Bill Maher and Ben Affleck’s recent conversation about “Islamophobia” brings to light an important issue: alleged racism against all kinds of Muslims, taking place all around the world.
Muslims and Atheists Both Experience Discrimination in America
In theory, freedom of religion applies to every American, but in practice, it seems to elude certain minorities. In a society with a Christian majority and a long cultural legacy of Judeo-Christian traditions, Muslims and atheists, two of America’s fastest growing religious minorities, have suffered plenty of persecution. When atheist pundits like Bill Maher deny the existence of Islamophobia, they completely miss the parallels between how Muslims and atheists are treated in the USA.
Maher advocates for free criticism between belief systems but downplays the extent to which prejudice against ideas translates to prejudice against people. The NYPD reports that hate crimes against Muslims have increased for more than a decade, new mosques receive disproportionate opposition compared to any other place of worship built in cities and Gallup polls show more than one-fourth of Americans admit to distrusting Muslims.
In a similar vein, the American Sociological Review has found that Americans distrust atheists more than any other minority used in their studies. Seven U.S. states even have laws against atheists holding public office, and six still have blasphemy laws. Despite the similar mechanisms of institutional oppression faced by Muslims and atheists, Maher dismisses Islamophobia as an impediment to free religious criticism, whereas he regularly compares prejudice against atheists to homophobia, calling atheism “the new gay marriage.”
In reality, Islamophobia and atheophobia both constitute legitimate prejudices in our culture, and a consistent viewpoint would recognize this. The incoherent position in which one of these groups suffers prejudice while the other only faces due criticism completely removes the opportunity to show a rare bit of solidarity between these two otherwise disparate groups.
— THOMAS FINN
Islam Is Not the Only Religion That Has a Violence Problem
Islam is constantly falsely portrayed in the West as an extremist, violent religion prone to bloodshed. In his “Last Word” interview, Bill Maher even said that Islam is “the only religion that acts like the mafia.” But anyone who claims this has just forgotten a lot of history; any time religion has mixed with politics, the results are often deadly.
According to The UK Guardian, a woman in Ireland died due to Ireland’s Catholic law against abortion in 2012. Although the woman requested the abortion on the account that it could save her life from an otherwise fatal pregnancy, she was still denied it, simply due to religion. It is untrue to claim that Middle Eastern countries are the only ones with unjust religious laws.
Similarly, Muslim countries are not the only ones waging “religious wars.” Israel, a Jewish state, has been fighting with its Muslim neighbors on the basis that it’s defending its right to exist. Data from B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, states that roughly 7,000 Palestinians have been killed since 2000, yet Judaism is not characterized as a brutal religion.
Christianity has the same story. Only 1,400 years old, Islam is considered a relatively young religion. When Christianity was 1300 years old, the crusades had just ended. This conveniently forgotten yet bloody event directly resulted from religion mixing with politics.
The fact of the matter is the violence in the Middle East is the result of politics, not religion. Branding Islam and its followers as brutal terrorists is not only insensitive and morally unjust but also historically inaccurate. Islam is just one example of how harmful it is when a society mixes politics and religion and, therefore, it should not be treated as an outlier.
— Ayat Amin
Media Coverage Perpetuates Negative Stereotypes of All Muslims
The language often used in today’s media perpetuates negative perceptions of the entire Muslim community. Words like “barbarism” and “hostile” surround discussions of Islamic groups — Bill Maher spouted in his now-viral debate with Ben Affleck that “Islam is the mother lode of bad ideas.” Many prominent speakers on the issue excuse other works of violence — such as those committed by white supremacists, fundamentalist Christians, etc. — as the work of “a few crazy people,” while the violence of Muslim groups is classified by the media as “dangerous terrorist attacks.” By always casting violence by radical Muslims, or even just Middle Easterners, in this light, Islamophobia is being cultured in Western minds.
With ongoing turmoil in the Middle East and the expansion of the jihadist group ISIS, the Islamic faith has increasingly fallen victim to this sort of public prejudice. According to a Pew Research poll, few Muslims surveyed in Western countries said that suicide bombing or other forms of violence against civilian targets can be justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies. Intelligence services around the world estimate the radical population of Muslims to be between 15 to 25 percent. While it may be true that even this minority of extremists still makes up a formidable group, that does not excuse the generalization of radical ideologies to all Muslims. This overgeneralization is falsely justified bigotry.
Any form of extremism that endangers lives or the safety of any nation is a problem and not one that should be overlooked or left undiscussed. However, it is also unacceptable to allow the actions of a radical minority to color the public’s perception of an entire group.
— HAILEY SANDEN