I received some criticism for my blog post "Not all [insert group here]", in which I write about how the "not all" argument is invalid as a counterargument, for it is implied that one does not mean all, as with criticism of patriarchal issues in the west and Islam; not all individuals in a group have to be guilty or bad for an issue to exist.
The westerner who criticized me wrote that he agrees we have the right to criticize religion, but that I was using a straw man when I wrote about the "not all" argument. He said the argument is often used against people who do generalize too much, and then made a reference to generalizing about race. I disagree; "not all" is used as a way to imply critics are bigoted, to shame them into silence. The "not all" argument shuts down the discussion, often unfairly. Criticism and bigotry are much too often conflated in the debate about Islam, though that's not to say there isn't any real Islamophobia.
I see the "not all" argument used in almost every debate about Islam (or Islamism, to be fair). Yes, there are people who generalize too much, but pointing out the fact that Islam as a religion has major issues is not a generalization. Christianity, a similar religion, also has issues, even without western Imperialism. Christianity is not as bad, but only because it has progressed further, though that's not to say all beliefs are equal. Why hasn't Islam progressed as far as Christianity? Probably in large part because of the west. But that doesn't mean Islam shouldn't be criticized; change is only possible if problems are acknowledged—both in the west and within Islam itself.
About his comparing Islam to race, religions are not races; they are belief systems and not seldom ideological. It is not a generalized statement to say that Christianity is homophobic, or that Islam is in many ways fascist. These are statements of fact based on the doctrine of the religions. It is a statement of fact that religions like Christianity and Islam are barbaric; however, to which degree individual Christians and Muslims subscribe to the ideas that can be found within their religions is something else entirely. Obviously not all or even close to all Muslims are terrorists, but terrorism is still a problem—one which harms Muslims themselves more than any other group of people. Furthermore, at this point in history, Islam is more extreme than, for example, Christianity; it is not irreparably bad, but it needs to progress.
The ideology is one thing, while its subscribers are another; an ideology can be dangerous even if most of its subscribers aren't, simply because of its nature to allow for extremism to exist. Certain ideologies are more easily radicalized than others. Take any nationalistic or segregating ideology and compare it to one that is neither nationalistic nor segregating, for example; the former has a perceived enemy against whom to rally, while the latter does not.
The person who criticized me continued that he doesn't think Islam is the reason why the Middle East is in turmoil, and that it is Europeans who are to blame. This is the classic argument used by apologists for Islam. Of course western Imperialism has caused issues in the Middle East; it may have set back Islam quite a bit, whereas Christianity in the west could progress past its barbaric phase. However, that doesn't mean Islam is not part of the problem; especially when even Muslims who grow up in the secular west are indoctrinated into subscribing to a radicalized, Islamist version of Islam.
I also don't think Islam is wholly evil and incompatible with modern life; as I've stated many times, including in my blog post "Not all [insert group here]", big religions are not universally exactly the same; there are variations, denominations, some more fundamentalist than others. If we see it on a sliding scale, then moderates can turn to extremists, and vice versa. The only way to become a Muslim extremist is to first be a Muslim. Most Muslims probably live their lives without ever joining an Islamist group, but Islamic extremism is an Islamic problem.
The apologist continued, saying that "for the record, not all Muslim nations are oppressive. A lot of them are actually secular and have a standard of human rights," after which he listed Kazakhstan and Turkey. To this, I'll just say that of course not all Muslim nations are equally bad; we'd expect some to be better than others, because different peoples will grow at different rates and interpret the same religion in different ways. All nations in the west have not progressed equally either, yet this is no argument against western Imperialism or the issues with Christianity.
That some Muslim nations are better than others doesn't mean Islam has no issues; it just means certain cultures and thus interpretations of the Islamic faith have progressed further than others. That's a good thing; that is exactly what we want when we criticize Islam. We want Islam to progress. Furthermore, if a Muslim nation is secular, then secularism is the reason for the equality, not Islam; the west is the progressed place it is because of the separation of church and state, but Christianity is still one cause of, for example, homophobia.
The apologist continued that I'm "blaming" the issues in the Middle East on the Islamic faith and that criticizing the faith is not going to bring about change, but that reforms in political and human rights areas are needed. He wrote that a lot of Muslim nations are oppressive, but it doesn't mean Islam is the cause. Like many other people, this apologist held a simplistic, one-sided, and illogical view of the issue.
To blame all issues in the Middle East solely on Islam is ignorant, but to say Islam has absolutely nothing to do with it at all or that the religion has no issues or conservative elements at all is even more ignorant. Religions do have doctrines that are ideological, after all; religions aren't merely harmless identities or "races", as some seem to think. Religions are worldviews that affect how people think, and they are thus closely linked to politics and human rights.
If one is conditioned to hold the belief that a supreme being is one's master and that this master, who also happens to be the creator of the universe, thinks homosexuality is a sin, it is logical that one will oppose equal rights for LGBT. It's not as easy as just separating politics and religion; deeply held beliefs of which "objective morality" is part will obviously affect how a person thinks. It's not the only thing that shapes a person's values, but it is one of the bigger factors. There is no way around this; ideologies influence behaviors.
There are many factors for complex problems, and I've never written that Islam is the only cause for the issues in the Middle East, as this apologist suggested. But Islam, like Christianity, is a fundamentally conservative and barbaric religion that must be twisted and cherry picked to be construed in a good, liberal way. Ancient religions must be reformed to fit in a modern context. There are plenty of liberal Muslims; the problem is that criticizing Islam has become so taboo that there is no room for them.