Apologizing for Theocratic Fascism: The New Secular Liberals
There is a tremendous amount of confusion these days among secular liberals about the difference between Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech. The constant and incessant conflation of these two concepts is typically the driving force for such nonsensical and morally defunct declarations such as Reza Aslan’s explanation of why Charlie Hedbo happened. Most of them follow this line of logic:
When you offend people they get angry and angry people do violent things. So don’t offend people.
Safe to say the message is generally slightly more subtle than that but that is the message nonetheless. That was the point of Aslan’s lecture, it’s what the Pope meant when he cautioned against critiquing religion and it’s what Glenn Greenwald is fond of self-righteously diatribing about. All these people follow the same line of thinking and draw the same tired and entirely fallacious comparisons.
They inevitably claim that racism in Europe or the West is to blame. They will then compare critiquing religion to racism and if they have time left over they’ll mention some European nations’ laws against Holocaust denialism or blather about the exceptionality of extremism.
Let’s unpack these remarkably popular and obtuse arguments, exposing them for the bosh that they are.
To critique a religion is to critique an ideology. A religion is a cosmological stance saddled with an ideology on life and how to lead it. It typically states life’s origins and inevitably asserts a divine truth alongside values it associates with that truth. This means that a critique of religion is no different than a critique of a political or social ideology like Marxism or Identity Politics. This is leagues away from the same as questioning a person’s worth for their ethnicity.
A person’s religion speaks to their values and thus character. What else is there to judge a person on? Whereas a person’s ethnicity says absolutely nothing about them save what their heritage is. Those who cannot distinguish between these two vastly different concepts, that of values and that of heredity, have no place in any discussion requiring even a monad of critical thought.
That having been said, let’s consider for a moment that arguments like those asserted by Reza Aslan about failed integration are true. Let us assume momentarily that such global institutions as capitalism and imperialism are truly to blame for Islam’s association with murderous acts of terror. Even were this true it would still damn Islam as an ideology that it could so easily be co-opted and used to justify imperialist jihad and violently asserting theocratic principles the world over.
So even if we grant the ludicrous idea that all these Muslim terrorists are lying to themselves and that every time they cry out to Allah they really mean ‘down with capitalism’ or ‘down with institutionalized racism’, it still speaks to Islam’s breathtaking ineptitude as an ideology on life that it could fall victim so easily to such sinister application of its ‘infallible’ principles.
The reality is that secular liberals don’t know what it is to truly believe in a religious ideology. These are people who are so spectacularly isolated by secular civil society that it is quite impossible for them to grasp the concept of die-hard belief. And were capitalism and political disenfranchisement the real primary reasons for this overwhelming tide of theocratic fascism we would not have seen so many born and raised western converts to the cause. Indeed, instead of accepting this reality it is more palatable to simply dismiss zealotry in exchange for a venue secular liberals are more comfortable in, like politics. And while Islamism and Sharia Law are definitively political movements that does not in any way diminish the outstanding role a sincere and genuine belief in the faith plays.
The general uneasiness of liberals to openly discuss bad ideas when in religious pill-form is not the only problem, however. The second fundamental contention I have with many of these apologists is their entirely unfounded stance that they have a right to not be offended.
No one has the right to have their beliefs unequivocally respected and positively acknowledged at all times. Religions least of all because religions HAVE NO RIGHTS. People have rights, and among them include the right to tell a joke and criticize things. By demanding that people verbally acknowledge and publically respect your religion you impose your religious values on the public and that is theocratic fascism. My right to call your beliefs nonsense does not hinder your right to practice them.
Further, examining the contents of such publications as The Satanic Verses or Charlie Hedbo in search of rationalizations misses the point. When people are murdering other people because of cartoons and fiction then it needs to be unequivocally condemned in the name of press freedom and freedom of speech, END OF STORY.
Detractors will hastily point to anti-Holocaust denialism laws like those in Austria or Germany. They’ll say, then what is with this double standard for the Jewish community? Indeed. Let’s go there momentarily.
I think anti-Holocaust denialism laws are bad laws. Everyone should be free to deny the obvious and then be publicly ridiculed for it. Anyone who questions the effectiveness of such community-based measures should look into Paula Dean’s run-in with the American public over her use of the ‘N’ word or the fate of Duck Dynasty’s patriarch after he spoke against gay relationships.
Secondly, notwithstanding, there remains a big difference between the colossally bad idea that is Islam (or any religion for that matter) and these laws. That being the simple fact that the Holocaust as a historical event can be proven beyond all doubt. Whether from eye-witness accounts to documents or video, there is not a single shred of evidence that contradicts the overwhelming deluge of proofs in support of it. Islam’s claims, however, like all the Abrahamic faiths, is entirely unsubstantiated. Its claim on divine truth is as vacuous as the existence of unicorns.
This complacency and self-righteous indignation in the face of such remarkably clear assaults on the dignity of free speech is what happens when people take their rights for granted. Were Greenwald to exclaim his homosexuality in Iran he would be killed and were Aslan to correct ISIS’s interpretation of the Koran, he would be beheaded. There is a reason people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maryam Namazie do not tap dance around the issue of theocracy and its fascist ends and it is because they have lived it. Maybe people like Aslan and Greenwald need to spend a very long set of weekends in Iran or Saudi Arabia to familiarize themselves with people who share the same scruples regarding the freedom to call a spade a fucking spade. Freedom of speech only matters when it permits critique and questioning of the taboo and sacred. If it can’t be used for that then it can’t be used at all.