At its extreme, this tendency to take a kid-gloves attitude toward culture is what results in charges of Islamophobia or (worse) racism any time someone criticizes the latest depravity perpetrated by Muslim extremists. Yes, it is their right to adhere to their religion. No, that does not make it right for them to behead non-Muslims, hang gays, subjugate women, and sell children into slavery. And the fact that most of their leaders have refused to take a stand against this horrifying inhumanity makes them, and the ideology they use to justify it, complicit in it.He responded, in part, as follows:
ISIS is engaged in civil wars, and 99% of their victims are also Muslim. Surely, Muslims on the whole are not in favor of slaughtering other Muslims... (P)ointing at Islamic ideology as the culprit, rather than a complex set of political forces, just seems way too "Fox-Newsish" for a sophisticated blog like yours. If Islam was inherently incompatible with pluralistic democratic values, then countries like Turkey couldn't exist. The Islamic masses in Egypt rose up in a mass exercise of democratic revolution in 2012... only to be slapped down by a US-backed secular dictatorship. There's just so much going on, with so many different factors... I look at the 6 million Muslims living in the US and peacefully contributing... to blame it all on "their ideology," to say their beliefs are to blame for, among other things, the US-backed Saudi regime.... it just seems unfair.Which certainly made me give some serious thought to what I'd written, and even more so, to what I think about ideology vis-à-vis responsibility for immoral actions.
Of course, in (at the very least) one sense, he is right; by attributing to "Islamic ideology" the atrocities of ISIS, and the lack of human rights in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and many other Muslim countries, I avoided one fallacy by leaping headlong into another. To wit: the single-cause fallacy, which is considering complex events to have a simple cause. (Commonly-cited examples are "The American Civil War was caused by slavery" and "World War I was caused by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.")
There's a lot more to the chaos in the Middle East than Islamic ideology; there's tribal factionalism, the history of exploitation and colonialism by western Europe and the United States, and the have/have not distribution of oil wealth, to name three. It is facile to say, simply, "Those evil Muslims!" and be done with it.
The Islamic recitation of faith [image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]
And it's not Islam alone, of course. Christianity has much to answer for, as well, and I'm not just talking about events in the distant past such as the Inquisition and the Crusades. The current upsurge of anti-gay legislation in several countries in Africa, some of which calls for the death penalty, is largely the result of American fundamentalists encouraging and financing such measures. Do the stay-at-home members of the Christian churches from which these "missionaries" come bear some of the blame, if for no other reason because of their silence?
Does Christian ideology as a whole?
Now, I know that because of the huge variety of beliefs within Christianity (and Islam as well), to talk about a "Christian ideology" is a little ridiculous. You have to wonder whether, for example, a Pentecostal and a Unitarian Universalist would agree on anything beyond "God exists." But as my friend also pointed out, there are passages in the Christian Bible that are as horrific as anything the Qu'ran has to offer; stoning to death for minor offenses, men being struck dead right and left for damn near every reason you can think of, not to mention a prophet who called in bears to tear apart 42 children who had teased him about being bald and a man who offered his daughters to be raped by a mob rather than inconvenience a couple of angels (who, presumably, could have taken care of themselves). It's why I find it wryly amusing when I hear people say that they believe that every biblical passage is word-for-word true, and that they live their lives according to a literal interpretation of the biblical commands. If they did so, they'd be in jail.
But to return to my original question; does an ideology, or its law-abiding followers, bear some of the blame for what the true believers do? At the very least, for not speaking out more fervently against the deeds done in the name of their religion?
It's not a question that admits of easy answers. I'm torn between feeling certain that the most basic truth is that you are only responsible for what you yourself do, and having the nagging thought that remaining silent in the face of depravity is itself an immoral act. After all, one of the criticisms leveled against Americans by many Muslims in the Middle East is that we stand by silently and allow our leaders to continue pursuing exploitative and unjust actions. How is their holding America, and all Americans, responsible for what some Americans have done in the Middle East any different from our holding Islam, and all Muslims, responsible for the actions of ISIS and the shari'a judges in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere?
I don't know. But the moral ambiguity inherent in these sorts of situations should push us all to consider not only our acts, but our refusal to act, as carefully as we know how. And we should all be less hesitant to repudiate the individuals who would use our religions, ethnicities, and nationalities to perpetrate evil in the world.