On Saturday December 6th, Dr. Afzal Upal gave a talk at CFI Toronto titled: “I’m a Victim of Islam & Islamophobia and I think Ben Affleck & Bill Maher Are Both Right.”

Dr. Upal is a cognitive scientist with contributions to Cognitive Science of Religion, Machine Learning for Planning,and Agent-based Social Simulations. He has published over 100 articles in peer reviewed publications.  He is co-editor (with Prof. James R. Lewis) of the forthcoming anthology Islamic Sects & Islam-inpired Religious Movements.

After having been a victim of both Islam and Islamophobia Dr. Upal had a unique perspective on the recent debate between Ben Affleck and Bill Maher on the HBO program Real Time with Bill Maher.  He found himself agreeing with Bill Maher when he said that Islam promotes misogyny and discrimination against minorities. As a member of the heterodox Ahmadiyya Muslim in Pakistan, his family emigrated to Canada, since in that country it was a crime for Ahmadis to call themselves Muslims and hence not entitled to privileges of full citizenship in the Islamic Republic.

He also found himself agreeing with Ben Affleck when he channeled the collective anger and disgust that liberals felt on seeing what seemed like a betrayal by a fellow liberal.

After the show ended, however, he found himself unable to decide which side was right and which side was wrong.  Finding points of agreement with both sides and unable to declare a winner, he had an epiphany, why couldn’t both be right?  He asked, Why can’t the rights of minorities and dispossessed at home and in the Islamic world be supported?; Why can’t we speak against Islamophobia and discrimination that Muslims in North America face while at the same time support those who are fighting against misogynistic beliefs that many Muslims around the world have?; Why should the fact that someone claims religious sanctions for their anti-egalitarian beliefs stop us from criticizing them?

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