The Right has responded to these developments with glee. Attacks on civil liberties, jingoism and xenophobia, a systematic demonisation of Muslim communities both in their home countries and in others - all form a consistent pattern. Under the guise of protecting the freedom of the majority, the rights of all have begun to be eroded. Muslims have begun to be seen as the hated and feared "other".
But from the start, the Left, the traditional champion of civil rights, has done nothing to call out the illiberalism within Islam, nor did it ever begin a fearless investigation into the causes of such illiberalism. Had liberals done so in an even-handed manner from the start, a firm yet hate-free critique of the good and bad in Islam could have been presented to civil society as a whole, and the terms of the dialogue could have been framed in a more constructive form. Alas, liberals have abdicated their role.
It is true that Muslims conflate criticism of their religion with attacks on themselves as people. Their defensiveness is perhaps understandable. But what is not acceptable is that liberals (who should definitely know better) have fallen victim to the same fallacy. By seeing any critique of Islam as the "oppression of an already marginalised community", they conflate the ideology of Islam with Muslims as a people.
I have liberal views, and I dislike illiberal ideas anywhere. I don't understand the reluctance among liberals to point out the illiberalism in Islam, mainly in the following areas:
- Intolerance towards unbelievers of all stripes, including apostates from Islam
- Poor treatment of women
- Poor treatment of animals (e.g., ritual bleeding to death of animals during slaughter, injunctions to kill geckos on sight, etc.)
I have separately described a particular example of how liberals vociferously attempt to shut down uncomfortable questions. They seem unaware that right-wing bigots are merrily spreading their own simplistic and self-serving answers to these very questions.
How to make liberals see sense? As my own experience in a liberal forum demonstrated, a non-Muslim's critique of Islam is deemed to be Islamophobia or motivated by right-wing ideology (whether consciously or unconsciously imbibed). I think what liberals need is a figurative kick in the pants from a person belonging in some sense to the Muslim community (even if not a practising Muslim).
Indeed, this is what Sufian Ahmed has brilliantly done. Just substitute "Indian" for "White" in his post and it will be completely relevant to India.
I am not alone in criticising liberals for their lack of courage. "Dear Fellow Liberals" is a particularly candid one that makes the same criticism of American liberals over their lack of courage in dealing with Islam. How To Be An Islamist Apologist is even more scathing. And in the Indian context, the charge has been made that liberals don't really support freedom of expression.