Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Gay Muslims in the UK

Just watched this BBC special about gay Muslims living in the UK. It's heart-breaking and completely baffling.

When people start criticizing Islam, there's usually a lot of backtalk about moderate Muslims and unfair generalizations. I tend to be more sympathetic to this argument than some of the more ardent irreligionists out there in the blogosphere. That's because I'm a humanist; I disagree with religious concepts that cast humanity as sinners who are naturally bad. I like to think humans are fundamentally good and it is ignorance that twists and turns individuals to do evil.

Granted, I'm only looking at a small slice, so it may not be appropriate to make generalizations, but it's programs like this BBC special which shake my confidence in the human character. THIS IS THE UNITED KINGDOM we're talking about and still these poor Muslim gays and lesbians are tormented and ostracized by their communities, by their religion and even by their own families. Where's the moderation? Where's the mercy? Where's the kindness in a religion that produces such cruel acts?

Ignorance is largely to blame. Not once do the reporters or the subjects of this documentary appeal to the very well established science of human sexuality. Facts are stubborn things, as John Adams famously said. If only science was a part of the discussion, imagine the shackles of ignorance and oppression that might be lifted!

But it seems as if these Muslims, who are so entranced by their holy book, who have submitted so completely to its promises and teachings (Islam translates to submission, I've heard), it seems like science and simple facts are never even considered. How do you soften the hearts and minds of a people so set in their ways that they'd sooner plug their ears, poke out their eyes, and cut off their tongues before letting go of a little piece of some 7th century mythology?


SuiginChou said...

Along the lines of "everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten" philosophy,...

* If you put a plate of spinach before a child, he'll at least try it out. If you tell him beforehand, "This is spinach," he's more likely to avoid even sampling it.

* If you force someone in your family to watch something with you, they're less likely to enjoy the experience and less likely to admit to you that their initial prejudice against it was wrong. (e.g. trying to get Dad to watch an anime, trying to get Mom to watch a cinematic video game, trying to get Sister to watch a really wholesome cartoon) You don't force them to watch it. Instead, you just watch it on your own without saying anything and wait for them to come to you.

* If somebody loves something which is killing them and you know it, you don't brazenly destroy it if you want them to still like you or to realize that you were right and they were wrong. For example, parents who burned their kids' Magic cards or who smashed up their kids' Super Nintendos didn't earn brownie points vs. parents who undertook kinder, more indirect measures.

Translation in the next reply.

SuiginChou said...

Richard Dawkins advocates that we write off recalcitrant Islamists as goners, rid ourselves of them, and press onward if we're to reach our Utopia.

While Dawkins may be correct that religious fundamentalists (e.g. Islamists) are incompatible with our (us three) shared vision of Utopia, I don't agree with him that killing Islam is a better approach to letting Islam die. Dawkins of course vehemently disagrees with me on this point, and this is clear both from his frequent "assassination attempts" against religion not to mention his just-as-frequent condemnations of atheists who wishy-washily claim that they can co-exist with the religious just fine.

Still, if you take the position that I am right and Dawkins is wrong, then it follows that there are many salient ways by which to amicably transform society. These include:

(1) presenting core principles without their buzz words. You could write an entire book about natural selection and never use the terms "natural selection," "evolution," or "Darwinian fitness." Likewise, you could write a paper on the medical use of stem cells without once referring to them as "stem cells." People who do not understand contentious theories or topics are frequently attached (emotionally so) to these buzzwords. Take the buzzwords away and you'll find yourself better able to introduce their brains to these theories.

(A religious counter-example would be that you shouldn't tell a non-believer a Biblical parable with all the original names intact. You needn't change the names, but instead refer to characters like Abraham and Isaac as "the father" and "the second oldest son".)

(2) If you try to force evolution upon people, they will naturally reject it. You will be confirming all of their worst fears about it -- that it's the work of the devil, that it'll corrupt their souls, etc -- if you take that aggressor stance. You will be reinforcing their belief that their current mindset is the correct one. They will see you as nothing more than a devil in disguise trying to lead them off the path. Instead of doing this, it would be better if you were to simply read books on evolution at the bus stop, stand in line for films on evolution, etc., and allow them to see you. Not because they see you specifically and know who you are, but because they'll see the human interest / allegiance with these ideas and curiosity will inevitably get the better of them. They will want to check it out. They will want to see what all the fuss is about. (You can't force a child to read Harry Potter and expect him to like it near as much as he would if he picked it up of his own free will after having seen you read tome after tome with huge grins on your face.)

(3) Declaring an open war with religion, as with declaring an open war with any ideology, is a bad way to try and put it down. Judaism? Got declared war on it, still around. Norse mythology? Never got declared war on, and just faded away on its own. You don't make martyrs out of the people you're trying to excise from your Utopia. When you make a martyr out of somebody or something, you make it relevant. You give it importance. You tell the world, "This person or thing matters. It matters so much that I went and destroyed it. That's how much it matters." Things that don't matter aren't given a second thought. And that's exactly the approach you should take when dealing with undesirable ideologies. You don't attempt to destroy them. You just blow them off as unimportant. Nobody wants to be part of a movement that isn't going anywhere. But to be a part of a thousands-year old way of life that is being threatened by the Man? You betcha!

Jay said...

I think you are right. Reminds me of the consciousness raising effect something as simple as rock and roll had on the protagonist in Persepolis. If you haven't read Daniel Dennett yet, I think you should. He's in favor of the sort of soft approach that you're talking about (at least as I understand it).

One problem with the gentle persuasion method arises when I think back on slavery. If a people is doing evil to another people, is it moral to use a slow nuanced approach when it might mean more suffering, more death, and injustice for the victims in the long term?

SuiginChou said...

A good point which requires more thought. But since I'm almost late to school, real quick thought! :

Slavery was an institution. Religion is a belief about right and wrong, good and evil, eternal bliss versus eternal damnation. If you challenge a man's right to his property, he reacts very differently from when you strike at his core beliefs. "I believe in slavery" isn't quite the same as "I believe in God."

Jay said...

Well, in either case, the problem is still people doing evil to another people. It shouldn't matter if the motivation is economic or religious.

Mack Ramer said...

Norse mythology? Never got declared war on, and just faded away on its own.

Not exactly! The ascension of Christianity as the religio licta in Norway, as in most other countries of Christendom in the centuries since Constantine, was not a bottom-up spreading of Christian fervor, but a top-down forced conversion driven by those in power who converted first and made the decision for their people (whether for pious or practical reasons, or a mix thereof, depending on which country we're talking about).

Of course it was pretty much the same way with all countries and all religions before the 20th century. Your religion was your leader's religion, unless he was enlightened or apathetic enough to buck this trend, in which case he usually taxed you and/or deprived you of usual citizenship rights for the privilege of being different.