslims kill for cartoons nowadays.
    I am sorry to say that, Pat, I mean no offense, but your comment appears to illustrate exactly what is wrong with some lefties (as you say) and Sarah’s words are not misrepresenting anything, but accurately describing.

    FYI, practitioners of Islam have been killing people for ‘offensive’ words since… forever. Actually, Muhammad himself had people killed for some unpleasant verses. So, no, I don’t agree at all that islamophobia is motivated by Western insatiable greed (by the way, I am not denying that greed nor defending it).



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  • Comment: “Western insatiable greed”? Talk about a sad denial of reality. Your confusing the forest for the trees friend. Most of us couldn’t care less whatever nonsense Muslims believe. Go ahead and knock yourselves out with whatever gets you through the night, but please quit your whining .



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  • The problem stems from the Anti-muslim propaganda from the 9-11 era, the Afghan war and the Iraq war, and more recently the vilification of Iran. A liberal like myself has quite often used my personal experience with Islam and the Qur’an to temper that propaganda.

    So when somebody says something really horrible about Islam (like widespread female genital mutilation), the temptation is to presume is just more of this propaganda, not accurate information. The antics of ISIS should make it easier to discus the negative side of Islam without it being dismissed as American racist propaganda.

    On first glance, you sound like a black person trying to increase prejudice against blacks, — a bit mad. I think this will go away over the coming year.



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  • Islamic thinking:

    A: “If you eat that carrot, I will consider it an unforgivable insult. I will be compelled to kill you.”

    B: eats carrot

    A: shoots B to death

    A: “Yet another suicide. It was a good thing though.”



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  • I thought it very peculiar that universities would ban/censor secular groups. Surely they are not that controversial. I suspect what is really happening is extortion. The schools are afraid of reprisals from radical Muslim groups. If a dozen students were murdered, they would say that was worth caving to Muslim demands.

    However, we, all know that caving to bullies just encourages them. You have to hit them back so hard they will never again risk the pain.



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  • I am not familiar with the Christian and Muslim anti-slave debates, but I imagine an abolishonist might have argued like this:
    Granted the bible and the Qur’an condoned slavery for their time. But technology has made the use of slaves optional. The holy books condoned slavery, but did not make it mandatory.



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  • This was a really good speech. She convinced me. She did not just express her opinions, she gave good arguments for them.
    Even though she read from a script, her delivery was lively and convincing. Her voice was pleasant.
    She often tripped in her pronunciations of words like Charlie, Hebdo, xenophobic, oddly mispronouncing them several different ways.
    I really hope radicals don’t kill her.



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  • You would do well to READ the Koran. And disabuse yourself of your willful ignorance of Islam.

    anti-Muslim cartoons, etc., is that they serve only to deliberately inflame the situation. To deny Islamophobia…

    Freedom of speech and thought is of no consequence to you; so Pamela Geller is deserving of death threats from Islamic terrorists.
    Just as Charlie Hebdo deserved what it got, eh?
    “Islamophobia”- why not add ‘racism’ and ‘bigotry’ while you’re at it?

    Yep, you are a Leftie- and you make me sick. And no, I don’t care if you’re offended



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  • Always people are characterised as ‘leftist’, ‘far right’, ‘extremist’, etc,etc.
    My tendencies are to liberalism, individuality, social welfare, free market, democracy and complete hatred of the ideology called Islam.

    So, where do I fit in this dialogue?

    Often I see hatred as a despicable emotion- but is it not only justified but required where something as evil as Islam exists? Why is it fashionably ‘tolerant’ to excuse this dogma when the Glorious Koran is crammed with hate of all non-Muslims [and many Muslims, too]? Can ignorance of Islam and it’s aims be condoned when the evidence is now so freely available?



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  • Thank you very much for a brilliant and courageous speech. A much welcomed wake up call for us in the west, and food for thought about the misplaced “tolerance” to extremist, misogynous and violent views in the name of religious respect, which amounts to cultural suicide.



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  • Your characterization of these cartoons as “anti-Muslim” shows just how far off the deep end you are. The fact that some xenophobes fear Muslims (among many other peoples, usually) does not make fear of Islam any less rational. I’m sure some xenophobes also believe in the theory of evolution by natural selection, but that does not make it any less rational either.



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  • Very well said, that expertly summed up many of my own thoughts on these subjects, which I must admit to being hesitant to speak aloud for the very reasons she mentions. I think we need to just get away from left-right bias and concentrate on looking for more objective views guided by logic that reasonable people can reach more of a consensus on.



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