UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Defending the Attackers of the Defenders of the Faith

I am writing in response to Stephanie Fail’s editorial, “A Secularist Squid vs. Islam.” Fail attempts to criticize an editorial by Rosie Healy, in which Healy voices her opinion on the relationship between secularism and religion in democratic society. Fail calls Healy a “secularist squid” and a bigot. Not only are these terms inaccurate, reflecting a lack of comprehension of Healy’s points, but they are also insulting and well below the level of discourse one would hope to find at a university. A point by point refutation of Fail’s arguments would be overly time-consuming, so I will limit myself to key issues.

Fail writes that Healy shows no respect for “the hijab, Islam, Al Zaim’s past choice of opinion topics, and organized religion in general.” In the next paragraph, she says, “I felt like it was not my place to try to reason with a bigot.” If disagreeing with the religious choices and opinions of others – and expressing this disagreement – is disrespectful and unacceptable, then open discourse on the pressing topics of our day is impossible. It is perfectly legitimate for an individual to think that some choices others make are wrong, and it is essential to a functioning democracy that one be allowed to say so. Unlike Fail, Healy never impugns anyone else’s right to speak her mind. In fact she supports such freedom, as evidenced by the fact that “Healy agreed that in a secular country women should be able to dress however they like,” to use use Fail’s own words on Healy’s response to the repeal of an oppressive law in Turkey that banned wearing the hijab. Fail should take a cue from Healy and exercise her own right to speech without resorting to unfounded accusations of bigotry.

My next point is about Fail’s calling Healy a “squid.” Healy’s editorial was a skillful exercise in intellectual debate. Even if one disagrees with her opinions, interpretations of the facts, or the facts themselves, Healy deserves respect for never stooping to childish insults. Schoolyard name-calling has no place in university discourse.

Finally, I take issue with Fail’s characterization of secularism. She blames secularism for the following: the Iraq War, imperialist U.S. interference in Latin America, the U.N.’s failures regarding Rwanda, child labor, and environmental degradation caused by the U.S. First off, I wonder how Fail can call the Iraq War and exploitation of Latin America consequences of secularism, when they were perpetrated by two of the most religious (and religiously conservative) presidents of the past hundred years, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, respectively. Reagan wasn’t the only president to “chew up and spit out” Latin America, but my point is unaffected: every president this country has ever had has been a Christian. It is simply incorrect to blame unjust actions of the American government on secularism. Second, I fail to see the connection between secularism and the U.N.’s failings, climate change, and corporate exploitation of children. Did the U.N. decide not to intervene in Rwanda because its bureaucrats were all atheists? Do sneaker companies use child labor because they hate religion? Is the earth being destroyed because CEO’s of polluting companies think God is dead? Obviously not; there are other, better, more reasonable explanations than such reactionary offerings.

If there is to be peaceful progress towards living in a diverse society, open and intelligent discourse must thrive. Otherwise, silence and the resulting lack of understanding will beget strife. One should not be faced with the prospect of being called a bigot or ridiculed – or worse, silenced – for acutely expressing one’s beliefs. Those who uphold the admirable goal of open debate ought to be commended.