What is “Islamophobia”?

January 25, 2015 • 9:00 am

For a while I’ve been saying that “Islamophobia” refers to the dislike or fear of the tenets of Islam, not the fear, dislike, or hatred of Muslims themselves.  But with all the violence going on, I’ve been thinking about that. And I have a question to pose to readers.  It’s this: “What if some Muslims you know embrace some of the odious beliefs of Islam”? Can you separate how you feel about them as people from their beliefs?

I don’t think so.  After all, would you be friends with someone who seemed really nice, but then found out that they adhered to white-supremacist beliefs? I doubt it.  Would you be friends with a Catholic who seemed nice, but then found out that they felt strongly that gay behavior was a grave sin, that those who practiced it would wind up in hell, and campaigned actively against gay rights? I doubt that, too. Would you be friends with a Muslim who seemed really nice, but then found out that they favored stoning adulterers, obeying sharia law, and killing people who left Islam? I couldn’t. When I think of the friends I have who are religious, none of them have odious religious views—all of them are of the liberal “ground-of-being” stripe.

Now of course I’m not characterizing all Muslims or religionists here—many don’t hold those views.  But for those who do—and surveys show that there are many among Muslims—can you really say you dislike the “sin” but love the “sinner”? I’m not made of such stern stuff. I simply cannot bring myself to befriend—or respect—people who hold such beliefs. I wouldn’t denigrate such people personally, or treat them as if they were a homogeneous group (which is what those people do who try to stem Muslim immigration into Europe), or deny them any rights or liberties, but I certainly wouldn’t hold them up as role models, either. I won’t say that I hate or fear all Muslims, but I can’t bring myself to admire, like, or respect the many of them who hold beliefs I consider retrograde or dangerous.

So my question is this: to what extent can you separate the believer and the beliefs?

143 thoughts on “What is “Islamophobia”?

  1. I can’t separate the believer and the beliefs but I can separate the specific believer from their demographic, specifically I’m not willing to make judgement about a group of people based on the behaviour of an individual member.

    1. What number is your critical mass?

      No, you can’t make a judgment about a group based on one member.

      But, a question I always ask (and never get answered) Christians when they accuse me of “anti-Christian bias” is, “How many bad experiences am I required to have before my observations are valid?” L

      1. That is a good one. I also find my perception of an entire group is poisoned by its tolerance of members whom I judge to be hateful or obnoxious – contra The Jackson 5, one bad apple does spoil the whole bunch, girl. And that is often my answer to your “how many?” question: one.

        It’s a natural reaction we may all, have more and less intensely than mine. It’s also a logical fallacy, I’m sure, but, to your point, how much effort am I expected to put into seeing the “good side” of an organization that puts millions of dollars into anti-same-sex-marriage propaganda (LDS), or covers up child abuse by its clergy (RCC), or has hateful, sexist, racist, science-denying, job-killing, mendacious know-nothings (in varying combinations per person) among its elected officials (GOP)?

        Having said that, sure! I’ve got family and friends who are Mormons, Catholics and Republicans – and a few evangelicals and Muslims, too. I can keep my feelings for them separate from my contempt for their organizations is: we don’t talk about it, and if they knew the fullness of my contempt they wouldn’t like me, either.

        So I concur with Jerry re “if you knew…” and I don’t want to know! What this makes for then is superficial relationships, less closeness and, yes, a judgment on my part that certain friends and relatives are bigots-by-association. If no one made these accommodations, there’d be even more people breaking relationships with their grandparents and drunk uncles than there already are. Which would be too bad.

      2. I can make statistical inferences about a group of people and come to the conclusion that some person from group X is more likely to perform some action than some person from some other group.

        What I can’t do is then say that a specific person Y from group X is more likely to perform this action.

        But I can infer that there is a correlation between being a member of group X and performing some action. With sufficient evidence I could even begin to make a case for a causal connection.

        1. What I can’t do is then say that a specific person Y from group X is more likely to perform this action.

          But surely you can? If you’ve concluded that 50% of people in group X perform some action (i.e. that a random member has a 50% chance of doing so), compared to 5% of non-members, then you should be able to infer that a specific person Y from the group has a significantly increased likelihood of performing the action, unless and until you acquire specific information about that person that overrides the inference from group statistics.

  2. This is a fairly simple question question to answer for the very simple reason that Wahhabism ( which seems to be the driving force behind the current outbreak of Islamic fanaticism ) goes flatly against the tenets of the liberal West that I live in. I would not hold any truck with people who have beliefs that I consider cause such blind obedience to a dogmatic and oppressive set of beliefs that completely dominate their, and their family’s, lives. I just couldn’t.

    1. Re Wahhabism and the West: someone may have mentioned it here already, and I don’t have time this moment to reconfirm, but I think I heard correctly yesterday morning an NPR “Morning Edition” presenter say in passing to the effect that Obama would be stopping in Saudi Arabia to express his condolences re: the Saudi king’s death.

      I gather that Saudi Arabia would not otherwise have been on his itinerary, or that he would have made a special trip for that purpose.

      Obama must be holding his nose, as he surely has condolences he would like to express to the families of Saudi citizens unjustly mistreated, tortured and executed.

      1. Now it is the morning of the next day, and NPR informs me to the effect that Obama has lectured the Indians on the need for greater religious toleration.

        During this season of Saudi royal family bereavement, I gather that it is unreasonable to expect Obama, when he touches down on Saudi soil, to give a similar speech admonishing Saudis.

  3. The beliefs THEMSELVES join the believer and the belief in an inseparable way. Some ideologies do this better than others. For example, Christianity and Islam are totalitarian – if you stop believing some propositions, you deserve death, will burn in Hell forever, etc.

    Progress and civilization has meant overcoming this, and separating the belief from the believer – and criticizing (or appreciating) beliefs for their truth claims or impact. The west (not Christianity) has been able to do this better, hence the Reformation and civilization of Christianity by reason. Islam has not yet.

    So the fault of blurring the distinction lies with the nature of the beliefs themselves. A Muslim’s identity is often intimately tied to ‘I am a Muslim’ = ‘Islam contains deep, profound, absolute truths about the Universe and me’. After all, huge majorities (or significant minorities in some counties) still agree with death for apostasy – this is not the fault of anything external to Islam.

    1. I read somewhere there is talk in the Islamic world about having a kind of Islamic Reformation. I hope that means that there is interest in some quarters to address the various odious convictions in Islam, and to maybe ‘officially’ call to drop them.
      That would indeed be ‘interesting times’. But I will believe it when I see it.

      1. It’s true, and I’m hopeful recent events will give their efforts more support within Islam. Check out Britain’s Quilliam Group for an excellent example. The Canadian Muslim Congress also has strong secular values.

  4. Beliefs are ideas, as such we should challenge them if we find them lacking or worse in any sense. Muslims, Catholics or any other religionist, are people, as such, they diserve a minimum of integrity and respect (they are entitled to rights). I see Islamophobia as a term that is used to describe bigoted people against muslims in general (just for being muslim). Now, I agree I could never befriend anyone with such barbaric beliefs as considering rightous to stone adulterers, but I will fight their middle age ideas, and consider criminal anyone who participates in such an action (and a potential criminal anyone who is willing to participate in such a barbarism). Islam is a pernicious ideology without a doubt, but muslims are people, and some of them are willing to reject some of the worst ideas in their cannon, this is a start and I will take it and support them if this was possible.

  5. “…but I can’t bring myself to admire, like, or respect the many of them who hold beliefs I consider retrograde or dangerous.”
    I feel the same. I agree with your entire post.
    Having lived under one of these fanatical regimes, and escaping at an early age, I have no respect for them. Tolerance is also an issue for me. I guess you have to live through it to understand this.

    1. I guess at some point their actions (attempts to encroach on your personal life and freedom) consume the rational people they may have been. They become their [false] ideology.

      1. My thinking is that not only is the above statement by lessbutnotlast a truth but also thus: It, by ALL humans, has been known to BE true for decades, for centuries and, dare it be likely? for millennia: a person IS … … what they think.

        cuz: NO amount of anything / of any behavior said or done out of humans’ mouths, out of her or his hands or out of other persons’ anatomies occurs at all — except that — .first. it was of a person’s thinking to say or to do.

        Of what I am uncertain is how the matter of one’s free, or not, will figures in to this; help here, Dr Coyne ? Of what is my observation re all human societies’ behaviors / cultures / “excuses” therefor over some decades’ worth of breathing now: one IS what one thinks.

        And because of THAT then, the only reason behind which I come out of happy hermitry to associate at all with any others .whose thinkings can be with dastardly consequences. is because I have to … … to earn a living.

        Else ? Else I personally am not.not.not ever inclusive within any aspects of those persons’ other spheres.

        A wee bit o’a caveat: folks can, and do sometimes, change their thinkings. ( Likely, for loveliness in All’s lives, not often … … enough, it seems to me. )


  6. I do not feel that you can separate the belief from the believer. The people who claim to hate the sin but love the sinner are just saying that because they need to be liked. They know their odious judgements are poor.

      1. Pretty easily, just take a look at what counts for a sin in religion. Something like gluttony.
        It’s not really hard to dislike the sin and still feel for someone who can’t resist a plate of nachos. Not hard at all.

        1. Ok, then wouldn’t that mean that we can separate a believer and belief just as well? After all, a glutton can go on a diet and a Catholic can also become an atheist.

        2. But what if their ‘sin’ was racism?

          Fine, feel sorry for someone who stuffs their faces with cake and burgers – but do you feel sorry for someone who complains their country is run by Jews and n*****s?

          Gluttony is basically harming yourself; bigotry harms others.

          ‘Tolerance’ doesn’t apply because tolerance of intolerance is intolerance-by-proxy.

          1. If I knew someone was bigoted in the sense of hating people for the color of their skin or their ethnicity or other “accidents” of birth over which no one has any control, and/or was willfully ignorant, as in rejecting modern science in favor of religious idiocy, I could not consider such a person a friend. If such a person was a relative of mine, I’d likely wind up distancing myself from that person, as in rarely if ever going out of my to associate with them. Then, there’s the matter of co-workers, including bosses, or even subordinates. Once, circa 1988 in Santa Clara, CA, when I was an assistant manager of a Bob’s Big Boy restaurant, I found out one of our personnel was a racist skinhead — I’d certainly heard of them but I didn’t realize they had a particuler “uniform”, aside from the shaved head. But, yeah, he did wear the uniform with Doc Marten boots, gray bomber pants, and white t-shirt with red suspenders. However, he kept his racism to himself until long after closing, and the other staff had left and he was mopping the floors as I finished my closing duties, and he’d start spouting off his beliefs, including that the Holocaust was a myth, oh, but the Jews deserved to be slaughtered anyhow. I uselessly tried to reason with him, and he wasn’t someone I ever socialized with, but as long as he did his job and no one complained about him causing any problems, such as by using derogatory language, etc., I didn’t have a problem working with him and I couldn’t fire him simply because he held opinions I strongly disagreed with and found odious. At the same time, my roommate was an African American who believed in the literal truth of the bible and that the world was only about 6,000 years old and people and dinosaurs lived together. Somehow for years the topics of religion and evolution never came up but when it finally did and I told him as far as I was concerned the bible was mostly fiction and god did not exist (we were eating at a restaurant at the time) he jumped back as if he expected our table to be hit by a bolt of lightning! Ultimately, we amiably agreed to disagree on religion and remained on friendly terms, although we lost touch after I left California in 1990.

      2. As far as I am concerned, there is no such thing as sin. It’s a word groups use to label the things that they disagree with.

  7. To the outside world, we are our actions, including what may be learned about our beliefs through interview or unsolicited statement. It is, therefore, impossible to separate the flesh from the action, to love the body without regard for what it does or professes. The only choice is to ignore that which is repugnant, for example, in matters of civil liberties, application of the law, etc. The famous statement of Martin Luther King, Jr., applies here: judging (and befriending?) not by the color of skin, but by the content of character. Perhaps hate, dislike, tolerate, befriend, endorse, and love form a line on which we locate our relationships.

  8. I’m with Jerry on this. I see no way to separate the two.

    On a related point, I’m single at the moment, and I tell people that any woman I date can not be a religious person. People say, “Oh Barry, why do you have to close yourself off just because she holds a belief that you don’t?” The answer is simple: ALL religions are nutty (though some are nuttier than others) and so there is no way I could go out with a woman who I think is… well, nuts.

    1. Not even a nice Unitarian gal? Or a good looking lady who attends synagogue for the comforting ritual and camaraderie but is not a believer as such?

      1. Doubtful. It would evntually incite me to think, “What is wrong with you that ANY kind of god-believing blather enters your thinking?” I guess I’m just an unremitting bastard on this score.

          1. I had to read it three times to find the typo – because it was in the middle of a word I kept reading what I expected to see. You could’ve got away with it.

            I can go out with men who believe as long as they’re secular and it doesn’t effect their judgment or behaviour and they don’t attend church except for weddings, funerals etc. Most of them are really atheist, they just haven’t got around to working it out. If he was a scientist and believed I might feel differently, because by my age, he should have worked it out.

    2. ” why do you have to close yourself off just because she holds a belief that you don’t”

      I flip it around and ask if they’d date someone who believed in Santa Claus.

    3. I think you’re wise to sty away from dating a woman who proudly identifies as “religious” or “spiritual.”

      There are a lot of believers who only believe in belief, live secular lives, and who either turn atheist or remain casually laissez-faire about religion. That can be your topic; she’s more into politics (or whatever.) It does work out, and regularly.

      But frankly I’ve heard about too many cases where after marriage (or after children) the calm, accepting religious spouse suddenly discovers that spirituality is the touchstone to a meaningful life after all. Or the non-religious spouse discovers that what originally looked like a lack of concern for their nonbelief turns out to be a firm and hopeful conviction that if the atheist only experienced love — real love, sweet and pure and inspired by the divine — then their cold and narrow heart will break down and they’ll open up to God.

      The “live your faith by quiet example, not by preaching” edict can turn into a time-bomb.

      Obviously, romance always turns into a case-by-case situation. Everyone is going to be “nuts” in some area or other, accept it. But “religion” is a very common cut-off criteria for a reason. Depending on what we’re talking about it can be up there with “wanting children.” If you set it, then that’s fine.

  9. People’s behavior will tell you what they really believe.

    several years ago, I patronized a middle-eastern restaurant owned by an Islamic man. He self-identified as “Palestinian”. I was somewhat uneasy about doing business there, mainly because I could not ever be sure that some amount of the money I was spending there was going to support terrorism. But the food was good, and he and his wife were always very nice to me.

    One day I went in to pick up a take-out lunch, and he was SCREAMING at his wife. It was awful; I left and never went back.

    An additional problem, for me, with Islam, is the doctrine of taqiyya. You can’t ever be sure of anything they tell you. How can one judge whether anything they say or do is sincere, or an act? L

    1. I actually feel upset among men of orthodox religions mostly because I know they are looking at me, as a woman, as beneath them. I have received many dirty looks from more orthodox Muslim men and it is very uncomfortable.

      1. I agree with Diana. It is a conundrum. We are supposed to embrace multiculturalism like it is in all ways a wonderful thing (and in many ways it is), but it bugs me that it is completely overlooked (e.g. in ‘Islamapandering’ nations like Britain) that this often brings increasing levels of discomfort and fear for women – something our maternal ancestors and ourselves have battled so hard to improve.

      1. I don’t know about Palestinian but it could be deemed misogynistic.

        Could it be that if a member of a religion known for it’s tribal view of ethics and morality manifests one of the more sociopathic symptoms of said religion that one might conclude that this person may embrace other nasty tenets of the religion ?

        Or are you of the opinion that Palestinians are not mature and adult enough to be held to the same standards as other members of a secular society ?

        1. You don’t have to form any beliefs about somebody’s religion or motives if they behave in a way that makes you uncomfortable. In a big city it’s easy to just not go back.

  10. It’s a grave challenge to tolerate followers of a backward, medieval ideology that rejects science, reason and the Enlightenment. The most extreme are dangerous to the public good, but even the so-called moderate members tend to follow in lockstep what they are commanded to believe, to ignore evidence, to shut out discourse. That some are among my friends and relatives doubles the difficulty. I mean, Republicans are everywhere.

    What. Did I misunderstand the question?

    1. I think you understand it thoroughly. Republicans don’t have a different point of view that one can respect, they have a different way of knowing that is faith-like. Science to them is a point of view, one that tends to be held by people they already disagree with on issues.

    2. This may make no sense, but whenever I hear the phrase “moderate Muslim” I’m reminded of the lone ranger joke. The one where Tonto, and The Lone Ranger are trapped in a box canyon being attacked by Indians, and the Lone Ranger says “looks like this is the end for us Tonto”, and Tonto replies “what do you mean us pale face”.
      How many moderate Muslims would be us if it came down to defending “western values”, against Islam?

      1. “How many moderate Muslims would be us if it came down to defending “western values”, against Islam?”

        From all accounts, a lot of Iraqis and Iranians, for starters. They used to have a secular society and have been betrayed by political events just as the Germans, Russians and Spanish were in the 30’s.

        1. From all accounts, a lot of Iraqis and Iranians, for starters.

          I think that’s more an example of Muslims fighting against more extreme versions of Islam rather than what I meant.

      2. Hope this doesn’t imbed… Oscar Brown Jr song from 1974 as played on R&B stations (at least in Seattle it was not played on most top 40 stations).

  11. I think you’re missing an interesting way of understanding the “hate the sins, love the sinners” idea. Namely, you can think that the ideas (sins) are bad for the sake of the religionists (sinners) themselves. That is to say, you might have an attitude of love toward a person — on the basis of which you want the best possible for that person — and out of that very love, you think the person should change his or her beliefs.

    Compare with the case of a friend or relative who has a serious, life-destroying addiction to methamphetamine. I might not want to associate with that person. I might conclude that I *cannot* associate with that person because she is dangerous to me and/or to my family. But at the same time, I love her and out of that love, I want nothing but good things for her. In fact, it is because I love her that I want her addiction to end. Being free of the addiction would be good *for her own sake*, not just for *my* sake. If I didn’t love her, I wouldn’t care about freeing her from her addiction unless it was the cheapest possible way to get rid of *my* problem. If I didn’t love her, I wouldn’t make any effort to see that she is rehabilitated but would be happy if she simply went away or died.

    Long story short: I don’t think the issue here is about associating with or being close friends with or liking or admiring Islamists. I think the issue is first about whether you want Islamists to — on the one hand — die or seriously suffer for their beliefs OR — on the other hand — change their beliefs for their own sakes. And second about what actions you take when Islamists do not change their beliefs. Do you persecute (bad) or simply debate (good). So, from my perspective, the bar here is pretty low, and you seem (from what little I’ve seen) to be made of quite stern enough stuff to love the person while utterly rejecting the beliefs.

    (All that leaves room, I hope, for serious police and military responses to criminal and aggressive military action, which I take to be a different topic altogether.)

    1. I find your comment to be quite convoluted. There isn’t only a choice between persecute or debate. There are many more options than that.

      I want much more than Islamists to die or change their beliefs for their own sakes. Also, having them suffer for their beliefs is not the only option.

        1. My point was “change their beliefs for their own sake.

          The reason to change is respect for others and because it is the right thing to do. Discrimination against others for who they are (e. g.: being female) and not for what they do is wrong.

          1. I agree with NewEnglandBob. The point about wanting people with dangerous and/or medieval views to change is so that OTHER people – innocents — are not harmed. That the person with the dangerous or medieval worldview also might gain some benefit by changing is secondary.

            And secondly a person with a drug addiction is a false equivalence. Drug addictions are not spread in a meme-like way, the way that the current medieval meme is spreading. One is a personal tragedy (that effects some others); the other is a world-wide tragedy that affects the entire world. One is dangerous to other people secondarily — potential killing to get money to buy drugs plus collateral damage to people close to to the addicted; the other is dangerous primarily – actual killing preached as a tenet of faith and a test of “true belief”.

            1. “Drug addictions are not spread in a meme-like way” – actually, how else could they possibly spread? The idea of the drug must be present before anybody can voluntarily try it, and once they have become addicted they are increasingly likely to pass it on (especially where it’s illegal, expensive and time-consuming so that a habit can be supported by dealing more easily than by regular work).

  12. Jerry nails it! That’s what I’ve been saying in all my personal discussions with friends and co-workers. Do we respect and tolerate horrible anti-human, anti-enlightenment beliefs even if the individual is not acting out on them? No. I will not respect a moderate nazi or maoist no matter what. The issue is not just about ‘extremist’ Bad ideas are bad ideas. Oppression is still oppression no matter the degree. Nazism does not become morally acceptable when it is believed or practiced at a certain degree of moderacy. And yes, the ideas of Islam are as corrupt as the ideas behind nazism. Other religions are bad too but at different degrees and they are not committing the violence in this century at this point in time.

    1. As long as no laws are being broken we should tolerate each other. Respect has to be earned though and you might want to steer clear of someone you cannot respect. And there are a few who should be neither tolerated or respected.

      Take religion out of the picture – if you eat meat can you tolerate vegetarians? Can you respect them? Ought you to?

      1. There’s a difference between respecting someone’s beliefs and respecting their right to hold those belifs. Vegetarianism is harmless, and I respect the right of people to believe it’s the only way to live, and I respect individuals who are vegetarians – it just means more meat for me. The actual belief I obviously don’t respect because I eat meat.

        There are other beliefs that can’t be handled the same way, like racism, sexim, homophobia etc as holding those beliefs harms other people. However, if someone holds those beliefs without acting on them by doing violence, trying to change or make legislation etc, we need to respect their right to hold those beliefs. We counter them by the strength of our better arguments. The beliefs themselves deserve no respect, and I can’t respect a person who holds them. People who use violence to express or enforce their belief deserve no respect imo.

      2. That is a dumb analogy. Vegetarians don’t do any harm to anyone, nor is it a belief system. Vegetarianism is a choice to not harm animals and our environment and is evidence based in most cases.

        1. Not so. There are a very few vegetarians that try and impose their beliefs on others, and some that will even ‘release’ farm animals to prevent their slaughter.

          And while I don’t want to derail the thread with omnivore/meat-eater/vegetarian/vegan debate there is no slam-dunk evidence for any of those positions, only ‘beliefs’.

          1. Your analogy would make more sense to me if you said it slightly differently: “If you are a vegetarian can you tolerate people who eat meat? Can you respect them? Ought you to?”

            This is because the meat-eater is doing something with at least the potential to be seen by most people in the future as doing something wrong since there is some evidence that some animals are sentient (any dog or cat owner suspects this already) and so a meat-eater may be doing something wrong – and at least on a sliding scale is closer to doing something wrong than a person who eats only plants; whereas carrots and lettuce are not sentient, and humans have to eat something, so I can’t see anyone in the future in their right mind criticizing plant-eating as wrong.

  13. “I wouldn’t denigrate such people personally, or treat them as if they were a homogeneous group (which is what those people do who try to stem Muslim immigration into Europe), or deny them any rights or liberties”.

    This I think is the key. Not being “phobic” about Muslims doesn’t mean you have to like any one of them as individuals, it just means you have to be able to do what you describe here. And this is why the concept of Islamophobia is bogus, because it pretends that, uniquely in the case of Islam, opposition to the ideology somehow automatically leads one to denigrate Muslims personally, treat them as a homogeneous group, deny them rights and liberties etc. Well, it doesn’t, any more than disliking individual Catholics, gun nuts, or white supremacists (as an extension of disliking their ideology) means one is going to deny them rights or liberties etc.

    1. “I wouldn’t … deny them any rights or liberties” – but what if they insist on their right to practice Sharia/genital mutilation/Jihad?
      Then, I think, we must deny those ‘rights’ (as far as possible within any jurisdiction, which is why a world court would be an excellent thing).

  14. Many years ago, when I first learned of the existence of the German Bund in the US before WWII, I asked my father if they had had any presence in Pittsburgh, and how (since the war hadn’t started yet) they were viewed. He told me that there was this German fellow that they bought their cheese from. When they found that he was a Bund member, they decided his cheese didn’t taste as good as it had in the past.

  15. Excellent question, and it makes me think. I will agree that I cannot separate the sin from the sinner if the sin seems especially reprehensible.
    But sins lie along a continuum, and that is where it gets tricky for me. Suppose I had a friend who I decided was a friend and they were there for me when I was in a jam, etc., but I later learn that they think that gays should not marry? I have personal reasons for strongly disagreeing with that view, but is that enough for me to completely disown them? Suppose they never acted on that belief other than giving their opinion? Suppose this person never really knew gay people (that they knew about), and never had the chance to see things beyond their admittedly blinkered views b/c they work 7 days a week and had never gone to college?
    I freely admit that I would have a hard time owning up to my convictions and ending the friendship.

    1. I agree. And I don’t think it’s just about owning up to your own convictions. It’s also about recognizing their backgrounds. For example, I have an acquaintance bordering on friend who’s more than a tad racist, but their parents and family are are raging racists. Do I not associate with this person because of their racist views, or recognize the progress they have made in moving away from the beliefs they were raised with?

      I know I was strongly against gay rights when I was younger because that was how I’d been raised. It was interaction and conversations with friends that largely brought me around. What if they’d refused to hang out with me because of my odious beliefs?

      So, I’ll tolerate some pretty major character flaws in friends, not least because I know people have done the same for me.

      1. On the racist part, I will be more explicit. I had a housemate while in grad school who openly admitted he was racist b/c that was how he was raised. He came from Georgia, I believe. Anyway, he really liked hanging out with me and my liberal multicultural college buddies, and over time, as he met orientals and blacks and hispanics, he very quickly ‘turned’. He enthusiastically rejected his racism and became completely human. So by continuing to associate with him I feel I made a better person.

    2. Yes, I see where you are coming from. I have female friends who think women should do all the cleaning and have a career. I think this is stupid and they probably see me as a failed woman but I can live with that.

      1. My father thought my sister was lazy because her husband did (and still does) half the housework. When I pointed out they both worked full time and she earned more, he didn’t see the relevance. (The money part isn’t relevant, but I knew if I didn’t say it he’d assume he earned more and use that to support his contention.)

  16. “Would you be friends with a Catholic who seemed nice, but then found out that they felt strongly that gay behavior was a grave sin, that those who practiced it would wind up in hell, and campaigned actively against gay rights?”

    Unfortunately I think this would mean rejection by many atheists of their close family (not necessarily Catholic of course).

    1. Most of my family are Catholic and I love them dearly so rejecting them for their odious beliefs is not on. In any case I don’t believe in free will so I see belief systems as accidents and not something that I can usually do anything about.

      1. If you read Jerry’s posts on free-will, you will see that at least in his interpretation of not having free will, your “can’t do anything about” stance BECAUSE of people not having free-will, is bogus as a REASON to not do anything — not that you may still do nothing anyways.

        This is because by saying something to them, their ears and then their brain changes – of this there is absolutely no doubt – by definition of how ears and brains work. This may then cause them to change their actions/views even if “THEY” are not free to do so.

        I hope I have correctly conveyed the main idea of Jerry’s take on free-will/no free-will.

        1. I have read them Steve and I agree. My post was too flippant. I am thinking more along the lines of return on investment. I can and have put effort into changing minds but usually and especially as my siblings age the reward is negative.

  17. I’d say “Islamophobia” was irrational hatred of Islam eg discriminating against people (or ideas) *purely* on religious grounds: “No Muslims in here” or whatever.

    Simply expressing dislike of Islam’s more unpleasant features or of those who enthusiastically endorse those features is not Islamophobic.

    1. Dr Ward @20: “I’d say ‘Islamophobia’ was irrational hatred of Islam eg discriminating against people (or ideas) *purely* on religious grounds: ‘No Muslims in here’….
      I agree with this definition as it’s in line with other definitions of “phobia” being irrational fear. However, with the religion increasingly being used as a rallying cry and excuse for causing such pain and mayhem, with a fatwa against all others (even others of a different kind of Islam) and jihad being a commandment, it’s difficult to separate the people from the belief from the religion. So we are all becoming Islamophobic as a *rational* response to a new reality.

  18. I cannot tolerate those who show even a tiny bit of support for the violence perpetrated by Islamic extremists, but I have no issues with those of the much larger percentage of muslims who rightly see Islamic terrorism to be as dangerous to them as it is to the “West”. We can have discussions about the hijab, we can argue about how much an immigrant should alter their cultural concepts to fit into their new society, but there is now room for excuses when it comes to violence, towards non-muslims, towards women or children, or towards muslims of different sects. The BBC did have a decent article recently pointing out that most of the violence perpetrated by muslims is also ON other muslims. We should be able take note of this, and openly discuss this without being accused of racism or “Islamophobia”. Of course this doesn’t excuse the violence or threats of violence perpetrated by other religions or political groups. I was a regular visitor to the Jewish Community Center in Kansas, twice a week usually, and I won’t excuse the anti-semitic, anti-government, racist stupidity of a far-right white western male either, but when I condemn someone like him, nobody labels me intolerant or racist or whatever. We should be allowed to despise all such odious people who blight our supposedly enlightened society, regardless of their religion, the colour of their skin or their country of origin.

  19. An absolutely fascinating question, and I can answer on the basis of my personal history and visceral reactions, but I am not sure I can rationally justify my answers.

    I can never be friends with a white supremacist, period! The entire ideology is venomous poison from beginning to end. I have quite a few conservative Catholic friends, who seem to share a few values of mine on some points.

    This may be due to the fact that until my early 20s I was somewhat homophobic myself (I am about to turn 60) & a bit more culturally conservative, but have since the age of 4 been taught and have always believed strongly in never oppressing anyone due to race.

    So is it just then a matter of what has been in my own past??

    On the other hand, some religions seem to me to have a Jekyll and Hyde personality (Catholicism especially) while others just seem to me to be all Hyde, no Jekyll left at all (like Scientology).

  20. I have religious friends but none hold odious views as far as I know. One Muslim friend does out annoying things on FB like “save Palestine” and I tend to ignore those things. I am sure he doesn’t have nasty opinions about Jews and f he did, I think I’d stop being friends with him.

    I find white people with racist views think they are safe to express those views around me. I usually argue against them. I don’t befriend those people but I’ve had to work with them in the past.

    I think only the more liberal religious people would want to befriend me. All the others find me offensive or subhuman in the worst cases.

    1. Maybe he just has bad opinions about those that bombed children in gaza (who would hold them in high regard)? Or are you stating that all Jews are the same?
      It will blow your mind to realize that some Jews in Israel are actually active in trying to save Palestine.
      Annoyance is a terrible price to pay for sure.

      1. It all depends on the meaning of “Save Palestine”. To some people it means peaceful coexistence, and to others it means killing and/or deporting all the Jews from the Middle East.

      2. Thanks for the giant heap of assumptions you made about me in that statement without context.

        My friend supports Muslims no matter what. He believes Palestinians are oppressed by Israel. That is factually untrue. I arrived at this conclusion because I learned the facts, not because I have a personal attachment to Israel or Palestine. My friend is not willing to listen to facts – it’s Muslims he supports always at least up to a point – terrorism he doesn’t agree with but I’m sure he’d argue, like Greenwald, who he likes, that those are not true Muslims. I do not agree with this opinion.

        Still, my friend is a nice person. He would harm no one. He was also generous and kind to me when we met in high school. He has a lovely wife who he loves and he doesn’t buy into ideas of oppression of women.

        1. Which just shows things (and people) are – complicated.

          By the way, I’m ambivalent about the ‘not true Muslims’ argument. If moderate Muslims want to argue that those who resort to violence are ‘not true Muslims’ it implies that the moderates themselves do NOT support the violent factions and would not regard it as acceptable to indulge in violence themselves. That surely is a good thing. We surely don’t want the moderates to regard violence as an acceptable part of their personal religion.

          1. I’d rather hear it phrased that they do not accept those violent interpretations of their faith. That, to me, is more long lasting and honest.

            1. I think the word “interpretation” is a bit of a problem here. What would be the best interpretation of 4:34 in the Koran? That’s the one about the superiority of men over women, and how a man can beat his wife if she is disobedient. The best interpretation I can find on the internet is that you only beat her with a toothbrush (a small stick).

              Maybe you mean “don’t follow the violent suras/hadiths of their faith” This is more difficult for moderate Muslims to say, because by saying it, they must acknowlege they don’t follow all of the Koran – which is a big no-no for them, especially since the Koran is a “perfect” book.

  21. Growing up in the south in the 60s and 70s, when almost everyone around me claimed to believe in strict fundamentalist christian tenets, I learned to distinguish people whose actions matched their professed beliefs from those whose actions belied those beliefs. I think those in the latter camp were afraid to admit to themselves that they rejected the prevailing religious/moral ethos, even though the better angels of their nature caused them to behave in real life in a manner starkly different from what they professed to believe. I think there must be many, many muslims who are in the same situation as the cowed southerners with whom I grew up–people who, in their real lives, peacefully tolerate “apostasy” and would never for a moment favor the application of barbaric Sharia-law principles to real people. So my answer to your question is, yes, I can make a distinction between the believer and the beliefs when the “believer” fails to live up to–or down to, as it were–those beliefs.

  22. To put it in the starkest of terms, you could ask yourself “Am I willing to say that I hate Islam?” My answer is yes. Then ask, “Am I willing to say I hate Muslims.” My answer is no.

    So the question then becomes, why do I say no? For me, it’s simply because it doesn’t make sense to hate people for their beliefs, especially a large and varied group like “Muslims.” Muslims adhere to Islam, but as we know, Islam seems to come in many forms, so to say we hate Muslims in general pretty much has no meaning.

    Now, the link between belief and behavior can change the equation. If one’s Islamic beliefs lead them to murder cartoonists, then it seems fair to say we hate THOSE Muslims. But this is now a case by case basis, and it’s not the same as saying you hate an entire group of people.

  23. Can you be friend with people that believe the god they worship was warranted in drowning everyone but a few?

    I’m sure you can and have some. You just stay away from the subject as much as you can?

    It’s as if there are other religions out there then islam.

    On top of that there is the obvious notion that there are different levels of friendship too.

  24. On a related note The Centre for Longitudinal Studies just this month released a survey conducted in England where they asked different groups how firmly they believed in the existence of god. 88% of Muslims said they “know God really exists and have no doubts”. This was true of 11% of Jews, 16% of mainline (presumably Anglican)33% Roman Catholic, 37% Hindu, and Sikh, and 71% evangelical.
    Now I’ve always had the impression that Muslims are particularly firm in their beliefs, and I think this confirms it, or at least adds reason to believe that to be the case.
    Given that it’s not surprising so many Muslims hold such toxic beliefs. They’re certain God exists, and therefor convinced he actually authored the Qu’ran.

    1. Oh I do like that. 16% of Anglicans believe God really exists. Almost as good as the Jews on 11%.

      I suppose that includes ‘secular Jews’ but then it probably also includes a lot of people who I might call ‘secular Anglicans’.

  25. Bad beliefs render one intellectually absurd and certain behaviors render one interpersonally dangerous (similar to the difference between prejudice and discrimination). The imbrication of belief and behavior is often unavoidable, but if the person has a decent track record of exhibiting socially pragmatic compartmentalization, I won’t lock my office door.

  26. And I have a question to pose to readers. It’s this: “What if some Muslims you know embrace some of the odious beliefs of Islam”? Can you separate how you feel about them as people from their beliefs?… to what extent can you separate the believer and the beliefs?

    This is a good question and it requires an honest response. For me, personally, the answer is “very well.” I usually find it relatively easy to separate the believer from the belief and find the common humanity between us. I can and have liked individual Islamists, fundamentalists, racists, homophobes, neonazis, and bigots of all stripes. I can be their friend. Not close friend, no. But then I have very few close friends.

    This obviously puts me on the outside of normal. It’s interesting to think about why. I suspect it’s a combination of personality and philosophy.

    I’ll talk about the last one. I’m a humanist and have learned to recognize that people are complicated, and they have complicated histories and backgrounds. It’s the rare individual who goes against their entire environment and experience and simply chooses to be odious. There’s no “essence” of wickedness, rebellion, or sin which makes them the way they are. Evil is astonishingly ordinary, and seldom pure.

    People don’t walk around with skulls on their helmets — and if they do, then they don’t take them off, look, and reflect. They haven’ t been taught to do this and learning is hard work. It doesn’t come by instinct. They — or more likely their tribe, group, or culture — have made errors in reasoning which hase set up a comfortable situation so that THEY are the “good guys.” Bottom line, if I believed everything they believed when it comes to the background facts, then I’d probably agree with them.

    It seems to me that in most cases the underlying problem is head, not heart.

    If this is so then there is no reason a neo-nazi can’t be a loving grandfather or a wife-beater can’t rise to a difficult occasion and save the day. A wonderful story teller might turn out to be a racist — but a racist might turn out to be a wonderful story teller. An Islamist who would wear a bomb on a bus might also jump on a bomb to save their comrades.

    Which side is “real?” Which side counts?

    If there is to be any hope of changing them, then both sides count. They have to. Otherwise, we might as well give up. Throw out reason, argument, persuasion, science, philosophy, and the common ground of humanity. We’re dealing with the Other.

    I’m not sure that I’m “nice” so much as stubborn. Never give up. Never, ever, ever give up.

  27. to what extent can you separate the believer and the beliefs?

    To the extent that it’s safe to do so. As an atheist living in the US it would be irrational to fear my Muslim neighbors. If, on the other hand, I were living in a Muslim dominated society it would be irrational for me not to fear them.

  28. For me, the word friend comes down to a complex interaction of emotions and actions between people who may or may not always find each other’s company enjoyable but on average probably do.

    This is a hard question for me to give a blanket response to. Thank you for asking it.


  29. I’ve always found the “hate the sin, love the sinner” line to be infuriating. I mean, it makes grammatical sense, but that’s about it.

    How does anyone decide if they like or dislike a person? We judge people based on their actions and their words, and a person’s beliefs are likely the main causal agent of those actions and words. Few people go through life acting and speaking randomly. Our beliefs inform our identities.

    I am always very careful not to talk about religion that much with people I work with or am only casually friendly with. I will make off-handed comments sometimes to gauge someone’s reaction or lack thereof, but I’m never direct. Because if I find out that someone I am friendly with or work with does subscribe to essentially non-ground-of-being beliefs, then I immediately lose interest in being their friend. This has happened on numerous occasions. I remain friendly of course, but I seek to minimize our association. Knowing that someone subscribes to various harmful or ludicrous ideas requires me to make a judgment about their character and their identity. This is particularly worrisome in situations where I already greatly respect the person for other reasons, say their work.

  30. Isn’t this the sort of problem likely to take care of itself? How many religious nutjobs are going to sincerely be interested in befriending liberal atheists?


  31. The worst thing I can think about a person who is a member of a religion who’s doctrines I despise is that they are a victim of that religion. I do not see them as a perpetrator of that religion and so I can still love them and have compassion for them, even though I probably wouldn’t want to hang out with them.

    Now, they might be offended that I see them as a victim of something horrible, but probably not as offended as they would be if I were to view them as a perpetrator of something horrible. I suppose someone could call this the equivalent of “love the sinner but hate the sin” approach, but I don’t see it that way because I don’t think being the victim of a religion is a sin.

    1. Good points. There is a heirarchical placement of values here as it pertains to a word that really hasn’t been defined: friend.

      More to your point, what shall we think about a friend who takes on odious positions having not had them before? I agree with others that in some cases that’s the beginning of the end of a relationship.

      I suppose the golden rule comes in here for me. If I, unthinkably, fell into the clutches of an odious cult I should hope that my current friends would stay the course and help me transistion out of it. Or in some way always leave a door open to me.

      Ironically, is it not the cultist who is prone to sever former friendships?


  32. Exceptionally, I’m not 100% with you here, Jerry (I usually am).
    One of my best friends her in SA converted to Islam, (I think because his wife was muslim) , but in his 40’s he discovered he actually was gay (one can guess the social pressures that leads to a discovery of sexual orientation about 25 years after the advent of sexual feelings).
    But he still is a devout muslim (to my incomprehension), and very tolerant and friendly type of person, and highly intelligent (which makes it even more baffling).
    I converted 3 Iranian women to atheism (that is what *they* say: my unconditional support is what took it), they were friends with me while they were still believers…
    So no, I do not necessarily dislike Muslims, but I profoundly hate their religion. I still think it is possible to separate the two in many situations

  33. I’d have to answer like this:

    If someone declares themselves as a Christian or Muslim or Urantian, here in America, I’d think nothing of it. Most never read their holy books, never put much thought into it. They identify as one sect or another because their parents were of that sect. My experience is that they put more thought into who’s going to win American Idol than studying their faith or plotting harm against their unbelieving neighbor.

    However, if further inquiry revealed they agreed with the orders in the Qur’an or Old Testament, then we’d have to part ways. And, perhaps, involve law enforcement.

  34. I have a friend, a woman, whom I am always pleased to meet. She was a preacher’s daughter and for a long time was an avowed creationist. After a single confrontation of mutual discovery, neither of us brought that subject up in the presence of the other. There were so many other things we had in common that we did not want to “spoil things” over this one issue. Later she started going out with a geologist and changed her opinion. She respected that of her new partner, I suspect, rather than piecing a new position out of information that was readily available. It was important to her to change her mind for reasons similar to mine, that made it important to me to stop trying to persuade her. What would have made me stop being friends with this woman when she was a creationist? Well, clearly we both felt that constantly harping on the subject would degrade our relationship. Probably undertaking a widely publicized campaign would have tended to do the same. Relationships are complicated!

  35. Probably everyone has some false beliefs, so as long people are not violent I don’t care much what believes they have. But if they insist always willing to point them out to them.

    I think almost all people are most of the time nice.

  36. The term “Islamophobia” is similar to “racist,” or “anti-Semite,” in that it refers to a form of inappropriate outgroup identification. As Arthur Keith and many others have pointed out, human morality is dual, and always includes identification of and hatred of an outgroup. Understanding and compensating for that fact is probably a key to our survival. Morality is a dangerous and double-edged weapon when dealing with Islam or any other ideology that is a potential threat to our survival. It is probably best to leave it out of the mix unless we conclude that it is necessary to fight with every weapon we have.

    That said, Moslems must be un-Islamophobes by the very nature of their religion. They are instructed in the Koran not to have friends who are not Moslems (Quran, last paragraph of Sura LX), to wage war on such of their neighbors as are not believers (Sura IX, 6th paragraph from the end), to kill those who join other gods with God, such as Trinitarian Christians (Sura IX, paragraph 5), and finally, that all these teachings are not allegories or otherwise subject to interpretation, but are the direct and clear word of God as delivered by Muhammed (Sura XXXIX, verse 29, and Sura XXXVI, verse 69). Perhaps it would be useful to point such things out when they whine about “Islamophobia.”

  37. Empirically, I’d have to say that yes, I can separate the person from the beliefs. Though much will depend on how odious the person is and how those beliefs are expressed.

    When I think of the people I regard as close friends, maybe a dozen people, I realize that at least four of them are fundamentalists who “believe” I am going to go to Hell for my unbelief. On the surface that would seem to be a pretty big barrier to being friends.

    But what does “belief” mean? I know for certain that they’d answer “yes” to a survey question that asked whether all atheists were going to Hell. That, in their view, is the “right” answer. But do they behave as though they really feel that being an atheist deserves eternal torment? No. Not at all. In fact, they work very hard to avoid the topic. I’m usually the one to bring it up, often flippantly, “I think we should do X”, I might say, “but of course, I’m going to Hell so you shouldn’t listen to me”. This causes them obvious discomfort. They clearly want to think of me in Heaven with them, and they clearly think of me as one of the “good guys”, even though I’m a member of the officially “bad guys”. For that matter, while they officially believe in Hell, it’s clear that they don’t want to. They sense that the idea is wicked, but are too afraid to walk away from their religion in such an overt way as to repudiate one of it’s doctrines. While they are sincere in their religion, their beliefs come in degrees, and they experience a great deal of cognitive dissonance about them. These particular people are my friends because of our long history together and, unlike some others, they have remained my friends because their belief don’t affect us much, because I can be honest with them, because they don’t actually freak out at the news of my unbelief, etc.

    There are other people who attend the same church as these friends of mine, who would answer all the same survey questions the same way, but who are completely insufferable. I can not even be acquaintances with them, much less friends. Their “belief” is less troubled with cognitive dissonance, their belief is worn on their sleeve, and their general attitude is one of bigotry for everyone not in their very narrow tribe.

    Both “friend” and “belief” admit to degrees and shades and context-dependent expressions. As Sastra says, people are complicated.

  38. I believe the knowledge that the person has extreme belief concerning his religion can be the breaking point in any friendship you may have or could have in the future. But it still depends in some part on the relationship you have with this person. If you were close friends for a long time and then discovered this you might attempt to find a way to work around it. If it is just someone you know, you would probably walk away and be done with it.

    I think it is usually the other way around. Being a life long atheist I believe some of us have more tolerance than the other side. Example: My sister has always been a bit of a religious person I guess but I have not been around her all that much. A few years ago she joined up with the seventh day adventist and I could care less. However, during a conversation the subject of evolution came up and she made a point of saying she could not believe in that. I said something like — surely you are kidding? Since this time we have not talked and it was her choice, so you never know.

  39. Islam has a doctrine called “Al Wala’ Wal Bara'” which says that it is not good enough only to love that which Allah loves but one must also hate that which Allah hates.

    Allah loves stoning adulterers, chopping off hands, beating women etc etc. Allah hates infidels, polytheists, gays, women, Jews, pigs, dogs etc etc

    So it’s really impossible for me to respect any “Good Muslim” with this poison is running around in their heads.

    I won’t treat any Muslim with disrespect but I afford no respect to disgusting people.

  40. People’s identities emerge from the world-views they are nurtured in. It is often impossible to separate the two.
    In debating theists I see that when you laugh at some of their more absurd beliefs, while trying to focus on the belief and not the believer, the believer feels attacked anyway.

    They identify so strongly with the belief because it is so strongly woven into who they are. This is especially so with religion.

    With Islamism the ideal is reproducing an Islam of Mohammed’s time, the reproduction of a medieval Arabia today, with Mohammed as the model of the ideal man. Which would then go on to reproduce more of the same.

    While I’d still strive to see the human behind the ideology, in rejecting their ideals I am rejecting them to the extent that they can’t separate themselves from their beliefs.
    Just as I would with a neo-Nazi or anyone else whose ideals are so opposed to mine.

  41. The thing is, I know probably hundreds of people who have *some* opinions I would find unacceptable if I knew about them. Half the country voted the opposite way from me, for a start, so they are obviously either evil or stupid. But whaddaya gonna do about it?

    I’ve had two lots of Muslim tenants, the first were Bosnians who, as the saying goes, wore their religion so lightly I couldn’t even tell they were Muslim till I spotted a Koran on top of the TV on my fourth visit. The second was a Pakistani woman with three kids (really well-behaved kids too) whose husband had gone back to Pakistan and (reading between the lines) I think she’d just flatly refused to take her kids back there. I can’t imagine either of them being enthusiasts for sharia law but the subject never came up.

    I’ve also got on quite cordially with all the (half-dozen) Catholic clergy I’ve met, including a Bishop who was entirely devoid of pomposity and genuinely public-spirited. I’m not going to raise the subject of abortion or the Inquisition with them.

    IF I found out by chance that any of my acquaintances held unacceptable views (like, say, being in favour of logging the Amazon rainforest or killing tigers for medicinal purposes) then I’d look a bit sideways at them ever afterwards, but life’s too short to go looking for that kind of thing.

    1. I would also hasten to add that there are varying personality types (and obviously all types will be found within a given group of people). Often the personality type has FAR more influence on their behaviour and my relationships with people, than what their religion or politics happens to be. Personality types may be correlated with religion or politics, but very loosely.

      For example, authoritarian personalities I just cannot stand, whether they’re Catholic or Socialist or atheist, English, American, Indian or Icelandic (or whatever). Probably because I hate pointless and arbitrary rules and don’t care much for authority, either. ‘Liberal’ (not sure of that’s the right word) people who are in favour of letting other people do their own thing, I can get along with fine, almost regardless of whatever nutty beliefs they may have. (Though it’s hard to imagine such a person lasting long in ISIS).

  42. In high school I had a few dates with a sweet and attractive Catholic girl. After the third date, she told me that her older brother was a priest and an older sister was a nun. The girl then said that she liked me but she also felt sorry for me. When I asked why she felt sorry for me, she replied that because I wasn’t Cathloic, I was going to spend eternity in hell. I told her that I did not believe that was true. I also said that I had no interest in dating someone who held such beliefs. That was the last time I saw her.

    1. So come on Virginia!
      Show me a sign-
      Send up a signal; I’ll throw you a line.
      The stained glass curtain you’re hidin’ behind-
      Never lets in the sun…

  43. Will think on this.

    (In the interim, seems to me that “Islamofascismphobia” is reasonably justified. Ah but then there are those who claim that any such fascism is “not Islamic” or “true Islam.”)

  44. A friend raised the same question some time ago. I guess if the friendship is sincere people just drift away. As we change, so the people around us change. I used to be very nationalistic. And all my friends were too. As I started to change my opinions, same happened to the circles I used to frequent. Few changed opinions in the same period so we went somehow together. Today I am quite strongly anti-clerical. Meaning organized religion people might find me interesting, but not interesting enough to invite me to their daughter’s church wedding.

  45. For me, it’s always about respect. And I cannot respect those who follow a religion which demands cruelty, torture and intimidation of others.

    Not to put too fine a point on this but, literally, “Islamophobia” refers to FEAR of Islam. So…no, I’m not islamophobic.

    I’m just very disrespectful of those who follow or even accept the tenets, especially violent Suras.

    1. To add to that, I’ve found “Islamophobia” is a label created by those who refuse to learn about the violent nature of ”true” Islam and who wish to ignore the facts about it.

  46. I have ambiguous feelings.

    For a number of years I worked with a devout Pakistani Muslim, prayed (discreetly) multiple times a day, would avoid meat unless it was known to be Halal, married a woman in a traditionally arranged marriage.

    Yet, he knew me to be an atheist and that was never a problem, for a time we both had a female Hindu boss to whom he was always most professional. My wife and I went to his wedding (along with several other co workers) and were well received.

    And yet in his homeland things are really, really crazy.

    I just don’t know.

  47. I hate all members of Al-Qaeda for their Islamic actions.

    Clearly, I hate such Muslims.

    How is that an irrational or unjustifiable hatred of Muslims?

  48. For a while I’ve been saying that “Islamophobia” refers to the dislike or fear of the tenets of Islam, not the fear, dislike, or hatred of Muslims themselves.

    I think it’s important to reject the label of “Islamaphobia” even for the first part of this. The term, as it’s used, suggests an unthinking, irrational bigotry.

    You might now expect to see online comments saying, “Jerry Coyne, the self-confessed Islamaphobe,” citing this post!


  49. I think it might depend on the attitude of those who hold the belief I disapprove of. If the person is otherwise reasonably rational, and we can talk about the matter, I do try to at least understand where it comes from. And it depends on what sort of relationship is expected; I do apply different standards for coworkers vs. potential friends vs. relatives and different standards depending on background like education, etc. If you grew up in an area where’s there’s nothing but madrassas or temples, I can be more “forgiving”.

  50. This is very black and white…
    I have a student who observes ramadan. He is a very gentle and fragile person. He was born in Morocco and lives in Montreal since the early ’90. So yes, in definition, he is a Muslim.
    Do I make a distinction between a Muslim who decides to take guitar lessons with an Infidel and his belief?
    I think I would be dumb not to make it no?

  51. “What if some Muslims you know embrace some of the odious beliefs of Islam”? Can you separate how you feel about them as people from their beliefs?

    I think you’re mixing two different issues. I wouldn’t make friends with someone whose ethics differed so much from mine, and I certainly wouldn’t stop disliking and liking people accordingly. That’s a straightforward emotional response: I don’t hang out with people I don’t like, if I can help it.

    On the other hand, you could make a “love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin” equivalent argument on deterministic or pessimistic incompatibilistic grounds. Factors have come together to produce people who, for their few decades of existence, will hold grossly erroneous views and act upon them, causing harm directly or indirectly in the process. That doesn’t make those views correct or their behaviour good or even neutral, but you could recognize that they are the products of systems that are both beyond their control and amoral. In a sense, they’re victims of circumstance, even if you apply “circumstance” loosely enough to include all physical, biological, and social factors.

    Another way of putting it might be the “if only” argument: if only circumstances had been different here and here (but maybe not there, or there), or if only we could do this and that, then we might have been spared this or could have avoided this or could change it in future. If only Islam hadn’t arisen, or if only these people had been lucky enough to be born in a less religious culture, or if only we didn’t have genes that created brains that favoured this sort of barbarism, etc. What a tragic waste of human life, etc. There but for the twinge of physics go I, or something to that effect.

    In answer to your question: yes, but with caveats. I wouldn’t be friends with them by any means, (which might technically make my answer a no), and I still wouldn’t pretend to actually like them. Someone in favour of the death penalty is unlikely to offer me much in the way of social interaction without some degree of compromise, which I’ll most likely not indulge in. But at the end of the day, even the most evil, stupid, outrageous, and inane of devils is still a sentient being saddled with whatever kinks physics, biology, and society have sent flowing their way. Metaphorically speaking, they have a disease, a negative cause of distress that addles the system, even if only against some ideal alternative.

    The other consideration is that religious tenets, whatever else they do, are also still truth claims, and therefore subject to intellectual standards, regardless of relationships between the disputants. In that sense, I can easily separate Islam (or a sect of it) from any particular Muslim. I can also acknowledge that good and bad traits can occur in the same person. That Muslim might want the death penalty for apostates and atheists, but if they’re also a good teller of jokes and cheerful to their friends (or, more pertinently, might have strong morals when it comes to feminism), I can shake off the halo effect and its dark counterpart long enough to acknowledge these two facts are not mutually exclusive.

  52. It looks like there still a few other comments trickling in, so I’ve got one more thing to add, about people in general who ‘who hold beliefs I consider retrograde or dangerous’, not strictly Muslims. I already noted in a comment above about recognizing people’s backgrounds, and Sastra made a very good comment about people being complicated. Another consideration is pragmatic. There are plenty of positions I would lump into that retrograde or dangerous category – supporing torture, ignoring global warming, being anti-choice on abortion, opposition to marriage equality, anti-vax, etc. These are all very important issues to me, but if I demanded ideological purity from the people I associate with, I’d have very few friends and would have to disown the majority of my family. I’d live a pretty lonely life. Yes, there are some things that go too far (I’ve never been back to visit the guy who suggested a burning cross on his neighbor’s lawn), but if I don’t want to be a hermit, I have to tolerate some pretty major disagreements with my friends and family, including my Muslim friends.

  53. One of my best friends is a born-again Evangelist who fervently believes that the Earth is 6,000 years old and that gay marriage should be illegal. I’m open with him about being an atheist. For each of us, the amount of trust and respect that have accumulated, based on every topic and interaction other than a few religious/irreligous veiws, outweighs those differences.

    When a few of his co-religious-nut-jobs asked him how he could possibly be friends with an “immoral atheist” (citing the usual canards), he unhesitatingly told them that in his experience I practiced ethical behavior far better than most self-proclaimed Christians ever did, and they shut up.

    So, yeah, a person can definitely hold another person in high esteem, even if they diagree strongly and fundamentally on a few issues — it’s not all-or-nothing; the question is in where the balance lies.

  54. Hmm, I find it difficult to impossible continuing friendships with people who hold odious beliefs. That said, family members are different, I really love my Mother and enjoy spending time with her in spite of her mind numbing retrograde thoughts on gays,(although those are softening) President Obama, hell, and her personal relationship with Jesus. Close family are different for me

    1. Yep, families are different in that one can choose ones friends but not ones relatives. The last two trips home I’ve had to endure my mother evaluating the eyes of certain women on television as “European” or “Russian.” I’ve stifled the urge to ask her from where she thought our own blue-eyed, fair-skinned ancestors originated, or whether we ought to get on our knees and pray for the deliverance of over 300,000,000 Europeans from their collective infirmity of having “European eyes.”

        1. I don’t know. I didn’t ask my mother, kept my mouth shut, so as to Keep The Peace on that visit, if you get my drift.

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