An Honest Conversation About Islamophobia


Last week, I wrote an article urging President Obama to join a growing contingent of countries in recognizing the legitimacy of a Palestinian State. While the article was generally met with praise, a number of my peers asked me why I was so hard on Israel, while so quick to dismiss wrongdoing on the other side. My response is that the goal of my paper was not to choose a side, but to discuss how both Palestine and Israel could work towards long term peace.

That being said, I took the feedback from my peers seriously. It got me thinking, are we on the left not critical of Islam enough? In some cases, the answer is yes. Far too often constructive criticism of actions done in the name of Islam are met with a cacophony of condemnation from the left. The term Islamophobia gets thrown around quite often, even at those who want to have a serious discussion about religion. Before I go any further, I want to clarify that I completely agree that there are some people who are 100 percent bigoted when talking about Islam. Typically, the people who spend public time and money to ban Sharia Law from Kansas to stop “creeping Islam” or those who run on the platform of banning all Muslims from entering the United States fall under the category of bigoted. We on the left rightfully condemn that filthy rhetoric.

My argument is that sometimes we take it too far. Banning progressives like Bill Maher from speaking on campus because he does not consider Islam a peaceful religion is taking it too far. There are many people on the left and the right who do our absolute best to keep the conversation as objective as possible. We do not pretend that somehow Christianity is a peaceful religion, while Islam is not. While both religions have inspired wonderful things, both religions are also responsible for some atrocious things. It is certainly true that most Muslims condemn ISIS, while still holding views that are incompatible with Western freedom. There are many, many people within Islam who quickly condemn ISIS, but do not support female driving. There are plenty of conservatives within Islam who think apostasy (the abandonment of one’s religion) should be a crime.

We need to condemn the ideas, not the people who adhere to them. The best way to do this is to do this is to promote and support the millions of Muslims from Indonesia, to Morocco, to right here in the United States, who seek to use their faith to spread positivity, equality, and peace. We need to empower people like Mohammad Ali Dadkah who went to prison for protecting the rights of Christians and other persecuted people in Iran, or Malala Yousafzai, a 19 year old Pakistani-English writer and women’s rights advocate. My goal is not to condemn Islam. My goal is to empower my fellow liberals to stop attacking other liberals for acknowledging that Islam (along with other Abrahamic religions) has some kinks that need to be worked out.

I get that this is a very touchy subject and for good reason. Far too often this conversation is had by people who are not interested in having a reasonable conversation about religion as a whole, who are not interested in learning the history of what they are talking about, and not interested in seeing reform. On the left, we are so used to hearing unthoughtful rhetoric about imposing religious tests or banning all Muslims that we tend to conflate all critiques of Islam, even the thoughtful ones, as bigoted. We need to stop this. We need to listen to the Malala Yousafzai’s of the world, and empower them to make reasonable reforms.