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 ]