Virtually everyone abhors the crimes committed by radical Islamists. However, it is difficult these days to criticize Muslim practices that fall short of terrorist violence. These practices include, among others, mistreatment of women, intolerance towards non-believers, oppressive laws in Muslim countries, and the endorsement of censorship and apostasy. Those who have dared to do so (Bill Maher and Christopher Hitchens come to mind) have often been accused of Islamophobia. In many circles, a critical attitude toward mainstream Islam is branded as bigoted and intolerant.
As a preliminary matter, the notion of tolerance is inapplicable to rights violators. If a man beats his wife, it makes no sense to say that we must be tolerant with him. When a government bans women from driving cars in public, it is even more ridiculous to suggest that we ought to be tolerant with public officials. When a court orders a death sentence for leaving the religion, it sounds equally perverse to say that we should be tolerant with the executioner. Maybe there are reasons why we should often not interfere, but it is certainly bizarre to suggest that one of such reasons is that, as liberals, we must be tolerant of such practices. Rights violators are not the proper objects of tolerance. Those who call critics of these practices Islamophobes commit a fallacy: they move from the correct idea that we must be tolerant toward different religions to the incorrect idea that we must likewise tolerate anything that is done in the name of religion. So critics of these practices are not intolerant of Islam. They are not Islamophobes. They simply point out that people have rights, and so there are certain things others may not do to them even if done in the name of religion.
On the other hand, there are liberal Muslim scholars, groups, and activists who defend human rights and democracy. Most of them live in free societies, but a few advocate liberal values in Muslim countries at great personal risk. They stand for free speech, freedom of religion and conscience, the right to elect their government, and political pluralism. We don’t hear much about them, precisely because they are marginalized by the Muslim establishment. Yet I think liberals of all stripes should support these courageous individuals. They are the genuine (true, best) Muslims. Not only do they condemn violence, but they also reassure us that their religion is consistent with human rights, individual freedom, and democratic governance. They treat Muslims as rational agents worthy of respect, not as children. The others, the mainstream Muslim voices who support and endorse rights violations in the name of Islam, are wrong as a matter of morality, and are also on the wrong side of history. They think that Muslims are incapable of being free, that they cannot confront the responsibilities, opportunities, and challenges of our modern world. They treat Muslims as children. They are the true Islamophobes.
The article first appeared on Bleeding Heart Libertarian.