As a proud Canadian and a three-day-a-year Muslim, I was gobsmacked by an Op-Ed in the National Post, one of our two Canadian national newspapers. Jonathan Kay, managing editor of the paper, highlights Dutch Politician Geert Wilders and his controversial views on Islam.
Out of haste (I’m on deadline) I’m lifting from The Atlantic Wire’s summary:
Wilders insists that he doesn't hate Muslims but considers them "victims of bad ideas," describing Islam not as a religion, "but rather a retrograde political ideology with religious trappings." Kay understands why Wilders's opinions have branded him "a hatemonger" in the eyes of many Europeans. Still, "His insistence on the proper distinction between faith and ideology deserve to be taken seriously," he argues. "For it invites the question: If we permit the excoriation of totalitarian cults created by modern dictators, why do we stigmatize (and even criminalize) the excoriation of arguably similar notions when they happen to be attributed to a 7th-century prophet?"
Being in no position to challenge Wilders on what is and isn’t in the Koran, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. And from the little I’d previously read about Wilders, I wasn’t left aghast by his comments.
But it’s Kay’s closing thought that irks. It singles out without context or perspective. There’s little question that Christopher Hitchens might have issues with Islam but at least when he strikes a match he burns down the whole pantheon:
[…] I will not be told I can't eat pork, and I will not respect those who burn books on a regular basis. I, too, have strong convictions and beliefs and value the Enlightenment above any priesthood or any sacred fetish-object. It is revolting to me to breathe the same air as wafts from the exhalations of the madrasahs, or the reeking fumes of the suicide-murderers, or the sermons of Billy Graham and Joseph Ratzinger.
Granted, it would be irresponsible not to discuss the role of Islam in a study of today’s geopolitical landscape and there’s room for only so many words in an Op-Ed piece, but to confound religion and ideology is mistaken—even in the case of Islam, whose current convulsions through it’s own Enlightenment are creating a branding challenge, to put it lightly.
Challenging and questioning the diktats of prophets, 7th-century or otherwise, can never be a bad thing. But if Islam is to be judged ideology rather than religion on the basis of its most literal interpretation then there can be no halfway. The yardstick must stretch across the religious (er, ideological?) spectrum before it can find any moral force.
In crises of faith I often turn to a trusted friend to help light the way—television.
I leave you with The West Wing, season two, episode three: