Wednesday, October 15, 2014

is this the best islamophobes have to offer?

(Sometimes when I post youtube videos here, they show up as empty space on various mobile devices. So, link:
Here's a very serious progressive defense of Sam Harris and Bill Maher that seems to have made one or two laps around the internet. These guys must have done something right, then. Maybe they address the methodological inadequacies and complete lack of evidence coming from the "Islam is uniquely awful" camp. Let's have a look.

The guest in the video, one Gad Saad, has four things to say:

1. Progressives say it's OK to criticize some religions, not others.

--I wouldn't call myself a progressive but, as a non-Islamaphobe, I find myself among the accused. So, do I think it's OK to criticize some religions (say, Christianity) but not others (say, Islam)? My last post was titled "no, no, i hypothetically love it when sam harris criticizes bad ideas," where bad ideas meant any bad ideas of any relgion. (Amazingly, I came across this video when someone posted it as response to that post). There, and in another recent post titled "islamaphobe challenge," I explicitly asked for criticisms of Islam. The problem is that I added an awkward caveat. I asked that criticism of Islam be methodologically sound. "Don't criticize Islam because I don't like it when people criticize Islam and other stupid reasons" is mostly the same strawman I addressed in the "no, no..." post, where Harris claimed that some people are just plain opposed to entertaining criticism of bad ideas.

Saad's target is perhaps not yours truly, it's "progressives," so it's fair to wonder if the charge might apply in some cases. Well, who knows? He only calls out one particular progressive, Ben Affleck. Does the charge fit? Well, where does Affleck say or imply that "you can't criticize Islam"? Nowhere in the now infamous Maher kerfuffle. And Affleck clearly expresses disgust at the idea of putting apostates to death. Hence, he accepts criticism of actual terrible actions by individuals who are members of the group being attacked as a monolith. What he doesn't accept is the baseless tribalist claim
that Islam is like, the worst thing ever. Or something. I dunno. Harris, Maher, and Saad don't really say. Sometimes they'll say "Islam is 'the motherlode of bad ideas'" (Harris) or some other version of uniquely violent; other times they'll claim they're just trying to point out that Islam has negative consequences. If the latter, well, no shit. Being an irrational atheist asshat like Sam Harris has negative consequences too. "Group X is uniquely evil" is an entirely different argument than "some beliefs accurately attributed to self-described members of group X have negative consequences." In R. Scott Bakker's lingo, that's called "gaming ambiguities." Critique the baseless "uniquely evil" charge and get a defense of a mundane, uncontroversial charge that Islam helps cause some bad things. They don't see the switcheroo and many of their critics don't catch it either.

2. Attacks on Islam can't be racist because Islam is not a race.
--This is correct, arguably, though it's the sort of thing only an apologist would say. A non-apologist would advise the use of a better term to describe the same problem and note that the complaint is merely semantic. For my part, I haven't used the term racism to describe Islamaphobia because I find tribalism more useful. I see racism as a subset of the category "tribalism" -- the principles are the same. You set up a monolithic other by projecting the opposite of all you'd label "good" on it, then you attack the strawman you've created.

3. Saad claims that progressive attitudes toward Muslims are based on anecdotal evidence; implies his case is statistically sound.
--So, my "no, no..." post, again, is a challenge to any defender of the idea that Islam is uniquely prone to violence to prove it with, you know, data. So this is the part where one might hope Saad would do just that. Nope. Just psychologizes about how his a priori mistaken adversaries must be basing their cases on anecdotes. Those silly kids.

Before getting to #4, the host repeats Saad's strawman with a slick addition. He says that progressives think "people shouldn't criticize Islam for fear it would be offensive." Can't speak for others but personally I'm not one to pull punches for fear of offending people. I offend people, quite intentionally, where I think they hold baseless beliefs that are harmful to others. I'll eagerly offend Muslims on exactly the same grounds. Unless shown otherwise (e.g., some quotes), this is just more strawman material.

I would, however, defend the "feelings" of Muslims to the extent that they're targets of unfounded tribalist hate, which is altogether different. I'm also concerned about the material consequences of Islamaphobia. There are real consequences to being baselessly targeted as part of a monolith. (Ask, I dunno, Black people.) For example, someone might use that Muslim caricature as part of an effort to, say, launch an aggressive war against your country, kill your family and such. Muslim Americans (and others who just look like they could be) are victims of violent, so-called hate crimes (statistically!) at a greater rate than say, white people, thanks in large part to the tribalist Muslim caricature. Kind of a big deal. Not a "being offensive" issue.

Around the 6:00 mark, Saad repeats the strawman.

4. Saad offers an anecdote about someone he talked to who just didn't get it. Ha.

The end.


d.mantis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
d.mantis said...

Bill Maher is such a douche.

Sam Harris is a bigger douche. The problem with the New Atheism crowd is that their blind spot when it pertains to "Western, liberal, white culture" is even bigger than the philosophical blind spots of the religions they critique.

It leads to all sorts of rationalizations of brutal and devastating wars. In many cases, these folks are even more zealously supportive of the humanitarian bombing so common in neoliberalism.

As an atheist myself, fuck them.

Mr. Saad is simply exhibiting the same situational unawareness that every covert Islamaphobe peddles in, namely: always use general and far-reaching generalizations; when called out, make small exceptions using words like "obviously" and "goes without saying"; point to Islamic states as evidence of backwardness; omit or excessively down-play any historical imperialism.

I think your wording as it relates to tribalism is valid, however, Mr. Gaad is being severely disingenuous by pointing out Islam is not a race, therefore it cannot be racist. Common parlance of the liberal West is that Islam = brown people from the Middle East. It is not unreasonable to establish that the common understanding of the West as it relates to Islam is steeped in racism without it, you know, being "technically" correct in its definition.

Fuck Mr. Saad too.

Devin Lenda said...

I have no problem with using "racism" there. Sort of neither here nor there. Come to think of it, my initial concession of a millimeter to the "Muslim isn't a race" argument is probably one millimeter too far, considering that race itself is an imaginary line drawn around a group of mixed age, mixed sex, you know, all-inclusive population sample, for the purpose of othering to rationalize power.