Don’t miss the weekly S4 homily by Brother Tayler over at Salon. This week he examined the pained and faintly hostile treatment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali by Jon Stewart and contrasts it with Stewart’s rather fawning enthusiasm for Reza Aslan revisionist version of reality.
You should read it just for the pleasure of sentences like this:
Stewart, so inquisitorial toward Hirsi Ali, let Aslan ejaculate this postmodern flapdoodle with impunity, and convivially wiped up after him with blather about non-religious causes for violence in the Middle East.
Taylor ponders the same thing that has been debated in this website from time to time: why self-professing liberal leftists are so quick to condemn and distance themselves from the ideas of a brave woman who left Islam and opposes its treatment by extremist, politicized adherents of Muslim women and the majority of peaceful followers of Muslim.
It is a puzzle. Why do people prefer the words of a smiling man who tells them that extremists don’t have anything to do with Islam over the words of an intelligent woman who says that the problem is complicated and the solution may require multiple avenues of discussion and reform? In short: are liberals afraid of the It’s Complicated button? Or do liberals just tend towards the See No Evil position by default and champion anyone who tells then there is nothing to see here, move along?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali has written an op-ed for TIME in the aftermath of the tragic and brutal siege in Australia, very worth reading for yourself. Her focus is on the Shahada, now becoming a familiar sight on television news as the white writing on a black flag waved by extremists. She points out that in and of itself, the inscription is a simple declaration not particularly different in tone from many other religions’ declarations such as the Catholic Creed.
“I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is His messenger.”
This is indeed the position that many Muslims espouse, and one that had been reiterated by many Muslim groups in Australia in the wake of this tragedy. However, she goes on to point out that it can also have a political message as well, depending on whether the interpretation favors a pre or post Medina version of Islam. The pre-Medina era saw peaceful proselytizing, post-Medina the tactic changed, and proselytizing was accompanied with real and threatened violence. Ayaan argues that the more politicized version, as reviled as it is by the majority of peaceful Muslims, needs to be marginalized, both in the pulpit and on the podium.
“To the extent that sincerely peace-loving Muslims wish to combat this trend, they need to do more than utter platitudes. They need to disown the likes of Man Haron Monis before they resort to violence, when they are preaching it.”
As she points out, many countries in the “West”, for want of a better term, have fostered and protected such speech and such speakers. However, side-lining any speech whether it be racism or extremism is a tricky affair if one is not to trample on the right to free speech and avoid doing collateral damage by vilifying and marginalizing an innocent group who already are targeted by xenophobes and reactionaries. It’s a tactic that proponents of politicized Islam have certainly tried to use against Ayaan Hirsi Ali herself, as was recently seen in her invitations to speak publicly. She’s probably right though, extremist preachers need to become unwelcome in otherwise peaceful communities. Those preaching death to anyone not sharing their ideology deserve no respect.
While I’ve been in New York City, I’ve been running around having fun (a post-book treat for me), and yet readers have been sending me pieces about Reza Aslan, who apparently is on a media blitz to whitewash Islam after the sharp criticisms leveled by Bill Maher and Sam Harris. (One unctuous example can be found here.)
I am SO tired of Aslan’s apologetics about the faith, which never stand up to the merest scrutiny, and I’m equally tired of his self-promotion. I’ve said enough about him for the time being, but reader Heather Hastie, who has her own website, decided to write a piece dissecting Aslan’s claim that female genital mutilation (FGM) is “not an Islamic practice.” (I believe Aslan originally touted it as an “African practice”.) And indeed, there are non-Muslim Africans who practice this barbaric mutilation, but it’s been largely coopted by Islam as a religiously-mandated mutilation. (See Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book Infidel for how it was practiced on her.)
But I’ll let you read Heather’s analysis over at her website Heather’s Homilies. Her post, which well repays a read, is called “Reza Aslan: Lying for Islam on FGM.” Please leave comments on Heather’s website rather than here, as it’s her post. One brief excerpt:
In Sunni Islam, there are four schools of jurisprudence that express and opinion on the matter. Two of them, the Hanbali and Shafi’i schools, consider FGM obligatory, while the other two, the Hanafi and Maliki schools, recommend it. In addition, there have been several fatwas issued regarding FGM over the years, the majority of which favour it. (Fatwas are not compulsory, but devout Muslims consider them morally imperative.) For example, Fatwa 60314 includes statements that express the importance of FGM within Islam and dismiss the opinions of doctors.
Under the inspiration of Sam Harris, a nonprofit organization called The Reason Project has been formed under the trusteeshipof Sam, his wife Annaka, and Jai Lakshman. The website can be accessed here, and the aims are these:
The Reason Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. Drawing on the talents of the most prominent and creative thinkers across a wide range of disciplines, The Reason Project seeks to encourage critical thinking and wise public policy through a variety of interrelated projects. The foundation will convene conferences, produce films, sponsor scientific studies and opinion polls, publish original research, award grants to other charitable organizations, and offer material support to religious dissidents and public intellectuals — all with the purpose of eroding the influence of dogmatism, superstition, and bigotry in our world.
While the foundation is devoted to fostering critical thinking generally, we believe that religious ideas require a special focus. Both science and the arts are built upon cultures of vigorous self-criticism; religious discourse is not. As a result, unwarranted religious beliefs still reign unchallenged in almost every society on earth—dividing humanity from itself, inflaming conflict, preventing wise public policy, and diverting scarce resources. One of the primary goals of The Reason Project is to change this increasingly unhealthy status quo.
We are always looking for creative ways to involve the community in our efforts. If you would like to contribute to the work of The Reason Project, please fill out a volunteer application. We encourage you to consider the work of The Reason Project your own.
There is a nice advisory board, including luminaries like Sam, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Steve Pinker, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and one non-luminary, moi. Our goal is not to constanty attack or wipe out religion, but to spread rationality (granted, the spread of one is inimical to the existence of the other). But have a look at the website and do volunteer or join up if you’re interested. There are some cool projects listed, and more in the offing.