Via Matt Yglesias, I learn that Islamophobes believe Muslims to hold to a doctrine called taqiyya, which allows them to lie to unbelievers with a clear conscience. I find this concept interesting on a lot of levels. First, it reminds me of what I once called the “atheist two-step”:
- Someone points out that the particular religious belief disproven by the doctrinaire atheist is not really held by anyone as stated.
- The doctrinaire atheist then says that religion is so obviously stupid and pernicious that one can’t be held accountable for detailed knowledge of it.
The Little Professor then replied that this is a long-standing technique of denouncing religious enemies, having a long history in anti-Catholic polemic, for example:
- Someone points out that the particular Roman Catholic belief disproven by the doctrinaire evangelical Protestant is not really held by any Catholic as stated.
- The doctrinaire evangelical Protestant then says that Catholicism is not just obviously stupid and pernicious, but also deceitful at base–so it’s not even possible to have detailed knowledge of the religion. (Ergo, don’t bother.)
Obviously this notion of “taqiyya” is closer to the anti-Catholic position, since it claims that Catholics are actively hiding their true beliefs. One can see a similar pattern in anti-Semitism — Jews who appear to be harmless and friendly just reinforce the deceptive abilities of Jews.
The very fact that the “taqiyya” accusation so neatly fits into established patterns of religious prejudice is sufficient grounds for dismissal, but even taking it at face value, one wonders how Muslims could’ve been so careless as to allow unbelievers to learn of this rule. And even if this one principle of Islam is genuine, wouldn’t that then call all other principles we think we know into question? Sure, one could claim that the apparently peaceful Muslims are the ones using the principle of “taqiyya” to lull us into submission, but could it not also be the case that the jihadists — who are the only ones avowedly at war with the West — are actually misrepresenting Islamic beliefs in order to advance their cause?
A principle that leads to radical skepticism should surely cut both ways — and yet conservative opponents of Islam conclude just the opposite, as though the Islamic license to deceive meant that only outsiders could truly understand Islamic doctrine, just as only anti-Catholic polemicists can see the true horror of Romanism and only anti-Semites have access to the true nature of the Jew. One should extend this as radically as possible — in this mindset, one fundamentally can’t trust the targetted group because even the members themselves can’t understand their own true nature.