UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Extremism is a real and potent threat; and so is Islamophobia

When it comes to dealing with the consequences of religious violence, extremism, and fundamentalism, there is a distinct dichotomy within American society, mostly enforced by the media.

On one hand, most liberals, like myself, subscribe to the unfounded and misguided belief that extremism is not a real threat to our society. Many liberals, for whatever reason, are reluctant to criticize Islamic fundamentalism and, by their reluctance, downplay the gravity of the situation and the problems posed to not only secular societies, but even to people of Muslim heritage.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who believe the problem lies within the very foundation of the Islamic faith; those who will go to any lengths to denounce extremism and Islamic fundamentalism. Unfortunately, this path more often than not leads to situations in which the entire Islamic faith is painted with the same brush. Moderate Muslims, conservative Muslims, and extremist Muslims often get lumped in together as “dangerous terrorists” who need to be stopped, even though we all know that’s not the case.

This pervasive dichotomy is almost perfectly encapsulated by the recent televised debate on the issue between Bill Maher and Ben Affleck on Maher’s HBO program. Maher, after likening the faith of Islam to the Mafia, called for liberals around the world (including those within Islamic nations) to step forward and fight extremism. Maher then went on to critique Islam further, suggesting the religion, along with its sacred texts and teachings, was fundamentally flawed, citing oppression of women and other seemingly backwards political ideologies as evidence to support his assertion.

Affleck responded by branding Maher’s views “gross” and “racist.”

What Bill Maher surprisingly fails to realize is that the Muslim faith is more than just a handful of extremists and nations that deny women basic rights, but a collection of over 1.5 billion people with differing views and ideologies within their religion. Affleck, on the other hand, was not even open to the suggestion that Islam, like every religion that ever was and ever will be, is open to interpretation, and that sometimes those interpretations will be flawed. A quick Google search will show you that millions have been killed in the name of Christianity. Scores of people have been killed in the name of Buddhism.

Religion, as a whole, is stained with blood. Islam is no different. Like Reza Aslan, a professor of creative writing at the University of California and an author renowned for his in-depth study of world religions, stated in the New York Times, “The abiding nature of scripture rests not so much in its truth claims as it does in its malleability, its ability to be molded and shaped into whatever form a worshiper requires.”

The Koran, much like the Bible, is open to interpretation. The reason why Islam labelling itself as a religion of peace while seemingly encouraging the killing of non-believers should not be used against the religion is the same reason why the Bible’s preachings of love appearing alongside a passage which commands followers to kill every living being who refuses to believe in God should not be used against Christianity.

In this sense, Islam is undoubtedly flawed for the same reason Christianity is flawed, but that gives no one the right to paint the entire religion as a group of extremists whom take pleasure in the killing of innocent people. At the same time, it’s to our detriment to pretend that Islamic fundamentalism is not a pervasive problem which we must face head on.