Secular Muslims

This amused:

Turkish President Recep Erdoğan has accused Israel of carrying out a “genocide” as more than 50 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in one day of protests.

Well, nobody could accuse the Turks of having a consistent understanding of the term “genocide”, so it’s unsurprising their president continues to struggle with it.

The Turkish president accused Israel of being a “terrorist state” and announced he would pull ambassadors out of Israel and the US. The announcement came as the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, inflaming protests on the Israeli border in Gaza.

This is also to be expected. As support for the Palestinians has waned in the Arab world, particularly among those countries on the Arabian Peninsula, Erdogan has stepped in to fill the void. In parallel, he seems keen to turn the once-secular Turkey into an authoritarian, low-level Islamist state along the lines of contemporary Iran. He may not go as far as the Mullahs but his reforms have seen Islam being shoved to forefront in areas such as education where it was previously absent, and I suspect it is a matter of time before women are unable to walk the streets in some areas without a headscarf. I note that Erdogan is in London at the moment on an official visit; strangely absent are protests over his jailing of journalists, persecution of political opponents, gutting of the judiciary, assault on civil liberties, and erosion of women’s rights. Let’s bear this in mind when Trump comes to visit. Personally, I’m disappointed that nobody from the British government has brought any of this up with Erdogan and the press don’t seem interested in doing so either, but between the current government and media it’s a toss-up between which is the more useless.

I was watching France 24 this morning and it showed a protest march through the streets of Istanbul in opposition to the opening of the new US embassy. They interviewed a woman decked out in a headscarf and carrying a plastic model of a mosque, who I suspect was Syrian rather than Turkish (a lot of refugees have crossed the border). She screamed that “Jerusalem was Muslim”, and if she had anything to say in addition, France 24 neglected to share it with us. However, before that they interviewed a man in his 50s who began with:

“As a Muslim, I…”

Us westerners are – correctly- encouraged not to lump all Muslims together as one homogeneous group, but these efforts are somewhat hampered by Muslims themselves.

A year or so back I met a Turkish lady here in Paris who was as westernised as it’s possible to get in terms of education, lifestyle, social relations, and political outlook. She ate pork, drank alcohol, and claimed she was totally secular. Having got to know her quite well, I believed her. And then Trump signed Executive Order 13769 prohibiting entry to the US for people coming from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. My friend bought wholesale into the notion that this was a “Muslim ban” and she was incensed, because she believed it a result of blatant Islamaphobia on the part of Trump and, sooner or later, these policies were going to effect her. I had several lengthy, heated arguments with her during which I pointed out the seven countries were not selected because they have Muslim majorities but because the civil infrastructure has collapsed in each to the point they cannot verify who is coming and going from their end (Iran being the exception). She was having none of it, and believed she had a right to be concerned and angry at what she saw as a blatantly Islamaphobic policy.

I went away and thought about this. What has someone from Turkey got in common with someone from Libya, Sudan, Yemen, or Somalia? Absolutely nothing whatsoever, and the Turks would be first to insist upon it, but with one exception: Islam. The one and only reason a Turk would oppose US visa restrictions on someone from Sudan is out of Muslim solidarity; there is absolutely no other reason which could apply. So my next thought was why somebody claiming to be secular would be loudly championing the rights of people from collapsed nations in a state of civil war on the grounds of Muslim solidarity?

When I tell people I’m secular, I don’t follow that up by denouncing Trump’s border wall on the grounds that Mexicans are Christian. Nor do I back the Philippines in their territorial disputes with China out of religious solidarity. When I say I’m secular, it means my nominal Christianity does not influence my political or social opinions in any way. But to my friend it seemed to mean something else, so I confronted her. Her first reaction was one of utter shock; she didn’t seem to have realised there was any contradiction in claiming to be secular one minute and raving about Trump’s “Muslim ban” the next. When it dawned on her, she got quite upset.

I realised then what I’d probably known since I lived in the Middle East all those years ago: a secular Muslim is quite different from a secular anything else, and often not very secular at all. I’d noticed back then how often I’d meet a very modern, westernised Lebanese, Egyptian, or Arab who would for all outward appearances be very secular. Then without warning they’d start raving about the Jews, or swearing the Koran represents the word of God. And I don’t know how many stories I’ve heard of western or Russian women getting involved with modern, secular Muslim men only to find they’re nothing of the sort.

But the experience with my Turkish friend was perhaps the most interesting. Here was the most secular Muslim you could ever hope to meet, and one would have thought she would have recognised the elected US government’s right to set visa policy and understood their security concerns. Yet when push came to shove, her being Muslim mattered and that came before anything else. It’s worth bearing this in mind over the coming years as Ataturk’s secular republic slowly gets replaced with something else. It’s also worth remembering when we’re told not to treat Muslims as a homogeneous bloc.

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37 thoughts on “Secular Muslims

  1. Surely it makes perfect sense if you consider ‘Muslim’ to be an ethnicity rather than a religion, in the same way there are atheist Jews?

    And as ‘ethnicity’ is a nebulous, unscientific concept with no real basis in objective reality, it makes just as much sense as any other one.

  2. @S: Muslims are not an ethnicity; they’d like us to think that they are in order to reinforce the idea that you can’t convert from it. They are a religion, some of whose forms are more acceptable in a Western society than others.

  3. AndrewWS, not so much a religion as a theocratic political and social ideology masquerading as religion.

  4. Muslims are not an ethnicity

    As I wrote above, ‘ethnicity’ is such a nebulous, unscientific concept with no real basis in objective reality that ‘X is / is not an ethnicity’ is quite close to being a meaningless statement.

  5. I think it is very hard to overcome the way you are raised. I would suspect that secular muslims were raised as full on muslims and revert to it instinctively. Secular Christians on the other hand were probable raised as secular from the outset.

    While we send our little ‘uns to kindy to learn finger painting, they are sending their little ‘uns to madrassas to learn that allah wants them to kill our little ‘uns. Quarantine is the only answer.

  6. I’m not convinced of the death / injury toll from the news reports and I’m not alone:

    The numbers have been supplied by the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza, i.e. Hamas. The degree to which western journalists have swallowed these figures uncritically is illuminating.

    Why is that pro-Palestinians are always uber-lefties?!?

    Because they hate the US and by extension Israel. Palestinians are just cannon-fodder in the general struggle against the US, which they see as the greatest obstacle in the path of their utopian socialist future.

  7. I think it is very hard to overcome the way you are raised. I would suspect that secular muslims were raised as full on muslims and revert to it instinctively.

    This lady was raised secular, but she conceded that simply by virtue of living around so many nominal Muslims she is probably more Muslim than she realised.

  8. Palestinians are just cannon-fodder in the general struggle against the US, which they see as the greatest obstacle in the path of their utopian socialist future.

    That plan is going into reverse pretty damn quick these days. God they must hate Trump! It’s one reason that I like him – all the grief he causes lefties. I feast on their anguish.

  9. Islam is not an ethnicity. You’ve got muslim Kurds, Turks, Arabs, Persians, Somalis. They all consider themselves quite distinct from each other, not to say superior. Islam provides a framework for them to wage war together against the infidel. We westerners observe this mutual loyalty, and interpret it through our own eyes, which are used to seeing nationalism everywhere, rather than religious sentiment. We therefore mistake it for ethnicity.

  10. Very true. Let’s imagine that there was a big Muslim terrorist attack in the UK: a “dirty bomb” in London, say, or a royal gets blown up. The government, fearful of a backlash, decides to get tough for once, and interns some Islamic radicals, bans migration from certain countries, and send the plod into a few madrassahs and mosques.

    Which way do you reckon the “moderate Muslims” in the UK would jump? You know, those twinkly ones with the near-RP and nicely shaped beards who appear on telly and say how British they are?

  11. @clem

    I’ve read Thomas Wictor’s threads several times, and while usually interesting, they often contain perplexing leaps of logic, and puzzling oversights.

    For example, in the thread you quoted, he says:
    1) Israeli forces shot and killed 57 Palestinians and injured more than 2,700
    2) There are 348 paramedics in Gaza, with an additional 200 “volunteers.”… They easily handled 2755 GUNSHOT VICTIMS IN ONE AFTERNOON?! Bullshit.

    He completely misses an obvious interpretation: the vast majority of those 2700 injured are suffering from smoke inhalation.

    Another example: He interprets absence of evidence as evidence of abssence:
    “Has anybody said a goddam word about the emergency services being overwhelmed?”
    Has he been monitoring Arab media from Gaza all day? You can be certain that there are plenty of Arabs who have gone on record saying their medical facilities are overwhelmed, and they would do so even if they were not. The media will be inundated with such interviews tomorrow, if they are not already today. This tweet will not age well.

    On this occasion, I believe his conclusions are broadly correct, but he is making the mistake – the same mistake that all the western media are making – of confusing three very distinct groups.
    1) A large mass of civilians which is standing in the background, waving signs and being interviewed.
    2) Bands of young men, who are gaining honor by courting danger. They roll burning tires at the fence, approach it with wire cutters, hurl stones at soldiers, fly burning kites, and run interference for the next group.
    3) Hamas operatives, who are using the confusion to attempt cross the fence to kill soldiers and civilians.

    It is likely that some 50 palestinians have been killed, and that 95% of them belong to groups (2) and (3). The media focuses its cameras on group (1), to suggest that most of the casualties are innocent civilians.

  12. Islam is not an ethnicity. You’ve got muslim Kurds, Turks, Arabs, Persians, Somalis.

    You could say the same about Ashkenazi Jews, Sephardic Jews, etc.

    ‘Ethnicity’ is not a real thing. It’s a perceived thing, either by those claiming it, or by outsiders.

    So you can’t say ‘X is not an ethnicity’, because ‘is’ is a statement of objective fact which doesn’t apply to such a nebulous, unscientific concept. Nothing ‘is’ an ethnicity, because ethnicity doesn’t exist in the real objective world.

    However, the original observation makes total sense if the woman referred to perceives (even if subconsciously) ‘Muslim’ as an ethnicity, and therefore ‘being a Muslim’ and ‘being connected to other Muslims’ is no more in conflict with eating pork, drinking, etc, than ‘being a Jew’ and ‘being connected to other Jews’ is for an atheist Jew.

  13. Why is that pro-Palestinians are always uber-lefties?!?

    Because they hate the US and by extension Israel. Palestinians are just cannon-fodder in the general struggle against the US, which they see as the greatest obstacle in the path of their utopian socialist future.

    Virtue signalling is more frequently the preserve of the liberal left and Palestinians are the oppressed and never the oppressors.

  14. Why is that pro-Palestinians are always uber-lefties?!?

    I’m not sure it is. I think it’s just that uber-lefties are always, without exception, pro-Palestinians, and there are more of them, so they drown out the few pro-Palestinians on the right.

  15. “This lady was raised secular, but she conceded that simply by virtue of living around so many nominal Muslims she is probably more Muslim than she realised.”
    Culture is not the same thing as religion.
    I spend a lot of time around S. American latinas. None of them are in any way actively religious. In fact much of their life style is in direct opposition to catholic teaching. If any of them went to confession they’d be there all week & their penance require the labour of Hecules. But you can’t get round, they’re culturally catholic. And that particular catholicism that Rome exported to, imposed upon & was used to suppress the New World. Catholicisized the cultures of the indigenous people. So they tend to be very fatalistic & superstitious. There’s an enormous cultural gulf between them & someone like myself who’s been brought up without religion, totally self deterministic & can’t find a superstition or deity isn’t hilariously funny. Our views of the world are completely at odds.

  16. Culture is not the same thing as religion.

    Yeah, but if the US banned Venezuelans but not Colombians, you’d not have had Colombians calling it a “Christian ban”. A Turk has absolutely no shared culture with a Sudanese whatsoever – except for Islam. So any solidarity or mutual understanding comes from religion, nothing else.

  17. @S

    “Islam is not an ethnicity. You’ve got muslim Kurds, Turks, Arabs, Persians, Somalis.

    You could say the same about Ashkenazi Jews, Sephardic Jews, etc.

    ‘Ethnicity’ is not a real thing. It’s a perceived thing, either by those claiming it, or by outsiders.”

    My very next sentence was:

    “They all consider themselves quite distinct from each other”.

    ‘Ethnicity’ is not a real thing. It’s a perceived thing, either by those claiming it, or by outsiders.

    Ethnicity is a perceived thing, but it must be perceived by those claiming it. The opinions of outsiders are not relevant. For decades, the population of Syria was perceived by the whole world as ‘The Syrian People’. Turns out they were just Sunnis and Alawis who happened to be living in proximity. For decades, Palestinian propaganda has been insisting that Judaism is just a religion, not an ethnic group, and it’s only these confused Zionists who can’t figure it out. It hasn’t had much effect.

    One day I’ll have to figure out how the italics work here…

  18. And he’s back, as far as I can see with a majority in iraq!

    ‘Muqtada al-Sadr’s Sairoon Coalition has won 54 seats in the Iraqi parliamentary”

    Apparently the journo that threw his shoes at George Bush won a sweat as well, nothing in the western media yet on this.

  19. And he’s back, as far as I can see with a majority in iraq!

    ‘Muqtada al-Sadr’s Sairoon Coalition has won 54 seats in the Iraqi parliamentary”

    I saw that!

    Apparently the journo that threw his shoes at George Bush won a sweat as well, nothing in the western media yet on this.

    That’s because, according to the media, George Bush is not Hitler after all. In fact, he’s a wise and responsible former statesman. Trump is Hitler, though.

  20. Plus a communist to boot.

    Hey some of us actually admire Hitler, you know.

  21. “I think it is very hard to overcome the way you are raised.”

    It’s the accident of birth, otherwise we are the same.

  22. Surely it makes perfect sense if you consider ‘Muslim’ to be an ethnicity rather than a religion, in the same way there are atheist Jews?And as ‘ethnicity’ is a nebulous, unscientific concept with no real basis in objective reality, it makes just as much sense as any other one.

    That sounds suspiciously like an attempt to delegitimise the claim of Jews to be a race and press the claims of Muslims to be one.

    Thus you can pooh-pooh Jews for being concerned that some people want them to suffer and/or die because of their race and at the same time give succour to the Muslims who scream ‘racist’ every time their backward death cult is criticised.

    How convenient.

  23. That sounds suspiciously like an attempt to delegitimise the claim of Jews to be a race and press the claims of Muslims to be one.

    Well… it isn’t.

  24. (And you’re lucky I’m not easily offended because quite frankly I think it would be very reasonable for someone to take offence at you suggesting they would try to do that.)

  25. “Yeah, but if the US banned Venezuelans but not Colombians, you’d not have had Colombians calling it a “Christian ban”

    With that particular two, you wouldn’t get far off it. Colombians & Venezuelans are effectively the same people with different flags. And you do, in some ways, have a common view across the Latin-American about the gringos up in El Norte. Not necessarily favourable. Influenced by the Uncle Sam’s relationship with Cuba, dirty dealings in Colombia, other interventions down south.

  26. I have personally had quite a different interaction. An ex-girlfriend of mine was Moroccan (born and raised but then moved to the UK at 18 for uni) and would also be considered secular (basically did not believe although still did not eat pork, which seemed to be more a cultural rather than religious thing for her). She considered her identity to be “Moroccan” not “Muslim” and she was very keen to distance herself from any country or group from the Middle East, considering them as very distinct from Moroccans. She was also very much against letting any refugees from Syria into Europe, a fact I always loved to wheel out against cries of Islamophobia.

    People will always build their in- versus out-group identities and religion is a common pillar, as is nationality, class and (more and more so) political viewpoint. To link this back to your other post today on Serious vs Unserious countries, Islam is a serious religion (/religion that takes itself seriously) whilst Christianity is not (just look at what the Pope comes out with!), therefore you would expect Islam to represent a stronger pillar in any cultural or religious adherent’s identity than Christianity does and it would therefore show itself more in in- and out-group bias.

  27. Having lived some time with a secular Muslim “human rights lawyer” (he was human, a lawyer and obviously right about everything), I was able to study the difference in assumption between us. I realize the divide goes back to the ancient Greeks and the importance of individual ethics as opposed to group culturally enforced codes ie guilt versus shame culture. Western culture also has a foundation of rationality, coherence and an avoidance of contradiction. He had zero sensitivity to these, preferring to shape his worldview according to his prejudices rather than experience or research resulting in truly bizarre interpretations of history, to casually adopt Islamic custom when it suited him especially as regarded women and family, and profoundly conceal his contempt from all he found useful.

  28. “That sounds suspiciously like an attempt to delegitimise the claim of Jews to be a race ”
    Would that be such a bad thing? Thanks to a couple millennia of diaspora there’s as much sense in the Jews calling themselves a “race” as Elizabeth Warren calling herself a native American. It’s as artificial a distinction as labelling anyone with the slightest negro blood “black”. Some Jews have a lot of semitic genes. Other’s hardy any.

  29. The Turks, Iranians, Somalis etc. very likely have nothing in common save Islam. But I’ll bet many/most Turks think they have something in common with Somalis and Iranians because the only thing they know about Somalis or Iranians is that they share a religion. That is Muslims in the absence of experience simply assume other Muslims are like themselves.
    A mistake sometimes made by people of other religions.

  30. When the pressure is on there seems to be an innate reversion to group identity in humans. Jordan Peterson is under fire from the right for ignoring this and emphasising the individual. My feeling is the right have a valid point which he is uncomfortable about addressing.

  31. So, long story short, there are no “moderate” or “secular” Moslems.

    I love it when journalists, politicians etc. always precede the mildest comment on Islam with words to the effect “Of course there are many Moslems that are peaceful and want to integrate but …”. No, I repeat, there are NO moderate Moslems, and no interpreting the Koran either.

    =========================================================

    @ Johnathan – the way to get italics is to put HTML code in front of the text you want to be italic. Putting an “i” between Left/Right chevrons (no spaces) switches italic on and putting “/i” between trailing Left/Right chevrons switches it off. Sandwich the text between the two symbols and Robert is the brother of your father.

    This link might help :

    http://www.simplehtmlguide.com/cheatsheet.php

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