After 9/11 I was like most people in the world who were angry about the attacks and I felt much anger towards Muslims. I recall stories of hate crimes against Muslims and oftentimes these attackers would mistakenly assault a person of Indian decent. I also recall the time when I walked into a gas station and glared at the cashier who I mistakenly took for a Muslim (who I now believe was Indian) and I did not smile when I gave him my money and quietly said, “thank you” with a straight face, and walked out of the store.
Looking back, I regret my cold demeanor immensely and wish I could go back and treat this innocent man with all of the respect and kindness he deserved. Luckily for me, it did not take long for me to realize how the war in Iraq Bush Jr. was leading everyone into was a farce and was built on lies. It was this event that initiated my reading about politics in my early 20's. Before this period I knew nothing about politics. I honestly didn't even know the difference between a Republican or a Democrat! I quickly learned about the illegal acts of the Bush administration and around this same time I began learning about the religious right and their attempts at subverting democracy. My political conscience was born.
My views have shifted much ground over the years, but I firmly believe I largely have the facts necessary to make rational and just decisions. It wasn't always this way, however.
Reading Sam Harris' The End of Faith and the other New Atheists' best-sellers helped to shape part of this political awakening, mostly as it had to do with the treatment of Muslims and my views about Islam. Needless to say, due to these influences I was very anti-Islam and very anti-Muslim. It wasn't until several years later that I began to read more widely and my views began to shift.
What precipitated this change was watching the independent news broadcast called Democracy Now where they would often depict Muslim families, children, the elderly, and innocent women who had been attacked by Western forces in their country or whose homes and/or families had been destroyed by a drone's Hell Fire missile.
I witnessed these people from far off lands speak about the loss of their homes and loved ones. I saw the look of despair on their faces, or in the case of some Muslim women, the sound of their voices through their burqa as they would cry and talk about the loss of their loved ones. I saw Arab men and women demanding freedom during the Arab spring and calling for democracy, freedom of speech, and other basic human rights. These scenes touched me and made me realize that not all Muslims were anti-Democratic or hated the West. It was not the ideals of they West they hated (as the propaganda of George W. Bush would have it, and even some irrational atheists), but the West's numerous military interventions and interferences in their countries and the countless innocent lives lost and the destruction caused (among other reasons, as I would later learn). I came to the realization that these people were not much different than you or me.
As a matter of fact, numerous polls backed my observations. In a book titled Religion and the New Atheism: A Critical Appraisal, edited by Amarnath Amarasingam, was a chapter by a doctoral candidate (at the time of the publishing date) in Religious Studies named Rory Dickerson who cited several polls demonstrating that “Muslims do not differ significantly from others in terms of basic moral and political positions.” As I've noted many times in the past what the vast majority of Muslims are in opposition to are specific US government policies, “not the principles on which those governments are based.” The principles in which the “tens of thousands” of Muslims that were polled said they admired were democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. This is in stark contrast to the typical Islamophobe, who seem to believe all Muslims are immoral and evil. All of the objective data says otherwise. I would highly recommend all people who feel this way about Muslims read Rory Dickerson's contribution. It is titled 'Religion as Phantasmagoria: Islam in The End of Faith.' Hopefully it will help in scraping the scales from your eyes.
After coming to terms with all of this new information I began to take a much more nuanced view about Muslims and the religion of Islam. Yes, there are many extremists out there who would not hesitate to kill innocent people, but these are a minority, when compared to the Middle East as a whole, so why is the US military occupying entire countries and killing many innocent people who have nothing to do with attacking innocent people? Then I began to read the work of James Bovard (specifically his book Terrorism and Tyranny), Noam Chomsky, William Blum and Chalmers Johnson. These books opened my eyes to even more facts. The fact that not all Muslims want to harm Americans. The fact that US foreign policy is often what drives these extremists, and just because someone follows the religion of Islam, this does not make them violent. The US government's foreign polices have more to do with economic and military interests than humanitarian interests. The speeches by US leaders have more to do with consoling a population than enlightening them, or is simply telling them what they want to hear, all the while continuing to operate in the same manner, despite public outcry, or making a few token changes just to console protesters, while leaving the primary abuses and problems unresolved and unfixed, where they ultimately return to business as usual once the media attention dies down. These are the facts that have shaped my political views for the last several years.
I have written at great length about many of these immoral foreign policy decisions and this irrational and factless hatred of Muslims as a whole.
Unfortunately, with these more moderate views, many extremists seem to take the infamous line of George W. Bush: “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” This nonsensical and extremist position has been used as a highly unfair and inaccurate slur against myself by a few irrational atheist extremists, whose hated of Muslims and Islam appears to hinder any hope of rationality or polite discourse, as strawmen, personal attacks, and propaganda, rather than facts, become their weapons of choice since they have abandoned all rational thought.
When someone blindly accepts an ideology – any ideology – those beliefs begin to chip away at the person's humanity as all things become subservient to that ideology. It's happened with the Religious Right, it's happened with Russian Communism, it's happened with US foreign policy, and it's happened with the recent explosion of so-called Islamophobia.
Innocent abortion doctors are murdered for the sake of an ideology, thousands imprisoned or killed, drone strikes terrorize and murder countless innocent men, women and children, the political process is hijacked by irrational Christian fundamentalists and the rights of pregnant women and homosexual persons are stripped away without a care in the world by these many ideologues.
One cannot lose his or her way by succumbing to any ideology. One must rely on human compassion, empathy, facts, and brute rationality to make decisions. Not blind ideological slogans or beliefs, which more often than not, leaves the innocent, the minorities, the most in need or the most vulnerable, exposed and trampled underfoot by those who would sacrifice their compassion for an idea or a belief. It is in this way, the New Atheists and those who parrot this black or white viewpoint have fallen victim to the very target of their rage. But nothing is just black and white. There are many shades of gray as well and one mustn't forget this. If you do, you're liable to lose your way like so many have, and even like the few atheists I've debated with over the drone war and US foreign policy in the last year.