Sunday, January 09, 2011

Where the Right goes Wrong in Regards to Islam.

Muslim fundamentalists attacked a Coptic Church in Egypt. But other Muslims responded by attending Coptic Christmas Services or placing themselves around the Coptic Churches as human shields. (Remember not all Christian sects say Christ was born on December 25th, which is almost certainly NOT the date of his birth.)

This contrast nicely illustrates the differences between fundamentalists and the more tolerant practitioners of a faith.

I have been highly critical of Islamic fundamentalists and of Christian fundamentalists. But I always try to make a distinction between, for instance, your typical Episcopalian and your typical Bible-bashing Baptist. Whatever you think of Christianity there is a huge difference between Archbishop Rowan Williams and Rev. Fred Phelps. Phelps is a hard-core, stark-raving-mad, fundamentalist and Williams isn’t.

As an atheist I am certainly critical of Christianity, mainstream or fundamentalist. Similarly I am nothing to say in favor of Islam as a religion. But the problems with fundamentalism are gross exaggerations, and often-deadly ones, of the problems that underlie the religions in general.

The kernel of fundamentalism is found in the broader religion. Fundamentalists simply REALLY take their faith seriously; seriously enough that they tend to ignore the rights of others. Monotheistic religions, in particular, tend to be quite tolerant IF they are taken literally and seriously. But not all faithful take religion that seriously.

All Christians are not equally religious, neither are all Muslims.

My problem with many Right-wing critics of Islam is that they seem unable, or unwilling to acknowledge that not all Muslims are fundamentalists. When I lived in Africa there were a number of Muslims living in close proximity to me. And in various ways I would meet these people. Most were no different than their neighbors. For many, the only sign of a faith was that they attended mosque on Friday. And there was at least one mosque within a mile of my house.

Most the Muslims I meet took Islam as seriously as most Christians take Christianity—which isn’t very seriously at all. They pretty much ignored the moral commandments, as most Christians ignore. They were relatively happy to have sex without being married, as do a huge percentage of Christians. There were gay Muslims, as they are gay Christians. There were Muslims who never went to mosque but identified as Muslim just as there are Christians who never attend a church but say they are Christian. And there are Muslims who read the Koran, without taking it literally, just as there are Christians who do the same with the Bible.

Given the actions of the Egyptian Muslims, in defending their Coptic neighbors, I wondered how the Right-wing websites, which rant about Islam in very broad terms, would report this matter. A Google search showed the story being mentioned but I could only find one Right-wing site in the list. That was the anti-Islamic site, Gates of Vienna. This site did cover the story and dismissed it, just as most bigots dismiss evidence that doesn’t paint the objects of their prejudices in unfavorable light.

They listed three main ways of interpreting the Muslims supporting Coptic Christians. Of course, none of them really make these people look very good.1.

1. These people are well-meaning and sincere, in which case they are takfiris or apostates from true Islams, and are taking a grave risk.

Reply: What is true Islam? By this it is clear they are referring to a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. This usually requires a literalistic reading of the Koran. And when you do that the Koran looks pretty awful. But a literalistic interpretation of the Bible makes it look barbaric as well.

Believers in religion, I found, are quite capable of believing in their faith quite inconsistently. People often read passages in their holy book which they find excuses to dismiss. Christians certainly do that all the time. They will argue the verse in question was specific to a location, time, or people, and doesn’t have broad implications. They might argue that the literal meaning is not the “true” meaning. They may claim that other verses now take precedence for other reasons, that the thing being describe was just temporary. They may claim the real meaning is not the literal meaning but some other less obvious meaning. They may dismiss it entirely on the grounds that it couldn’t possible be a legitimate part of their holy book. The reasons given for ignoring scriptural passages is only limited by their own imagination. Given that religious folk tend to be rather imaginative the excuses are endless.

Fred Phelps says that most Christians have it wrong. They aren’t intolerant enough and Jesus is unhappy with them. Fundamentalist Muslims say that Islam has to be more intolerant and that Allah isn’t happy with them.

What interests me is that the Right-wing is actually taking a stand about what “true” Islam is all about. And they are claiming the fundamentalists have the right interpretation. They are preaching to moderate Muslims the very same message that the extremists are preaching: that to be a true Muslim you must be a violent, hateful, intolerant individual. Conservative critics are preaching the same “gospel” to Islam as the fundamentalists do. They are endorsing that view as the correct one. To me that makes as much sense as saying that Fred Phelps is the true standard bearer of Christianity.

2. Given that the “human shields” included sons of Hosni Mubarak, #1 seems unlikely. As Egghead suggests, it could simply be a publicity stunt, with propaganda value for Egyptian nationalists. The volunteers would have relied on state security to make sure they weren’t harmed.

So, even the half concession in the first point is now dismissed. Apparently if Mubarak’s son appear at the event then they prove all Muslims might share whatever motives they might have. I note the author did not prove any motives, he just asserted them. But he clearly does assume all Muslims should be lumped together with the likes of Mubarak’s family. I would suggest that any rally with thousands of people would mean that people with different motives are present. But I see no reason not to take the original assertion for the rally at face value, and this Right-wing blog gave no evidence to the contrary.

The third reason they give dismissing the good-will gesture of thousands of Muslims is the most insidious.

3. The participants knew very well that there would be no terror attack that night, and therefore their actions put them in no danger. Once again, the event could be used for nationalist propaganda. This scenario is only plausible if (a) the participants had connections with the state intelligence services, and (b) the intelligence services are working cooperatively with elements of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Since this site takes the all-Muslims-are-evil position, it can’t consider seriously that there are Muslims, who consider themselves good Muslims, who don’t support fundamentalism. Now, if I said that all Christians are fundamentalists and want to be as bigoted, intolerant and cruel as their “Bible-believing” cousins, the same conservatives would attack me as a bigot. So what does that make them?

As pathetically absurd and transparent as these arguments have been the readers of the blog were even worse. One suggested that the Muslims are trying to occupy the Coptic churches and that means the Copts will lose “all their places of worship.” Well, given that the Copts have had churches in Muslim held territory since around 42 AD, the Muslims have certainly been patient. More absurdly, look at the people in the line of human shields: woman and young people.

That doesn’t surprise me. Women are badly treated in orthodox Islam and thus often more “liberal” in their interpretation of the faith. And young Muslims, like young Christians, are far more tolerant and open-minded than their elders, in general. They are more likely to be disgusted by fundamentalist interpretations.

Another dismissed this act because “Non-Muslims want ALL Muslims to fundamentally recognize the humanity of non-Muslims at all times in all places and to stop promulgating incessant hate speech and actions against non-Muslims.” Well, dare I note that gay people could say precisely the same thing to Christians? I do dare, and I just did.

But if gay people blamed all Christians for the hateful attitudes of the wackjobs in the Christian Right, conservatives would be livid. Yet, they use the same argument against Muslims. I want all religions to be tolerant at all times, in all places. I also know that this simply won’t happen; there will always be fundamentalists when it comes to faith-based morality. Once people really do come to believe they are speaking on behalf of God, or doing God’s will, they become incredibly intolerant. By equating their “mission” with God’s mission they assume a position that they believe can not and must not be challenged in any way.

If you act on the commands of God then who can stand against you? That is the mentality of the fundamentalist. Of course, I am confident that they are acting on behalf of their own imagination. And “liberal” Christians argue that these fundamentalists are either mistaken, or can be sure they are acting for God.

At the written level—Bible vs, Koran—both books are horrendous. Both detail God-driven genocide. Both show intolerance for infidels, heretics, unbelievers, and others. Both command barbaric punishment and demand that everything be brought under the sovereign control of the deity. But believers are more flexible than the books they read. And that fact has to be recognized. That is what anti-Islamic Right-wingers fail to do.

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