More thoughts on Islam–between a rock and a hard place

A bit more of a serious entry for you today, my friends, and still related to the recent Charlie Hebdo massacre, like my previous entry was as well. It has to do with a fallacious (IMO) argument I’ve been hearing a lot lately, mainly on my twitter and tumblr feeds.

It goes like this (twitter screename blocked for privacy, and not my screencap, I don’t follow the guy, someone else on my feed took it):

twitter screencap

Now, by this point y’all know I’m not Muslim, and that I in fact despise the religion. I’m not gonna spend too much time trashing it at the moment, though. I don’t really have the time or energy right now. I would, however, like to point out just why this “comparison” doesn’t really work.

See, regardless of how much evil you think white folks have done in the world (and I’m not contesting that point here), you have to admit that nobody ever really chooses to be white. It’s a race–a matter of birth. Now, we can certainly talk about the social construction of race, its fluidity, the history involved in “passing,” and similar matters. However, I think most people involved in this particular discussion, such as the guy in the original twitter screencap and his friends, don’t really conceive of race as something you can ‘renounce’ or give up.

I hope this is obvious to all of my readers, but that’s a stark contrast to Islam, at least in theory. Islam is not a race–it is a religion, a system of beliefs, a series of ideas. Indeed, one thing Muslims have constantly harped on, in my experience, is the inclusivity of their faith. Race is meaningless in Islam, they tell me, and anyone can be a Muslim, be they brown, black, *or* white.

Thus, the comparison doesn’t really work. A race is different, categorically and qualitatively, from a religion. It makes somewhat less sense (somewhat) to blame someone for the actions of their co-ethnics, because they don’t have a choice about their ethnicity. Nothing in the world can make a white person non-white (again, at least how I’m pretty sure the original twitter people understand it), so it’s harder to blame someone for something they’ve no control over at all.

Islam, or any religion, on the other hand, is a conscious choice. While I realize it’s tough for people born into the faith, and very tough in countries where apostasy is illegal, even so, at this point in history everyone knows apostasy is an option, even if it can only be privately held. One can choose to be Muslim, or a member of any other religion, in ways one can’t choose to be a member of a race. Since belonging to a religion (or a political party, etc.) is a conscious choice, it’s not quite *as* unreasonable to hold adherents of that religion culpable–somewhat–for the crimes of that religion. If you don’t want to “answer for the actions of other Muslims,” then give up the religion. Just stop going to Mosque, stop taking the Quran seriously, and if anyone asks, tell them “I’m not Muslim” or “I’ve renounced Islam” or “I’m an atheist/agnostic/whatever.”

Now, before anyone (rightly) points out I’m making an oversimplification, look at the emphasis I placed on the “as” back there–such an assumption of culpability in terms of religion is unreasonable and irrational to an extent. There are always factions in religion; should a Sufi be blamed for the actions of a Sunni or Shi’ite? Probably not. There are also differing interpretations, and not all members of a religion (or ideology) agree on much of anything aside from basic professions of faith. And finally, of course, you might be able to levy these criticisms at other religions such as Christianity; even if the guy in my Twitter screencap didn’t, wiser commentators chose to focus on other religions rather than race. Still, the conflation of race with religion *is* very prominent in most of the responses I’ve seen, and you have to admit that, despite the diversity present within most religious faiths, Islam included, it’s easier to disassociate from a religion than it is to cut yourself from a racial group. This means it’s *slightly* more reasonable to just give up your religion if you don’t want to be associated with its atrocities, whereas one can’t do that with race.

…at least, that’s what I would say if it were that simple.

Looking it up on Twitter, I can see that the point I’ve just made isn’t unoriginal. More than a few other people have made it as well. Unfortunately, this also raises another problem, and brings up the reason I called this entry “between a rock and a hard place.”

See, most of the people on Twitter who’ve noted the difference between religion and race…tend to be inveterate racists themselves.

I don’t want to link to their twitters to give ’em traffic, but if you feel so inclined, look up the terms Islam, apologize, and race together. You’ll see a lot of neo-reactionaries, alt-righters, anti-Semites, people who just “sympathize” with Hitler, and so on, and so forth…

In an ideal world, someone from a Muslim background–an Arab, a Bengali, whoever–would just be able to say, “I’m an atheist, I don’t believe in Islam” or “I’ve renounced Islam and want nothing more to do with it,” and they’d be embraced immediately by all other non-Muslims. No-one would blame them for the actions of Muslims, and they would be treated as allies in the struggle against religiously-inspired terrorism and violence. But alas, we live in the real world, not an ideal world, and it doesn’t always or even often work out that way.

For more than a few people all across the non-Muslim world–America, France, where have you–religion is tied inextricably to race, regardless of how alt-righters on Twitter might make a show of protest. Just look at how non-Muslim Sikhs have been targeted for anti-Muslim hate crimes, just because they “look” Muslim. No matter how much a black or brown ex-Muslim declares their separation from their former faith, they will forever be considered outsiders by many people, including, I would wager, those alt-righters on Twitter who so loudly insist race and religion are not the same thing.

It seems to me, therefore, that many non-white ex-Muslims (such as myself) are caught between two undesirable situations–between a rock and a hard place, as it were. On the one hand, we want nothing to do with the religion we were born into. On the other hand, our skin color and physical appearances mean some will often always call us (and treat us as) “Muslims,” with all the attendant cruelty xenophobes are known for, no matter what we do or how loudly we distance ourselves from the religion they hate. Neither seems like a good choice, eh?

What, then, are we to do? Should we just suck it up and hide our true beliefs, embracing a community we don’t actually want to belong to, professing beliefs we don’t actually hold, and shouldering the blame for atrocities we have even less responsibility for than moderate Muslims? Or should we just embrace the far right with all its flaws, hoping they might receive us as well as some non-white ex-muslims (such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali) have been received by right-wing parties and publications, while knowing it’s as likely such “allies” would reject us for our race in any case?

It’s certainly a weighty dilemma,  and if anyone like me were to make either choice, I couldn’t find it in myself to condemn them. But for me, personally…I can be satisfied with neither the rock nor the hard place, no matter how hard to reach an alternative may be. I think there’s a respite–a small one, but a respite nonetheless–from both. In my case, I found it among the various online communities I’ve been involved in. My brothers and sisters of the Castlevania Dungeon, FFn, /m/, Vindictus, and other places…they know I “look” Muslim but am definitely not Muslim, and they accept both parts of my identity happily, without demanding any sort of ideological obeisance like some right-wing “nationalist” would. I’ve also found a little solace at the exmuslim community on Reddit, where many, many users share my ethnic background and my apostasy, meaning they can provide both moral support and a deep understanding of my experiences in life.

That allowed me to just barely avoid getting smashed to bits between Mr. Rock and Mr. Hard Place. I might never have managed a career of faking belief, and I might never have managed to win acceptance from right-wingers or nationalists or whatever, but I did succeed in finding safety and sanity with my friends, online and off. It may seem like a small thing–just a handful of online communities filled with folks who might not have even seen my face. In the face of an entire religion on one side and a loud, well-funded political lobby on the other, it might seem even trifling. But it’s enough for me. So long as I have my friends, so long as I have people who understand me, I don’t need to choose one evil over another. I’ll stand firm in my apostasy, even against all the world’s Muslims, and I’ll stand alongside friends whose skin is white, brown, black, and every other color under the sun, no matter what far-right nationalists will say. Regardless of whether they number a squad or an army, with my friends I’ll stand against the whole world if need be.

And perhaps…who knows? Maybe others like me can find the same escape I did–in their own ways with their own friends, however many or few there may be. But so long as they can find even a single friend who understands them like mine do, perhaps they’ll share in some way what strength I have.

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