The recent Muslim Monster Mash on Real Time with Bill Maher has led to a national discussion in which it has become socially acceptable to trash an entire religion as violent, but Islam-bashers as diverse as Maher, Sam Harris, and Bill O’Reilly are selling their “realism” with a lie.
There’s actually much more wrong with what these people are saying than I can possibly fit here, so I’m going to focus narrowly on their favorite talking point, one I’ve heard repeated, over and over again by Islam-bashers left and right.
Before I get to that, though, I’d like to address Harris’ and Maher’s claim that they’re not paintingall Muslims as violent, only the violent ones. There are some complicated semantic onion layers to be peeled and diced there, so I will keep it simple: Maher and Harris are explicitly trashing an entire religion as violent, a religion that exists in a place they call the “Muslim world,” and a religion whose adherents all believe in murdering innocent people, unless they “don’t take the faith seriously.” That’s a direct quote from Harris. Maher says of Islam, not radical Islam or extreme Islam, but plain old Islam, that, “It’s the only religion that acts like the mafia, that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing, or draw the wrong picture, or write the wrong book.”
Make of that what you will, but if someone said that all serious Jews are violent murder-mongers, that would qualify as bashing a whole religion.
The piece of evidence they love to use to demonstrate that it is Islam that is fatally flawed is a poll that often gets shortened or stretched to something along the lines of “90% of them believe you should be killed for converting from Islam,” and in its more complete, accurate telling, that “86% of Muslims in Egypt” answered that way. Bill O’Reilly cited the same poll in piling on Islam with Harris and Maher, but what none of them told their audiences is that, in the poll they’re cherry-picking, the answers they cite are an overwhelming minority of Muslims.
In that Pew poll, a majority of respondents in only six out of the 20 countries surveyed said that apostasy should be punishable by death, and the Muslim populations in those countries make up less than one-fifth of the worldwide Muslim population, or “Muslim World,” if you prefer. And if Harris and Friends want to know why people call them racist, maybe it’s because they only seem to have a problem with one kind of Muslim.
Set aside, for a moment, the reliability of polling people about a religious doctrine. Sure, you could ask most American Christians what the wages of sin are, but who are you going to scare with that? The entire anti-Islam premise is that these crazy beliefs are baked into the religion, that the violence in their holy book is somehow different, more toxic, than those of other religions, and if you see violence in a place like Egypt, then Islam must be the problem. There’s nothing else about Egypt, Jordan, Afghanistan, or Pakistan that could cause these problems that you don’t see in the rest of the Muslim World, it has to be the Islam.
To an outsider, that makes sense, but if people in Texas suddenly started bedicking their enemies, nobody here would ask, “What’s wrong with Christianity?”, we would (still) be asking “What the eff is wrong with Texas?” We never asked what was wrong with Christianity when Charles Manson and Jim Jones committed their Bible-inspirred murders, because it’s absurd. We know what our religion is. According to Maher and Harris, non-murdering Muslims don’t. Call that what you will, but I call it wrong.