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Monday, March 28, 2005

Race and Religion

Bob Pitt from Islamophobia Watch has responded to my post from Saturday about his site. Since comments are turned off at his site, I am forced to reply here.

In his brief response he misses, completely, the point that I was making about the difference between religion and race:

Our basic mistake is to suppose that Islamophobia is a form of racism: "It is not – Islam is a religion, an ideological choice." Really? How come there are so few Muslims among white inhabitants of the United States, then? And rather more among people of colour in the Middle East? Well, obviously, they just made different individual choices.

There are several reasons why there are so few white converts to Islam in America - social stigma about the religion, ineffective missionary efforts, general lack of knowledge, simple disinterest. Yet this does not mean that any individual white American can not choose to convert to Islam. For instance, two of the best known American Muslims are white converts: Hamza Yusuf Hanson, founder of the Zaytuna Institute, and Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Both of these men, at some point in their lives, decided to become Muslims. That is an area over which they have choice, and the fact that their parents were Christians did not effect their ultimate choice. Yet the fact that their parents were white Americans of European descent means that neither man could become black or Chinese or Indian or whatever, if he wanted to change his race as he changed his religion. It is a physical impossibility.

This is the same in the Middle East. The same phenomena that work against white American conversion to Islam also apply to Middle Eastern Muslims (or Christians, for that matter) converting to other religions. A combination of social stigma, lack of information, and disinterest (plus the sharia mandate of the death penalty for 'apostasy') clearly inhibits the amount of people from Muslim backgrounds in the Middle East and North who are going to want to convert from Islam. Yet this does not mean that, say, the head of Al-Azhar University could not become a Buddhist or a Christian if he really wanted to. He wouldn't, but he could.

Essentially, the difference between race and religion is that one is an unchangeable fact of being and the other is a belief system, an ideology. Attacking someone's beliefs is, in my opinion, far less repulsive than attacking their race. For instance, I don't have any particular problem with people attacking Condoleeza Rice for her conservative political views, but I get quite irritated when people dragoon her race into critiques. I think that the same thing is true of attacks on Islam. I think that the most extreme right-wing ranting on the topic of Islam is, frankly, deranged, but I think that it is insane in the same way as their most extreme attacks on political liberalism (and political liberals) are insane. You can choose your beliefs, but not your skin.

|| RPH || 10:51 PM || |