1. gijoel says

    I can’t find it, but I remember a sketch by Omid Djalli, where he compared the media’s tendency to get comments by Islamic radicals to going to the Grand Dragon of the KKK.

  2. Gregory Greenwood says

    That was a very intertesting article. The opening segment did strike me in particular;

    Every year I give a lecture to a group of theology students – would-be Anglican priests, as it happens – on ‘Why I am an atheist’. Part of the talk is about values. And every year I get the same response: that without God, one can simply pick and choose about which values one accepts and which one doesn’t.

    My response is to say: ‘Yes, that’s true. But it is true also of believers.’ I point out to my students that in the Bible, Leviticus sanctifies slavery. It tells us that adulterers ‘shall be put to death’. According to Exodus, ‘thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’. And so on. Few modern day Christians would accept norms. Others they would. In other words, they pick and choose.

    So do Muslims. Jihadi literalists, so-called ‘bridge builders’ like Tariq Ramadan (‘bridge-builder’, I know, is a meaningless phrase, and there are many other phrases that one could, and should, use to describe Ramadan) and liberals like Irshad Manji all read the same Qur’an. And each reads it differently, finding in it different views about women’s rights, homosexuality, apostasy, free speech and so on. Each picks and chooses the values that they consider to be Islamic.

    I’m making this point because it’s one not just for believers to think about, but for humanists and atheists too. There is a tendency for humanists and atheists to read religions, and Islam in particular, as literally as fundamentalists do; to ignore the fact that what believers do is interpret the same text a hundred different ways. Different religions clearly have different theologies, different beliefs, different values. Islam is different from Christianity is different from Buddhism. What is important, however, is not simply what a particular Holy Book, or sacred texts, say, but how people interpret those texts.

    When one has to struggle to interpret and reinterpret the words of your supposed ‘holy book’ in order to convert them into something other than the most brutally regressive forms of religiously mandated bigotry and oppression, perhaps it is time to drop the entire toxic mess and just recognise it for the harmful, outmoded mythology it is?

    I think part of the problem is that, while it is undeniably true that theists pick and choose what bits of their religious tradition to follow, just as the rest of us form our own value systems and moral compasses in part by choice, having to operate within the bounds of a set of inflexible and often fundamentally anti-humanist supernaturalisit doctrines limits their options to such a degree that even the most liberal, ‘least bad’ choice is deeply problematic. While their are any number of atheists that are entirely capable of making awful chocies about what values they adopt and how they behave (I am looking at you, Professor Dawkins), at least those of us unburdened by concerns about the notional approval off an unevidenced sky fairy have the option and moral elbow room to make a better choice, even if so many of us spectacularly fail to do so.

    As an example, while a liberal christian may choose to utterly reject homophobia as the socially regressive and toxic bigotry it is, they are vulnerable to a homophobic conservative christian coming along and pointing out that it does say in the bible that ‘thou shalt not lie with a man as thou would with a woman for it is an abomination’. There is not a whole lot of room for interpretation or declaring this passage metaphorical here. The liberal christian can reject the entire passage as wrong, but not by interpreting it differently; only a flat rejection of this idea as toxic and bigoted is sufficient, And if you start rejecting whole swathes of your allegedly inerrant holy book not only as wrong but as so harmful to innocent people that the term ‘evil’ is not entirely unreasonable, then defending the tattered shreds of the nicer bits (remembering that this is only for some values of ‘nicer’; honestly failing to seeing how toxic something is due to unrecognised privilege-blindness is not the same thing as those values being harmless) seems to become an ever more quixotic endeavour.

    The problem is not and never has been that religion makes a person ‘evil’ – it is that religion puts innummerable obstacles in the way of any believer who wants to be a decent human being as such things are defined by secular, humanistic measures, while simultanously making it very easy indeed for bigoted and power hungry arseholes to claim that the suffering they cause is ‘righteous’ and mandated by their imaginary god. Religion undermines your ability to rationally assess a truth claim on the evidence, and so leaves you open to every conartist with a suitably honed theistic patter that comes along.

    Religion is a shackle around the ankles of the better aspects of your character; you might be able to minimise the drag, but the only way to be free is to strike it off.

    With all that said, the core message of the article is absolutely right – when the media, governments and all too many liberal voices in the West gravitate toward identifying the most regressive and fundamentalist voices within Islam as the only ‘legitimate’ voices, we serve only to strengthen the power base of the fanatics and weaken the hand of the progressives within the islamic community. We are making a bad situation worse because easy soundbites and a simple distinction between supposed ‘good’ and ‘evil’ divided along neat cultural lines is more palettable to many of us than the complex and messy truth that you get a variety of opinion and perspective in every human community, and that we in the West have every bit as much capacity for fundamentalist attitudes and all the horror that comes with them as anyone else.

  3. ganymede says

    While I agree with much of what Malik says, I think it mostly misses the point. First of all, I doubt many people here would be persuaded by his arguments if he were talking about Christians rather than Muslims. Christianity, as Christianity, isn’t responsible for the Crusades, the Inquisition, the child abuse by Catholic clergy? That was all the work of individuals and the Christianity as Christianity shouldn’t be blamed for it? Nope, I do not think that argument would fly. Not here, anyway.

    Second, as Gregory Greenwood points out, the text really does say what the text actually says. In the case of the Bible, that’s misogyny, homophobia and worldwide domination. In the case of the Koran, that’s misogyny, homophobia and worldwide domination. How does the religion itself get a free pass from what its own sacred texts very clearly mandate? The argument “but not all Christians/Muslims believe that” strikes me as comparable to “but not all Republicans are homophobic or misogynistic.” True, but so fucking what?

    The most dangerous religion in the world is whichever one has political power. In some parts of the world that’s Christianity; in some parts of the world that’s Islam. For those parts of the world where that’s Islam, we’re not doing ourselves any favors by pretending otherwise. As with all religion, Islam is a cancer that threatens the life of the organism. It’s not bigotry or racist to say so.

  4. unclefrogy says

    I have a slight quibble with the idea of religion as a cancer. I prefer to think of religion as more of a parasite , that does provide some survival benefit in that it tends to try and increase the size of the group that holds it as true at the expense of everyone and everything else
    It also weakens its host by making it more difficult to adopt to changing conditions in fact religion and belief depends for its very survival that things do not change at all and only reluctantly allow new ideas or new interpretations of the beliefs to come into alignment with new understanding of reality.
    It attaches itself to our need for predictability and our ability to recognize patterns. It forms unshakable patterns which the believers act as if they are real and enforce the conclusions derived from the imagined patterns. It would be OK if things did not change or the imagined patterns were closer to reality but that does not seem to be the case. It looks like the longer a belief/ religion goes on the further from reality it becomes.
    uncle frogy

  5. robro says

    ganymede @#3

    In the case of the Bible, that’s misogyny, homophobia and worldwide domination. In the case of the Koran, that’s misogyny, homophobia and worldwide domination.

    I agree that they certainly seem to be these things, but I’m cautious that this is as a much of an interpretation of the texts as the standard fundamentalist one. As with any interpretation, it’s essentially based on the shaky foundation of assuming we know what the authors intended from the words, and of course, we don’t. And that the words we have, usually translations, are reliable.

    Also, I’m not sure we can speak of the Bible as if it’s a single, integrated whole. It isn’t. It’s a hodgepodge, and such a hodgepodge that it’s difficult to extract any coherent meaning from the text much less intent. I’m less familiar with the Koran, but from my cursory reading about it, it too is almost certainly an incoherent hodgepodge.

    These things are like Rorschach ink blots. We can derive almost anything we want out of them.

  6. robro says

    …Jihadi literalists, so-called ‘bridge builders’…

    Curious. I’m sure this has no relationship to Jihadi literalists, but pontiff (as in the Pope) means bridge builder.