I’ve been frustrated recently for having become curious about Islam. Specifically, I have questions which I would like for a Muslim person to answer, but I can’t find anybody discussing such questions. What I find are mostly one way monologues from opposing sides. (in the last week or so, thanks to Trump, US media like Fox news have taken up questioning Islam, but in a very biased manner. I’m looking for an honest, agenda-less discussion.)
- The Quran urges Muslim believers to “fight until all religions are only for Allah.” Qur’an (8:39) Can we take this literally?
- Ideally, which ought to be obeyed? Sharia law, or laws of the land where you live?
- How Muslim is ISIS?
- How can I trust that you are not deceiving me in your answers (Taquiyya)?
I’ve searched on YouTube for decent debates or tutorials, but besides an agonizingly tamed debate between Roger Scruton and Imam Zaid Shakir, and a few debates between a Christian, David Wood, and various Imams, there’s simply not much out there.
Which reminds me of Innes Bowen who embarked on writing her book Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent: Inside British Islam, because she could hardly find any decent studies on Muslims living in Britain. (9/11 didn’t spark any such studies?)
I have a Muslim acquaintance who might be willing to answer these questions without taking offense, we’ll see. I’ll invite her to ask me about Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism and Shintoism if she wishes.
Which brings me to the main topic of this article: How can we discuss sensitive matters openly, without being deemed offensive, politically incorrect (culturally insensitive), or __phobic?
On being offensive
I did a quick Google search of “offensive to” in ‘news’. A few articles came up:
“The everything-is-offensive brand of campus activism has struck a new low: Students at the University of Minnesota killed a proposed moment of silence for 9/11 victims due to concerns—insulting, childish concerns—that Muslim students would be offended.”
Robby Soave, The Daily Beast
Putnam calls Trump proposal ‘offensive to American values’
“Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on Tuesday denounced a proposal by Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump to prevent Muslims from entering the country (as being offensive to American values).”
It’s offensive to talk about reducing minimum wage:
“Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo state (Nigeria) says it is offensive for his fellow governors to entertain the thought of reducing workers’ minimum wage.”
We discussed this trend of people taking offense at a recent Libertarian Home meeting. A philosopher who was sitting next to me pointed out how it’s become a power word that often attracts a mob of sympathisers. Being ‘offended’ has much more clout than being ‘angry, ‘upset’; or ‘annoyed’.
Often, people who are offended play victim and bark at the offender like a Maoist bulldog. I’ve come across the term “cry bully” which seems befitting. A Yale student’s remark “I don’t want to debate, I just want you to hear my pain” sums it up.
You can’t have an open discussion with people who are likely offended by what you might say.
On being politically incorrect (and culturally insensitive)
A common theme in this thread of thinking is “cultural sensitivity”. Most often, Caucasian (to be precise, white, Christian, heterosexual men) are told to be sensitive to minority cultures (non-white cultures, women and LGBT). It doesn’t seem to matter if white men are at times numerically in the minority. The white man’s colonial ancestors have dominated the scene for so long, goes the cry, that it’s high time the minorities get paid proper attention. One can sense a strong animosity to white Christian male culture by the PC police.
So we get crazy news like Starbucks abandoning Christmas signs, a university banning yoga classes and schools banning Halloween costumes, all because it’s ‘culturally insensitive’, and politically incorrect.
On being __phobic
Islamaphobic, homophobic, racist, sexist, these are all very strong terms that get thrown at people for being ‘offensive’, ‘politically incorrect’ or ‘culturally insensitive’. Phobia is a mental illness. When a PC police tells you that you are __phobic, effectively what he/she is saying is “you are mentally ill, therefore your opinions are not valid.”
In all three cases, the accuser is saying “shut up, your opinion has no place in this peace-loving, fair and equal society.” They might as well be waving around a little red book.
What happens is people start to self-censor, and people like Trump become very popular for speaking out his mind and making space for honest debate, while he takes the blunt by a PC public, for things people want to say but feel they can’t.
Going back to my questions. I’m hoping my Muslim acquaintance won’t take offense to the questions I have of Islam. I really don’t want to offend her, but who knows what offends anybody? I want to come to a clearer understanding of Islam. It’s a big and hot topic. If we want to stop real racism, we have to be able to talk openly.
If we can more openly talk about sensitive issues without fearing judgement by a thought police, I bet we wouldn’t have gone into Syria so haphazardly, and maybe we can come up with a more peaceful solution to the problem of terrorism. We can do this not least by first clarifying what Islam is, and what it’s not.