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Muslim Reformers Versus Islam Apologists: A Brief Field Guide

 First of all, it’s important to stress that it is dangerously paranoid to see all Muslims as “bigots”, “misogynists” or potential “jihadists”. Each person, whatever their race, skin colour, religious affiliation or nationality is an individual and must always be judged on his or her personal merits. There are many exceptionally brave, enlightened Muslims and ex-Muslims risking their lives to try to spread humanitarian values in the Muslim-majority world and Muslim communities in the West. I also know my own real life friends of Muslim background would never condone violence or oppression. I would unhesitatingly trust my personal Muslim friends with my life.

But I’m really tired of apologists trying to pretend there isn’t a problem within the Muslim world. There can be no doubt that both Islamic terrorism and Islamofascism inspired by regressive interpretations of Islam are huge problems worldwide. Not the only problems by a long shot, but still a major cause of suffering. In their desperation to find solutions, people tend to clutch at simplistic narratives. In the eyes of the loathsome alt-right (the ‘racist right’ as I call them), Muslims are the aggressors and have some kind of genetic propensity towards bigotry and violence. This is arrant and despicable nonsense. But it’s equally nonsense to suggest that Muslims are all innocent victims of dastardly white Westerners. Muslims are the perpetrators of Islamist violence and repression – and the vast majority of its victims. They are human beings and contain a spectrum of attitudes and personalities from Maajid Nawaz at one end of the scale, to Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi at the other.

This isn’t a battle between East and West, and this isn’t a battle between brown people and white people, nor is it a battle between non-Muslims and Muslims. This is a struggle between, on the one hand, those fighting for human rights and humanitarian values, and on the other hand, those who favour regressive values and theocracy. When a Saudi woman is caned because her hijab slipped, a gay man stoned to death by an angry crowd, a blogger imprisoned for life for stating he is an atheist, a young man forced into hiding because of death threats for ‘liking’ a Facebook post, an Indonesian woman caned for standing too close to her boyfriend in public, or a ‘blasphemer’ who allegedly said something rude about the prophet killed by a mob and the killer later lionised and celebrated – none of that is a response to the West.

This is how to tell a reformer from an apologist: a reformer is frank about what is going on and dedicated to changing it. An apologist is smug and complacent. A reformer is passionate about righting wrongs. An apologist pretends they don’t exist. An apologist cares about scoring points for his ‘side’, his ‘team’. A reformer cares about improving things for humanity. An apologist tries to gloss over misogyny, anti-Semitism and homophobia. A reformer supports equal rights for everyone: man, woman, gay, straight, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, atheist. An apologist cares only about Muslims. A reformer cares about everyone.

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