Saturday, February 4, 2012

#14 - Mill and Islam.

Hello Hello,

I haven't posted anything in a while, which has been super slack seeing as I've had lot's of free time. Still I'll read lots in Nepal hopefully! (for those who haven't had the pleasure of hearing me excitedly tell you about my Nepal trip I'll be volunteering in Nepal with a house building project for the next month).

Anyways here's a rant I had recently after my Dad stirred me up with an email . .  (he's become quite good at recognizing what makes me rant). It's not particularly philosophical, nor is it particularly knowledgeable (although I'm working to fix that since I began reading the Qu'ran a few days ago) but it is representative of my opinions nonetheless. Here's the clip that started it all:
And here's what I had to say:

First of all I don't disagree with the guy. There is much that comes from Islamic culture and religion that I think is downright 'wrong' - Not 'wrong' relative to our culture, not wrong relative to our predominant religions, not wrong in comparison to anything really - but objectively wrong. But there is an important distinction that needs to be made between something being 'wrong' and something being 'blameworthy'. This is the mistake that people make that frustrates me hugely. I have no problem with accurate observations. When people point out that Islamic men believe women should wear a veil I have no problems. If somebody were to point out that the majority of Islamic people condone slavery as acceptable, I would also have no problem. These are facts. If somebody were to tell me that slavery is wrong, or that forcing women to wear a veil is wrong, I would agree on this point too. However, when the next leap is made and that same person says something like 'What a bunch of evil people' I disagree.

People quickly jump on their high-horses and proclaim their moral superiority when they hear about the horrific acts of Islamic people. The truth is, however, that were these same western saints raised in Iran they too would be the same. This doesn't make acts of terrorism or the degradation of women any less wrong, but it does at least lessen the blame that we can place on them. If I were kidnapped at 2 years old and raised by a psychopath who taught me the ways of the Qur'an no-one would blame me for my actions, no matter how horrific. Instead people would say things like 'how sad it is that this happened'. People would pity me for being brainwashed and losing the chance to judge for myself what is right and wrong. This is what religion does - At a young age children are taught to accept the word of the lord/allah/buddah without question. Perhaps the largely non-religious west doesn't grasp the inescapable nature of accepting Islamic religion when born and raised hearing about how right it is. Why should it be any different that the scenario in which I am kidnapped and taught the ways of the Qur'an arouses pity and sadness yet often the equivalent case of those raised in Iran and act accordingly is looked upon with blame, contempt and disgust?

There is generally praise given to upholding the values in which one believes to be right in the face of adversity. The quintessential story that represents this is the massive amount of praise that we give to those who assisted Jews (at considerable personal risk to themselves) in the holocaust. To defend Islamic religion in the face of the formidable resistance from the west also involves a sense of courage (I recognize that perhaps the comparison to the holocaust is excessive) that goes unrecognized. To the average Australian there is little opportunity to demonstrate our convictions towards what we believe is right. In fact, it is arguable that we are far too laid back and apathetic to do so. We don't possess a passionate religion to defend, nor do we have a united ethical position to stand behind (unlike perhaps 'independence' or 'liberty' that the Americans traditionally promote in their patriotism). Instead we have the motto "She'll be right". . .

It's really no wonder that we lack empathy and understanding.

Another thing that upsets me is people without any knowledge of the religion adding their opinions to the debate. It seems when it comes to Islam everyone is an expert. Perhaps some people have been to Islamic countries, or read the Qu'ran, or at least spoken to an Islamic person; But many are just ignorantly mudslinging. (NOTE: I am currently reading the Qu'ran, I'm not far in - Up to page 7.) I'm currently re-reading John Stuart Mill's 'On Liberty' and much is said about the importance of freedom of opinion. Here is his summary of the first chapter entitled "Of Thought and Discussion":

    We have now recognised the necessity to the mental well-being of mankind (on which all their other well-being depends) of freedom of opinion, and freedom of the expression of opinion, on four distinct grounds; which we will now briefly recapitulate.
    First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.
    Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the  remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.
    Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or  feeling of its rational grounds. And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious  for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience.

 I think there is a  temptation to simply point at Islamic society and then point at our society and claim in exasperation "BUT CAN'T YOU SEE?! Our society is CLEARLY better!". But this claim can go both ways. When we claim that Islamic cultures are extremist and suppressive of women they may claim that we are relativistic and objectify women. Mill's point is that there may be portions of truth in both of these claims; portions of truth that will be lost if an uninformed and prejudiced viewpoint is adopted. It is not the scholars or the philosophers (whether formally recogised or not) that I have a problem with. It is those that have knee-jerk reactions of hate and blame that frustrate me. It's those who think that pointing out how they never do such things qualifies as an argument that supports their moral superiority that frustrate me. This guy. . . not so much.