Althouse | category: Islam



an endless succession of beans and nuts.

"When I see the boys going to school and doing whatever they want, it really hurts me. I feel very bad."

"When I see my brother leaving for school, I feel broken, Earlier, my brother used to say I won't go to school without you. I hugged him and said you go, I'll join you later. People tell my parents you shouldn't worry, you have sons. I wish we had the same rights."

The Taliban have said that schools and universities are only temporarily closed to women and girls until a "suitable environment" can be created.... Regarding some of the other restrictions, the Taliban say they were imposed because women were not wearing a hijab (head covering) or following Islamic laws.... 
"We always wear a hijab. But it doesn't make a difference. What do they mean? I don't understand," Tamana says....

"It was never our intent to suggest that academic freedom is of lower concern or value than our students — care does not 'supersede' academic freedom, the two coexist."

Said a statement from Ellen Watters, the chair of the Hamline University’s board of trustees, and Fayneese S. Miller, the university's president.

"Like all organizations, sometimes we misstep. In the interest of hearing from and supporting our Muslim students, language was used that does not reflect our sentiments on academic freedom. Based on all that we have learned, we have determined that our usage of the term ‘Islamophobic’ was therefore flawed."

Quoted in "After Lecturer Sues, Hamline University Walks Back Its ‘Islamophobic’ Comments/In an about-face, the school said that using the term was 'flawed' and that respect for Muslim students should not have superseded academic freedom" (NYT).

The lecturer, Erika López Prater, is suing based on religious discrimination and defamation. 

The lawsuit [asserts] that Hamline treated Dr. López Prater negatively because “she is not Muslim, because she did not conform her conduct to the specific beliefs of a Muslim sect, and because she did not conform her conduct to the religion-based preferences of Hamline that images of Muhammad not be shown to any Hamline student.”

ADDED: Watters and Miller fail to state clearly that López Prater was not Islamophobic. They don't admit that it was wrong. They say, "Based on all that we have learned, we have determined that our usage of the term ‘Islamophobic’ was therefore flawed." Why was the "usage" "flawed"? In context, it looks as though they're asserting a belief in academic freedom, and that's something they are under pressure to do in response to the lawsuit. They haven't withdrawn the opinion that López Prater was Islamophobic, but merely acknowledged that out of respect for López Prater's academic freedom, they should not use the term. And I don't even see them as confessing that the term shouldn't have been used at the time. It's only now that they "have learned" more about the controversy, the use of the term is "flawed." They've left room to argue that when the controversy was new and the desire to "support[] our Muslim students" was strong, it was acceptable not to perceive the flaw in the use of the term.

"It honestly seems like it was written by a teenage Tumblr user who, having come into contact with some new and exciting ideas about social justice, seeks to impose them widely and lecture perceived wrongdoers gleefully."

Writes Jill Filipovic, in "Hamline University’s Controversial Firing Is a Warning/Insistence that others follow one’s strict religion is authoritarian and illiberal no matter what the religion is" (Slate). She's talking about a statement written by Hamlin University President Dr. Fayneese S. Miller. 

Filipovic continues:

[Miller] writes that “when we harm, we should listen rather than debate the merits of or extent of that harm” and that “the classroom incident is only one of several instances in which their religious beliefs have been challenged.” (God forbid a college student have their beliefs challenged.) But this is where it goes really off the rails:

As a caring community, there are times when a healthy examination of expression is not only prudent, but necessary. This is particularly the case when we know that our expression has potential to cause harm. When that happens, we must care enough to find other ways to make our voices and viewpoints heard. Perspectives should be informed, mindful and critical, as befits an education steeped in the tenets of a liberal arts education. We believe in academic freedom, but it should not and cannot be used to excuse away behavior that harms others.

I realize I sound like a crotchety old conservative here, but college classrooms should not be “safe spaces.” They can’t be safe spaces. They should be respectful spaces, and professors and students alike should treat each other with consideration, but “cause no emotional harm” is not, in fact, a value to which academic institutions should aspire, or an ideal they can ever realistically reach—especially when “this is harmful” has become an easy cudgel to use in order to get one’s way.

Much more at the link. It's interesting to see a person who wants to maintain her status as a left-winger struggle with all of this:

This incident is making headlines because conservatives have latched onto it as another example of left-wing “cancel culture.” But how a conservative interpretation of Islam that gets a sensitive and thoughtful art history lecturer fired is “left-wing” is beyond me.

I've bold-faced what is the second-to-last sentence. The light bulb comes on! 

But there's one more sentence. It's not a snapping off of the light — more of an adjustment of the dimmer switch:

It is true, though, that many people on the left have stayed quiet about this one, because, well, one doesn’t want to aid a perceived enemy, and perhaps because we want to be sensitive to Muslims who are undeniably often mistreated in the United States. 

We'll see where Filopovic goes from here. I said I found it interesting when someone who wants to be left wing struggles with issues conservatives care about, but that's an understatement. It is the strongest interest that has powered my blogging over the years.

I'm sure I had some dispute with Filipovic long ago, but I can't remember what it was, and I think at the time she was a law student while I was a law professor. Anyway, she graduated from law school in 2008, and she's turning 40 this year (the same year my younger son turns 40), so there's no reason to shrink from challenging her, and apparently she's in favor of the intellectual challenge. 

So I'll go ahead and wonder out loud whether Filipovic intended to be so transgressive as to compare a black woman — Hamlin University President Dr. Fayneese S. Miller — to naive teenager — "a teenage Tumblr user who [has just] come into contact with some new and exciting ideas about social justice."

I'm not saying that's racist or sexist, but I think a typical left-winger would say it is. I think it's anti-racist to apply the same vigorous criticism to a black woman that you'd apply to a white man.

But that's another one of these ideas that seem like something a "crotchety old conservative" would say.

"Hamline administrators have labeled this corpus of Islamic depictions of Muhammad, along with their teaching, as hateful, intolerant and Islamophobic."

"And yet the visual evidence proves contrary: The images were made, almost without exception, by Muslim artists for Muslim patrons in respect for, and in exaltation of, Muhammad and the Quran. They are, by definition, Islamophilic from their inception to their reception. How did Hamline arrive at such a flawed conclusion, what are its implications, and where do we go from here?... ... Islam has been largely defined, in contrast with Christianity, as a religious tradition that is largely aniconic, or lacking in figural images. The administrators at Hamline reiterated this inaccuracy with zeal, believing that such historical Islamic images were equivalent to offensive Euro-American cartoons and hence caused 'harm' to the Muslims in their midst. Through conflation or confusion, Hamline has privileged an ultraconservative Muslim view on the subject that happens to coincide with the age-old Western cliche that Muslims are banned from viewing images of the prophet. This Muslim traditionalist and American Orientalist 'echo chamber; is not just simplistic and counterfactual; it also muzzles all other voices while potentially endangering rare and precious works of Islamic art."

Writes Christiane Gruber, a professor of Islamic art in the History of Art Department at the University of Michigan, in "An Academic Is Fired Over a Medieval Painting of the Prophet Muhammad/The dismissal of an instructor at Hamline University on baseless charges of 'Islamophobia' raises concerns about freedom on campus" (New Lines Magazine)(via Arts & Letters Daily).

Professor Gruber doesn't seem to notice the problem of viewpoint discrimination. She seems to want historical, high-art images treated differently from modern-day satirical cartoons. That too is "privileging" — privileging elite art. Indeed, she goes on to support present-day high art: 

One particularly dazzling example is the 2016 permanent site-specific mosaic of Muhammad’s celestial ascension (“miraj”) made by Shahzia Sikander for Princeton University. Titled “Ecstasy as Sublime, Heart as Vector,” this monumental artwork measures 66 feet in height and depicts Muhammad riding his flying steed al-Buraq, both contoured in a sterling radiance.
When asked about her choice to show Muhammad in this manner, Sikander responded: “By rendering a canonical painterly motif as a silhouette of reflective white gold, the miraj image seems to come to life, literally popping out of the composition as it reflects the light in the space throughout the day and at night.”...
Hamline could learn much from this case of granting choice — or license — when it comes to Islamic images of Muhammad, in which a collaborative undertaking in creative celebration of Islam will surely better withstand the test of time. 

I'm afraid the solution is worse than the problem. Gruber wants the authorities to grant a license to artists and to grant it based on point of view. Hamline was already following a rule that wasn't viewpoint neutral: No depictions of Muhammad. But it's even less neutral to change the rule to: No depictions of Muhammad that are not "in creative celebration of Islam."

Of course, a school cannot be neutral when it chooses what mosaics to embed permanently in its walls. Obviously, it's going to lean toward high art and an uplifting point of view. You can see a photograph of
"Ecstasy as Sublime, Heart as Vector," installed in a glamorous stairwell, in "The Mi‘raj Mosaic at Princeton University Shahzia Sikander in Conversation with Christiane Gruber."


CG: This series of images reasserts your artistic process as it intersects with contemporary portraiture, notions of the feminine, and the motif of the heavenly journey. I am especially interested to hear more about the depiction of Muhammad’s mi‘raj, since this topic is central to my own scholarly research. How did you come to this theme, what is its meaning to you, and what were your iconographic inspirations?

SS: My interest in the mi‘raj stems from childhood familial and cultural exposure, an interest in the trope of revelation and spirituality, and investigating motifs that resonate with Islamic identity. The Timurid illustrated Mi‘rajnama (Book of Ascension) of ca. 1436, as published by Marie-Rose Séguy, has been a bedside companion since I was a teenager! The years 2014 to 2016 were a difficult period for me personally. They also were marked by particularly detailed and repetitive dreams. One dream included Sultan Muhammad’s painting of the mi‘raj as included in a Safavid illustrated manuscript of Nizami’s Khamsa (Quintet; fig. 6). Around the same time, I reached out to Ayad Akhtar, an American-born author and playwright with Pakistani heritage, to explore the challenging perception of what constitutes an “American Muslim.” In 2015 his Pulitzer-winning play Disgraced was the most-produced play in America. Our conversations led to the topic of the mi‘raj, in particular the role of the Prophet in Muslim traditions and the complexities inherent in his imagination and depiction, both in Islamic lands and in the West....

"Qatar’s vision for the World Cup did not just require the building of seven stadiums and the refurbishment of an eighth."

"The country also needed an entire network of roads and rails to transport fans between the arenas and dozens upon dozens of hotels to house them — nothing less than an entirely redrawn country, rising from the sand in a $220 billion nation-building project. To achieve it, Qatar recruited hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from some of the poorest corners of the planet, swelling the country’s population — which grew by 13.2 percent in the last year alone — and drawing intense focus on the laborers’ treatment, their rights and their living conditions. How many have died over the last decade or more is not known, and may never be. Many thousands more have returned home sick or injured or deprived of the pay they were promised...."

From "The World Cup That Changed Everything/The decision to take the World Cup to Qatar has upturned a small nation, battered the reputation of global soccer’s governing body and altered the fabric of the sport" (NYT).

"A new wave of migrant workers has arrived, meanwhile, to staff the hotels, man the stadiums and serve the food.... Qatar shocked FIFA and fans alike on Friday by deciding, only days before the tournament’s opening match, to go back on its promise to allow the sale of beer at its eight World Cup stadiums..... The about-face raised new questions about whether everyone — particularly LGBTQ+ fans — will face the kind of welcome that Qatar’s organizing committee and FIFA have consistently guaranteed. This month, Khalid Salman, a former Qatari national team player now deployed as an ambassador for the World Cup, did not seem to have heard the organizers’ messaging. 'Homosexuality is haram here,' he told a German documentary, using an Arabic word that roughly translates as forbidden. 'It is haram because it is damage in the mind.'"

ADDED: Is $220 billion really that much? It's just 5 Twitters.

AND: Imagine forbidding everything that is "damage in the mind"? What would escape forbidding?

“I failed, failed and absolutely failed to understand just how exhausted by and disgusted with the perpetual representation of Muslim men and women as terrorists or former terrorists or potential terrorists the Muslim people are."

Said Abigail Disney — grandniece of Walt Disney, "a titan in the documentary world" — who was the executive director of “Jihad Rehab,” called it “freaking brilliant” in an email to the director, then disavowed it.

She is quoted in "Sundance Liked Her Documentary on Terrorism, Until Muslim Critics Didn’t/The film festival gave Meg Smaker’s 'Jihad Rehab' a coveted spot in its 2022 lineup, but apologized after an outcry over her race and her approach" (NYT).

Advised by a PR firm to apologize, the director Meg Smaker said "What was I apologizing for? For trusting my audience to make up their own mind?"

Smaker spent 16 months inside a Saudi rehabilitation facility interviewing former Guantánamo detainees.

The attacks came from what  the NYT characterizes as "the left":

Arab and Muslim filmmakers and their white supporters accused Ms. Smaker of Islamophobia and American propaganda. Some suggested her race was disqualifying, a white woman who presumed to tell the story of Arab men.

The filmmaker Assia Boundaoui, said: "To see my language and the homelands of folks in my community used as backdrops for white savior tendencies is nauseating. The talk is all empathy, but the energy is Indiana Jones."

"The protests started small, outside the Tehran hospital where a 22-year old Iranian woman named Mahsa Amini died last week after being detained by the 'morality police'..."

"... for an untold violation of the country’s harsh strictures on women’s dress. By Tuesday, the protests were racing across the country, in a burst of grief, anger and defiance. Many were led by women, who burned their headscarves, cut their hair and chanted, 'Death to the dictator.' The ferocity of the protests is fueled by outrage over many things at once: the allegations that Amini was beaten in custody before she collapsed and fell into a coma; the priorities of Iran’s government, led by ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi, who has strictly enforced dress codes and empowered the hated morality police at a time of widespread economic suffering... Many of the protests have been concentrated in the west, the poor, predominantly Kurdish region Amini’s family hails from. The Kurds — who speak their own language, have a distinct cultural identity and are mostly Sunni Muslims in a majority-Shiite country — have complained for decades of neglect by the central government.... In a video from Kerman, in southeastern Iran, a young woman sitting on a utility box, surrounded by a cheering crowd, is seen removing her headscarf and cutting off her own hair. 'An Iranian will die but will not accept oppression,' the crowd chants...."

To me, the top news is not what Russian troll farms did 5 years ago. It's that the NYT is making that its top news today.

The front page is dominated by "Russian Trolls Helped Fracture the Women's March." Yes, there's also the threat of cruise ships on Lake Superior — blogged in the previous post — and something about James Cameron and Kanye West — as if they needed some man stuff to balance the sea of pussy hats. 

  To me, the top news is not what Russian troll farms did 5 years ago. It's that the NYT is making that its top news today.

Why take us back to the Women's March? Did they actually learn something new about Russian troll farms? I'm very skeptical of alarmism about Russian troll farms. If we — we individual Americans — can't handle random snark from varied unknown sources, how can we live with the internet? Who cares if some foreigners are writing crap intended to deceive us into feeling more roiled up and divided than we're able to do damned well on our own, often with the nudging of the New York Times? 

Okay, let's read this thing and see if there's anything new in it or if it's just the NYT's latest effort to get its readers fired up to vote for Democrats in the coming election: "How Russian Trolls Helped Keep the Women’s March Out of Lock Step/As American feminists came together in 2017 to protest Donald Trump, Russia’s disinformation machine set about deepening the divides among them."

"Out of Lock Step" — I don't think I've ever seen "lockstep" used in a positive way like that. Saying people are in "lockstep" is generally a putdown, as if people don't have a mind of their own, but are following along in formation, like soldiers under orders. Did the organizers want a march that looked more military and disciplined? I think the pink hats and the common cause created plenty of uniformity, and within that, in America, you want individuality — real women, each with their own story.

But let's read this text, which is by Ellen Barry, a NYT writer who "covers mental health." Well, that makes sense. We're talking about the rearrangement and derangement of minds. But it's kind of paranoid to attribute these mental processes to devious, faceless Russians!!!! Are women so fragile and malleable that snarky words, read on line, are a significant factor in whatever makes them fail to coalesce into one lockstep mass? Without those Russians!!! we'd be a revolution?

This is a long article, and the answer to my questions is nowhere near the top. The first line is: "Linda Sarsour awoke on Jan. 23, 2017, logged onto the internet, and felt sick." So, it's a personal story. I remember the name Linda Sarsour, one of the leaders of the Women’s March. She got talked about on Twitter: "In 15 years as an activist, largely advocating for the rights of Muslims, she had faced pushback, but this was of a different magnitude." So what? She was leading an important march, so she got talked about much more than before. 

But let's worry about the Russians:
More than 4,000 miles away, organizations linked to the Russian government had assigned teams to the Women’s March. At desks in bland offices in St. Petersburg, using models derived from advertising and public relations, copywriters were testing out social media messages critical of the Women’s March movement, adopting the personas of fictional Americans.
I'm not worrying. This is innocuous, predictable, and just the usual bullshit we'll have to navigate if we're going to have the internet.
They posted as Black women critical of white feminism, conservative women who felt excluded, and men who mocked participants as hairy-legged whiners. But one message performed better with audiences than any other. It singled out an element of the Women’s March that might, at first, have seemed like a detail: Among its four co-chairs was Ms. Sarsour, a Palestinian American activist whose hijab marked her as an observant Muslim.

I assume the message "performed better with audiences" because it contained a fact that seemed relevant or worth considering. 

Over the 18 months that followed, Russia’s troll factories and its military intelligence service put a sustained effort into discrediting the movement by circulating damning, often fabricated narratives around Ms. Sarsour....

I'm not sure what "fabricated narratives" refers to. Maybe imagining what her aims and intentions might be. Or does it mean made-up facts about her? The vagueness makes me suspicious about whether there is any real story here. Sarsour led a big march. We have to be able to talk about her. Who cares if Russian chaos-makers participated in what would have been an active, messy conversation anyway? 

One hundred and fifty-two different Russian accounts produced material about her.

So a tiny number. Or is the NYT reader supposed to be aghast at the dimension of this operation? 152! Why isn't it 152 million? 152 sounds like something that one person could create.  

Public archives of Twitter accounts known to be Russian contain 2,642 tweets about Ms. Sarsour....

That's nothing!  2,642 — who cares?! How many tweets about Sarsour came from accounts that were not Russian? We are not told.

The Women's March was, according to the article, a "fragile coalition to begin with," with co-chairs who were associated with Louis Farrakhan. That's a big problem quite apart from Russian troll farmers. But let's talk about Russian troll farmers — "a story that has not been told, one that only emerged years later in academic research." Okay, that suggests there is something new justifying the NYT treatment of this as the top story. This is what I want to know, so let's dig in:

For more than a century, Russia and the Soviet Union sought to weaken their adversaries in the West by inflaming racial and ethnic tensions. In the 1960s, K.G.B. officers based in the United States paid agents to paint swastikas on synagogues and desecrate Jewish cemeteries. They forged racist letters, supposedly from white supremacists, to African diplomats.

Important, though old news. 

They did not invent these social divisions; America already had them. Ladislav Bittman, who worked for the secret police in Czechoslovakia before defecting to the United States, compared Soviet disinformation programs to an evil doctor who expertly diagnoses the patient’s vulnerabilities and exploits them, “prolongs his illness and speeds him to an early grave instead of curing him.”

Again, important, reminding us to be alert about stories that seem to aggravate divisions. 

A decade ago, Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, oversaw a revival of these tactics, seeking to undermine democracies around the world from the shadows.

A decade ago....  

Social media now provided an easy way to feed ideas into American discourse, something that, for half a century, the K.G.B. had struggled to do.... What effect these intrusions had on American democracy is a question that will be with us for years. It may be unanswerable.

That suggests you have nothing new right now. We'll never know the sources of the material we're seeing on the internet. We have to deal with it and keep our bearings as all sorts of people try to sway our minds, Russian or not. 

The article-writer, Barry, concedes that Americans were already politically riled up, and that the divisions "would have been true without Russian interference." But, she says, Russians made "a persistent effort to make all of them worse." 

What were these scary Russians like?

“If they were assigned to write text about refrigerators, they would write about refrigerators, or, say, nails, they would write about nails,” said [Artyom] Baranov, one of a handful of former trolls who have spoken on the record about their activities...

The job was not to put forward arguments, but to prompt a visceral, emotional reaction, ideally one of “indignation,” said Mr. Baranov, a psychoanalyst by training, who was assigned to write posts on Russian politics. “The task is to make a kind of explosion, to cause controversy,” he said.

See? It's part of the NYT "mental health" coverage. Do you think these poor Russians, writing for money, doing what they're told, really came up with important ways to control our emotions?  

When a post succeeded at enraging a reader, [Baranov] said, a co-worker would sometimes remark, with satisfaction, Liberala razorvala. A liberal was torn apart....

Well, at least these poor souls had a spark of humor and little feelings of success in game-playing. And they should exclaim Liberala razorvala about the NYT making their pitiful job into the top scary story of the day. But I'm not "torn apart" by the news of content creators noticing what's getting shared and liked. It's how the internet works. Is it okay to have the internet, or is it just too much for our feeble little minds to handle? 

Feminism was an obvious target, because it was viewed as a “Western agenda,” and hostile to the traditional values that Russia represented, said Mr. Baranov... 

“White feminism seems to be the most stupid 2k16 trend”

“Watch Muhammad Ali shut down a white feminist criticizing his arrogance”

“Aint got time for your white feminist bullshit”

“Why black feminists don’t owe Hillary Clinton their support” 

See? That's all stuff that we need to be able to hear, think about, and deal with, and it doesn't matter whether it came from Russia or from some perfectly ordinary American man. 

They posed as resentful trans women, poor women and anti-abortion women. They dismissed the marchers as pawns of the Jewish billionaire George Soros....

Just remember that people on the internet are not necessarily who they say they are. That's the most basic level of competence. We all have that. It's stupid to get outraged that people are posing as somebody else. That's the way it is. If we can't handle that, we can't have the internet. 

Back to Sarsour. The article has detail about the attacks on her, and, we're told "Russian troll accounts were part of that clamor." Part of. Sarsour used the word “jihad” in a speech, and "To the Russian trolls, it was an opportunity." It was an opportunity to anyone writing on the internet.

The following week, Russian accounts dramatically increased their volume of messaging about Ms. Sarsour, producing 184 posts on a single day, according to Advance Democracy Inc....

So, a tiny number — 184. Or is that supposed to be a huge number? When the item is posts on the internet, I think a number like 184 million might sound like a lot. But 184 you're trying to alarm us about? If we're to be alarmed at 184 posts about Linda Sarsour using the word "jihad," we really don't know how to be on the internet.

It is maddeningly difficult to say with any certainty what effect Russian influence operations have had on the United States, because when they took hold they piggybacked on real social divisions. Once pumped into American discourse, the Russian trace vanishes, like water that has been added to a swimming pool.

That's why it's not "maddening." There's so much speech that the part that's from Russian troll farms doesn't matter. Some of it isn't that different from home-grown speech, and some of it is overwhelmed by better quality speech. I can see that the author Ellen Barry wants to characterize the Russian speech as adding a new or different element that catches on and changes the discourse, but she's identified nothing they've added that's different from the low-level bullshit we make on our own. Is some distinct Russian strain growing here? That sounds more like Cold War Era paranoia than anything happening now. We should wake up and take responsibility for how degraded and divided we've become in America. That Russians are watching, cheering it on, enjoying the chaos, and throwing in little barbs is a distraction. I don't see how it helps to get irked at them.

This creates a conundrum for disinformation specialists, many of whom say the impact of Russian interventions has been overblown.

All right! That's how I feel. 

After the 2016 presidential election, blaming unwelcome outcomes on Russia became “the emotional way out,” said Thomas Rid, author of “Active Measures: The Secret History of Disinformation and Political Warfare.”

Yes! Thank you! 

“It’s playing a trick on you,” said Dr. Rid, a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. “You become a useful idiot if you ignore effective info ops. But also if you talk it up by telling a story, if you make it more powerful than it is. It’s a trick.”...

Yes! Exactly. The astute Dr. Rid is tucked away in the least likely to be read part of the article, but at least he's quoted.

Then the article returns to the story of Linda Sarsour, and finally we're told of some recent scholarship:

Data on Russian messaging around the Women’s March first appeared late last year in an academic journal, where Samantha R. Bradshaw, a disinformation expert at American University, reviewed state interference in feminist movements.

She and her co-author, Amélie Henle, found a pattern of messaging by influential amplifier accounts that sought to demobilize civil society activism, by pumping up intersectional critiques of feminism and attacking organizers.  

Why would Russians want to "demobilize civil society activism"? What's their motivation? Why would they want to help preserve American civil society? Originally, this article was telling us the Russians were sowing discord, but it ends with a scholar who seems to believe the Russians are undermining our own sowers of discord. I don't believe that at all.

ADDED: The NYT wrote "lock step" as 2 words, but it's been one word — "lockstep" — since the mid-1800s. It's also often written with a hyphen — "lock-step."

The OED defines it as: "A marching step in which the toe of one person is brought as close as possible to the heel of the person in front." It's originally a military term, and it would be an incredibly annoying way to move — taken literally — outside of a military context.

But it has an extended or figurative use, as you see in these examples offered by the OED:

1963    New Society 7 Nov. 19/1   The prescribed lock-step of school life.
1972    Business Week 18 Mar. 32/1   The break could occur if Ireland did not follow Britain into the EEC. For the republic marches in an economic lockstep with Britain....
2010 Atlanta Jrnl.-Constitution (Nexis) 30 Apr.  a18   Even the so-called moderates go lock-step with the far right wing. There seems to be no hope for them.

"Religion, a medieval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms."

"This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences.... [W]e all must... defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. 'Respect for religion' has become a code phrase meaning 'fear of religion.' Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect."

Said Salman Rushdie, in 2015, after the Charlie Hebdo attack, quoted at HuffPo (and at Rushdie's Wikipedia page).

A preliminary law enforcement review of Matar's social media accounts shows he is sympathetic to Shia extremism and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps causes, a law enforcement person with direct knowledge of the investigation told NBC News. There are no definitive links to the IRGC but the initial assessment indicates he is sympathetic to the Iranian government group, the official says. Rushdie's 1988 novel was viewed as blasphemous by many Muslims, who saw a character as an insult to the Prophet Muhammad, among other objections. Across the Muslim world, often-violent protests erupted against Rushdie, who was born in India to a Muslim family.

At least 45 people were killed in riots over the book, including 12 people in Rushdie's hometown of Mumbai. In 1991, a Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death and an Italian translator survived a knife attack. In 1993, the book’s Norwegian publisher was shot three times and survived.

The book was banned in Iran, where the late leader Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a 1989 fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death.... Anti-Rushdie sentiment has lingered long after Khomeini’s decree..... 
An Associated Press journalist who went to the Tehran office of the 15 Khordad Foundation, which put up the millions for the bounty on Rushdie, found it closed Friday night on the Iranian weekend....
"A new sculpture has become the first female figure to adorn one of the 10 plinths atop a powerful New York appellate courthouse in Manhattan."To me, the top news is not what Russian troll farms did 5 years ago. It's that the NYT is making that its top news today.

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