Secularism on the Two Sides of the Atlantic: One Principle, Two Sets of Challenges
The question of how secularists should approach Islam versus Christianity is one that keeps coming up again and again. Not so much by secularists, but mostly by religionists. And it seems that, no matter what we do, they discover something awful to accuse us of.
Look, for example, at the firestorm that followed Richard Dawkins’ saying the obvious about Islam. He became the target of accusations of “Islamophobia” and even racism, just because he said that Islamic nations are not at the forefront of scientific discovery and innovation today, despite making up a huge segment of humanity. So I guess it is a bad idea for atheists to criticize Islam, correct?
Not so. Atheists have also been accused of being soft on Islam and going after Christianity only (by Christian Right figures such as Sean Hannity), presumably because they are scared of the (potentially violent) Muslims.
How can this be? We are too hard on Islam, AND too soft on Islam, at the same time?
What our critics fail to see is that as we stand up against matters of personal belief forming the basis of how citizens are treated in a society, we respond to challenges as they arise. We don’t pick and choose. Islam is a bigger problem for those in Europe, and hence they are more likely to have address it. For those on this side of the Atlantic, however, it is theocratic Christianity that is the bigger problem.
Should this really be so surprising? Secularization among the historically Christian population in Europe has left Islamism as the biggest threat to a vibrant democracy. Here is an example: in the UK, a whopping 25% of young people believe in God, and an even more impressive 14% of them see religion as more often a force for good than evil, while 41% believe the opposite. The US, despite all the encouraging trends, still has a lot of catching-up to do. And we already know that the creationist threat to public education comes from the Christian Right, whereas in Europe it comes from Islamists.
Let’s look at a few examples from just the last week to see what this means.
This is what it looks like in the UK:
A row over free expression has broken out at the London School of Economics after members of the LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Student Society were told they would be physically removed from the annual Freshers’ Fair unless they covered up t-shirts deemed “offensive”.
Student Union officials removed materials from the LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Student Society stand and demanded that the group removed t-shirts they were wearing featuring satirical Jesus and Mo cartoons. When asked for an explanation, LSESU officials stated that several students had complained about the t-shirts.
In 2012 the LSE Students’ Union effectively made blasphemy an offence following protests from Muslim students about a Jesus and Mo cartoon posted on the LSE Atheist, Secularist and Humanist student group’s Facebook page.
The LSESU passed a motion proposing that ‘Islamophobia is a form of anti-Islamic racism’. The Union resolved “To define Islamophobia as “a form of racism expressed through the hatred or fear of Islam, Muslims, or Islamic culture, and the stereotyping, demonisation or harassment of Muslims, including but not limited to portraying Muslims as barbarians or terrorists, or attacking the Qur’an as a manual of hatred”.
It said it would take a firm stance against all Islamophobic incidents at LSE and conduct internal investigations if and when they occur.
Also in 2012, students from the University of Reading Atheist, Humanist and Secularist Society were forced to leave the Freshers’ Fair after they labelled a pineapple “Mohammed” and put it on their stall.
Here is another example:
More than a dozen Muslim clerics have been caught agreeing to marry off girls as young as 14. Four imams are now under investigation, after they offered to arrange the illegal ceremonies. Undercover reporters, posing as the mother and brother of a 14-year-old, contacted 56 mosques across the country and asked clerics to perform an Islamic marriage ceremony, known as a nika. Imams at 18 mosques agreed – including one who has advised the police.
The preacher was prepared to arrange the nika despite being told that the ‘bride’ was being forced to move in with a man against her wishes.
One imam openly mocked English laws while speaking to reporters from ITV’s Exposure programme.
When told the girl did not want to get married, Mohammed Shahid Akhtar, of the Central Jamia Mosque Ghamkol Sharif in Birmingham, replied: ‘She’s 14. By sharia, grace of God, she’s legal to get married.
‘Obviously Islam has made it easy for us. There is nothing against that. We’re doing it because it’s OK through Islam.’
‘You’ve got the kaffirs [non-believers], the law, the English people that … you know, you can’t get married twice but, by the grace of god, we can get married four times,’ he said.
But then, look on what is happening on this side of the Atlantic: the good Christian pastor who graces us by calling for a military coup here in the US.
On yesterday’s episode of “Prophetic Perspective on Current Events,” Rick Joyner declared that democracy in America has failed and that the nation might not last even to the end of President Obama’s term, warning that we are heading for a tyranny from which we can only be saved by a military takeover.
“There’s no way our republic can last much longer,” Joyner said, adding that “we’re headed for serious tyranny” because the electoral system is so broken that the leaders we need who can save this nation will never win office. That is why “our only hope is a military takeover; martial law”.
He then doubles down, as if he weren’t clear enough the first time: It is theocracy for us, or a military junta.
When I began to see that this is now almost certainly unavoidable, I did receive encouragement that even if our present government collapsed, if we, as a nation, returned to the Lord, it would be used for good and not evil. It could be a reset, a jubilee, and our Republic could be restored on a solid foundation, one that would not be so easily shaken again. I still hold to that promise. Not only will our Republic be restored, but even more importantly, America will turn back to the Lord and fulfill our destiny and purpose.
Now, I’d think defending democracy against a Franco-style military-religious dictatorship would have to be any secularists highest priority, if that were ever to become a real possibility.
To sum up the issue, we stand for the same principles, and adjust our message depending on who the adversary is. Those who accuse us of talking too much or too little about Islam are not our friends. They do not agree with our goals. They cannot counter our arguments with reason, and that is why they resort to ad hominem attacks. Rather than fall into their trap, we should call them out for their sophistry.