I have a theory as to why some people have trouble understanding that we can criticize an ideology or a set of ideas, like islam, while also fighting for the right of people to hold those ideas. And it comes down to the way both sides in politics have pushed authoritarianism through the notion of ‘victimless crimes.’
Liberalism rather disagrees with the notion of a victimless crime: if there is no victim, there can be no crime. But both the right and the left have defended victimless crimes, on the grounds that the action may somehow indirectly harm society. For instance:
- Both the right and the left argue that drugs should be banned because a drug user might be less productive or a worse provider for their family, not because the person actually victimizes anyone. (This argument is stupid, plus it applies equally to alcohol, tobacco, overeating, eating unhealthy food – which some on the left do suggest banning as well).
- The right suggests gay marriage should be banned because of some way it is supposed to harm society (I don’t follow what that harm is supposed to be exactly…
Now, the problem is that once the idea that a victimless crime can be outlawed because it is harmful to society is accepted, the implicit principle that an individual’s autonomy over themselves can be curtailed to protect some abstract ‘social benefit’ must be accepted as well. It’s only a question of precisely which areas of individual autonomy may be sacrificed ‘for the good of the state.’ And we see many on the left who take this quite far, arguing that freedom of speech should be curtailed in the name of protecting feelings and creating safe spaces. We see people on the right who also want to curtail individual autonomy by calling for the banning of islam, or the banning of muslim forms of dress. This kind of authoritarian opposition to freedom of thought and freedom of speech is not limited to the right or the left, and it’s only a slightly more extreme version of the kind of authoritarianism that concocts ‘victimless crimes.’
This is itself a terrible problem, but it links back to the problem of criticizing islam or any other ideology. To these people, conditioned by our authoritarian governments to think that individual autonomy should be sacrificed for the security of the state, it may be counterintuitive to realize that we maintain two things:
- Certain ideas, like islam, are harmful both to the person who holds the idea and to society at large, and
- The rights of people to hold these ideas, and to choose to follow them personally (i.e. without inflicting the requirements of their religion on anyone else), must be absolutely protected, both from government interference and social bullying (see my previous discussion of freedom).