By Brian Giesbrecht
Frontier Centre for Public Policy
Recent criticism of Parliament’s decision to condemn “Islamophobia” has generated many responses. Some argued that criticizing the intolerance within Islam is anti-Muslim bigotry. Some said that criticizing a person’s religion is wrong. Hot off the press comes an important book, written by a Muslim, explaining why defending radical Islam is wrong.
The book, The Atheist Muslim, is written by Ali A. Rizvi, a physician and columnist. He’s also part of a growing number of Muslims dedicated to bringing about an Islamic enlightenment.
One of his colleagues said: “Islam urgently needs to undergo the same process as Christianity and Judaism did long before it. It needs to be fed into the same two-part grinder called Secularism and the Enlightenment,” in order to re-interpret intolerant concepts such as jihad, apostasy and blasphemy laws.
Those advocating for an Islamic enlightenment include believers and non-believers. Rizvi is an atheist but describes himself as a “cultural Muslim” because he still enjoys many of the traditions and comforts of Islam. He borrows the term from Richard Dawkins, who calls himself a “cultural Christian.”
Rizvi’s group is diverse and works for tolerance towards others. If they succeed, people will have the right to decide their religion, what they say, women will enjoy equal rights with men, gays will not be persecuted and the beastly concept of jihad will no longer be used.
People like Rizvi meet with considerable opposition. The despots who rule Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran use the Qur’an as a hammer over the heads of their subjects. They want Rizvi dead.
Donald Trump’s followers don’t trust any Muslim and disregard these brave folks.
But most tragically, the people who should be supporting them – liberals, Muslim and non-Muslim – interpret their pleas to reform Islam as “Islamophobia.”
This is what Rizvi says about the Muslim and non-Muslim liberals who foolishly stifle criticism of Islam’s intolerance: “Intolerant attitudes that are unacceptable in general life shouldn’t suddenly become acceptable when presented under the guise of religion. The statement ‘This is my faith’ should not automatically confer immunity on the faithful for misogyny, bigotry, discrimination. …”
What should moderate Muslims and non-Muslims do about the twin problems of intolerance within Islam, and the very real problem of anti-Muslim bigotry?
Here’s what Rizvi says: “It is more important now than ever to challenge and criticize the doctrine of Islam. And, it is more important now than ever to protect and defend the rights of Muslims.”
Both of these go together. Doing the first without the second would be grossly unfair to millions of good Muslims who are not only the most frequent victims of Islamic terrorism, but also maligned by the actions of jihadists. Doing the second without the first would be grossly unfair to the innumerable victims of “Allahu Akbar” – yelling militants who chop heads off, take sex slaves and accurately quote Qur’anic verses supporting their behaviour.
The only rational position between Islamic apologists and anti-Muslim bigotry is to espouse secular and liberal values. That allows the criticism of bad ideas and the right to believe in bad ideas – both rights must be protected for meaningful dialogue to take place.
This approach isn’t contradictory. It’s a manifestation of the famous words of Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Rizvi is not naïve – he knows he will continue to be criticized from all sides. Fellow Muslims who disagree with him will dismiss him because “He is not a true Muslim,” just as moderate Muslims dismiss Islamic State murderers, IS murderers dismiss moderate Muslims, Sunni dismiss Shia and so on.
Our timid federal government will choke on mild criticism of Islamic intolerance. Well-meaning liberals will want Rizvi silenced.
But, at some point, we will have to listen to people like Rizvi if we truly want to deal with the very real menace of radical Islam.
Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge and a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a Winnipeg-based think-tank.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.