Tag Archives: Islam

The Poison Of Religion

Raif Badawi pic from the BBC

In January this year (2015) Saudi Blogger Raif Badawi received the first fifty of one thousand lashes he was sentenced to by the Saudi Arabian “justice” system for being disrespectful to Islam. He had also been sentenced to ten years in prison and a fine, although it goes without saying that he is unlikely to survive such a flogging – even if it is to be carried out in stages, supposedly giving him time to recover sufficiently enough for the full sentence to be administered.

And while this is going on, Saudi Arabia is – unbelievably – actually on the UN’s Human Rights Council!

There has, of course, been an international outcry over the barbarism that is being inflicted on a man who had the courage to speak out in favour of the freedoms we enjoy in civilised western countries, where we can think freely and even criticise the status quo. But in an Islamic state like Saudi, independent thought and expression of dissenting beliefs can invite horrendous punishment and even death. And this is the 21st century!

The sentence of another fifty lashes has been postponed numerous times since January, giving some hope that the Saudi authorities might have been giving the case further consideration, and possibly even been willing to give in to the worldwide pressure to revise the sentence imposed on Raif. Unfortunately, as the BBC reports, the Saudi regime has confirmed that the original sentence of 1,000 lashes and ten years jail will be carried out.

To their shame, western governments aren’t really making as much of a fuss as they could, or should, nor will they as long as they are so eager to buy Saudi oil, and equally eager to sell them arms. Not only that, but the newly-elected Conservative Party government in Britain has promised to repeal the Human Rights Act that protects every citizen in the UK from the same medieval barbarism that leaves every person in Islamic countries in fear of the ominous rap on the door in the middle of the night. Or just the wrath of an ignorant lynch mob at any time of the day.

There is little I can do as an individual to help this man whose “crime” is nothing more than speaking reasonably. All I can do is add my own voice to the many others who are speaking out and hope that eventually it might make a difference. Add your voice too, if you cherish – and want to keep – the freedom to think for yourself.

In the UK and other western countries, everyone has freedom of conscience, and that includes the freedom to follow any religion without hindrance, as well as the freedom to follow no religion at all. That’s the way it should be, but it doesn’t happen in any country where politics and theocracy are so intertwined that they become, in fact, the same thing.

Religion, as the late Christopher Hitchens pointed out, poisons everything.

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#JeSuisCharlie

Yet another massacre in the name of Islam. The BBC reports here that twelve people including two police officers have been shot dead in the name of Islam. Up to three masked thugs ran through the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo firing automatic rifles.

A further ten or more people were wounded, including five who were seriously injured.

This post is my own way of trying to stand in solidarity with the people of France and rational people wherever they are in the world.

One thing is certain, however, it will take only a day or two for the conspiracy lunatics to claim that the attack didn’t happen; everyone seen in news footage were just crisis actors, there were no Muslims involved anyway, and in any case it’s just another hatchet job against Islam. Today’s massacre of innocent people will just be tomorrow’s conspiracy theory for a significant number of irrational bigots who don’t have two operational brain cells to rub together.

I don’t think today’s attack is representative of the people of Islam generally; in my own experience I meet Muslim people on a daily basis as clients, and it would be unfair of me to claim that any of them seem to represent or support the kind of insanity that was displayed today in Paris. In fact, I fear for those people, who do not support terrorism in any way, for the possible backlash they might suffer from unthinking idiots who want to take some kind of revenge of their own.

Nevertheless, freedom of speech has been compromised by a small number of people who do not appreciate the fact that they live in a society that gives them the freedom guaranteed by secular law to pursue their religion without interference. And yet those same people do not recognise the same secular law that allows everyone to express their personal views – even if it causes offence to others. And in a free society, it is imperative that the right to offend is preserved. In a democracy, satire is one of the things that keeps politicians and many others in positions of influence reined in; it often exposes the hypocrisy of those who we allow to govern us, and can often be a powerful influence on the general population to keep in mind what is really going on out there. The West has a fine tradition of political satire and cartoons, some of which have had far-reaching effects – not by telling any lies, but by exposing some harsh truths.

Since this tragedy unfolded, it is somewhat heartening to see that many Muslims themselves have joined the chorus of outrage at what has happened, and I welcome them into the fold of rational thought. Many of them are, however, taking a risk: it’s a sad fact that so-called Muslim extremists willingly kill even fellow Muslims if they think haven’t got their theology straight. 

I will say just this: I do not believe in the existence of any gods, including the Muslim god, and for that I could be killed by irrational people who take it seriously and expect to get get 72 virgins for their efforts. If your god does not have the power to do his own dirty work – by your own interpretation of what you believe your god wants – then fuck off!

In the meantime, I will take my chances as I make my own contribution to rational thought, and the fight against Bad Thinking.

Oh, and here’s a bit of satire I picked up on Twitter – in my opinion, the most incisive piece of satire I have ever come across:

IMG_20150107_174625

 

I don’t know who to credit for this image, but well said!

The story behind Jinn possession – an exercise in belief over objectivity

the-exorcistIn those parts of the world where learning and science have prevailed, miracles have ceased; but in those parts of it as are barbarous and ignorant, miracles are still in vogue.
— Ethan Allen, Reason the Only Oracle of Man (1784)

In a western secular democracy like the UK, everyone has the right to pursue their religion without hindrance, and that is the way it should be. The same freedom applies to atheists, who are not forced into following a state religion that will apply torture and even death to any non-believer or anyone of a different faith.

In this country we are quite lucky, if you think about it. In times gone by, when the Catholics were in charge, Protestants were burned at the stake. When the boot was on the other foot, Protestants were burning Catholics at the stake. But both sides would quite happily kill anyone thought to be guilty of witchcraft. Or heresy. Or anything else that did not agree with the prevailing dogma.

One of the greatest perceived enemies of religion has always been science. It’s pretty significant, I think, that you will not find any historical accounts of astronomers banding together and marching out to burn the religious to death, but the aroma of roasting scientists was not exactly uncommon in the medieval era. Contradicting religious dogma was a dangerous business. (It still is, in some parts of the world.)

Then the Enlightenment happened. Science gained a foothold and superstition started to be replaced by objective study of the world – and the universe – around us. I hardly need to start listing the benefits that science has brought to the world – everything from electricity to medical expertise that routinely saves millions of lives worldwide. It’s amazing.

And yet, even in this day and age, there are those who still try to force their antiquated superstitions on us. That’s the price of free speech, of course, but free speech is a two way street that is open to everyone, and we cannot let superstition take us back to the dark ages.

I found an article in the Shields Gazette that promotes exorcism  (yet again, ad nauseam) as though it is a real method for driving out the demons (or Jinn) that the author – Mike Hallowell (who announced his conversion to Islam in June 2011) – believes can possess some individuals. I’m not going to do a full critique of the article (you can read it, and shake your head in exasperation, by clicking on the link), but I will make a few points.

There is no objective evidence that demons (or whatever name you want to give them) are real, nor is there any confirmable evidence that those who have the symptoms of a mental illness are possessed by such alleged entities.

In the article, there are some points in particular that are worth mentioning:

If you haven’t seen a Jinn-possessed person up close and personal, you have no right to pontificate on the matter.

Wrong. If someone has the right to promote superstition, then others have the right to challenge it.

“In the West, some health professionals want everything their own way.”

That would be the scientific way. Obviously we can’t have that, can we?

Most significant, perhaps, is this gem:

Both sides need to learn from this and be prepared to understand each other a little better.

Which sounds fair and conciliatory, except it is followed immediately by this (bold added for emphasis):

Muslims are not going to change their belief, substantiated by the Qur’an, that the Jinn exist and occasionally possess people.

In other words, “It doesn’t matter how much science and objectivity you bring to bear, our beliefs will not be altered. The Qur’an says it, I believe it, that’s the end of the matter.”

In view of such closed-mindedness, the fight for rationality obviously has a long way to go yet.