Let me lay my cards on the table. I am not a religious person. I don't discount all faiths in their entirety, but I wouldn't say I believe in enough of any of the mainstream religions to even lean towards one in particular. I do however respect people's religious beliefs, whilst also myself believing that religion shouldn't be beyond question or criticism. This article isn't about me somehow glorifying Islam or putting its teachings beyond question. It is about leveling the playing field so we don't discriminate against the faith significantly more than we do with others. There is a growing consensus that the more liberal-thinking people are wrongly pandering to some sort of Islamic lobby, and in that sense we are aiding a kind of Fox News, Daily Mail Special Addition of The Armageddon. I have been called a 'traitor' (and much worse) many times for simply challenging ignorant and bigoted views about Muslims. This article is simply about how when people use the term 'Muslim' in such a broad way, it is not only extremely discriminatory, but also quite simply, stupid.
1. Female Genital Mutilation is a Muslim problem
Before we delve into this first point, as I mentioned before, no religion is beyond question, and I'm quite comfortable in making the assertion that all religions are male-dominated. They all still have a very long way to come, both in their views of women in society in general, and also the role of women within the faiths themselves. But it is beyond question that when it comes to discrimination against women, Islam is seen as being way out on its own in not only its views and attitudes towards women, but its treatment of them too.
The number one worst lie in this respect (and believe me there is a long list) is the portrayal of Female Genital Mutilation (or FGM) being a 'Muslim problem.' Now for those who don't know, this barbaric practice involves babies having an incision (also described as circumcision) without any anesthetic, which essentially removes the clitoris. The deluded reasoning behind this practice is that by removing the clitoris the child will remain pure. Now before we go into facts and figures, there is absolutely nothing in the Quran about FGM. This alone should be enough to prevent people being able to call it a Muslim problem – how can it be when there is nothing in its teachings about it? But let's go further, nowhere in Muslim majority states does this practice occur, apart from in isolated parts of Central Africa. It doesn't happen anywhere in the Middle East, it doesn't happen anywhere in North Africa, and it doesn't happen anywhere in Asia. Furthermore, staying within the same region of Africa, did you know that Ethiopia has a 75% rate of FGM amongst its population, and that it's a Christian majority country? Did you also know that Eritrea has almost 90% of FGM, and again, it is a Christian country? FGM can therefore more accurately described as a regional problem. Consequently, if it only occurs in nations within the same cluster of central Africa, it can quite justifiably be labelled a central African problem. Along with the Quran there is nothing in The Bible about the practice, so the two religions cannot legitimately be brought into the argument. It is a good example of people doing something in-spite of their religion, not because of it. But regardless, I hear of the issue being a 'Muslim problem' almost every time there is a debate on it. This is a prime example of the media portraying something to push an agenda, which sadly a large portion of the general public lap-up without question.
2. Muslim Societies Don't Advocate Equal Rights
Again, equal rights for women is lacking in pretty much every part of the world. But as with the previous point, Muslim women seem to be used as the example of an unequal society. The driving ban for women in Saudi Arabia is the main course in the long set-menu of accusations seemingly attributed only to Muslim majority countries. People are very quick to forget that Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to have such a ban. In fact there is no doubt that the most extreme country when it comes to equality is Saudi Arabia, which is all the more bizarre when you consider that Saudi Arabia is the US and UK's closest ally in the region. When people talk about how double standards by The West harm its relationship within the Middle East as a whole, it's not a myth, the reputation is well-earned by our politicians criticising human rights violations, equality issues, and democracy/dictatorship in the poorer countries within the region, whilst simultaneously having friendly relationships with an oil-rich country in Saudi Arabia who have by far the worst rights for women, zero tolerance for other religions, and not only do they not have any elections, the country is named after the family that rule it and probably always will be. Did you know for example that in the month following The West's offensive against ISIS that Saudi Arabia beheaded 19 people? 19 people in 4 weeks. No-one knows what they did, and they definitely don't seem interested in finding out or telling anyone about it either. Of course ISIS is a problem, but it's the blatant hypocrisy of going to war (and literally flooding the news with nothing else in the process) against a group of people you could fit into an averagely sized football stadium while perpetuating a myth that it's really against some sort of Islamic ideology that all 1.6 billion of the worlds Muslims believe in, in addition to selling the most extreme nation our weapons is what gives our leaders in The West a bad rap, and deservedly so.
Using the driving ban in Saudi Arabia as leverage against all Muslims worldwide would be the equivalent of using Uganda's anti-gay laws – which currently advocate homosexuals being hunted down by the authorities, beaten freely, and sentenced to 12 years in jail, as leverage against Christianity. With Uganda being an 84% Christian country and the majority of the population lobbying to go even further and allow the death penalty to be used as the punishment for homosexuality, not once was the fact that they were a Christian country even brought up. Yet in stark contrast, stoning in Iran and the driving ban in Saudi Arabia are very much thought of as Muslim problems. The anti-gay law in Uganda is a Ugandan problem, stoning in Iran is an Iranian problem, the driving ban in Saudi Arabia is a Saudi Arabian problem. At best these points can be described as regional problems, as with the FGM point above, but how can they be classed as Christian or Muslim problems if the overwhelming majority of people within the faiths don't do it?
Within Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim majority state with a population of 250 million, females have exactly the same rights as males, which I definitely wouldn't say is represented in our media's portrayal of the faith. But we'll get onto how facts like these can be conveniently disregarded later in the article.
A few more facts about women's equality in what people would describe as the Muslim world:
While the USA is still waiting for its first female president – did you know that Muslim majority countries have elected 7 female head of states in the last 50 years? In fact, continuing with politics, it's also worth mentioning that the USA only has 18% of women currently elected to run and serve their country – that's even less than Saudi Arabia, driving ban and all, who at 19.9% only started allowing women to even be elected a year ago. Further still that's even less again than Pakistan, another nation who need to come a long way in regards to gender equality but somehow further beat the US at 20.7%. Like I've said, by no means am I saying that women in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia have a sweet deal, in fact I feel very comfortable in stating that women's rights in those two particular countries leave a hell of a lot to be desired. So the fact that they have more women involved in their governments than the USA is particularly scorning at a time when extreme measures are being taken worldwide to increase female representation in politics.
3. Most Muslims are Arabs
One of the main reasons the issues above are misunderstood by so many people is that large parts of Western society believe that all or most Muslims are of Arabic origin and only live in the Middle East. When people are negatively ranting about Muslims they are usually referring to people in Middle Eastern countries, particularly the troubled spots they hear about on the news virtually all day, every day. States that often have hugely complex issues where frankly outside antagonists from both Western countries, along with China and Russia do not help. But all that aside it's staggering to think that there are actually more Muslims living in Malaysia and Indonesia, countries which are both in Asia, than the whole of the Middle East and North Africa combined. In fact some may find it surprising that to learn that only around 25% of the worlds Muslims actually live in that particular region. About the same (if not slightly more) of the worlds Christians live on the African continent. Regardless of this, when people are talking about Christians I doubt the image they have in their mind is of a native Malawian, Ugandan, or Zimbabwean. The truth is that no other faith is so crudely generalised as the Muslim faith. Whenever atrocities occur in the Middle East, we always hear of how the 'Muslim World' or 'Muslim Community' needs come out and distance themselves or even apologise for the acts. Why would leading clerics or politicians in largely peaceful countries such as Malaysia, Turkey, Bangladesh, or Indonesia have to apologise for something that has happened in a competely different country by people with which they have virtually nothing in common with. The paradoxical equivalent that the Christian leaders in the UK would have needed to come out to apologise for Anders Breivik's terrorist attacks in Norway sounds completely insane, and it is. The fact that the majority of the world's Muslims live in the far east, in more secular countries, is a massive inconvenience for the media. It is so easy to get the general public on side if they project the idea of some sort of global religious war, one where a whole religion is actively setting out to eradicate other faiths and non-believers. I know it's easy because I know so many people who genuinely believe that it is happening. The people I'm talking about aren't exclusively made up of those paranoid delusional social media users who continue to baffle me with each comment on news feeds or Facebook posts. They are people I know in my personal life. But my question to them is: if you know that the idea you have in your head of what a Muslim is cannot possibly be correct, how can you continue to be so bigoted and make such outrageously ignorant statements about them?
4. "Most Muslims are Terrorists"
Some of this has been covered in the previous section but I'd like to explore just the terrorism part alone, together with some facts and figures. Our media is often quite rightly accused of scaremongering, and excessively flooding pages and air-time with exaggerated fear about terrorism. Fear, particularly related to race, religion or immigration satisfies their agenda in diverting the general public's attention away from the very real economic situation we are in – an aspect of society which unsurprisingly large parts of the mainstream media and leaders in the country have a vested interest in. An exaggerated media predictably leads to a large proportion of the general public being so wide of the mark and misinformed in their understanding of some really important issues. We hear regularly from Fox News anchors and Daily Mail journalists that around 10% of Muslims are terrorists. Predictably a lot of the general public estimate the figure to be significantly higher. We hear 20%, 30%, or in some cases the numerical system is seemingly discounted all together and 'most' Muslims are branded as terrorists (presumably the non-figure of 'most' implies that the number has to be greater than 50%) which is simply ludicrous, but there's no doubt that we've all seen or heard it. Now even just using the 10% figure, which I would say is very much on the conservative side of what many people (particularly those I'm aiming this piece at) genuinely think: 10% of 1.6 billion is obviously 160 million. If there was 160 million Islamic Terrorists in the world as a group they would equal more than ten times the amount of active members of the US Army, which in itself is the second biggest armed forces in the world, and the biggest in the Western World by a huge margin. Logically the figure has to be inaccurate, or as mentioned there would most definitely be more than 20 to 30 thousand members of ISIS. Again, I'm not saying ISIS aren't a problem, but the group equate to approximately 0.002% of the world's Muslims, so if you therefore feel comfortable labeling them a Muslim problem then you have been well and truly reeled in, and you most certainly are one of the people to whom I'd be asking the question which concluded my last point. Now I know that ISIS aren't standing alone in the arena of Islamic terrorism, but using a generally excepted definition of the word terrorist i.e. someone who uses violence or terror to advance political gains, there can't possibly be 160 million active Islamic terrorists in the world, especially bearing in mind that there are only 315 million Muslims living in the whole of the Middle East and North Africa. Given that this is the region we are told to be most worried about, and that this would falsely imply that over half of the entire population of Muslims in the region are terrorists (a part of the world comprised of approximately 22 different countries, many of whom are our allies) then no wonder people are worried. You see when the right-wing media outlets in The West report on Muslims, they don't mean those in Indonesia, or Malaysia, or Bangladesh, or Turkey. It's simply much easier to pretend that these countries don't exist, as they are a total contradiction to their constant propaganda that Muslim majority countries can't be moderate or secular. Even further, and I don't apologise for stressing the point again, the fact that these countries also far outnumber the population of Muslim majority countries in the Middle East, it is absolutely scandalous that they are allowed to just disregard such a huge proportion of the faith they almost continually report on.
5. Only The Quran Promotes Extremism
One of the easiest and quickest methods right-wingers use to get Joe-public on their side (a tactic I've seen used very frequently by groups such as the English Defence League, and the British National Party) is quoting passages from The Quran in isolation. We hear of how Islam, through the teachings in The Quran, is condoning the killing of non-believers as well as encouraging the stoning of women for adultery, amongst other things. This next bit is easy, here are some of the values promoted in The Bible, do please click on the links to be taken to the full passage:
(I should add that this was all found after only searching for about 5 minutes)
The whole label of 'Islamic Extremism' simply cannot be applied to all Muslims if it obviously isn't true. Sure some Muslim majority countries have issues with religious extremism, but that is their problem, not Islam as a whole's problem. When you describe the fictional idea of 'The Muslim World' what you are essentially doing is grouping together 1.6 billion people made up of different races and nationalities, who live on different continents, who have different cultures, histories, economies, wealth, living standards, practices, who enjoy different art and music, and you are lumping them all together as if they are all the same. You are suggesting that Turkey is the same as Saudi Arabia, that Malaysia is the same as Iran. It just simply isn't true. In contrast you would struggle to even get a general Christian consensus between those within the faith in the United States and United Kingdom, let alone than with others in Russia (where recent polling suggests Christianity is at 65%), Uganda, Zimbabwe, Mexico, or any other of the Christian majority nations. If it is virtually impossible to define what a globally accepted form of Christianity would look like, why are we so quick to presume that we can do it with Islam?
As I said at the start, I'm not for or against any religion. But what I am against is singling-out one particular religion as being significantly worse than the others, when in reality that just simply isn't true. Couple this with the fact that the reasons for perpetuating such a myth are so blatantly corrupt. It essentially pushes an agenda that is undoubtedly going against many of the people's values who have been reeled in. That, my friends is the real problem. There will always be a far-right, and there will always be racism. But when it's sane, reasonable people who are being warped into believing that a whole race or religion can be classed as a problem that needs a solution, well, we all know where that belief takes you don't we…