Guest Post by Eric MacDonald
I have been invited to write a short piece about Tarek Fatah, the moderate Canadian Muslim. I discovered his home page not that many days ago, and was struck by some of the wise things he had to say, and the criticisms of his own religion which, at some risk to himself, he is accustomed to write for the Toronto Sun, as well as to post on his own webpage. I want to begin by saying that I am not setting out to offend anyone. Although some people have accused me of Islamophobia, I agree with Pascal Bruckner who writes that
To speak of Islamophobia is to maintain the crudest confusion between a religion, a specific system of belief, and the faithful who adhere to it.
In other words, to speak of Islamophobia makes it impossible to criticise Islam without being accused of criticising individual Muslims.
However, the question is: is it possible for Muslims to criticise Islam without being hypocritical in claiming to be a Muslim. Is Tarek Fatah hypocritical in condemning portions of Islam while still attending selected services and identifying as a Muslim? Is he honest, a person of integrity, to do this?
In my own experience of religious faith I have to say at once that I do not think that Tarek Fatah is being hypocritical to identify as a Muslim, or to attend Muslim services at a mosque, while being critical of his religion. If this were so, then no one could, in good faith, criticise their own religion. Nor would there be any chance, I would have you notice, of Islam becoming less dangerous than I believe it is, as Christianity, over the last few centuries has become less dangerous than it was. This is a bit like Richard Dawkins’ “Neville Chamberlain School of Evolutionists.” Evolutionary biologists should have no truck with religion whatever. It is a simple matter of reason vs. superstition. So, accepting the support of Christians in the fight against creationism is a bit like Neville Chamberlain coming back from Munich and announcing, less than a year before the beginning of World War II, that there would be “peace in our time.” In the case of a believer criticising aspects (perhaps even fundamental aspects) of their religion, it is either faith or unfaith; there is no position in between. You are either an evolutionist or you are (to use a coinage from Jerry Coyne’s website) a “faitheist.” Apparently, the theory of evolution implies atheism. And criticism of your religion means that you no longer accept it, and cannot be a member in good standing of it.
This, of course, is an implication of another well-known belief of many atheists, namely, that there is no way that reason can be used in the understanding or revision of a religion. Religion is simply superstition, and the choice is between reason and superstition. So theology is all just “made up,” and no version of a religious system of belief can be more rational than any other. But the atheist who believes this must also accept its implication. No religion can be revised, and whatever your religious beliefs are, they cannot be criticised except from outside, as a non-believer, and then they can only be criticised as superstition.
The consequences are serious. If Islam is dangerous, as I believe it is in its present form (and so Tarek Fatah also believes, I think), then it is dangerous forever, unless we can convince all Muslims to give up their faith because (on the premises assumed) you cannot be both a non-hypocritical Muslim, and make any attempt to change the fundamental beliefs which Muslim tradition hands down to you.
I happen to agree with Tarek Fatah, that it would be better for Friday prayers at mosques not to begin with a prayer to Allah to grant victory to Muslims over unbelievers, and that it was particularly insensitive to use this prayer the day after Muslim terrorists murdered twelve cartoonists and writers at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, along with police officers and other persons. Nor was it acceptable for the Imam to go on to say that “he wished Islam ‘will become established in the land [that is, in Canada] over all other religions, although the ‘Disbelievers’ (Jews, Christians, Hindus and Atheists) hate that.’” If internal criticism of a religion is impossible, then we really are in trouble!