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: liberalism

Modernity as Moral Arbiter

Here’s a comment piece by a hero of mine from the Left, Owen Jones, who indeed celebrates the loss of the case in the Supreme Court by the Bulls today, who lost their final appeal to say that based on their religious grounds, they had a right to turn away a gay couple from their privately owned guesthouse. I’m not sure of what to make of this – though readers will know I’m a regular critic (albeit an unsophisticated one) of ‘Modernity’ or ‘Progress’ or those other Humanistic metanarratives, I do feel very uncomfortable at the precedent that this case will set.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/martyrs-guesthouse-owners-who-turned-away-gay-couple-on-religious-grounds-are-nothing-of-the-kind-8967077.html

Elsewhere, the BBC reported:

“Lady Hale, deputy president of the Supreme Court, said: “Sexual orientation is a core component of a person’s identity which requires fulfilment through relationships with others of the same orientation.”

Indeed, this may well be true; my question is, on what grounds, and what evidence, can you stake this ontological claim? What in any Modernist discourse actually tells you that the above is the case?

Couldn’t there equally be some postmodern critique to say that these notions of monogamous sexual relationships are merely part of a scheme of oppressive grand narratives? Why then stick to the rather Judaeo-Christian notion of a monogamous relationship, so much in vogue in the Middle Ages,  for which he shows such disdain? Surely we’ve moved past that age of bleak ignorance.

I’m not sure about this ruling, and for once I happen to strongly disagree with Mr Jones; and disgusting and odious as I find him, I think David Starkey has a reasonable solution; I am intrigued as to why the notion of an objection to what is perceived ‘morality’ on say, sexual acts, is somehow conflated with the notion of ‘homophobia’ – what has happened to the state of moral discourse and argumentation?

If indeed one is making a legal case (whether or not the subtext might reek of something more sinister), the arguments should be taken for what they are; I see no point in a judge already coming to a case with a narrative already framed.

I cannot see why, within reason, religious discourse cannot frame one of multiple narratives through which ‘modern’ liberal society can operate. I don’t see why the narrative of ‘modernism’ or ‘Progress’ ought to be favoured over any other; to say that one objects to pre-marital intercourse has nothing to do with the Middle Ages – morality shouldn’t change merely because the times have, and if it does, you ought to be very, very worried if there has been a very small body of thought put into it. Shouting ‘Equality’ is fine – but the term in and of itself is empty.

Religion has been cheapened immensely – what on earth has Southern Cafe owners got to do with this, or the book of Leviticus? Were there moral, cultural, economic (or a combination)  reasons then given? Having taken a course or two on South African history, I fail to see what ‘moral’ arguments were made to sustain those decades of apartheid… it seems to me historical forces were perhaps more important in what resulted in that very bleak period of South African history from which she has not recovered.

Would Jones be happier if they made an economic or utilitarian argument in favour of their view?

Perhaps some solid Marxist argument that the modes of production to keep this liberal edifice, in which his moral framework operates, are better served by stable family model predicated upon a man and a woman whose reproductive capacity is functional and uninhibited? Is that what we’ve come to? What hubris!

Or is he perhaps failing to see that his model of morality, predicated upon some notion of ‘autonomy’ of the self (again, what reason he has to suppose this is beyond me), is fine so long as it does not interfere with the productive capacity of the state; i.e. crudely, do what the heck you want – just keep going to work and paying your taxes and buying things.

An ardent socialist activist with a capitalist framework for ethics? At least he’s not the first. Why he’s buying into a crude economic narrative strikes of something pathologically rotten at the core of some social activists. And it breaks my heart – seeing as I happen to be of the ‘Left.’

Why, suddenly, is religion somehow one of the vestiges of an age of Ignorance – that same tyranny in which the dominant narrative that he found distasteful then is now being re-implemented, only in this case it is his own narrative that has exerted its proverbial agency.

I for one find myself within a moral universe, and though it’s not always apparent what the right thing is to do – though we have a tremendous amount of collective memory and wisdom, traditions and Scriptures that speak to this understanding – I don’t see what privileged access Mr Jones has, considering (in all fairness), that his vision of a moral and liberal world is erected upon very shaky foundations; he would do well to not rest on his laurels for too long.

I wonder what he would say if Mr Jones was informed that those in the Middle Ages found themselves in the same moral universe in which he now exists – would he have to bankrupt himself of any notion of ‘morality’ simply because those in times gone past also attested to its existence?

Jones is committing what MacIntyre (I believe) warned us of – he’s merely speaking a different language to the Bulls; I wonder if by speaking past them and not taking the time to consider the immense body of collected wisdom and thought put into their beliefs, he is indeed oppressing them by suggesting that his narrative ought to displace theirs.

“I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”

“…In the First Epistle of Peter we are told to honour everyone, and I have never been in a situation where I felt this instruction was inappropriate. When we accept dismissive judgements of our community we stop having generous hopes for it. We cease to be capable of serving its best interests. The cultural disaster called ‘dumbing down,’ which swept through every significant American institution and grossly impoverished civic and religious life, was and is the result of the obsessive devaluing of lives that happen to pass on this swath of continent. On average, in the main, we are Christian people, if the polls re to be believed. How is Christianity consistent with this generalised contempt that seems to lie behind so much so-called public discourse? Why the judgmentalism, among people who are supposed to believe we are, and we live among, souls precious to God – three hundred million of them on this plot of ground, a population large and various enough to hint broadly at the folly of generalization? It is simply not possible to act in good faith toward people one does not appear to respect, or to entertain hopes for them that are appropriate to their gifts. As we withdraw from one another we withdraw from the world, except as we increasingly insist that foreign groups and populations are our irreconcilable enemies. The shrinking of imaginative identification which allows such things as shared humanity to be forgotten always begins at home.”

I have copied (hopefully without too many typographical errors) a paragraph of Marilynne Robinson’s essay, Imagination and Community. 

In the last days I have begun to wonder as to whether I have indeed become a cynical person – the world that I have constructed around me appears to be full of intellectual and imagined barriers that separate me from my fellow human beings. It is an important question, no-doubt, as to whether we are a specie that by nature likes to be able to discriminate when it comes to the differences that we possess, individually or collectively, between ourselves and that imagined ‘other.’

Though I fear the American, and in general liberal democratic institutions which underpin and undergird the modern pluralistic and secularist societies in which those of us who are privileged find ourselves in, model(s) can lead to a sort-of moral relativism inflicted upon society by design – in that the general will of the populace ought to reign as the supreme agent of what is difficultly and tenuously entitled ‘Progress;’ – and I am cautious, I suppose about certainly constructing a society where certain judgements are removed from the moral calculus, if I understand her correctly  –  though that said, I think Robinson may be spot-on when it comes to having and cultivating faith in our fellow man.

Indeed, when we act and claim that the impetus for our behaviour is say, ‘austerity,’ or ‘social justice’ (construed very narrowly as always), or for ‘progress,’ ‘liberation’ we naturally exclude some remaining population from our acts. Not one banker in the UK has gone to prison, yet hundreds of thousand – nay, millions, of the poorest and infirm are suffering as a result of the pernicious behaviour or others. Does social justice merely imply a narrowing of the economic gap between people? Are we not acting in bad faith when we assume primarily that the constructing factor of an individual – that which will shape his behaviour to be a functional economic cog in the machinery of the state – is his financial means? What is to be said for ‘progress,’ when we demonise those that seek to restrain it by calling them reactionaries? What happens to the environment in which the other will have to live, or cease to make his livelihood out of, in our unrelenting pursuit of this end? What of the women whose ‘sexual liberation’ came at the cost of a broader dignity through which men began to see them as sexual beings alone. One need only to pass an advertisement on the London Underground to realise how much sex actually sells in our society – what of the fact that women are having to work within a male-dominated paradigm and give up on certain other humane pursuits which for generations have served to keep this specie alive, merely just to firmly grasp at the scraps left-over from the pie so savagely sliced and consumed by men?

These are sweeping examples, and it is beyond the scope of this simple post to provide a long and detailed and coherent analysis; the point to take away from all of this is that the way in which we operate and coexist with the other has now become a cynical exercise, and an enterprise which will collectively bring untold misery – our recent economic plights, or slow responses to environmental catastrophes, might say just as much. Who knows, maybe I am being cynical here, too – I can undoubtedly not exclude myself from this discourse – but what would happen tomorrow if we all woke up and began to see our fellow man in another light? How would this change our behaviour?

Having faith in our fellow man these days takes courage – our whole technological culture relies on our individualism and selfishness to keep it going – why are we so afraid to trust that our brothers have our best interests at heart and that they will consider this in the calculating of their political decisions? If it is a stretch for me to ask you to envisage such a possibility, and it surely is at this juncture of our history, then it should send a shudder through our spine and incline us to ask, “why should it so be?”

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. 

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