"Regressive Liberals": The New Mantra of Islamophobia

Since the terrorist attacks in Paris there has been a spate of articles about "regressive leftists" -- liberals who are betraying their values by stifling criticism of Islam and refusing to mention the role of religious ideology in terrorism. According to this perspective, whenever someone engages in the "intellectual" exercise of criticizing Islamic doctrine and pointing out the role it plays in the genesis of terrorism, certain liberals raise the slogan of "Islamophobia." This prevents an "honest" debate about terrorism which in turn obstructs any meaningful solution to terrorism.

Furthermore, it deprives critics of Islam, especially certain ex-Muslims and "progressive" Muslims of the "language" they need to voice their discontent against those who are using religion to persecute them and others.

There are several problems with this standpoint.

Lets start with exactly who it is that is being accused here. Prominent liberals in the media who have spoken out against Islamophobia are few and far between. Anyone familiar with popular anti-theist, neoconservative and far-right public forums knows well that Glenn Greenwald and Noam Chomsky are invariably the two individuals singled out for ad hominem attacks that center around their being "intellectually dishonest," "terror apologists" and "obscurantists." The problem with this carefully crafted polemic is that there is not a single instance of either Greenwald or Chomsky having condoned violence or having opined on the doctrines of Islam. One is also hard-pressed to find an instance where the actual arguments made by Chomsky and Greenwald were refuted by their detractors; their modus operandi is attacking the player, not the ball.

Next, there is little basis in reality for the claim that there is any concerted effort to suppress criticism of Islam. On the contrary, the recent blatantly prejudiced statements made by presidential hopefuls Ben Carson, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz point towards an unchecked escalation of anti-Muslim animus. Fox News has long been open mic for contentious opinions on Islam and Muslims. Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer and Sam Harris, who are some of the harshest critics of Islam, are courted by conservative and liberal media alike. It would be useful if the authors of this new diatribe against "regressive liberals" pointed out where this "stifling" of opinions is taking place. To make one thing clear, the hostile reactions to cartoon depictions of Prophet Mohammad in Jyllands-Posten and the attack on Charlie Hebdo are abhorrent and inexcusable. They do create an atmosphere of fear in which many are afraid to engage in such characterizations. However, those criminal actions must not be conflated with the intellectual refutation of anti-Muslim propaganda.

Lastly, what is this "language" required by "progressive" and ex-Muslims to criticize extremism? This would make sense in a country like Saudi Arabia where the slightest criticism of the regime or Islam can lead to prosecution and often execution. There is nothing in the Western world however, that prevents anyone, including former Muslims and progressives from criticizing either extremist or mainstream religious beliefs. Ultimately, these amorphous descriptions betray a lack of any substance in the argument itself.

Glenn Greenwald and Noam Chomsky exemplify the attitudes of non-violence, freedom of thought and justice that are the essence of liberalism. They are the relentless advocates of moral relativism that an increasingly globalized world requires to pave the way for pluralism and tolerance. They live (to borrow a phrase counterculture activist Daniel Berrigan used for the late Dorothy Day). "as though the truth were actually true". Were it not for the passion of Greenwald and Chomsky, things today would be far worse for Muslims in the West.