I like video games, but one element of video games that I have always disliked is driving a vehicle. It is always maddeningly difficult to make a vehicle go in a straight line. Different games have different controls, and some of those are better than others, but the overwhelming problem is that the complexities of driving in a narrow, usually twisted path do not translate well to what are essentially left-right controls. As a result, I spend a lot of my video game driving turning too far left, then too far right and then too far left again, all in an attempt to compensate. A delicate touch is required for driving, which is why our real life vehicles have wheels that are moderately difficult to turn. But in video games, I usually end up with my vehicle perpendicular to the roadway and although it happens quite often, I have no real idea how I got there or how to avoid that problem again.
I feel like that with regard to Islam. I veer too far to one side and then I try to explain myself and end up overcompensating in the other direction. What I hope to do here is to slow down and make my points very carefully. I want to be clear about my position.
So to start, I will admit that I know very little about the actual teachings of Islam. I have not read the Koran or investigated the religion in any meaningful way. I am a "Christian atheist," if you will. I am not really concerned about the verifiable aspects of the Islamic faith. I have rejected religious philosophies and worldviews completely because I find that there is no use for them. When I gave up Christianity, I did not (and do not) feel the need to replace one faith with another. There have been so many faiths and ideas throughout the history of the world that it is absurd to imagine that we should examine them all before making a decision. I have seen enough to know that there is no scientific or factual merit to Islam, Christianity, Scientology, Buddhism or Hinduism.
As a social phenomenon, Islam is a bit more complicated, and this is where I typically start to swerve. As a liberal, progressive Westerner, I am inclined to accept all diverse philosophies and cultures as acceptable and valid. This is my mistake. As much as it pains me to say it, Islamic culture is objectively worse for its citizens than Western culture. I want to be clear that this does not grant Christianity any extra weight or value as a cultural force. I think that if Christianity (and Judaism) were observed as literally as Middle Eastern Islam is observed, it would be just as terrible. But Christianity has been effectively de-fanged by secularism. People aren't stoned to death for working on Sunday (or Saturday), even though the Bible (and Torah) specifically demand it. Christian apologists come up with all kinds of reasons for why these kinds of capital and corporal punishments are no longer required, but the truth (in my mind) is simply that they are more secularized and their morality has been improved dramatically as a direct result. Because this sort of secular dilution has not happened in Islam, their culture has not had a chance to improve. This makes Islam, as it exists today, a distinctly negative cultural force.
I feel comfortable saying this without the benefit of intimate details or experience. I can see practical effects of Islam. Even if I were to discount the suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism that seem to occur on a daily basis as the actions of a lunatic fringe, there is still the suppression of women, the oppression of homosexuals and the generally immature and unhealthy attitudes toward sex, virginity and the idea of purity. These things are, again, objectively bad for society.
But what of Westernized Islam? What of those Muslims who live among us in the United States and Canada and Europe, who go to Mosques instead of churches and pray to Allah instead of Jesus but are otherwise indistinguishable from other citizens of a secular society? For those who do not think of or treat the women in their families as property, hate the Jews or have no interest in spreading their religion, then I have no distinct quarrel with them. Of course, I would still say that their religion is absurd and hopelessly outdated, providing no real unique benefit that cannot be obtained from a secular source.
Where does this leave me? Islam, purely as an idea, is no better or worse than Christianity. Islam, as it is practiced today by millions of people, is an endless source of potential evil. Not every Muslim taps into this source, but many of them do, and to different degrees. I just finished reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali's phenomenal, shocking and heartbreaking book Infidel. That book is a perfect study in the varying degrees of danger that Islam can pose, from casual misogyny and Antisemitism to rape, theft and murder.
Do I hate Muslims? No, I absolutely do not. Many of them are prisoners of their own abhorrent ideology. But I do believe that Muslims (via Islam) pose a real and dramatic danger to secular society and citizens who value free expression and personal freedom.