Introduction

Tom Flynn

Want to start an argument among seculars? Launch a discussion, any discussion, about Islam. Is it a religion of peace or inherently violent? Should we respect the folkways of Muslim peoples or apply Western notions of universal human rights that would mandate treatment of females quite unlike that prescribed under sharia law? Must secular liberals approach Islam combatively, or is a less pugilistic stance the wiser choice? If there’s an enemy here at all, is that enemy “Islamism” or “political Islam,” or is it the religion itself? Many seculars find themselves pulled between their ideals of pluralism and tolerance and their convictions that theological absolutism should be militantly opposed.

Free Inquiry stands for, well, free inquiry on all of these subjects. Still, there’s no denying that thinkers who advocate a hard line in matters Islamic are conspicuous among our writers and editors. Several have wielded the word Islamofascism, a neologism that briefly entered White House rhetoric and enjoys some acceptance on the political Right. Is this a case of strange bedfellows, of seculars joining some on the Right in a justified common cause, or is this a case of out-and-out sleeping with the enemy? There begins another classic argument among seculars. Does Islamofascism specify the most harmful aspects of militant Islam? Is it intolerant and pejorative? Is it a fiction signifying nothing at all?

We are pleased to present two very different perspectives. Neither writer has seen the other’s work.

Laurence Britt believes “Islamofascism” is a harmful fiction; his witty short essay “Fascism Anyone?” (Free Inquiry, Spring 2003), listing fourteen warning signs of incipient fascism, is beyond doubt the most-widely reprinted (and most-widely bootlegged) single article in Free Inquiry’s history. It even turned up on a still widely sold unauthorized poster.

For Ibn Warraq, “Islamofascism” signifies a threat that richly merits opposition by those committed to Enlightenment values. Warraq is a Center for Inquiry Fellow, author of the classic Why I Am Not a Muslim and, most recently, Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism, and the editor of several critical scholarly works on Islam.

Let the disputation begin . . .

Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn is editor of Free Inquiry, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, director of the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, and editor of The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (2007).


Want to start an argument among seculars? Launch a discussion, any discussion, about Islam. Is it a religion of peace or inherently violent? Should we respect the folkways of Muslim peoples or apply Western notions of universal human rights that would mandate treatment of females quite unlike that prescribed under sharia law? Must secular liberals …

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