Religious Freedom – At What Cost?

There is a lot of controversy over a proposal to build a “mosque” in New York city near the site of the September 2001 New York Trade Centre bombing. If ever there was an argument fraught with opportunity for narrow-minded and partisan thinking then this is it. It involves religion, nationalist pride and hubris, international power plays, sound-bite argument and opinions on the role of monuments and symbols for remembrance. Arguments for and against this proposal are often more a reflection of the commentator’s bias and attempts at redefining the narrative than any rational consideration of the principals and ideas involved.

Is there anything that can be added to this debate that is not already entrenched in mainstream thought and ideology? No. The key points are fairly clear-cut. However, their interpretation is anything other than clear. Even here in Perth, the Centre of the Civilised Universe, it is hard to avoid the level of emotion that is carried by those arguing for or against. Even here in the world’s most remote capital city, we are the recipients of spam from the internet’s pedagogue league. Some display an impressive rendition of the classic populist tactic used by crowd-stirrers since the dawn of time – start with the germ of a truth and expand, twist and distort it until you have clear support for your proposition. It is false argument cloaked in legitimacy and soaked in the emotive language of the narrow minded. Here is a link to just one example . At the risk of adding further legitimacy, the actual video is shown below.

Pat Condell on YouTube

For a blow-by-blow analysis of the rubbish logic and blatant appeal to emotion-over-thinking that this video embodies, please see the notes at the base of this post. And just in case there are a lot of followers of the Christian faith sitting back there nodding sagely at the ‘truth’ in this fellows attack on Islam, spend a moment pondering his suggestion that Satan is a Catholic. Interestingly, Pat Condell has posted a video in response to criticism of some of his comments and this one is particularly interesting, as it comes to the core of why you need to be careful of letting other people’s opinions direct your own. The video suggests that self-determination is the most important principle politically.

An Anarchist can only agree. The difficulty is that an Anarchist doesn’t like the political process anyway, and discounts the tyranny of the masses and the ability of governments and political structures to dominate, domineer, control, punish, discount, hurt, injure, intimidate, persecute and diminish the individual.

For a more balanced view of the whole “faith centre” thing, here is a Newsweek article with the key points. Here is an Australian example of the more “Conservative”-minded approach to the issue (note to self : investigate why very strongly held on the “right” side of politics are labelled “Conservative”…). And for the Armchair Anarchist view, here is an example of an Australian computer game site (which for some reason has the video on it) and associated comments. It is truly worth a look (not the video but the comments).

For those wondering about the veracity of the historical references of the video, look at this site which has far more credibility on the issue. Just sit down with a stack of historical volumes on medieval Spain, and the world of the Arabs compared to the Christian world of the time, and you will quickly see the Cordoba references being made by opponents of the faith centre are little more than superficially understood foolishness (i’ll keep the word ‘deception’ aside as being more emotive than is my preference).

For those who are interested in actually hearing what the people wanting to build the centre are saying, why not simply look at their website? Novel idea that – actually looking for the base-line material. Not nearly as much fun as watching YouTube videos or seeing everything as a reinforcement of your pre-existing views…

Unfortunately, like any religion Islam contains areas of dogma, precedent, belief and indoctrination that make it an easy target for those wanting to criticise its followers. Issues such as cruel and barbaric punishments (the use of fist-sized stones to commit communal murder of adulterous lovers buried shoulder-deep in the ground with cloth over their heads is one example), passages of scripture that incite violence, and interpretations of that scripture skewed to obtain political leverage are clear examples.

Stoning has recently been the subject of news headlines around the world, as has the mistreatment of women by fanatical followers of Islam. Ridiculous levels of censorship highlight the ability of Islam to apply punitive pressure by blanket decree rather than through any of the alternative means available to a modern society.

So here we have the key problem – the religion of Islam makes itself an easy target for criticism and ridicule. In many ways this is the same with Christianity, where fringe elements operate on literal interpretations of the Bible, while washing over or seeking to reinterpret the more ridiculous passages.

What should be done, if anything, by the broader Muslim community to highlight just how far these extremist views differ from the “average” interpretation of Islamic scripture? Should all community leaders globally issue a joint rejection of extremism every time some poor deluded soul puts on a display of narrow-minded foolishness? Should modern non-Muslim countries ban Muslim activities on the basis of these views unless the local leaders make a statement distancing themselves from such activities?

Perhaps the less extreme followers of Islam should set up a “faith centre” somewhere with symbolic importance, where they can put on display their interpretation of Islam?

Ooooops… someone’s already trying to do that, aren’t they?

Set out below is a more pragmatic interpretation of the Pat Condell video. It is only one version, and you are free to add your own brand of rhetoric. However, try to keep the little figures on your shoulders happy by allowing them an equal say in just how you receive this issue :

  • All you Americans that have followed the Islamisation (?) of Europe“. Right there at the beginning, we see the tilt of the video – it starts with a statement (made as fact) that there is something happening called the “Islamisation of Europe”. The intent is clear but the subterfuge is not. By couching the words in a particular way, there is a ‘call to arms’ for Americans that demands attention, while at the same time deflecting attention from the unsupported claim that there actually is an “Islamisation” under way. We do not have the spare time to cover that issue in detail right now – but it panders to the “they are having more babies and Europe will be Islamic within our lifetimes” fear. A fear that is fostered by various emails flying around the internet, presenting a series of basic facts (and almost-facts) to support the notion. Let’s simply say that this is exactly the same type of loose logic and angry foolishness that Pat Condell’s video works from.
    • There is a call to action – “wake up and rub those sleepy eyes because the moment of truth is upon you“. Again, this is emotive language and can be safely dismissed.
  • “..enthusiastically welcomed by politicians and civic leaders, eager to show how tolerant they are at another’s expense“. No, it has not been eagerly welcomed. It has been argued for and against, it has faced criticism and praise. In other words, we have seen a robust democratic discussion take place. In other words, this is a distortion of that debate into a one-sided view. Not particularly strong thinking here.
  • “…and now their memory has to be insulted as well“. The terrorists that destroyed the World Trade Centre killed indescriminately – Christians, Muslims, followers of any and no religions. No one person can speak for all of those who died, nor should attempts be made to group all of those people in as supporters of one issue or another (except perhaps terrorism itself). That would be an insult to those of the dead who would not have followed your view, and is a raw display of “my world counts – yours doesn’t”. So horribly school-yard that it hurts.
  • “’s hard to imagine a more provocative gesture, short of standing on their graves and burning the American flag“. Again, note the very clever use of a statement that suggests that the centre builders are doing this. This is very, very effective use of the English language to twist a story and play to our listening/association processes. Those proposing to build the centre have not stood on any graves and are not burning the flag but the guilt by association is set up simply by including the statement in the context. This guy really understands rhetoric.
  • “…how typical of Islam, with its own hair-trigger sensitivity“. Here we have the basis of a fact in amongst the restrained anguish. There are those at the extreme fringe of Islam who are wont to call down a fatwah on any slight that they personally interpret as a  provocation of the religion. A clear example is the publishing of the Cartoons depicting Mohammed some time ago. Yet all is not as it seems even in this one vivid example. This was an extreme reaction by a fringe element – it is not a reaction from the entire Muslim community, nor should it be interpreted as such. This point could have been made more valid by more appropriate referencing of the key point. Broadening the issue to an entire religion makes it nothing more than yet another piece of hyperbole.
  • Funding – a lot is made about the source of the supposed $100m price tag to build the centre. Pat Condell’s version is that it is Saudi money and that makes it tainted. This is a rather long bow to draw. At least, it is a rather slippery slope to attempt to argue. Full research into the issue will find that the Saudi oil money has been spread far and wide throughout the world in an attempt to diversify away from oil. If it is not a good thing for Saudi money to fund a religious centre then at what stage is that money good for anything? Should the Saudi’s be forced to sell down their substantial holdings in US oil companies? In US banks, industries, funding and jobs? Again we see a rather good question taken to extremes and losing its validity in the search for emotive results.
  • Build a mosque at the United Nations centre. Pat Condell suggests that the United Nations has become so Islamacised that he’s frankly surprised that the buildings don’t already include a minaret. Here’s a slightly different take on that statement… The Eurocentric/American dominance of what is supposed to be a centre for debate and resolution of global issues, is slowly being unwound. If you see that as a bad thing then perhaps you are a little too wrapped up in your own perspective, and maybe you think that the US/Euro dominance is the way things are supposed to be (you know, “the US pays most of the funding for the UN”, “we are the ones paying aid to the other useless countries” etc, etc, etc).
  • false promise of an afterlife“. So Islam is to blame because it suggests there is an afterlife? That makes Judaism and Christianity suddenly responsible for a whole host of things as well, doesn’t it? Yes, Islam suggests there is an afterlife, as do a number of other religions. That does not make those religions denounceable enmasse. It simlpy means that some people have taken a narrow view of narrow parts of the religion and used it to their advantage. Nothing too surprising there.
  • There is much talk about the World Trade Centre bombings, and how that is linked to all of “us” in the Western world. Yes, the attacks are directed at those in the Western world who supported the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan and the “Westernisation” of Islamic countries but it does not mean that all Muslims feel that way.
  • “…a few yards from Ground Zero“. No it is not. It is quite a distance away, and you can’t even see Ground Zero from the site. How close is too close? That will depend on your personal emotive connections with the events of 9/11. As usual, Wikipedia has quite a bit of information for those wanting to know more.

There is a great deal more that could be said about this particular interpretation of the building of a religious centre. However, it is a sad truth that we humans are happier to follow our faith, beliefs, opinions and the daily news bulletins of commercial television than we are prepared to put the time aside to try to open our minds and actually THINK about something we disagree with.


  3 comments for “Religious Freedom – At What Cost?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.