Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sarah Haider - transcript


"....an audience on the Left now frightens me nearly as much as an audience of Islamists does."



Transcript of

Sarah Haider: Islam and the Necessity of Liberal Critique
delivered at the
American Humanist Association 74th Annual Conference, May 7-10, 2015, Denver, Colorado.


Hi Everyone,

I'm Sarah, and for the last two years I have worked to build an organization for non-theist ex-Muslims, those who once identified themselves with Islam. and now call themselves atheists, agnostics or deists; and the organization is called Ex-Muslims of North America. We are a relatively new organization, but we are growing quickly and we now have communities of ex-Muslims in over fifteen cities.

As you can imagine, it is notoriously difficult for ex-Muslims to find others like ourselves. Trying to build friendships among people who are often under siege and deep in the closet is incredibly difficult. In the first place, how do you even find people who are often deliberately doing their best to stay undercover? As an organization we work to provide ex-Muslims with much needed support, support to free themselves from the shackles of religion and to be themselves, to learn about each others' suffering, and above all else, endure.

We are in a peculiar situation, my colleagues and I, we are intimately connected with more godless ex-Muslims than likely anyone else in the world. I have heard thousands of stories from hundreds of people, about their experiences with Islam. Some lucky few were able to leave the faith with little consequence, the relationships with their families and friends and communities remained intact. But for most, this was not the case. Our journeys have seen tremendous struggles. For some the cost was only social, loss of friends and families. For others, they risked their health and mental well-being from being locked into psychiatric wards to enduring physical violence from all family members.

Ex-Muslims, arguably more than any other group, are deeply familiar with the problems entrenched within Muslim communities and inherent within Islamic scriptures. As most of us happen to be both people of color and first- or second- generation immigrants, we are doubly affected, both by hatred and violence from Muslims, but also bigotry and xenophobia from the broader American public. Despite all this, my experience over the last two years has made me wary of speaking up, even to an audience such as this. I always expected feeling unwelcome from Muslim audiences, but I did not anticipate an equal amount of hostility from my allies on the Left.

For example, when I first published a piece, fact-checking Reza Aslan, who is a prominent Muslim scholar, on his dismissal of female genital mutilation as only an African problem, not a Muslim one, I got many responses from people unhappy with what I wrote, almost all of whom questioned my motives rather than addressing my claims. To my surprise, most of my critics were not Muslims. Rather they identified as liberals and sometimes even atheists. Some darkly alluded to my "agenda" and others claimed that as a former Muslim, there was no way I could be trusted with fair criticism. Now remember, I published a fact-check. It seems to me that it would be easy to verify my claims, fact-check the fact-check, so to speak. But instead, Muslims and some people on the Left preferred instead to throw around suspicions about my character and my intentions.

Those who oppose Christian authoritarianism will find that the broad majority of liberals, religious or non-religious, side with them and will ofter their support in the fight to push religious morals out of our politics and public life. Even religious liberals sometimes look upon the politically-charged religious right with distaste and some work with secularists to keep them out of our politics. The executive director for the Americans United for {Separation of} Church and State, for example, is an ordained minister. Atheists and secularists can feel secure in the knowledge that their allies on the liberal Left will stand with them when their target is the far-right Christians. It makes sense, liberals don't share much, many common values with the religious right. But when the same scrutiny is applied to Islam, you find that inexplicably some people on the Left begin to align instead with the Islamic religious right. The consistent exception has been the secular and atheist communities.

When luminaries of disbelief movement like Harris and Dawkins speak about the horrors of Christianity and write books condemning it, they are cheered, their works lionized, their presence sought at events and conferences. But when they turn the same critical gaze towards the religion of my family, they are told to cease such offensive talk, to refrain from criticizing the same oppressive forces that they criticized in the past. There is an instinct to pigeon-hole anyone who says something negative about Islam, to broadly label them in such a way that nearly guarantees that most on the Left will ignore what they have to say.

The first method, I found, of people dismissing my claims, has been that since as a brown person I can't easily be painted as a bigot, is that I must be pro-war or broadly support the far-right agenda in some way. This is not true. Sometimes I am called an Uncle Tom or a house Arab. Another term thrown around at ex-Muslims and other brown critics of Islam is "native informants". This was my first time hearing this.

I won't go into the many reasons why this is an impressively disgusting thing to call someone, with the vague implication that we are brainwashed in some way, or are betraying our own kind. While it is somewhat understandable, why someone like Myriam Francois, who is a white convert to Islam, why she would refer to us as native informants, it is beyond my comprehension how such a transparently racist term was used by the journalist Max Blumenthal in his article condemning Ayaan Hirsi Ali to cast a shadow over her role in this debate. I wonder if Blumenthal would feel comfortable using similarly racist terms against anti-clerical dissidents from African-American or other minority communities.

Bill Maher is someone who has been painted by the Left and the Right as a bigot. Once on his show though, Maher mentioned the high rates of support for the death penalty for the crime of atheism in Muslim communities. In response, Dean Obeidallah, who is a comedian and author and liberal Muslim, attempted to defend the Muslim countries by pointing out errors in the statistics Maher used. Let me quote his piece on CNN.

He says - "a 2013 Pew poll actually found that only 64% of Egyptians supported this" - by this he means the death penalty -"still alarmingly high, but not 90%" and only thirteen Muslim nations have penalties for apostasy, while 34 do not". Can we realistically imagine something like that being published if it was about any other minority, in an honest effort to downplay the horror? What if it was "only 64% of Americans support the death penalty for converts to Islam" - Muslims don't have it that bad - "only 64% of French citizens support the death penalty for Algerian immigrants" or "only 64% of Americans support the death penalty for homosexuality"?

How bad is the situation, how terrible the human rights abuses and how little the worth of the life of a human being, when 64% is viewed as a defensive statistic? It is a situation as if fully one-third of western nations had legalized the murder of Muslims, how appalled would we be? What would the Left's reaction be? As an ex-Muslim I am horrified that something like this would be published on the web-site of a major news organization and not a single voice was raised in outrage.

Why is my life worth less? Does my simply being raised in an Islamic tradition grant the Islamic religious right overt ownership over me and my body, grant them license to murder me and my fellow atheists? The claim actually being made by citing this statistic was that Maher was supposedly making too much of a fuss of atheist persecution by Muslims.

Now I do not wish to denigrate the author, Dean Obeidallah, but to illustrate the depth of the problem, that in trying to defend what he perceived to be an injustice to Muslims, he did not even notice the depravity of what he wrote. As a consequence an audience on the Left now frightens me nearly as much as an audience of Islamists does.

"...someone who opposes the most foundational liberal principle, the freedom of expression,  in order to protect the sensibilities of this Islamist religious right is a liberal only in name."

I have had to think long and hard about whether I want to give this talk today, to what extent I should mince my words, and what consequence it would have on my work. It's not my intention to cause offence but I firmly believe that there are things that need to be said, elephants in the room that no one but some bigots on the far right are willing to acknowledge.

We are all, I hope, familiar what happened on January 7th at the offices of Charlie Hebdo.  Masked gunmen killed twelve people, shouting Allahu Akbar!, later revealed to be two brothers,  French nationals of Algerian origin.  There was global outrage and a large show of solidarity for the cartoonists, which appeared to be the obviously righteous things to do. Until of course the religious began to speak up with claims of "provocation" and hurt feelings.  But that was to be expected, Islamists have been saying that for years, and indeed, no religion really accepts any form of ridicule - if they have a choice in the matter, that is to say.

However, what was more distressing to me,  was the response from many of my allies on the Left.  Over and over I heard the claim that Charlie Hebdo was somehow a racist publication, and while, of course, of course, murder is always wrong and should be condemned, it is nonetheless "understandable" that the gunmen would feel provoked by the cartoons.  Now, I don't know about you, but I don't want to meet the man who "understands" why someone would feel compelled to murder another man because he didn't like a cartoon that he drew.  (applause).

It's important to realize that mocking and critique are not that different in the eyes of the most religious people.  There is no fair amount of fair and friendly criticism that the very religious will accept if they have the power to shut it down, as evidenced by the prohibition on heretical speech in theocratic states throughout history.

There is a curious double-standard at play.  When Muslim clerics and activists that are known to be anti-Semites and homophobes are welcomed on campuses, touring nationally, invited to give lectures by Muslim student associations, while feminists like Asra Nomani, who has been fighting for the equality of the sexes, for the right of female entry to the priestly class, is branded as a bigot by the same Muslim student organizations and the authorities at universities like Duke succumb to this brazen attempt to silence her.

Similar patterns are repeated across the Western world.  Maryam Namazie, who is an ex-Muslim activist, was dis-invited to speak at TrinityAyaan Hirsi Ali at Brandeis.  The British Students Union now allies itself broadly with Islamist organizations such as CAGE.   To quote Nick Cohen from his article from the Guardian, "University managers are no better than their teenage heresy hunters.  They say they want to oppose radical Islam in argument. The Lawyers’ Secular Society took them at their word. It tried to present an investigation at the University of West London into Islamist groups that were all over campuses, despite their record of advocating Jew hatred, homophobia and misogyny. The university authorities banned the secularists."

Let me be clear.  I don't think anyone, even bigots emerging from Muslim communities or anywhere else, should be silenced.  What I ask is that we stand up for the right to speak of all, including those both those who stand with us and those who call for the death of our fellow dis-believers. Our society functions because we believe that hurt feelings mean nothing in the eyes of our justice system.

But of course it is claimed that this is a special case, because these aren't just personal hurt feelings,  these are religious hurt feelings, and not just any religion, but the religion of the underdog, of the brown man.  And the Left decided long ago that the hurt feelings of the Christian religion mattered little, and it was imperative that we disabuse the notion that Christianity would ever feel safe from criticism or even outright mockery.  Indeed many of our greatest thinkers have delighted in exercising this right.

I want to quote Thomas Paine, from his book, The Age of Reason, “Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon, than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.”

I wonder if Paine had been murdered for his outright contempt of Christianity,  how different would the West look today? what message such a gruesome deed would have sent? how many people would it have silenced with its promise of more bloodshed to come if they had the audacity to repeat his crime? Would that fear have silenced those who insisted on the freedom of speech?  How would that have affected the face of our nation?

Now I hope that you will reflect with me,  on the fact that not only was he not murdered, neither were his contemporaries who mocked religion, also even then three centuries ago, I don't believe he contemplated the idea that writing would actually lead to his death.  And yet, in the twenty-first century, this is the reality of those who speak out against Islam in Muslim countries and increasingly in Western ones.

It is not uncommon to hear from commentators in various media outlets that the victims of Charlie Hebdo had somehow provoked others with their offensive cartoons into taking their lives.   The sentiment seems to be that the cartoonists must to some degree be held accountable for their own murders, even as dozens of cartoonists from the East drew panels in support of their counterparts in the West, risking their own lives for freedom of speech.

Two months ago, PEN, an organization that has stood for free speech for nearly a century, announced their decision to honor the magazine Charlie Hebdo with the PEN Freedom of Expression Courage Award.  Yet amongst those that were members of PEN, there were some that refused to stand with Charlie Hebdo, initially six table heads and as of now, 204 writers.

I would like to remind everyone that we've been here before.  When Salman Rushdie had a fatwa calling for his death, PEN America under Susan Sontag's stewardship stood for him, even while a significant percentage of the intelligentsia cast him aside.  Figures as diverse as the Archbishop of Canterbury to multiple members of the British Parliament, one of whom condemned Rushdie as, quote, an outstanding villain, whose, quote, public life has been a record of despicable acts of betrayal of his upbringing, religion, adopted home and nationality.  As there were eastern cartoonists standing with Charlie Hebdo,  there were Irani writers from the Muslim world that stood in defiance and defended Rushdie, some of whom were subsequently attacked.

In light of the recent attack in Garland, Texas, I'd like to share the prophetic words of Norman Mailer, from over two decades ago: "In this week of turmoil we can now envision a fearful time in the future when fundamentalist groups in America, stealing their page from this international episode will know how to apply the same methods to American writers and bookstores.  If they succeed it will be due to the fact that we never found an honest resistance to the terrorization of Salman Rushdie."

Where in 1989 and 2005 authors and cartoonists considered a vague possibility of retaliation, it has now metastasized to an ever present threat; like clockwork the violence intensifies and repeats. The cowardly response in the intervening decade has also been repeated time and time again, every time emboldening the voices that call for the curtailment of free speech.   The Rushdie fatwa was the first battle, a battle in which we surrendered, and continue to pay the price for that appeasement today.

So why is it so difficult for many on the Left to criticize Islam? Why do they shy away from it?  I believe that the primary reason is that many are simply incapable of separating the criticism of an idea with hate directed towards a people, and immediately call the first "racism".  That idea should not be entertained for very long, as if there can be no valid reasons to critique an ideology rooted in seventh-century patriarchal norms except for hatred toward the very people imprisoned by those  ideologies.

There are people who use the phrase "Islamophobia" both to mean criticism of the people and of the religion.  I know that many Muslims do this, it is an easy way of stopping others from criticizing their religion, but I believe that many in the West use this word because they haven't quite thought of why it might be harmful.  Islamophobia is a meaningless term.  It serves to confuse and to muddle two very different forms of intolerance, based on two very different reasons,  to which there should be two very different reactions.

Sometimes it is claimed that the critique of religion is critique of the identity of the believer, and is therefore bigotry.   This person's identity happens to be based on ideology, so if you criticize their  ideology,  you are necessarily generating hate towards that person.  But I wonder what would happen if we applied this type of thinking to everything? What if New Agers decided that criticism of New Age spiritual healing was a form of hate against people who chose to identify that way?  What if Hindus decided criticism of the caste system was a deeply offensive form of racism against Hindu people? How much of that would that retard reform?

There is another version of this argument with the claim that criticism or ridicule of Islam feeds into the bigotry by the far-right and therefore causes harm, and I want everyone to know that the argument is almost never that Islam doesn't deserve the critique or ridicule as a religion, but that it is harmful to voice this for the damage it would do.  Now one of the writers that opposed the award for Charlie Hebdo claimed that, quote, the narrative of the Charlie Hebdo murders --  the narrative of the Charlie Hebdo murders -- white Europeans killed in their offices by extremist Muslims is one that feeds neatly into the cultural prejudices that have allowed our governments to make so many disastrous mistakes in the Middle East -- the narrative of the Charlie Hebdo murders!  I read that statement and I realized that for some writers the problem wasn't just that the cartoons were offensive, it was that the reaction of Muslims to the cartoons fed into a stereotypical Muslim trope, a reaction that was very inconvenient for a group trying to paint a picture of a peaceful Islam, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

It is quite clear that allegiances here aren't to the truth, instead the aim is to selectively hide  inconvenient truths, truths that are deemed to be harmful, should they ever be acknowledged.  I assume the fear is that we do not want to give support to actual bigoted people.  Anyone who watches Fox knows how they use fear-mongering tactics to promote xenophobia.   But the liberation of a billion and a half Muslims in the world, Muslims who are suffering under the yoke of an ever-present theological authority, should be at the forefront of our minds.

As has been repeated hundreds of times by critics like myself,  the primary victims of Islamism are Muslims, be it in terms of terrorism, violence, misogyny, freedom of expression, religion, and economic decline.  Yet bizarrely, these concerns are secondary still to not presenting offense.

Still there are others that believe that people in the West have no right to speak about problems of "brown cultures" due to the legacy of colonialism and other forms of violence the West has cast upon the East.   This is a strange argument because it ignores the history of the world, a history in which various nations. Muslims and non-Muslims, have succumbed to the ebb-and-flow of conquest, repeatedly. for all of recorded history.  Many Islamic countries in fact had horrific laws before colonialism.   Two of the epicenters of Islamic thought,  Iran for Shia Islam, and Saudi Arabia for Sunni Islam, resisted colonialism.   In fact, Saudi Arabia was founded in 1744 as an extremist state,  the first iteration of which was destroyed by the Ottomans, due to their religious fanaticism.  The first Saudis in fact attacked and desecrated some of the most holy Muslim sites and were stopped not by intervention of the West but by other Muslims that viewed them as dangerous fanatics.   There was then no American imperialism, no frame of wars against other Muslims. and yet, fundamentalist Wahhabis existed, and were attacking other Muslims very much the same way that ISIS attacks them today.

...the liberal Left needs to present a different path. It is particularly important that those who stand for compassion, that those who stand for human rights and recognize the harmful effects of bigotry and discrimination lead the charge...

Reform is impossible when you constantly shift the conversation away from Islamic fundamentalism, and back to western violence and imperialism.  But don't get me wrong.  It is important to discuss this, it is important to discuss imperialism and the harm that it caused.  But violence in the name of Islam has terrorized the Middle East ever since its inception, and it is important that we don't derail this conversation.   The moral paralysis out of fear of the right, out of fear of furthering bigotry, by shame of prior crimes committed by other white people should not trump all considerations.

When I read articles of why Muslims should not be ridiculed I get a sense of condescension, a sense that there are those who believe that the most essential trait of brown people is their religion, a defining feature in fact,  and due to this they presume that we won't reform or we can't, that religion is something inherent to who we are and that it won't respond to pressure, to change the way Christianity responded to pressure by secularists.  While they believe themselves to be supporting tolerance, what they are really supporting is the religious right of the East, and not just any religious right, not the religious right that we have here, it's a religious right the West hasn't seen for centuries.

To me, someone who opposes the most foundational liberal principle, the freedom of expression,  in order to protect the sensibilities of this Islamist religious right is a liberal only in name.  In fact, what kind of person holds two different groups of people accountable to two different standards of acceptable behavior but a bigot?

Islam, like all patriarchal religions, is a tool used to justify abuse of women and minorities.   Does our concept of tolerance extend towards tolerance of systematic subjugation of women and minorities? What else can excusing abuse made in the name of tolerance be called other than a benevolent, self-serving form of bigotry?  No matter how seemingly compassionate the motivations, we must not hesitate in being honest in calling out our allies for their hypocrisy and their illiberal mores.

Sometimes I feel as though people view secularism and free-thinking to be concepts owned by the West, something inherently Western.  To push secularism and free thought to Muslims then is to push a Western identity onto them.  It is no more than ignorance of history to feel that Enlightenment ideals can only be shared by this civilization, rather than a progression of all of humanity.  Indeed throughout  history there have been champions of these very same ideals, there have been free-thinkers in every culture in the world that have bled for these ideals.  There have been countless free-thinkers that challenged faith, that tried but sadly failed to interpret scripture in a less misogynist way, even in patriarchal Islamic societies. 

For example, the seventeenth century had the crown prince of the Mughal dynasty, Dara Shikoh, who was committed to rights of all religions,  Hindu, Sikh, Muslim alike, working to bridge the gaps between the leading lights of all faiths.  As you may anticipate, this was not to last, Dara was murdered by his own brother, claiming that Dara's tolerance was a sign of his apostasy, a brother that is now revered in Muslim circles as being a guardian of the faith. 

Similarly, there have been women that have led the charge for their own rights.  Exactly two hundred years ago, Fatima Baraghani was born in Iran, an extremely intelligent woman, who as per custom was married young, and wasn't allowed to further pursue her education.  She was attracted to a radical movement brewing in the country, which espoused equality of the genders.  She joined and rose to be one of the leading lights of that movement.  To symbolize a break from Shariah, in one gathering, she took off her traditional veil in front of an assemblage of men and brandished instead a sword.  Now this sight caused such a shock among the crowd, that many grown men screamed aloud.  One man cut his own throat in horror, fleeing the scene as blood poured from his neck. {Laughter}

But she did not enjoy freedom or live long after this incident.

The tragedy of the Eastern past isn't that we haven't given birth to reformers but that the violence of our oppressors has eliminated us, time and again.  Even in modern times, one Somali author, Abdisaid Abdi Ismail, wrote a book where he audaciously argued that Islam doesn't actually call for a death penalty for apostasy.  He was rewarded for his efforts by having his life threatened, and calls for his book to be burned.  A British reformist, Maajid Nawaz, has had fatwas issued calling for his death for simply saying on a tweet that a cartoon of Muhammad doesn't personally offend him.  The religious right has been murdering reformers for centuries,  but we are still here, fighting for our future, the same fight that the West has had much greater success in.

It is strange that the very same people, who should (?) tamp down on the power of the Christian right and use the advances that the West has had, to insist that we must be defined by our religious right.  Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that we can all concede the idea that Islam, as a religion, needs reform, or at the very least, Muslim communities do, both in the West and abroad, and in the way they choose to practice their faith.  I happen to believe this.  All the data we have corroborates this.  There's a large amount of evidence which clearly demonstrates rampant misogyny, bad attitudes towards homosexuals and apostasy within the Muslim world, supported by the law and widely accepted by the people.

In an effort to draw attention away from the role of religion in all this, some have chosen to instead use excuses by a variety of reasons, none of which make sense, because Muslim countries share almost nothing between them all, except the predominant religion - not socio-economic status,  not education or literacy levels, not GDP, not cultural background or history, not race or ethnicity, not language, not political system, not the history of Western colonization.  What they do share is theology.

Obviously Islam isn't the root of all evil, but it is an important factor.  What we have here is a right wing in the West who believes that Islam personifies evil and a Left which refuses to even look into it as a source of harm.  The question then becomes, how do we achieve reform without actually mentioning any problems in Islam? How do we achieve progress while shying away from one of the foundational aspects of how harmful practices are justified?

Most cultures are responsive to selective pressure, and by insisting that no pressure be applied, we are acting as a brake on any progress.  We have plenty of evidence that a push for secularism or a presence within secular cultures can change behavior, and even the beliefs of Muslims.  For example,  if you compare Muslims in the US with Muslims in the Middle East, you will find across all metrics, that their opinions are less extreme and more in line with liberal values, than those of the population of their origin countries.

Many Muslims believe that their religion is immutable, that every word of which is true, and reformers insult them when they demand change.  Yet profound changes in the way Muslims practice  their religion have occurred in the past.  Many Muslim countries practiced slavery up until the twentieth century, with some countries abolishing slavery as recently as 1981, citing religious sanction of the practice as a justification.  Saudi Arabia's slave population was estimated at 300,000 a scant 50 years ago, and it was international pressure that forced abolition.

Under pressure from the British Empire to abolish slavery a little over a century ago, the Sultan of Morocco cited the inerrancy of the Quran to make the case for the divine sanction of slavery.  Later the chief minister of Morocco, Muhammad Idris, wrote in response to anti-slavery efforts, that "we do not interfere in religious principles which you profess, likewise you should not interfere in our religion".  In the face of Ottoman unwillingness to condemn the status of slaves as enshrined in Shariah, a British statesman sarcastically stated, one might well ask the Sultan to become a Christian.

Yet today, most if not all Muslims are repulsed by the idea of slaves.

Did they abandon the Quran which seemed to clearly condone slavery a mere century ago?  Or were we able to shift mainstream consensus by standing up for our moral principles?  I wonder what would have happened if the benevolent bigots of the West, of the Left today, who feel that it is more important to respect a culture for the sake of respecting a culture had existed back then.  How many millions would be living in chains today?

There is another common narrative, of the West as oppressors, how racism here feeds into the oppression of a minority.  Champions of Islam have gone on record using it as a cudgel to beat against the back of progress.  We need to be aware that the victim versus the oppressor dynamic isn't set in stone the way some people would have you believe.

One can be a victim in one context and an oppressor in another.  A Muslim man may deal with racism at work, real racism, may see career setbacks, and goes home and beats his hijabi wife because he was raised in a misogynistic tradition, using Quran's verse as justification.  Should we not criticize his behavior because of his victimization in one aspect?

An imam may be an anti-Semite, a homophobe, he may be indoctrinating a generation of impressionable minds into his harmful ideas.  Yet the same imam might also be a victim of bigotry when he aims to launch a new mosque.  He may be the target of local xenophobic attitudes.  In lieu of his sufferings, should we pretend his other despicable behaviors do not exist? or do not matter?  Are we to sacrifice one for the other?

Instead, can we not stand against all oppressions, stand for the equal rights of others, while simultaneously working against bigoted narratives in religion?  One of my ex-Muslim colleagues beautifully summed up the same sentiments, when she was talking about the misogynistic nature of the hijab, quote, feminism is defending women, Muslim women, who wear the hijab for whatever reason, against shaming or attack. Feminism is not categorically denying that the hijab can be coercive, body-shaming, slut-shaming, restrictive or psychologically crippling.

We cannot avoid reality because we are afraid of the consequences of acknowledging facts.  Is it ethical to avoid educating our children about Darwinian evolution simply because it has fed into Social Darwinism in the past?  Our silence about uncomfortable truths simply underscores the cost of our inaction and the consequences loom ever larger.  We are paralyzed by our own insecurities, by our fear that the truth will empower the worst of us, rather than set us free.

We have those on the Islamic far right who say that there is no room for reform in Islam, because Islam is, and always has been perfect.  We have their counterparts from the far right in the West, who coincidentally also view Islam as beyond reform, but for different reasons, as something that is irredeemably and permanently evil.  Between those two extremes, we have the average Muslim, who is forced to choose between the devil he knows, Islamic dominance and supremacy, over the devil he doesn't, Western bigotry.

The liberal Left needs to present a different path, not acquiesce to either form of religious dominance.  It is particularly important that those who stand for compassion, that those who stand for human rights and who recognize the harmful effects of bigotry and discrimination lead the charge against religious oppression no matter where it stems.  We know, not only is reform is possible, it is ongoing against insurmountable odds, it has champions that are laying their lives on the line for a better tomorrow.  We cannot and must not let the current situation endure where reformists of Islam are standing alone and vulnerable.

We must remember that there is no inevitable march of progress, no guarantee that tomorrow's world will be more just, more equal, more rational, more tolerant or reasonable.  Liberal rights without liberals to champion them are values without influence, with no defense. Let's not let our empathy for oppression of one group excuse their oppression of another.

Thank you!

{Standing applause}