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Fraught Historic Parallel stokes Islamophobia for America’s Left

Is the Islamic State religious? Are they just like the Spanish Inquisition?
Is the Islamic State religious? Are they just like the Spanish Inquisition?

INTERNET—Yet another anti-religious scientist columnist slipped miserably in a fraught attempt to deploy a historic parallel to back up his point of view. Jerry A. Coyne, of New Republic, veered into the perilous field of theology in his unfortunately entitled opinion piece, If ISIS Is Not Islamic, then the Inquisition Was Not Catholic. This mildly Islamophobic tract, which criticizes Obama and others for declaring that the Islamic State is not Islamic, proposes the absurd and wrong parallel with the Catholic tradition of inquisitions but doesn’t touch at all on the history.

The most infamous and brutal inquisitions were not at all endorsed or carried out by the Catholic church, but rather enforced independently by practitioners of statecraft in the Machiavellian political spirit, especially Ferdinand and Isabella. Ironically, giving flesh to the titular parallel would undo Coyne’s position that the Islamic State is indeed motivated by religion and instead seems to point towards the Islamic State as a bare political power grab using religion only so far as it is politically useful.

Coyne’s ironically problematic titling aside, the basis of his theological argument is that there is no such thing as true religion and that Obama and others are calling “false” on the Islamic State only because it conflicts with their personal view of what a “true” Islam should look like. Never mind the centuries of Islamic scholarship that could be brought in to compare to that of the Islamic State, it is simple enough for Coyne to dismiss religion as a field of meaninglessness where without a true or a false we’re left with pessimistic political speech from the likes of Obama.

Coyne’s theology says that if there were such a thing as a true religion, its holy texts should appeal to the same kind of truth as science. That is, the historic literalism of some fundamentalists who believe a seminal text to be true history are on the right track but fail only because they do not possess true history. This is troubling because it affirms the interpretations of religions that transfer best into the political ideologies, the kind that are ruining the public school system in America and inspiring Islamic terrorists.

Coyne also says that all religion is worse than false, it is irrational, implying that only science can be true or false, or rational. He mixes blood libels against Islam — the usual genital mutilation, et al. — with recurring bugaboos from American political struggles such as abortion. In this way, he transfers frustrations of America’s left from the right’s still growing religious impulse over to the Islamic State, and this way aligns the left with the right in their fear and hate for the Islamic State.

It is beyond depressing to watch this kind of warmongering Islamophobia work its way through America’s left like a virulent salve soothing the guilt of perpetual war on the Muslim world.

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