Thursday, March 23, 2006

Two endorsements

The Council on American Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil rights body in North America, appeals for the release of Afghan Christian Abdul Rehman (via Abu Sinan). Also, an appeal for the release of Jill Carroll, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor (arabic video here).

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Islam, America, and Freedom

So there's this huge brouhaha about Wafa Sultan, an LA psychologist on Al-Jazeera taking on an Algerian Islamist professor. It seems that a million atheists are praying for her. Of course, there's a million things wrong with many of the groups calling themselves Islamist, and Wafa almost touches on some of them.

However, her whole diatribe was about how you Muslims do this and do that. I am going to take a few pieces out of it and see where we go.

My colleague has said that he never offends other people's beliefs. What civilization on the face of this earth allows him to call other people by names that they did not choose for themselves? Once, he calls them Ahl Al-Dhimma, another time he calls them the "People of the Book," and yet another time he compares them to apes and pigs, or he calls the Christians "those who incur Allah's wrath." Who told you that they are "People of the Book"? They are not the People of the Book, ....
This was about the whole offending your religion bit. Now let us see what she is saying. I guess most civilisations allow me to use appropriate language if it intends to carry objective meaning in a dialogue. Sure, the whole monkeys and pigs bit is used in speeches by the looney fringe, and I sure as hell don't subscribe to their views. However, appropriate language is needed. I don't think it is disrespectful to tell my Catholic friend that I consider him to be following something which has the origin of God's religion. Now you could say that is because I have a soft spot for normal, religious people of political left-liberal tendencies that I share. For Wafa of course, it is a different story and she is an elitist western bourgeois mouthpiece. That is how I'd usually put it. However, when it is a legal free for all, it is possible for her to be called an imperialist pig (she is out there trying to white-wash the native American genocide). That's not the sort of language I actually use - but take it as an argumentative device for now.

So where do we end up with on the whole offending people issue? As a Muslim, I will always be offended and will never welcome mockery of any figure from Islam, Christianity or Judaism. Within an Islamic society, if such expressions are criminalized (and there's to be a debate as to if they ought to be), then my biggest issue is to see that legitimate debate about ideas is not hindered. In societies that do not wish to limit expressions here, well then, in a legal sense of course you ought to live with it. This is an issue that a lot of supposed religious people really need to understand, that we can only have free faith and its discussion if the both parties can bring stuff to the table. It seems many of us are learning our faith from those dusty orientalist books or the ebbing news about lack of freedom in the ME. Since people are free to take or reject faith, of course they will sometimes act in very abhorrent ways. The bottom line of course comes down to: in a society where there is freedom of speech, the blasphemers should be safe from physical violence or threats. Boycott their publications, and attack their hypocrisy, and move on!

So three cheers for freedom, for a free society can see its errors, and people are free to leave Falsehood, and move to Truth. Of course, the elitist songs of freedom are fairly hollow and bankrupt because unless injustice is also attacked, much of nominal freedom is meaningless. So class, race, gender, historical privilege, faith, objective truth are also needed. (Translation : Hell yes, they are important, and people are going to take to the streets if needed.)

But the bottomline is, let us use the freedom of expression in a positive sense, and have a real dialogue about everything. Vile racists, and fundamentally anti-Islamists will abuse it and there can't be a legal challenge to it. Of course, it is a real issue as discrimination and prejudice gains ground, but then we'll just have to fight them. However, many institutions, and those constitutional guarantees which have not been revoked have helped to limit these things.

There's a lot more which is wrong with Wafa's statements - which only underscores the need to build more open, mature, and caring Islamic movements. She was only able to get away with it because many groups are doing horrible things and getting away with it far too easily in our community.