Monday, June 13, 2016

The Left and the Problem of Criticizing Islam

There are voices, some of them liberal, who assert that liberals do not have a proper attitude towards Islam. These critics accuse (other) liberals of being warm and welcoming of those who slaughter homosexuals, kill blasphemers and apostates, and abuse women while, at the same time, those same liberals criticize and condemn the people who would object to slaughtering homosexuals and abusing women. Their specific target is those liberals who would assert that their criticisms are bigoted and prejudicial.

I assert that their criticisms are bigoted and prejudicial.

Furthermore, those bigoted and prejudicial tendencies are not only targeting Muslims. These people are also applying their bigoted and prejudicial tendencies to the liberals who would criticize them.

It is true that there is a liberal ideology that refuses to condemn different cultures, regardless of the practice. Whether we are discussing the Holocaust or slavery or the abuse of women and children, they assert that right and wrong is determined by one's culture. They deny that there is any (objective) basis for raising objections against another culture. If one tries, then the only thing one is doing is using one's own culture to condemn the other - imposing one's own (groundless, subjective) attitudes on people who have their own (groundless, subjective) attitudes.

The view is incoherent at the start. People who hold this view condemn others for the practice of condemning others. Their attitude effectively boils down to a moral commandment that there are no moral commandments, a prohibition on prohibitions, the condemnation of condemnation. Those who hold this view want to assert that the holocaust, slavery, and the subjugation of women cannot be condemned because condemnation is always wrong, and on the basis of this condemn those who would condemn other cultures.

In saying this, I want to put a spotlight on the fact that what I am engaging in here is the practice of "criticizing an idea." I am taking the attitudes of moral nihilism and cultural moral relativism and I am asserting that using these as a foundation for a universal moral prescription against condemning others is, at best, incoherent. When the targets of my criticism respond that I am claiming that it is wrong (racist or bigoted) to criticize an idea, I would like the reader to note that they are making this accusation against an individual who knowingly and self-consciously wrote this article with the understanding that it involved criticizing an idea.

Criticizing an idea is not wrong - but, as with all things, it can be done incorrectly.

The second type of liberal - the type that the bigoted and prejudicial target of this essay fails to distinguish from the first - is the type that claims that accusations of wrongdoing must be precisely targeted against those who are actually guilty. Sweeping the innocent and the guilty together in a large group, then using the wrongs of the guilty to promote hatred and distrust of the innocent, is itself a moral wrong. It is something decent people would try to avoid doing.

Again, please note that I am not arguing that it is wrong to criticize an idea or a practice.

Nor is it the case that the fact that I am condemning this particular bigoted practice implies that I somehow cannot, at the same time, condemn those who would slaughter homosexuals, slay infidels and apostates, and abuse women. There is no rule in morality that says that one thing and only one thing is worthy of condemnation. In fact, there is a long list of things that deserve condemnation. This includes not only the slaughter of homosexuals, slaying of infidels and apostates, and the abuse of women. It includes making broad derogatory overgeneralizations that use the wrongs of the guilty to promote a hatred and distrust of the innocent.

Against this type of liberal, the accusation of incoherence and inconsistency is going to be harder to support.

But, then, we are dealing with a group of people who demonstrate a diminished capacity to make distinctions among individuals - to separate the guilty from the innocent.

Those who cannot recognize the distinction see a criticism of overly broad derogatory statements - a criticism of bigotry and prejudice - as a defense of slaughtering homosexuals, the killing of infidels and apostates, and the abuse of women. They take the position of, "If you criticize me, then you must be a defender of these practices." Yet, in terms of logical consistency, this response is like saying that anybody who objects to Trump's claim that Mexicans are rapists must be defenders of rape.

If one can understand how it can be the case that a criticism of Trump's characterization of Mexicans as rapists is not a defense of rape, then one should be able to understand how it can be the case that the characterization of Muslims as terrorists is not a defense of terrorism.

When an individual then asserts that, "I am not saying that all Muslims are terrorists," this still must be held up against the fact that Trump did not say that all Mexicans are rapists. Yet, in the same way that Trump still promoted the attitude that one should fear and hate Mexicans as if they are all rapists (because we cannot clearly know who is not), the critics of Islam are still promoting an attitude of fear and hatred of all Muslims because we cannot tell them apart.

On the idea that criticizing an idea is not an element of bigotry or prejudice, I covered that idea earlier. You can find my response to that argument in the post Criticizing an Idea."

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