Sunday, November 23, 2014

Islamophobia and Religious Violence

Author Karen Armstrong (who wrote one of the definitive English-language biographies of Prophet Muhammad) is interviewed by Salon's Michael Schulson about her new book, Fields of Blood, and chimes in on a host of issues related to the perception (or misperception) that religion is a catalyst for violence as opposed to violence being a byproduct of a variety of interconnected factors. Here she is on the anti-Muslim rhetoric that's becoming increasingly common of late on the left, catapulted by folks like Bill Maher and Sam Harris:
When you hear, for example, Sam Harris and Bill Maher recently arguing that there’s something inherently violent about Islam — Sam Harris said something like “Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas” — when you hear something like that, how do you respond? 
It fills me with despair, because this is the sort of talk that led to the concentration camps in Europe. This is the kind of thing people were saying about Jews in the 1930s and ’40s in Europe. 
This is how I got into this, not because I’m dying to apologize, as you say, for religion, or because I’m filled with love and sympathy and kindness for all beings including Muslims — no. I’m filled with a sense of dread. We pride ourselves so much on our fairness and our toleration, and yet we’ve been guilty of great wrongs. Germany was one of the most cultivated countries in Europe; it was one of the leading players in the Enlightenment, and yet we discovered that a concentration camp can exist within the same vicinity as a university. 
There has always been this hard edge in modernity. John Locke, apostle of toleration, said the liberal state could under no circumstances tolerate the presence of either Catholics or Muslims. Locke also said that a master had absolute and despotical power over a slave, which included the right to kill him at any time. 
That was the attitude that we British and French colonists took to the colonies, that these people didn’t have the same rights as us. I hear that same disdain in Sam Harris, and it fills me with a sense of dread and despair.
There's much more from Armstrong at the link, and all of it is worth reading.

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