Walter Bruno’s response to Frances Widdowson is a real head-scratcher. His premise seems to be that contributors to the SAFS Newsletter owe Islam special deference. Thus he is “alarmed” by the fact that the January SAFS Newsletter was published on the anniversary of the shooting at the mosque in Quebec City, yet that coincidence was not remarked upon. No doubt every previous SAFS Newsletter has been published on the anniversary of some appalling event in world history; it’s simply not the purpose of SAFS to memorialize such tragedies.
Bruno is angered at Widdowson’s perceived lack of sensitivity to Islam by defending as protected speech such expressions as “Fuck Islam” and “Islam is Cancer.” He may be on firm ground stating that these expressions are not products of “critical thinking” or “skeptical analysis;” but he is taking a position contrary to the purpose of SAFS when he suggests that the only expressions worthy of being protected on campus are ones which meet the highest standards of intellectual rigour. On the contrary, it is the longstanding SAFS position that even crude, mistaken, and indeed immoral speech must be given free reign, if only so that it can be rebutted with critical thinking and skeptical analysis. To which I now turn:
Bruno takes particular offense at the expression, “Love Muslims, Hate Islam,” on the duel grounds that (1) “hating a religion” is tantamount to “blind religious bigotry,” and (2) it reminds him of a Christian polemic to which he has particular antipathy. A religion is a body of doctrine claiming the authority of some god or other. Like any body of secular doctrine, a religion warrants being hated to the extent that its content is odious and harmful. It is uncontested among the informed that Islam was founded by an ignorant, intellectually backward, “bigoted,” war-mongering, “closed-hearted” pedophile, whose barbaric outlook still dominates the thinking and practice of large swaths of the world’s population. The more one knows about Islam, the more one must surely loathe it. Indeed, one has to be in the grips of a “blind religious zealotry” not to see its harmful and hateful aspects.
Sure, a fraction of Muslims have inculcated secular western values to some degree or another, and thus merit the qualifier “moderate.” The most public of the moderate Muslims can be identified by being the subjects of fatwas by the mainstream leaders of Islam. Most moderate Muslims have more sense than to make themselves targets by sticking their heads above the doctrinal parapet.
The Christian polemic which Bruno hates is “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Distinguishing between the person and his or her actions or beliefs makes perfect sense even to this unbeliever. The injunction is to care about the well-being even of the misguided - and who but a jihadist can object to that?
Bruno’s “galloping revulsion” peaks at Widdowson’s “uneditorialized” use of the expression “being at war with Islam.” (One wonders if Bruno obtains his talking points from the supervisor of Lindsay Shepherd, who was also vilified for poisoning the minds of her students by playing an “uneditorialized” clip of Jordan Peterson.) Well, it is simply a fact that Christianity, and indeed the world more generally, has been at war with Islam - and vice versa- at least since the Crusades. The expansion of Islam from a tiny desert clan in the Middle East all the way from Kublai Khan’s court to the heart of Spain was not accomplished purely on the basis of “critical thinking” and “skeptical analysis.”
Most recently, the world has taken military action against the self-proclaimed caliphate in the Levant, variously known as ISIS or Daish. Perhaps Bruno is upset that we have put a stop to such traditional Islamic practices as the stoning of rape victims, the throwing of homosexuals from rooftops, the drowning or burning of heretics alive in iron cages, or the decapitating of infidels in the name of Allah that has blessed our nightly news in recent years - to list but a few. Or perhaps Bruno is of the school of thought that nothing immoral has anything to do with the religion of peace. If he had the courage of his convictions, he would take this point of view to the clerics of Islam where the action is, rather than huffing and puffing in the safety of the SAFS Newsletter.
There is a danger of waging war indiscriminately, or course; but no sane person could link justified NATO and UN missions in Islamic territories with Alexandre Bissonette’s rampage at the Quebec mosque. It is beyond reprehensible to suggest that the “uneditorialized” use of the expression “war on Islam” might lead to murderous attacks on the innocent. One of the ways that moderate Muslims distance themselves from the violence of traditional Islamic theocracies is by redefining “jihad” as an “inner struggle” rather than militarism. Perhaps Bruno will follow this example and allow Widdowson the privilege of continuing her war of words on Islam, without the guilt by association.