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I Left Islam for Liberal Values. Now Woke Liberals Are Embracing a New Religion
Obaid Omer writes in Newsweek:
I was raised in a religious Muslim home and practiced the faith for a long time. Eventually, I realized I was not a religious man, after spending a long time educating myself, immersed in our texts. Certain things bothered me after I investigated them deeply. I felt the hijab was misogynistic, and I opposed the strain of violence that had emerged from our holy books. Then there were the blasphemy laws outlined in the Quran, which seemed like the opposite of the liberal values I believe in. As a secular man, I went about my life, working as a contractor for the Canadian military for over a decade in Kosovo, Sudan, Bosnia, Haiti, and then Afghanistan. I encountered other Muslims, and others like me, who were not longer Muslim. But when I came back to Canada in 2014, I returned to a different country than the one I had left.
I had left a country that was proud of being the opposite of what bothered me about Islam, that was proud of a tradition of free inquiry and free speech, open debate and civil discourse. The Canada I returned to resembled the religion of my youth more than it did its opposite.
I left a culture that was steeped in a sentiment that could be summed up as, "I may disagree with what you say, but I respect your right to say it." I returned to a culture summarized by, "I disagree with what you say, so shut up."
Now, Ex-Muslims like me who criticized the religion of our youth were called horrible slurs: "house Muslims," "native informants," "Uncle Toms," or bounty bars, implying we were brown on the outside but white inside. Strangers called me a white supremacist for saying the hijab is misogynistic. In October of 2014, Sam Harris had his infamous exchange with Ben Affleck. Harris laid out a compelling case about Islam and spoke of its concentric circles of fundamentalism. Affleck called his argument "gross and racist."
The dam broke. Once they started calling it racist to criticize Islam, it was easy to shut the conversation down completely. The accusation meant the accused was morally beyond the pale, and thus completely dismissible. Words like micro-aggressions, trigger warnings, and safe spaces became mainstream. An emphasis on pervasive racism grew exponentially. To even question the extent to which racism was everywhere resulted in accusations of being a racist. Like with religious blasphemy codes, you can only talk about certain topics in specific ways.
I couldn't help but notice there was an almost fundamentalist, faith-like aspect to these claims. It was as if in the years since I'd been gone, our society had decided to adopt the blasphemy codes of my youth. When I heard people asked to check their privilege or introspect the ways they have been racist, it sounded like the inner jihad that Muslims are supposed to perform to make sure they are on the correct path.
How did this happen? How did the religious tenets I had abandoned come to take over the liberal culture I had abandoned them for?
To answer this question, I did what I had once done with the texts of Islam: I educated myself. I started reading about critical race theory and Intersectionality. I spent eighteen months reading critical social justice scholarship, and gender and queer theories. It was here I found the rejection of the Enlightenment values that made these theories closer to religion than to its opposite.
But there are many other similarities. In Islam, giving offense to the pious is considered a grave sin. Recall the 2015 murders at the French publication Charlie Hebdo; the artists had insulted the Prophet Muhammad and his followers, and thus deserved to die. But there's a less extreme version of causing harm through giving offense that's known as "fitna"—doing something that causes civil strife. A woman can cause fitna by dressing provocatively, as can someone who questions Islam publicly.
You can see this idea that giving offense causes harm everywhere in the new critical social justice culture. Anything that gives offense to marginalized people must be repressed for the good of society. And anyone criticizing people of color too strenuously or offending them must be deplaformed and canceled.
And just as in Islam, there is a jockeying for who is the accurate representation of the faith, Sunnis or Shia, in the social justice camp, believers decide who the true representatives of each oppressed group are. Fall afoul of the right political view and you will be denounced; people throw around terms such as "political blackness" or "multi-racial whiteness." Just as apostates from Islam are said to not have been real Muslims, detransitioners are told they were never really trans and Black people who speak out against the tenets of critical race theory are told they're not really Black.
In Muslim countries, biology textbooks will censor evolution. Now, due to gender theory, biology is similarly coming into conflict with an ideology—and losing. A mixture of post-colonial theory and critical race theory is behind a push to disrupt texts, a call to decolonize the Western Canon and school curricula. Critical social justice ideologies are in direct conflict with Enlightenment values and the rigors of the scientific method, like Islam, and are thus a huge threat to liberalism—like Islam.
I have had the good fortune to meet and speak with many brave people in the fights against fundamental Islam and critical social justice. As I once did when speaking to Muslims, I keep hearing about the silent majority that is opposed to CSJ.
That silent majority needs to become vocal very quickly. We need more people to be brave enough to speak up and push back. The long march through the institutions is sprinting into the final lap, and it cannot be allowed to win. Take it from an ex-Muslim.
Obaid Omer is a podcaster and free speech advocate. He was born in India and lives in Canada.