I was appalled by Bill Mahers and Sam Harris' coverage of Islam and terrorism several weeks ago. I am appalled as someone who is not a Muslim, rather someone who is an atheist and does not believe in a higher power. I am not a religious scholar by any means, and never make claims to such, yet this Islamophobia that is professed is dangerous and leads to disenfranchisement toward so many in the Muslim community. Muslims are no different than anyone else, they have the same goals and aspirations as anyone else.
Islam is not the problem, and has never been the problem. We must ask ourselves, what is religion? Many would say it that it is the belief in superhuman entities that have control over the world, though there are religions that do not believe in these entities such as Secular Buddhism or Jainism. I tend to view religion as a particular system of faith and worship, for religion is about interpretation. I do not believe in religion, yet there are certain messages from religious texts that I believe can be utilized for positive results.
American Muslims have been subject to immense discrimination since 9/11. According to a study of nearly 50,000 Muslim students in California around half of these teenagers from age 12-18 have been verbally or physically harassed by their peers. Rhetoric like Maher's only enforces this bullying, as it perpetuates the stereotype of Muslims as the other, Muslims who just want to live life and flourish as anyone else. I recall seeing the protests against the proposed "Ground Zero Mosque", a community center that is unlikely to spread any type of extremism. By depriving people of their religious freedom we create extremism due to discrimination and radicalism due to disenfranchisement.
Maher is simply wrong when it comes to his perceptions of a variety of his points. He points to the fact that extremism is a widespread problem with Islam, which is far from the case. If there are 1.5 billion Muslims why are there so few terrorists? It simply is not true. There are concerns of extremism due to the relative instability in several Muslim majority countries such as Syria or Somalia, yet this is not because they are Muslims. People turn to terrorism due to living situations, and believe in a radical due to desperation. This is a problem, and this is something the international community needs to address, yet this is not the majority of the Muslim community by any stretch of the imagination.
He points to several countries where women's rights are abused, most notably Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has arguably the worst discrimination against women compared to anywhere in the world. In Saudi Arabia it is true that women cannot drive, yet this is one country. There are 47 Muslim majority countries, and only one has this level of discrimination That does not mean that Saudi Arabia should not change its policy, rather we must look at the broader picture. Womens rights are abused in a variety of countries, some Christian like The Central African Republic, The Democratic Republic of Congo, some Muslim like Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Again, this does not mean that this is not a problem that these nations do not need to combat, yet it not simply due to Islam, it is often due to underdevelopment and poverty.
What we need to remember as we look toward groups like ISIS is the rationale for so many joining. It is irrational in my own view of course, though if someone believes there is no other options for them, they very well say it as rational. That is very problematic yet that is not due to Islam, it is due to the living conditions. Instead of viewing Islam as 'evil' we should analyze the circumstances to hope to diminish future extremism.