Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Secularism and the Bane of Religion

My post on the little mosque in Manhattan caused a minor dividing among those I know. About half of those who commented upon it loved it and half hated it. I lost a long-time Facebook/Twitter friend whom I have never met because of it. I suppose I am actually pleased that the vast noise of public life is such that it has precious little possibility that I will have to defend this beyond the circle of my near and dear.

The most cogent and extended critique was from an old friend on Facebook, but alas his critique in my view simply exposed the degree to which liberal thought has devolved into sentiment and wishful thinking. (If he wishes, I will be happy to quote his entire reply as a comment to this post.) The right wing is given entirely to hysteria and lies, and the left wing adjudges its positioning almost exclusively as counterpoise to those it opposes. So the reactionary christians hate the muslims, so the muslims must be okay. Not my view. I do not determine what I think by reference to a bunch of whack job christians who think that Einstein is a liberal plot.

I am interested in figuring out how secularists should defend a free society against religion. I make no bones about it: I think that religion ... all religion ... is a proximate threat to a free society and the autonomous individual who seeks to exercise his or her rights within that free society. Frankly, private religious belief is harmless, if silly. But the public practice of religion is inimical to a free society, no matter the assorted niceties, because its underlying and motivating ideology is about the reduction of the free individual to the demands of an irrefutable truth. All the falderal about communities of faith and dialog and respect among the believers is a frank and open lie; they're winking at us. Those who believe without the possibility of contradiction that there is only one truth and their group has it, then ultimately that is the source from which they will act once they get the chance. The liberal religious, pretending that things are nice, will have no impact upon the ideological religious should the latter have the power to enforce their views. On this, see Iran ... see Saudi Arabia ... see Russia for that matter, or Nigeria.

The religious only ever pretend, fooling even themselves a lot of the time, that they are tolerant. Their tolerance is the product of their impotence. And they always seek to reverse that impotence. With the power to act the tolerance vanishes.

I don't trust religion, I don't have to, and no amount of billing and cooing among the believers and the sycophants will change my mind. They have slaughtered too many. And fags are always at the top of their bloodstained lists. Call me parochial, but I keep a running count of which religion slaughters the most fags. You know, and I know, that the trail of blood is long and horrible. I have some pictures of teenagers being hanged in Iran for those whose experience of the horrors of religion is less visceral than it is for me.

So back to the wee innocent harmless mosque in the shadow of those towers that no longer cast a shadow.

The New York Times reports that the hapless sponsors to he project were unprepared for the storm. That was foolish ... but their innocence, like the much ballyhooed innocence of religion ... has the ring of a convenient stance. Evidently they will need to raise a $100 million. The innocent don't do that. So we secularists, seeking to defend our society against a religion which openly states that we should be forced to believe their ideology and practice their religion, surely have the right to ask where that money will come from. How much of that money are we prepared to accept as coming from Saudi Arabia? Remember, now, that Saudi money has played an enormous role in the recrudescence of the most reactionary forms of Islam throughout the world; it has built and financed countless madrassas that preach a virulent hatred of the secular.

And what happens even if the mosque is built with clean money? What prevents its sponsors from being overwhelmed by a tidal wave from the vast right wing of the Muslim world? A mosque is a vastly easier place to infiltrate and take over than a church. What plans do these people have in place to prevent the hatreds that besmirch mosques all around the world? Do they have a plan to prevent it from becoming a cesspit of homophobia? Will they set up a shelter for women seeking refuge from the reactionary views of Islam on the place of women and the routine and accepted violence that is visited upon them? Are they willing to discuss these issues openly?

We have the right, indeed the duty, to ask these questions. Just as we have the right and the duty to ask them of the Roman persuasion with its history of hatred and bloodlust. But the same liberals who cackle and shriek when another priest is exposed with his hands down some skinny boy's pants choose to give a pass to a religion that actively and currently executes juveniles for the act of loving each other.

Liberal muslims, such few as they are, act as apologists for the unthinkable. We do not need to apologize with them.

And liberals at the very least should apply to islam the same standards they apply to the papists.

Some argue that this is a private property issue, that those who own the land can do what they want. Not exactly a liberal position we would want to apply to your next door neighbor's desire to turn his home into a strip club or the desire of some right wing whack job to dump toxic chemicals into the water supply. As I argued in my previous post, because religion demands of the state special tax privileges, the state has the right to examine the motivation and appropriateness of any temple that comes along. Certainly those of us who are the victims of religion have the right to question as we choose whether this abuse of tax privileges is warranted in one or another circumstance.

Ah, but surely that is a breach of the freedom of religion. But just as my freedom does not mean that I can piss on your lawn, so their freedom does not mean that they can use their tax privileges to oppose my liberty or life. The freedom of religion is the freedom to choose what you want to believe. It is not the freedom of organized religion to do whatever it damned well pleases.

So we come to the heart of the matter. There are lots of mosques ... too damned many in my view, but I have that same view of churches and temples and altars of all manner ... so why not a mosque two blocks from the scene of the Twin Towers massacre? There are two reasons why rational secularists can reasonably disagree with this locating: firstly, because it is an offense to a free society that an ideology that actively opposes it can dance on a battleground and, secondly, because this has the potential to be seen and used as proof to the believers that they were right and that the massacre of innocents was a blow in their favor.

As I said before, they have no shame. And we who oppose religious tyranny are free ... so far ... to call that shame down upon them.

My good friend wrote, "Religion does not cause such attacks, it merely excuses them." Sorry but that is nonsense on the one hand and a specious distinction on the other. If it excuses them in advance: if religious ratiocination is the agar on which the germs of murder grew, then what is the actual distinction between cause and prior excuse? This is what is relevant: what the 9/11 murderers did is another episode in a dominant theme in Islamic history certainly since the earliest post-prophet conflicts, the era of the so-called rashidûn, the "rightly-guided" caliphs who followed Muhammad, three of whom were murdered by fellow believers. Only old Abu Bakr managed to die in his bed. More than one observer, myself included, notes the direct lineage of the 9/11 murderers in the Khawârij, or kharijites, of the early islamic period. These were the fanatics who took the prophet at his word and thought that the faithful in community should actually control government. That strain of islamic thought has never died despite occasional bloody repressions. So ... and I am prepared to argue this at considerable, even intolerable, length ... the 9/11 murderers are thoroughly islamic. Moreover, the protest against their slaughter was muted at best in the muslim world, and to this day remains a heroic episode for vastly more muslims than are ashamed at it.

Liberals may think that muslims bear no responsibility for 9/11, but that is not the view of the muslim world. Remember, they are corporatists; we are the individualists. We excuse their religion where they broadly accept that the murderers acted in the name of their religion even when they do not agree with the act.

My friend objected that I was adopting the Huntington thesis. The curiosity here is that I believe that that the Muslim world generally does adopt the Huntington thesis. They do accept that there is a clash of civilizations. Some account needs to be taken of that.

Now, let me retrench a little. I do not think that there is any realistic hope that islam will moderate or develop a wing of genuine secularist accommodation. But I do think that economic forces will eventually carve out some areas in the muslim world that will pay less and less real attention to the demands of religion. Some have argued that the articulation of islam in the western world will create a ground upon which such a rational incursion into the medieval structure of the religion might occur. I don't see it, and current evidence does not support it, but if that is to occur, it will do so only in the context of a deliberate and pointed challenge. To paraphrase Mao, ideologies do not change because of tea parties. They change because of struggle.

We have to have to guts to challenge the reactionary and bloodthirsty character of islam, to call it to account. Caving in to it, treating it like a neighborhood Italian-American Culture Club of sorts, will only pave the way to further calumnies.

The religious are more panicked at being exposed than ever because their nonsense is more exposed than ever. That the rising tide of religiosity is able to dominate so much of the globe reflects not a return to religion but the bloodthirsty demand of religion that it, and it alone, has great and deep and ultimate truth. We have to say, "No."

And that is what I am saying. No! Build your temple somewhere else. We are a free society. We do not accept the reactionary demands of any religion. And we do not have to. Yet.

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