Rampant Islamophobia At “The Gun Cave” — an Indoor Firing Range in Hot Springs, Arkansas with an Owner Who Wants Her Range to Be A “Muslim Free Zone”

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When I heard there was a indoor firing range in Hot Springs, Arkansas, only an hour away from me, and that this establishment doesn’t want Muslims there, I looked up their phone number, 1-501-767-9944, and called them. Before accusing them of Islamophobia, and threatening to urge others to boycott the place, I wanted to know if they had changed their policy to something more, well, sane.

The woman I spoke to corrected me, by telling me that her establishment was not banning Muslims, but simply making it known, on the Internet, that Muslims are not welcome there. She asked me, rather than reading all the stuff on the Internet written against her position, to read her statement at http://janmorganmedia.com/2014/09/business-muslim-free-zone/ — and I agreed to do so. Why not read her statement first? I saw no reason not to.

When I read it, I found one of the most shockingly ignorant pieces of writing on the subject of Islam which I have ever encountered. Just for starters, she uses the word “Islamist” in place of the word “Muslim,” an error I have never seen before, even though I have read plenty of disgusting anti-Islamic material. The two words don’t even have definitions which are close to each other!

Here’s a particularly appalling excerpt from the site:  “I view Islam as a theocracy, not a religion. Islam is the union of political, legal, and religious ideologies. In other words, law, religion and state are forged together to form what Muslims refer to as ‘The Nation of Islam.'” (Clearly, even though she claims to have read the Qur’an in its entirety, she has not heard of such things as the long, bloody Iran-Iraq War, fought between two majority-Muslim nations, only one of which — Iran — is, or was then, a theocracy.)

In actuality, many real Muslims (and well-educated non-Muslims, also) know that the Nation of Islam (or NOI, as I call it, for clarity) is a small, non-Islamic religion founded in Detroit, Michigan in 1930 — and that there is absolutely no connection, other than a similarity in the name, between the religion called Islam, which originated in the Middle East, and the very different religion practiced by the NOI. You can find the original religion called Islam (the real one) described right here — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam — on Wikipedia, which is an objective source, precisely because anyone can edit it. If, on the other hand, you look at Wikipedia’s corresponding article on the Nation of Islam — at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nation_of_Islam — you’ll see that Islam, and the NOI, have nothing in common except for a proper noun appropriated, without justification, from a centuries-old religion. The beliefs and practices of Islam, and the NOI, are no more alike than those of, say, Christians and Hindus.

I won’t try to catalog the numerous other mistakes in the post on her website, simply because they are so plentiful, but I do encourage you to look at this appalling website for yourself — just as the woman I spoke to on the phone asked me to do. If nothing else, the numerous writing errors (for example, “Muslims” should always be capitalized, and the writer really needs to use spell-check) should convince you that this place is a hotbed of ignorance.

This place deserves to be boycotted, permanently. They also deserve to go out of business, as all bigots should. They deserve to be “called out” for their ignorance, also, and that’s exactly what I am doing in this blog-post.

Let the boycott begin! Also, please call these people, and tell them what you think of their incredibly misinformed position. Their phone number, again, is 1-501-767-9944. Places like this are not helping the world become what it needs to be — a world where Christians, Muslims, those of other faiths, and the non-religious can coexist peacefully.

[Image credit:  I found the “empty head” image above, online, at http://school.discoveryeducation.com/clipart/images/ani-hello.gif — and believe it to be legal to repost this image. If I am mistaken, however, I will remove it, or pay reasonable royalties, at the request of the image’s owner.]

“Antisemitism” has become an inherently confusing word. Here’s how to fix this problem.

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When referring to the Holocaust, it never caused confusion to refer to Nazis as “antisemitic.” German is not a Semitic language, and the non-Semite Nazis were trying to exterminate an ethnoreligious group, the Jews, who are a Semitic people. In that context, the word “antisemitism,” in a European setting, is not difficult to understand. This is also true of antisemitism earlier in European history.

Decades later, and outside of Europe, however, the situation has changed, and the word “antisemitism” is now far less clear in its meaning. The one nation most closely identified with the Jewish people is Israel, and Israel is not in conflict with Germany. Israel is, of course, currently in an active conflict with an organization, Hamas, which has been firing rockets from nearby Gaza across the border, into Israel. In response, Israel has been retaliating, using even greater force than that wielded by Hamas. In this current conflict, there have been numerous deaths of noncombatants, including many children, in Gaza, but no deaths (so far) in Israel. For this reason, some people have raised their voices in criticism of the actions of the Israeli government in the current conflict. Predictably, but not logically, those who are criticizing Israel’s actions are now being accused of antisemitism.

When the word “antisemitic” gets thrown around, in the context of conflicts in the Middle East which involve Israel, it doesn’t help anyone understand anything. The word is actually an impediment to understanding. The reason for this is that “Semite” does not mean what many people think it means. For one thing, most Semites are not Jews.

“Semites” refers to a collection of ethnolinguistic groups — people who speak, or are descended from those who spoke, any of a large collection of languages known as the Semitic languages . . . and one of the Semitic languages is Arabic. Are Jews Semites? Yes, they are, but so are Arabs. The current conflict in the Middle East is a conflict between two different groups of people, both of whom are Semitic. To throw the emotionally-charged word “antisemitic” into the middle of the fray, therefore, makes no sense. It increases confusion, and clarifies nothing. The word also further enflames the emotions of those arguing and fighting, on both sides, in a situation where the exact opposite is needed.

It doesn’t help that many Westerners believe a fallacy related to Arabs, using “Arab” (which refers to an ethnic group) interchangeably with “Muslim,” which is not an ethnic term at all, but one that simply refers to anyone who practices the religion known as Islam. In reality, there are many Arabs who are not Muslims, and there are hundreds of millions of Muslims who are not Arabs. For example, consider the people who live in Iran. The governments of Israel and Iran are often hostile to each other, and Iran has very few Arabs, despite being a nation where an overwhelming majority practice Islam.

When Israel has conflicts with other nations (or organizations, for Hamas is not a nation) in the Middle East, those conflicts are political in nature, with religion playing a strong role as well. Israel is associated with the religion of Judaism (even though much of its Jewish population is only ethnically Jewish, not Jewish in the religious sense of the term), and is often in conflict with others in the Middle East who are associated with the religion called Islam. “Antisemitic,” used as a synonym for anti-Jewish bigotry, is an unfortunate misnomer, but there are alternatives which are better, in the sense that they are more specific, and therefore more clear. There is already a word in common use for fear and hatred of Islam and/or Muslims:  “Islamophobia.”  The corresponding term for fear and hatred of Judaism and/or Jews, including those who are Jewish only in the ethnic sense of the word, is “Judeophobia.” Most of the time, when people use the word “antisemitism,” they actually mean Judeophobia. Since Arabs are, themselves, a subset of the Semites, it would be illogical to refer to a specific person who is both an Arab, and a hater of Jews, as an “antisemitic Arab.”  To describe that person as a “Judeophobic Arab,” on the other hand, makes perfect sense.

Finally, it must be recognized that there are numerous people, within both Judaism and Islam, who do not have within them the blind, furious hatred of the other group that has caused so much death and destruction in the Middle East since the founding of the modern nation of Israel, in the years following World War II. I am referring, of course, to non-Islamophobic Jews, and non-Judeophobic Muslims. One does not often see them featured in the news, especially when conflicts such as the current one are raging, but such people do exist, and their existence should give all people who prefer peace over war hope for the future. May their numbers increase.

My Unusual View of Islam, Part II

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My Unusual View of Islam, Part II

For part I, please see this post: https://robertlovespi.wordpress.com/2013/03/22/my-unusual-view-of-islam/

Since publishing my first post on Islam, I’ve received a mixture of praise and criticism for it. Most of the criticism focuses on the fact that, for the most part, I discussed Muslims, rather than the religion of Islam itself, in my first post. This is true; I did do that, and I will attempt to remedy that here.

Let me make clear, though, that I do this without apology for my previous post. Muslims are ambassadors for Islam, just as Christians are ambassadors for their religion. The same can be said for other religions, or even a lack of religion. It is human nature to associate a system of belief with its adherents, and to use observations of the latter when forming opinions of the former.

I have not, however, merely become friends with many Muslims, without studying Islam itself. Because I live in the American South, it is also virtually impossible for me to avoid analyzing Islam by comparing and contrasting it with Christianity. The two forms of Christianity with which I am the most familiar are Roman Catholicism (I’m a former Catholic), and fundamentalist Protestant Christianity of the type which is very common where I live..

The two religions have a remarkable number of similarities, but important differences as well. As Abrahamic religions, both (along with Judaism, of course) are monotheistic. As one who is extremely interested in mathematics, simplicity and consistency are important and appealing to me. Viewed through this lens, Christian monotheism and Islamic monotheism are quite different.

Islam is truly monotheistic, and the deity Muslims worship is described as unlike human beings, neither male nor female, and certainly not divisible into different “persons” of the same deity. This is not the case with any form of Trinitarian Christianity. To accept the Trinity, a core Christian belief, one must accept a mathematical absurdity, for three does not equal one. Islam presents no such problem. To many Muslims (and to me), Christianity appears polytheistic, in fact. I do not have to be a Muslim, nor adhere to any of the beliefs of Islam, to appreciate greater logical and mathematical consistency.

Christianity, by contrast, is cluttered — particularly in the forms of it, such as Catholicism, where veneration of Mary and other saints plays a strong role. Clutter, in any belief system, hold little appeal for me.

The Five Pillars of Islam are also interesting to me, albeit from an outsider’s point of view. The first pillar, the shahada, is an appealingly simple statement of faith and trust: “There is no god but Allah, and Muhummad is his prophet.” As an atheist, I cannot now say this phrase aloud, and honestly believe it — but one who can, need only do so once to convert to Islam. It really is just that simple. Not only does that appeal to me on grounds of aesthetics, for I find simplicity appealing, but it is also a very welcoming aspect of the religion. If I were to recite this phrase to one of my close Muslim friends, they would accept it, and offer to help me learn more about my new religion. I do not think it likely this will ever happen, but neither do I rule it out. I have surprised myself many times before, and am not so bull-headed that I’m going to rule such a possibility out altogether. My burden of evidence, of course, remains high, and I would never even consider uttering this phrase (except when clearly quoting it) as a dishonest act. The fact remains that ease of conversion is, to me, a point in Islam’s favor. Accept the essential core beliefs with a simple and sincere sentence, and you are accepted into Islam. I like that.

The second pillar is the salat, or, as most Westerners know it, prayer five times per day. I have come across Muslims doing this in private areas, such as isolated stairwells. By contrast, American politicians never tire of trying to promote public prayer, which Jesus himself is recorded as speaking against in the Gospels. As an atheist, I do not pray. I appreciate that Muslim prayer has never been pushed on me. I certainly cannot say the same for Christian prayer.

The third pillar is the zakāt — giving alms to the poor. Christian teachings on this subject are similar. I will not criticize either religion for this practice, for I view it favorably in both contexts. There are many people in the world who need help, and I’m not going to quibble over the source of such assistance.

Sawm is the fourth pillar — ritual fasting. The Ramadan fast (to which the image above is related) is unlike typical Christian fasting in that it is much more strenuous. I would have an extraordinarily difficult time doing the Ramadan fast for one day, let alone a full lunar month. I do not fully understand sawm, but I have witnessed the joy of my Muslim friends during this time. It harms no one, for there are special, reasonable provisions to exempt the sick, or those who are otherwise unable, from this rigorous fast. I respect the ability to do something I do not feel I could do myself, provided it is a harmless act, as this fast is.

The fifth pillar is the hajj, or the once-per-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca. My first exposure to this idea was in my reading of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and his hajj was a transformative experience — one which convinced him that racism has no place in Islam, in contrast to his former beliefs.

I can, and do, find something to admire and respect in each of the Five Pillars.

There is more to Islam than the Five Pillars, of course, but they are at the core. I have been taken to task for not discussing other, less savory things found in the Koran, but no one has shown me anything which exceeds the horror of the more unsavory aspects of the Bible, such as Old Testament misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, genocide, and sexism. The Old Testament actually requires killing disobedient children — something personally horrifying to me, as the son of an extremely abusive father, against whom rebellion was absolutely necessary for personal survival. The New Testament isn’t much better, in my view, with such things as “Slaves, obey your masters” in Ephesians, or the central narrative about God sending his son, who is somehow also God, on a suicide mission to redeem people from sin they somehow inherited from their ancestors. In my view, both books contain some pretty horrific relics of history — but moderate, reasonable Muslims and Christians, both, are moving away from such teachings, and emphasizing those which have a more positive message. Since religion isn’t going away any time soon, I’m all for seeing it transform into something more beneficial, and less harmful, and this is true of any religion.

It must be remembered that Islam is a newer religion than Christianity, by roughly seven centuries. When people describe horrors perpetrated in the name of Islam today — and yes, they are real — it would be good to consider what Christianity was like seven centuries ago, in the Dark Ages.

It’s also worth remembering that Islamic civilization is responsible for preserving much valuable knowledge from the ancient world, through the Western Dark Ages, when the candle of knowledge was very nearly extinguished.

Horrors are perpetrated — today — in the name of both religions. Many claim that this is worse, in the case of Islam, than with Christianity. To that, I respond by pointing out the problem of AIDS in Africa, made much worse by the Vatican’s stubborn opposition to the use of condoms to prevent the spread of this deadly disease. Millions are dying because of this policy. Is this as dramatic, and does it grab as many headlines, as honor killings in Afghanistan, executions in Saudi Arabia, or other such things? No, but it is every bit as deadly and harmful. There is also the horror of Christianity’s pedophilia scandals, of course. No religion has a monopoly on evil.

Some hope that the horrors of religion will finally be erased by the future ascent and dominance of atheism. Frankly, over the next several decades, I think that’s a pipe dream. The moderates within both religions are the key to making them less harmful over time, and anyone who thinks Islam has no moderates has likely fallen victim to stereotypes perpetuated by the Western media and/or politicians. Moderate Muslims are not hard to find; they vastly outnumber the fanatics, as is also the case with Christians.

Islamophobes do not see these moderates, do not appreciate their potential for reigning in the excesses of radical Islam, and often offend them with insults directed at the whole of Islam, as if it is monolithic. It is not, and these sweeping generalizations are not helpful to anyone.

Atheists and other secularists can “imagine no religion” all they want, but these imaginings are going to remain imaginary for a very long time — many generations, likely. A more realistic short-term goal is peaceful coexistence — among those of all religions, and those with none. This won’t happen without the help of moderates in multiple religions, and a reduction of hateful rhetoric from all sides.

Hate helps no one.

My Unusual View of Islam

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My Unusual View of Islam

As most readers of my blog know, I am an atheist. All atheists differ, of course, and one of the ways I differ from almost all of my fellow atheists is that I have a very different view of Islam and Muslims.

I haven’t always been this way. 25 years ago, as an undergraduate, I had unconsciously allowed myself to be heavily influenced by media coverage of the Middle East. I’m embarrassed to admit now that, then, I concluded, simply and uncritically, that this entire region is chock-full of crazy people. I openly speculated that there must be some mind-affecting drug in the water there, to cause such madness as I saw on the TV news.

As I now know, TV networks are very selective about what they show. Burning American flags make the news, to the exclusion of coverage of the millions of sane, kind people in the Muslim world, for they are not viewed as newsworthy.

I will always be grateful to my Muslim friends for helping me make this transformation. They key was getting to know them, one at a time — not as Muslims, per se, but simply as people. After getting to know them, and calling them friends, falling into the type of thinking which is dominated by stereotypes quickly became impossible, for the stereotypes did not match the behavior of any of my friends. I was given a choice between believing TV, or the evidence gathered with my own eyes and ears, and that’s always an easy choice.

It is a shame, but it is true: bigotries are only lost one at a time. I am delighted to be free of my former Islamophobia.

I now have dozens of Muslim friends, all over the world. If it bothers them that I am not a believer, they politely keep that to themselves. They’re always willing to answer my questions about Islamic practices and beliefs, but never use such questions as an opportunity to try to convert me.

The contrast with Christianity, in my experience, is vivid. Of course, I do not experience Islam as one might in, say, Iran. I also do not experience Christianity as everyone else in the world, for I live in the American South, the part of the USA with the highest rates of religiosity, and a form of Christianity in ascendance which is often intolerant of others, in the extreme. Here, I have had many (but not all, of course) Christians react to my atheism quite negatively. I have to remind myself, often, that Christianity here is unusual when viewed through a world-wide lens. For example, consider evolution. Around much of the Christian world, believers have, long ago, “grown up” on the subject of evolution. Pope John Paul II himself said that he viewed it as valid. This in not the case here in the South, where Christianity often goes hand-in-hand with Creationism, a pseodoscience to which I have a quite negative reaction, due to my strong and life-long fascination with, and respect for, real science.

There is also my personal history in play here. I have suffered horrible abuse (I’ll spare you the details) at the hands of Christians, often with the abuse having specifically religious elements. By contrast, no Muslim has ever even tried to harm me, in any way.

Most Americans, of course, think “terrorist” when they hear the word Muslim. The cure for this is simple: make friends with Muslims, and discuss this with them. You’ll learn that most Muslims detest organizations such as Al-Qaeda, and are quick to disavow them. The fact is, the Christian world has its share of such people as well; they’re the types of Christian who shoot doctors and bomb women’s health clinics. Extremists can be found everywhere, and the only reason extremists are of a particular type is almost always the same:  a simple accident of birth.

Pick one hundred Christians at random, and its almost certain that you won’t find one fitting this description. Repeat this with one hundred random Muslims, and the odds against you finding a terrorist in your sample are also almost-certain.

Sometimes, people learn that I have a generally favorable view of mainstream Islam, and wonder why I don’t convert. That’s simple: I am unconvinced that any deity or deities exist, due simply to a lack of evidence, and one cannot be a Muslim without honestly believing that a single deity exists. However, I don’t need to be a Muslim to treat Muslims as actual people, and to fight the scourge of Islamophobia wherever I find it.

Unfortunately, there’s a LOT of Islamophobia out there — and it is, sadly, very strong in the loosely-knit community of atheists. I get asked, for example, to participate in “Everyone Draw Muhummad Day” on Facebook, every year. I always refuse. Is this censorship? No, it’s simply my choosing not to offend my friends for no good reason at all.

Throughout the years I have encountered many people who rabidly hate Islam, and they are usually either Christians or atheists. I try to reason with them. It usually doesn’t work, but sometimes it does, so I generally try it anyway. Hate doesn’t help anyone, and the more of it we can rid ourselves of, the better off all of us will be.

[Later edit:  part II of this post may be found right here — https://robertlovespi.wordpress.com/2013/04/07/my-unusual-view-of-islam-part-ii/]