On Sunday morning, 12 October, 2014, I listened to Reza Aslan as he spent three minutes saying next to nothing of consequence regarding the contretemps of a week ago between Sam Harris and Ben Affleck on Real Time with Bill Maher. Whatever Aslan wanted to accomplish with his vacuous commentary is beyond me, which doesn’t stop me from seeing it and him as being problematic as regards the whole secularism-vs-religion issue.
There can be no argument that all three of the Abrahamic religions have their less-than-laudable sides to them. The Mosaic Law of Judaism has an obscene number of ridiculous codicils in it, from proscribing the eating of shellfish and pork to the far more egregious treatment dictated for homosexuals and women who may be the victim or rape or suspected of being unfaithful to their husbands. Christianity is supposed to be an improvement on Yahweh 1.0, yet it insists that one love its focal character more than mother, father, sister, or brother, never mind introducing the concept of everlasting punishment for a finite transgression in a finite life. He even specifies one utterly unpardonable sin: that of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Apparently, you can blaspheme against Yahweh or Jesus and get a pass somehow, but talking smack about the ghost is a no-no for some arcane reason. Islam has its own skeleton-infested closets, which value women at half the worth of men, advise against taking friends of Christians and Jews, and proclaim that infidels should be killed where you find them. All the above and considerably more come directly from the holy books associated with their respective belief systems and may be found by anyone with the least bit of curiosity and access either to the books themselves or to a computer connected to the internet.
Currently, all three of these belief systems have modern-day offenses which have found their way into the news cycle, whether it’s the Israeli Defense Force pounding Hamas positions in Gaza or Catholic priests sexually abusing children without any substantial civil penalty or Muslims cutting the clitorises from their daughters. Of the three, though, Islam is due special mention, particularly because it is willing to reach into the more horrific surahs of its holy book and put those words into practice. Note that Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have laws against apostasy, but in the 21st century, only Islam is willing to enforce those laws. The bible states, “Do not suffer a witch to live.” Wiccans practice freely in the US, yet recently in Saudi Arabia, a man was tried, convicted and executed for “sorcery.” Blasphemy is a high sin in all three religions, yet Hamza Kashgari was arrested in Indonesia and extradited to Saudi Arabia for a number of tweets published on Twitter which were deemed to be blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad. Stoning to death is a punishment sanctioned in both Old and New Testaments, yet its only current practice may be found in Islamic states which follow sharia law. Most countries which have predominantly Jewish or Christian populations have legal systems which are largely secularized, with little or no religious component codified into law. Those states built on Islam, the Quran, on sharia and hadith, continue the prosecution of questionable “crimes” and employment of barbaric punishments with undeniably religious roots and as such are a glaring exception.
What may be the worst practice associated with Islam, however, is that of jihad, of holy war against the infidel. Again, Christianity suffered afflictions of this sort centuries ago; we know them as the Crusades. Such holy wars are now largely relegated to ancient Judeo-Christian history. With Islam, they are right here and right now, the most obvious example being that of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a.k.a. ISIS. News broadcasts report this group’s actions in the Middle East: vicious, indiscriminate attacks as they spread first throughout Syria, then into Iraq, accompanied by killings, crucifixions, and pursuit and persecution of religious minorities. Equally disturbing are their expressed intentions of imposing a particularly strict form of sharia law, with the ultimate goal of establishing an Islamic state / caliphate upon the lands they hold. Their depredations to date have become so extreme that Al Qaeda, who had formerly been the number one terrorist bogey, claim that ISIS is too extreme even for them. While the fundamentalist wings of Judaism and Christianity have their own brand of despicable practices, I don’t believe that any one of them rise to the level of collective travesty which is radical Islam.
Enter the Islamic apologists. Their primary message appears to be, put simply: “The extremists are not Islam, they don’t represent Islam; they are not us.” This flies in the face of ISIS’ stated intent of imposing sharia law, which is part and parcel of Islam, on anyone under their rule. My impression is that those who make these statements haven’t come to terms with the dark underbelly of their religion, and rather than acknowledge and disavow it, they would prefer to pretend that it doesn’t exist. There have also been attempts by Islamic apologists to explain away surahs such as:
And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers.
-- Quran 2:191
Verses of this sort may be found throughout the Quran, even as they may be found in the Pentateuch and the Bible. Where Islam parts ways from Judaism and Christianity is that there are many more Islamic fundamentalists who are willing to press such words into active service than there are Christians or Jews willing to make the same use of their scripture.
This is what Ben Affleck either failed or didn’t want to recognize in what Sam Harris tried to explain during Real Time. Certainly there is barbarism in all of the Abrahamic faiths, but in terms of what is actively being put into practice, extreme Islam far outstrips the fundamentalist versions of its older brothers in what it is willing to do to achieve its goals. When the apologists whine and cry and talk about Islamophobia, they need to be reminded of these facts, repeatedly, if necessary, until the message sinks in.
ISIS is utterly serious in what they are about. We need to be equally so.