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Response to Karen Armstrong

September 25, 2014

The Council of Ex-Muslims responded to Karen Armstrong’s article (read it here) contending that religions are peaceful, except when secularism causes it not to be peaceful. So in order to have peace, we secularists should shut up and allow religionists to stamp on our faces – forever. I decided to reproduce this brilliant response so that it is not lost in the sea of comments at the Guardian website

CEMB responded as follows (original link to comment is here):

Karen Armstrong says:

“When secularisation has been applied by force, it has provoked a fundamentalist reaction”

The problem is that too often, any kind of critical scrutiny of some religions, and any kind of secular impulse, any kind of refusal to submit to religious authority ‘provokes’ a fundamentalist reaction. And so we are told that it is our own fault for being abused. We ‘provoked’ our beating, because we refused to submit, we refused to obey, we wanted to create a free safe space, to think, to question, to escape Islam, because we asked questions like – ‘why does Islam teach that those who leave and criticise it deserve to be persecuted and even killed?’

It is often little things like this that ‘provoke’ a response, and when non Muslims who dislike secularism empathise with those who wish to silence dissenters, for emotional reasons, because of a kinship of instinct with those who are full of disquiet of the questioning of power and assumption that secularism enables, they collude with, and provide cover for those who wish to mete out divine responses to those who ‘provoke’ them. The ‘moderate’ believer enables the intolerance they claim to not be a part of ‘true’ ‘compassionate’ religion.

(and as an aside, when will believers acknowledge that the compassionate, pluralistic, tolerant religion they claim to be the ‘true’ form of their faith has been imagined because of the processes of secularism and the questions that secularisation asked of religious authority and bigotry?)

The reaction of silencing and coercion in response to questions that we ‘provoke’ from the religious often doesn’t come from the fundamentalists, but from the ‘moderates’ who don’t want these questions asked.

As secular space has allowed us to ask these questions. And its not just violent fundamentalists who hate this space for existing.

To that I say: Amen! (and I mean that in the secular sense!)

2 Comments
  1. Thank you for sharing this. I never would have seen it if you had not posted it, it’s brilliant.

  2. Well, I have to say, this is a much more well though out and interesting piece then the typical muslim apologetics. And I pretty much agreed, up until the very late stage.

    “If some Muslims today fight shy of secularism, it is not because they have been brainwashed by their faith but because they have often experienced efforts at secularisation in a particularly virulent form.”

    Earlier on, she quite eloquently addressed how you couldn;t look at the wars of reformation europe solely as religious conflicts or solely as the rivalry of aspiring states. It was much more complex and convoluted, as history is.

    But in this sentence, she commits that same fallacy. I think it is true that their is a reactionary phenomenon against very real imperialism, that certainly empowers radicals. I think the aims of groups like ISIS are both political and religious. These things are complexly interwoven.

    However,this is not an argument FOR Islam, it is an argument against the idea of aggressive intervention in foreign societies by those who claim to be on the side of enlightenment. Since in reality, these goals tend to be driven not by ideological concerns but by realpolitik, the same economic and political reasons that drive most conflicts, with liberalism as a justification, I tend to agree. However, again, this is not an argument FOR Islam,

    To the author of the comment: I think the author as describing something a bit different from what you talked about. Your real experience, of the “you provoked me into hitting you by not doing everything i say” (by the way, this is the same kind of “provocation” the American police often speak of when justifying their violence) is not, I think, what the author is referring to. I can understand why you would read it that way, because you’re so accustomed to hearing ridiculous blame the victim type of arguments.

    Here, with the historical context given, the author is talking about foreign intervention, or imperialism. This is much different from criticizing Islam, and very different from those who are in direct aim of the cult’s control and violence resisting.

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