murder and mayhem in the name of faith

March 8, 2011

You’ve probably seen a few posts regarding Usama Hasan, an academic who was planning to give a lecture about his take on evolution at a London mosque, and then went back on his intentions after encounters with a group of very agitated demonstrators and death threats, both online and in person. Those death threats took off from a website of radical Muslims who consider the very notion of someone accepting the merits of basic biology a crime to be punished by death, much like the dangerously literalist head case form the Caucasus we highlighted last week. After hearing that Hasan wanted to tell the mosque’s following that evolution could be compatible with Islamic teachings, they basically decided to run him out of town because the only way they know how to settle any dispute is by threatening those with whom they disagree with violence. To say that this is utterly ridiculous and deeply disturbing is an understatement of epic proportions, and what’s even sadder in all this, is that we’re seeing this kind of simplistic, barbaric, violent dogmatism in a secular, well-off country. It really is a testament to how fundamentalism fuels hatred, intolerance, and utter disregard for others’ rights.

Here’s the thing. If you want us to appreciate a culture’s history, it’s accomplishments, and the fact that there’s more its can offer than stereotypes for bad guys in big budget action flicks, we could certainly do that. On one simple condition. When a Muslim scholar tries to reconcile science with his religious beliefs, you don’t barge into his mosque to threaten his life and hurl out propaganda casting all those who dare to think in a way you don’t personally approve as apostates ripe for a beheading, and if that happens, you will stand up for a fellow Muslim’s right to believe in his own way. How about that? Or is that too much to ask? And please don’t tell me that this is just an aberration and a few bad apples are spoiling it for everybody else. Today, with rebellions in the Middle East led by young, tech-savvy, often secular, and educated youth, things might start to change. But yet, in the grand scheme of things so far, Muslim nations have given their fundamentalists free reign with very disturbing results. Iran executes people on a nearly daily basis, many for violating its clerics’ interpretations of Islam, Saudi Arabia’s morality police basically stalk the citizenry, looking for any objectionable behavior day in, day out, and Pakistan’s blasphemy laws allow Islamic fundamentalists to get away with murder whenever they decide that the most rational way to respond to a call for peace and tolerance is with savage brutality.

This is simply not the way sane human beings interact and if you really think that all humanity will ever know, all it ever needs to know, and all it should focus its energy upon is your interpretation of an ancient text which was extremely controversial when it was first being written in your very community, and that this belief in your own omniscience and infallibility gives you the right to kill those who disagree, then you, my good friend, need to have your head examined by a competent professional. If this is how religious devotion helps one find how much human life is really worth, I’m afraid that most of us are perpetually in the bargain bin, and that our lives will continue only at the radical fundamentalists’ pleasure. In the West, we’ve tried burning people at the stake for saying things with which we disagreed on and off for over a thousand years and we found it to be kind of a bad thing, and one that doesn’t quite stop human progress as the fundamentalists desired. In fact, while way too many Westerners were devoting themselves to ideological warfare, Muslim academics invented algebra, conducted pioneering work in optics, and honed their skills in astronomy. And it seems that for most religious radicals, who don’t care to understand the past through anything other but the prism of their personal fantasy, history may well be repeating itself as the Muslim world’s rabid ideologues try to wage a jihad on the infidels, who they’ve recast as being absolutely anyone who doesn’t follow Islam the exact same way as they do.

In the West, we have moments when we decry Christian fundamentalism and its followers’ attempts to once again dominate political life, and we’ll continue having them because we’ve already seen what happens if an institution which considers itself divinely infallible assumes absolute control of entire nations. But at the very least, when we’re hit with blasphemy laws, we’re talking about censorship and fines, not being dragged into the town square and beheaded by an unhinged lunatic with a bloodlust, absolutely sure that he’s doing what the invisible man in the sky (or more probably, a hateful voice in his head) told him to do. And in both, we see how religion’s most devoted and most zealous followers react to hearing something they don’t want to hear or seeing something they don’t want to see. Instead of engaging with those who think differently and learn about their worldviews, they rush to censor and destroy anything that catches their ire, and in the case of wanna-be jihadists, anyone who dares not to cower to their savagery. Now, I wonder, what do the great communicators of the accommodationist world think Hasan should do in order to effectively convey the alleged compatibilities of evolution and religion to a crowd of bloodthirsty maniacs who howl with pathological rage and threaten his life for even mentioning evolution in a positive context? If they didn’t invoke their religion as a shield from every criticism, people like those who threatened Hasan’s life would be locked up in psychiatric wards and treated, but unfortunately, we’ll bend over backwards to tolerate intolerance if this intolerance was spawned by faith…

[ photo illustration by Fredherico Silva ]

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  • Nick

    You are the wordiest writer I’ve ever read. Your stories are so difficult to follow because there are so many things going on in one of your thousand word sentences.

  • Professor Layman

    First I’ve heard of this but here’s the thing…

    Hasan is an academic, who wanted to talk to a mosque about Evolution. I would’ve thought he’d have the foresight to see these kinds of death threats coming from a mile away. Trees Grow, Birds Fly and Muslim Fundies give out Death Threats.

    I just don’t think it should have deterred him. If you’re going to have the conviction to talk about Evolution in a “Holy” place, have the conviction to deflect the threats, or don’t even bother (unless this was all a clever ruse to cause a reaction and highlight the problems in the Muslim community). It just makes them think it works and it’ll just make them do it again.

    This is the UK we’re talking about after all, it’s not like the state actively supports the rights of Muslims to make death threats with total immunity to the consequences. People may fear them, but you tell a cop about this, and something will be done.

    “You are the wordiest writer I’ve ever read. Your stories are so difficult to follow because there are so many things going on in one of your thousand word sentences.” Hahaha. Okay… really?

  • Bruce Coulson

    There’s a legal adage that applies to the ‘reasoning’ used against Dr. Hasan. “When the law is on your side, pound on the law. When the law’s against you, pound on the jury.” Attorneys know that people can be swayed emotionally, and sometimes can be persuaded to vote against common sense.

    So, if all logic and science is against you, but you don’t want to concede the point, your option is to work on the emotions of the audience. Violent rhetoric is one of the common ways to do this. Shout over and over again that someone is a threat to everything ‘we’ believe and stand for; an enemy of all that is good, true, and righteous. Repeat as necessary.

    Dr. Hasan lost the debate. I’m not accusing him; I’m not in his shoes, don’t have his responsibilities and obligations. I might very well have done exactly the same thing. Violence won out over science and reason in this case, though. Which means that should this confrontation happen again, the opponents will use the same winning tactic as before.

  • MaDeR

    This happened, happens and will be happening until human is human. Specie innoculated against these very popular strains of memetic viruses would not be homo sapiens – at least not mentally.

  • Greg Fish

    “Violence won out over science and reason in this case. Which means that should this confrontation happen again, the opponents will use the same winning tactic as before.”

    Well yeah, it’s pretty hard to give a science lecture when some fanatic with blood in his eyes is screaming about stabbing you. It’s also hard to talk about, well, anything, when you have violent maniacs after you. The thorny issue here, though, is that by cloaking a dangerous and hateful attitude in the veil of religion and doing it in the West, where we have laws granting freedom of speech and religious expression, means that attempts to round them up for being public menaces will be met with professions of faith and a horde of lawyers ready to argue that a devout zealot can make all the threats he wants as long as feels those threats are consistent with his religious practices.

    “Your stories are so difficult to follow because there are so many things going on in one of your thousand word sentences.”

    Nick, if you need a diagram to follow along, don’t be shy to draw one for yourself. There should be a few free flowchart tools floating around the web…

  • Bruce Coulson

    I’m not condoning the tactics; but they worked. Because the authorities let them work. Freedom of Speech is a noble principle, one that I stand firmly for. But all that freedom means is a prohibition against prior restraint by the government; not a protection against consequences after the speech. The government does have the duty to protect free speech; but Dr. Hasan also had the right to make his presentation. When a group is actively engaged in prohibiting the free speech of another, solely because they disapprove of the message, then the government’s responsibility is to protect the speaker. Death threats are clearly an attempt to restrict the free exchange of ideas. And controversial ideas require the greatest protection.

  • Paul

    Bruce, I think that legal adage goes: “When the law is against you, pound the facts. When the facts are against you, pound the law. And when both are against you, pound the table.”

  • Bruce Coulson

    @Paul. I think your version is the correct one; been a while since I read/heard it. The principle remains the same, though.

  • Paul

    Oh I wasn’t arguing with any point you raised.

    But since I’m commenting… It’s hard to limit free speech without creating a mechanism for arseholes to block speech you want protected (whether you agree with the speech or not.)

    Example, terrorist threats against civilian infrastructure. That’s a no brainer, right? Except the Brit who tweeted in frustration “you have 30 minutes to open such-and-such airport or I’ll blow it up”. He was joking (yes, it’s a stupid joke) and only sent it to his thirty or so followers, but he was arrested under anti-terror laws.

    Secrecy laws, intended to protect areas of government that genuinely need secrecy, are always abused to protect the corrupt and the incompetent. (Those wiki-cables included a company who hired a young boy to “dance” for a group of Afghan warlords, who was then publicly auctioned into sex-slavery. The US diplomats helped advised the Afghan government on how to cover it up.)

    Likewise, child porn laws. God is there any area that’s easier to get agreement on? Yet, in Australia (and elsewhere I believe), joke drawings of child cartoon characters having sex has resulted in arrests and convictions. Whatever you think about those drawings, even if you think they should be illegal, shouldn’t they at least be covered by different laws than actual child porn? And shouldn’t we have had a separate debate? (The same laws were also used to confiscate a museum collection for a well-known photo-artists. Apparently based on a single complaint.)

    Hate speech laws will invariably be used by groups like Scientology to shut down critics, they’ve got their own entire law firms. And I’m sure even laws against death threats will somehow be used against people who aren’t actually making death threats, while people who want to threaten will find ways around them. (There’s a story that someone sent Sarah Palin’s family a copy of a receipt for the purchase of a rifle and a one-way ticket to Alaska. And then their are the Republican candidates whose campaign videos have them holding rifles/shotguns saying menacingly, “Let me show those traitors in washington…” Which is speech, and which is a threat?)

  • Bruce Coulson

    Free speech is always going to be a balancing act between toleration of things that probably shouldn’t be said and suppression of things that should be heard. Barring a sudden uplifting of human reasoning capacity, of course.

    Still, some basic guidelines can be seen. Directly advocating violence is out; even if the speaker isn’t serious, the listeners can’t know that. Revealing information that if generally known would lead to criminals escaping justice or immediate harm (confidential informants, whistle-blowers) probably shouldn’t be allowed.

    There’s no clear solution, though. We’re dealing with human beliefs and perceptions, which don’t have absolute answers.

  • Merrilee Bath

    I agree with Bruce Coulson. The government has an obligation to protect Dr. Hasan’s right to make his speech by letting those who try to prevent him from doing so by threatening his life, know that making death threats is illegal for any reason or under any guise, and that he is under the protection of the law of that country.

  • Merrilee Bath

    What is the very strange and scary photo illustration and how does it relate to the article?

  • Tim Streetman

    “The Law” Frederic Bastiat … Speaks of how we allow the Law that WE install permit such atrocities …

    In my humble opinion .. It is the Indifference of “Good” men that condones this behavior, therefore promoting and perpetuating these “Death Cults”.