IT'S A LITTLE UNFAIR OF ME to single out Patheos for its "Top 10 Islamophobes" list published yesterday, since it was intended as a shaming device, not a journalistic one. But there is a very important journalistic germ in there.
Of course, Patheos' list has several of the names I expected, like Pamela Geller and Glenn Beck, though I was a little surprised to see Ayaan Hirsi Ali show up there.
The existence of lists like this serve best to show that there is a vast and empty land between the lusty anti-Muslim fringe that Patheos wants to establish and the mainstream - wherever we might find it - of the dialog about Islam and public life in North America.
Now, I know that re-outing Islamophobes is sexy and draws lots of clicks. And I admit it's important to identify a fringe, though journalists should not probably be part of that exercise. But it would be at least as valuable to the public interest for organizations dedicated to understanding and dialog among faiths to spend time considering what actually constitutes a "reasonable" or "worthy" criticism of Islam in the U.S. context.
How might one go about substantively critiquing a minority religion - and especially the expressions of it that could shape public life - without getting banished to the fringe, and is that even possible? If so, who is getting this right?
This isn't about assembling a list of "progressive approved" voices. This is about better public information and better journalism. As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9-11 and we look toward a future of empowered Islam in the U.S., it seems that this question is among the most important we could ask.
For journalists, this kind of work would be incredibly useful. It would help to move coverage of Islam in the U.S. forward dramatically if we could identify a set of sources that are constructively objecting to some of the excesses of the religion.
Irshad Manji is one voice I would offer as a candidate. Of course, she is a controversial voice within Islam, and I have off-the-record confirmation that some inter-faith groups will not work with Manji because conservative Muslims are skittish about her ideas. But she is Muslim and a conscientious objector of the sort I'm imagining.
Manji told me via Twitter that her reaction to the Patheos list of Islamophobes is that it failed to include the Muslim leaders who "fear an Allah-centric Islam, in which only God knows the full and final Truth".
Now, that is unexpected. And interesting.
So rather than turning again and again to the red-meat militants of the religion debates, Patheos could do us journalists some favors by making their next missive a Top 10 list of undiscovered or under-covered critical voices - from inside and outside Islam.