Murray's Greenwaldian logic

This is a guest post by Sarah AB

‘Forget “Islamism”:  Let’s Tackle Foreign Policy’ has been the subtext of a number of responses to Woolwich.  These have (rightly) been torn apart by many commentators.  Now Douglas Murray, in a piece entitled ‘Forget “Islamophobia”: Let’s Tackle Islamism’ appears to be deploying Greenwaldian logic in order to ‘explain’ anti-Muslim bigotry.

I find Murray an infuriating writer because I do actually agree with at least part of what he says, and have myself written about both the more obviously extreme Muslim groups and individuals, and about ones that might seem rather more mainstream such as FOSIS and IERA.

Murray complains that the term Islamophobia is employed as a smear, and that it is wrongly equated with antisemitism.  He describes how a ‘leader from the Jewish community … could not answer my question of how you could condemn Islamic anti-Semitism without committing an act of "Islamophobia".’ (p.2) It seems perfectly easy to me – Mehdi Hasan has written about the topic for example – just as one can discuss a possible intersection between Zionism and Islamophobia – as Klingschor does in this video (3:14) - without being antisemitic. 

Murray goes on to assert that ‘in so far as there is a definition — it includes insult of and even inquiry into any aspect of Islam, including Muslim scripture’.  This is completely wrong, I think.  Yes, insulting an aspect of Islam might be deemed Islamophobic, certainly – which doesn’t mean such insults should be banned or censored.  But although some intolerant types may shout ‘Islamophobia’ at dispassionate historians or scholars of religion, many more, who clearly take Islamophobia seriously, would not. 

Murray goes on to claim that anti-Muslim bigotry doesn’t come from nowhere, but can be explained with reference to terrorism committed by Muslims.  Although he contrasts this with antisemitism, in fact it is often noted that there is a link between the actions of Israel and spikes in antisemitic incidents.  Just as with Greenwald and co, using a similar logic but different politics, a hint that violent hatred might be justified by root causes just hovers around this article, however strenuously, and I am sure sincerely, Murray insists this is not the case. I don’t accept his theory that Islamophobia can all be traced back to terrorism or non-violent extremism – that may be the case for some, certainly, but for others it is obviously just a handy handle for old style racists to latch onto. 

On page 5 of Murray’s piece I read how:
 The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), America's largest Muslim umbrella group, has similar form. In the wake of earlier terrorism investigations, CAIR distributed a poster which read: "Build a wall of resistance. Don't talk to the FBI."
I think this is rather misleading. Here is another account. As I searched for Sheila Musaji’s rebuttal, it occurred to me that Douglas Murray’s approach has some unintended consequences.  I’m agnostic about CAIR, and am generally happy to pounce on the failings of apparently mainstream Muslim organisations – if I see them.  But in a few short pages Murray had induced in me a confirmation bias effect in CAIR’s favour.  And yet I have posted myself about the problems with Warsi’s approach (the topic he turns to next), and agree fully that the views of Sarfraz Sarwar (p.7) are just horrendous.

Murray puts ‘Islamophobia’ in repeated sneering scare quotes and weakens his account of genuine bigotry faced by Muslims by juxtaposing it with the extreme views of Sarwar. Now, Mehdi Hasan cautions here against overstating the problems faced by Muslims, and I have no quarrel with the many people who prefer not to use the term Islamophobia.  But if Douglas Murray’s goal is to encourage Muslims to speak out against extremism and cajole soppy liberals into recognizing that some Muslim groups are problematic – he really doesn’t seem to be going the right way about it.

I don’t think that standing up to Islamophobia needs to go hand in hand with ignoring the dangers (not just physical) posed by religious extremists and theocrats.  Hope not Hate, for example, has recently launched a petition which denounces hate from both camps.  I was going to end on that note, but think I must acknowledge a reasonable mild objection to that petition which I have just read – that it only criticizes violence from Muslim groups, not hateful views.  Even though Douglas Murray would agree with me – I don’t think it is Islamophobic to wish to stand against illiberal attitudes as well as violence. After all many EDL supporters don’t go so far as to carry out, or approve of, acts of violence – and we have no problem saying we find their views deplorable.


Scott said…
I, too, find it irritating that I agree with so much of what Murray writes about Islam, especially considering he has utterly repellent views on other subjects.

The problem with Islamophobia, I feel, is that it has never been clearly defined. If it means an indiscriminate hatred of all Muslims, which is what we are often told is the definition, then I'm on board and would happily endorse the term. But sadly, that's just not how it's used and most people know it, which is why a charge of Islamophobia really fails to raise many eyebrows. And really, commentators like Mehdi Hasan and Mo Ansar have only themselves to blame for the term not having special significance like that of racism or anti-Semitism, considering they use it not to describe a hatred or suspicion towards all Muslims, but as a defense against criticism of Islamic scripture or traditions.

Most modern Muslims who have notions of sexual equality; gay-rights; the rights of people to walk away from the religion should they choose to do so, etc; have to reconcile this with the fact that their religion just doesn't permit it. I think those like Mehdi Hasan and Mo Ansar have a hard time dealing with the fact that their religion, however liberally they themselves practice it, contains such extremely right-wing and reactionary tenets that if they were practiced outside the context of Islam or religion entirely, they would find them highly objectionable. So they deal with it by pretending it doesn’t exist and by labelling anyone who dares to bring it up as a bigot.
SarahABUK said…
Hi - I wouldn't say, personally, that I am in very strong agreement with Murray over Islam. He has, in particular, said things about *Muslims* (in the past) that I don't agree with. I think most would agree that an indiscriminate hatred of Muslims is simply wrong - but that seems to be setting the threshold way too high. By contrast, letting Mo Ansar set the threshold would test anyone's limbo skills, judging by the targets of his accusations. I wouldn't lump Mehdi Hasan (though I certainly don't always agree with him) in with Ansar. Different Muslims seem to have completely different views of what their religion permits. I think if a Muslim sincerely says that s/he supports gay marriage and is against punishment for blasphemy, and think those more liberal positions are sanctioned by Islam - I'm happy to go along with that, and I think non-Muslims who insist that they are going against Islam are being a bit contrary. But anyone who is promoting hateful ideas should be seen as a fair target for criticism, whether or not they ascribe their unpleasant beliefs to Islam.
Brian Goldfarb said…
I also the Henry Jackson society (and The Commentator, with which Murray is also connected, if only by authorship) oddly disconnected in some ways. They are both "right on" on Israel in general, but in screaming contrast more than somewhat neo-con on almost everything else. Indeed, when I go to these sites (which a great deal of authorial overlap) I ignore all but any Israel-related items, if only because life's too short to spend that much time arguing with people with such different basic premises on so many things.
Rebekah Y. said…
Sarah, can you point me to writing of yours where you focus on Islam and Muslims, rather than the motives and consistency of other critics?

It is striking that after your main post, you admit you are "happy to go along" with Muslim claims about their religion that happen to conform to a liberal/humanist worldview. Does it it ever strike you how anti-intellectual that position can appear, specifically how it tacitly rejects a demand for a reasoned, if not evidenced basis for a claim? I mean all I see you do is scoff at critics of liberal Muslim assertions, whether from within or outside the faith, as being "a bit contrary", which is really a remark on their 'tone' or character, not the relative merits of their argument.

Can you provide, for example, a single shred of evidence that Islam makes room for same-sex marriage in its tenets? All I see is a well-meaning fringe of Muslims manufacturing such harmony with social liberalism completely ex nihilo? And are implications of the broad historical agreement on a death penalty for apostasy among Muslims just swept aside because it is 'happier' to go along with the same liberal fringe? Uncritically supporting a very small liberal movement, again however well-meaning, distracts attention from the general reality of Islam, an apologetic in substance, if not form, in my estimation.

In turn for someone so eager to parse debate so as not to engage in Islamophobia, do you not see it as a bit paternalistic to not hold liberal Muslims to a rigorous standard of thought? If you are broadly comfortable with relativism, then fine, but that hardly places you in a position to criticise Glenn Greenwald. I dislike the man precisely because he postures as a civil libertarian, but falls into conspicuous moral relativism and lack of concern with objective truth when it comes to terrorism, Islam, Israel and the United States.

Frankly from what I have read in your last two posts "anti-Muslim bigotry" seems to be the only thing that excites you to firm condemnation. In fact you prior post is an exemplar of the privilege racism or prejudice viewed by some as quasi-racism, as in the case of Islamophobia, over other forms of prejudice. You dithered over misogynistic prejudice against women that underlies a move towards gender segregation in our public institutions. And why? Because we briefly gender segregate when going to the loo or changing clothing?

Similarly you side-step the most morally repugnant issue regarding the legality male circumcision, namely that girls enjoy blanket protection under the law, including protection from the exactly analogous surgery, whilst boys do not. I could not claim to be a humanist or egalitarian and not be outraged by that.

Instead you bring up "culture" the pillar of moral relativism, alongside the specious comparison to drink and tobacco. I am probably wasting words writing to a person who compares performing non-consensual removal of a body part to a person choosing to drink alcohol, but I continue evenso. Unless you have evidence of adults forcing children to drink and smoke, your comparison falls apart completely. I will say smoking should be illegal because it so readily and passively impact others.

All in all your views as I have seen them appear cut from the same tortured postmodern sensibilities that prevent us, for example, from having ever prosecuted a person for FGM-related offences in the UK. "Forget FGM: Let’s Tackle Racism and Islamophobia" has been the prevailing attitude for the past decade. While you personally may not feel that way, your hand-wringing on lesser evils validates and strengthens that worldview.
Sarah AB said…
As an atheist I don’t really think Islam is something which can be fixed down precisely or permanently, as though it was a scientific truth, so for that reason I am more interested in the pragmatic/discursive effects of Islam, however understood. I wouldn’t really say that conservative Muslim critics of liberal Muslims were contrary – only non-Muslim/secularist snipers at liberal Muslims. A few centuries ago views which are held cheerfully by many Christians in the West would have seemed unthinkable to pretty much everyone. An assertion that some Christians might think gay marriage was probably ok in the future would seem neither reasoned nor evidence based – but as religion doesn’t seem to me very reasoned or evidence based, it can mutate quite quickly. Thus no religions seem to provide evidence for making room for same-sex marriage in their tenets – it’s whether the religious themselves make room that matters. I don’t think Muslim – or Muslims’ – approval of the death penalty for apostasy should be swept aside – I have more than once blogged or cross-posted someone else writing on that topic, eg CEMB Forum. And see the point I make towards the end of this post:

But neither do I think those Muslims who condemn such punishments be swept aside either. I see Islam, in its current state as generally more restrictive than other religions, and less flexible, so yes I do think liberal Muslims have to tie themselves in more knots, and perform more feats of literary critical prestidigitation in order to get to the right answer (except there are also some, still more liberal, who will just say you should do x because it is right, or even I think say Qur’an is imperfect or whatever). I have discussed that here and there but all religions seem a little strange to me (though not in a bad way necessarily) so I don’t dwell on it. I don’t feel that makes me a relativist, more a pragmatist – if someone can explain why the Qur’an doesn’t really condemn homosexuality and come up with some incomprehensible explanation – great. It would only be relativist, in a worrying way, if one was to say that thinking the death penalty for homosexuality was ok because that’s their culture. I do write about other forms of prejudice, for example I post on Engage from time to time. My post on gender segregation was a kind of thought experiment in a way, and written against the grain of my own instincts, and yet also genuinely in response to what I felt was some inconsistency in the position taken by opponents. I’m not sure any version of FGM could be seen as precisely analogous to male circumcision, except possibly something which I have sometimes seen referred to as a ritual or token nick. I wouldn’t like to press that without knowing more as FGM is so serious a problem. But, yes, there seem to me to be very good arguments against male circumcision and I have debated that issue here in the past. I have also posted against FGM.

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