Bill Maher & Richard Dawkins continue to disparage a religion that, in all honesty, they know little about
(Oriinally published at Salon)
As a practicing Muslim, I donâ€™t believe Islam is above criticism. I do believe that IslamÂ backs free speech. I also believe that IslamÂ champions secular governance. But whatâ€™s significant about my beliefs is why I believe them â€” which is because they are precisely what the Qurâ€™an teaches, and what Prophet Muhammad exemplified.
Perhaps this is why I find arguments like the one put forth byÂ Jeffrey TaylerÂ in Salon earlier this month â€” written in the aftermath of the â€śDraw the Prophetâ€ť shooting in Texas and Charlie Hebdoâ€™s controversial PEN award â€” to be yet another straw man, one that avoids three realities critics of Islam continue to ignore. For example, Taylerâ€™s claim that â€śProphet Muhammad was a triumphant warlord leading military campaigns that spread Islam throughout Arabiaâ€ť is but one example of the numerous historical fantasies he writes; a fantasy that is wholly contradictory toÂ Prophet Muhammadâ€™s well established rules of war. (SPOILER: Islam forbids spreading faith by the sword and permits fighting only in self-defense).
Had Tayler presented his arguments as a criticism of several Muslim majority political regimes â€” Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia to name a few â€” I would have largely agreed with his claims. He runs into trouble, however, when he unwarrantedly conflates political regimes with the religion of Islam as a whole. Further exacerbating Taylerâ€™s position is his reliance on comedian Bill Maher and internationally recognized hatemonger Pamela Geller as presenting some sort of authentic reality of Islamic teaching. Maher, Iâ€™ve heard, is actually a nice guy in person â€” but that characteristic does not somehowÂ make his commentary Islamic scholarship. Geller, meanwhile, is on hate watch lists for both the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, and is banned from the United Kingdom for her hatemongering; she has zero academic credentials on the subject of Islam. And lest there be any confusion, the United Kingdom is definitely not an â€śEnforcer of Shariahâ€ť â€” a term Tayler uses to describe the 204 authors who signed a letter dissociating themselves from a free speech award given to the surviving artists of Charlie Hebdo.
Indeed, the United States has a proud free speech model â€” one I support as an American, as a Muslim, as an attorney and as a person who regularly receives death threats for speaking my mind. Americaâ€™s current free speech model is not only unique in its own history, but unique when compared to the contemporary developed world.
And here is the first reality critics like Tayler ignore: Most of Americaâ€™s staunchest allies enforce speech laws much stricter than what Islam teaches â€” yet no one accuses such Western nations of being free speech obstructionists.
For example, Article 415 of the Italian Penal Code states, â€śWhoever publicly incitesâ€¦ hatred between the social classes, shall be punished with imprisonment from six months to five years.â€ť Likewise, Article 261 of the Swiss Penal Code states issues up to a three-year prison sentence for anyone who â€śpublicly disseminates, organizes, or encourages participation in events promoting ideologies that have as their object the systematic denigration or defamation of the members of a race, ethnic group or religion.â€ť Our neighbor Canadaâ€™s Criminal Code Section 319 offers a two-year prison sentence for anyone who â€świlfully promotes hatred against any identifiable group [by] communicating statements, other than in private conversation.â€ť