Guest column: Correcting the Conversation on Islam

Andrew Keiper

A debate between Bill Maher, Sam Harris and Ben Affleck on Maher’s HBO Real Time show went viral more than two weeks ago. Throughout the debate, Maher and Harris suggested that it is a liberal responsibility to criticize Islam as a whole, and that universal criticisms against more than 1.6 billion uniquely religious people is fair and without prejudice. Affleck, while misguided at points, defended Islamic people with vitriol and passion against the broad brush of thinly veiled discrimination that Harris and Maher used. 

This debate highlighted exactly what is wrong with the discussion of Islam in this country. It is fine to criticize a religion or a political agenda. It is fine to ask questions about the modernity of the policies that countries such as Saudi Arabia, which broadly implements Sharia law, use. It is not alright to paint an entire creed of people as violent, hateful and murderous toward Americans based on a doctrine of propagated fear. 

The irony of the entire conversation is that there is no fear of Islam in this country. There is no imminent terror threat. Our military occupations of the past 13 years and the propaganda machine of the United States have pushed the population in the direction of discrimination. We’re told to be fearful of the Middle East and what atrocities its people are capable of. Our country is occupying, destroying and murdering countless individuals—criminals or not—in the name of democracy and freedom. 

The people of the Middle East have a multitude of reasons to fear Americans. We, however, do not have reasons to develop a phobia of the Islamic religion. Our xenophobic sentiments stem from an unwillingness to learn the nature of Islam and a failure to understand that fundamentalist religions, of any denomination, are inherently oppressive and violent. Take, for instance, the genital mutilation and ceaseless oppression of countless women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Christianity is followed by 95 percent of the population, according to Pew Research Center. 

If we’re going to criticize the oppressions that some politically Islamic countries practice on its citizens, we must also recognize the multitude of very successful and equal Islamic societies in the same breath. There is no room for broad discrimination in the debate on Islam. In order for us to have an educated discussion about the positives and negatives of Islam in the modern world, we must get rid of the fear we’ve been fed. We must shed the blanket of Islamophobia that has been thrown upon us. We must yearn for understanding and turn away from bigotry in all of its forms and disguises. 

Andrew Keiper is a freshman journalism major at Kent State.