"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"

Greta Christina

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Islam, bigotry and the Baroness

Baroness Warsi, Conservative party chairman and the first Muslim to be appointed to a British cabinet post, will today claim that “prejudice against Muslims has become widespread and socially acceptable in Britain”.
She believes that classifying Muslims as “Moderate” or “ Extremist” fuels misunderstanding and intolerance.
"It's not a big leap of imagination to predict where the talk of 'moderate' Muslims leads; in the factory, where they've just hired a Muslim worker, the boss says to his employees: 'Not to worry, he's only fairly Muslim',"
There is a problem with this line of reasoning; although I don’t doubt that Islamophobia is prevalent in the west we have good reason to be wary. Recent experience with Islamist extremists, suicide bombers in London and constant reports of Islamic terrorism worldwide is evidence that a significant minority of Muslims are a threat to secular democracy and our peace and security. Although the Baroness will also urge Muslim communities to reject those who do resort to violent acts, saying...
"Those who commit criminal acts of terrorism in our country need to be dealt with not just by the full force of the law. They also should face social rejection and alienation across society and their acts must not be used as an opportunity to tar all Muslims."
...this is not a pattern of behaviour we have come to expect.
Now don’t think I’m arguing for bigotry and discrimination against Muslims, I definitely am not, but the danger of taking Baroness Warsi at face value is that we shut down legitimate discourse and criticism of belief structures that are, frankly, incompatible with secular liberal democratic values. She is also reported as blaming
“the patronising, superficial way faith is discussed in certain quarters, including the media”.
Which sounds perilously close to saying that religion should be beyond criticism and ridicule.
One thing should be made clear to the Baroness. Islam is a belief system, a worldview that unlike sex, race or gender orientation is a “lifestyle choice”. Nobody is born Muslim, even if brought up in a Muslim culture a rational adult can choose not to believe in Allah or revere the prophet, especially when they live in as diverse and multicultural a society as ours. That being the case Islam is and must remain fair game for the full gamut of social discourse, no matter how robust or offensive its adherents find it. This is not predjudice; the same freedoms apply to political opinions, other religions and moral views all of which have to compete in the “marketplace of ideas” and occasionally suffer in consequence.

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