The Humanists present their “sensible approach to Islam”

A few times a year, inspired by my ever-growing admiration for Kurt Vonnegut, I get the urge to delve into Humanism. (For those of you who are unaware of what Humanism is, Vonnegut, a devout Humanist, described it thusly… “Being a Humanist means trying to behave decently without expectation of rewards or punishment after you are dead.”) Well, this evening, while engaged in this intellectual pursuit, between episodes of Breaking Bad, I happened across the following statement, issued today, from the American Humanist Association Board of Directors concerning what they refer to as “a sensible approach to Islam.” And, as I agree with every word of it, I thought that I’d share it. (I also think it’s a great followup to our conversation of this weekend concerning the debate as to whether or not moderate Islam exists.)

Over a long period culminating in recent years, Muslim fundamentalists dedicated to establishing Islamic theocracies have ascended to power and solidified their authority in several countries. They have also established enclaves in many other nations, and some of them have formed terrorist organizations. Though belonging to various Muslim sects, these theocrats share a willingness to implement Islamist Sharia laws with punishments that disregard basic human rights, particularly women’s rights, and some conduct assassinations and brutal reprisals in the name of “true” Islam.

Though adherents of this type are gaining in numbers and power, they do not represent all Muslims. Generalizing Islam as entirely violent undermines the efforts of millions of Muslims and others who are struggling to challenge the rise of extremism.

Since September 11, 2001, prejudice and discrimination have been on the rise in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere against Muslims. Such individuals are suffering from increased security screenings, hostile media attention, and oppressive new laws, as well as localized acts of violence and widespread disrespect. Moreover, disinformation campaigns and negative imagery have led to popular confusion wherein al-Qaeda is inaccurately connected to the former regime of Saddam Hussein, Iranians and South Asians are misidentified as Arabs, Sikhs are mistaken for Muslims, and the world faith of Islam, with its 1.3 billion followers, is viewed as a doctrinaire monolith.

The American Humanist Association is opposed to both the activities of Islamic extremists and to the “crusade” mentality rising in Western circles that condemns all Muslims indiscriminately. This statement aims at defining a rational and informed humanist position.

Common Standards

Humanists should assess Islam using the same standards applied to all belief systems. This means, in practice, that humanists support the concept of a democratic secular state, with complete separation of religion and government. Consistent with this, humanists oppose theocracy in all of its forms and support:

• The freedom to think and believe or not believe, and to profess or critique, resisting efforts to impose one’s religious beliefs on others through coercive and punitive measures
• The choice to observe or not to observe religious practices, to the degree that such practices do not harm others or interfere with their rights
• Democratic principles, to the degree that such choices do not permit the state to engage in religious indoctrination or similar tyrannies of the majority
• Modern human rights, not tolerating violations of those basic rights whether or not they are bolstered by religious law or custom

A Balanced Humanist Policy

There is a great deal of violence in the world today, a disturbing portion of which is perpetrated in the name of Islam. Humanists recognize that the world of Islam is vast and heterogeneous, and problems that exist in one area may not exist in others. For this reason, one-size-fits-all responses to issues that outsiders perceive within Islam are not only unworkable but are likely to be detrimental to humanistic solutions.

While small numbers of Muslim revivalists may reside in the United States, and while there is a continuing threat of terrorist attack from Islamic terrorist groups, extremist Islam as a political force has not taken hold in this country. Problems are mostly limited to instances when Islamic requirements, such as those relating to dress or prayer, conflict with preexisting law and custom. These are often resolved in a spirit of mutual understanding. When that fails and the courts intervene, their decisions should reflect both practical requirements and a respect for religious freedom. In general, humanists do not support either extending religious accommodation in ways that would create an unequal playing field between the religious and nonreligious or rigidly enforcing legal provisions that unnecessarily encumber individual religious liberty.

Some countries, notably in Western Europe, have been less successful than the United States in integrating Muslim immigrants into mainstream society. Humanists respect the desire of the majorities in these countries to preserve their human rights traditions; they also support the efforts of humanist groups to resolve emerging problems in a humane and practical manner. But this is not a blanket endorsement of cultural preservation. Some approaches have been strikingly racist and ethnocentric in nature. While freedom of speech must not be compromised, humanists oppose nativism, jingoism, and open hostility toward Muslim citizens and immigrants within any nation.

Humanists strive for a world where violence and fear are not the drivers of ideals and actions. In every case and in all its forms, extremism must be condemned. But neither should fear and ignorance be permitted to sanction prejudice and discrimination. Humanists recognize that challenging Islamists, Christian fundamentalists, and all others who hold to religious or ideological extremes is not a process with an easy or short-term conclusion, but it is the way toward progress.

Humanists see no contradiction, on the one hand, between their longstanding adherence to principles that run contrary to religious beliefs and, on the other, their strong distaste for efforts to propagate a crusade mentality against Islam or any other religion. Religious liberty means freedom for all: freedom to peacefully affirm and practice a faith, freedom from religious coercion, and freedom to peacefully leave or reject a faith. Such religious liberty is and always has been a central tenet of humanism and is herewith reaffirmed.

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  1. Edward
    Posted September 25, 2012 at 5:46 am | Permalink

    I agree. I think the key for America is to stand strong in defense of those things we hold dear, like women’s rights, and ensure that Muslims in our country play by our established rules. Outlawing distinctive architectural features, like minarets, by comparison, seems like a ridiculous waste of time and resources.

  2. Knox
    Posted September 25, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    You won’t stop radical Islam by legislating minarets. I agree on that. The thing that stumps me is the burka. On one hand, I think people should have right to wear whatever they like. On the other, though, I find it incredibly offensive. It’s the same to me as seeing a black man being led around in chains by a white slave master. It’s wrong, regardless of whether it’s being done with consent. Women are not property.

  3. John Galt
    Posted September 25, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Humanists are worse than teachers. They are the bottom of the barrel.

  4. R2Me2
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    If you try to legislate burkas, they’ll wear ski masks. They’ll find a way around it. I’m all for giving Muslims the benefit of the doubt, but I don’t think there’s any denying that they way they treat women, as a whole, is prehistoric.

  5. Posted September 26, 2012 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Actually, not prehistoric at all. Until very recently, women in the west couldn’t wear pants or shorts.

  6. kjc
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    more Vonnegut, from today’s Counterpunch:

    “America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, “It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.” It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise a
    nd virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: “if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?” There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.

    Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves.”

    – Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five

  7. gadabout44
    Posted May 5, 2013 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    I noticed the author included Christian fundamentalists along side Islam as difficult to deal with. I don’t see anything in the New Testament that encourages Christians to organize against people who do not believe in Christ in any way. The qua’ran does though. A Christian fundamentalist will tell you abortion is wrong, but he knows he’s supposed to love his neighbor, not kill them.

    People have used the Old Testament to accuse Christians of wanting to “take over.” Most Christians believe the conquering of Canaan (ancient Palestine) was a one time thing, when God was establishing his covenant people, and judging the people of Canaan, who sacrificed their children to their gods. But we are now, thorough the work of Christ, are under grace until the end of this age, and then the judgement will come. But we don’t have to worry if we make Christ our advocate at the judgement, by accepting what his death in our place.

    You don’t have to believe that though. I’m not commanded to kill you, but rather pray, and love you.

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