Heightened Senses

Hello. I'm Imraan. This is the only thing I own outright; I write from time to time, in the hopes that free-association might save a trip to a sanatorium.

Tag: Free speech

Freedom?! What Freedom?! Freedom-fanaticism and the fallacy of the State-Religion. Enough of the ‘Politics of Derision.’

A good friend of mine, Siraj Datoo (Editor in Chief of The Student Journals – studentjournals.co.uk) was in September on BBC World Have Your Say, as part of an interesting discussion on the protests across the Muslim world and from the Muslim communities in the West.

It’s a great discussion and I found it very thought-provoking. Yes, I know it’s a little late for me to comment – but in a narcissistic aim to feed my ego, I might as well chime in on the discussion.

If you’d like my rant and comments on this programme (very badly composed as I sort of zoned out and typed furiously over the course of a few minutes), I’ll include my thoughts under the link. Siraj’s blog can be found here.

I very much enjoyed this programme. I liked the French fellow – he seemed to have interesting things to say, but alas, did seem to speak a little from the privileged perspective.

I enjoyed this platform particularly because most of the panelists were articulate, educated, peace-oriented (although that’s the de facto human condition if you strip away all those things the higher powers use to divide us) – thankfully no fringe-fanatics were interviewed, no Anjem Choudarys or fanatical, angry, bearded clerics in sight, thank God!). Though the BBC is now an arm of the British Government in many respects, I think that this programme was pretty balanced and nuanced. Only that they didn’t discuss the problem of modern Western imperialism in the Middle East and the ‘global south’ in general.

The American fellow is moronic, if you’ll excuse me, comparing the President of the US to say the Prophet Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha etc – absolute madness. Most Westerners don’t feel about their leaders what Muslims in general feel about the Prophet Muhammad – he is seen as the paragon of virtue, of love, of humanity – I imagine the same way Christians feel about Jesus. If you actually read the histories and biographies of his life, his track record is far better than that of say, Sarkozy or Obama.

His talk (that is, our American friend) of freedom of speech in the States being a result of the struggle for liberation from British imperialism is a bit rich; many of the protestors, as was said on the show, live in the third world. They are affected by imperialism to this day. It’s all fair and well that the ‘free’ man can criticise – only he doesn’t realise that in his hand he firmly grasps the whip the beat at the backs of the barbarians he is trying to civilise.

More importantly, they are subject to rampant, unrestrained imperialism on the part of the US, Britain, the ‘free world’.

Do you think their burning of US flags and effigies of Obama are as a result of their hatred of ‘freedom’? As Chomsky said, it’s not that they hate our freedoms, but it’s that we hate their freedoms. The US has for decades continued to prop up the most authoritarian, fanatical regimes across the Arab and Muslims world (and elsewhere) – which undermines daily the dignity and freedoms of the Muslims. We saw it with Gaddhafi, Mubarak, the House of Saud, Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, the Bahraini monarchy (now a client state), the Israeli government that for decades has massacred the Palestinians and Lebanese without restraint.. the list goes on…not to mention that they currently occupy two countries now in the Middle East. Don’t even get me started on what they’re doing across Africa, the Far East, the South Pacific.

Mahesh was completely misguided – liberating the Kuwaitis was a benevolent act on the part of the US?!

So long as this mentality of crazy, right-wing (party fanatical Christian Right) jingoism continues in the world, the West will never understand why it is the Muslim world feels under attack when symbols of their identity – especially their religious identity (no doubt the Islamic identity is the most powerful one extant today, the staying power and message of the Prophet hasn’t waned – which says something about the universality of Islam I think) – is denigrated.

Yes, the film was used as an excuse for violence – madness. But the anger, resentment, feeling of threat on the part of the Muslim world is not something they imagined. The US and Western imperial agenda is still alive, these protestors live in so-called ‘postcolonial’ societies (can you sense the irony?!) whose progress toward dignity, individual freedom, is constantly hampered by either US funds or Saudi petrodollars to prop up and perpetuate the most barbaric conditions – degrading the dignity of those Muslims, Christians and Jews who happen to live in those failed states.

As a community – we feel the frustration (as many of us more privileged in the West travel ‘home’ often) of our brethren, just as much as we feel under attack in or actual homes in the West because of this ‘softer’ approach toward marginalising an Islamic way of life in so-called democracies. The Prophet, hijab, halal meat, male circumcision, the Islamic moral code (that’s the whole of the Shari’ah – not just the punitive stuff the Right likes to parade on Fox News) – all of this is being sidelined in favour of something more ‘civilised’. Funny, I don’t see the Kosher food or male circumcision in the state of Israel as being demonised by our press in the West. But they do indeed seem to care a little too much about it in, Germany and France – where Muslims are a significant minority (as well as Jews, incidentally).

It’s ironic, is it not, that their aim to liberate those poor, oppressed, Muslim women in the Islamic world, they have to ban the burqa in France?! That’s just a pretext for something far more pernicious, sinister. Islam is coming under attack from a very influential atheistic lobby and Religious Right; my concern, and perhaps it’s paranoia – but if they continue to inflict this kind of neoimperialism and liberal arrogance on the Arab, Muslim and Third-World, and the Muslims (and perhaps even others) keep protesting both here in the West, and there, feeding the paranoia of the Religious Right and the secularists, the mass deportations might begin sooner than we think.

The proper response to such cartoons varies depending on the context of the people who are protesting – but certainly it should be a peaceful one. Moreover, the privileged Muslims in the West at least should pool their funds together – we need better PR. Thought it’s unfair that we are put in this situation to have to defend ourselves (people are uneducated about the Islamic world, about Muslims) – we need films, books, media of our own to be accessible, highly promoted – to build an understanding of what Islam has to offer to society, and what its potential can be as part of the ‘Liberal’ world.

I do believe in the tenets of freedom of speech – and if someone wants to disrespect a particular religion or institution – I will defend his right to do so. Only, he doesn’t realise that he has shackled himself to the state-religion, which is far more threatening, serpentine, insidious, far more dangerous than religion proper could ever be to his freedoms.

But I fear that by the time he realises it, it will be too late. Ah, the arrogance of the West (when I speak of the West, I don’t of course include countries in the Eastern bloc, or say the more developed countries in Latin America – I have far more respect for them, and to an extent the mediterranean countries, and their governments than I do for say the Israeli, British, German, American, Canadian, French, Autralian total Hegemon).

I quote Noam Chomsky way too much, but when he was asked about the politics of so-called secularist humanists who promote freedom (Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, specifically) and use their platform to promote an “aggressive foreign policy”, Chomsky responded (here):

“I think they are religious fanatics. They happen to believe in the state-religion, which is much more dangerous than other religions, for the most part. So they…both of them, happen to be defenders of the state-religion, namely the religion that says that ‘we have to support the violence and atrocities of our own state, because it’s being done for all sorts of wonderful reasons…which is exactly what everyone says in every state…and that’s just another religion, like the religion that ‘markets know best’..it doesn’t happen to be a religion that you pray to…once a week. But it’s just another religion as is very destructive.”

Finally -the West needs a culture shift; for some reason Muslims are expected to put their Western, nationalist identity before their faith – something that Muslims, I believe, are resisting –  this is something that ardent secularists cannot grasp. The idea of liberalism and living in a free society from the perspective of minority groups is somewhat different to that of the secular, caucasian, affluent Right-wing.

But the fact that this sort of hate speech and rampant disrespect for beliefs that people hold dear – is just as much a damning inditement to the failures of a ‘free’ system that is solely based on the state-institution and of Capital, that ironically claims its virtues to be that it creates a context for universal acceptance, of respect. That it in fact can take place, in the first place, is very, very, telling. And yes, in case you ask, I would just as much defend the rights of Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, etc to take offence if their religious figures and symbols came under such attack, and I would, if able, attend their protests also.

I’ve written too much, bedtime!

P.S By the way, I don’t despise atheists/secularists nor do I dislike Right-Wing Christians – but their political agenda is and are, well… just obscene. I think they’re the greatest threat to actual freedom – especially the freedom to choose your own identity, your allegiances, your priorities is this perpetuation of the free, secular myth. It hasn’t been able to take the place of religious beliefs, something it has aspired to do for the last century, fundamentally because it misunderstands the importance in impact of religion and religious beliefs of the lives of adherents. But then that’s another debate. 

A brilliant edition of ‘The Stream’ speaking of the cartoons and the rage that followed it; is such a shame that more voices of moderation aren’t given this kind of exposure.

That said, I think the discourse lets-off too easily the greater power-play here – I read it as classical orientalism – a way of subduing the Eastern man because he is quick to murderous rage, necessitating condemnation from Western Governments and schooling in what it is to live in the ‘modern world’ (thank you President Clinton, you very wicked man).

Nouman Ali Khan was particularly excellent – speaking of the moral imperatives as opposed to the legislative ones which are important. And I think that that moral space should be recognised; as a person of ‘belief’, I wonder if it is a failing on the part of the faithful that this has been allowed to be perpetrated; our world today seems to be blinded by the notion of rights that extend even to the bigoted (which is fine in principle), the only problem being that we are so individualistic that we block out moral voices and moral instruction as soon as it interferes with our whims and desires – isn’t the point of morality (and I speak of universals here) that it should be able to shape or control our impulses for wickedness?

It’s an unpopular view to have, no-doubt, in today’s world. What do you think?

The Accidental Theologist

Great conversation on Al Jazeera’s The Stream yesterday:  I was with Lisa Fletcher and Anushay Hossain in the studio — I love her blog Anushay’s Point  — and Omid Safi, Nouman Ali Khan, and Michael Muhammad Knight joined in on Skype.  Plus an excellent video comment from Hind Makki in Chicago, which led to a lively post-show discussion, starting at the 25.15 mark, on reclaiming the narrative from both ‘Islamist’ extremists and Islamophobic bigots.

It’s a good thing Nouman Ali Khan wasn’t in the studio, because I’d only have totally embarrassed him by leaping up to give him a huge hug.  I really do have to figure out how to be cool on TV…

Like I say, hang around for the post-show segment — the silent majority is silent no longer!

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