05 October 2015

Against Islamophobia

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I can often come off as a sceptic of Islam, and particularly harsh on political Islam in particular. This isn’t anything new since I chrismated into Orthodoxy, mind you; I’d been just as critical of radical political Islam when I was still Episcopalian. However, I have very, very little patience for those who make their careers as professional and public-intellectual ‘critics of Islam’, and particularly those of the neoconservative, nativist and nouveau-atheist flavours. The reason I have so little patience for neocon, nativist and nu-atheist critics of Islam is that:
  1. they deliberately misrepresent the beliefs of millions of people;
  2. they fail to distinguish between beliefs and believers, which means that charges of racism and bigotry are often very rightly levelled at them; and
  3. it's obvious to those paying attention that the Islam-bashing, which plays well with xenophobes of all stripes, is tactical and that Christians are their real targets.
Because the vast majority of the world’s Muslims are sincere believers with conservative social and sexual ethics, who would not think of forcing others to convert to their faith, the criticisms of Islam as inherently violent or repressive or insincere (witness the blatant overuse and misuse of the term ‘taqiya’ by people who don't understand either its right meaning or proper context) fall flat. Islam isn’t even uniquely violent or prone to terrorism. Radical political Hindus and Buddhists, when given the opportunity, prove themselves to be just as insanely violent and bloodthirsty as radical political Muslims.

In fact, as a Christian, all of these poorly-aimed criticisms only serve to make me sympathise more with the Muslims, so badly misrepresented in our popular culture. I commend and even endorse the counter-cultural and traditionalist ideals of modesty, continence, filial piety and obedience to an authority outside the atomised self which Islamic belief, at its best, tends to cultivate. A lot of the ‘cultural’ stuff, in short, which Bill Maher hates.

The real beef with Islam always was, and continues to be, theological. It is a radical offshoot of the Christian heresy of Arianism. Its Unitarian theology comes straight from Muhammad’s associations with the Arian monk Bahira, and from this theology are derived Islam’s one-dimensional divine-command ethical system, its monochromatic anthropology, its thin social doctrines and its frustrated Messianic tendencies. All of these should be met with scepticism and scrutiny. However, the reason I tend to have more sympathy with Shi’a Islam is that, with the martyrdoms of Ali and Husayn, the frustrated Messianic tendencies in Shi’ism are much more muted. Shi’ite thinkers have even developed highly-admirable strains of humanism and radicalism on behalf of the oppressed. Also, being more scholarly, existential and even mystical in its orientation, Shi’a Islam is, broadly speaking, capable of approaching these philosophical questions with somewhat greater clarity.

But any kind of belief that, on account of these theological or any other differences, Muslims should not be respected as human beings or treated with any kind of sincerity or hospitality, is utterly contemptible. The fact that Serbia, a Christian country which has had a long and very troubled past with Muslim invaders and partizans, has welcomed with open arms nearly 50,000 Syrian refugees of late, most of whom are Muslims, ought to put the rest of Europe, and us as well, to shame. (Also worthy of note: not one Gulf state has welcomed a single Syrian refugee.)

But beyond the obvious, what frustrates me most about the current anti-Islamic sentiment (whether neocon, nativist or nu-atheist) is that it is either rooted in tribalist animus, or else it is guided by a kind of laïcist-nationalist extremism. The latter will inevitably turn its guns on the remaining vestiges of Christendom, tradition and monarchy when it is finished whipping up the masses against Islam. Not one theological point of any substance is put forward by these Islamophobes. Not one defence of Christianity as anything other than an ersatz of nationalism or tribalism. Not one erg of imagination for what might become a pluriculturalist, multi-polar world order – in which Islamic nations will assuredly have to play a significant part. Islamophobia is, unfortunately, real; it is also a mindset without a future.


  1. I was wondering where your blog had gone!

    I so love this post. I often disagree with you, but I am totally with you here. Too many Orthodox bloggers spend all their time bashing Muslims. I'm glad you are not part of that club.

  2. Hi Matthew!

    Yes; I had to change web addresses. Glad you enjoyed this post, though! I don't go in for Muslim-bashing, particularly when our brothers and sisters in the Middle East have no choice but to live with them as neighbours, and when the perception of a Western war on Muslims fuels the barbarous, murderous idiocy of devils like Daesh. Distinctions have to be made...

    Anyway, good to see you here, and sorry it took me so long to publish your comment!