I get the impression that many people who reject the claim that Islam is a harmful influence and do not want to admit the realities of what Islamic holy texts say primarily because they believe that acknowledging it would logically justify support for western aggression in the Middle East.
I may be wrong in this interpretation, but in case I am at least partially right about it I would like to explain why such a view would be wrong.
Concerns about imperialist policies are certainly valid. However, it is not rational to believe that admitting Islamic holy texts contain many horrible ideas would justify military attacks on Muslim-dominated regions of the world.
The reason I say this is because of how I think religious ideas factor into swaying people’s beliefs and attitudes.
As I have explained in other articles, the views all people hold are a combination of multiple factors and influences. Religion is one such influence – and it can be powerful – but it is not nearly the only one. So to undermine and wipe out belief in a harmful set of holy texts, the best course is to increase all the other factors of human experience that cause people to ignore holy books and adopt more rational moral values.
These factors include living a peaceful life free from danger since people will then be more open to debating secular ideas since they do not rely as heavily on the comforts or social order provided by religion; not experiencing blatant aggression or manipulation, since people will rally behind extreme religious and political causes to consolidate power to protect themselves; freedom from a strong hierarchy of rulers since these leaders try to control the population’s attitudes and cut their people off from free trade and communication with contrary ideas; feeling a sense of community with groups that have differing ideas due to connections and interaction beyond a religious context; and of course exposure to arguments that are critical of their own ideas.
Now it is true that unfortunately, due to the irrational, uncritical, authority-based nature of religion’s such as Islam, such religions can delude people into viewing some matters as oppression when there really is none or viewing certain groups as morally bad for reasons that do not hold up outside of their religious doctrine. But I think the evidence shows, especially from the experience of the western world, that the factors I mentioned above can be strong enough to overcome the religious ideology itself among a majority of any population in question.
Consider the improvements that Europe began to undergo as a result of Enlightenment thinkers criticizing the morality and religious and state institutions of their day, the development of representative Republics that replaced monarchies, and one of the most important factors: abundance of resources and national power that lead to people feeling safer at home and thus, slowly, less and less incentivized to rally around religion and support religious institutions.
But western policies toward predominately Islamic countries (and numerous other places around the world for that matter) work directly against achieving these changes in the Islamic world. Western nations, in particular the United States and United Kingdom, have historically divided up Middle Eastern lands according to our leaders’ wishes, overthrown existing governments and propped up dictators in their place, tried to exploit the nation’s resources (in oil) at the expense of the people, and bombed these countries in attempts to attack extremists while killing thousands of civilians in the process and making everyone fear for their lives.
All these things make religious ideology more attractive as a way to gain comfort, protection, and power – both spiritually and in terms of social organization.
You cannot bomb an idea. You cannot erect governments for other people and expect religious dogma to become obsolete. Attempting to do so will cause it to remain strong.
The lesson is that positive change occurs under more peaceful conditions, whereas harming or attempting to coerce others produces chaos and political and religious extremism. If we leave Muslim-majority countries to develop their own societies and treat them as equal partners in all affairs, then over time they will become less attached to the central dogmas of the religion and they will become more influenced by criticism of it – especially as it comes more and more from within their own societies. They will begin viewing Islam as part of the problem, just as has been slowly happening to Christianity in the western world.
So acknowledging the harmful influence of Islam does not preclude acknowledging the other factors that support religious belief. We must take measures to address those factors in addition to criticizing the ideology itself. Reality is complex and problems require an understanding of the combination of issues involved and often a multifaceted way of effecting change.