The extent to which I object to any religious belief is more or less commensurate with the level to which it informs one’s daily life. If you privately believe that the universe is 20 minutes away from being devoured in a ball of flame, but you still do a good job filing my tax returns, it’s really not my place to get all hot and bothered by your delusion. This isn’t to say that, if given the opportunity, I won’t say something about how ridiculous your beliefs are. After all, the truth is important. However, it simply doesn’t interest me to put my shoulders into exposing the irrationality of your particular faith. After all, provided you make no (or comparatively few) life decisions based on it, it’s a bit arch of me to go after it.
Islam, at least insofar as I understand it (and have seen it practiced) is one of those faiths wherein daily observance and connection to day-to-day life is much more persistent. Christianity, by comparison, has fewer daily rituals and practices that mark someone as “a Christian”. There is no dress code, there are no dietary restrictions, few necessary public observances. It is far easier to be a “stealth Christian” than it is to be a “stealth Muslim”. Couple that with daily prayers and the phrase “inshallah” (which one of the guys I work with uses – to be sure, one branch of my family doesn’t talk about the future without saying “God willing”, so that kind of obeisance is not exclusively Muslim), and you get a religion that is very much a ‘live in’ one.
Perhaps the most visible signifier of Muslim belief is the head covering that many Muslim women wear (either by choice or by coercion). I’ve known sisters, both who would describe themselves as ‘observant’ – one wore the head scarf, the other did not. It was very much a choice for them, and I have no quarrel with that. The only thing that weirds me out about the whole practice is the fact that it is an open, visible sign to everyone around you that you subscribe to the belief that women ought to cover their hair for ‘modesty’ purposes. I would be, I imagine, similarly put off by a Catholic woman who wore a wimple or a Hindu woman displaying a bindi (although the bindi is often cosmetic rather than religious).
But one cannot escape the fact that, at least here in North America, there is a lot of danger associated with women who wear hijabs. Danger to the women themselves, at least:
California police are investigating a possible hate crime in connection with the death of an Iraqi woman who was beaten unconscious on Wednesday. Shaima Alawadi was found next to a threatening note saying “go back to your country.”
Fatima Al Himidi, told KUSI-TV her mother had been beaten on the head repeatedly with a tire iron, and that the note said “go back to your country, you terrorist.”
I’ve greatly enjoyed this week of poking fun at religion, but nothing fills me so quickly with a mixture of cold fury and visceral disgust than people who imagine their theological disagreement grants license to commit acts of violence against their fellow human beings. There may be people out there who are less tolerant of religion than I am, but there’s definitely a larger number who are more tolerant. I think religion is inherently harmful, and I don’t think it matters what ‘kind’ of religion you’re talking about: faith undermines human progress and contributes to human suffering. That being said, there will never be a point at which I allow my distaste for the idea turn into an attack on the individuals who hold it.
Someone in California was simply not able to distinguish between criticism and physical violence, and beat an innocent woman to death for the crime of wearing a hijab. Calling Shaima Alawadi ‘innocent’ is perhaps a soft sell – her job was cultural sensitivity training for military personnel going to Iraq. Presumably, I suppose, so that the Iraqis wouldn’t beat those personnel to death and leave notes telling the invading American troops to go back to their country. Perhaps someone should have provided the killer with some cultural sensitivity training about the United State’s policy of religious tolerance, and its anti-discrimination laws (to say nothing of anti-murder laws).
This post should not be read as an admonishment to you, gentle readers. I can’t imagine in a million years that anyone in the FTB audience would even dream of committing an act of violence against someone simply because they have religious beliefs. I’d imagine in fact that most people, religious or otherwise, would shrink from even the idea of murdering someone over a disagreement, no matter how serious. Rather, this is intended as an invitation to join me in lamenting the fact that, for all the hysteria over “creeping Shariah” and the Islamification of “Western” society, Shaima Alawadi was more at risk than risky.
I was upbraided on Twitter this week for using the phrase “war on religion”. It was probably precisely for reasons like this murder. Our conflict with religion is not, and must never become, an armed struggle. Our world views are in conflict, and insofar as that can be described as ‘war’, it behooves us to use the appropriate armaments – succinct and evidence-based argument, mockery and satire, compelling human stories – whatever it takes to expose religious ideas for the falsehoods they are. That being said, there will come a time when we will be called to defend religious believers – not because we share their beliefs, but because we share their humanity.
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