A curious case of camaraderie
Some months back, one of my sisters was telling me about a book she had just read. Her synopsis piqued my interest, and soon enough I also read the same book. That book was Infidel, an autobiography by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Ali was raised in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and Kenya as a Muslim, but later fled to the Netherlands and sought asylum to escape an arranged marriage. After some time there, she renounced her faith and became a vocal critic of Islam, and eventually even a politician in the Dutch parliament.
It’s an inspiring — and often shocking — story, to be sure, but I don’t want to get too caught up in the specifics because that’s not the point I want to get across. You can read the book for yourself if you want to hear all the details. I’m merely using this background information to set the stage for the rest of this essay. Now, let’s fast-forward to late last week.
While browsing YouTube the other day, I noticed an interview conducted by Dave Rubin with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I thought it would be interesting to hear what she had to say, especially having read her book fairly recently. So I clicked and sat back to watch and listen!
Their conversation eventually turned to Western politics, where Rubin and Ali raised a point that really stuck with me, starting at about 13:30. This brings us to the question I would like to explore for this essay: Why does the political left find itself in some sort of alliance with Islam? The two make such strange bedfellows.
What do I mean by that? In brief, here’s how I see it: Given what leftists believe is of utmost importance, I would expect them to regard Islam with healthy skepticism — at least along the lines of how they regard Christianity, which many on the left criticize without hesitation — yet I rarely hear criticism of Islam from the left. Sam Harris is the only prominent progressive I know of who will openly acknowledge the conflict, and he has been accused of Islamophobia for it by fellow progressives! If you ask me, he deserves kudos for consistent criticism of religion.
First, let’s elaborate on what the left values. Then we will look at how the Muslim world writ large views on those same issues. Then we will compare. Let’s get started!
Living near San Francisco as I do — perhaps the left’s most vocal stronghold in the entire United States — you get a lot of exposure to leftist views. As such, I like to think I have a pretty good idea of what the left’s belief system is, even if I wouldn’t count myself among its ranks. Would anyone dispute the claim that the left believes very strongly in these three things?
- Protecting women’s rights
- Promoting gay rights
- Maintaining a separation between church and state (I could go one step further and say that as you get closer to the fringes, many of them are militant atheists, but in the interest of making a more compelling argument, I will stick to the more restrained claim about separation of church and state)
Of course, there are many other pieces to the left’s platform, but I see these parts quite frequently and want to focus on them. In any event, I seriously doubt any self-described leftists would deny the importance of these tenets to the overall platform.
In many ways, it seems to me Islam is at odds with these beliefs — not in the United States, but throughout much of the world, yes. Before you start flooding me with the hashtag #notallmuslims, I know. Neither I nor any reasonable person is trying to make the argument that all Muslims reject these things. I want to make it very clear that is not my position.
All that said, thinking there is no significant hostility from anywhere in the Muslim world towards these principles is naïve at best, and dangerous at worst. The best evidence I can find suggests there is, although the extent of the hostility varies widely, depending on the country. Let’s consider how the Muslim world views those three points.
On the topic of women’s role in society, it looks like there are inconsistencies. On one hand, in Pew’s survey of the world’s Muslims, a majority in nearly all the countries surveyed agreed that a wife must always obey her husband. On the other hand, respondents generally agreed that women should decide whether or not to wear a veil in public. Pew also asked about attitudes towards divorce and inheritance rights, and there wasn’t much consensus, aside from respondents in Southeast Europe having views more consistent with Western values.
Regarding gay rights, in the aforementioned Pew survey, homosexual behavior is overwhelmingly regarded as immoral. Maybe that alone wouldn’t be such a big deal, if only that belief weren’t so often reflected in the legal system too.
Numerous Muslim-majority countries are notorious for their hostile attitudes towards gays. Quickly scanning through the Wikipedia page listed above, I saw that Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Yemen prescribe capital punishment for homosexual activity. That’s not even counting extrajudicial punishment that may be rendered in countries where the sexual activity is technically legal.
When it comes to a separation between church and state, there’s a wide range of attitudes towards making Islamic law the law of the land, but saying no Muslims are in favor of it is patently false. It really depends on where you look. In Iraq and Afghanistan, over 90% of respondents in Pew’s survey favored imposing sharia law. Lebanon, on the other hand, was at a mere 29%.
In the interest of impartiality, I should also point out there is a major caveat to that previous point: If you look further down the page, you will find, on balance, respondents in favor of making sharia the law of the land also generally said it should only apply to Muslims. Nevertheless, I would still argue such a belief is at odds with not only the left’s platform of separating church and state, but also Western ideas in general.
I think it’s obvious how imposing sharia law violates the notion of separation of church and state, so I’m not going to dwell on that too much, but my point about incompatibility with Western ideas might raise some eyebrows. Let me quickly elaborate on that.
Western societies are predicated on the concept of equality before the law. Justice is supposed to be blind: No matter who you are or where you come from, the rules must be applied to everyone equally. (Perhaps not so coincidentally, countries that follow this principle often have relatively low corruption and homicide rates, along with increased per capita wealth.) Having one set of rules for Muslims and another set for everyone else — even if the rules for everyone else are more lenient — is nevertheless in violation of this principle.
When you look at some core beliefs of the left and compare to the greater Muslim world, in many ways, I see a sizeable gap. That’s why I want to ask: How did the left end up in some kind of alliance with Islam? Why are its members so reluctant to criticize Islam when they will readily — eagerly, even — criticize Christianity for similar beliefs?
I realize my claim about the left is allied with Islam might be questionable, so I’ll try to back that up. For starters, Pew’s survey of Muslim Americans indicates they lean strongly towards the Democratic party. Perhaps this has to do with perceived hostility from the Republican party; I couldn’t say for sure. Still, I think everyone would agree Democrats are more to the left than Republicans.
One other compelling link I see between the left and Islam came from pictures I saw of the Women’s March earlier this year. The event was ostensibly about women’s rights, but I would argue it was more about advocating leftist views. If you don’t believe me, I have a few rhetorical questions for you.
Look at the march’s official platform. I can see how one would argue reproductive rights are an integral part of women’s rights, even though I’m not sure I agree with the claim. But what about the rest? How do worker rights or environmental justice at all relate to women’s rights? If you value those things, fine, but don’t try and pass them off as issues specific to women.
Also consider this: Politically speaking, how do you think most of the march’s participants identified? Call me presumptuous, but I would be genuinely surprised if there were many right wingers in attendance. If the march were truly only about women, I would expect to see women of all political persuasions.
To connect the Women’s March back to Islam, did you see the official posters portraying a woman dressed in a veil — perhaps a hijab — styled as an American flag? I’m open to being proven wrong on this point, but as far as I can tell, the veil is supposed to symbolize Islam. I’m unaware of its significance in any other religious or cultural context.