Monday, February 21, 2011

Repost: Ed's View of Islam and Sharia Law

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Islamic crescent
Islamic crescent

Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars has posted a lengthy and detailed response to some cretins who keep insisting that he only mocks the far-Right’s hysteria over the nonexistent threat of a radical Islamic “takeover” of the United States because he actually supports it, or some such nonsense. It’s a clear and eloquent essay that truly deserves to be shared around, which is why I’m reposting it here, in full, for the sake of posterity. In brief: Just because “reactionary Islam” is evil and disgusting does not make it a credible threat to the American way of life, at least not in this current society.

Since I have at least two incredibly persistent trolls and their various sockpuppets who insist that my making fun of the right wing's fervent overreaction to the threat of radical Islam constitutes support for radical Islam, I thought I'd lay out my views on this subject in plain language so no one can doubt where I stand. None of this will come as any surprise to those who have been reading this blog for the last few years, of course.

Let me first state the obvious: Radical Islamic -- which probably should be called reactionary Islam instead -- is the single most dangerous and malevolent ideology on the planet today. Any ideology that contains the idea that one is justified in killing those who disagree with us or who "insult" -- i.e. criticize -- our views is fundamentally dangerous from the very start.

Reactionary Islam is opposed to every core value I hold -- liberty, equality, decency, rationality. It is anti-science and anti-reason. It is fundamentally barbaric in its treatment of women, sexual minorities, infidels, heretics and apostates (which happen to be some of my favorite kinds of people).

I'll go further: Anyone who thinks that God tells them to kill people for being apostates or unbelievers is a barbarian, and quite likely insane. Anyone who thinks it is okay to kill those who criticize their religion is a barbarian, and quite likely insane. Anyone who thinks that it is okay to beat women for being disobedient or stone someone for being gay is evil in a way that I will never comprehend.

And no, I do not think that modern Christianity, even at its worst, is anywhere near the threat that Islam is. Yes, there are Christian Reconstructionists with their own dangerous -- and remarkably similar -- ideology. But they are a tiny fringe with little power. Meanwhile there are whole nations like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia that enforce the most barbaric aspects of Islamic law.

I am the last person on Earth that wants to see anything like Islamic law imposed anywhere, for the obvious reason that my head would be among the first on the chopping block after such a system was established. As someone who has reprinted the Danish cartoons and has defended victims of reactionary Islam like Salman Rushdie, I do not take such possibilities as an idle threat.

But here's the thing. None of what I said above logically leads one to conclude either that all Muslims believe in such barbarism or that America is on the verge -- or even, in our wildest dystopic imaginations, could be on the verge -- of being taken over by Muslim radicals who will impose Sharia law on us. Nor does it logically flow from anything I've said above that Muslims in this country are suddenly no longer covered by either statutory or constitutional protections of their equal rights.

This is why I mock those who insist that there are no moderate or reasonable Muslims in the world -- because I actually know some of them. The morning that the Prop 8 ruling came down a few months ago overturning the anti-gay law in California, the first phone call I got celebrating that fact was from a Muslim friend.

This is also why I mock those who think we have to pass laws forbidding judges to enforce Sharia law in this country. We already have such a law -- it's called the First Amendment. And the idea that there is even the most remote possibility that the courts in this country are going to start ordering or upholding the beheading of Jews or infidels is every bit as crazy as those who would favor such laws. Even if every single Muslim in the United States -- all 1 percent of them -- was in favor of such a thing, there is no possible mechanism by which they could get it passed.

And yes, this is why I aim my derision at those who want to prevent the Park 51 Islamic center from opening in Manhattan. Because there simply is no legal or constitutional justification for preventing it. The First Amendment covers Muslims too, no matter what the wingnuts might wish was the case.

And let me point out the not so obvious: The fact that the Quran contains hundreds of verses supporting such barbarism simply isn't relevant to any of the issues I've raised here. Even for religions that claim to be based upon a holy book, actual behavior often has very little to do with the content of that book. Religions evolve just like every other human institution.

For every barbaric verse in the Quran, I can easily point to similar verses in the Bible. The Old Testament Mosaic law is, in fact, accepted by Muslims too. And it contains some of the most barbaric commands imaginable. But the vast majority of Christians do not actually follow those commands. There are any number of ways that Christians long ago reconciled the barbarism of the Old Testament with modern moral reasoning, something that began largely with the mixing of Christianity with Enlightenment philosophy.

The same process of pushing the evolution of a major religion by mixing it with modernist influence is really only just beginning with Islam. Christianity began that process a few centuries ago, when it was about the same age that Islam is now. And that process is going to be as bloody and ugly as it was for Christianity to go through (bear in mind that for centuries the Catholic Church was every bit as barbaric as reactionary Islam is today, and their immediate Protestant descendants were scarcely better for quite some time).

The average Muslim wants nothing to do with beheading anyone or stoning anyone. Those Muslims who work side by side with me and others to fight for equality for women and for gays and lesbians, and who fight for freedom of speech instead of against it, are doing the same thing that liberal Christians do -- ignoring the most barbaric elements of their holy books and focusing instead on the many verses that encourage compassion and decency and kindness.

As I've said many times, there are enough conflicting statements in both the Bible and the Quran that one can pick out support for nearly anything. Hateful, bigoted, barbaric people can easily find verses supporting their hatred and bigotry; decent, caring, nurturing people can easily find verses supporting their decency and caring.

And you know what? That's fine with me. We can argue all we want about the finer points of Biblical or Quranic exegesis until the cows come home, but all that matters to me in the end is what people stand for. And if they stand for the things that I stand for, I don't really care whether we share the same starting point. That's why an atheist and a Christian can stand side by side at a soup kitchen, doing their part to help those less privileged. And that's why an atheist and a Muslim can work together for LGBT equality and not give a damn about the other person's religious views.

Let me reiterate: The essential insanity of reactionary Islam is not up for debate, in my view. All rational people must recognize it for what it is. But only the irrational and the bigoted can conclude from that fact that A) all Muslims believe in such barbarism; B) America is, or conceivably could be, taken over by such an ideology; or C) that Muslims should therefore be denied the same rights that we all have under the Constitution.

He then adds a little postscript wherein he touches on the matter of actual religious courts in otherwise secular nations:

P.S. Perhaps I should add something about the use of Sharia courts in the U.K. and how I think such things should be handled, both there and in America should the issue come up. I'm okay with such courts as long as they function solely as religious arbitration bodies for deciding religious questions. We already have such courts in this country for predominately Jewish communities, for example, and they should be allowed to decide religious questions if the parties voluntarily agree to be bound by that court's decisions.

As an example, if there is a dispute between two Jewish butchers in a Jewish community over which one of them is following the proper procedure for kosher butchering, I have no problem with having a religious court decide such things. The same would be true of Muslim butchers and halal food.

But no such non-public court should ever be allowed to make a ruling that violates the civil and criminal code of the nation. I don't care whether two people agree to be bound by a religious court's rulings, no ruling that forbids a woman from filing for divorce should ever be enforced in this country or any other. If a man beats a woman, that is a crime -- period. It should never matter what any religious text says on such a matter. The law is the law.

Heads and nails, every bit of it. Although, I would say that Christian Reconstructionism (ie. fundamentalism), whilst still a tiny fringe, is on a disturbing incline in influence – just look at the number of insane religious-Rightists the Tea Party was successful in placing in office last November. We’ve had ghouls like Sharron Angle, Joe Miller and Carl Paladino get within arm’s reach of becoming actual elected leaders for factions of the American people, and that’s not to mention the ones we do have serving, such as Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Steve King (R-IA) and any number of others. (And we could also list dozens more who are certifiably crazy and incompetent without the overwhelming religiosity, but that’s getting besides the point).

Thankfully, though, it is true that even they comprise only a small faction of Congress (most of the rest are merely stupid, self-serving and/or incompetent without religion being a factor), and most of them are in the House of Representatives, which is now busy sending even more pointless and wrong-minded legislation to die in the Democrat-controlled Senate than before. I’m with Ed in that we don’t have any more to fear from Christian fundies in power than we do from radical Islamists taking office any time soon … at least, unless the Bible-thumpers manage to take over the Senate in the next power-shift.