Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Using sport to promote Islam

The world is Olympics: the 2016 Summer Olympics is taking place right now in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Personally, I agree with those who think that it would be best to urgently change the location of the games, because of the terrible mosquito-borne Zika virus which causes microcephaly in babies of infected pregnant women, and nobody has any idea what to do about it. Of course, money and the "prestige" of Brazil were considered more important than health, so people expressing fear of Zika were just called names and the Olympics started as planned like a feast in time of plague Zika.

Anyway, I am not interested in professional sport and I hold my children's swimming teacher in higher esteem than even the American competitive swimmer and most decorated Olympian of all time Michael Phelps. Why, then, am I writing a post about the Olympics? Because some hopeless Islamophiles use it (as they use any event) to promote Islam and push it down our throats, and Prof. Jerry Coyne has written a nice post that I wish to share with you. It features Mr. Phelps and another US athlete, Ibtihaj Muhammad, a saber fencer, 2nd generation convert to Islam and "the first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab while competing for the United States in the Olympics" (quote and photo from Wikipedia). I'd add that the presence of a person looking like this in the US team is a "nice" way to mark the 15th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001.

Ibtihaj Muhammad 2014-15 Orleans WC teams t130543.jpg 

 The text below is copied from Prof. Coyne's Aug. 11 post.

"Wearing a hijab is neither virtuous, courageous, nor heroic


Let me begin by saying two things. First, yes, in Islam wearing a hijab (the head covering) is a sign of virtue, designed to prevent men who cannot control their raging lust from seeing your salacious hair. It is a garment of modesty. But by “virtuous” above, I mean, this: you’re not a better person because you wear a hijab. All you are doing is displaying your adherence to one of the world’s many forms of superstition.

Second, this post is not meant to encourage bigotry against Muslims. Those women who wear a hijab have every right to do so, and are not bad people because they do so, although the hijab is probably a sign of coercion far more often than we think. Nevertheless, it’s laudable for people to fight bigotry: the unwarranted prejudice against someone on the basis of ethnicity or adherence to a religion.

But in these days of Regressive Leftism and Virtue Twerking... people often seem to post not to reduce bigotry or improve society, but to congratulate themselves for not being bigots. Often these posts center on hijabs, and, to me, boil down to this statement “I am awesome for not being a racist. I am not a racist because I don’t hate women who wear headscarves.” (For one blatant example, see here.)

I became aware of another example from the Twitter feed of Sarah Haider, once a Shia Muslim and now, a nonbeliever, a co-founder and outreach director of Ex-Muslims of North America:

"Why should a Muslim Olympian be remembered as an athlete, when she could be a token to make a political gesture? http://edition.cnn.com/2016/08/04/opinions/michael-phelps-flag-bearer-w-kamau-bell/  W. Kamau Bell: A noble gesture for Michael Phelps? Bell urges the most-honored Phelps to step aside and let a U.S. fencer who symbolizes the nation's diversity to have the honor..."

Here Haider is talking about Ibtihaj Muhammad, the American Olympic fencer who wore a hijab under her headpiece during competition. For this Muhammad has been lauded as a role model, as having made history, and for showing exemplary courage. But Muslim women athletes who don’t wear the hijab are no less courageous—in fact, they could be seen as more courageous by bucking the social pressure to cover your hair. What is being celebrated seems to be not Muhammad herself, but her hijab, and I’m not wholly comfortable with that.  (I do recognize that it’s also a self-congratulatory gesture by the U.S. on our supposed liberality.)

Yes, Muhammad has reported sporadic cases of bigotry against her, as has surely every black athlete on Team U.S.A., but I don’t see that as heroic. Persistent, yes, determined, yes, and tenacious, yes, but an American hero? Not to me. Sarah Haider, who speaks openly of her apostasy, thereby risking death or injury, is a greater hero. As is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who travels with an armed bodyguard in the face of many death threats—all for speaking up against the oppression of Islam. Wearing a headscarf in the U.S. is simply not a gesture worthy of the term “heroic.” You want heroic? How about not wearing a headscarf in Saudi Arabia?

The article cited by Haider was by W. Kamau Bell on CNN, and was a plea to Michael Phelps (written as a letter to him) to make a “noble gesture,” stepping aside as the U.S. flag-bearer in favor of Muhammad in the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. (He was voted flag bearer by his fellow athletes on the basis of his amazing performances, with Muhammad coming in second. And he ultimately carried the flag on the day Bell wrote his piece.) But why this plea? To show how open and liberal America is, of course—for making a hijab-wearer a symbol of our country. And, of course, to publicly denigrate Donald Trump and his bigotry. As Bell notes in his plea to Phelps:
Your stepping back will allow this moment to become something bigger than just another opening ceremony. No offense, but right now America has enough tall, successful, rich white guys hogging the spotlight trying to make America great … again.
No offense, indeed! Except, perhaps, to Mr. Phelps, who won more gold medals than any other American Olympian.
But why Muhammad instead of, say, a yarmulke-wearing Jew (if there are any on Team USA)? After all, on a per capita basis American Jews suffer twice as many hate crimes as do Muslims. Can you even imagine CNN asking Phelps to step aside in favor of a Jew sporting a skullcap? Of course not...
And why not an athlete who doesn’t have Muhammad’s history of anti-Israel tweets, as you can see here?... (Several nasty tweets are reposted - M. M.) Is this the kind of comity we want our flag-bearer to instantiate? Is this what we want as our symbol of America? Did Hillary Clinton know about this when she paraded her own virtue?:


I doubt you’ll find anything close to Muhammad’s lies and hatred on the Twitter feed of Michael Phelps. Muhammad is simply a dupe for false stories... Muhammad has simply used those lies to gin up public hatred of Israel. Some hero!

So kudos to Muhammad for following her dream. But no kudos to those who, as Haider says, want to use her as a symbol to feel better about themselves. We all agree that people should be able to wear whatever clothes they damn well want, but perhaps what’s in order is a little less self-congratulation about our open-mindedness, and a little less celebration of a garment that, in the end, is a sign of anti-Enlightenment values."

(Emphasis mine - M. M.)

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