A little background info
On a recent episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, the actor Ben Affleck took a moment to call Maher and Sam Harris racists because of their views on Islam. Although I'm not a fan of Maher, I think there are some things we really need to address.
1. Islam is not a race
Islam is not a race. Period. There can't be any rational discussion about it because it is a fact. There is no ethnic qualifications inherent to being a Muslim. You can be a white American and be a Muslim. You can be a black African and be a Muslim. You can be a Chinese Asian and be a Muslim. Race does not enter the picture at all. Islam is a religious and political ideology. Any person of any racial background that chooses to believe in the Quran and its teachings can be a Muslim.
So when people like Ben here want to call a disdain of the ideology of Islam somehow racist, they only serve to show that they don't understand either Islam or racism. That being said, I can honestly see why Ben makes this mistake in distinction because Ben is an affluent white American who has likely never experienced racism. Additionally, Affleck has plenty of examples of hate filled white American Christians who in fact are racist and make the assumption that every Arab they see is a Muslim and also that they are automatically also terrorists. So he has plenty of bad examples to draw from. However this doesn't excuse him for being an ignorant fool. In the same way that I would be a fool to call all Muslims terrorists, it is most ignorant to call all those who disdain Islam racists. There are plenty of racists who hate Muslims and then there are others like myself and Harris who actually understand the ideology of Islam and find it abhorrent.
If those of us who disagree on the matter of Islam are ever going to have any constructive dialogue on the matter, we must first stop dicking around with this flimsy ass straw man. Islam is not a fucking race. Now let's move on and start actually talking about the real bloody issue!
2. Extremists are not the actual problem
Ben went on to pose another straw man to do battle with in saying that the majority of Muslims are moderates. Along with this straw man Ben also indulges a very ugly fallacy. So let's talk about both of these because honestly they're intrinsically connected.
The problem with the logic of Affleck and others who pose this notion that only extremists are the issue is that it is in fact illogical in the extreme. Let me give you an example of why that is.
Let's apply this logic to Nazis. One can say that not all Nazis participated in the holocaust so Nazism isn't really the problem. I think we would all agree that this is false because each person who agreed with the Nazi ideology but was a moderate who wasn't out murdering Jews simply gave a smiling face that the extremists could point to and say, "See... We're not so bad." This same logic can be applied to the KKK, to Christians during the crusades and Inquisitions, and honestly to any ideology at all.
Now, for those who haven't quite spotted the fallacy at play here it is a trumped up version of a no true scotsman fallacy. Ben and others like him would like to paint the picture that extremists don't actually represent Islam because they don't seem to represent the majority. Yet the fact of the matter is that extremists are the only ones who represent the true face of the ideology. We can all be thankful that the majority of Muslims are hypocrites who do not actually follow the Quran word for word, but we cannot say that they are truly representative of the teachings of the Quran because they don't actually follow those teachings.
The point men such as Harris and myself and many others try to make is that if these moderates actually followed the Quran as it says to, the whole world would be in grave danger. What men such as Affleck fail to realize is that this is a critique of the ideology of Islam rather than Muslims as a whole. So once again we need to drop the fallacy at play, ignore the straw man it presents, and address the actual issue.
3. This isn't a simple cut and dry issue
Now, after this encounter one Reza Aslan, a religious scholar, said that Maher's views are "unsophisticated". Maher is nothing more than a talking head and I don't think he has sophisticated views on anything really, but the same cannot be said of Harris and many others who offer the same views on Islam. The fact that Maher may miss the more subtle nuances of the subject doesn't make him wrong in his opinion either. As the old saying goes, every dog has his day, and on this account that old dog Maher most certainly had his day.
Aslan only has a point in that we can't make a blanket statement about Muslims themselves. However, we most certainly can critique Islam as an ideology and make a blanket statement about the ideology. But we must understand that in speaking about Islam we aren't truly speaking about Muslims because, as is quite evident, the majority of Muslims don't actually follow the ideology of Islam to the letter. We must also understand that even the moderate Muslims acquiesce to ideas such as Sharia and such insidious ideas as honor killings, female genital mutilation, and many other inhumane ideas. Even if they don't participate in such actions, they make it possible for others to do so by not standing against such things.
Let's be honest
So let's be honest here and call this what it is. Men like Affleck and Aslan are simply apologists who are scared to make an accurate and logical assessment of the issue. They fear Muslim extremists and refuse to honestly evaluate the facts. In their fear they create a podium for even extremists to claim they are on their side and that there's nothing wrong with Islam itself. But all one needs to do to dismiss such ideas is to actually read the Quran. Within its pages are some of the worst ideas of mankind. There are verses which directly call for violence and murder against all non-Muslims. There are verses which posit the notion that women and children are nothing more than property. And if we are to make a critique of Islam we must go to the source and speak honestly about what the Quran says, rather than whether or not people actually follow it or not. Because in the end, those who actually do follow the Quran letter for letter are the only true scotsmen and they are indeed the true face of Islam.