From The Ex-Muslim
This is a guest post by Soran Tarkhani. He is of Kurdish origin from Iraqi Kurdistan. In addition to working as an assistant lecturer at Salahaddin University in Erbil and is currently pursuing his PhD in political science.
Growing up in “Kurdistan” which is often affiliated with secular philosophy I was naturally aligned with the political left and in opposition to conservative views, views that I considered being religious and looking backwards instead of to the future.
When I came to the United States to study, I continued that aspect of my life, joining various campus groups and associating with liberals with the resultant majority of my social circle avowedly left-leaning. Excluding my deep support for the Iraq war and liberation of Kurdistan, I felt a shared sense of belonging w/my liberal colleagues and our shared ideals.
After the terrible terrorist attacks in Paris that sense of solidarity and belonging started to crumble. Due to expressing my opinion on the dangers of the religion of Islam I was shunned by my peers and accused of bigotry and racism. I have spent my entire life speaking up about issues related to the separation of Mosque and State within my home of Kurdistan but standing up against religious supremacy within the United States was somehow different. Apparently only certain religions were kosher to be criticized while others were still regarded as sacrosanct. As a result of my speaking up I was excommunicated from various leftists’ forums and Facebook groups that I had long been a welcome participant in. The situation devolved to such an extent that I was afraid of honestly speaking out about my opinion, something which I never experienced even in Iraq.
For some reason there’s a deep aversion to any expression of dissent by those that have been victims of Islam. I firmly believe that the biggest obstacle in the path of the Muslim world is Islam itself. It’s a sad state of affair when one fears the social consequences of standing up to religious hegemony more in a western liberal democracy than an eastern conservative war-torn one.
Since I was unable to an enough intellectual space for me as an Ex Muslim to speak about my opinions and experiences frankly, I had to rely on an organization dedicated to those like me – anti-clerical dissidents originating in Islam –The Ex Muslims in North America,
To me it remains a complete enigma how defending Islam is somehow a liberal position when Islam a deeply conservative ideology stands against most liberal norms and values. Isn’t the core essence of liberalism an attempt to balance the scales against bad ideologies that are harming and abusing human dignity. How can an unreformed Islam that looks to the 6th century with nostalgia, attempting to turn back the clock deserve protection? There’s a significant difference between standing up for the liberties of individual human beings, Muslim or otherwise and standing up in defense of the ideas they hold dear.
Criticizing Islam should be a liberal individual’s first and foremost goal. If you believe treating women as second class citizens, closer to slaves than peers, killing apostates, prohibiting gay rights, curtailment or elimination of individual liberty, child abuse, underage marriage FGM and other norms do not need to be challenged how can you in good conscience call yourself a liberal? How can you jeopardize your fundamental principles for something that directly threatens your norms and beliefs?
As someone who grew up in a Muslim environment you would expect my words to carry some weight with those that believe that experiences carry weight. Let’s start off with putting Al Qaeda and ISIS aside, since they’re usually regarded as too barbaric to be slotted into any liberal / civilized norms. Looking at the broader Muslim majority communities and countries. According to IHEU – International Humanists and Ethical Union’s annual Freedom of Thought report of 2015, 13 out of 13 countries that impose capital punishment for apostasy are Muslim majority countries. Pew Research Center’s data from 2012 also indicated that vast majority of Muslims countries have outlawed apostasy and blasphemy with punishments ranging from death to imprisonment of 10 years. There is no Muslim country that fully accepts the rights of ex-Muslims and anti-clerical dissidents. Most countries including liberal bastions like Turkey have prisoners of conscience imprisoned on a variety of charges related to their disbelief. Compare that with the status of disbelief in most countries in the West, when was the last heresy trial, how many men and women are imprisoned due to disbelief.
I’ve often been told that the point of defending Islam is defending victims of discrimination and racism. While that may be true in certain western contexts globally in every single country Ex-Muslims like myself are under threat and routinely murdered. Compare that with the number of western countries that prescribe Capital punishment for being Muslim – exactly NONE. That doesn’t mean there isn’t anti-Muslimism racism and bigotry but that your position is far closer to radical right-wing than that of actual liberals. Neither are interested in breaking the hegemony of Islam in our lives. Neither is willing or desires to distinguish between individuals and ideology. All ideologies should be criticized which is what I stand for.
When someone like myself says Islam is a bad ideology, we don’t mean Muslims are bad people, of course not. What makes Muslims hold negative views on apostasy is not something innate to the people but the Islamic doctrine itself. There is no genetic stamp marker for intolerance of dissent. My entire family is Muslim and I care deeply about them, my deep love for Muslims is what motivates my criticism of Islam. I believe that the major source of today’s problems within the Islamic world is related to Islam itself rather than colonialism, unemployment, illiteracy, poverty and so forth. In particular terrorism and radical Muslims who according to Maajid Nawaz ‘hijacked Islam’ and demonize everyone who think differently.
Those who blow themselves up chant Allah u Akbar rather than shout Rock & Roll. They are motivated by Islamic doctrine – Sharia Law not the Harry Potter franchise. They are motivated by their view of Islam not financial or other awards. In order for change to happen these norms need to be challenged, in order for Ex-Muslims to live without fear in their daily lives it is necessary that Islam is challenged. If you sympathize with the plight of Muslims today, you must criticize Islam, it is the only rational and reasonable way to move forward, it’s also how the West advanced by breaking the shackles of Christian dogma.
If you decide that you are too afraid or too unsure or believe yourself ill-equipped to criticize Islam itself, at least step aside and let those of us that are victims of Islam to stand up and fight back, please stop attempting to erase our voices and existence. If you choose to side with Islamic religious conservatives against liberals, against secularists – simply because of our skin color, because of our different geographic origin than you are playing a role in halting human advancement, in further hurting victims and in eliminating voices that are essential to progress.