Skepticism

Where’s the outrage?

In preparation for our reading of Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali this month, I’d like to bring your attention to yet another outrageous event in the Muslim world:

An Afghan court sentenced Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, 23, a reporter with the Jahan-e Now daily paper, to death on Tuesday after he was found guilty of blasphemy, a court official said.

Kambakhsh was detained three months ago after complaints from some of his university classmates for allegedly mocking Islam and the Koran, and for distributing an article which said the Prophet Mohammad had ignored the rights of women.

It’s time to let Muslims know that blasphemy, with no victim, is not a crime in any civilized society for good reason. It is time to call for moderate Muslims to speak out in opposition to this ridiculous and shameful behavior, and for nonbelievers to join with them in protest against violent extremism. It’s time for non-Muslims to let the Muslim world know that this is not acceptable and we will not respect or honor a religion or society that condones such barbarism.

I hear a lot of talk about how not all Muslim people are extremists, and that Islam is a religion of peace. I’m all for respecting moderate religious people, if I see that they are standing up against fundamentalistm and extremism. But I haven’t see much evidence of this, particularly within Islam. I believe that moderate Muslims who do not speak out against the violence and backwardness of extremists become part of the problem, by silently condoning the actions of their zealous brethren.

If people of faith want respect, they must begin to act in a manner worthy of respect.

writerdd

Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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42 Comments

  1. Quite correct. I basically said the same on my (amateurish) blog (http://thoushallthink.blogspot.com/2008/02/what-peaceful-religion.html), you articulated the feeling better. Islam is not a religion of peace. None of the major monotheistic religions are peaceful. The ones that go by as peaceful (Christianity specifically) are willfully choosing to ignore a big chunk of the "word of God". They have gotten smart enough to understand that that is the only way to save their behinds. And everyone knows that your own behind is much more precious than the word of any God, regardless what the religious nuts want you to believe.

  2. This is one topic where I think the political left has it just as wrong as their opponents on the right. Yes, all muslims aren't fanatical suicide bombers, but they're ALSO not all peace-loving and tolerant of outsiders.

    Withholding criticism of the worst elements of a group simply because the group's defining characteristic is that its members share (some version) of a particular religious faith is just as foolhardy as assuming that every member of that group condones the actions of the extremists. Nobody would seriously suggest that all Christians drink turpentine and handle snakes, but an observer likely wouldn't refrain from decrying those hardcore Pentecostal practices just because the practitioners are some flavor of Christian.

    On the street, they call me "Captain Run-on."

  3. I sort of agree with both of you. We should not tolerate the intolerant extremists, but we can't assume that every religious person fits into that category. However, I do expect those who do not fit into that category to speak out against it. If they don't, they are complicit.

    Ignoring parts of the Bible or Koran should not be ridiculed. It is a good thing that leads away from fanatical violence. We should be encouraging this type of behavior. Those who begin to ignore parts of their holy books may ultimately come to igore the entire volume (that happened to me), but if not they are still hugely better off ignoring large parts than following it all literally and blindly.

    There are both peaceful and violent strains of most religions, particularly the monotheistic ones in the West. We should be encouraging the peaceful ones. Sure I think it'd be better if people abandoned all of their superstitions, but since that's probably not going to happen, I'll settle for getting rid of the most violent and harmful ones first.

  4. Amanda, thanks for that update. I hadn't seen that one. The teacher who named the bear Mohammed did get to leave the country without punishment as I recall, so maybe there's hope for this guy but it sounds like he's a national, not a visitor.

    It's still assinine that this is even considered. I try to be all modern and tolerant, but some stuff is just ridiculously barbaric.

  5. I absolutely agree that we should encourage the peaceful factions of Islam, and I ALSO agree that we should expect them to disavow the tactics of their more violent counterparts. It's an agree-fest. =)

    I lean to the left, so I don't often get to take shots at the biases of my fellow liberals. I guess it was a little off topic. Mea culpa.

    I am of two minds on the topic of selectively accepting dogma, however. It smacks of hypocrisy when a believer says that the (insert religious text here) is the perfect and unquestionable word of (choose your deity), and then ignores large swaths of the supposedly divine document. While I'm all for less extreme and dogmatic believers, it's hard not to point out how ridiculous it is for them to ascribe divine inspiration to the text, and then presume to decide what parts are important and what parts aren't.

  6. Sadly Islamic extremists really are living out the culturial edicts of a backward little people group from the dark ages. There has never been any kind of equivalent event in Islam to the Enlightenment in Western Europe that set the stage for more rational thought by the masses. As for tolerance… well the notion is that freedom and liberty involves the freedom to practice the religion of your choice or not practice any at all. I would sacrifice a lot to protect someone’s freedom to believe total crap. Do I hear an amen???

  7. writerdd, the teacher who allowed her pupils to name the teddy bear Mohammed was NOT "released without punishment." She was imprisoned for a short time (at least 15 days, as I recall, though it may have been more like 20 — and I'll bet if felt more like a thousand). That's better than a death sentence, of course, but I doubt that the experience was what she would consider "no punishment."

    ~Wordplayer

  8. LBB:

    Why should we be tolerant of religion if it doesn’t have to be tolerant of us?

    Tolerance isn't a property of religion, or of laws, it's a property of people.

    Having said that, I think this is why it behooves all of us to tread carefully. "Religion" covers a large area from Fundamentalism to Deism. Some of that is more tolerant than others, and some is more tolerant of some things than others. It's right to be intolerant of intolerance. It's right to be intolerant of a particular intolerant position, or a particular intolerant act. It's very much right not to tolerate someone who won't tolerate you. But it doesn't even make sense to me to be intolerant of "religion in general".

  9. writerdd said "Ignoring parts of the Bible or Koran should not be ridiculed. It is a good thing that leads away from fanatical violence. We should be encouraging this type of behavior. Those who begin to ignore parts of their holy books may ultimately come to igore the entire volume (that happened to me), but if not they are still hugely better off ignoring large parts than following it all literally and blindly."

    I never thought of it that before! Thanks for this insight. Skeptics are very fond of using the bible cherrypicking of Christians as ammo, and I've always had sympathy for it as a tactic. But…you are right.

    Although it still has some merit when you need to give pause to a fundie who thinks he believes in a literal interpretation of the bible. Sometimes they're simply not aware that the violent or crazy content exists.

  10. Jamie– The Muslims DID have an age of Enlightenment– it was the Osmanli Empire. Whilst Europe was languishing in the "dark ages," the Osmanli fostered the arts, science, medicine, poetry, preserved the writings of the Greeks, invented Algebra, worked on Astronomy.

    But it seems that the Islamic period of enlightenment petered out. The Europeans eventually beat the Osmanli back to Turkey, and the Arab Muslims seemed to show no desire to emulate the Turks.

    A lot of this regression appears to have occurred mainly in the twentieth century.

  11. I've been saying essentially the same thing – that those who are silent are complicit, via lending an air of respectability to extremists – about Christians for the last year or two. Of course, it hasn't really resulted in the mainline churches in my area flocking to sign up at the Clergy Project site or showing up to school board meetings in favor of evolution. But I try.

  12. It is ridiculous, and it isn't going to go anywhere unless people talk about it and act accordingly (by not, say, letting their governments ignore things done in their allies' countries). There are small, heroic groups of children of the Enlightenment in places like Afghanistan already.

    Canada's Parliament has unanimously urged Afghanistan to free Mr. Kambaksh, which is a good first step. I'm ashamed that they waited until the story broke and voters like myself started pestering them. And Afghanistan has taken another step backwards from their earlier decision to execute Sayeed (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/afghan-government-official-says-that-student-will-not-be-executed-778686.html).

  13. tkingdoll:

    Although it still has some merit when you need to give pause to a fundie who thinks he believes in a literal interpretation of the bible.

    I think that's true. In general, you should be sure that the person that you're talking to actually claims to be "Bible Believing" before using it. (Even then, be prepared for the "different dispensation" furphy.)

    A moderate may well agree with you that some passages are problematic for a modern reader, but it doesn't detract from the overall message. A liberal is likely to use terms like "non-literal", "allegorical" and "a book written by humans who had contact with the divine". So use this argument with care.

    Remember, evolution is a survival tactic. You can hardly fault it in other people unless they claim they're not doing it.

  14. Is blasphemy kind of like slander but with a deity as the target instead of a human?

    Because in that case, I'd say that the same limits apply as well, i.e. that it's not slander/blasphemy if it's true …

  15. India had a rationalist period, too, where science and thought were called "Carvaka". Then it faded out and was replaced by devotionalism.

    I was outraged by the Afghan action, I just wasn't discussing it here.

  16. With regards to an Islamic “enlightenment”.

    Islam did have an intellectual golden age. But please don’t think that this age slowed down the mutilation of female children, stoning and burning of blasphemers or any of the other barbaric practices such as slavery, polygamy or the outright barbaric annihilation of those that did not follow the way of the prophet. And while there may have been some small isolated pockets of religious tolerance they were isolated and generally in more secular cosmopolitan areas. An intellectual and academic golden age for sure; but NOT an enlightenment of morals, ethics, or political process in any way shape or form.

    And lets not forget that in Canada people are being brought up in front of government tribunals and facing real legal consequences for speaking out on their conscience and beliefs. Perhaps the great white north needs an enlightenment.

  17. Pseudonym,

    I take your point about generalizing "religion."

    It seems to me that the believers who most often inveigh against intolerance of their faith are the same folks who are quickest to condemn nonbelievers. When they invoke the word "intolerance," the contradiction makes me gibber and foam at the mouth. My comment was mostly directed at that sort of rhetoric.

  18. It seems to me that the believers who most often inveigh against intolerance of their faith are the same folks who are quickest to condemn nonbelievers.

    I'm not sure it's not intolerance of their faith they can't stand, it's merely people daring to openly doubt or question it. Believing something else or nothing else is about as offensive to them as a believer merely doubting.

    From their point of view, it's not really hypocritical, since other people don't matter, because other people are WRONG.

    However, I suspect that for many extremists, in the unlikely event they did get everyone else to believe the same as them, they'd probably have to try and invent something even more stupid or radical to believe, just in order to feel special.

  19. James Fox said: "And lets not forget that in Canada people are being brought up in front of government tribunals and facing real legal consequences for speaking out on their conscience and beliefs. Perhaps the great white north needs an enlightenment."

    I'm from the great white north, but I'm not sure what you're referring to here. Could you please clarify or give an example? Thanks!

  20. Kimbo Jones said: "I’m from the great white north, but I’m not sure what you’re referring to here. Could you please clarify or give an example?"

    The examples are many and include a number of authors, journalists, web media organizations and religious folk that have been brought up in front of Canadian Human Rights Tribunals because they have expressed their views. A Canadian nurse had her license to practice suspended because she expressed her anti abortion views in public, not at work. She had her license returned upon judicial appeal, which I’m sure cost a lot of time and money. See the legal decision below. http://www.mydatabus.com/public/Billwhatcott/What….

    Now don’t get me wrong I am not advocating for any particular point of view and I’m not anti abortion. I am however advocating for rational thought (skepticism) and the freedom and liberty to say what I think, and that means tolerating the views of others regardless of my likes or dislikes.

    A Canadian Bishop was brought before a Human Rights Tribunal for expressing Catholic doctrine in a news letter. His own beliefs in his own news letter and a Governmental agency calls him to task!! This is unbelievable in a western democracy and really does stink of thought control.

    The following quotation from 01/10/08 is useful I think… .

    “John Martin, a criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley, wrote yesterday in The Province newspaper, calling on the government to abolish the BC Human Rights Tribunals. He wrote that BC’s Commission “had become an expensive farce dedicated to promoting political correctness and demonizing independent thinkers who didn't bow to liberal orthodoxy.”

    “And now the tribunal has entered its most shameful phase by agreeing to hear a complaint brought forward against Maclean's magazine…By agreeing to hear the case, the tribunal has positioned itself as the arbiter in charge of deciding what the Canadian media may publish and what the rest of us are permitted to read.”

    “With our guard down, somehow we allowed them to assume the role of state censor and thought police. It is an abomination that a star chamber is allowed to function in this day and age.”

    Some Canadian web sites have transferred their ownership to the U.S. or other foreign countries to avoid being shut down by the government. Voltair was quite right in observing that, “If there were only one religion in England, there would be danger of tyranny; if there were two, they would cut each other's throats; but there are thirty, and they live happily together in peace.". It seems to me that over zealous Political Correctness, is an attempt to foist a single overarching “philosophy” (AKA religion) on the masses. And it's creating a tyranny similar in many ways to the practices of theocratic and totalitarian states.

    The Canadian Human Rights Commission is, in my opinion a vile threat to free speech and the freedom of the press and freedom of thought. Mark Steyn is an author who is facing the real possibility of fines and injunctions by this government tribunal for merely writing a book with opinions and statements that some one found offensive and objectionable. This is quite deplorable and frightening, and it is beyond me why there is no outrage by the average Canadian about these things. It’s not about what people are saying or thinking it’s about the freedom to say and think as one pleases. The following Op-Ed piece is illuminating. http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=24176&a
    Also last year a Canadian woman was issued a cease and desist order from the Canadian Government for posting her opinion on an American web site. Her apparently 'officially disapproved act' was to quote an anti-homosexual bible verse… Soooo what! Why should the government care what this woman writes in expressing her own particular religious and social beliefs on a web site in another country. I understand that freedom of speech is not absolute and we can not advocate for the violent overthrow of our government without consequences. But beyond that, folk ought to be able to say and think what they want.

    Sorry for sound so argumentative… amd I know, you only asked for examples. This issue really matters to me and I think it should matter more than it appears to, too those of us who value rational, skeptical and free thought and the unfettered ability to speak our minds.

  21. There are few circumstances where freedom of speech should be curtailed (incitement to lawbreaking, etc), but if such circumstances exist, I don't see that religion should be any kind of defence, since unless the law is going to consider one or more religions to be correct, it has to accept that they're just people's opinions, with no greater claim to protection than anyone else's opinions.

    For people to express a personal opinion and then hide behind the cover of religion to abdicate responsibility for their opinion seems to be essentially a cowardly act.

  22. Dear PH

    If what you have written above is in response to my statement then I can only assume that you have completely misunderstood my intent and meaning or did not thoroughly read my post.

    It is all thought and opinion that has claim to protection and freedom. You really do not seem to understand what freedom and liberty mean if one is less free to express ones thoughts if they are based on a religion. If you are religious it does not mean that you are hiding behind said religion when expressing an opinion. Their opinion is their’s and for someone else, especially a government, to control speech and thought is nothing more than what is happing in repressive countries around the world where journalists and individuals are locked up for speaking their opinions or just the truth. Also, in most all western democracies protection of religious belief and thought DOES have a special claim of protection in charter, law or constitution. Don’t you understand that your freedoms are predicated on everyone else’s freedoms regardless of weather you agree with them or not. This has NOTHING to do with religion. And to take your notion to the bitter end, just look at what has happened to the religious in China and the former USSR. They were, and still are in China, herded into re-education camps, suffer repression and often death. I expect that the government officials who send folk along to these camps also considered the non conforming religious folk cowards.

    I really do want the freedom to call televangelists and their ilk a great whopping heard of asses, (which could get me in trouble in Canada) I want to call the operators of laetrile clinics in Mexico murderers, chiropractors crooks and the drinkers of lager unsophisticated and ignorant…, and not get brought up in front of a government tribunal. This is not asking for much is it??

  23. You really do not seem to understand what freedom and liberty mean if one is less free to express ones thoughts if they are based on a religion.

    And you're the one telling me I've misunderstood you?

    All I said was that in the few cases where a society decides to limit speech, religion shouldn't give anyone any special treatment before the law compared to anyone else's personal opinion.

    I hoped I'd said that clearly enough, but evidently I didn't, and I apologise.

    There's a great difference between protecting freedom of belief and freedom to express that belief in unlimited fashion.

    Someone is free to be a racist or a homophobe in their own head, but to the extent there are limits as to how they could express those beliefs in words or deeds, those limits shouldn't be any different if there's an alleged religious basis for the thoughts or not, if only for the blindingly obvious reason that special treatment simply allows for the invention of a new brand of religion to cover what people want to believe, or the bending-to-fit of an existing flexible religion.

    Especially in a democracy, it's certainly *possible* to limit speech without hurtling down a slippery slope to some straw-man position of mass oppression, if only because excesses will tend not to be tolerated for long.

    I'd have thought that truly oppressive regimes tend to limit speech to limit dissent about their oppression, rather than become oppressive simply in order to better limit the speech of citizens.

    I expect that the government officials who send folk along to these camps also considered the non conforming religious folk cowards.

    You do? Really?

    I expect that they saw them as awkward or disruptive, but I'd have thought coward wasn't at all a likely adjective in that case.

  24. Coward is a common invective used by oppressors in totalitarian states when describing those they repress. That is why I found it more than a little amusing when I saw your usage of the term. I’d suggest reading some Solzhenitsyn regarding the Gulag (Or watch the movie Brazil by Teri Gilliam) to see how the cowardly non conformists were treated. I also do not consider my statement about following an argument to an end a straw man in that I was only using the statement to make a point and not argue for any particular point of view or course of action. Oppression is wrong even if it only involves a few and it’s hardly a straw man argument to point out that oppression and a loss of rights usually starts with small unnoticed steps. And I think it would generally be held that belief and expression of ones beliefs are fairly synonymous. Many Germans said that it was no big deal what happened on Christalnacht, because it was only happening to the Jews, and really, we would not tolerate excessive oppressions, and every one knows the Jews need to be put in their place… . Where limitations on freedoms and oppression may lead must always be a consideration.

    In the U.S one can say all kinds of whacky things, such as this or that belief is evil, or a certain type of behavior is morally wrong, or even that skeptics are all going to hell. Fine yammer away and I’ll still fight to protect you right to say whacky things even if I think your dead wrong. I’d rather trust in stated legal principles of liberty and freedom, and not what may “tend to” happen in a democracy. This discussion would tend to result in a knock on our door in the middle for the night in many countries. Perhaps in Canada it would lead to a Tribunal mandate requiring your presence to answer for your clearly inappropriate thoughts and statements.

    Now I know why possession of small amounts of bud is legal in Canada. The government wants everyone buzzed so they wont notice their freedoms heading out with the tide.

  25. And it’s hardly a straw man argument to point out that oppression and a loss of rights usually starts with small unnoticed steps.

    You're right, it isn't. That'd be the slippery slope argument I mentioned.

    I’d rather trust in stated legal principles of liberty and freedom, and not what may “tend to” happen in a democracy.

    Leaving aside for the moment your completely unexpected example of Godwin's law in action, perhaps you should consider the numerous democracies that have had some kind of small limits on free speech which haven't decayed into totalitarianism.

    Note, I'm not making some simplistic argument here *for* increased limits, or for any particular level of limit, just observing that limits rarely seem to lead to escalation. Indeed, it's quite possible that small limits to speech have never led to escalation to totalitarianism, but that large limits to speech are useful once someone has grasped total power.

    You may wish to imagine that I'm suggesting some particular limits are good, but I don't actually believe I've done that.

    You can have a country with perfectly constitutionally protected freedom of thought and speech, but still end up, for example, being blacklisted out of work for a few decades for having previously dallied with what are now unfashionable political opinions.

    Anyway, at least I take it you have now understood that I wasn't suggesting that supposedly religious ideas should have less protection under the law, just that I don't think there's any logical reason to give them special treatment, except maybe in the minds of politicians who want to suck up to religions. I'm glad that's been cleared up.

    Going back to your Godwinesque example, the German constitution was suspended for reasons of a manufactured security crisis 5 years before Kristallnacht (1938). By 1938, I think most Germans had a fairly reasonable idea of the way things were going, and that speaking out wouldn't be a great ideas if you did disagree. Political opponents had been disappearing for years, and Jews hadn't even had citizenship for 3 years.

    Finally, I must admit, I didn't realise Brazil was meant to be a documentary.

    Is my face red!

  26. I really have limited time at work to thoroughly think thorough what I type when cramming it in a few spare moments…, Sorry for the typos and poorly worded sentences. And the thought going through my head was a humorous one when I referenced Brazil… really. I also realized from the start this was a hair splitting argument between those in general agreement. The main point I initially wanted to get across was my extreme disappointment of the actions of the Canadian government in limiting free speech and having a tribunal system to stand in judgment of citizens thoughts and statements. Just because one may observe that this type of thing does not generally lead to more oppression in democracies is not much of a reason to not speak out and condemn what is worth condemning.

    I second the desire for an edit/preview function.

  27. James,

    It's good that we are in broad agreement.

    However, one possible other distinction I didn't draw was between a state stifling dissent about the state, and a state possibly acting in a nannying way and limiting citizens criticising each other.

    The former may be rather more at risk of gradual abuse than the latter.

  28. After reading PH's statement, I think an example would be good to illustrate it.

    Now everyone has a right to walk around on the street without being mugged or killed.

    For some reason though, once you express your sexual preference, some religious people consider it their "godgiven" right to harass and sometimes even physically assault you to the point of your demise.

    Despite the fact those people are supposedly christians, and that politicians lobbying for their votes are apparently planning to change the law, even the constituition, to more closely comply with the religious tenets of christianity, at the moment, it's still illegal to beat someone up for any reason.

    The fact you think your religion says you should beat up gay people (even though it doesn't actually literally say that) is no defense against your infraction on the law.

    The same goes for speech. While everyone is allowed to speak their mind, when that speech crosses the line of what's acceptable according to the law, it doesn't really matter whether they say those things because they are religious or because they are certifyably insane. They broke the law and should be treated accordingly. Anyone who says otherwise is just plain wrong.

  29. It seems to me that Muslim extremism has grown out of the post-war power struggles in the Middle East. Colonial rule should have been more benevolent, and it should have lasted longer. Carving up the region and handing it to what essentially amounted to favored patriarchs, with little consideration for their leadership abilities or worldliness was like tossing a Twinkie into a crowd of schoolchildren. And those jostling for power have coerced and exploited the largely uneducated population in predictable ways, most notably with those tried-and-true brainwashing tools: religion and paranoia.

  30. I'm sure there are a whole load of factors.

    Wasn't a fair amount of trouble stirred up by funding extremists in Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet-backed government, including funding madrassas in the rural areas of Pakistan to help indoctrinate people into becoming fighters?

  31. I recommend watching the documentary series "The Power of Nightmares" if you're interested in where Muslim extremism came from. There's a version on archive.org for download; it's in three parts.

    That documentary isn't the whole story, of course, but it makes a pretty compelling case.

  32. Leaving aside the causes for extremism (in the sense of terrorism/freedom fighting, depending who's being attacked), when it comes to sexism in religion, how much is that really the result of some recent politicaly driven religious radicalisation, and how much is simply down to unenlightened 'traditional' values?

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