A COUPLE WEEKS ago, I wrote about a comment we got from a Muslim wondering if Citizen Warrior is just a very clever Muslim (Whose Side Am I On?). On Jihad Watch a few days ago, Robert Spencer wrote about the same phenomenon. Someone wrote to him and said:
"I can't understand whether you're a kafir trying to make people hate Islam with your commentaries or whether you're a Muslim trying to make people read the Quraan."
Using his inimitable sarcasm, Spencer's comment was, "This latest Hate Mailer, who writes in from Syria, is not as certain as the last one about my cleverly hidden secret identity."
I've been meaning to do a follow-up on my own article on the subject, because I've thought more about it. I think one of the reasons the article, Basic Principles of Islam, confused the Muslim commenter (about where my loyalties lie) is because the article is "value neutral." Most non-Muslims who write about Islam (and who know a lot about it) are very clearly against it. Their disdain for Islam comes through loud and clear in every sentence.
But I didn't do that in the article that got the comment. In fact, I specifically designed that whole website (Inquiry Into Islam) as a value-neutral educational site because the same things that raise the hackles of a Muslim would also raise the hackles of multiculturalists.
In other words, the article has no edge to it. It's just the facts. I personally feel that any non-Muslim who reads it needs no convincing from me. The straight information speaks for itself to those of us who share the values of freedom and equality. But what happens when a Muslim from Iran or Syria finds Inquiry Into Islam? What do they make of it? They can see that the information is being presented without any negative judgment. It might very well confuse them. Whose side am I on?
In Muslim countries you can speak openly about, say, the subjugation of women, and you can do it with no feeling of remorse or embarrassment, as I've seen on television programs created and shown in the Middle East, with experts arguing about just how much you can beat your wife, for example. There is no hint of shame about the topic, no embarrassment that their religious doctrines are misogynistic. Those of us who grew up believing in the principles of freedom and equality instinctively assume Muslims should be ashamed of these principles. How could they not be embarrassed about their own backward (to our way of thinking) beliefs? But they clearly are not.
To get outside this topic to see it plainly, let's look at Buddhism. You could speak about the teachings of Buddhism and just lay it out: "These are the teachings of Buddhism." And the person reading it might assume you are a Buddhist.
Or you could write about Buddhism with some disdain permeating your writing. In which case, a Buddhist might take exception to what you wrote, even if what you wrote was accurate. That may be what we are dealing with in educating non-Muslims about Islam.
When most of us write about Islam it's with ridicule or a clear tone of rejection. And a Muslim will take exception to what we write, even though we're saying things that are true. You see this all the time. Non-Muslims are speaking about Islam, but clearly not liking it, not agreeing with it — against it — and Muslims read it and object to what was said, even though it was true. They'll say, "You're taking it out of context" or "That's not the way we mean it."
A Buddhist might do exactly the same thing if you were saying some of the principles of Buddhism with an edge. One Buddhist teaching, for example, is to try to refrain from harming other living things. And if you said it like that, no Buddhists would have any objection. But if you said it in a way that added a negative value judgment to it, they might take exception to it, even if what you said was technically accurate.
For example, if you say they don't believe in good nutrition (and I think a case could be made that many vegetarians don't eat enough protein to be healthy), a Buddhist might say, "That's not what we believe" or "You took that precept out of context."
But the point is, a Buddhist or a Muslim will believe in the precepts of their own religion, and will try to defend them. And they won't feel those precepts are bad. And when people like us imply that they're bad, they take great offense to us and argue passionately. And if we present the facts without judgment, they think we are secret, very clever Muslims.
Let's look at it another way. Before the Allies began the invasion of Normandy, they gave the Germans the impression they were going to land somewhere else. The Germans knew a big invasion was coming, but they didn't know where. The Allies deliberately misled the Germans into thinking the invasion would take place further north. The Nazis moved some of their military resources to that place, which made Normandy a safer place to land.
Assuming you are from one of the Allied countries, let me ask you: Do you feel embarrassed that people on your side employed deception? Does it bother you? Probably not. If somebody criticized the deception, you might well defend the action. In war, deception is a legitimate tactic. Not many people think of it as "cheating."
In the same way, I think if Muslims know Islamic doctrine and believe in it they don't have any problem with it. More than that, they think it's the truth. They think it's right. They think it is ordained by the Almighty. So of course an expression of it — of the facts and principles of the truth as they see it — would not be anything to be embarrassed about. They wouldn't feel it is cheating or wrong or bad.
And if it was presented without any negative judgment, a Muslim might very well assume someone who is explaining their doctrine so clearly and unapologetically must be a Muslim.
The reason I think this topic is important is that many of the non-Muslims we talk to lower their voices in case any Muslims are nearby and might be angry about what you're saying. They don't understand that Muslims are quite proud of their teachings. To explain their teachings is not insulting. It is not an indictment. It is just the facts. And a nearby Muslim overhearing your conversation might think you are a Muslim trying to convert a Kafir!
And I think you can explain some of this and make it clear that their assumption (that you are being insulting to Muslims or indicting them) would itself be insulting to a Muslim! Their assumption is the insulting, un-multiculturalist faux pas. Get that across and you will have laid the groundwork for a new openness to the facts in their minds.