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Islamophobia

I recently wasted a bit of time reading some right-wing blogs. One thing I noted was the repeated references to news reports about young women from an Islamic background being beaten (and in some cases killed) by their fathers (and other male relatives) for not conforming to some weird cultural ideas that some people associate with Islam. These are spun as examples of Islam being bad and therefore opposing immigration policies that allow Muslims into countries identified as “Christendom” or “The West” (never mind the fact that the vast majority of the population in “Christendom” don’t even attend church twice a year and the fact that Australia is directly south of China, Russia, and North Korea).

It seems to me that when young people follow the cultural standards of the country where they live rather than the standards of the country that their parents came from then it’s evidence of “multiculturalism” working. When young Muslim women are beaten by their fathers whether it’s considered an example of Muslims being bad (and who therefore should be excluded) or an example of Muslims as victims who should be protected is a matter of interpretation. It’s not as if there is any shortage of domestic violence cases from any religious or cultural group.

It’s often claimed that fundamentalist Muslims hate our culture, strangely the same people seem to claim that our culture will be destroyed by radical Islam. These two ideas seem to conflict, if our culture (the pro-science, free-speech, few inhibitions on clothing standards, do what you want but don’t hurt others culture that most readers of my blog enjoy) can be destroyed by radical Islam then they wouldn’t hate it. I think that the reason why fundamentalist religious people (Christians and Muslims) dislike our culture is because it is so strong. Our culture offers a way of life that is simply better than that which fundamentalist religious groups offer. Any religious person can choose to take a liberal approach to their religion (emphasising the positive aspects of giving to charity, being nice to others, etc) and enjoy our culture. Our culture is based around wide-spread communication, mass media, mobile phones, the Internet, custom clothing design, etc. It can do to religions what the sea does to rocks.

It seems that the strongest efforts at attacking our culture come from Christian groups. For example the Exclusive Bretheren [1] runs a high school in my area, according to a local paper it distinguishes itself by having no students enter a university course! The Exclusive Bretheren (and some other radical Christian groups) have a deliberate policy of keeping children stupid with the idea that people who think may decide to change their religion.

Some time ago I had a taxi driver start an unsolicited discussion of religion by telling me how much he hated Muslims. I pointed out the fact that there are Muslims of all races and asked why he thought that I was not a Muslim. After that the rest of the journey was very quiet.

The mainstream media would have us believe that Muslims have some sort of monopoly on terrorism. Noam Chomsky’s paper “Terror and Just Response” [2] is one of many that he has written on this issue. I realise that many people don’t want to acknowledge the involvement of the US government (and it’s allies such as Australia) in international terrorism. But please read Noam’s position (which is compelling) or read his wikipedia page which lists his extensive accomplishments [3] (if it’s the background of an author that impresses you).

12 comments to Islamophobia

  • DaPom

    “For example the Exclusive Bretheren [1] runs a high school in my area, according to a local paper…” Do yourself a favour and go find out yourself. I too live in an area with a high population of Exclusive Bretheren and find most if not all very good people – yes, they have some quirks like the rest of us but as for attacking “our” culture – give me a break!

    It is more likely those educated university types that dictate to people how to behave in areas of culture and society in general that are leading their culture(s) downhill. Gay marriage, disabling parents rights to discipline etc.., all leftist educated doggrel which has ruined the fabric of Christian culture in western countries.

    Quiet ironic that a good proportion of corrupt business people and politicians here in NZ at present seem to have a good education – probably a university one too! Perhaps it ain’t that bad to grow up stupid…

  • etbe

    DaPom: It’s well documented that the Exclusive Bretheren are opposed to higher education. Strangely their leader is an accountant (I guess the lack of education only applies to the peons not the leaders).

    There are many churches that accept homosexuals and perform gay marriages (last time I was in the US I noticed a number of churches with “rainbow” signs). It seems that the Christian culture is accepting gay marriage.

    Did you realise that the vast majority of politicians and business people in first-world countries are university educated? Many careers require university education (such as accountancy) and many employers only consider job applicants who have degrees. So it should be expected that any sub-group of politicans and business people will be mostly comprised of well educated people.

    I feel sorry for the people who are forced to remain ignorant by their parents and cult leaders. But I have never said that most or all cult victims are bad people.

  • Greetings,

    I came across your blog post from one of the planet sites that I read.

    I’m a practising Muslim (many would say an immoderate one because I take the rules about praying 5 times a day and others rather seriously).

    Your comments about some religious groups attempting to intellectually suffocate people from an early age resonate with my thoughts on the subject. It’s quite saddening since (atleast in classical Islamic culture) being knowledgeable and educated was considered a virtue. I wrote a little about it here http://nibrahim.net.in/journal/?p=164

    As for the general Islamophobic aura that pervades most stories in the mass media, it’s a bitter thing that we as a community have to put up with these days.

    Reading your post warms my heart. It’s good too know that not all the people out there buy the propaganda that’s spreading like fire these days.

    Take care.

  • horst lederhosen

    It’s not the radicals that is worrying, it’s the average.

    The _difference_ is that “christian” countries allow all kinds of religions and a large percentage of people are atheistic and rest, as you say, go to church twice a year. Since these countries are democratic, it does not matter what a few radical christians think or say.

    On the other hand, a most islamic countries tie religion _much_ more tightly into everyday life – social welfare, education, news and even government affairs happen via islamic institutions. Thus a average muslim becomes much more religious than a average christian. What we would consider a “moderate muslim” in the same sense we think of a “moderate christian”, would be consider a infidel by average muslims.

    Example 1)

    Gays can live in any christian countries without fear of persecution, and even some churches accept gay marriages. On the other hand, in many islamic countries being gay is punishable by death. _none_ of the islamic sects accept gay.

    Example 2)

    Qur’an remains literally interpreted, while many christians accept that bible can be interpreted metaphorically.

    Example 3)

    Anti-christian cartoons and opinions in newspapers are everyday in christian countries. Think south park for example. You won’t have to fear your life for them. What would happen if you made anti-islamic cartoons in a islamic country? Why doesn’t south park dare to make episodes of of muhammed while showing Jesus is various derogatory settings is not a problem?

    To recite, the problem is not a few fanatics, it’s the lack of a moderate/liberal islamic movement. I don’t view Islam as a threat to Christianity – christianity has been effectively castrated in most western countries. Islam is a threat liberal and atheistic world view.

  • TheGZeus

    This man has said anything I would say, but more nicely:
    http://www.youtube.com/patcondell

  • etbe

    Noufal: Thanks for your comment. I am aware of the classical Islamic ideas towards education, it’s a pity that few modern religious groups spread such ideas (as far as I am aware of the idea that God wants people to learn being common in the Baha’i faith).

    I hope that the number of people who think about the issues objectively can increase. I don’t believe that there is a God, but I find that I can agree with religious people who want to make things better for other people on most issues.

    Horst: Every single time I write a blog post which has any reference to religion or liberal politics I get a reaction from someone who wants to ban gay marriage. The link between the Christian faith (as practiced by a large number of people) and discriminating against minority groups is strong. Let’s not imagine that they will stop at banning gay marriage.

    Tariq Ali’s thoughts about the Islamic dark age (as expressed in the book The Clash of Fundamentalisms) seem reasonable.

    In any case, harassing the liberal Muslims is certainly not going to stop the fanatics – it may drive more people towards the extremist versions of the religion though.

  • niq

    In at least some (western) countries, there are striking similarities between where Islam is today and where Judaism was in our parents/grandparents youth – most dramatically in 1930s Germany and central Europe.

    Even stronger parallels between the Zionist movement and today’s Al Quaeda: ruthless terrorist groups born out of the vicious oppression of a racial and religious group.

  • etbe

    niq: There are some bad patterns that keep getting repeated with different players.

    http://beranger.org/index.php?page=diary&2008/09/11/11/58/31-9-11-selection-bis

    Beranger has an interesting comment on this post, he notes that the cult of Scientology was advertising here. I’m not overly bothered by this, I hope that most people who read my blog are able to make reasonable decisions. I expect that anyone who clicks on such adverts on my blog would do so out of idle curiosity not any desire to actually use the service in question.

    Now I’m seeing adverts for Islamic dating sites.

  • To recite, the problem is not a few fanatics, it’s the lack of a moderate/liberal islamic movement. I don’t view Islam as a threat to Christianity – christianity has been effectively castrated in most western countries. Islam is a threat liberal and atheistic world view.

    This is the attitude that worries me. It seems to state that there is absolutely no way that a conservative religious and liberal non-theistic person can agree on anything. Surely, there is an “agree to disagree” option available? I’m not really a liberal but many of my friends are very much so. We do discuss things that we sharply differ upon without either of us frothing at the mouth.

    An attitude that summarily dismisses the ‘other’ as absolutely not acceptable is not conducive to any kind of progress. My problem with people like Harris and Dawkins is that they advocate just that. “We right, you’re wrong. All your beliefs are just nonsense. We know that and don’t need to discuss it with you. End of story”.

    Many liberals I’ve met seem to think that a ‘liberal moderate version of Islam’ – One that is watered down so much that it doesn’t have anything it feels strongly about anymore is the only thing that is acceptable to them. That’s going to be acceptable only to a small fraction of Muslims who were nothing more than just ‘cultural Muslims’ anyway. They’re about as far away from the teachings of the faith as J. Random Suicide Bomber (although on the other side of spectrum which appeals to the liberals). This is pretty much to advocating an extermination of Islam which most Muslims are not going to agree with. I wrote about this type of moderation here http://nibrahim.net.in/journal/?p=65

    Islam is not going to like being watered down. Anyone who believes in their position is not going to like that. Islam however has within in precepts for coexisting with societies that don’t accept it’s rules. These need to be emphasised and you won’t really find these rules coming out of the mouths of angry effigy burning protesters or mass media outlets both of whom are not qualified to say anything. You’ll find them from people who’ve spent their lives studying and practising the religion but who actively ousted as fossils and relics of a bygone era.

    Sorry if this was a bit of rant Russell. I’m afraid I might have taxed your grace as a host. :)

    Peace.

  • etbe

    Noufal: We can agree to disagree about whether prayer is useful or a waste of time, about whether it’s right to consume alcohol and pork, and about many other issues.

    It’s the attitude of DaPom et al that is the problem. Every time I write a post that in any way references religion or liberal politics I seem to get a response from some nutter who wants to bring up their personal issues with homosexuality. Anyone who prefers members of the same sex but feels that such things are wrong is free to be celibate. But enacting laws to prohibit other people from making their own choices (in ways that don’t hurt other people) is wrong. I’m continually surprised that the extremist Christians keep forcing me to defend gay rights.

    Human rights issues are not in the “agree to disagree” category.

    Providing false education to children is also something that I am not prepared to “agree to disagree” on. Science classes should teach nothing but science. I’m happy to have a religious studies class follow the science class and teach content that disagrees, but let’s keep everything in the right place.

    You are free to believe that the Earth is 6000 years old if you wish, but if you try to mess up science classes then it really is a matter of the scientists being right.

    Public health is also something that I will not agree to disagree about. The best scientific methods should be used to determine the most effective methods of increasing the health and life expectancy of the population, then as much as possible those methods should be implemented. If that means teaching teenagers how to have safe gay sex then so be it.

    Regarding moderate Islam. Some Muslim friends have told me that their interpretation of the Koran is that they are prohibited from getting drunk but not from drinking alcohol – they therefore have a small glass of wine with a meal on occasion. Getting drunk is bad for your health, as is eating pork – I don’t think that any reasonable analysis would conclude that having a religious obligation to do something which also happens to be good for your health is extreme.

    As for the issue of a cursory reading not giving the real picture. A related example is the fact that (according to Jewish friends) it’s impossible to apply the death penalty under Jewish religious law. There are plenty of scriptures which clearly state that certain actions deserve the death penalty, but thousands of years of precedent which make it impossible to apply such penalties. Comparing the typical Christian interpretation of the “Old Testament” (which is quite nasty) with the Jewish interpretation of the Torah (which is quite liberal) is very interesting.

    The poll you cite in your blog post was bad. If you were to survey people from those countries about the firebombing of Dresden, the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the bombing of Rotterdam, and the Japanese treatment of prisoners of war (just to name a few attacks on civilians and prisoners from WW2) you would probably find that considerably less than 50% of the population are opposed to such things (while the number of people who strongly support them is small, there is a significant portion of the population who really don’t care). I refuse to accept poll data that differs so greatly from my experience in visiting the countries in question and talking to the people there. I have not visited any predominantly Muslim country so can’t make a comparison of “Christian” and “Islamic” countries in this regard.

    One thing to carefully note when comparing people’s attitudes towards attacks on civilians is to distinguish what they would do now with what they regard as being wrong by the standards of all time. There are many people who regard that torture, mass-murder, and slavery are wrong by today’s standards, but were OK at the time when such things were legal in their own country.

    As for democracy, the US is the greatest force opposing it! If you allow people to choose their own government then they will on occasion choose one that doesn’t agree with you. The US solution to this is to try and remove the government in question and set up a dictator who is dependent on them.

    Finally your comment is not what I consider a rant and such comments are very welcome. If only the people who advocate Christianity in my blog comments could deliver the same quality of writing.

  • There’s really very little about which I don’t agree with you. :)

    Legislating away Human rights for any reason is something I’m opposed to. I I I also agree with you on the points you made about public health, scientific education etc. As a slightly off topic comment on the latter point, I agree with Dr. Rowan Williams and think that the whole ID movement is committing a category error. Religious faith is not as far as I know built up by hypothesis, experimentation and the general scientific method. To blur the lines is silly and quite frankly smells of a ‘lack of faith’ rather than a confidence in it. Homosexuality seems to be some kind of a full stop these days. Anytime anyone discusses anything, there’s always a nut who says “but what about gays?”. The whole conversation is derailed and it doesn’t get anywhere. I don’t think your post was about homosexuality and I don’t see the need to bring up any arguments for or against it here.

    Speaking in a more religious context, using government muscle to prevent people from sinning doesn’t really seem to me to work for not just practical but also theological reasons. I’m planning to write a little post about this soon.

    The alcohol point you raise is something that would require some more explanation but I see your overall position.

    I’m not a big fan of polls really. There are always problems with skewed samples, false data, inaccurate characterisation, bad questions and a whole slew of issues that can in skilled hands, be used to twist the poll to show whatever you want it to. I shoved that into my post because the person I was criticising (Sam Harris) uses poll data to counter personal experiences of the person he was debating against (Chris Hedges or Reza Aslan – I forget who). Something like “polls show that Muslims are predisposed towards violence and so your personal experiences account for nothing”. It was a sort of “polls are unreliable” paragraph (or atleast I meant it to be one).

    Your point about an atemporal application of a code of ethics is interesting but it’s hard to really quantify things. One incident that occurs to me (and which I was recently discussing with a friend) was Bhagat Singh’s attack on the Indian Parliament during the freedom struggle in my country (I’m Indian). It was plainly (by modern definitions) a terrorist act. You had an established government that was running a large country and this was a person bombing a room full of innocent people to protest against it. He’s honoured as a martyr in India today. No one would call him a terrorist. The question is “Was what he did wrong?”. How would a virtuous but patriotic Indian answer it? How would a right wing loony answer it? How about a British person working to uplift the conditions of the Indians at the time? It’s not a yes/no question. It’s something that requires wisdom and a certain breadth of vision that is sorely lacking these days. To judge whether something is “Okay” or not especially something that has already happened requires a good amount of context.

    The ongoing history of the United States is interesting. My knowledge in that department is a little skewed since most of the stuff I read is by Chomsky or similar left leaning writers. However, like all great nations and powers, it’s not going to last. The shortness of our lifespans makes us magnify the events we experience and diminish the ones we have access to only via books. But in the larger scheme of things, they and all the powers that come after them are going to fall. It’s just a matter of time.

    Thank you for the conversation Russell. I quite enjoyed it and look forward to your future posts.

    Peace.

  • etbe

    Noufal: I agree with your point about a “lack of faith”. Anyone who really believes won’t be concerned about minor issues. They can just accept the fact that modern science is too complex to explain to bronze-age people and that the stories similar to those in Genesis would be the inevitable result of trying to explain such things to people without any of the necessary background.

    Your point about theological reasons for using the government to enforce religious ideas makes a lot of sense. The common response to questions of the form “why does God let the world suck so badly” is that it would remove freedom of choice if God was to intervene to improve things. Somehow it’s supposed to be wrong for God to remove freedom of choice in a minor way (EG by making a few despots die young) but right for a government to remove freedom of choice in a major way (by enforcing religious ideas and jailing heretics).

    Regarding alcohol, please note that it’s not my point, but the point of some Muslims I know. Their ideas in this regard seem reasonable and the implementation of them seems good for the individuals concerned and for society as a whole.

    I agree that for some acts it can be very difficult to determine whether they were right. One factor that is often overlooked is the intent of the people involved. If someone feels compelled to kill some civilians as the only way to prevent a larger loss of live then it can be justified, if however they just hate the people in question and want to kill some then it can’t. The books of WW2 history that I have read have ascribed both motives so people in the decision making processes for some of the city bombings.

    Also one thing that needs to be kept in mind is that a private can do the right thing by obeying orders from a general who is doing the wrong thing. The people who actually do the fighting often have to trust that the people issuing the orders are doing what is right.

    I agree that the US empire is not going to last. It’s a pity that it couldn’t be a somewhat positive empire that lasts a long time (100 years or more) rather than a generally negative empire that has a shorter life expectancy. If you do bad things then it tends to have bad results for you sooner or later (the poor people in the US have been suffering for a long time due to the money spent on wars rather than domestic issues).