If there's one thing we love to do in the west, it is to spread shame to as many people as we possibly can. Well, as many white westerners as we possibly can. Whether it's slut-shaming or white guilt, there's someone who holds it dear, whether conservative or liberal. One kind of shaming that has spread like wildfire amongst liberals is what I call critic-shaming.
More specifically, I'm mostly referring to the shaming of critics of Islam. There are many double standards in western society, but this might just be the biggest one that is prevalent in liberal circles. In fact, critic-shaming might be the single largest rift in the liberal camp, the biggest issue that divides us.
I am a progressive, godless, socialistic writer. I believe people should be respected, to a point (I won't respect the likes of Sarah Palin), but I am in no way a politically correct person. One might say I am a liberal in the same vein as George Carlin; I prefer direct language and no ideology should be sheltered. I don't tolerate intolerance, but I also don't care if I end up offending someone.
I don't dislike Muslims; I'm not afraid that "Islam will take over" or some bullshit like that. I am not a fucked-up, right-wing, extremist nationalist with a severe case of xenophobic fever. I don't believe there's a "genocide on whites" like many right-wingers do. I don't think immigrants have to adapt to every single custom in the country to which they immigrate. I'm not afraid that immigration will destroy western culture by Islamists taking over and enforcing sharia. I don't particularly care about any specific set of traditions.
What I do care about, however, is the culture of human rights, equality, and rational thought we have in the west (even though many governments and right-wingers don't agree with all human rights). Freedom of religion is something I hold in high regard, which means I think Islam has a place in the west, like any other religion. But I also believe that religions are often conservative and totalitarian and the more powerful they are, the more they need to be ridiculed, even if it offends believers.
Freedom of speech is the core of many other freedoms. What would freedom of religion be without free speech? How would equality be achieved if all dialogue were shut down? It was at one point offensive to suggest that women should have equal rights. It is, in fact, offensive in contemporary times to suggest that LGBT should have equal rights. To whom is it offensive? Many religious people, including Muslims and Christians. Countless theists are, of course, not bigots, but rather just as progressive as I. And there are nonbelievers who are conservative. But the fact remains that the core of many religions is conservative.
We do have many injustices that need to be remedied in the west. There's still widespread homophobia and inequality for LGBT and women. These problems are, of course, largely cultural and not necessarily always caused by religion, but Christianity is a major factor in especially the oppression of LGBT and it is Christianity that has shaped western culture, in large part. To suggest that Christianity causes no inequality in the west is truly ignorant.
Capitalist imperialism with consequences such as war for profit is another big problem that causes issues in other parts of the world. Nationalism is on the rise again in Europe and has long been present in America; this leads to the xenophobic thinking that some people are better than others and some people don't deserve to live in whichever country it is that has a widespread nationalistic ideology.
These western issues are often discussed and we are working toward a brighter future, although we are far from perfect. We have no problems at all when we discuss our own issues, as long as the bad guys are white, it seems. The trend in the west is to blame ourselves for all the wrongs in the world, but while it's true western imperialism has caused many problems, the west can hardly be held responsible for all injustices.
Disrespecting or even simply drawing a religious figure is enough to make countless Muslims riot. This has led to many liberals wanting to censor whatever is "insulting" to Muslims, whereas satire of Christianity does not receive the same outrage. A dog-petting event arranged by a Muslim man was enough to enrage many conservative Muslims (of which there are a lot). These are not problems caused by the west; these are problems caused by religion. The mistrust of disbelievers, apostates, or believers in the wrong faith is not caused by western imperialism; it is a religious problem that causes persecution and oppression.
When people discuss Islam, they tend to gravitate only around the topic of terrorism and that a tiny minority of Muslims are terrorists (even though that minority is frighteningly large). The bigger issue I see is not the actual terrorism, but the conservative and theocratic mindset that is common in Islam. Liberals ignore this, even though they are in strict opposition to conservatism. They cannot see past the oppressed Muslims in Europe and America; they see the world in black and white: one either oppresses or is oppressed and there is no gray zone.
There has been a lot of noise about black people being mistreated by cops in America. This noise is without a single doubt justified, because a lot of police officers are bigoted bullies. It is also true, however, that this is a generalization and far from all cops are bigots or bullies. Lots of propaganda has been spread around about how bad police officers are. On a Swedish Facebook page called "Not racist, but..." (Inte rasist, men...), a person commenting argued that it is bigoted to generalize about Muslims, but she thinks white cops are bad. So... she's not racist, but all white cops are bad. Oh, the irony.
A common double standard is that many liberals generalize about whites—especially men—and criticize western ideologies, but when it comes to non-white ideologies, they will not tolerate any criticism. Any criticism of what may be considered a "non-white ideology", like Islam even though it's not a race and there are white Muslims, is conflated with bigotry toward the people. Any critic is essentially shamed into silence, not with counterarguments, but with the Ben Affleck tactic: shouting how the critic is a racist, so they cannot have their voice heard.
The double standard is that many people tend to only see one side of issues. Many right-wingers see all Muslims as terrorists, while many liberals see all Muslims as innocent victims. Many right-wingers are pretty racist and defend cops to the brink of insanity, while liberals are too quick to throw cops under the bus to protect the minority, before they even know the full story.
When a few cops go bad, liberals think there must be something fundamentally wrong with western society (which I'm not saying is incorrect) and any violent rioting committed by the oppressed party is justified (which I'm saying it's not). But when "some" Muslims go bad, they think there's absolutely nothing wrong with the ideology of Islam and if you try to use evidence to say otherwise, you are labeled a bigot and Islamophobe. In fact, you get it screamed in your face, Ben Affleck style. And rioting in response to a cartoon does not seem weird to these liberals.
Institutionalized oppression of minorities is easily recognized in the west and Christianity (although, as a religion, it does enjoy a cloak of politically correct protection, as well, even though it's not as thick as the one Islam sports). The very same issue in the Middle East and Islam is disregarded by liberals in a quest to make Muslims victims to protect them; it is noble, but ultimately counterproductive and wrong. The west is blamed, even for the institutionalized oppression in the Middle East, of which Islam is the core.
We live in a connected world; we're basically one global society. Islam, with over 1.6 billion adherents, is treated like a worldwide minority that cannot be criticized because it may hurt the feelings of Muslims or paint a bad image of Muslims. No such concerns are present for other ideologies (or at least not to the same degree). This is not the progressive approach, and I see two issues with it.
The biggest problem I have with it is that Muslims are viewed as a minority that exists only in the west. But there are 1.6 billion Muslims; they are not a minority on the world scene and Islam is one of the biggest worldviews in existence. Muslims don't merely exist in the west, but worldwide and mostly in the Middle East. While there are many true Islamophobes in the west, Muslims are not a minority everywhere; they are, in fact, the majority that oppresses in the Middle East, with Islam as the core of this institutionalized injustice.
To instantly label me a bigot for saying this is quite the double standard, indeed, as many liberals consider white men the oppressors in the west, even though not all white men are sexists or racists. Atheists, apostates, Christians, LGBT, and women do NOT have equal standing in Islamic societies. Politically correct liberals who care so much about other civilizations still view the world from the perspective of the west; they see Muslims as an oppressed minority, because that's what they are in the west.
The world is much bigger than just the west, though. We cannot see Muslims as universal victims because they are oppressed in the west. We cannot see Islam as a benign title held only by victims. There are Muslims, even in the west, who hold bigoted views. Islam is an ideology with claims about the world and rules by which to live; it's not just a title, but a worldview. To see the world in terms of victims and oppressors ignores the bigoted views many of the "victims" may have.
The second problem I have with this narrow view of Islam on the world scene is that the people who protect Islam don't offer the same privilege to other ideologies, such as communism and Christianity. Christians are often persecuted and murdered in the Middle East. I'm fairly certain communists (or people believed to be commies) have been an oppressed minority in America. And yet it is okay to criticize both Christianity and communism.
I don't believe the state of the Middle East is solely caused by Islam, in and of itself. The west probably plays its role in creating extremism within Islam by providing already conservative Muslims with a common enemy. Socioeconomic status and education level play their roles, as well. But all of these things are only contributing factors that bring forth the fundamentals of a primitive religion that must be reformed.
There are liberal voices within Islam, but shutting down all dialogue is not the way to help them. Nor is it the way for a free and progressive society to work; the right to criticize ideas is what has propelled the western world forward and why we have relative equality and are moving toward true equality. Islam must be secularized, as I believe it is the theocratic mindset that is the main factor for injustice and terror caused by religion, a problem that can be found in Christianity, as well, but to a less significant degree.
The way to solve the problems that exist in Islam is by pointing them out and discussing them. One does not have to agree with what critics like Sam Harris and Bill Maher say, but one cannot simply call them bigots and move on. It is important to think critically and then argue rationally; this means one should present an argument as to why the other party is wrong. Dialogue is important; without it, change is impossible. Feelings may be hurt, but that's the way the world works.
Censorship is rarely the answer. It punishes people for their worldview; it doesn't counter any arguments and as such won't change any minds; it hinders progress by shutting down dialogue about issues that must be discussed; it makes people afraid of expressing their views, as to avoid being labeled a bigot without any real reason. If unpopular ideas were always censored, progress would never be made. Satire is one of the great forms of art that can inspire change; it's a tool with which to analyze and criticize ideas.
Hurt feelings are never a reason for censorship; this is especially true when the hurt feelings are caused by blasphemy. A secular society cannot be ruled by the standards of religions. As I've stated before, equality for LGBT is also blasphemous and offensive to some people. This is not a reason to censor all expression pushing for LGBT rights. And can you imagine what a boring world we'd live in if nobody was allowed to be offensive? South Park, Family Guy, and even The Simpsons wouldn't exist. Blasphemy is not a crime and free speech must allow it. We must be able to criticize ideas, even if they are dearly held.
It's sad that so many politically correct liberals shelter conservative and unscientific ideas like Islam because Muslims have been granted the universal status of victims. If mere words aren't tolerated because they can be "insulting", why should oppressive religions be tolerated? Freedom of religion and speech are BOTH important; the former does NOT cancel out the latter. It is true that there is a problem with nationalism and Islamophobia in Europe (and America), but to conflate any satirical drawing or criticism of Islam with bigotry toward Muslims as a people is quite deluded, indeed.
There are Muslims who don't shy away from criticizing the west and claiming that Islam will "clean it up." There are also Muslims who embrace secular culture, of course, but my point is that anyone should be allowed to criticize any idea. If Muslims can criticize secularism, atheists can criticize Islam. If not, can I silence these Muslims by saying they hurt my feelings? Because secularism is something that's very dear to me. Or is this yet another double standard?
It's time to stop the critic-shaming; it is very illiberal. It is, in fact, a conservative quality that has long been used to silence those who push for reform. And Islam is in desperate need of reform, not just for whites in the west, but for Muslims and minorities in the Middle East. The theocratic and conservative mindset that accompanies Islam must be abolished; only then can Islam join the rest of the modern world.
Follow-up blog posts (update)
Now is the time to address some counterarguments. Read "If ideas were sheltered" for more about why free speech is, indeed, important and no ideology should be above criticism. "Shaming the shamers?" is a follow-up blog post in which I respond to criticism that my shaming critic-shamers is a double standard.