I have noted elsewhere on this blog that I regard myself as an Agnostic-Athiest, I.e. I don’t believe in god, but reserve the right to change my mind should compelling evidence of gods existence be uncovered, at which point I would be reluctant to define god in too limiting terms. So I approach the subject of religion from a position of deep scepticism. To regular readers of this blog, I apologise for repeating myself, but I am reluctant to assume that new readers know where I am coming from.
It is from this point of view that I approach the subject of the anti-Islamists.
Broadly speaking I distrust theocratic forms of government, (i.e. religious government), and regard the secularisation of society in general as a profoundly good thing. This is not to say that I do not see problems in this. Historically Religion has been the repository of the norms values beliefs and mores of society, in secular societies there are questions about what is, or will be replacing the important role religion has played in underpinning morality in society.
I would argue that the central value of Secular societies is choice, the freedom of the individual to make their own choices, good or bad, I would also argue that freedom is nothing if it is not the freedom to make bad choices. The only limits on this in secular societies is that our choices should not impose the implications of those choices on others. For example, choosing to steal is wrong because by making that choice the individual deprives another of their choices. Clearly the average ‘real’ situation is inevitable more complex than this.
As such, secular societies are tolerant of things which in religious contexts are either forbidden or seen as highly immoral, a good example of this is sexuality, the ‘acceptable’ face of which, almost all religions have defined in limited terms, but which secular societies increasingly embrace as a normal social difference. This seems to be continuing to develop, even though the essential tolerance of religious perspectives continues to create tension on this and other issues.
In this context, I see theocratic movements as profoundly worrying, and there is no doubt that the majority of theocratic movements in the current age, appear to grow out of Islam, and only a cursory look at the government of Iran shows this to be totalitarian in nature. It would seem to me that it is these factors which give rise to the impression that Islam is in some way more dictatorial than other religions.
However it is quite straightforward to look at the histories of other religions, and find the same authoritarian approach. The best example of course is Christianity, which has a profoundly bloody history, it is less straightforward to make the same analogy with Judaism, based on clear historical evidence, though the wars and attitudes described in the Old testament strongly suggest a similar problem, and the current state of Israel could equally be interpreted as a theocracy tempered by some democratic principles, but which has excluded the Palestinian people from participation in the democratic process, because their religious ideals are fundamentally at odds with the theocratic elements of the state.
So this brings me to what I believe is the fundamental error of the anti-Islamists, they see anti-democratic principles at work in Iran, and within organisations such as Al Qaeda or the reactionary groups known as Taliban, and associate these with Islam specifically, and sometimes exclusively.
This is a big problem. As I suggest above, this discriminates against Islam, isolating it as somehow ‘worse’ than other religions, which is difficult to sustain logically. It also draws attention away from the anti-choice agenda of the authoritarians, and in practice lends authority to their assertion that the choice agenda of the worlds secular societies is both immoral, and in practice an attack on Islam. Building on the experience of western rule in the 18th and 19th centuries, this allows the terrorists and authoritarians to argue that this is a continuation of old imperial policies, which are surely embedded in local and family histories throughout the Muslim world.
The anti-Islamist agenda pushes this discrimination further by identifying all Muslims as holding the same beliefs, something which is given the lie, by the history of conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims, but also the expression of�Islam in countries like Indonesia, which is very different to the expression of Islam in Pakistan for instance.
In an article titled ‘A forgiving Religion’ which you can read here https://transremaxculver.wordpress.com/2011/07/10/685/ , I described a Muslim seeking to overturn a death sentence on a man who had shot him following the 9-11 attacks. Rais Bhuiyan�described his religion as preaching that forgiveness was always preferable to vengance.
Now I am involved in an ongoing argument with various anti-Islamists on a Usenet group entitled alt.religion.islam, though it is also cross posted to various other groups. I posted the article linked above to this group, as evidence that Islam has diversity within it, and as a perspective on Islam which might be more beneficial to promote, rather than the bloodthirsty authoritarian image the anti-Islamists would have us subscribe to.
The reaction was quite interesting, essentially the argument offered to was that Rais Bhuiyan didn’t understand Islam. You can read the relevant thread on the following link if you so choose.
And this really illustrates the nature of the problem, the anti-Islamists, are not interested in identifying diversity within Islam, or even it seems tolerating diversity in western societies, google Geert Wilders for examples of this. It seems all too often that they wish to see Islam as a single entity, with a single theology, and a single expression. In this sense whilst they can legitimately argue that they are not pursuing a ‘racist’ agenda, they are engaged in stereotyping Muslims, discounting those who do not fit the stereotype, because they do not interpret their own religion in the way the anti-Islamists do.
Now: if someone were to ask me, ‘Should I convert to Islam?’ my answer would be ‘no,’ and I could give many cogent reasons why not. But then my answers would not be particularly different if someone asked me, ‘Should I convert to Christianity?’ But if I really believe in the freedom of choice that is such a central part of Secular societies, I cannot object if someone chooses to be a Muslim, or a Christian, or a Jew, or a Buddhist, or a Hindu, or a Daoist, ect, even if that choice is based on having been born into a family with a particular religious or cultural background.
It is for this reason that I am increasingly coming to believe that the anti-Islamists are, not only acting in counter productive ways, which only strengthen the hands of the terrorists and Authoritarians, but are also a western counterpart to the terrorists and authoritarians. the language and arguments they use may seem more subtle in western contexts, but their agenda is the same. An agenda which argues, there is one enemy, it is evil and there can be no diversity in it, and it must be defeated. The danger of course is that each strengthens the other with each claim and counter claim, leading to inevitable conflict.
In my opinion the only answer to the problems that terrorists and authoritarians cause is to accommodate the choices of those who are not followers of their cause, but could be if they feel excluded, isolated or intimidated by a perceived enemy. I might believe that the woman wearing a Burkar does herself no favours, but it is not my choice to make, nor is it anyone else’s. It also serves no-ones interests, to tell the western Muslim woman who chooses not to wear the Burkar that she doesn’t understand her own religion.
As for the anti-Islamists, I find myself wondering why they feel so particularly threatened? I have no empirical evidence to support my conclusion, but my impression is that the majority are Christians, which gives rise to a speculation that a big part of their agenda is an attempt to promote Christianity, and in some senses a nostalgia for the era when Christian nations wer the dominant forces in the world. In this sense they are very little different to Britons that still burn a nostalgic flame for an age of empire, that was never as it seemed, and was as bloody and exploitative as any other.