Gay Humanists offer Spencerian bigotry

Islamophobia Watch drew my attention to an article by Barbara Smoker, former president of the National Secular Society, in the latest edition of the Gay Humanist Quarterly. The edition is freely downloadable but is an image-based PDF, which means not only that I can’t copy and paste it but also that if you are using a screen reader it might not pick it up. Clearly, the visually-impaired are one group whose inclusion they don’t much care for, or perhaps they just don’t know how to produce a decent PDF which isn’t very difficult. Anyway, Barbara Smoker offers up the usual facetiousness which is typical of secularist attitudes to religious sensitivities, with a bit of ignorant bigotry any Jihad Watch or LGF goon could have come up with.

To summarise it for the sake of our visually impaired friends, Smoker tells us that, at a recent debate at the Oxford University Union (a debating society), she, along with Flemming Rose, the Danish editor who published the notorious cartoons, opposed a motion that “Free Speech should be moderated by respect for Religion”. The motion was defeated by 129 to 59. She doesn’t see why free speech should be moderated for religion, “nor for any other abstract noun”. This was a stupid gibe when Michael Moore used it regarding terrorism, and it sounds just as stupid when the noun is religion. She thinks that religious people should be respected “as long as they are not antisocial and don’t aim to impose their religious views on others”, but faith, “which means firm belief in the absence of evidence”, should not, because it “betrays human intelligence, undermines science-based knowledge, and compromises ordinary morality”.

Smoker continues:

Scepticism is of paramount importance, because it is the gateway to knowledge; but unless the sceptical ideas are freely argued over, they cannot be assessed, nor can the ensuing knowledge spread through society. And free speech must include the right to laugh at absurd ideas. Indeed, ridicule - including satirical cartoons, which have recently provoked terrorism - has always been an important element of the free exchange of ideas on everything, not least religion. Without that free exchange there can be no advance in knowledge and no social progress.

She conveniently ignores the fact that debate about science and the usual things the religious and the secularists disagree on go on all the time in the west and do not routinely provoke terrorism or violence of any sort. If it did, you would expect that any institution where such debates go on, from Radio 4 to pretty much every university, would be under pretty heavy guard, but apart from the usual security measures (which merely identify who goes in and out of the building by means of pass cards; I find it hard to believe that they would stop a determined terrorist), they are not. Until a few years ago, most London universities were open. The two I’ve attended (Aberystwyth and Kingston) still are.

The Danish cartoons were not an attempt at civilised debate, but contained deliberate insults and slurs. Three of them show a sort of stereotypical nasty Arab, fierce and grizzly with an unkempt beard with a bomb in his turban in one case and two goggle-eyed veiled women behind him in another, as if this was what the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) really looked like. With some cultures, although not others, if you insult people’s forebears, particularly someone’s mother, you will provoke a fight - and this includes European cultures besides those of the Middle East. A contributor to a Rough Guide book on travelling in Europe wrote that he chased a man he suspected of stealing from him through the streets of a Spanish city, and when the man continued running even after being called, among other things, a son of a whore, he became convinced that this was his man - because if he wasn’t, he would have turned around and put up a fight.

The Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) is the model every Muslim tries to emulate; on every moral or existential issue, people will recount things they have heard that the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said or did in a particular situation. These cartoons depicted him as the worst stereotype of an Arab Muslim, and thus insinuate that such is the model Muslim. We did not all (or even mostly) erupt in a frenzy, but we were all insulted. I should add that, in a Danish context, Muslims are not a powerful population; as elsewhere in Europe, they are ghettoised, politically under-represented and suffer discrimination. It is not debate and it is not satire; in our country, at least, satire tends to be aimed at politicians and other powerful people, not at minorities, even privileged ones like the Jews. If a “satirical cartoon” linking Blacks with apes or cavemen were published, and then spuriously justified with references to black drug dealers or gangsters, there would be outrage, and justifiably so.

Moving on, she explicitly associates Islam itself with terrorism:

When the ideologies we pretend to respect indoctrinate children, some of whom may even grow up to be suicide bombers because of it, hypocrisy becomes complicity in the mental abuse of children, in the oppression of women, in the obstruction of social reforms, and even in incitement to terrorism. We are told that Islam itself cannot be blames for the terrorist attacks on New York, Madrid and London, followed by widespread carnage in retaliation for the publication of a few innocuous drawings. That is like say that that the horrors of the Inquisition had nothing to do with Christianity.

If the children being taught Islam are taught explicitly that suicide bombing is against Islam and is not a path to martyrdom at all, as a lot of Muslims actually believe, then this possibility is averted unless the children choose to ignore what they have been taught, or unless the children are living in a context of dispossession, occupation and widespread oppression and disruption of daily life by an outside invader. In the case of the tiny number of British Muslims who have ended up becoming suicide bombers, many, if not all, of them went through a British state education rather than an Islamic school.

The Taliban, al-Qa’eda and the Badr Corps, are certainly extremist, but they are orthodox deriving logically from the Koran, which denigrates women and tells believers to wage jihad against heretics and infidels. Moderate Muslims often try to explain away this tyranny and violence as misinterpretation of the Koran. If that is so, why did Allah, or his Prophet, lapse in to such ambiguity?

The answer lies in the fact that neither the Taliban, with their bizarre hostility towards women, nor al-Qa’eda, nor the Badr Corps are typical of Muslims anywhere. In no other country are women forced (by law) to wear the burqa as seen in Afghanistan or denied medical treatment or education by law. This did not even happen when the Islamic Courts gained control of Somalia: by contrast, British TV showed girls, without faces covered, having been sent back from the UK for schooling there. It is not the case even in other countries were veiling of women’s faces is common. Our model remains the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) and he and his Companions never told us not to teach girls or to deny them treatment for illness, nor to deliberately massacre innocent people in preference to combatants. It is not a matter of ambiguity but of people taking words which apply to one situation and applying them to another, a mark of small extremist fringe groups at many points in Islamic history, including those known as Kharijites who murdered distinguished Muslims of the first generation for disagreeing with them.

Smoker puts no distance between herself and anti-Muslim bigots like Robert Spencer in claiming that Al-Qa’eda “derive logically” from the Qur’an. Islamic scholars, who actually know the Qur’an and the contexts of each verse, condemned all the atrocities of al-Qa’ida. Granted, in the 1990s there were those Muslims who believed that Osama bin Laden was a soldier for Islam and not a mass murderer, and doubted that he really had anything to do with the east African embassy bombings, but the generality of Muslim scholars has always condemned the terrorist actions themselves. That is what counts.

Smoker concludes that giving religion “false respect” “could allow superstitions of the Dark Ages to triumph, destroying the whole range of social and individual freedoms courageously won over the past few centuries”, and that we should “moderate respect for religion in favour of free speech”. To her, secularism represents progress and freedom and religion superstition and oppression. However, it’s a fact that the modern age has led to a respect for the scientist that has led us to throw people in jail for years and rob people of their right to have children on the basis of what they say, which sometimes proves to be wrong. At one time, eugenics was associated with progress, while religion opposed it - and it has since been discredited. Such behaviour continued with the imprisonment of innocent Irish people for terrorism on the strength of false “science” in the 1970s and with the false baby-murder convictions attributed to Roy Meadow’s faulty mathematics more recently. Some westerners will believe the words of a man in a white coat when he calls someone a murderer just as readily as some Africans will believe a self-made priest when he calls someone a witch.

I should add that there is a difference between “moderating free speech” in terms of passing laws restricting it and society having certain limits in order to keep the peace. This country already has, for example, codes of conduct for the press and laws banning, among other things, incitement to racial hatred. Laws banning satire on religion are not on the table, and any Muslim who seeks to have such laws introduced should consider that many of us are not above lampooning aspects of our fellow citizens’ religions. We are one minority among many, and cannot expect special treatment in that regard. Rather, we object to calumny, and a calumny against the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) is a calumny against all of us, and when it concerns violence, it causes understandable distress. If you cannot see that, you are an idiot.

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