By Bill Kassel
October 17, 2014
The ongoing debate over the nature of Islam and whether the radicals who’ve dubbed themselves the Islamic State represent authentic Muslim teaching got loud recently when a shouting match erupted on Bill Maher’s HBO talk show, “Real Time”.
Movie star Ben Affleck went barb-for-barb with writer Sam Harris over the latter’s contention that Islam is inherently oppressive. Harris, author of the newly published book, Waking Up, charged that people in the West shrink from criticizing even the most fanatical interpretations of Islam because they fear being labeled as bigots.
“The crucial point of confusion is we have been sold this meme of Islamophobia,” Harris said, “where every criticism of the doctrine of Islam is conflated with bigotry towards Muslims as people. Which is intellectually ridiculous.”
To which Affleck responded…
“You are saying that Islamophobia is not a real thing? It’s gross, it’s racist. It’s like saying ‘that shifty Jew’….
“How about the more than a billion people who aren’t fanatical, who don’t punish women, who just want to go to school, have some sandwiches, and don’t do any of the things you say all Muslims do?”
Sandwich preferences in the Muslim world aside, Harris was having none of this. He maintained that people like Affleck, who cluster at the left end of the political/social spectrum, simply cannot understand the all-encompassing religious vision that colors the views of Muslims, even those who don’t advocate Islamist radicalism…
“Liberals have failed on the topic of [Islamic] theocracy. They’ll criticize white theocracy, they’ll criticize Christianity. They still get agitated over the abortion clinic bombing that happened in 1984.”
Harris received some support from host Bill Maher, prompting Affleck to retort “The people who actually believe that you should murder someone if you dishonor the Islamic faith is not with the majority of Muslims at all.”
While I readily agree with Affleck that most Muslims don’t share the violent obsessions of the Islamic State, I do share Harris’ opinion that there’s a certain perception deficiency on the Left, as regards the subject of comparative religion…
“The Islamic State kidnaps innocent people, then beheads its hostages, and distributes videos of these hideous acts online.”
“Yeah, well, what about the Spanish Inquisition?”
“The Islamic State executes captured resistance fighters by the hundred, mutilating their bodies, and burying them in mass graves.”
“Yeah… yeah… but what about the Crusades?”
“The Islamic State uses Sharia Law to justify enslaving non-Muslim women and children. It preaches that rape is a legitimate tactic of war.”
“Yeah… well… the Catholic Church won’t let women be priests -- what about that, huh?”
Fr. Dwight Longenecker, pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and one of the most closely followed Catholic commentators, puts his finger on the essential condition here. Writing for the religious blog portal, Patheos, he observes that liberals are
"...far too optimistic about human nature. They don’t really believe in sin. Oh, they believe that people are sometimes unkind and selfish, but they don’t believe in the reality of evil because they don’t believe in the reality of God. They want to believe that everyone is really good at heart and all anybody needs is just a little bit of help and things will be alright.
“They are driving on the fumes of Christianity -- holding to a kindly, do-gooder kind of ideology thinking that they can make the world a better place with just a few more social workers, more magic cures by big government and more tolerance.
“The same is true when faced with the murderous barbarians of ISIS.”
Fr. Longenecker goes on to insist
“The Left will never be able to deal with [ISIS’] decapitating insane violence because the Left cannot understand the religious motivation of the barbarians. Not having any real religious conviction themselves, they cannot understand how a young man will give up everything and become a suicide bomber or a jihadist in the desert for his religion. Because they don’t ‘get religion’ they will never be able to deal with the religious fanatics of Islam.”
I know nothing of Ben Affleck’s religious convictions. But I think we can assume he is among a legion of good-hearted Lefties who want to believe Islamist extremism can be ascribed entirely to poverty or political oppression or exploitation by the former colonial powers or the high-handed dealings of international oil conglomerates. These are concepts people on the Left understand -- assumptions in which they have long been steeped.
Undoubtedly, such factors have helped to build sympathy for radicalism. But listen to what the radicals themselves are telling us. Their focus isn’t on overturning Western economic hegemony. It’s on establishing a global caliphate, on bringing the world into submission to Islam.
Challenging as it may be to the Western, post-Christian mindset, we must recognize and address the unavoidable reality that religion is one of the most compelling forces in life. It pervades all aspects of culture. Its power simply cannot be dismissed.
Bill Kassel is a writer, communications consultant, and media producer. His essays and random rants can be found online at: www.billkassel.com.