Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz

An atheist and a Muslim walk into …

Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue… a TV studio, and suddenly we are having a long overdue intelligent and informed conversation about Islam on Australian television.

On Thursday night Tony Jones interviewed neuroscientist Sam Harris and founder of The Quilliam Foundation, Maajid Nawaz on Lateline.

These two are an unlikely pair, and their collaboration is refreshing and promising.

Harris is a brush ‘new atheist,’ ruffling feathers with his no-nonsense approach to, and unapologetic criticism and rejection of, religion.

Nawaz is a former member of the radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Together they are a formidable voice of reason, and their recently released book ‘Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue,’ adds a much-needed sense of sanity to the subject.

… there are atheists who are on the side of the Islamists defending – I call them the regressive left – defending Islamism and defending regressive values in the name of cultural tolerance. So the issue isn’t whether one is an atheist or a believer. The issue is whether one subscribes to the universality of human rights, liberal, secular, democratic values.

… Islamism … must be intellectually terminated, whereas Islam the religion simply must be reformed to adjust to modernity …

…this is actually an ideas war, this is a civil society campaign and Islamism needs to be named and shamed. And it’s not just Muslims who are responsible, by the way, for doing this. All of society, as was with racism, as was with homophobia, because all of society’s affected by this, everyone’s responsible for taking on this challenge.
An atheist and a Muslim on the future of Islam, Maajid Nawaz on Lateline (29 October 2015)

The intersection of politics and religion represents a complex cultural and social minefield, and for far too long we have been taught not to discuss such sensitive matters in polite company.

But Nawaz is wise, and invites us to discuss the matter the same as we would discuss racism or homophobia, because we are all affected, and we all have a responsibility for trying to maintain and improve our societies.

Non-Muslims often find it difficult to positively engage in a discussion about Islam and Islamism. Frankly, there is too much public unease around the subject.

You don’t have to be gay to take a stand against homophobia.

You don’t have to be a racial minority to take a stand against racism.

You don’t have to be a woman to take a stand against misogyny.

So, why should you have to be a Muslim to take a stand against Islamism?

Islamism is a damaging force that affects both Muslims, and non-Muslims. As Nawaz notes, we must name it, understand it, shame it and ‘eradicate it’. Islam is ripe for modernisation and reformation, and it needs to be imbued with secular and democratic values.

In the context of women’s rights I previously argued:

Any argument that attempts to rely on the concepts of cultural tradition or religious freedom to explain or justify the subjugation of women is intellectually and morally bankrupt. ‘Cultural tradition’ and ‘freedom of religion’ end where human dignity begins.

Trying to argue ‘cultural relativism’ in a fundamental human rights context, to avoid ‘offence’ to cultural and religious beliefs, in relation to the protections and rights of women, children or the LGBTI community, is cowardice. Holding different races to different standards of behaviour under the guise of ‘cultural relativism’ is racist capitulation to unacceptable and inhumane cultural and religious practices.

Fundamental human protections and rights under the law are never internal affairs and human rights know no nationality, gender, race or sexuality; bow to no sovereignty, culture or religion; they’re constant, universal and inalienable.
Women’s rights must become a global priority, The Vue Post (6 March 2015)

In my view the same principles must apply to combating extremist religious views, no matter the religion involved, because the literal interpretation or malicious misinterpretation, and highly selective use, of ancient religious texts in the 21st century can lead only to conflict and misery.

Lateline: An atheist and a Muslim on the future of Islam (29 October 2015)

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