From Sarah Haider
Sarah Haider is a writer, speaker, and activist. Born in Pakistan and raised in Texas, she was a practicing Shia Muslim until she left the faith in her teenage years. In 2013, she cofounded Ex-Muslims of North America.
Nothing is as destructive to a political ideology as a hypocrisy exposed. An accidental hypocrisy indicates ignorance, and ignorance, thankfully, can often be remedied with evidence and reason. A willful hypocrisy, however, eats away at the foundations of the ideology, leaving it vulnerable to collapse.
Conservatives and dissenting liberals alike have noted a tendency in progressive circles to whitewash Islamic ideology and practices. Activists who (rightfully) decry intolerance against Muslims in the West will too often turn a blind eye to intolerance by Muslims anywhere in the world. The very same activists who denounce religiously motivated hostility toward gay rights by evangelicals and Mormons will ignore, or attempt to explain away, the same hostility when it is motivated by Islamic belief. Western feminists join “slutwalks” by the thousands to protest the notion that immodest clothing justifies sexual assault. But few among them speak out against Muslim norms idolizing female modesty and chastity. The ones who do face being smeared as “Islamophobes.” In a similar vein, the same progressives who recognize the importance of defending the civil liberties of Muslims in the West will overlook the abhorrent treatment of apostates in Muslim countries.
Conservatives declare that this double standard reveals the politicized and discriminatory nature of the Left’s commitment to human rights and civil liberties. The blind spot for Islam provides evidence, they argue, that “liberal values” are only a pretense, a mask of moral superiority underneath which hides a cynical tribalism. Dissenting liberals (like myself) believe that the Left’s hypocrisy points instead to a moral confusion, based on a well-intentioned desire to protect Muslims from xenophobic aggression, albeit one that provides a shield for Islamic theocrats.
At the beginning of my own activism, I had imagined that the protectiveness I saw toward Islam was due to ignorance. The solution, then, was to educate my fellow liberals. I could offer evidence that the practice of Islam by Muslims around the world is far more literal than that of the followers of most other faiths. I could point to the history of the East and prove that Islamic fundamentalism is not a unique phenomenon triggered solely by Western intervention. Fundamentalism has appeared (and been vanquished, and reappeared) countless times in the Muslim world.
What happens when we let fear, muddled thinking, ignorance, and political correctness guide us in confronting a threat to our constitutional freedoms?
We lose everything.
In the United States, our ability to enjoy our rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness rests largely on the protection the First Amendment accords to freedom of speech and its corollary, the freedom to exercise the religion of our choice – or, of course, to profess no religion at all. It follows, then, that we should both vigorously defend the First Amendment and subject to withering criticism any challenges to it. If we begin dodging or concealing the truth about a threat to free speech, whether out of fear of appearing improper or even of knowing the consequences, we place ourselves at risk of losing our freedom of speech – and everything else we cherish in a democracy.
Speech consists of words. Words and how we use them matter. So, in the annals of self-defeating political inanities, the Obama administration’s term for Islamist terrorism – “violent extremism” – stands out as unusually obfuscatory, semantically unsound, and craven. (The phrase encompasses other kinds of terrorist doctrines as well, but no one can fail to see which one in particular is being addressed.) Originating as ISIS-inspired attacks were starting to hit the United States, it baldly omits their motivating ideology and purports that “extremism” can exist as a rootless, groundless, free-floating phenomenon. The term was so patently contrived to avoid mention of Islam that Republican candidate Donald J. Trump, during last year’s presidential campaign, could appear courageous to many just by saying “Islamic terrorism.” Yet coining the insipid phrase “violent extremism” was just par for the course. Former President Obama’s repeated declarations that the faith in question had nothing to do with all the bombing, beheading, and machete-slashing carried out to the cry of “Allahu Akbar!” looked, at best, cowardly – and at worst, complicit. Hillary Clinton followed Obama’s lead on the matter – all the way to a historic loss at the polls.