Over the last month, the Guardian has published two articles by self-professed “ex-Jews” – that is, Jews whose hatred of Israel – and the putative sins of Jews and Judaism – caused them to renounce their Jewish identity.
As Richard Millett noted on these pages, the latest work by discredited historian Shlomo Sand was featured in the print and online editions of the Guardian in October – a lengthy book excerpt which vilified Israel, and suggested that Judaism itself was compromised by immutable – theologically based – racism.
Here are a few passages from Sand’s article in the Guardian.
…having painfully become aware that I have undergone an adherence to Israel, been assimilated by law into a fictitious ethnos of persecutors and their supporters, and have appeared in the world as one of the exclusive club of the elect and their acolytes, I wish to resign and cease considering myself a Jew.
By my refusal to be a Jew, I represent a species in the course of disappearing. I know that by insisting that only my historical past was Jewish, while my everyday present (for better or worse) is Israeli, and finally that my future and that of my children (at least the future I wish for) must be guided by universal, open and generous principles, I run counter to the dominant fashion, which is oriented towards ethnocentrism.
Then, on Nov. 6th the Guardian somehow found another “ex-Jew”, Will Self, to review Sand’s book.
His review vilified British Jews, beginning thusly:
In 2006, as the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) were undertaking their second major incursion into Lebanon, I resigned as a Jew. I did it publicly in an article for the London Evening Standard. My resignation wasn’t a protest against Israeli aggression – why would they care about such a gesture? – but aimed, I believed, against prominent leftwing English Jews, who, despite the complete contradiction between their espoused values and the undemocratic, apartheid and territorially expansionist policies of the so-called Jewish homeland, continued vociferously to support Israel
Though it’s disturbing that Guardian editors viewed such vicious attacks on Jews and Judaism itself to be within the realm of acceptable debate, a recent episode demonstrated the media group’s egregious double standards on the broader issue of such intra-religious critiques.
As the faith blog Patheos recently reported, among the comments below the line of a Nov. 5th column by Guardian religion blogger Andrew Brown, titled “Why I don’t believe people who say they loathe Islam but not Muslims,” was one very cogent, polite reply by members of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain.
Here’s the comment:
As ex-Muslims, we critique Islam because there are many aspects of Islam that need to be critiqued. In particular, we seek to oppose Islam’s apostasy codes, which are oppressive and lead to persecution.
We have found it is quite difficult to get some people to listen to our stories because they fear that acknowledging these issues will contribute to a critical view towards Islam.
The idea is that particularly reactionary teachings and aspects of belief that lead to critical judgements of Islam are in and of themselves prejudiced. The resulting logic of this is that Islam should have special privileges, inasmuch as basic human conscience and ethical critical judgement of people living in a secular culture should not apply, or be expressed, towards Islam.
The fact that criticism exists is the offense.
Effectively, this is to propose a kind of proxy blasphemy code and apostasy code, wherein the liberal secular space defers to Islamic taboos. Dissenting Muslims and ex-Muslims have to conform to these proxy codes too. Everyone else is free to critique their own religion, and other faiths and ideas too. But Islam must be protected.
However, Muslims are free to critique all religions, belief systems and moralities, because evangelizing Islam, and proffering critique and judgment is not only a divine prerogative, but the closing down of ethical, critical judgment towards Islam is also a divine right.
As we can see, this is an ethical and moral mess.
This is an aspect of liberal relativism that is morally flawed and unsustainable without damaging basic principles of liberal secularism. It also means that aspects of Islam that need to be criticized, like Islam’s apostasy codes, remain unexamined, and with that authority unquestioned, their capacity to hurt people and cause harm increases.
Another fear is that being critical of aspects of Islam manifests in prejudice towards Muslims, and this is an understandable response given how parts of the far-right do project generalizing narratives of communal responsibility on Muslims. As ex-Muslims, we understand this, because being from ethnic minorities ourselves (apart from growing numbers of former white converts) we are also prone to be in the crosshairs of bigots who project their hostility onto anyone who ‘looks’ Muslim, whatever that is supposed to be.
The key to dealing with this is for the Left to take ownership of the issues that need to be critiqued, and do so through the prism of liberal secular values, so that they cannot be co-opted by the nationalist right, who have agendas that are not tolerant.
Sadly the instinct of relativism too often prevents this reckoning from occurring. The silencing of ex-Muslims’ voices is the norm, although we are trying to change this.
There are three main layers of silencing of apostates’ voices. The first layer is the hardcore religious silencing, which includes notions that we deserve to be killed and harmed. Underneath that is a second layer of some Muslims who may not agree we should be persecuted, but don’t want to have these problematic aspects or religion talked about, because of feelings of embarrassment, fear of the consequences, or cognitive dissonance regarding apostasy/blasphemy codes. The third layer underneath this is the relativism of white liberals who are often in concordance with silencing instincts over these issues, including silencing of ex-Muslims, for the reasons we outlined earlier. Often, relativist liberals simply pretend we don’t exist.
But silencing never works, and it only increases the problems.
It is important to understand that anti-Muslim bigotry is real. At the same time, the reality of the need for Islam to be critiqued has to be acknowledged by the Left, and by Muslims who live in liberal secular democracies too.
Do you see anything racist in this comment? We sure don’t. However, the Guardian evidently found the views morally offensive, as the comment was deleted by their professional moderators.
To recap: Whilst Jews are clearly free – in the spirit of free and open debate – to use the pages of the Guardian to smear Judaism as an inherently racist faith, a respectful and intelligent comment (below the line) by former Muslims critical of Islam is inconsistent with their community standards.
In addition to the egregious double standards at play, the deleted comment simply gives more credence to the ExMuslimForum’s critique of the moral relativism of some “white liberals”, who, in silencing such dissenting voices, seem to believe that “everyone else is free to critique their own religion, and other faiths and ideas too….but Islam must be protected.”