I want to share an excerpt, from a chapter of my upcoming mini-book, titled, The Way Ahead for Reform and Freedom,
“The empowerment of dissidents and reformers within Islam, as well as a moral arc* of science
and philosophy within its intellectual tapestry, can – and should – be a new focal point for a
wide range of practical thinking and action. This can be a ‘peaceful arms race’, waged from
within and alongside the Muslim world, in solidarity with its bravest, brightest, and most
enthusiastic torchbearers of modernity and human rights. This would mobilize across
disciplines, including mass communication, media, and human behavioral psychology. It would
tap into and call upon exciting and wonderfully nuanced skill-sets and spheres of expertise,
ranging from social activism and cyber security to dynamic social innovation and applied
In the end, having a Moral Arc* within Islam will require a growing solidarity between thought
communities within the Secular and Muslim worlds.”
I want to talk briefly about how we can work with the Muslim world to end blasphemy laws, as well as to dramatically reduce the mob lynchings (such as seen repeatedly in Bangladesh, in which atheists and dissidents and liberal Muslims are hacked to death, killed, beaten or threatened) and mistreatment of ‘apostates’ within the Muslim faith. This will take time, and a recognition that a shift in social attitudes by increasing segments of the population in these societies – from Europe all the way to Pakistan – will be needed to marginalize Islamist extremism and showcase overwhelming support for true liberal values of freedom, tolerance and pluralism.
Here are a few words I wrote in my Letter supporting free speech across our campuses here and in Europe and Canada:
The ability to feel free to speak against prevailing orthodoxies and social pressures – and the willingness to act on ones honest feelings – are pivotal in the fight for real human freedoms. Forget privileged Yale students – I think that Muslim dissidents can beat them to the Arc of Moral Progress in taking down the crushing weight of political correctness. To echo the recent words of Steven Pinker, cognitive scientist, psychologist, linguist, and popular science author,
“If dissenters are punished, and can anticipate they are going to be punished…then, you might have a situation where, no one actually believes something, but everyone believes that everyone else believes it, then no one is willing to be the little boy that says that ‘The Emperor is naked’”.
Let’s take just a handful of such recent examples, knowing that there are thousands more out there on the open web, and thousands more waiting to be hear, or to find the courage to even speak to those who will listen:
“Respecting human rights is more important than respecting cultures…humans have rights, cultures and beliefs do not”
-Faisal Saeed al-Mutar, Iraqi-born writer, human rights activist, freethinker, columnist, and founder of the Global Secular Humanist Movement. Served under dangerous conditions with US soldiers in Iraq.
“The word ‘Islamophobia’ exploits the pain of genuine victims of anti-Muslim bigotry, using them to stifle any and all criticism of Islam”
“Human beings have rights and are entitled to respect. Books and beliefs don’t and are not”
-Ali A Rizvi, Pakistani-Canadian writer, physician, musician, and human rights activist
“…These politically correct language initiatives are misguided and harmful. They create highly entitled professional “victims” who expect to be free from any offense, and they engender a stifling atmosphere where all individuals walk on eggshells lest they might commit a linguistic capital crime.”
-Gad Saad, Lebanese-born evolutionary behavioral scientist and free speech advocate
No idea is above scrutiny. No idea whatsoever. To criticize, to scrutinize and to satirize my own religion [Islam] is not Islamophobia.
-Maajid Nawaz, Muslim, peace advocate, co-founder of Quilliam
“One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world”
– Malala Yousafzai
Imagine if thousands more had such voices echoed, with a ripple effect that such modern movements engender when the echoing transparency of social media allows it. Rights revolutions can happen exponentially faster in the modern age of Information than in the 50s and 60s. Voices of science, literacy and freedom can be echoed just as fast as voices of Islamist theocracy, insurgency, and fundamentalist lunacy. The Muslim world can move faster in breaking this death-grip of pluralistic ignorance and call out the Naked Emperor in the Room, and I firmly believe we have the tools to help them do it. They can offer their physical, personal and moral courage in coming out and speaking out – we can offer our vast reservoirs of technical and intellectual capital and global media exposure. .
Forget Hashtag activism and media sound bites denouncing terror. We must do better. The time for talk is over – we must work together, with these tools of science and human empathy, to help map the moral landscape across Muslim societies, and empower Reformers and liberals to map their own moral arc, and define their own way forward into the 21st Century. The non-Muslim world cannot force this from the ‘top down’- it must ultimately be done from within, and from the ground up. However, we can certainly empower, assist, enable, and support, and we have the intellectual, social, financial and technological capital to do it. As Carl Sagan said in an episode of Cosmos,
”If we capitulate to superstition or greed or stupidity we could plunge our world into a time of darkness deeper than the time between the collapse of classical civilization and the Italian Renaissance. But we are also capable of using our compassion and our intelligence, our technology and our wealth to make an abundant and meaningful life for every inhabitant of this planet.”
– Carl Sagan, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean [Episode 1]