There’s a photo on Facebook? Quick, set something on fire!

Seriously – why?

Thousands of Bangladeshi Muslims set fire to at least 10 Buddhist temples and 40 homes in anger over a Facebook photo of a burned Quran before authorities restored order. …

He said at least 20 people were injured in the attacks that started late Saturday after a photo of a burned copy of the Muslim holy book was posted on Facebook. The rioters blamed the photo on a local Buddhist boy, though it was not immediately clear if he actually posted the photo.

Bangladesh’s popular English-language Daily Star newspaper quoted the boy as saying that the photo was mistakenly tagged on his Facebook profile.

I don’t particularly care if this was just a pretext that was cynically used to inflame already-existing tensions, as this sort of thing usually is. This is asinine and the mere attempt to use it as an excuse is fucking disgraceful. If you think it’s at all understandable to tell people “um, yeah, we burned down all these buildings because of a picture somewhere on Facebook!”, you are simply broken as a human being.

Are they really religious? Yes!

Following widespread attacks and protests at US embassies in the Middle East in reaction to a film insulting Islam, several people have linked to a story from February by Egyptian author Alaa Al Aswany. In the article, titled “Are They Really Religious?”, Aswany criticizes Egyptian Muslims who follow the letter of their interpretation of Islamic law, but disregard basic human decency.

He cites the examples of a male pharmacist who refused to give an injection of insulin to an elderly diabetic woman because of “sharia”, hospital employees leaving their patients unattended for hours so they could pray at a mosque during Ramadan, and Egyptian police officers insisting on letting their beards grow as Muhammad commanded after they had raped, tortured and killed protesters during the revolution. Aswany says:

True religion requires us to defend human values: truth, justice and freedom. This is the essence of religion and it is much more important than growing beards or giving the call to prayer in the Parliament chamber.

So, are these supposed hypocrites “really religious”? Yes, they are still religious. When people insist on spending hours in prayer, or protesting any insult against someone they consider a prophet of their faith, this is obviously driven by religious beliefs, and it is religious behavior. Considering this an act of hypocrisy, or something other than religious in nature, requires redefining religion to mean an idealized “true religion” that upholds a certain set of universal moral values. And while it may sound nice to say “religion is good, and when it’s not, people are just doing it wrong”, that simply isn’t true.

If Aswany wants to denounce medical neglect, human rights violations, and “Egyptians who observe the superficial aspects of religion and pray regularly, but in their daily dealings are far from truthful and honest”, then this is all certainly worthy of criticism in its own right. But just because something is bad doesn’t mean it’s not religious. In reality, religion is not synonymous with respect, honesty, fairness, tolerance, peace, freedom, the golden rule, or anything else that people might insist is a part of “true religion”. Certainly, most sects of most religions will profess to hold most of these values, but in practice, their interpretations often leave exceptions wide enough to fly a plane through.

To claim that religion can only be responsible for good, and that anything terrible which results from it must not have been motivated by religion at all, would severely compromise our understanding of religion as a phenomenon and its role in shaping human behavior. If we recognize that people can be inspired to acts of extraordinary heroism and self-sacrifice by their beliefs about the foundation of existence and the ultimate purpose of humanity, what sense does it make to deny that these same beliefs could also drive people to commit acts of great evil which they think are actually good?

Even simply adhering to ideals of truth, justice and freedom still isn’t enough to prevent some people from completely screwing things up when they put this into action. Why is it so implausible that someone’s religious ideas about what’s inherently good could in fact be utterly atrocious? A society that values shallow displays of piety over respect for human life has absolutely been influenced by religion. Bad religious behavior by religious people doesn’t happen in spite of religion. It happens because of it, and it doesn’t stop being religious when it starts being a problem.

Equating religion with ethical conduct, and the absence of religion with immorality, implies that non-religious people do not share the basic, humane values that are attributed to this “true religion” – or that if they do, they must indeed be religious. Neither is true. People of no religion are fully capable of acting ethically, and their ability to do so is not hindered by the absence of religious faith. It doesn’t mean that they must be either secretly immoral or secretly religious. The lack of religion is not synonymous with a lack of morality, because godlessness and good behavior were never incompatible. The denial that religion could ever be responsible for any wrongdoing is not only false – it also unfairly maligns every person who doesn’t need religion to know right from wrong.

Those who put their prayers before their patients, kill protesters while defending their beards, and attack embassies in the name of Muhammad have not failed to be religious. They’ve succeeded. And just because that success is in the fields of inhumanity, ignorance, frivolity and violence doesn’t mean a lack of faith had anything to do with it.

If you don’t like the .gay domain, don’t go there

Newly proposed top-level domains – the part domain names end in, like .com and .org – are up for consideration by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. And guess what Saudi Arabia has a problem with?

The Saudi Arabian government is objecting to a number of proposed new Internet address endings, including .gay, .bar, .baby and .islam.

The country claims the .gay domain would promote homosexuality and would be offensive to “many societies and cultures.” Saudi Arabia’s Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC) filed objections to 31 domain extensions, primarily on cultural and religious grounds.

If any theocracy or dictatorship around the world were allowed to veto some part of the internet that goes against their beliefs, it wouldn’t be the internet, now would it? What sense does it make to say we can’t have a .gay domain here, because they don’t like the .gay domain there? There’s already a .xxx TLD, and I bet the Saudi Arabian government isn’t a fan of pornography. While we’re at it, why do the US (.us) and Israel (.il) have their own TLDs? I can think of a few countries who would rather they didn’t exist, either.