Jumping at Shadows: What to Do About Syrian Refugees?

As the French say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. That’s definitely true in 2016, except the only things that have changed are the names. In 2001, the name was Taliban, soon to be followed by the names al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah; now it’s the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or the Levant), or the Islamic State, or ISIS, or ISIL. And now the world has to deal with people fleeing Syria to get away from ISIS and the havoc it wreaks.

I’ll get this out of the way: I am not defending Islam, or Islamism. I’m making the case that we should make it easy for people fleeing dangerous situations to find a safe space, and to make those people feel safe and welcome where they go. I know that’s kind of difficult when we have blowhards like Donald Trump flinging verbal feces at everyone from the Middle East, Central Asia, and other nations ruled by sharia and other Islamic-inspired laws, playing on the fears of the general population, but let’s not assume that everyone from these areas has the same morals, values, and mores as ISIS, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Muslim Brotherhood, or other Islamist or fundamentalist Muslim groups or cults, but, rather, just ordinary people who want nothing more than to live their lives. Just because people identify themselves as Muslims doesn’t mean they’re a threat, but if we treat them like they are, they could very well become one. Let’s face it: ISIS, and other groups like it, take advantage of people’s frustration and feelings of isolation and powerlessness, so laws and measures that make it practically impossible for self-identifying Muslims to start fresh and go about their lives breed potential recruits for groups like ISIS. In short, shunning refugees just because they happen to self-identify as Muslim is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Every developed nation screens newcomers, immigrants and refugees, regardless of ethnicity, nation of origin, or belief–or non-belief. We have laws on our books, and police and courts to enforce them. If anyone breaks the law, let the cops and the courts deal with it–it’s kinda-sorta their job, anyhow. Granted, this is not a perfect system–hell, it’s not even foolproof (but, then again, nothing is)–but these measures were put in place to keep society safe. And, let’s face it, with terrorists and criminals–regardless of birthplace, creed, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or any other circumstances–where there’s a will, they’ll find a way. But let’s not use this fact as an excuse to exclude anyone, regardless of ethnicity, creed, or any other circumstances.

I’ll be one of the last people to deny that religious fundamentalism–of any type or stripe–causes a lot of damage, and is a genuine threat. But, just as we don’t paint all Christians, Jews, or other religious folk with the same brush we use to paint their hard-line counterparts, let’s acknowledge that not all Muslims wish death to infidels or want to impose sharia worldwide. The current fear-mongering aimed at the Syrian refugees, and others like them, will just create a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is definitely one of those situations where cooler heads must prevail.

An Open Letter to Progressives on International Blasphemy Rights Day

Today–September 30–marks International Blasphemy Rights Day. While the majority of the nonreligious are posting comic posts on social-media outlets today to mark this day as a day to criticize religion and say doing so is OK, I’m going to use today as an opportunity to address the left in the developed world, in regards to its stance on religion.

To all of you progressives:

I believe your minds are in the right place in regards to wanting to make the world a better place for everyone, and not just a privileged few. But giving a free-hall pass to people who commit heinous acts in the name of religion is not the way to go, nor is making excuses for them, nor attempting to shift the blame onto other entities, such as the governments of industrialized nations such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, etc.–though I will be among the last people to say these nations don’t have shitty policies, which effect the world beyond their borders.

Now on to the topic at hand: Islam. Islam is a religion, not a race–let’s at least try to distinguish between the two terms. Also, why are you sending us the message that Islam is beyond criticism, and that anyone who thinks otherwise is the enemy of humanity, is Islamophobic, bigoted, racist, pro-war, pro-occupation, pro-imperialism, etc.? Islam is not special, and does not warrant, nor should it be given, special consideration or treatment. There is a line between defending people who happen to be Muslims and demanding Islam be considered above reproach, critique, and even mockery, and treated as such. For instance, you’ll have to make like everyone else and live with it when people call out Islamic apologists like Hamza Tzortzis and Reza Aslan whenever they talk crap. And, lastly for this topic, stop it with the promiscuous use of the term ‘Islamophobia’–it doesn’t do anyone any favours, and we need to keep this discussion moving if we want to solve problems. If we want to end religious privilege–everywhere–we have to bring Islam to the same level as all religious and superstitious belief systems.

I would also like to take this chance to point out that criticizing, satirizing, and parodying religion, as opposed to giving it privileged status, does not infringe on people’s right to be religious. In societies such as Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, European nations, etc., people have the right to believe whatever the hell we want; what we don’t have the right to do is impose our beliefs on other people, in any way, or use our beliefs to infringe on the rights of others. If you want a better world, you should acknowledge the damage religion–and yes, that includes Islam–does, and help ensure it does not have a privileged place in society, but instead is kept in check like any other ideology is, and should be.

Apology

I know this is now long overdue, but I have a confession to make: There was a time–about a decade ago–when I was at my most gullible. Ten years ago, I became a member of a group in Vancouver, which is ostensibly anti-war, known as Mobilization Against War and Occupation (MAWO for short). I joined this particular group because I thought doing so would allow me to make a difference. I got out of that a few years ago (when I was roughly 33 years old), after realizing I was wrong about what is now a major point of contention between myself and MAWO: That is, religion. In particular, Islam.

MAWO’s take on religion is that it’s merely a smokescreen, obscuring what they consider to be the real issues, all of them surrounding war and occupation. While it’s true that the only time the mainstream media says anything critical about religion is when it discusses Islam (while giving Christianity a pass for just about everything–or trying to, anyhow), I’ve come to the conclusion that the majority of MAWO’s members–including those in positions of leadership within that group–as Sam Harris once put it, have no clue what it’s like to truly believe in God–of any type or stripe. For instance, when the Danish newspaper Jyllens-Posten published some cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed, MAWO staged a rally, in conjunction with local representatives of the Muslim community, to decry the cartoons (this was before I joined, by the way), claiming the cartoons helped spread Islamophobia, and thus supported war and occupation in what they deemed oppressed nations, such as Afghanistan and Iraq. No mention was made of the more violent reactions on the part of Islamists to the cartoons, or of Islamic religious leaders in Denmark including pictures that weren’t a part of the collection published by Jyllens-Posten; the point was to decry the cartoons as part of an alleged attempt to separate ordinary people in developed nations from their counterparts in the Muslim communities in those nations and in the Middle East and Afghanistan (which is, for those who don’t know, in Central Asia). Afterwards, when Somalia substituted its Union of Islamic Courts government with a transitional government, and the United Nations talked about stepping into Sudan, MAWO formed a group dealing with issues regarding possible interventions in African nations (which I was–albeit a small–part of), to protest any interventions in any African nations from developed nations; MAWO and this group (whose name escapes me) even went so far as to accuse Doctors Without Borders of paving the way towards war and occupation in Sudan. In short, MAWO ignores, either by negligence, design, or a combination, the heinous crimes and threats that Islamists make in the name of Islam, while giving Islam and its most hardcore adherents a pass for everything–hell, in the world according to MAWO, 9-11 was the fault of imperialism, and had nothing to do with Islamism or Islam. Also, they tout George Galloway as something akin to a hero, as he echoes what they believe. On top of all of this, they, as well as companion groups Iranian Community Against War (ICAW) and Indigenous Rights and Action Project (IRAP) liken the actions of groups such as the Taliban, al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other Islamist groups to struggles of students and working people in developed nations, and those of Indigenous people in the Americas. And I fell for all of this, and more, hook, line, and sinker. Given their history, I think I know their take on the situation regarding Charlie Hebdo, though I don’t know if they’ve ever talked about it.

Now, I know better. I realize, in participating in MAWO’s mental masturbation, both in public and private, I’ve actually done more harm than good–especially in convincing people to ignore the heinous acts committed in the name of Islam–and I can only hope that whatever work I do to promote secular humanism, and any and all other work I do to truly make the world a better place, will make even a tiny dent in the damage I’ve done during my time with MAWO and its companion groups.

Please understand I have nothing against people who happen to have been raised to believe in Islam, and still identify as Muslim, especially out of fear of what will happen to them if they leave the faith. I do have a problem with promoting the idea that Islam is special and should thus be above criticism, satire, parody, and ridicule; Islamists and the most hardcore Muslims will just, like all religious people of all degrees of devotion, have to grow up and realize the world doesn’t revolve around them, and try to tolerate us infidels doing things they don’t like, as long as we don’t break any laws of the lands we happen to live in, or harm or inconvenience anyone else. I don’t condone inflicting any harm on, or actually discriminating against, people just because of things such as religious beliefs, but no one should receive special consideration and preferential treatment–and that includes Muslims. And I realize that entities such as ISIS, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other Islamist groups do what they do out of a sense of, not injustice or inequality, but entitlement.

To all victims of Islam and the heinous acts carried out in its name–Muslim, ex-Muslim, and beyond–I offer my sincerest apologies for my thoughtlessness from a decade ago, and the last few years–simply because I didn’t follow my Grade Nine history teacher’s admonishment to do my bloody homework.