Naked Scripture Vs. Geopolitical Influence
October 29, 2014 4:22 PM   Subscribe

Berkeley Students Rally To Remove Bill Maher As Commencement Speaker following critical comments about Islam.
"Freedom of speech, freedom to practice any religion you want without fear of violence, freedom to leave a religion, equality for women, equality for minorities, including homosexuals, these are liberal principles that liberals applaud for," Maher said, "but then when you say in the Muslim world this is what's lacking, then they get upset."
In what began as a debate over Islam between Maher, Sam Harris, and Ben Affleck on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, tensions rose.

Bonus, deeper debate:

The Young Turk's Cenk Uygur and Sam Harris continue the conversation
Reza Aslan and Sam Harris debate Islam

Where it gets weird: one of Harris' detractors, Salon columnist C.J. Werleman, gets embroiled into a pissing match with Harris, and gets outed as a plagiarist and caught red-handed trying to manipulate social media to his side
posted by Christ, what an asshole (282 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
Eponysterical.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 4:29 PM on October 29, 2014 [48 favorites]


I wouldn't be surprised if you could easily find quotes of Maher saying similarly offensive things about Christians, but he is running into the "punching up v. punching down" issue as an American talking about Islam. I respect Maher for some of his stances, like being willing to talk about the Drug War before most Americans were ready for it and for being willing to criticize the Bush administration during the years when it got you run out on a rail, but his time has really passed as far as I'm concerned. John Oliver is doing a much better news/political comedy show on Maher's own network right now.

Anyway, Maher's whole brand is political incorrectness, without getting into stereotypes about "PC" Berkeley, I think we can agreee that being un-PC is not something the place sees in isolation as a virtue the same way Maher does. It's just not a good match.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:29 PM on October 29, 2014 [15 favorites]


I read about this in the paper a few days ago.

I can't help but think that if you only associate with people that you agree with, that your social circle will be very small.

I don't agree with Maher's statements, but if I had the chance to have a beer with him or John McCain or Pat Buchannan or Richard Nixon, I'd do so in a heartbeat.

You learn more when you listen to people that you disagee with.
posted by dfm500 at 4:30 PM on October 29, 2014 [23 favorites]


I'm a political moderate; I lean left. That said, when UC Berkeley or any other institute of higher education refuses to encounter individuals in debate (unless they are out-and-out crazy, like ISIS, or John Birchers), those institutions should be downgraded to "fail!".

Whether or not someone digs Maher, he's not a flaming Nazi, or even a Nazi with a small "n"; he's an intelligent commentator who sometimes gets it wrong; sometimes right. He's thought-provoking; he's always up for debate. Berkeley needs to get a clue.
posted by Vibrissae at 4:32 PM on October 29, 2014 [36 favorites]


Though I generally agree with him Bill Maher is a sanctimonious twit surfing the outrage wave to dollartown. He is talk radio on television.

Also Muslim is not a race Ben.
posted by vapidave at 4:32 PM on October 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


I think having a beer with someone, or even hosting them as part of a speaker series, and having them as a commencement speaker are pretty different things.

A commencement speech is generally seen as honoring the speaker and giving them a captive audience, not as a time for debating issues.
posted by muddgirl at 4:34 PM on October 29, 2014 [78 favorites]


"Liberals have really failed on the topic of theocracy." -Sam Harris

I would agree, and explain it as a curious phenomenon where religion is allowed to be wrong about everything else and get a free pass, so why not running a government too?
posted by Brian B. at 4:39 PM on October 29, 2014 [14 favorites]


From what I saw in that show, Maher called-out conservative and mainstream Muslims for not speaking out against radical Muslims.

That's not anti-Muslim; that's (if it's statistically valid, which I believe it is) just plain fair. Sam Harris called-out conservative and mainstream Christians for not speaking out against radical Christians in his book "The End of Faith," and that was fair, too.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:41 PM on October 29, 2014 [12 favorites]




I'd be horrified if I had him as a commencement speaker. It's one degree removed from having Glenn Beck get up on stage and try to give me life advice.
posted by naju at 4:43 PM on October 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


There's a huge difference between refusing to engage at all with someone whose beliefs differ from yours and not wanting that person to be your commencement speaker.
posted by straight at 4:46 PM on October 29, 2014 [48 favorites]


I think Maher has the kernel of an argument--that radical Islam is different from other religions' radicals--but he doesn't have the subtlety or nuance to make his point well. And I agree with Reza Aslan's point that Maher will list specific instances of this and in the same breath lump that with "all of Islam." Generalization is the enemy in discussions like this.

If you can find the time, definitely check out that talk between Cenk Uygur and Sam Harris--it's a long-form, old-school debate, just two guys talking at length. They both gave me a lot to think about.
posted by zardoz at 4:48 PM on October 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


That said, when UC Berkeley or any other institute of higher education refuses to encounter individuals in debate (unless they are out-and-out crazy, like ISIS, or John Birchers), those institutions should be downgraded to "fail!".

A commencement speech isn't a debate - it's about receiving (clichéd) advice from someone respected in the community.
posted by betweenthebars at 4:49 PM on October 29, 2014 [10 favorites]


refuses to encounter individuals in debate
It's not a debate, though. It's a commencement speech.

You learn more when you listen to people that you disagree with
It's not like Maher is hurting for air time, between his own show and his appearances on other networks. Students can listen to Maher pretty much whenever they want. On the other hand, they only get one commencement speech.

My boyfriend's commencement speaker was Thomas Friedman. Listening to the bloviations of moustache of understanding did not make my boyfriend a better or wiser person. It did, however, turn a gloomy and rainy graduation day into a farcical one.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 4:51 PM on October 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


Maher called-out conservative and mainstream Muslims for not speaking out against radical Muslims.

The fact he feels prominent Muslims need to go on record, denouncing extremist violence tells me he is clearly unqualified to be discussing their religion.
posted by Dark Messiah at 4:52 PM on October 29, 2014 [19 favorites]


Maher rightfully points out flaws in certain countries and cultures, and he is right to call out Western liberals for their unwillingness to acknowledge them.

But he thoughtlessly attributes the flaws to Islam. Anyone with the slightest bit of historical perspective understands that.

The problem isn't that Maher is controversial or offensive. The problem is that he's stupid, and the hardworking graduates of a top institution deserve better than to celebrate their achievement by listening to a stupid person.
posted by andrewpcone at 4:53 PM on October 29, 2014 [20 favorites]


Maher and Harris are bang on the money. What people like Ben Affleck, Reza Aslan and CJ "Plagiarist" Werleman can't stand is that they're having their blinkered faux-liberal double standards called out.

Still, it's always nice and easy to fling terms like "racist", "bigot" and - the dog-whistler's favourite - "Islamophobe" around when it's a middle-aged white male criticising your bullshit, isn't it?

Oh

dearie

dear.
posted by Decani at 4:54 PM on October 29, 2014 [24 favorites]


Eh, fair enough. I agree with most of his viewpoints and occasionally watch his show and he still irritates the piss out of me. I certainly wouldn't be happy for him to be my commencement speaker.
posted by Trifling at 4:54 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I miss David Foster Wallace.
posted by Fizz at 4:56 PM on October 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


Do they really book these so far in advance? Also what betweenthebars said. Commencement speeches are usually anodyne right? Is there a hurry to book the "best" speakers?
posted by vapidave at 4:56 PM on October 29, 2014


I miss critics of religion who didn't promote torture.
posted by johngoren at 5:01 PM on October 29, 2014 [9 favorites]


The thing with Bill Maher is he just isn't that interesting or funny. For an "un-PC" kind of speaker I'd rather have Louis C.K. or George Carlin but unfortunately Louis is probably super expensive and Carlin is dead.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 5:02 PM on October 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


Oh

dearie

dear.


Those are some worthwhile links to consider for this conversation. I just wish you could have used a slightly different approach in how you introduced them.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:03 PM on October 29, 2014 [38 favorites]


zardoz: I think Maher has the kernel of an argument--that radical Islam is different from other religions' radicals--but he doesn't have the subtlety or nuance to make his point well. And I agree with Reza Aslan's point that Maher will list specific instances of this and in the same breath lump that with "all of Islam." Generalization is the enemy in discussions like this.
Just for completeness sakes: there is one bit of information Maher mentioned that sort of got shouted over by Ben: Maher refers to polls showing widespread support (I think he said 95%?) for the death penalty in cases of apostasy among Egyptians (at least I seem to recall he mentioned Egypt). I remember him mentioning these numbers before whenever he's talked about this subject in some form. I don't know what those polls are or if they're reliable but it seems to me that this is why he's comfortable making a rather sweeping judgement.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 5:06 PM on October 29, 2014 [9 favorites]


What people like Ben Affleck, Reza Aslan and CJ "Plagiarist" Werleman can't stand is that they're having their blinkered faux-liberal double standards called out.

No, they're having their principles misunderstood. Homophobia and intolerance is indeed just as abhorrent when it happens in Saudi Arabia as it is here - but blaming "Islam" for it is like saying the reason there is homophobia in England is "because too many people are descended from Saxons". One does not follow into the other necessarily, and to assume that it does is.....bigoted.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:10 PM on October 29, 2014 [60 favorites]


From what I saw in that show, Maher called-out conservative and mainstream Muslims for not speaking out against radical Muslims.

Sam Harris called-out conservative and mainstream Christians for not speaking out against radical Christians in his book "The End of Faith," and that was fair, too


Maybe. Those two things are equivalent except for the fact that both statements are surrounded but a culture, and that culture views Muslims and Christians differently. Harris' argument in his book is kinda weird, because almost no one in this country expects Christians to call out extremists in their ranks, because it is assumed that "most Christians aren't like that". OTOH, the majority opinion in western culture is that all Muslims are extremist, and so the calls for condemnation take on a different meaning. Saying "why don't moderate Muslims condemn ISIS" or whatever is not only ignorant of the large number of Muslims who do speak out to condemn extremism, but it also puts all Muslims in the category of "guilty until proven innocent". No one in this culture does that to Christians. No one expects a priest to have to go on the news and say: "we do not support the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church" or "We condemn the Mormon polygamists/Planned Parenthood bombers", or whatever.

So in the context of the culture in which those comments were made, Harris' call for Christians to speak out against radical Christians is (IMO), not shitty, and very similar comments about Islam is shitty.
posted by DGStieber at 5:12 PM on October 29, 2014 [25 favorites]


So when Maher tweets "Dealing with Hamas is like dealing with a crazy woman whos trying to kill/u; u can only hold her wrist so long before you have to slap her." am I supposed to include this as part of his reasonable opposition to Islam?
posted by emjaybee at 5:15 PM on October 29, 2014 [47 favorites]


Bill Maher Isn’t a ‘Politically Incorrect’ Liberal, He’s Just a Bigot

If I remember correctly, I don't think Maher cops to being a liberal. He's famous as a libertarian free thinker who currently likes but temporarily rejects Rand Paul, because Paul denies that global warming is a danger. Maher is famous for accusing conservatives of wanting to have it both ways over minimum wage and government welfare, and that line of thinking is evident here concerning liberalism and theocracy. Regardless, for the petitioners to assume that Berkeley is "raising his voice higher" by allowing him to speak (or somehow lowering it by banning him) is a rather naive and dated viewpoint.
posted by Brian B. at 5:15 PM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


I haven't paid attention to whatever Bill Maher said recently, but he doesn't deserve to be a commencement speaker because shortly after September 11, 2001, he said that the attackers were not cowardly while the US armed forces were.
posted by knoyers at 5:18 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


No, they're having their principles misunderstood. Homophobia and intolerance is indeed just as abhorrent when it happens in Saudi Arabia as it is here - but blaming "Islam" for it is like saying the reason there is homophobia in England is "because too many people are descended from Saxons". One does not follow into the other necessarily, and to assume that it does is.....bigoted.

What the good lord? You can't blame Islam for homophobia? Islam definitively considers homosexuality wrong, and sometimes mandates the death penalty. Islam is to blame--just as many religions are--for homophobia. Nobody is a bigot for saying that. It is the height of absurdity that calling Islam out on homophobia is bigotry.
posted by Thing at 5:20 PM on October 29, 2014 [29 favorites]


Punching down vs punching up sounds about right to me. The Muslims Maher speaks of are middle easterners, and Cornell West caught him conflating Arabs and Muslims last week.
I'm an atheist, and generally anti-religious. But I feel more comfortable denouncing Christianity than Islam because we haven't and aren't actively bombing Christians or harassing g their right to practice just to keep their practice from interfering with my secular life.. On the other hand, I'm way uncomfortable with tar and feathering brown people and using religion as an excuse to mask bigoted behavior. I believe Harris is being earnest in what he says (not so much Maher) but think he's being oblivious to the racist baggage that goes along with attacking Islam. Surprisingly so.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 5:20 PM on October 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


The sad thing is, there are some good reasons not to have him speak at a commencement. For instance, he denies the Germ Theory of disease.
posted by MikeKD at 5:22 PM on October 29, 2014 [9 favorites]


Unless liberal arts schools have changed much in the past 30 years (I'm sure they have) I am certain that as soon as the commencement speaker is announced there's some segment of the student body looking to protest, unless it's Chomsky or Bill Murray. this time they just had an easy target.
posted by OHenryPacey at 5:24 PM on October 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


Homophobia is to blame for homophobia.
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:24 PM on October 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


. . . germ theory . . .

Yeah, Maher can be an extremely frustrating figure. I enjoy Real Time in spite of him because of the guests. But I've heard Maher say some extremely wrong things about science. And he just digs in. He has no doubt of his rightness in matters. The conservative bubble he speaks of like a projection of his own belief system.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 5:31 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Bill Maher blames Muslims instead of the United States government for instability in the Middle East. I wouldn't want him giving my commencement speech either.
posted by oceanjesse at 5:33 PM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Homophobia is to blame for homophobia.

precisely.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:34 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


"You can't blame x on y (religion)" (yes, this is paraphrased)

No, I do not believe you can, because religion is integral to culture. To try and treat them as separate is a mistake. They form a closes loop, and to only address one, you cannot have a functional model.

Short comment, but I am in mobile and have fat fingers so I can't be to longwinded. Will try to comment more later.
posted by daq at 5:37 PM on October 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


... For example, how many people called on Christian leaders to denounce soldiers driving through the streets of Samarra firing machine guns and blasting "Jesus Killed Mohammed" on a loudspeaker? How many people asked the Pope if he agreed with GWB when GWB said he invaded Iraq on God's orders?

Even taking no stand on the issue of whether or nor Maher or Harris express an accurate representation of the facts of global Muslim belief, you can see that public conversation about Islam is a different kind of thing than public conversation about other belief systems. Not because of Islam, but because of us*.

* western culture generally, America specifically
posted by DGStieber at 5:37 PM on October 29, 2014 [20 favorites]


The commencement speaker at my college graduation had some hangup about baby boomers, and he spent the whole speech insulting my parents and talking about how superior my grandparents were. And I mean, my parents are awesome and worked really hard and made a lot of sacrifices to allow me to go to that college. I think they should have been able to enjoy my college graduation without hearing some toxic blowhard bloviate about what bad people they were. And I sort of feel the same way about Bill Maher. He can voice his views some other time, but Muslim students and parents shouldn't have to listen to a hatemonger during what should be a joyful celebration.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:40 PM on October 29, 2014 [15 favorites]


Homophobia is to blame for homophobia.

Sure, but a lot of people find religion is a jim dandy way of making their homophobia feel righteous.

he denies the Germ Theory of disease

Blimey. Has anyone asked what he thinks about the luminiferous aether?
posted by sobarel at 5:41 PM on October 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


Homophobia is to blame for homophobia.

Yes, but when the enforcement of that homophobia is from a homophobic culturally dominant institution you still have to find a way to call the institution out on that. It's no different than the necessity to call out patriarchal institutions.

How to do that without stepping on a lot of other cultural landmines when you are an American talking about the Muslim world is difficult to figure out. It requires the guidance of someone with more thoughtfulness and personal experience with Islam than Bill Maher, I'm pretty sure.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:41 PM on October 29, 2014 [12 favorites]


Homophobia is to blame for homophobia.

Racism is to blame for racism.
Misogyny is to blame for misogyny.
Evil is to blame for evil.
Cancer is to blame for cancer.
Death is to blame for death.
Et cet, et cet, et cet.

Everything is its own cause, and we need think no further! What a lot of brainrotting nonsense.

"I don't hate gay people because my holy book tells me to, and any alignment between my personal beliefs and the teachings of my religion are pure coincidence."
posted by Thing at 5:41 PM on October 29, 2014 [49 favorites]


Maher is a buffoon, and Sam Harris is a torture apologist, proponent of ethnic profiling (even sticking to it after Bruce Schneier explains to him why it doesn't work and can't work, without getting into the ethics of it), and has said "The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists."

They can both fuck right off.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:42 PM on October 29, 2014 [17 favorites]


From what I saw in that show, Maher called-out conservative and mainstream Muslims for not speaking out against radical Muslims.

That's not anti-Muslim; that's (if it's statistically valid, which I believe it is) just plain fair.


No, it's fucking tiresome, because Muslims do speak out *- leaders, students, famous and non- - and then people like Maher are like What what I can't hear anything.

*chosen from a google search, of which there were many similar results
posted by rtha at 5:43 PM on October 29, 2014 [42 favorites]


Do they really book these so far in advance?

May be Inside Baseball, but if you want a decent speaker, yes. Otherwise, you're left with the dregs. Their commencement is on May 16. That's only six months out.

"Only" six months, you say? Yes, only six months. I spend April through June preparing for my UC college's commencement, and 1) it's a small one, on the scale of things; 2) I'm one of about six other people for whom commencement turns into a full-time job come Spring. You have no idea how much work goes into it.

All that for two hours of pomp and circumstance that bores the hell out of pretty much literally everyone in attendance!!

posted by mudpuppie at 5:44 PM on October 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


University student bodies that get into the habit of protesting away every proposed commencement speaker that some portion of their population strongly disagrees with are going to end up with a tradition of very respectable, pretty boring and vanilla speakers as standard
posted by Bwithh at 5:46 PM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Perhaps they should start intentionally booking speakers who are cautionary examples.
posted by sobarel at 5:50 PM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Saxon Kane: "Homophobia is to blame for homophobia."

Eponysterical by comment-above-thread association.
posted by symbioid at 5:52 PM on October 29, 2014


Also Muslim is not a race Ben.

Belatedly, while Islam may not be a race, there are undeniably racist qualities to Islamophobia, just as there are racist elements to antisemitism, as there were to anti-Irish sentiment, as there have been to a lot of groups that we now think of as white.

And make no mistake, Maher is an Islamophobe. He is holding an entire group of people corporately responsible for the behavior of a minority of its members. I wouldn't want him at my commencement either.
posted by maxsparber at 5:53 PM on October 29, 2014 [16 favorites]


I watched a clip of Maher on a topic I totally agree with him on and by the time it was over, I was having doubts about my own opinion. That's the kind of spokesman he is. I wouldn't go out to watch him speak or to have a beer with him - if I did, it might convince me that beer is terrible.

As for those terrible Muslims, here's the most recent clipping to come over my RSS feeds...
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:58 PM on October 29, 2014 [11 favorites]


University student bodies that get into the habit of protesting away every proposed commencement speaker that some portion of their population strongly disagrees with are going to end up with a tradition of very respectable, pretty boring and vanilla speakers as standard
Honestly, so what? Does anyone really go to a college commencement to hear an amazing speech?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:06 PM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Sure, but a lot of people find religion is a jim dandy way of making their homophobia feel righteous.

Yeah, and GamerGaters also say that it's about "ethics in journalism". Doesn't mean religion caused it, any more than gaming articles caused gamergate.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:10 PM on October 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


rtha: "No, it's fucking tiresome, because Muslims do speak out *- leaders, students, famous and non- - and then people like Maher are like What what I can't hear anything.

*chosen from a google search, of which there were many similar results
"

Absofuckin' lutely. I did the same thing and here's some results. Whether it's denouncing 9/11 or ISIS or terrorism in general.

Media Matter - 8/21
The American Muslim - Muslim Voices Against Extremism and Terrorism: Index...
Part I (Fatwas and such) from above

From Wikipedia:
A 2013 Pew Research Center poll asked Muslims around the world whether attacks on civilians were justified. Globally 72% of Muslims said violence against civilians is never justified, and in the US, 81% of Muslims opposed such violence. About 14% of Muslims in the nations surveyed (and 8% of Muslims in the US) said violence against civilians is "often" or "sometimes" justified. 26% of Muslims in Bangladesh believe attacks are either somewhat justified or often justified, 18% in Malaysia, 7% in Iraq, 15% in Jordan, 29% in Egypt, 39% in Afghanistan and 40% in the Palestinian territories. [30][31][32] The survey did not include some Muslim nations, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Yemen, Syria, and Libya, but did include densely populated Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt, Nigeria and Indonesia.[33]

Or, you know, over 100 Muslim Leaders writing to Badhdadi/ISIS telling them why they are wrong. (A detailed point by point refutation from leading scholars (like - The Grand Mufti of Egypt and members of the Egyptian Fatwa Council, for a famous example) taking the Koran and Hadith to speak out against their practices)...

Hell what is "Extremism"? I mean, I'm sure that some of these people speaking out against ISIS I strongly disagree with and view their world-view with abhorrence, but they still speak out against terrorism and even the extremity of ISIS, in general. I even probably consider some of these signatories "extreme" from my own perspective, but they still draw a line.

Is Maher complaining about the lack of Free Speech in Islamic based societies? Is he complaining about anti-gay laws? Laws against alcohol? What, in particular, does he mean by "extremism"?

Is he just complaining that they don't do things exactly the same way we do in the West? I mean, yes - they don't have Western Jurisprudence, because they're a different culture. I don't agree with their politics, I don't conflate all 1.5 billion+ Muslims as the same any more than I paint my Franciscan friend with the same brush I would paint Ugandan Christians, and it's sloppy and lazy thinking to do so).

I don't like religion, I think it's a stain on humanity, but I also know that it has done some good things, and I won't pretend it hasn't done good things in order to perpetuate a campaign of falsity and hate in order to lift my own side (agnostic/atheist/free-thinkers/brights, whatever the fuck these bigots wanna call themselves -- see - I don't paint myself with the same brush as people like Maher, even though we're from the same culture, and even have some of the same philosophical beliefs on deities).

Maher is a hack and a lazy thinker, and that, frankly, is why he shouldn't be giving a commencement speech. Then again, I think a lot of people who give these speeches really shouldn't be the speakers. He's just a really good example of the kind that shouldn't.
posted by symbioid at 6:13 PM on October 29, 2014 [28 favorites]


Everything is its own cause, and we need think no further! What a lot of brainrotting nonsense.

Erm, I think what the comment you're responding to is getting at is that one can counter homophobia and misogyny in Islam without attacking (and alienating) Islam as a whole, just like it's been done with Christian denominations time and time again. Religion is dependent on prevailing attitudes every bit as much as the inverse is true, if not moreso. If you convince religious people that being nice is better than being mean, their religion will follow, as has been demonstrated many, many, many times.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:14 PM on October 29, 2014 [14 favorites]


the hardworking graduates of a top institution deserve better than to celebrate their achievement by listening to a stupid person.

Oh, the lists one could make with this as your directive!

My own take is that religion, for better or worse, is largely a prism for one's innate character (assuming one has one).

Unlike the bible, however, the Koran claims to be the literal word of God, which puts some unnerving power behind some of the more, shall we say, anti-social bits you find in the text. It can make for disquieting reading for an infidel like me, and unlike, say, Leviticus, rather a lot of it still has force of law.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:26 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I can't explain what is so irritating about The Young Turks. I don't agree or disagree, they seem like perfectly good people, but there is something about their format that feels like a fork scraping a dinner plate. Does anyone else experience this?
posted by michaelh at 6:27 PM on October 29, 2014


Unlike the bible, however, the Koran claims to be the literal word of God....

....Erm, the Bible does claim to be the literal word of God. Or, at least, there is a very strong and fervent tradition amongst certain Christians that holds this to be the case.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:29 PM on October 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


Students can listen to Maher pretty much whenever they want. On the other hand, they only get one commencement speech.

Totally agree. The best speeches are by some boring motherfucker you will never remember or think about again, like I had.
posted by Renoroc at 6:34 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


According to this 2011 article, Maher charges $50,000+ to give commencement speeches. I'd be pissed if I were one of the graduates and I knew that some percentage of my student loan debt was a subsidy to a millionaire blowhard like Maher.

Frankly, the whole high-paid, high-profile commencement speaker tradition seems like a racket. Better to have some interesting alum or beloved or impressive faculty member give the speech instead of some random famous person who has no connection to the school and is clearly just going to give a canned speech. I guess that wouldn't look as impressive in the alumni magazines though.
posted by burden at 6:34 PM on October 29, 2014 [28 favorites]


"I don't hate gay people because my holy book tells me to, and any alignment between my personal beliefs and the teachings of my religion are pure coincidence."

There does seem to be a lot of pick-and-choose, though. You don't see many Christians demanding that the guy passing the collection plate in church be beaten because Jesus kicked the money-changers out of the temple, or that Christian fellowship means everybody pooling their money and property in a socialist commune even though God literally strikes dead a couple of people who refuse to do that in the book of Acts.

So, yes, other cultural factors do indeed seem to affect just how the "holy book" gets read and interpreted.
posted by kewb at 6:38 PM on October 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


I mean, look, Berkeley has eight living Nobel laureates on the faculty, none of whom has ever been the commencement speaker dating back to 2000. Not that the Nobels are the be-all end-all of achievement, but I would rather listen to one of these folks relay a few amusing or illustrative anecdotes from their careers over some guy from TV.
posted by burden at 6:41 PM on October 29, 2014 [26 favorites]


Radical fundamentalists of any stripe are harmful to humanity and should be stopped post-haste in any case.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:44 PM on October 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


Depending on how you define "radical," "fundamentalists," "harmful," "stopped," and "post-haste," that is either widely accepted, dangerous, or laughable.
posted by andrewpcone at 6:52 PM on October 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


....Erm, the Bible does claim to be the literal word of God. Or, at least, there is a very strong and fervent tradition amongst certain Christians that holds this to be the case.

I think it's different in that even a hardcore Biblical literalist wouldn't say that the Gospels or the Epistles, for example, were God's direct words - they're not presented as or claimed to be such in the Biblical canon - but the Quran is believed by Muslims to be direct divine revelation from Gabriel in its entirety. It's fair to say that this does have some effect on how interpretation of the texts can proceed.
posted by sobarel at 6:58 PM on October 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


Frankly, the whole high-paid, high-profile commencement speaker tradition seems like a racket.

Word. We had some middling then (semi-)popular writer/pundit (whose name escapes me) speak to our class when, really, a sendoff by almost anyone on the faculty or staff would have made the event more meaningful.

I'm also of the opinion that the real objection to Maher is that he's a buffoon whose shtick is past its sell-by date. Might as well get Dice Clay, I'm sure he's free.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:03 PM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Also Muslim is not a race Ben.

The thing is, somewhere else in the conversation Ben raised the issue of many large "Muslim-dominant" countries not typically associated with fundamentalist Islam, like Indonesia. Bill actually said "I'm talking about Arab Muslims" or something of that nature. They never went back to that point or clarified at all.

To an extent the frame is increasingly nudging Americans in the direction of "Sunni, especially Sunni Arab Muslims Bad" and once we can get the nuance of this distinction, it will be "Shia, especially Persians, are not as bad." I'm feelin' it build.
posted by aydeejones at 7:10 PM on October 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


(Like the "pick a side and conquer the other guys and get rich" drug cartel strategy in Mexico)
posted by aydeejones at 7:11 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Of course religious people, consciously and deliberately acting in accordance with their religious beliefs, sometimes advocate (sometimes violently) for homophobia or racism or misogyny or what-have-you. In that sense, religion is sometimes very much a cause of nasty things.

But of course this isn't an absolute. Religion is neither the sole cause of nasty things, nor capable only of causing nasty things.

It doesn't have to be all one or all the other. This false dichotomy seems to arise when you have one side seeking to paint religion as the root of all evil, and another side seeking to paint religion as something good which is sometimes perverted (no true Scotsman!) toward evil ends.

Religion is neither. Or it's both. Or the question is nonsensical.

In other news: one of the keys to understanding Sam Harris (in all of his problematic-ness) is understanding how he thinks about the concepts of "Christianity" or "Islam".

He thinks of "Christianity" (for example) not so much as a living, ever-changing body of cultural practices, but more as a set of specific doctrines that were laid down in scripture two-thousand-plus years ago, which were codified into a more-or-less fixed form over the next few centuries. The scripture is the religion to Harris.

In Harris' estimation, the increasing liberalization of the "Christian world" isn't a result of Christianity becoming more liberal—it's a result of the Christian world becoming less authentically Christian. The Bible says in black and white that gay sex is an abomination—so, intolerance of gay sex is a necessary feature of Christianity. If self-identified Christians choose to ignore that passage, or interpret it metaphorically, then (to Harris) that isn't an evolution of Christianity (because Christianity, being defined by the Bible, can't evolve)—it represents a deviation from "proper" Christianity.

(There are, obviously, problems with framing/discussing religion in this way. Right now I'm just trying to shed some light on what Harris actually means when he says certain things.)

So when Harris says that violent Islamist fundamentalists are the "best" Muslims that the Islamic world has to offer: he doesn't mean that they are morally the best, that the Muslim world can't do any better because they're just a bunch of savages. Rather, he means that Islamists are the Muslims who are most Muslim: the most faithful, most authentically devoted to Islamic doctrine as defined by scripture, the closest to the Platonic ideal of Muslim-ness. To be truly and fully committed to a literal interpretation of the Quran (or any of the Abrahamic scriptures, really) is to be a murderous psychopath.

So (still humoring Harris), there are certainly many thousands of Muslims who are better (more moral) people than the violent Islamists. But in being more progressive, in choosing to ignore their scriptures' mandates of violence and intolerance and atrocity, they do more poorly at being Muslims.

So, yeah. This way of thinking about religion is kind of limiting, and possibly even disingenuous. You could definitely argue that it's an oddly fundamentalist way for an atheist to approach religion. But it's how Harris often thinks about things when he's discussing specific faiths, and if you don't know that, it would be easy to misinterpret a lot of his arguments in problematic ways. (Not that he doesn't sometimes say genuinely problematic stuff. Just not always.)
posted by escape from the potato planet at 7:19 PM on October 29, 2014 [23 favorites]


I read a horrible article the other day about an Arab tribe in Syria that resisted ISIS rule, and some 700 members of the tribe had been massacred in the most brutal and sadistic fashion. One of the survivors was interviewed and you know what he didn't say? He didn't say "I condemn the small group of extremists that has hijacked an otherwise peaceful religious tradition". He said now he hates all religious people, even anyone with a beard. That's obviously not a serious basis for public policy or anything, but how about a little emotional solidarity with that guy? Lot's of people have good reason to hate religion in general, and don't care too much about the distinctions between moderates and extremists.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 7:20 PM on October 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


I think it's different in that even a hardcore Biblical literalist wouldn't say that the Gospels or the Epistles, for example, were God's direct words - they're not presented as or claimed to be such in the Biblical canon - but the Quran is believed by Muslims to be direct divine revelation from Gabriel in its entirety. It's fair to say that this does have some effect on how interpretation of the texts can proceed.

Actually, I'm pretty sure that some hardcore Bible literalists do say that. St. Thomas Aquinas said it, for one....

Mind you, there's been more of a tradition of people kind of tweaking that (one thing I've heard is that The message was God's Word, but it was people who actually physically wrote it and that kind of made it like a fuzzy Xerox or something), but no, there's definitely a "God done did it" school of thought in Christianity.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:22 PM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


The Sam Harris vs Chris Hedges debate is also worth watching
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 7:38 PM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


An open letter to Ben Affleck from Pakistani-Canadian writer Eiynah
Maybe the points Maher and Harris were trying to make are more easily digested when coming from within the community, I can appreciate that. That is why I am writing to you, as someone who has personally been hurt by the lack of acknowledgement of these issues.

If Muslims do not critique their own atrocities, then people on the outside will and their message will not be listened to simply because of who they are. It’s a vicious cycle, one that can only break if indeed, like Harris said, true reformers are empowered.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:45 PM on October 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


Here's the (fairly long) profiling debate between Sam Harris and Bruce Schneier (there's a link to part 2 at the bottom), where Sam Harris not only does not get it, but seems totally unable to figure out what to do, because Schneier is arguing the ineffectiveness of profiling in general, and Harris seems to be used to people admitting that profiling is effective, but that it's unethical. Schneier very elegantly doesn't get into ethics at all, because he doesn't have to, and Harris has no idea what to do with that argument.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:46 PM on October 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


Thank * we agree
* gives purposeful meaning
Paradise with *
posted by Mblue at 7:46 PM on October 29, 2014


Thank birds we agree
Birds give purposeful meaning
Paradise with bird believers
posted by Greg Nog at 7:47 PM on October 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


Bill Maher / Sam Harris vs. Ben Affleck / Reza Aslan: I Choose Neither by Heina Dadabhoy
I disagree with both the racialized criticism of the Maher/Harris types and the gloves-on “Not All Muslims” tactics of the Aslan/Affleck types. The former reinforce the kind of generalizations that make my life as a non-white person of Muslim background more difficult in the Western world, since racist bigots who target me hardly pause to ask me if I’m an apostate before they harm me. The latter overemphasize the “nicer” Muslims and parts of Islam in a misguided attempt to respect collective beliefs in a way that harms individuals.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:48 PM on October 29, 2014 [9 favorites]


Decani's first link is well worth a read.

Can we talk about the blatant double standards and violation of human rights, for a second? Mosques are built throughout western countries, usually without much issue. But in the hub of Islam, the heart of Islam, Saudi Arabia, no one but Muslims are allowed to officially practice their faith. There are no churches, temples or synagogues because Saudi Arabia will not permit any non-Muslim place of worship to exist. Who will hold them accountable for such injustice if we hush everyone who speaks out against Islam?

What is so wrong with wanting to step into the current century? There should be no shame. There is no denying that violence, misogyny and homophobia exist in all religious texts, but Islam is the only religion that is adhered to so literally, to this day.

posted by amorphatist at 7:54 PM on October 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


And if Maher is "punching down", that female blogger is punching up. So the same criticism, from a different person, is now valid, surely.
posted by amorphatist at 7:55 PM on October 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


To cross-post a link from another Maher thread from a while back... if you want to see Maher (and his guests) smacked down about Muslim-related issues, see As'ad AbuKhalil's appearance on Politically Incorrect right after 9/11. Anything that vaguely smells like Islam gives Maher the creeps: "It is poison. Al Jazeera is POISON!" His bigotry is not a recent development.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 7:56 PM on October 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


Actually, I'm pretty sure that some hardcore Bible literalists do say that. St. Thomas Aquinas said it, for one....

Aquinas' position was a bit more complex than that (I had the fortune/misfortune to go to a school bearing his name, so we got quite a lot of him!), just read the rest of the passage that quote is taken from. All I'm really saying is that it's a different proposition to assert that, as an example, the Pauline Epistles are "the word of God" than a text that's claimed to be a word-for-word dictation from the heavens. But this is probably a derail at this point...
posted by sobarel at 7:56 PM on October 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


In Harris' estimation, the increasing liberalization of the "Christian world" isn't a result of Christianity becoming more liberal—it's a result of the Christian world becoming less authentically Christian... This way of thinking about religion is kind of limiting, and possibly even disingenuous. You could definitely argue that it's an oddly fundamentalist way for an atheist to approach religion.

Harris is a high-profile example, but this is generalizable: fundamentalists and fundamental opponents often agree that the fundamentalist propositions embody the religion (big R or little R).

Hard edges make for zeal in embrace or ease of rejection.
posted by weston at 7:58 PM on October 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


It's a measure of what a friggin' blowhard he is that Maher makes me want to undo my entire ideological orientation (born of my distaste for silly Berkeley leftists) in order to support them here. After a year of ISIS being so bad that Hesbollah has basically said "forget about Israel, we've got a real problem" and Putin banning homosexual expression and then conquering Crimea -- reality is a lot more complicated than just saying "those nasty Muslims." He's adding zero to the conversation to compensate for how shitty he'd probably make the parents and grandparents of Muslim graduates feel at the commencement.
posted by MattD at 8:06 PM on October 29, 2014 [11 favorites]


Hard edges give you something to talk about when you talk about religion. Trying to follow most any discussion on religion, I never quite feel certain that I am hearing what anyone's saying, nor that they are.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:06 PM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Agreed. But it's important for folks to agree on where those edges lie, or at least to understand where the other person thinks they lie. Without that, you have a big opportunity for misunderstanding.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 8:09 PM on October 29, 2014


I don't know what those polls are or if they're reliable but it seems to me that this is why he's comfortable making a rather sweeping judgement.

Hairy Lobster this is the pew research report that Maher was attempting to cite.

Read it for yourself.
posted by Bonzai at 8:14 PM on October 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


Strictly speaking, the Bible says that Jesus is the word of God.

It is not possible to put one's faith in the Bible's teachings, because like any interesting text over a certain length the Bible is ambiguous. What fundamentalists really mean is that they have absolute, unshakable faith in THEIR interpretation of the Bible. It's a form of idolatry.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:28 PM on October 29, 2014 [10 favorites]


I think what Maher and Harris are trying to point out is that liberals are confused about Islamic theocracy. What isn't often contested is that Islam is traditionally a theocratic expression, so we're usually talking about something incompatible with liberalism. What happens next is predictable. Those who view civics as an issue of tolerance versus misunderstanding emerge to debate those who view civics as human rights versus ancient authority.
posted by Brian B. at 8:33 PM on October 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


Hairy Lobster this is the pew research report that Maher was attempting to cite.

Yikes, that is scary reading. For example, 74% of Muslims in Egypt support making Sharia the law of the land; of that 74%, 81% support stoning for adultery, and 86% support the death penalty for apostasy. Doing that math on that, of all Egyptian Muslims surveyed, 60% support stoning for adultery, and and 64% favor execution for apostasy. Yeah, there might be a problem here.
posted by amorphatist at 8:33 PM on October 29, 2014 [12 favorites]


I'm still reading the report - what percentage of Egyptians believe that Sharia law should apply to non-Muslims? That's a pretty critical factor.
posted by muddgirl at 8:37 PM on October 29, 2014


muddgirl, of the 74% of Muslims in Egypt, who support Sharia law, 74% of those wanted it for everybody. So, 55% of Muslims in Egypt want universal Sharia law. That means that nearly half of Muslims in Egypt would support the stoning of a Christian adulteress.

Actually, quote from the report:

At the country level, there are notable exceptions to the view that sharia should apply only to Muslims. These include Egypt, where 74% of Muslims say sharia should be the law of the land and nearly three-quarters of them (or 55% of all Egyptian Muslims) say Islamic law should apply to people of all faiths.
posted by amorphatist at 8:43 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


justsomebody, that's the thing (okay, one of the things) that gets me about the notion of Biblical inerrancy. The Bible contradicts itself all over the place. And, by definition, when two claims contradict each other, at least one of them must be false. It's therefore an indisputable, almost mathematically provable fact that the Bible contains errors.

what percentage of Egyptians believe that Sharia law should apply to non-Muslims? That's a pretty critical factor.

Critical to what? Is it okay to stone adulterers to death as long as both the stoner and the stonee are Muslim?
posted by escape from the potato planet at 8:44 PM on October 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


Muddgirl: if it's the law of the land then it is applied to both Muslims and non-Muslims, by definition. Sharia does treat Muslims and non-Muslims differently, but the differences are not generally advantageous for non-Muslims, even if they escape some penalties that apply to Muslims. Furthermore, the point is pretty well moot, given that about 90% of Egyptians are Muslims and Sharia prescribes death as the punishment for apostasy.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:46 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Those who view civics as an issue of tolerance versus misunderstanding emerge to debate those who view civics as human rights versus ancient authority.

Brian B., that's the single best characterization of the liberal schism I've ever encountered. I'm going to steal it, thanks!
posted by amorphatist at 8:46 PM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


I watched a clip of Maher on a topic I totally agree with him on and by the time it was over, I was having doubts about my own opinion.

He's like a rhetorical gaslighter, and an unfortunate example for not smoking pot as an adult. He was good, if kinda dumb, for about 5yrs after 9/11, but somewhere along the line he disappeared up his own backside or something.
posted by rhizome at 8:47 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Muddgirl: if it's the law of the land then it is applied to both Muslims and non-Muslims, by definition.

That's not actually how the report defines it, which is why I asked the question.
posted by muddgirl at 8:47 PM on October 29, 2014


Critical to what? Is it okay to stone adulterers to death as long as both the stoner and the stonee are Muslim?

It's probably unfair to say, but Ben Affleck might agree. After all, it would be racist for whitey to have an opinion on this after his forefathers' crimes during the colonial, cold war, and post 9/11 eras. Oh, liberal guilt, if only I could tolerate the shit out of everything to make you go away.
posted by amorphatist at 8:53 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


all liberal thought is white guilt? what does that mean then for those of us who are liberal and not white? what a paternalistic sentiment.
posted by sweetkid at 9:00 PM on October 29, 2014 [17 favorites]


As someone who has many deep criticisms of Christianity, I can't help but think I should be critical of Islam as well. If I believe in freedom - the freedom of people to live and love as they see fit, then how can I tolerate either religion? It has always seemed odd to me that many friends of mine will condemn Christianity without hesitation, but defend the believers of Islam. It's deeply hypocritical, at best, and likely borne from their ignorance of Islamic culture.

Harris is right: if we want to see change in countries that are traditionally muslim, then we need to support those who speak against its most troubling assertions. Instead, we defend the status quo of sexism, homophobia and other backwards ideas, out of some misguided attempt at tolerance.
posted by elwoodwiles at 9:02 PM on October 29, 2014 [11 favorites]


what percentage of Egyptians believe that Sharia law should apply to non-Muslims? That's a pretty critical factor.

How is that relevant in any way? Here's a religion, which many people believe, that recommends the murder of people who defy it's social prohibitions. I fail to see the distinction you're attempting to make.
posted by elwoodwiles at 9:05 PM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


I thought this trenchant little critique of Sam Harris' Maher appearance in a religion-oriented blog I'm partial to offered some valid perspectives. I have absolutely no problem with criticizing the conduct of radical Muslim fundamentalists or the governments of Muslim theocracies (whaddya know, turns out I'm not a liberal after all I guess) but I'm more than a little tired of how much the discussion from certain quarters ignores how the conditions in these countries is to a significant degree a product of incessant western interference with their governance, or how these genuinely problematic entities are being exploited in incredibly familiar and tediously predictable ways in the carrying on of the usual American imperialistic bullshit worldwide.
posted by nanojath at 9:08 PM on October 29, 2014 [11 favorites]


It's probably unfair to say, but Ben Affleck might agree. After all, it would be racist for whitey [...]

all liberal thought is white guilt? what does that mean then for those of us who are liberal and not white? what a paternalistic sentiment.


Where is that even remotely suggested? Affleck, Maher, and Harris are the 'whitey' referred to. And, if you noticed my earlier comment, I addressed this exact point:

And if Maher is "punching down", that female blogger [from Pakistan] is punching up. So the same criticism, from a different person, is now valid, surely.

So, no, I'm not suggesting that "all liberal thought is white guilt", at all. Just that Affleck's liberalism may be significantly informed by white guilt, thus offering a possible explanation for his umbrage at other white men criticizing the culture of subjects of western imperialism.
posted by amorphatist at 9:18 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


What percentage of Egyptians believe that Sharia law should apply to non-Muslims? That's a pretty critical factor.

That's actually covered in the original Pew report (PDF). There's quite a bit of variance, but Egypt leads the poll at 74% in favor:

The belief that sharia should extend to non- Muslims is most widespread in the Middle East and North Africa, where at least four-in-ten Muslims in all countries except Iraq (38%) and Morocco (29%) hold this opinion. Egyptian Muslims (74%) are the most likely to say it should apply to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, while 58% in Jordan hold this view. (p. 48)
posted by kid ichorous at 9:20 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


The white guilt has to do with our toppling of democratically elected leaders like Mossadeq in Iran, involving ourselves in self-interested conflicts one after another that cause blowback, and basically following the whole playbook of how to get mostly moderate people to start listening to the fundamentalists who reject "Western society," not because those fundamentalist's early talking points about dancing and blue jeans were powerful, but because people are being terrorized and blown to bits by drones and the like. And then we say WHY ARE YOU SO REGRESSIVE AND MAD AND NOT RIOTING IN THE STREETS TO OVERTHROW YOUR LEADERS! When such a thing does happen, the conversation quickly becomes whether the next regime will be tolerable to US interests.
posted by aydeejones at 9:24 PM on October 29, 2014 [18 favorites]


Escape from the potato planet: "The Bible contradicts itself all over the place. And, by definition, when two claims contradict each other, at least one of them must be false. It's therefore an indisputable, almost mathematically provable fact that the Bible contains errors."

This is not true of poetry. Metaphors do not contradict each other the way assertions do. Did God speak humanity into existence (Genesis 1) or mould our bodies out of clay with his hands? (Genesis 2) Yes. (or, strictly speaking, neither) It's not God's fault that fundamentalists are genre-blind illiterates.

This is also not true of collections of texts written by multiple authors, centuries apart, with divergent perspectives. It's like saying that the library is riddled with errors because the books disagree. Some books of the Bible (Jonah) are written as satire of attitudes expressed elsewhere in the Bible.

Yes, if fundamentalists were right that the Bible should be read as one single, infalliable prose text where each sentence has one plain meaning then the Bible would indeed be riddled with errors. That book would not be worth reading.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:27 PM on October 29, 2014 [12 favorites]


The white guilt has to do with our toppling of democratically elected leaders like Mossadeq in Iran, involving ourselves in self-interested conflicts one after another that cause blowback,

Understood, and I think most people here grasp the source of the white guilt. But what now? Is the argument Maher & Harris make more acceptable when it comes from those significantly affected by it on a day-to-day basis, e.g. the female pakistani blogger linked to earlier? Do you believe that if western powers had never intervened in the Muslim world that Muslim Egyptians today would believe in the equal treatment of women? Of course western intervention screwed things up in a way that we'll never be able to disentangle, but should we just throw up our hands now?
posted by amorphatist at 9:30 PM on October 29, 2014


Watching that "Cenk Uygur and Sam Harris continue the conversation" video is painful. I'm a couple hours into it and Harris just tries to slither out of everything Uygur tries to pin him down on. He'll make an inflammatory comment and then dance around the implications of it rather than confronting them. His claims of being misread or misquoted or slandered look way less convincing after watching this.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:59 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Let me unpack what I mean about Sharia necessarily applying to non-Muslims if it's "the law of the land". All legal systems are self-reflective, in that they say whom they apply to. For instance, US law doesn't generally apply in Australia, even according to US law. When people say they want Sharia to be "the law of the land" I understand them to mean that this question is to be resolved by Sharia.

So let's take the case of inheritance in a country that treats Sharia as "the law of the land" but which stipulates that followers of other faiths are treated by the prescriptions of their own laws. The Muslim heirs of a Muslim decedent will obviously inherit as prescribed by Sharia law. The non-Muslim heirs of a non-Muslim decedent will inherit as prescribed by their own law. Who decides what "their own law" is? Sharia, or at least a Sharia court. Suppose only some of the heirs are Muslim. Who decides whether the inheritance laws are compatible, and which are to be applied? A Sharia court.

There's a more fundamental level than this, though: who decides whether someone is a Muslim? A Sharia court. What law determines whether someone can change their faith? A Sharia court. What court (potentially) punishes Muslim apostates? A Sharia court, once again. All these things are necessarily determined by some legal authority, and when someone says that Sharia is to be "the law of the land" I can't imagine that they mean "except when it comes to really hot-button issues like apostasy and blasphemy".

The survey did try to sort out what people meant when they said they supported Sharia as "the law of the land", and it's very possible that most people in the more liberal countries really meant "in matters of personal status between two Muslims". In Egypt, though, eighty-six percent of Muslim respondents said that apostates from Islam should be killed. Apostates, by my liberal Western definition, are no longer Muslims. That means that more than three quarters of Egyptians really do want non-Muslims to be forced to follow Sharia law.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:09 PM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Watching that "Cenk Uygur and Sam Harris continue the conversation" video is painful.

Mainly because Uygur is arguing at the level of a Fox News host. He can't really be that poor at debate.
posted by amorphatist at 10:12 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Mainly because Uygur is arguing at the level of a Fox News host. He can't really be that poor at debate.

We must be watching two different videos! His questions seem completely fair and justified to me.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 10:19 PM on October 29, 2014


Sorry, I got into this thread late, and while I have a lot of criticism to make as a Muslim, living in a Muslim-dominant country with an establishment that is leaning on religion - in this case Islam - to score political authority, much like parts of the US, where I stand can be summed up by the points made above about punching up vs punching down. Progressive Muslim voices are not being helped at all by idiots such as Maher and Harris, having to justify ourselves to our brethren in the community who will insist at every point on removing our legitimacy as well as to people in the West. I am not interested in apologia, living where I am, I am more than immediately affected by fundamentalism, but I am so tired that all of this Western-centred discussions that refuse to engage honestly and substantively on how this was a consequence of trying to deal with the legacy of Western colonialism. To wit: My culture is more Asian and Muslim than Western and Judeo-Christian, so it is so fundamentally weird, for example, when I'm learning about feminism and it's like it all starts from the West, when Muslim lands had women actively participating in politics for basically since the start of Islam as a community. The Sunni-Shia schism had Aisha as one of its major figures. And, the first university in the world was founded by a women. Yet...?

on the point on homosexuality:
- 5 Muslim Nations Where Gay is Legal: "These are five Muslim countries where being gay is not a crime. What do they have in common? None of them were colonized by the British Empire. Many countries in the Global South, whether Muslim or otherwise, are generally using colonial laws that pre-date their local penal codes to criminalize romantic love between consenting same-sex couples. Whether in West Africa, or Southeast Asia, in the heart of Europe or the Middle East, these countries remind us that the conversation on gay rights is not as clean cut as some might have imagined it to be."

- From the same site, some arguments that doesn't condemn homosexuality from an Islamic perspective. And another one from another blog, though you are free to agree or disagree. She also writes about textual evidence for what could now be called trans* and queer Muslims in history/text
posted by cendawanita at 10:21 PM on October 29, 2014 [54 favorites]


"In 1858, the Ottoman Caliph decriminalized homosexuality. " - tell me again how as a Muslim I must be inherently homophobic. That was the seat of Sunni Islam power.
posted by cendawanita at 10:29 PM on October 29, 2014 [22 favorites]


And if I'm not, it must be a result of new development in Muslim thought.
posted by cendawanita at 10:29 PM on October 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


In Egypt, though, eighty-six percent of Muslim respondents said that apostates from Islam should be killed. Apostates, by my liberal Western definition, are no longer Muslims. That means that more than three quarters of Egyptians really do want non-Muslims to be forced to follow Sharia law.

Joe, I believe it was 86% of those Muslims who supported Sharia law (i.e. 86% of 74%) supported execution of apostates, so about 64% of all Egyptian Muslims surveyed. Still crazy.
posted by amorphatist at 10:37 PM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Whoops. You're absolutely right.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:43 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


"These are five Muslim countries where being gay is not a crime. What do they have in common? None of them were colonized by the British Empire. [...]

When in doubt, yep the Brits probably helped screw things up. I do agree that the influence of British colonial law has had many deleterious effects, including in the case of homosexuality. Also, I think that it's more than a little unfair to particularly target Islam re homophobia when it's only since 2001 that the most liberal, progressive societies on earth have started to legalize gay marriage, and only since 1997 has sodomy been legal throughout the entire United States, and when the sitting president used homophobia as a wedge issue in a disgraceful way in a presidential election as recently as 2004.

"In 1858, the Ottoman Caliph decriminalized homosexuality. " - tell me again how as a Muslim I must be inherently homophobic. That was the seat of Sunni Islam power.

cendawanita, I don't think anybody here is saying that as a Muslim you must be inherently homophobic. The Catholic Church's position is still officially homophobic (though Francis seems to be trying to do something), yet a majority of American Catholics actually support gay marriage. It would be ridiculous to say that as a Catholic, you are inherently homophobic, and the same is true for Muslims. However, if you were a Catholic who firmly believed that church doctrine should be the law of the land, then you're by definition against gay civil rights. The same is true if you believe Sharia should be the law of the land. The problem isn't a Muslim like you or a Catholic like my mother. The problem is with those who believe that Sharia should govern strictly, and unfortunately, if the Pew survey is to be believed, that's a sizable number of Muslims, including majorities in several countries. That is worrying.
posted by amorphatist at 11:08 PM on October 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


and only since 1997 has sodomy been legal throughout the entire United States

Small type for a small correction: Lawrence v. Texas was a 2003 ruling. 12 states still have their (unconstitutional) laws on the books today. And the fact that those laws remain in place isn't just apathy. States have actively voted down repealing the laws. Arrests for sodomy were still being made as recently as last year.

posted by evidenceofabsence at 11:23 PM on October 29, 2014


The problem is with those who believe that Sharia should govern strictly, and unfortunately, if the Pew survey is to be believed, that's a sizable number of Muslims, including majorities in several countries. That is worrying.

To follow on that thought, I also imagine there's a reasonable case to be made that western imperialism has actually contributed to this problem, e.g. that if western powers hadn't screwed up existing societal arrangements, then fundamentalism (or at least the belief that Sharia should govern) wouldn't be so prevalent. The partition of India might be a good example. I'm not sure I'd fully buy that argument (e.g. Saudi Arabia), but even granting the premise that the west is significantly historically at fault for the current situation, the issue of Islamic fundamentalism* is still something that we in the west need to examine.

* Note on terminology: would it be correct to describe somebody who believes that Sharia should strictly govern as an "Islamic fundamentalist"?
posted by amorphatist at 11:24 PM on October 29, 2014


Small type for a small correction: Lawrence v. Texas was a 2003 ruling.

eoa, you are of course correct. I think I got the date confused with Romer, which would still make me incorrect (1996).
posted by amorphatist at 11:30 PM on October 29, 2014


The problem is with those who believe that Sharia should govern strictly, and unfortunately, if the Pew survey is to be believed, that's a sizable number of Muslims, including majorities in several countries. That is worrying.

Yes, it is worrying. And especially so when in so doing, we've conceded to 'their' meaning and definition of what Sharia is, which just means a set of laws, divinely inspired maybe but still human-created and as such subject to reforms and revisions (or even reversions). A strict governance doesn't have to mean precluding rights to minorities inc women and non-Muslims, yet it's somehow gained credence. And when people like Maher and Harris comes in with their absolutist and essentialist rhetoric, they continue to lend credence to such definitions, leaving people like me out in the cold, and who somehow also have to spend our time to perform being 'the good Muslim' to their satisfaction.

Here's the thing about comparing Sunni Islam (at least) to something like the Catholic Church - it's a creed that doesn't formally recognise a central authority on religious matters, even if some institutions, like the Al-Azhar University has a somewhat de facto position when it comes to religious issues due to their academic and historical standing. A fatwa itself is a religious opinion that is non-binding, despite what the establishment in my country is trying to say. It's a faith that encourages diversity in thought and practice, with no central leadership (this is one of the key differences with Shia Islam). So, unlike a lot of the other Abrahamic faiths/branches, my point of view is not *just* as laity. I have as much validity, legitimacy and right to my opinions, though not as educated in-depth as an ulama/religious scholar, as they do.
posted by cendawanita at 11:33 PM on October 29, 2014 [15 favorites]


a commentary that is Malaysian-specific, but the general point remains pertinent: Hudud [put simply, criminal Sharia] and the 1946 hangover - In other words, all practising Muslims must support hudud and whoever opposes hudud cannot be practising Muslims.

However, the call for a moratorium on hudud punishment like stoning has been made by, among others, Islamic theologian Tariq Ramadan, the grandson of Hassan al Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1927.

We are also made to believe that there is only one standard canon as it is divine, hence there is no need to examine the details of the implementation of different models of hudud or shariah in diverse countries and territories ranging from Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the 12 “Shariah States” in northern Nigeria, Aceh in Indonesia to Iran.


How about a Somali perspective? Death Penalty for Apostasy Not Justifiable in Islam.

the conversation is absolutely happening. Don't do us the disservice of not admitting it or just simply acknowledging it and then continue bulldozing to your point about the Islamic character.
posted by cendawanita at 11:46 PM on October 29, 2014 [22 favorites]


There's fundamental problems with all religions in general. These problems are amplified by a not-so-insignificant number of Muslims more specifically. Research has been done to back this up. It just happens to be the current state of affairs in our time.

If you don't see the endemic issues with Islam then criticism of Islam may appear to be "Islamaphobia". That's any easy out. Thinking about the problems is more difficult.

If you envision a world of "freedom of speech, freedom to practice any religion you want without fear of violence, freedom to leave a religion, equality for women, equality for minorities, including homosexuals" is a reality then you're going to bump against incompatibilities with Islam eventually anyway.
posted by quadog at 11:48 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I do need to leave now, but if I have to sum up my beliefs? It's the exact opposite of this: If you envision a world of "freedom of speech, freedom to practice any religion you want without fear of violence, freedom to leave a religion, equality for women, equality for minorities, including homosexuals" is a reality then you're going to bump against incompatibilities with Islam eventually anyway.

I have no interest in evangelising, but I will state for the record none of those things in my own beliefs and practice, are incompatible with Islam. There is sufficient textual and exegesis evidence for it. Much like how the conservatives would argue their position in fact! But I simply disagree that there's ingrained incompatibility within Islam for all those principles.
posted by cendawanita at 11:52 PM on October 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


A strict governance doesn't have to mean precluding rights to minorities inc women and non-Muslims, yet it's somehow gained credence.

I'll admit I'm not educated enough on the specifics of how Sharia has been implemented historically, but wouldn't a "strict governance" mean just that? To take women's rights, there are specific passages in the Qu'ran that grant men double the inheritance of women (Sura 4:11), that a woman's testimony is worth half that of a man's (Sura 2:282), and so on.

And when people like Maher and Harris comes in with their absolutist and essentialist rhetoric, they continue to lend credence to such definitions, leaving people like me out in the cold, and who somehow also have to spend our time to perform being 'the good Muslim' to their satisfaction.

I do wish they'd make the distinction between "Islam as a whole" and "strict Sharia-seeking Muslims" more clear. But maybe that's deliberate, maybe they see the problem as with Islam as an ideology. To make a slightly strained analogy, I think it's probable that they believe that, in the same way that there were many people (eg 1930's British academics) who felt that Communism was the answer and could be implemented in a humane way, it turns out that the True Believers would always ruin things, therefore the entire Communist ideology needed to be defeated. (Yet we still have very functional social democratic nations in Europe).
posted by amorphatist at 12:02 AM on October 30, 2014


I'm just going to invite you, and anyone else, to have a gander at these links. And the point of me sharing these links is not to convince you that these arguments are correct, but that these arguments exist at all. Which means, there is space for 'strictly observed' sharia to provide justice, which is a core principle in Islam. In other words, please don't concede the term to only equate the most reactionary, conservative and patriarchal version of what a set of laws could be*:

- The Testimony of Women in Islamic Law.
- Status Of Women's Testimony In Islam (yt) (and like others, also outline instances where male testimonies are not accepted, period)
- Testimony in Courts (wisemuslimwomen.org)
- Women's Right of Inheritence
- Islamic Inheritance
- Women’s Inheritance Rights under Islamic Law
- Women's Right of Inheritance.

I'm really genuinely not in the mental space to take all comers at this point, so with this, I really must bow out.

*some of these arguments are problematic and still patriarchal, though there are more feminist and progressive readings as well, which can be found, though perhaps not by myself alone at this point.
posted by cendawanita at 12:32 AM on October 30, 2014 [26 favorites]


To focus on the topic again, I absolutely support the students in getting someone other than Maher to do the commencement. In fact, if the university is strapped for a speaker, I'm totally available and just down the road, so they won't have to shell out for a flight or hotel.

I can do poignant, I can do inspirational, I can show pictures of my cats. The pics of the cat we rescued and fostered last summer, and what it means to actually do good for others, would do far more for the students than any Maher diatribe. And I'll do it for only 20k! Why pay more!
posted by happyroach at 12:41 AM on October 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


So conflicted...Maher himself is someone that I just don't like. Sometimes his points are terrible, and sometimes I think he's dead right. This is one of those latter situations. Having him removed as a commencement speaker for this is something that strikes me as ridiculously PC. But on the other hand, I can certainly understand not wanting Maher as a commencement speaker just because he's a smug asshole with strange old-young face. So the problem was inviting him in the first place - Berkeley: two wrongs don't make a right.
posted by Edgewise at 12:51 AM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Anyone who says Islam is inherently sexist (or violent or whatever) and "proves" it by quoting from the Quran is thinking like a fundamentalist and has fallen into the fundamentalist misunderstanding of how religion actually works in the real world.

There is no such thing as a self-interpreting text. There is no religious community that follows a religious text without being guided by a tradition of how to read, understand, and apply that text. There is no religious tradition that has remained forever static and unchanging.

Two hundred years ago you could have pointed to the Bible and said Christianity inherently supports slavery. That has proven to be wrong. Claims that a country governed by Sharia would inherently have to be sexist (or whatever) could also prove to be wrong for similar reasons.
posted by straight at 1:43 AM on October 30, 2014 [11 favorites]


Anyone who says Islam is inherently sexist (or violent or whatever) and "proves" it by quoting from the Quran is thinking like a fundamentalist and has fallen into the fundamentalist misunderstanding of how religion actually works in the real world.

How about quoting what real people say?

From the Pew Report linked above:
"Muslims in most countries surveyed say that a wife should always obey her husband. In 20 of the 23 countries where the question was asked, at least half of Muslims believe a wife must obey her spouse."

There is no such thing as a self-interpreting text.

Derrida wouldn't have said it better.

Claims that a country governed by Sharia would inherently have to be sexist (or whatever) could also prove to be wrong for similar reasons.

Again from the Pew Report:
"Overall, the survey finds that Muslims who want sharia to be the law of the land in their country often, though not uniformly, are less likely to support equal rights for women and more likely to favor traditional gender roles."
posted by huguini at 3:18 AM on October 30, 2014


But in the hub of Islam, the heart of Islam, Saudi Arabia, no one but Muslims are allowed to officially practice their faith. There are no churches, temples or synagogues because Saudi Arabia will not permit any non-Muslim place of worship to exist. Who will hold them accountable for such injustice if we hush everyone who speaks out against Islam?

Perhaps the House of Saud, longtime U.S. allies in the he region, might be held accountable for their own policies and the mechanisms of social control they mobilize to keep themselves in power? Look, I agree that certain interpretations of Islam are extremely violent and oppressive, but there's a bizarre undercurrent of "faith is the mind virus" that crops up over and over again which is utterly unhelpful. Reading history as a conflict between religion (which is always fundamentalist and never reflective) and atheist rationalism (which is always freethinking and never dogmatic) is almost exactly as reductive and stereotypical as reading history as the fundamentalist reading of history as the great clash between the true religion (which is always God's truth and universally applicable) and apostasy (which is always purest evil and must be exterminated).

More practically, it seems rather strange to imagine that people will become more sympathetic to liberal ideals if liberals just criticize, ridicule, and fight them hard enough. You have to address the context in which fundamentalism arises, not just the fact of fundamentalism itself, and if we do that, we find that radical and theocratically inclined Islam is indeed a political strategy with political causes, not simply some sort of self-propelled psychic contagion. It's quite possible to read a religious text and not become a fundamentalist; hell, plenty of people become atheists because they read such texts critically. So, yes, fundamentalism is not just "religion" as an idea but rather "religion" as a set of community standards, a way of life, and a culture. And few cultures are literally just the result of reading a book and praying five times a day, or going to church every Sunday, or whatever. (If that were the case, how'd liberalism and freethinking even get started in the resolutely Christian West of yore?)

When I read comments that Islam "itself" -- as if there is some Platonic, pure, or, yes, *fundamental* "Islam" or "Christianity" or whatever -- is the problem and must be fought tooth and nail for the good of humanity, I see that self-defined liberals can be irrational, groupthinking fundamentalists too, defining their own apostates and shouting their own version of "convert or die!" Religious fundamentalists say they're redeeming the world and thus need to use any and all means they can, and so do the liberal fundamentalists. The latter may be able to point to norms of free discourse and egalitarianisms of opportunity, but those commitments are hard to square with eliminationist rhetoric.
posted by kewb at 3:39 AM on October 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


Anyone who says Islam is inherently sexist (or violent or whatever) and "proves" it by quoting from the Quran is thinking like a fundamentalist and has fallen into the fundamentalist misunderstanding of how religion actually works in the real world.

A very interesting and good point. I think this is a fundamental (heh) reason for the atrocities broadcast from places under Islamist revolutionaries' control: they want people to pick sides. The more people you have who say that they're fighting Islam, the easier it is to attract people to "defend" it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:43 AM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


If you envision a world of "freedom of speech, freedom to practice any religion you want without fear of violence, freedom to leave a religion, equality for women, equality for minorities, including homosexuals" is a reality then you're going to bump against incompatibilities with Islam eventually anyway.

You run into the same incompatibilities with Christianity and Judaism. And yet, the majority of Christians and Jews have managed to either overlook, disregard, or otherwise not hew to those bits. Moreover, the majority of Muslims around the world also have managed to overlook, disregard, or otherwise not hew to those bits.

And yet, many people in this country take a stand against "Islam!" as being the root cause of the oppression that occurs in only certain nations with a Muslim majority population, but (usually, anyway) recognize that the Christian homophobes are not indicative of the whole of Christianity.

When I read comments that Islam "itself" -- as if there is some Platonic, pure, or, yes, *fundamental* "Islam" or "Christianity" or whatever -- is the problem and must be fought tooth and nail for the good of humanity, I see that self-defined liberals can be irrational, groupthinking fundamentalists too, defining their own apostates and shouting their own version of "convert or die!" Religious fundamentalists say they're redeeming the world and thus need to use any and all means they can, and so do the liberal fundamentalists. The latter may be able to point to norms of free discourse and egalitarianisms of opportunity, but those commitments are hard to square with eliminationist rhetoric.

I'll confess that I'm not certain what your point is here (are you saying that liberal fundamentalists are guilty of Islamophobia?....because I see the opposite), but you have a good point in that every group has its fundamentalists - its "do it this way or else!" strict disciplinarians. They are amongst religions, they are amongst feminists, they are amongst atheists, they are amongst Democrats, they are amongst Republicans, they are amongst any self-defining group.

But if that's the case - that there are fundamentalists in every group - then doesn't it stand to reason that the problem is the human character trait of "fundamentalism" itself, rather than whatever it is that people are fundamentalist about?

Every religion has its hard and exclusionary language. But every religion also has its egalitarian and charitable language as well. There are passages in the Q'uran which advocate tolerance of non-Muslims; and nearly every religion in the world advocates the "Golden Rule". (The only two exceptions I've heard of are the Church of Satanism and a small weird white-supremacist sect.) Most people manage to focus more on the egalitarian bits, while a handful focus on the exclusionary bits. And it strikes me that with the people who focus on the exclusionary bits, that there's something going on with them themselves that drives them to prefer that.

It's kind of like if someone went to see Star Wars and came out only talking about the garbage compactor scene. If someone did that, you wouldn't think he somehow saw a version of the movie that only had that one scene, you'd be thinking, "....Okay, he's weirdly hung up on that one scene."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:42 AM on October 30, 2014


On whether religion is to blame for anything: I was an evangelical Christian who disapproved of homosexual acts and would have said "gay marriage" was a contradiction in terms. I believed this because I believed the Bible (and hence God) said it, and I had to go along with it for that reason, even though there didn't seem to be any other reason to do so and in fact I found it a bit embarrassing. When I saw the light and became an atheist, I stopped thinking like that (although I still think "homophobia" is a pretty terrible term for the sort of moral disapproval I previously held). It seems fair to say that my previous attitude was caused by my religion or that my religion was to blame for it.

All religious texts have multiple communities of interpretation around them, so it's always open to anyone with a passing acquaintance with post-modernism to point out that the decision to hew closely to the very words of the text is as much an interpretation as taking parts of it as metaphor, and therefore argue there's no such thing as "true Islam" or "true Christianity". In that case, though, since the Koran means nothing out of the context of a community, Islam is as Islam does. When Harris says Islam the motherlode of bad ideas, he can still be right if in fact bad ideas are held by a lot of Muslims on account of their adherence to (their interpretation of) Islam, which those opinion polls suggest is the case. This is a different sort of claim from saying "all Muslims are homophobes".

Since Mefi loves Scott Alexander, I'll add a link to A Parable on Obsolete Ideologies here. Is it true to say that any interpretation of a text which clearly has passages which condemn homosexuality is reasonable? When I got out of Christianity, I didn't turn to liberal Christianity because my answer to that was "no".
posted by pw201 at 4:57 AM on October 30, 2014 [8 favorites]


There's an old story about Ali ibn Abi Talib كرم الله وجهه‎, the son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. During Ali's caliphate, a dispute arose between two factions. Ali offered to arbitrate, but the factions refused his arbitration, saying they would only accept judgement from the Quran. Ali agreed that the Quran alone should judge them, and met with the disputants. He asked them to gather around, and placed the Quran in the middle. After a long awkward silence unbroken by anything emanating from the Quran, they saw Ali's point and accepted his judgement.
posted by BinGregory at 6:02 AM on October 30, 2014 [18 favorites]


Two hundred years ago you could have pointed to the Bible and said Christianity inherently supports slavery. That has proven to be wrong. Claims that a country governed by Sharia would inherently have to be sexist (or whatever) could also prove to be wrong for similar reasons.

I... what? Two hundred years ago, the Bible absolutely supported slavery. That hasn't been "proven" wrong. How could that possibly have been proven wrong? In fact, it still does support it. Look, it's right there in text, spelling out all sorts of rules about how to conduct your human trafficking in a godly way:
When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again. But he is not allowed to sell her to foreigners, since he is the one who broke the contract with her. And if the slave girl's owner arranges for her to marry his son, he may no longer treat her as a slave girl, but he must treat her as his daughter. If he himself marries her and then takes another wife, he may not reduce her food or clothing or fail to sleep with her as his wife. If he fails in any of these three ways, she may leave as a free woman without making any payment. (Exodus 21:7-11)
Now, the larger community that decides what parts of the Bible to emphasize in Sunday School has changed their way of thinking dramatically. No argument there. But there were plenty of thoroughly-religious folk who resisted abolition, because their holy text sanctioned it. Just like there are plenty of thoroughly-religious folk today who want to see Sharia law imposed and apostates executed. We can have a discussion about the respective support afforded to evangelicals by their less-nutty peer groups, but don't try to pretend like the central tenets of their respective religions have changed.
posted by Mayor West at 6:19 AM on October 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


More practically, it seems rather strange to imagine that people will become more sympathetic to liberal ideals if liberals just criticize, ridicule, and fight them hard enough. You have to address the context in which fundamentalism arises, not just the fact of fundamentalism itself, and if we do that, we find that radical and theocratically inclined Islam is indeed a political strategy with political causes, not simply some sort of self-propelled psychic contagion.

The religious mindset isn't cultural territory to fight over, especially when most adherents are mentally enslaved to doctrine as a choice between damnation and salvation, in this life and the next. It's a rather missionary viewpoint to argue as well. We don't even need to sugarcoat the demand for human rights, because they aren't a gift or a Trojan horse. Human rights emanate from the freedom of justice and equality, not religious sentiment, and they are natural preconditions to peace and prosperity, not luxuries to it. If someone argues we need to like someone's culture or love someone first in order to value their rights, they are expressing a deliberately weakened version of rights, and is perhaps a proxy argument in favor of clinging to their own cultural ambitions or aspirations (See pw201 link to the Parable above).
posted by Brian B. at 6:35 AM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Human rights emanate from the freedom of justice and equality, not religious sentiment, and they are natural preconditions to peace and prosperity, not luxuries to it.

What does "human rights emanate from the freedom of justice and equality" mean?

As far as I can tell human rights do come from a very similar place as religious sentiment. To believe in justice in an unjust world is essentially a matter of having faith in something that cannot be seen.

Human rights are also not "natural preconditions to peace and prosperity." The natural preconditions of peace are stability and order, which are not synonymous with human rights at all. I'm less sure about prosperity but there have certainly been prosperous slave societies and countries with high standards of living but no elections.
posted by leopard at 7:11 AM on October 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


As far as I can tell human rights do come from a very similar place as religious sentiment.

I would suggest that to appreciate someone you must first value their rights as an individual, not the other way around as it is often implied in religious sentiment. I can't speak to slave and prosperity exceptions, but there may be overt individual prosperity in such places, thanks to slavery, but taken as a whole, it doesn't match the shared prosperity of more equal societies. Order is more problematic if it implies top-down control, or someone's own idea of order.
posted by Brian B. at 7:21 AM on October 30, 2014


I can't speak to slave and prosperity exceptions, but there may be overt individual prosperity in such places, thanks to slavery, but taken as a whole, it doesn't match the shared prosperity of more equal societies.

This seems like a whitewashing of history. Historically, the prosperity of the englightened western world is directly linked to colonialism, resource extraction, and slavery.

I would suggest that to appreciate someone you must first value their rights as an individual, not the other way around as it is often implied in religious sentiment.

Human rights are not about special snowflakes being "appreciated" -- they're things that people have simply because they are human. People can say that human rights are those that "God" gave them and the meaning doesn't really change.
posted by leopard at 7:28 AM on October 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


This seems like a whitewashing of history. Historically, the prosperity of the englightened western world is directly linked to colonialism, resource extraction, and slavery.

I don't think it whitewashes the US civil war to suggest that the plantation system didn't match the prosperity of the North, not to mention the battlefield where slaves weren't welcome in the Southern fighting ranks, making it a weaker order. Also, you may want to include everyone in your equations of prosperity, of course. And I agree that human rights are not about special snowflakes, obviously. Nobody needs our permission to have rights or demand them, and our respect for others is more often than not tied to their own self-respect.
posted by Brian B. at 7:42 AM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


I would like to say a huge thank you to cendawanita, a name I hadn't previously seen before, for the interesting commentary in this thread!
posted by Greg Nog at 7:47 AM on October 30, 2014 [23 favorites]


Ali agreed that the Quran alone should judge them, and met with the disputants. He asked them to gather around, and placed the Quran in the middle. After a long awkward silence unbroken by anything emanating from the Quran, they saw Ali's point and accepted his judgement.

There's an excellent episode of In Our Time which delves into the origins of Islamic Law if anyone would like a reasonable and very accessible historical overview. The History of Philosophy also did an episode on Islamic legal theory which is a bit more involved, but very interesting and even funny in places.
posted by sobarel at 7:52 AM on October 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


Two hundred years ago, the Bible absolutely supported slavery. That hasn't been "proven" wrong.

Yep. That's fundamentalism. I pointed out the absolutely undeniable fact that the vast majority of Christianity no longer supports slavery and you respond, "but the Bible says..." as if there's only one way to read the Bible and live according to what you believe it teaches, when I've just demonstrated that is empirically false. No community lives (or has ever lived) by a text the way your "but the Bible says..." implies they do.

The approach to living in a religious community that fundamentalists (believers or non-believers) claim is the only right way, is not possible and has never existed.

There is no such thing as a self-interpreting text.

Derrida wouldn't have said it better.


If you think that's wrong, I'm sure you can give me a counter-example of a community ruled by a text that has never had a disagreement or schism over what it means or how to apply it. A community that needs no judges or priests or pastors to maintain unity. A community that has existed for generations and never changed the way it reads and applies that text. There must be a bunch of them, right?

How about quoting what real people say?


Sure. Two hundred years ago, you could have found a whole lot of Christians who supported slavery. You could have pointed to that and to the Bible and said, "Clearly, Christianity will always be a slave-owning religion," and you'd have been dead wrong.
posted by straight at 8:07 AM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


Maher is an entertainer. Perhaps that's what we are to expect from commencement speakers.

Maher knows very little about Islam. That's no reason to rescind the invitation.

If all our views were known on everything, and each our past revealed, who could cast the first stone? Nobody would speak.

On the other hand, perhaps that is the beginning of wisdom.
posted by john wilkins at 8:12 AM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


“The UC Berkeley administration cannot and will not accept this decision, which appears to have been based solely on Mr. Maher’s opinions and beliefs, which he conveyed through constitutionally protected speech,” the administration statement said. “For that reason Chancellor (Nicholas) Dirks has decided that the invitation will stand, and he looks forward to welcoming Mr. Maher to the Berkeley campus.

UC brass refuses to cancel comedian Bill Maher as speaker
posted by ODiV at 8:29 AM on October 30, 2014


I would like to say a huge thank you to cendawanita, a name I hadn't previously seen before, for the interesting commentary in this thread!

>.> that's generally because I tend to speak up when the following is involved: MCU, food, and makeup. All I want to be is a geek foodie loser on the internet who likes applying eyeliner.
posted by cendawanita at 9:21 AM on October 30, 2014 [12 favorites]


Maher is an entertainer. Perhaps that's what we are to expect from commencement speakers.

His "entertainment" consists of demeaning marginalized social groups. That's a sad commentary on our culture.

Maher knows very little about Islam. That's no reason to rescind the invitation.

That's right. The reason for rescinding the invitation is because he says things like "Talk to women who’ve ever dated an Arab man. The results are not good" and "Dealing w/ Hamas is like dealing w/ a crazy woman who's trying to kill u - u can only hold her wrists so long before you have to slap her." Why is a public university giving this bigot a platform?

If all our views were known on everything, and each our past revealed, who could cast the first stone? Nobody would speak.

Nobody is begrudging Maher for unreconstructed views that he may privately hold. People begrudge him for his unreconstructed views that he broadcasts over national television.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:32 AM on October 30, 2014 [9 favorites]


"Talk to women who’ve ever dated an Arab man. The results are not good"

Ugh. What a sad, small man.
posted by naju at 9:51 AM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


UC brass refuses to cancel comedian Bill Maher as speaker

The question will now be whether the concerned parties will raise this to the Heckler's Veto level.
posted by rhizome at 11:05 AM on October 30, 2014


Sure. Two hundred years ago, you could have found a whole lot of Christians who supported slavery. You could have pointed to that and to the Bible and said, "Clearly, Christianity will always be a slave-owning religion," and you'd have been dead wrong.

And slavery was beaten out of Christian society by the implementation of enlightenment thinking in secular law (and the use of arms, in the US case). I'd be delighted if Islam operated worldwide in an attenuated manner similar to Christianity's status in the west today. I believe Harris would argue that this attenuated state will be harder to achieve because of features specific to Islam, e.g. the role of Sharia law (and the desire for strict implementation of such) which does not have any real equivalent in Christianity. I still hold out hope that eventually globalization will do the job.

The approach to living in a religious community that fundamentalists (believers or non-believers) claim is the only right way, is not possible and has never existed.

Fundamentalist religious communities have never existed? That's just silly.
posted by amorphatist at 11:32 AM on October 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


Wait, somebody hired him as a commencement speaker? Really?
posted by mule98J at 12:23 PM on October 30, 2014


Fundamentalist religious communities have never existed? That's just silly.

No, fundamentalist communities have never operated the way they claim to. They all have a tradition of interpretation that controls the way they read, interpret, and put into practice their scriptures, and that tradition changes over time. Show me a counterexample.
posted by straight at 12:41 PM on October 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


No, fundamentalist communities have never operated the way they claim to. They all have a tradition of interpretation that controls the way they read, interpret, and put into practice their scriptures, and that tradition changes over time.

That seems to be a non-falsifiable claim. Are you just saying that even though there are communities that claim to be strictly interpreting a text, they're actually all wrong because humans are involved, therefore interpretation, therefore they're not *really* fundamentalist? I'm not getting the gist of what you're trying to show here.
posted by amorphatist at 12:50 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


> Wait, somebody hired him as a commencement speaker? Really?

That's cockeyed enough all by itself. Who at Berkeley (or anywhere) doesn't grasp that if you hire a second-rank celebrity to come and give a talk, you're going to get second-rank-celebrity-level thinking? Only possible justification for inviting a celebrity is if you're forthrightly hiring a stand-up comedian to come stand at your podium and do their stand-up routine.
posted by jfuller at 12:55 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Are you just saying that even though there are communities that claim to be strictly interpreting a text, they're actually all wrong because humans are involved, therefore interpretation, therefore they're not *really* fundamentalist?

Exactly. The idea that a text has only one self-evident interpretation, that you can point to something in a text and say, "A community that follows this text will always X and never Y" is just empirically false. Even the communities themselves can't agree on what those X's and Y's should be. Every single fundamentalist community that claims to be following a "literal" interpretation of their scriptures is actually following a particular contingent interpretation that is determined, at least in part, by something outside the text itself.
posted by straight at 1:11 PM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. (4:34)


If I didn't know better I would have thought that text there literally endorsed the beating of "disobedient" women.

Fortunately it's not a problem with the text itself, because the religious community could just as easily "interpret" those words to mean that women are equal and domestic violence is always wrong.

In other words, a religious text can never say anything at all - they're just blank pages on which people project their contingent interpretation.
posted by moorooka at 3:44 PM on October 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


In other words, a religious text can never say anything at all - they're just blank pages on which people project their contingent interpretation.

Of course the problem is that there is a significant amount of people out there who don't currently subscribe to this postmodernist viewpoint, and actually take the literal meaning of "half share of inheritance" to mean that the woman gets half the share of a man.
posted by amorphatist at 4:42 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


So, sometimes the "contingent interpretation" is based on what the text literally says and sometimes it's based on ignoring what the text literally says.
posted by moorooka at 5:38 PM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


In other words, a religious text can never say anything at all - they're just blank pages on which people project their contingent interpretation.

The imperfect translation of thought to words means that there is room for an infinity of interpretations. Religious texts are designed this way, in order to appeal to the largest number of people.

The religious people in my life recognize this in their disdain for TV preachers. "Yeah, well, they're just doing it wrong," or "taking it too literally."
posted by rhizome at 6:13 PM on October 30, 2014


So I guess in this example, the bit in the Quran where it says (of disobedient women) "beat them" was so written as to have the following possible interpretations:

1) beat them
2) DON'T beat them

Not quite an "infinite" number of interpretations but you get my point.
posted by moorooka at 6:16 PM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


or you know, everyone's favourite (actual) argument: 'translation error'/'incomplete translation' with a dash of good old patriarchal norms. same goes with the head covering issue. If you actually want to know, you can find out more at more informational resources. like other religions in practice, Islam, it contains multitudes.

a quick one: And slavery was beaten out of Christian society by the implementation of enlightenment thinking in secular law (and the use of arms, in the US case). I'd be delighted if Islam operated worldwide in an attenuated manner similar to Christianity's status in the west today. I believe Harris would argue that this attenuated state will be harder to achieve because of features specific to Islam, e.g. the role of Sharia law (and the desire for strict implementation of such) which does not have any real equivalent in Christianity. I still hold out hope that eventually globalization will do the job.

Admittedly my knowledge about this is rather superficial, but doesn't this narrative completely elides the work of Christian groups such as the Quakers, in presenting the moral religious framework to debate and present why slavery is wrong, to its predominantly Christian audience? Same goes with the ethical argument presented by those in the US as well, just as much as those in the South used Scripture to defend slavery. And: 'any real equivalent in Christianity'. Sure, let's just disregard the whole ethical framework of Western civilisation, and the basis of Western legislation. This reading completely divorces the historical legacy of the Judeo-Christian faith upon the canon of Western law and rendition of rights. Not for nothing Kant embarked on trying to express human rights in as rational a way as possible without having to depend on the moral argument.

What's my point? I realise upthread it may read like I'm a Sharia apologist. I am not. I am very concerned with the current version of Sharia that's being pushed on people like me - it contains no protection nor justice in spirit because it chases this ideal of a golden era when the Islamic civilisation was paramount. And that's what I'm trying to say (and you're seeing this too in modern China as its expansionist foreign policy in terms of territory is predicated on its imperial past). This ideal wasn't informed so much by history (since historical Islam is straightforwardly progressive compared to much of the known world at the time) inasmuch as a reaction to the centuries of being subjugated by foreign powers. And in trying to self-actualise our identity, callbacks to the past and appealing to an even older authority have become common. This isn't a new insight, but a cornerstone of a lot of postcolonial theory. Let's go back to the Pew survey being cited. Look at the countries being surveyed, they are all dealing with the hangover of having a colonial identity imposed on them (even Turkey, though to be more specific it's a reaction to Ataturk's revolutionary official political secularism, and I mean revolutionary as in he caused an overnight break from their Ottoman past and all its trappings).

In this sense what they want to go back is to an older set of legislation that defined the community, except this historical ideal never existed. And because it never quite existed the way they want it, I refuse to compromise and concede to their definition. I mean, I cited the bit about the Ottoman Empire decriminalizing homosexuality. Which legal framework did they use to do that? The Sharia!
posted by cendawanita at 6:55 PM on October 30, 2014 [11 favorites]


Which legal framework did they use to do that? The Sharia!

Erm. Actually, it was the Napoleonic Code.

I think any attempt to meld religious law into a secular framework is intrinsically unworkable, because religious law inherently discriminates between members of faith communities. That doesn't mean that secular law can't be informed by a religious legal tradition; the problem comes when clerics start saying that secular law is subject to religious texts.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:15 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


argh, I realised I've left out my acknowledgement of how much Western law owes to the Romans etc as well, so please do consider it noted.
posted by cendawanita at 7:16 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


If you actually want to know, you can find out more at more informational resources.

There are many informational resources for this embarrassing sura. the question of whether God instructs men to beat women (from whom they fear disobedience), and how hard or lightly they are to be beaten, is indeed a very important one. Especially in a society where laws (around e.g. criminializing domestic violence) are supposed to be based on how a word from an ancient dialect is to be translated, rather than some sort of self-evident principle that domestic violence is wrong.
posted by moorooka at 7:18 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


the problem comes when clerics start saying that secular law is subject to religious texts
Yes, I agree, especially when there's no acknowledgement that their interpretation may be learned but still subjective.

Thank you for the clarification, but influences of the Napoleonic Code into the law, which is still definitionally, Sharia. But they don't call it as such, we now-Muslims do, as we try to call back to the past.
posted by cendawanita at 7:20 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Especially in a society where laws (around e.g. criminializing domestic violence) are supposed to be based on how a word from an ancient dialect is to be translated, rather than some sort of self-evident principle that domestic violence is wrong.

But that's where the fundamentalists have got you, because that wasn't how the tradition of exegesis worked for a long time.
posted by cendawanita at 7:21 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


re: that bit about the Napoleonic Code influence - much like how much English colonial legal framework influenced the formation of modern sharia legislation in my country and many others.
posted by cendawanita at 7:23 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Dear fellow liberals. fyi. Cenk Uygur isn't a thought leader. He's a genocide denier. Please disavow. kthxbye.
posted by drpynchon at 7:39 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


But that's where the fundamentalists have got you, because that wasn't how the tradition of exegesis worked for a long time.

It's how Sharia works in many parts of the world, today, where the right of men to beat their wives (among other horrors) is still being upheld in the twenty-first century because that's what's in the Quran etc.

If you want to change this, you can either spend your time engaging in the unedifying debate about how to translate "beat them", or you could instead spend your time making the case that the Quran is a lousy basis for a twenty-first century legal system however you want to translate it.
posted by moorooka at 7:44 PM on October 30, 2014


Thank you. It is obvious that you have refused to engage with what I have been trying to say. So, I'll have to bow out.
posted by cendawanita at 7:51 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's just absolutely adorable that Bill Maher has suddenly decided that he cares about the rights of women, whose natural values are that "sensitivity is more important than truth, feelings are more important than facts, commitment is more important than individuality, children are more important than people, safety is more important than fun." I wonder if he still believes that Americans have been "feminized" into "living in an Orwellian world where we have to pretend to concur with the woman's point of view."

There are plenty of reasons never to have Maher as a commencement speaker, and that anti-feminism bit is one of them. I wonder if he's decided to take up anti-Islam as a crusade because he realized it'd have more traction now; certainly the anti-feminism isn't as fashionable as it was back then.

In any case, it says something about a comedian when all his bits seem to have to do with how much he hates some monolithic group.
posted by koeselitz at 7:59 PM on October 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


Sorry I guess I just didn't get your point. Maybe with enough exegesis we can have Scandinavian-grade gender equality in Sharia jurisdictions?

I'll just leave this link about one lesser known dimension of the watershed political event in Enlightenment Europe that pulled the continent out of the feudal era (and in which slavery was abolished).
posted by moorooka at 8:01 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm confused about what you think you're accomplishing here, moorooka.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:04 PM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


And for what it's worth, I believe that every one of Scandinavian countries has an established church.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:07 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


So, sometimes the "contingent interpretation" is based on what the text literally says and sometimes it's based on ignoring what the text literally says.

I can't imagine how anyone with the slightest experience with how religious people actually practice their religion would find that at all controversial. Christians, Muslims, Jews, all vary widely amongst themselves as to how they ought to read and apply their scriptures. It simply isn't true that you can read a passage from their scriptures and claim there's one self-evident way that they will apply that passage to their lives. Just look around.

The fact is that many Muslims today do not believe that a faithful reading of the Quran requires them to beat their wives. And the historical precedent shows that it is entirely possible that someday the vast majority of Muslims will believe that beating their wives is wrong and not required by Islam.

Anyone who says, "Islam inherently requires Muslims to beat their wives and always will, because look what the Quran says," is just willfully ignoring how religion actually works in the real world.
posted by straight at 8:11 PM on October 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


Anyone who says, "Islam inherently requires Muslims to [not eat pork] and always will, because look what the Quran says," is just willfully ignoring how religion actually works in the real world.

Not trying to be glib, it just seems to me that there are some rules that are universally considered unbendable.
posted by rosswald at 8:21 PM on October 30, 2014


rosswald: “Not trying to be glib, it just seems to me like they are some rules that are universally considered unbendable.”

Yes. And you have to actually have experience in various nations to know which rules they consider unbendable, or even to know what the rules mean.

moorooka: “It's how Sharia works in many parts of the world, today, where the right of men to beat their wives (among other horrors) is still being upheld in the twenty-first century because that's what's in the Quran etc.”

You're generalizing about billions of people. Give a citation, please.
posted by koeselitz at 8:24 PM on October 30, 2014


I believe that every one of Scandinavian countries has an established church.

And secular legal systems that don't depend on interpreting ancient scripture.
posted by moorooka at 8:24 PM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


Do you think slavery would have been abolished more quickly in Europe and the USA if reformers had said, "Christianity is a slave-holding religion. The first step to irradicating slavery must be to denounce and oppose Christianity"?

I think it is equally implausible that the rights of women in Muslim countries will be most effectively advanced by denouncing and opposing Islam.
posted by straight at 8:26 PM on October 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


I don't think it whitewashes the US civil war to suggest that the plantation system didn't match the prosperity of the North, not to mention the battlefield where slaves weren't welcome in the Southern fighting ranks, making it a weaker order.

It whitewashes history to think of the enlightened west as a prosperous civilization committed to equality and civil rights except for a few stragglers who didn't keep up and paid the price economically and militarily because of their backward views.

A lot of people got rich on the backs of slaves. Europeans got rich traveling to faraway lands and killing people and controlling cheap labor and extracting natural resources and managing trade routes. It wasn't like all the "really" rich people were sitting around in a circle singing kumbaya and preaching equality for all while there was a transient class of scum doing some bad stuff temporarily because they didn't know better.
posted by leopard at 8:28 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Anyone who says, "Islam inherently requires Muslims to [not eat pork] and always will, because look what the Quran says," is just willfully ignoring how religion actually works in the real world.

Not trying to be glib, it just seems to me that there are some rules that are universally considered unbendable.


Rosswald, is it possible you've never heard of Reform Judaism?
posted by straight at 8:30 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Do you think slavery would have been abolished more quickly in Europe and the USA if reformers had said, "Christianity is a slave-holding religion. The first step to irradicating slavery must be to denounce and oppose Christianity"?

In revolutionary France it was the first step.
posted by moorooka at 8:31 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


moorooka: “Maybe with enough exegesis we can have Scandinavian-grade gender equality in Sharia jurisdictions?”

With enough exegesis, religious scholars came to realize that the admonition not to boil a calf in its mother's milk meant that you couldn't have a piece of cheese on a chicken sandwich. Religious exegesis is capable of more than you're giving it credit for.

Hence my request for a citation above. Would you judge 12th-century France by reading the New Testament, a religious text about an upstart cult thousands of miles away from more than a millennium before? No.

Neither should we be simply reading the literal words of the Quran and assuming that they apply in a direct and obvious way to the entire Islamic world.
posted by koeselitz at 8:34 PM on October 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


Do you think slavery would have been abolished more quickly in Europe and the USA if reformers had said, "Christianity is a slave-holding religion. The first step to irradicating slavery must be to denounce and oppose Christianity"?

There were plenty of religiously minded abolitionists. And about a hundred years later, I seem to recall there was a famous American civil rights leader who may have had some vague connection to a church and who may have given some famous speeches with religious themes.

Thomas Jefferson was a freethinker who was accused of being an infidel and who wanted there to be a separation of church and state and who said that slavery was a corrupting influence and who famously wrote that "all men are created equal." Motherfucker still owned over a hundred human beings.
posted by leopard at 8:36 PM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


The fact is that many Muslims today do not believe that a faithful reading of the Quran requires them to beat their wives. And the historical precedent shows that it is entirely possible that someday the vast majority of Muslims will believe that beating their wives is wrong and not required by Islam.

It's not about being "required" to beat their wives, it's about being permitted to beat their wives. And yeah maybe one day everyone will interpret the bit that says "beat them" to mean "DON'T beat them", and nobody will claim divine sanction for domestic violence. That would be great.

Anyone who says, "Islam inherently requires Muslims to beat their wives and always will, because look what the Quran says," is just willfully ignoring how religion actually works in the real world.

Well I'm not saying that but some real-world Muslim scholars are, unfortunately. And yes others say different. But if that problematic verse wasn't put there by God in the first place then it wouldn't be such a problem.
posted by moorooka at 8:39 PM on October 30, 2014


Koeselitz: You're generalizing about billions of people. Give a citation, please.

I'm not generalizing about billions of people - you are misreading. I said "many parts of the world" by which I meant many Sharia jurisdictions, not the entire Muslim population of the world. There's a wikipedia article called "Islam and domestic violence" if you want citations.
posted by moorooka at 8:45 PM on October 30, 2014


Rosswald, is it possible you've never heard of Reform Judaism?

Well that's the thing, isn't Reform Judaism based on ethnic and historical ties as much as religious belief?

Anyways, a bit of a derail and I don't want to get into the silly "can you still be a Muslim if you don't believe in Muhammad?" thing. Clearly there are some tennants that are fundamental to a religion's identity, but even that can be debated.
posted by rosswald at 8:50 PM on October 30, 2014


I think it is equally implausible that the rights of women in Muslim countries will be most effectively advanced by denouncing and opposing Islam.

They might be most effectively advanced by denouncing and opposing Sharia law, if not Islam. They might be most effectively advanced by advocating equal rights as the basis for a justice system, rather than the Quran.
posted by moorooka at 8:53 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


moorooka: “I'm not generalizing about billions of people - you are misreading. I said "many parts of the world" by which I meant many Sharia jurisdictions, not the entire Muslim population of the world. There's a wikipedia article called ‘Islam and domestic violence’ if you want citations.”

Yes, I've read it before. It's both incomplete and ambiguous, which is why I asked for citations.

The teachings of the Quran and Hadith regarding the beating of wives are not uncomplicated. In fact, on the surface, they are clearly contradictory. The Hadith compiled by abu Dawud, in particular, demonstrate this: Muhammad is attested to have said unambiguously, "Do not beat the female servants of Allah," and moreover to have said at least two other times (11:2138 and 11:2139) that Muslims are forbidden to beat their wives.

Contextually, Islam did indeed coincide with a great step forward in the rights of women. Whether or not one believes this, the texts are clear that this was a point of pride for many Muslims. These issues are not simple.

In the face of this, religious exegesis is paramount in determining whether domestic violence is in accord with Islam. There are, as I said, billions of Muslims in the world. You may say that your hand-waving "in many countries" isn't generalizing about all of them; but I disagree. Generalizing about "many," without saying how many and without deigning to distinguish this "many," is the same as generalizing about all. If we want to actually say anything concrete about the status of women in Muslim countries, we have to actually be specific. This is all the more necessary because it is clear that there are Islamic nations where women truly are mistreated; and others where they are not.

It is simplistic to suggest that there is or has been any broad agreement within Islam concerning this issue. It is therefore simplistic to suggest that women are assured of a better status where Sharia is simply abandoned; because we clearly haven't established yet what "Sharia" actually means – it is in dispute.

Islam would be much easier to talk about if it were monolithic. Unfortunately, it is not. It is many things. To be clear about these things, we have to be specific.
posted by koeselitz at 9:24 PM on October 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


rosswald: “Clearly there are some tennants that are fundamental to a religion's identity, but even that can be debated.”

Clearly; but that doesn't mean much here. You could name a few fundamental Islamic beliefs (like the unity of God, for instance). The permissibility of wife-beating is clearly not one of them. Moreover, since the Quran and Hadith appear to contradict each other on this issue, and so there is a conflict. It is odd for outsiders who are not Muslims to act as though they are the final arbiters as to how that conflict is to be resolved.

To again use the example of Jewish law: one could say to a Jew, "well, surely if you really believed that book, you'd make live animal sacrifices and stone adulterers to death." Some people say such things. But that would mean assuming that religious people don't have reasons for the way they follow their religion. There are very real reasons why modern Jews don't make live animal sacrifices or stone adulterers; people spent thousands of years sorting out these issues, writing extraordinarily complicated books about them. So assuming we can read the Torah and immediately tell Jews how they ought to act would be more than a little presumptuous.
posted by koeselitz at 9:30 PM on October 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


It's often brought up that Islamic law was a step forward for women in the 7th century, as if that ought to count for anything at all in the 21st century. Even the standard "beat them" translation of 4:34 seems to suggest that violence should be used as a last resort, so if your benchmark is the use of violence as a first resort (possibly more common back in 7th century Arabia?), then yes, even that was "a step forward". But not very relevant to the question of whether Sharia law is good for female empowerment in this day and age.

I was raising the question of whether or not the criminalization of domestic violence would be compatible with scripture-based law without interpreting the scripture to mean the opposite of what it seems to say. Conservatives in Sharia jurisdictions have opposed the criminalization and prosecution of domestic violence as being un-Islamic. The standard translation of 4:34 is pretty convenient for their case. It's not impossible to argue that the translation was wrong - but the point is, if your legal system is based on Sharia, then the issue involves a debate over the translation of a word, whereas if your legal system is based on equal rights as a fundamental principle then the debate doesn't even come up.

So, why is it so "simplistic" to suggest that the latter is better? I'm not saying just drop the Sharia and replace it with whatever laws existed in pre-Islamic Arabia, I'm saying drop it and replace it with a modern secular legal system based on equal rights instead of hocus-pocus. A pretty basic liberal position I would have thought. But the "liberal" position these days just as often involves enemy-of-my-enemy apologetics for illiberal cultural practices.
posted by moorooka at 10:37 PM on October 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


Generalizing about "many," without saying how many and without deigning to distinguish this "many," is the same as generalizing about all.

Sounds a bit "Not All Men" to me.
posted by moorooka at 11:02 PM on October 30, 2014


I'm confused about what you think you're accomplishing here, moorooka.

I'm not saying just drop the Sharia and replace it with whatever laws existed in pre-Islamic Arabia, I'm saying drop it and replace it with a modern secular legal system based on equal rights instead of hocus-pocus. A pretty basic liberal position I would have thought.

That anybody is even remotely calling out moorooka over what is, in his own words, a "pretty basic liberal position", is a demonstration of the Afflecked (tm) nature of the wing of liberalism that values tolerance over rights. Sure, Sharia could serve as the *basis* of a decent legal system for Islamic nations, in the same way that Judeo-Christian ethics does in the west, when one washes and wishes away all the stuff incompatible with the 21st century, as the west has largely done. That would be great. Meanwhile, according to the Pew survey, there are significant chunks of the Islamic world who wish for the implementation of the brand of Sharia that includes stoning adulterers and murdering apostates. I'm not even making the Harris et al argument that Islam is intrinsically more atavistic than Christianity, whether it is or not is basically irrelevant. The question is how to fast-forward the evolution of Islam's interpretation in problematic parts of the world so that it becomes similar to the attenuated Christianity we experience in the west. Part of that process is to recognize that there's a problem. In this process there will be many actors (including both Harris/Maher and the female pakistani blogger), and some will scream loudly and belligerently, and some will work quietly and compassionately. But the debate needs to be had, and fans of enlightenment values everywhere need to recognize that there is a substantial angry and motivated population who, given their druthers right now, would undo the massive human rights advances that we in the west now consider intrinsic.
posted by amorphatist at 11:08 PM on October 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


[...] if your legal system is based on Sharia, then the issue involves a debate over the translation of a word, whereas if your legal system is based on equal rights as a fundamental principle then the debate doesn't even come up.

So, why is it so "simplistic" to suggest that the latter is better?


You probably know that I'm no fan of Sharia law, but you've got the wrong idea about how these sort of legal systems work. Religious lawyers don't generally turn to the wording of the Quran/Bible/Bhagavad Gita as a way of answering questions; they're part of their religion's scholarly traditions that take a bunch of things into account, including what these scholars believe to be the intent or spirit of their legal system.

We do a similar thing in Australia, with our Common Law: judges who want to advance the law look back at old cases and try to show that their proposed development was already implicit in those cases. You might say "That's crazy, why should an argument over the ownership of mutant cell lines rest on some 17th-century case about stealing burial shrouds?" But that's how we do it: it helps us to keep legal developments consistent across different countries (e.g., England, Australia, Canada, even the USA to some extent) and it helps to maintain the image of the law as being something that reaches backwards and forwards through time. You could translate a lot of Common Law legal discussions into the language of Jewish or Islamic legal discussions without doing any violence to the way the process works.

So yes, I presume that Muslim scholars have problems with adapting old precedents to the modern realisation that family violence is not justifiable. But those precedents exist in other legal systems too - even entirely secular ones. Scholars deal with them, sometimes through redefinition, sometimes through reclassification, and sometimes through new legislation. There's a lot less conceptual distance between legal systems than you might think.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:14 PM on October 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


There's a lot less conceptual distance between legal systems than you might think.

Joe, that's an excellent point, and I agree with you wholeheartedly. I also realize that cherry-picking the worst data from the Pew survey (e.g. attitudes in Egypt towards apostates) is analogous to looking at 1930's Mississippi's treatment of African Americans and just dismissing the entire American jurisprudence as hopelessly and eternally vile and racist. There will be progress (I hope), but is there anything that can be done to hurry things along? What is that policy? Perhaps the progress can only come from within. Western action in the region seems to have almost uniformly been an impediment.
posted by amorphatist at 11:33 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


moorooka: “It's often brought up that Islamic law was a step forward for women in the 7th century, as if that ought to count for anything at all in the 21st century. Even the standard ‘beat them’ translation of 4:34 seems to suggest that violence should be used as a last resort, so if your benchmark is the use of violence as a first resort (possibly more common back in 7th century Arabia?), then yes, even that was ‘a step forward". But not very relevant to the question of whether Sharia law is good for female empowerment in this day and age.”

It is absolutely relevant to the question of what Islam intrinsically values. Apparently one of those things is the rights of women, according to the stated beliefs of Muslims from the very earliest times of Islam. Why are you not in any sense actually interested in what Islam intends to teach? That seems somewhat suspect in a person intent on criticizing a religion.

Moreover, you're still simplifying, but we'll get to that below.

“Conservatives in Sharia jurisdictions have opposed the criminalization and prosecution of domestic violence as being un-Islamic. The standard translation of 4:34 is pretty convenient for their case.”

This is still a stunningly bold assumption for which you've proffered no evidence whatsoever. More to the point, you're using circular logic. "Conservative" can have no pertinent meaning here beyond "closer to the source, and therefore the correct interpretation of Islam." You are assuming what you intend to prove: that Islam is inherently favorable toward domestic violence against women.

But as I have said above, we see people from the earliest sources of Islam stating emphatically that the heart of Islam says domestic violence is wrong, in no uncertain terms. So to call the opposite side "standard" or "conservative" is to ignore the entire history of Islam for the sake of a perhaps unwarranted literal interpretation of a tiny chunk of the Quran.

I want to also say that I gather you don't understand the dynamic of the Quran or much religious law in general on this point. That's okay; people aren't required to have intimate knowledge of the early development of Islam. But this is how it often goes: more vague and esoteric pronouncements in the Quran, which may seem quite permissive, are narrowed by careful reading of the Hadith into a code of living for Muslims. The Quran, for example, never forbids alcohol at all; but based on a few of the Hadith, Muslim leaders from the earliest days have stated that Muhammad's intention was to forbid alcohol, and have themselves told the believers not to imbibe.

In the same way, I've read scholars who take this discussion of domestic violence and define it down, through careful reading of other verses of the Quran and various Hadith (which ban, among other things, a husband or wife causing their spouse any physical pain, any domestic strife, any loud argument, etc) to mean that a man may lightly tap his wife on the elbow with a toothbrush. (The toothbrush is because a Muslim man is not supposed to 'lay a hand' on his wife, because Muhammad's wife A'ishah is said to have stated that he never 'laid a hand' on a woman or any servant.)

Are those scholars "conservative"? Are they the mainstream? I am not claiming they are. But you're making claims about what mainstream "conservative" Muslims believe, and I don't think you have the grounds to make those claims.

Moreover, I think it's clear that these kinds of claims hurt our cause, because within Islam there is conflict over these verses. I would much rather the religious leaders of Islam come to an equitable interpretation of the Quran and the Hadith than see the armies of the West, intellectual or otherwise, begin another crusade to conquer Islamic lands and demand that they surrender to our way of life.

“So, why is it so ‘simplistic’ to suggest that the latter is better? I'm not saying just drop the Sharia and replace it with whatever laws existed in pre-Islamic Arabia, I'm saying drop it and replace it with a modern secular legal system based on equal rights instead of hocus-pocus. A pretty basic liberal position I would have thought. But the ‘liberal’ position these days just as often involves enemy-of-my-enemy apologetics for illiberal cultural practices.”

I never said that was "simplistic," though it is. (I was going to point out the fact that secular liberal democracies have plenty of conflicts over the interpretations of laws, but Joe in Australia has done a fine job already.) What I said was "simplistic" was your insistence that you can tell us exactly what Muslims today, "conservative" or otherwise, believe concerning domestic violence. It might be possible to offer an account of what they believe. I'd be interested in seeing such an account. But I certainly haven't seen one here; I've only seen equivocations and half-hearted cherry-picked attempts to paint the Quran as unambiguously endorsing domestic violence.
posted by koeselitz at 11:36 PM on October 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


amorphatist: “There will be progress (I hope), but is there anything that can be done to hurry things along?”

Be willing and able to offer an account when asked why you believe that secular liberal democracy is a just regime. This is something that Westerners almost invariably fail to do. We seem to think that careful, thoughtful arguments and well-reasoned discussions are pointless, that we just need better "marketing." But if we could just give a rational account for the justice of the system we strive for, it would go a very long way in convincing Muslims.
posted by koeselitz at 11:39 PM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


Be willing and able to offer an account when asked why you believe that secular liberal democracy is a just regime. This is something that Westerners almost invariably fail to do.

You emphasize just, so to be able to address this, can you elaborate on what exactly you mean by "just" in this context?
posted by amorphatist at 11:43 PM on October 30, 2014


I emphasize just because justice seems like a much more, well, real value than the parameters along which we value our own regime at the moment. Moreover, it's a value that we and Muslims actually have in common. People (if George W Bush is people) have said that "Islam is a religion of peace," but that seems more than a little silly to me. Muslims have generally never been afraid of going to war. I think what Islam values more than peace is justice.

And, to be a bit more specifically critical of "we Westerners," assuming everybody else loves freedom and equality and talking up how much more of those things we have is a bit narrow. What we don't often see is that freedom and equality are not very universal on the list of things that many cultures regard as general human goods. Justice is much higher on the list – maybe definitionally. So a defense of liberal democracy along the lines of justice is a lot more effective and essential, I think, than a defense of liberal democracy along the lines of freedom and equality.
posted by koeselitz at 11:52 PM on October 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile... Well, I suppose I would begin by arguing that secular liberal democracy, spotty record and all, has demonstrated itself to be the best system yet deployed for protecting an individual's right to self-determination. It was well put here:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

A major issue of course is that individual liberty (including the freedom to reject the laws of god and live according to one's own philosophy) is not universally agreed to be self-evident. We're only just recently getting there in the west, e.g. with homosexuality. How does one explain, e.g. to a Sharia-adhering Egyptian Muslim that my notion of godless liberty is just? Individual liberty vs God's law. The axioms are not common between us.
posted by amorphatist at 11:55 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


On preview, it looks like we agree on a lot of this. And I think the justice angle might be a productive one. I'll have to think more about that, but if you have the inclination, I'd appreciate if you spelt out your thoughts on that a little bit more. If we don't share the same notion of rights, and think different things are worthy of sanction or not, what sort of understanding of a common justice can we have?
posted by amorphatist at 11:59 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Why are you not in any sense actually interested in what Islam intends to teach? That seems somewhat suspect in a person intent on criticizing a religion.

Whether "Islam" allows you to beat your wife or just "tap"them with a toothbrush is actually beside the point - the point being that a decent system of laws and law-making shouldn't actually care about what "Islam" has to say about anything. I'm trying to making a case here for the separation of religious dogma from the judicial system. If you manage to convince me that the "beat them" bit means "tap them with a toothbrush" then that doesn't make the separation any less appealing. Religious conservatism is holding women's rights back all over the world and despite your best efforts to paint Islam as a great force for world feminism this is a particularly serious issue in the Islamic world today.

All legal systems have similarities, but when it comes to the process of adaptation, a legal system that has a 1400-year-old unchanging and unchangeable scriptural anchor at its center is going to have a lot more trouble adapting than one without such a constraint. All I'm doing here is making the point that a secular legal system is better than a religious-scripture-based legal system. Clearly a very controversial position on planet Po-Mo where it's politically incorrect to suggest that humanism, secularism, liberalism or democracy have anything going for them.
posted by moorooka at 12:11 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


moorooka: “Religious conservatism is holding women's rights back all over the world and despite your best efforts to paint Islam as a great force for world feminism this is a particularly serious issue in the Islamic world today.”

I am not trying to paint Islam as a "great force for world feminism." I'm trying to make it clear that it's ambiguous what Islam is a force for.

Meanwhile, you're still assuming the thing you intend to prove. You say "religious conservatism is holding women's rights back all over the world." Prove it. You have thus far failed to do so in the case of Islam.

It seems much more likely to me that the obstacles to egalitarianism aren't the old, easy bugaboos of religion but rather deeper cultural norms. Considering the vast diversity in the treatment of women in the Islamic world, this seems fairly self-evident. Saudi Arabia is a much worse country than Indonesia in this regard, for example.

This is important largely because, if I'm right, just getting rid of religion won't be the magical solution that some people think it will be. Looking around, I can see plenty of reason for believing that secular liberal democrats are perfectly capable of sexist repression – in which case we'd better have a strategy that isn't just "get rid of religion." It might in fact be that religion can be of enormous help in the fight for equality.

But for that, we'd have to stop seeing religion as a static set of dogmas and approach religious people as humans with whom we'd like to make common cause.
posted by koeselitz at 12:51 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


It seems much more likely to me that the obstacles to egalitarianism aren't the old, easy bugaboos of religion but rather deeper cultural norms.

Seconded.

I mean, I doubt that any of the GamerGate folks draw their views on women from monasteries, seminaries or haddassah to which they all happen to belong. In fact, it strikes me that many are still in the "wake up, sheeple" stage of shunning religion altogether, which should make them even MORE prone to rejecting anything their religion would have taught, and yet they still manage to hate on women just fine on their own.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:04 AM on October 31, 2014 [6 favorites]


It seems much more likely to me that the obstacles to egalitarianism aren't the old, easy bugaboos of religion but rather deeper cultural norms.

Seconded.


If that is indeed the case (and I'm not necessarily disagreeing, though I think culture and religion are sometimes inseparably intertwined), then is there anything to be gleaned from that insight that should inform US/Western foreign policy? I fully understand the "we've already messed up, so let's stay away" stance, but being the global hegemon, even inaction is a form of policy. We here on MeFi don't shy away from offering courses of action for Western societies (e.g. GamerGate).
posted by amorphatist at 1:16 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Feels a little bit like this is tilting too far in the other direction of absolving religion of all sins on these issues. My own experiences with sexist and homophobic gamers is that religion is very often a strongly contributing reason for their views. That's what they told me anyway, and it rings true to me. I grew up being taught homophobic and sexist views in Catholic school and it always seemed to me those views had more of an air of legitimacy coming from a religious perspective. When an organization markets itself as a moral paragon and convinces people to believe that they can do all kinds of harm. It's why the Catholic Church got away with organized child rape for years. It's why the Church of Scientology is getting away with ongoing robbery from their members. Abusing moral authority isn't something only religion does, but when I've seen it in the secular world the words I often find most apt to explain it are, for example in Penn State, along the lines of "cult of personality" because the behavior is so common in religions and cults.

I absolutely do not support tarring all of Islam or religion with that sort of brush, but when we start talking about needing to prove the idea that religious conservatism holds back women? I mean for real? My Church won't let women be priests. It won't let gay people marry. It won't facilitate adoptions to gay parents. It teaches people that they shouldn't use birth control and lied about condoms not stopping AIDS. I mean on and on. It holds all kinds of people back. The nature of religion, the claim of moral authority, it empowers them to do these things and worse and keep going on as if nothing happened. It's often very different from secular sexism and homophobia because it makes what many see as a credible claim of holy righteousness to justify it rather than acting on simple, base disdain or hatred.

So, I've found this conversation frustrating and confusing at times because I understand a lot about Catholicism and how it is structured. I know who to blame, it's an easy to understand hierarchy, and that's the prism through which I see religion because I was raised in that Church. On the issue of where to place blame for sexist or homophobic attitudes in Islam, I don't know jack. It's just too diverse a religion practiced by too many people looking to diverse authorities for spiritual guidance. There could be a thousand different valid answers or more, but I would find it hard to believe religious dogma being promoted by fundamentalist and conservatives is not at least a major contributing factor in the parts of the Muslim world where sexist or homophobic attitudes are common. Talking about blaming all of Islam is too black and white. Talking about blaming "cultural norms" as if those norms aren't often transmitted and given moral power by way of religion seems also off the mark. It seems to me the way to modernize Islam where necessary is for people who actually know what they are talking about to identify the problems and confront vigorously the people who promote things like abuse of women. It seems to me that is a process that is already happening, and has been happening as the religion has evolved since it was founded. Every religion goes through this process, as has been pointed out by other poster's above. Moral authority is a tool that can be used for good or for evil, so don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Bill Maher isn't the guy to lead this sort of charge, he's a bigot against religion in general, if he wants to help the Muslim world the best thing he could probably do is to not rile up his American audience with more reasons to hate Muslims.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:50 AM on October 31, 2014 [9 favorites]


I see, it's the whole "it's not religion it's culture" thing. You're taking issue with my saying "religious conservative" when you think that I should be saying "cultural conservatives".

I don't actually think that it's a particularly meaningful distinction, to the extent that religion is central to so many cultural practices and since religion is the main weapon wielded by cultural conservatives, even when the conservatives are abjectly uneducated about the finer points of their religion's origins. They are "religious conservatives" in the sense that they oppose progressive change using religious authority. In the case of Islam and women's rights, the fact that scripture assigns women the status of second-class citizens (still GREAT by 7th century standards) means that I'm even more comfortable calling them "religious conservatives".

Furthermore, they use religious authority to introduce backward cultural practices to parts of the world where they weren't previously prevalent. Your examples of Saudi Arabia and Indonesia are a good case in point. Everyone knows that Saudi Arabia is a misogynistic abomination with a system based on an extreme interpretation of Islam while Islam in Indonesia tends to be much more moderate, with a secular State and no Sharia law.

No Sharia law except in Aceh province that is, where full Sharia Law has been introduced in stages, most fully since 2010, to placate violent Islamic separatists. Where it is a crime for two unmarried, unrelated adults of the opposite sex to be together in an isolated place (punishable by caning), where the morality police can force women and girls to submit to virginity exams and force suspects to marry as a condition of release. Where women are harassed in public by morality police and threatened with detention and lashing for wearing "inappropriate" clothing or "straddling" a motorcycle. Where you get 100 months in prison for sex outside of marriage, and 100 months in prison plus 100 lashes for consensual homosexual sex. Where selling rice during Ramadan is a caning. Where religious minorities like Shia, Christians and Buddhists are repressed. Where men accused of rape can be released after taking an Islamic oath.

The upholders of this hitherto un-Indonesian type of Sharia law - are they "cultural" conservatives or "religious" conservatives? Sure, Aceh may have been more culturally conservative than the rest of Indonesia to start with. But Sharia Law here is an innovation, not a throwback. It is being introduced in the name of Islam, not traditional Acehnese culture; it is inspired by the form that Sharia has taken in the Gulf, and it is intended to change Acehnese culture. Here Sharia Law takes the form of regression, rather than simply holding back progress. I have no problem with calling the Sharia Law enforcers in Aceh "religious conservatives" rather than "cultural conservatives", because that's what they are - religious fundamentalists who are rolling back women's and minority rights in one province of a (relatively) secular country by introducing a new legal system and attempting to establish new cultural norms, based on their Saudi-inspired interpretation of religious dogma (and who were able to do this because they forced the central government's hand with violence).

So, would getting rid of religion be a magical solution to everything? Obvioulsy not, but getting rid of Sharia Law and its horrible enforcers in Aceh would solve the problems that it has introduced (if you're not too Po-Mo to recognize them as problems), and getting rid of Sharia Law in every other part of the world unfortunate enough to be inflicted with it might give these unfortunate parts of the world a fighting chance to catch up with legal and political modernity.
posted by moorooka at 1:56 AM on October 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


If that is indeed the case (and I'm not necessarily disagreeing, though I think culture and religion are sometimes inseparably intertwined), then is there anything to be gleaned from that insight that should inform US/Western foreign policy? I fully understand the "we've already messed up, so let's stay away" stance, but being the global hegemon, even inaction is a form of policy. We here on MeFi don't shy away from offering courses of action for Western societies (e.g. GamerGate).

What's wrong with basing foreign policy on a government's actions independent of the nation's majority religion? You know, "it isn't about Islam at all, it's about human rights"?

And anyway, this isn't a foreign relations issue, it is a within-our-own-country one. The US is probably responding more to a government's actions as it is, it just is doing a piss-poor job of clarifying that for its own citizenry, and so the inaccurate idea that "we're fighting Muslims" is spreading unchecked. (Granted, there are folk in Congress for who this IS a "fighting Muslims" thing at that, but those folks don't have total control over things, and there are wiser heads.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:40 AM on October 31, 2014


And anyway, this isn't a foreign relations issue, it is a within-our-own-country one.

Well, this post is about Maher, and his analysis of the threat posed by Islam, and how we in the west understand and interact with the muslim world is very much a foreign policy issue.

The US is probably responding more to a government's actions as it is,

I don't know what you mean by this.
posted by amorphatist at 2:50 AM on October 31, 2014


Your non-sequitur-based axe-grinding on postmodernism is showing.

Just using it as a convenient term for that more-PC-than-thou attitude that liberal humanism is no better than theocracy.
posted by moorooka at 4:04 AM on October 31, 2014


I don't know what you mean by this.

What I mean is that the United States doesn't choose to act against a country simply "because they're Muslim". If they were only acting against a country "because they're Muslim", they would be much more antagonistic towards countries like Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, which are both other Muslim countries.

However, Malaysia treats its citizens comparatively well, so even though they're Muslim, there isn't anything for us to act against. And as for Saudi Arabia - even though they're Muslim, it behooves us from an economic perspective to treat them well.

So "because they're Muslim" isn't the motivating part of the government's policy - instead, it's "because they attacked us" or "because they dislike us" or "because they are oppressing their citizens".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:45 AM on October 31, 2014


Would it help to point out here that while religious conservatism is generally pretty anti-feminist, so is Bill Maher? That guy is a smarmy asshole with a pretty long paper trail.
posted by leopard at 5:05 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Wow it's almost as if two things can be bad at the same time.
posted by moorooka at 5:21 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Islamic fundamentalism didn't appear fully formed, it was nurtured and fed by callous intervention by outside forces. Treating it like it is a problem with Islam is egregiously shortsighted.

The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Aceh is the result of many years of suppression* and corruption on the part of the Indonesian government (backed by the US, UK and Australian governments). Indeed the global rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the 1980's is linked to the interference of the cold war countries across the world and post-colonial turmoil. Corrupt governments backed by foreign powers suppressing the local populace causes polarisation of ideology. Just as the man in L.P. Hatecraft's comment professed a hatred of all beard wearers due to watching his friends and family needlessly slaughtered, so anti-western sentiment is fomented when tens of thousands of people are killed by a corrupt government with the support of foreign powers. The empty rhetorical phrase 'the war against terrorism' has been repeated as an excuse to step up suppression of grass roots movements from the Uyghurs to Western Sahara, as well as in Aceh.

The influence of 'western democracy' as experienced by the people in Iran, Indonesia, Egypt, Afghanistan (and most of the other 'stans), Iraq, Pakistan, Nicaragua etc. is fundamentally deadly, so is it any surprise that many turn to an ideology that claims to avoid corruption by cutting out the defunct concept of democracy and replacing it with the certainty of divine rules dictated by god? Life is Aceh is not good, but this situation is not because of Sharia law being inherently bad, the brutality of existence in that place did not come from Islam alone.

When I first joined Metafilter (on 12 September 2001) I was of the opinion that no good would come from the US, UK et al spreading death and destruction around the world, even if it felt justified to some people. That opinion has not been swayed by the intervening years. Dealing with fundamentalism cannot be done by making unequivocal statements and condemning large swathes of the population of the world. As many people have commented in this thread, debates on women's rights already exist within Islam. It is hard work to build dialogue and find common ground, but the dividends are much better than using violence as your medium of interaction.

Bill Maher does not come across as someone who is a bridge builder. In fact he comes across as someone who represents a caricature of the general perception of the US - loud, opinionated, lacking self reflection, hypocritical, morally corrupt and more interested in listening to his own voice than engaging in a nuanced discussion. I can't imagine he would have much to say that would be of value.

*Reaction to The Act of Killing in Indonesia
posted by asok at 5:25 AM on October 31, 2014 [13 favorites]


Wow it's almost as if two things can be bad at the same time.

Well I was just really confused how Bill Maher turned out to be a sexist anti-feminist since there's no holy book telling him that God wants him to be a sexist anti-feminist.
posted by leopard at 6:40 AM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


that more-PC-than-thou attitude that liberal humanism is no better than theocracy.

Dang, I somehow missed all the people in this thread arguing that theocracy and liberal humanism are equally great.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:00 AM on October 31, 2014


I think theocracy sucks. I just have some issues with conflating "the Muslim world" with theocracy.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:33 AM on October 31, 2014


And lets be clear, in the United States, public figures vocally condemning "Islam" for its treatment of women are contributing nothing to the cause of human rights in Muslim countries. In the USA, the primary effect of such rhetoric is to demonize people in order to drum up support for killing people indiscriminately in those countries.
posted by straight at 8:07 AM on October 31, 2014 [5 favorites]


Well I was just really confused how Bill Maher turned out to be a sexist anti-feminist since there's no holy book telling him that God wants him to be a sexist anti-feminist.

In his early years he was raised Catholic in a country where Christianity is a dominant cultural force. It's entirely possible that had a long term impact on his thinking about women.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:10 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


ISIS's rise is related to Islam. The question is how? (Shadi Hamid, The Atlantic)
posted by jfuller at 9:15 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


> And lets be clear, in the United States, public figures vocally condemning "Islam" for its
> treatment of women are contributing nothing to the cause of human rights in Muslim countries

It's as if they thought that loudly having an opinion about something is the same as making a contribution. Never heard of such a thing!
posted by jfuller at 9:21 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


In his early years he was raised Catholic in a country where Christianity is a dominant cultural force. It's entirely possible that had a long term impact on his thinking about women.

Or, you know, just being raised in a sexist country might have that effect. I have met many non-Catholics in this country who are sexist.
posted by maxsparber at 10:02 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


In his early years he was raised Catholic in a country where Christianity is a dominant cultural force.

I'm not sure how relevant this is to the greater thread, perhaps it's too weedy, but just as a historical aside, dominant Christianity is not necessarily inclusive toward Catholicism. You could even say that like in Islam-oriented countries, being "the right kind" of Christian is a Thing in the US.
posted by rhizome at 10:17 AM on October 31, 2014


> In his early years he was raised Catholic in a country where Christianity is a dominant cultural force. It's entirely possible that had a long term impact on his thinking about women.

Or, you know, just being raised in a sexist country might have that effect. I have met many non-Catholics in this country who are sexist.


And wouldn'cha know, I was raised Catholic, and yet I, the people who raised me, and the other Catholics I know are all feminists.

Why, it's almost like religion doesn't actually as much to do with this after all!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:18 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]




I'm not sure how relevant this is to the greater thread, perhaps it's too weedy, but just as a historical aside, dominant Christianity is not necessarily inclusive toward Catholicism. You could even say that like in Islam-oriented countries, being "the right kind" of Christian is a Thing in the US.

Catholic is one of the right kinds in New York where he grew up, but yeah I'm not sure that really is too relevant to this thread.

And wouldn'cha know, I was raised Catholic, and yet I, the people who raised me, and the other Catholics I know are all feminists.

I was raised Catholic too, as I mentioned. I was raised being taught from religious books that do not treat men and women as equals. For you and I, that didn't sink in. For other people, it did. The portion of my family that still loudly holds regressive views about women and homosexuals is the portion that is still devoutly Catholic. The portions of it that seem more progressive are the people who have drifted away from the Church.

Is being raised for 13 years in a religion that actively discriminates against women why Bill Maher has issues with sexism? I frankly find it hard to believe anyone would disagree it's a possibility. Is it definitely the cause? Hell if I know, there are plenty of other possibilities, ask his therapist maybe. But yes, he was taught sexist things based on religious texts, it is a potential influence on him and many Americans we should consider as a contributing force.

#NotAllCatholics
posted by Drinky Die at 11:25 AM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


I was raised Catholic too, as I mentioned. I was raised being taught from religious books that do not treat men and women as equals.

Actually, the religious books my parish used were much more egalitarian in terms of gender equality. So....yeah, still not seeing that this is a "because of religion" thing.

For you and I, that didn't sink in. For other people, it did.

And that is exactly my point. If a religious document has a text in it that when taken out of its historic context is sexist, and one person thinks "okay, I'll buy that" and another person thinks "hmmm, that may have been true 2000 years ago but today is different so I'mma ignore that", then....is it really the text to blame?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:20 PM on October 31, 2014


Actually, the religious books my parish used were much more egalitarian in terms of gender equality.

How many Masses have you attended where a woman was the priest? How many masses where the priest said, "Actually, abortion is not something that is sinful and shameful?" Much more egalitarian than the worst of conservative Catholicism? Sure, I'll believe it, but serious sexism is baked into Catholicism at the moment. It's the sort of thing that eventually drove Maher's father to stop bringing him to Mass.

If a religious document has a text in it that when taken out of its historic context is sexist, and one person thinks "okay, I'll buy that" and another person thinks "hmmm, that may have been true 2000 years ago but today is different so I'mma ignore that", then....is it really the text to blame?

Yes, at least partly, unless we are treading towards a path where practically no mass communication in the history of humankind can be blamed for anything because some people didn't buy it.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:01 PM on October 31, 2014 [5 favorites]


A friend of mine is reading the Quran right now. He takes great pleasures finding these 'gotcha' passages in it (often in regards with how to treat women).

I argue with him. So what, I say. I can find equally disturbing parts of the Christian bible to quote. But sharia law, he comes back at me with. Yeah, I'm not a big fan of theocracy either, it's a pretty disturbing force in the world.

Then I ask him if there is any danger of theocracy taking over the 75%+ christian country he lives in. Well, many Muslims want sharia law to come to this country. I shrug again; what are the chances of that happening with 75%+ of the population being (at least nominally) christian.

Look, I tell him, theocrats are a danger the world over. Many of the regressive social policies in the US are fomented by people that openly claim the Bible as their reasons for legislative decisions. Dominionism is a real thing in America, and they are making progress on various fronts (school boards, for one, impacting the content of school books is another).

We can look to Russia to see what starts to happen when a religion starts to get married to the state.

Most of the folks in the west shouting loudest about the evils of sharia are the same folks that want to impose a christian based legal system in the US. The danger isn't a particular faith, the danger is what happens when church and state get intertwined (and it corrupts both further than they already were).

Also, I'm pretty flummuxed by the utter arrogance of folks trying to debate and define the Islamic religion and traditions that haven't been immersed in them, who haven't read their holy books.

If you really care about secularism, you can try advocate for it in the country in which you already live. For me (and most Metafilter users) that means advocating for secularism in your majority christian country.

While Mahr is crude and non-nuanced in his critiques of Islam; he is a comedian. What is the excuse of the somewhat more nuanced but crude and ignorant attacks here on the Blue?
posted by el io at 1:19 PM on October 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


Most of the folks in the west shouting loudest about the evils of sharia are the same folks that want to impose a christian based legal system in the US... If you really care about secularism, you can try advocate for it in the country in which you already live. For me (and most Metafilter users) that means advocating for secularism in your majority christian country.

This a perfect example of the enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend branch of western liberalism - the type that says it's okay to argue for secular liberalism in the west, but it's 'cultural imperialism' to argue for secular liberalism outside the west.

It's okay to oppose Christian religious authority, but it's bigotry to oppose non-Christian religious authority.

It's okay to argue for secularism in an already secular country (where we enjoy the rewards of struggles against religious authority that took place centuries ago) but to argue for secularism in actual non-secular regimes means you're ignorant and if you just spent more time reading these regimes' holy texts then you wouldn't do that.

Right-wing Christian fundamentalists hate Sharia the most, therefore left-wing atheist liberals have to leap to its defence.
posted by moorooka at 1:46 PM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's okay to oppose Christian religious authority, but it's bigotry to oppose non-Christian religious authority.

The difference is that when I denounce right-wing Christian American theocrats, I'm arguing that people should not vote for them, not sending tanks and bombs to kill them.

I assure you, if an Islamic theocrat were running for office in this country on a platform of repealing laws against domestic violence, I would denounce him quite loudly.
posted by straight at 1:57 PM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


I hope you didn't read into my comment that I was defending theocracy in Islamic countries. I'm not sure how you could.

But do you think it's helping the moderates in those countries when Americans (who have a nasty history with 'interventions'/invasions) attack an entire religion and declare that its evil?

The 'debate' here isn't about theocratic tendencies in some Islamic countries; it's a condemnation of the entire religion.

As far as 'already secular country', I think that the danger of theocrats in America is very real. How many states passed laws against gay marriage? How many still have laws against sodomy (a word that itself has religious roots)? How many school boards are packed with Christians trying to sneak their religious viewpoints into the curriculum. America has aspirations of secularism, but it isn't there yet.

Furthermore, I think a loud chorus of "your religion is evil" is not a way to bring moderation to other countries; it's a way to encourage fundamentalism.

Yeah, you can totally tell how the US is totally secular by the majorities of Atheists currently in office.

Perhaps it's more useful to critique governments, and not religions. I don't blame Israel's government on Judaism, and if I did it would sound pretty anti-semitic, because it *would* be pretty anti-semitic to argue such a thing.
posted by el io at 2:07 PM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


Straight. Another example. If you denounce Islamic theocracy it's because you want their countries bombed.
posted by moorooka at 2:09 PM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Right-wing Christian fundamentalists hate Sharia the most,

Are these the same ones who advocate for "Because God said" laws here in the US, and say stuff like "This is a Christian nation [blahblahblah]"? If they hate Sharia, it's because it's not Christian, not because it's religious.
posted by rtha at 2:13 PM on October 31, 2014


Yeah, "hate" is not the word I'd use. Maybe "envy."
posted by rhizome at 2:15 PM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


If you denounce Islamic theocracy it's because you want their countries bombed.

So exactly how many Muslims would the USA have to kill for you to admit that all the "Islam is evil" rhetoric might have bad consequences?
posted by straight at 2:18 PM on October 31, 2014


moorooka: where in this thread are people championing, advocating for, or defending Islamic theocracies? Where in this thread are people leaping to the defense of Sharia (or your interpretation of it)?

It looks like you've constructed a small army of straw men just in time for Halloween. It's pretty frightening.
posted by el io at 2:26 PM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


I hope you didn't read into my comment that I was defending theocracy in Islamic countries. I'm not sure how you could.

You weren't defending theocracy in Islamic countries, just saying that western liberals shouldn't criticize theocracy in Islamic countries.

But do you think it's helping the moderates in those countries when Americans (who have a nasty history with 'interventions'/invasions) attack an entire religion and declare that its evil?

So Bill Maher shouldn't say that stoning adulterers is bad in case it makes them want to stone adulterers even more?

The 'debate' here isn't about theocratic tendencies in some Islamic countries; it's a condemnation of the entire religion.

Only to the extent that this religion has more theocratic tendencies than other major modern world religions and that these tendencies underlie some of the most barbaric legal regimes on the face of the Earth.

As far as 'already secular country', I think that the danger of theocrats in America is very real. How many states passed laws against gay marriage? How many still have laws against sodomy (a word that itself has religious roots)? How many school boards are packed with Christians trying to sneak their religious viewpoints into the curriculum. America has aspirations of secularism, but it isn't there yet.

Furthermore, I think a loud chorus of "your religion is evil" is not a way to bring moderation to other countries; it's a way to encourage fundamentalism.

Yeah, you can totally tell how the US is totally secular by the majorities of Atheists currently in office.


It's all relative isn't it. A few weeks ago a US court legalised gay marriage across a huge swathe of the country. A nice example of why secular legal systems are better than religious legal systems. And yes, the US is soaked in religious brainwashing, but at least you are free to become an atheist if you so choose; apostasy isn't a crime. I don't think "your religion is evil" is a particularly useful message, but "religious law has no place in the modern world" is a perfectly fine one.

Perhaps it's more useful to critique governments, and not religions. I don't blame Israel's government on Judaism, and if I did it would sound pretty anti-semitic, because it *would* be pretty anti-semitic to argue such a thing.

Israel's government doesn't justify its human rights abuses on grounds of Jewish law. Saudi Arabia's government does justify it's human rights abuses on the grounds of Islamic law - and they can do that, because Islamic law does allow for some pretty shocking human rights abuses (by 21st century standards that is; 7th century standards are a different story). And it should be totally uncontroversial in liberal circles to say that it sucks.
posted by moorooka at 2:52 PM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


So exactly how many Muslims would the USA have to kill for you to admit that all the "Islam is evil" rhetoric might have bad consequences?

Since the early Cold War, US foreign policy has been a massive force for promoting Islamic fundamentalism and undermining secular nationalism. And without US oil-money Islamic fundamentalism would be a shadow of what it is today. The US has nothing against Islamic fundamentalism as long as it doesn't threaten US interests, quite the contrary. In fact it involves persistent alliances with the worst of the worst.
posted by moorooka at 3:11 PM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


moorooka: "Israel's government doesn't justify its human rights abuses on grounds of Jewish law."

Not officially, but if you think religious law and tradition has nothing to do with it, you're nuts.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:23 PM on October 31, 2014


One of my problem of a drum of attacks against Islam in the US (and while you may be trying to draw a careful line between an attack on Sharia law/Theocratic rule and Islam in general, it's not a point of distinction that's generally made) is that in the climate in the US is a pretty ugly one.

What I mean by that is that religion inspired hate-crimes are a real thing. Muslims are told they cannot construct churches in various areas/jurisdictions.

Elected officials are preaching hatred towards Islam.

Religious intolerance in America is growing.

So yeah, Islamic theocracy is an awful thing. But honestly, we have some serious work to do in America with our own theocracy problem (witness the erosion of women's reproductive health services in the US). The erosion of women's reproductive rights in the US were coupled with a successful terrorist campaign here; one that has had the implicit support of Christian leaders.

If I thought the rulers of Saudi Arabia would be like "Shit, someone attacked us on the internet, maybe we should re-think our brand of theocracy," I'd be posting non-stop about the evils of their theocracy.

I think we should be engaged in is making sure its safe to walk down the streets while 'looking Islamic' in the US. We'll do more to change opinions worldwide by being an example of tolerance than we will attacking other people's religions.

I do agree with you strongly on this: it's immoral and indefensible that we are supporting the militaries of theocracies around the world; that shit should stop post-haste.
posted by el io at 3:23 PM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


How many Masses have you attended where a woman was the priest? How many masses where the priest said, "Actually, abortion is not something that is sinful and shameful?"

I thought we were talking about the texts, why are you bringing up whether or not there are female priests?

Firstly, don't move the goalposts. Secondly, there are female Catholic priests. Okay, they belong to factions not recognized by the Vatican, but they are women, they are Catholic, and they are priests. Sinead O'Connor is one.

And I'm not saying that there aren't sexist dogmas and texts in religions of all stripes. But I am saying that if - as you yourself acknowledge, "sometimes that sinks in and sometimes it doesn't" - then there must be something else going on which LETS that sink in with a person, and that whatever that something else is, THAT is the key.

It's like - you know how baking soda and vinegar foam like crazy when you combine them? Okay - now suppose you add vinegar to something that doesn't have baking soda. It won't foam, right? Right. So - is it accurate to say JUST the vinegar makes things foam? Or is it vinegar being added to something that already had baking soda inside it?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:57 PM on October 31, 2014


moorooka: “You weren't defending theocracy in Islamic countries, just saying that western liberals shouldn't criticize theocracy in Islamic countries.”

I am not a liberal democrat - I try to avoid injecting myself into politics. But I have to say this: if being a true "western liberal" means you ought to criticize things you don't understand and don't care about understanding, as you seem to want to do in this thread, then being a "western liberal" is a terrible idea.

All I've suggested here is that criticism ought to be informed. And sitting around making broad claims about what you think all real Muslims believe isn't going to be informed criticism.
posted by koeselitz at 5:09 PM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


(I guess I should clarify that "liberal democrat" is not intended to indicate party affiliate. I mean I am not a partisan of liberal democracy.)
posted by koeselitz at 5:09 PM on October 31, 2014


Or is it vinegar being added to something that already had baking soda inside it?

Well, usually that second ingredient is ignorance. Religion and ignorance is a pretty toxic combination. Most European Christians in the middle ages were personally ignorant about Jews, and would not have known what to think had not the Church stepped in. Which it did. Christianity was pretty clearly the cause of anti-semitism in much of Christian Europe throughout the middle ages and after.

On the topic of women, even as something as mundane as menstruation was a subject of ignorance which new Christians explicitly sought teaching from the Church. When Augustine evangelized the Saxons they asked whether menstruating women were dirty or clean, whether they could come to church or not. The answer, simply put, was "clean", which probably helped Saxon women a lot.

That's why science is so important: it is an entirely new and different source of answers for the ignorant which crowds out the just-so stories that religion often peddles.
posted by Thing at 5:16 PM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Thank you Thing, but I'm trying to make another analogy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:49 PM on October 31, 2014


Yes Koeslitz you needn't point out that you're not a "partisan" of liberal democracy, freedom or equality.

But you seem to be suggesting that a liberal-minded individual needs to become a Quranic scholar before they can be informed enough to assess whether or not a secular legal system is better than Sharia.

I disagree. Even a cursory observation of how Sharia Law works in practice (and in theory for that matter) should be enough for the average rational person who believes that universal human rights trump antediluvian superstitions.
posted by moorooka at 6:03 PM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


That's why science is so important: it is an entirely new and different source of answers for the ignorant which crowds out the just-so stories that religion often peddles.

For the sort of issues that we are discussing, science is generally used to peddle another set of just-so stories.

"Is life fair?" Hmm, let's see, what do the world's experts on physics and chemistry and biology have to say about that? Hint: very little of this prestigious scientific knowledge helps answer that very basic question. Liberals can think things like "genetic variation within groups dwarves genetic variation between groups" and conservatives can think "if some people are naturally taller than others then why can't some people be naturally richer than others" and the main role that science plays is to give semi-educated people greater unwarranted confidence in the beliefs that they would have taken on anyway, based on just-so stories that help them make sense of their lived experience.
posted by leopard at 6:08 PM on October 31, 2014


Top US military official being a jackass.

EC I'll get back to you tomorrow. No keyboard right now and I hate phone commenting.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:24 PM on October 31, 2014


But you seem to be suggesting that a liberal-minded individual needs to become a Quranic scholar before they can be informed enough to assess whether or not a secular legal system is better than Sharia.


Yeah, that's what I see here in this thread, a whole bunch of western liberals arguing that we should have Sharia instead of a secular legal system.

Yup, that's what's happening.

Totally fair read of it.
posted by el io at 7:08 PM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Um no not a whole bunch, just a couple, and not saying that WE should have Sharia, just that we shouldn't say that parts of the world with Sharia would be better off without it.
posted by moorooka at 8:59 PM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


To be fair, that quote doesn't say we're arguing that we should have Sharia in the US, just that we're not yet sure.
posted by rhizome at 9:01 PM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Religion and ignorance is a pretty toxic combination. Most European Christians in the middle ages were personally ignorant about Jews, and would not have known what to think had not the Church stepped in. Which it did. Christianity was pretty clearly the cause of anti-semitism in much of Christian Europe throughout the middle ages and after.

It's not quite that as simple as that.

Much of the resentment of gentiles toward Jews in the middle ages had a religious origin, but wasn't actually a religious beef: Christianity and Islam forbade Christians and Muslims from profiting from usury, whereas Jewish law (specifically, Deuteronomy 23) only forbade Jews from taking interest from other Jews. Thus, being the only people in all of Europe allowed to provide a useful service no one else could, Jews accidentally cornered the market on credit -- which, it must be said, was one of very few professions Jews weren't deliberately squeezed out of for the typically xenophobic "they took our jobs!" reasons. This arrangement led, in very short order, to pretty much every nasty stereotype that survives to this day regarding Jews and money, and led to things like this and this pretty much everywhere. Not because of religion, mind you, but because of money. Turns out, kicking large numbers of people out of your country and seizing their assets is lucrative business for Church and Crown alike, and it's really easy to do so with little opposition if the people in question are easily othered and everybody owes some of them money.

It's telling that when Europe finally dealt with the issue of usury independent of the "Jewish question," they did so not by banning usury outright per hardline Christianity, but by allowing it despite hardline Christianity, because it is a necessary part of a growing (and taxing and tithing) economy, even if people do hate it for perfectly understandable reasons. Religion can be strangely flexible that way.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:03 PM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


Bill Maher responds to the controversy on his show (and Rula Jebreal disagrees with him).
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:40 PM on October 31, 2014


Jebreal's response was spot-on. Nobody has a God-given right to speak at a commencement address, and nobody would accept the same level of generalization and stereotyping against other groups, regardless of what the worst elements of those groups may or may not be doing.

I've seen all the Real Time episodes where this topic has come up, and it's striking how ill-informed Maher is on the underlying facts. He'd get slaughtered in a one-on-one debate with an impartial moderator, and I think he knows that. It's fine to go after the governments and the terror groups, but when you paint with a broad brush, people have a right to criticize the picture you're painting, and universities have a right to decide whether or not their graduating class should have you reading them lame platitudes on a hot spring afternoon as they count the seconds until they can have their first drink as a college graduate.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:48 PM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


Swinging away from the Islam thing for a sec... The whole commencement speaker thing, is it a peculiarly American thing? (My uni graduation ceremony (Ireland) was all through Latin and involved a bunch of chalices and scepters and lots of robes.) I can absolutely understand why a significant chunk of liberals might not want Maher to cap off their four years of learning/partying. He is a bit of a cock, but I'm glad he exists. However, he perhaps does not provide the gravitas one might prefer, whether his politics align with yours or not. On the other hand, if Dick Cheney were speaking, I just wouldn't attend. The Condoleeza Rice controversy was one that I did actually have to think about. She's obviously a very smart women, she's pro-choice, probably a lesbian, and yet (by my book) she compromised her integrity in a way that history will not look kindly upon. She seems not to have any ambition for further office. She must reflect upon the shitshow that she was part of. Maybe now is not the right time, but in maybe 20 years, when she no longer needs to worry about political cover, I would be interested to hear her give a commencement speech.
posted by amorphatist at 1:44 AM on November 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Where is the Muslim Malala?
Oh.Wait.


#MaherAsks trending on twitter
posted by BinGregory at 6:32 AM on November 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


He'd get slaughtered in a one-on-one debate with an impartial moderator, and I think he knows that.

I doubt he knows that, and it backfire anyway because a cold moderator would not have favored Affleck's tone (for example). Also, odds are that liberals are about to lose major ground in the elections this week in the US (knock wood), in part because people are circling the wagons for a lot of reasons, war and terrorism included. Threats are being made from an enemy that clearly states its position and intentions in black and white terms, and the chilling effect goes against an open society. Bottom line is that most people will readily agree that Islam is not what they are fighting, but secretly vote for the guy who they think believes it is.

Leadership is defined, in the mind, as finding the one who is least confused (with mixed results historically, favoring demagogues). Maher's pseudo-liberal camouflage is working well for him, and I'm betting that like most conservatives he secretly despises liberals as emotionally soft (and because he admits to having drinks with Rand Paul, and shares their secrets, and probably pays for the privilege). This is the same guy who lost his show once, in the beginning of his rise, after he tried to correct the White House announcement that cowards attacked us on 9-11, and offered that they weren't cowards, but that the US military were the relative cowards for lobbing bombs from afar. An incendiary remark. As many have pointed out, if he had made that comment today, about drones, it would have been a yawn, pretty much echoing a dozen popular Metafilter threads, and perhaps would have lost a show over boredom.
posted by Brian B. at 9:22 AM on November 1, 2014


Maher was right that the hijackers were not cowards. He was wrong to suggest lobbing cruise missiles is cowardly. Taking risks that you have the technology to avoid isn't courage, it's stupidity. I say that as someone who has been a vocal critic of the U.S. drone program on Mefi.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:27 AM on November 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


I doubt he knows that

He's pretty full of himself, but you can tell watching the segments, including in last night's interactions with Rula Jebreal, that he's very uninformed about some of the basic facts. He may not admit his ignorance, but I think he's smart enough to know what he doesn't know.

and it backfire anyway because a cold moderator would not have favored Affleck's tone (for example)

That'd be a plus for the anti-Maher position, as Affleck's tone was one of "how dare you" indignance rather than a calm, measured argument from a position of rhetorical strength. Affleck's an intelligent guy, but in those exchanges, he looked like he was on a 'roid rage (maybe he's taking some supplements so he can look the part of Batman?)

Anyway, Jebreal was much more calm and measured last night, and someone like Juan Cole could send Maher's flawed arguments deep into the cheap seats. (I'd pay big money to watch a Pay-Per-View Tag Team Throwdown between Cole and Jebreal vs. Maher and Harris.)
posted by tonycpsu at 9:43 AM on November 1, 2014


EC, I'm talking about things that are written in Catholic texts, like the Catechism, which in turn is based on other texts and scholarship. I'm not moving goalposts.

1577 "Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination."66 The Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry.67 The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ's return. The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible.68

I find the suggestion that I'm moving goalposts kind of frustrating, because I'm looking to the other side of the field and the goalposts are nowhere in sight. I don't think you've moved them, I just think we are in a fog bowl that neither of us caused. I feel like you and I have a way of getting into these situations where we talk past each other sometimes.

The only point I am trying to communicate here is that the texts do deserve some portion of the blame. I don't think you disagree with that, but I also don't feel like you have actively acknowledged it yet either because you are more concerned with not giving ground against accusations in this thread that they might deserve the bulk of the blame and poison the religion as a whole. I don't agree with those accusations and I'm not arguing in favor of them, but I do think religious texts sometimes deserve blame.

If you do disagree entirely with me on that then I don't really know how to proceed with the conversation. That conversation would feel to me like this: Imagine someone yelled "Fire!" in a crowded theatre and caused a stampede that injured several people even though there was no fire. Imagine focusing the conversation about that on what it is that made some people stampede and other people calmly look around and assess that there wasn't actually a fire. Imagine that we didn't acknowledge that at least some of our focus should be on, "Why did that jackass yell 'Fire?!'"
posted by Drinky Die at 12:00 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


It sounds like Jebreal is getting a lot of racist slurs and threats after her appearance on Maher's show (although some of that might also be reaction to her recent op-ed.)
posted by homunculus at 1:59 PM on November 1, 2014


Haven't really heard of her before, but upon googling her novel because it was on the background of her twitter I'm pretty excited to check it out.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:06 PM on November 1, 2014


The only point I am trying to communicate here is that the texts do deserve some portion of the blame. I don't think you disagree with that, but I also don't feel like you have actively acknowledged it yet either because you are more concerned with not giving ground against accusations in this thread that they might deserve the bulk of the blame and poison the religion as a whole. I don't agree with those accusations and I'm not arguing in favor of them, but I do think religious texts sometimes deserve blame.

I'm not disagreeing that the texts contain troubling matter. And I'm surprised you say that you don't feel like I've actively acknowledged it, when I say right here in this comment that "Every religion has its hard and exclusionary language".

However, my point is that the mere existence of sexist passages in these texts is not solely responsible for sexism, as you seem to be implying. Texts have to be interpreted by a person. Some people interpret the sexist passages as "a relic of the society active at the time the text was actually physically written, and something I can ignore". Others interpret them as "the absolute rule by which I should live".

But lemme ask you, then - you seem to be attributing a lot of the causes of sexism to the texts themselves. If they are indeed that powerful and influential, then how would you explain the fact that most religious people in the world actually ignore the worst passages in their religions' texts?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:54 PM on November 1, 2014


We agree the texts have troubling matter, yeah. I'm arguing that troubling matter can be blamed in some part for what some readers have done with it. Are we on the same page here? If so, we aren't arguing about anything, I'm just talking past you for no reason and wasting our time.

solely responsible for sexism, as you seem to be implying.

/sighs, furiously rubs temples.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:10 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Maher should have invited Grover Norquist to the debate. He's a fellow "libertarian," is married to a practicing muslim woman, and has spoken out against islamaphobia before.

Frank Gaffney-Grover Norquist Islamophobia Feud Erupts In Public At Conservative Conference
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:07 PM on November 1, 2014


Drinky, if I'm actually wrong about what you're claiming it's okay to just tell me that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:48 PM on November 1, 2014


I've reviewed my comments in this thread. I can't figure out how I communicated to you that I felt religious texts are solely to blame for sexism. I am sorry if I did so, that is not my position.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:00 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Taking risks that you have the technology to avoid isn't courage, it's stupidity.

Aerial strikes carry a very large risk of civilian casualties. The US military has the technology to avoid that risk. Why don't they use it?
posted by Sys Rq at 9:15 PM on November 1, 2014


Again, I'm an opponent of the US drone program because of the reasons I sense you are driving at. But when I think of the era in which Bill Maher was complaining about cruise missiles I'm thinking of a moment in American history that I feel is often forgotten: Bill Clinton tried very hard to assassinate Osama Bin Laden before 9/11 with cruise missiles because he accurately assessed that he was a serious threat to the American government and economy. The risk to civilians was balanced against the possibility of another risk, a risk of a serious attack on the American homeland. It happened. The world would have been, in my view, much better off if it had been stopped even if it involved some civilian casualties from the cruise missile strikes.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:22 PM on November 1, 2014


Drinky Die, the USA has a kill-terrorists-with-missiles policy now. It's certainly possible that they've killed people who would have become the successors of ObL; we'll never know. I don't think we feel safer, though, and no matter how many people the USA assassinates, we will never be sure that all future terrorists are being killed.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:06 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I agree.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:15 PM on November 1, 2014


All this discussion of the relative pros and cons of a secular liberal humanist vs sharia framework for a judicial system has been quite fascinating, if a little hard to follow for a layman like myself. But the fact is, I've got children to raise. So what I tell my 16-year-old US-citizen son living abroad is that if he doesn't want to get exterminated by robots from space without trial by his own government, he ought to acknowledge - and accept deeply and truly into his own heart! - the inherent and obvious superiority of secular liberal humanist law as loudly and as publicly as possible. It's a no-brainer.
posted by BinGregory at 10:25 PM on November 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


Thanks, Drinky. That "the text isn't entirely to blame" is something I can fixate on too - however, that's because SO often, it's the first move someone goes to when discrediting the people who follow a religion ("the Q'uran has a passage that say X, so all Muslims are therefore evil because that's their holy book!" or "the Bible says Y so all Christians think Z!"). Hell, that's happened here on the site.

The point being: yeah, the text is there, but as you said, sometimes it sinks in - but most of the time it doesn't. So "but the text says X" is an unfair guidepost by which to predict a person.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:51 AM on November 2, 2014


Bill Clinton tried very hard to assassinate Osama Bin Laden before 9/11 with cruise missiles because he accurately assessed that he was a serious threat to the American government and economy.

And, boy, did that work! Didn't antagonize anyone or legitimize their sentiments or motivate their base at all! No siree!

This is what happens when you push a button to make something go away. It doesn't go away. It gets worse.

A non-coward might hear the "enemy" out. See if their complaints have any legitimacy, and work to reach a compromise. A non-coward might give more of a shit about the sanctity of life (including foreign life) than they care about making sure everyone knows they have the biggest dick.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:35 AM on November 2, 2014


And, boy, did that work! Didn't antagonize anyone or legitimize their sentiments or motivate their base at all! No siree!


/Pours glass of hard liquor. Resumes rubbing temples.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:49 AM on November 2, 2014


Bill Clinton tried very hard to assassinate Osama Bin Laden before 9/11 with cruise missiles because he accurately assessed that he was a serious threat to the American government and economy.

For the record, Bill Clinton recently admitted he could have killed Bin Laden hours before 9-11, with a cruise missile, but decided not to because it would have destroyed an entire area of 300 people, confessing that he would have been no better than Bin Laden if he had done it. I would note that had Clinton done so, and the 9-11 attack had occurred anyway, then it would have been blamed on Clinton's strike.
posted by Brian B. at 9:46 AM on November 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


For clarification, Bill Clinton was not in office when Bin Laden attacked on 9-11, rather that he was recorded saying it hours before 9-11.
posted by Brian B. at 9:55 AM on November 2, 2014


DISILLUSIONED RUDEBOYS: JIHADI RECRUITS AND THE MACHINE OF CAPITALISM
The ISIS recruiting figures in the West alone are staggering and point to a profound disfunction in our so called liberal democracy. It cannot be that religious ideology just crept in and poisoned these men, something far more complex is happening.

It has its roots in the socialising of young men into a society where their basic instincts are frustrated and their conception of masculinity is forged in an environment of despair. How do we come to any useful psychosocial analysis of the ISIS mentality and not just disappear into academic obscurity while real people are chopping real heads off, raping and murdering thousands in the name of religious ideology?

It’s not enough to do a theological critique of Islamic fundamentalism. As we have seen, this polarised debate between the “rational, enlightened, scientific” mind as spearheaded by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and provocative pundits such as Bill Maher has done nothing to improve the situation. Instead it has further cemented the deadlocked orientalist paradigm of the Western “progressive liberal” mind-set versus “antiquated religious” Middle - Eastern culture, leaving us with a misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the genuine and complex causes of the problem.
[...]
When youth culture abounds with slogans and pop songs that deify money -baseball caps emblazoned with CASH IS KING, music celebrating and glorifying pure greed and excess, and of course sexual exploitation of women- is it a surprise that the more nuanced facets of young men’s personalities are not being developed? When young men are growing up without any sense of purpose outside of a strictly patriarchal, profit driven environment, what can they aspire to be other than rich, aggressively powerful and sexually potent? Young women too become complicit in the sexualisation and monetization of their worth when that’s all they are offered.

Of course the problem with the capitalist model is, apart from being fundamentally corrupting, it’s a impossible pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Those ideals that that we are compelled to pursue personal happiness, wealth, and individual freedom are unattainable to the 99%. Only the 1% can actually reap the benefits of this mindless striving for neo liberal self-fulfilment, whilst watching the rest of us scrabble about in the dream of one day “making it”. Making what is the question?
[...]
The colonization of women’s sexuality that brutally misogynist culture enacts is the ultimate and mortifying expression of the alienation of the fruits of the work from the worker that capitalism engenders.

In order to better understand the link between the misogyny and indeed misanthropy of both fundamentalist Islam and Western hedonistic individualist capitalism, it’s necessary to look at the reflexive relationship between the cultural ideology at work and the formation of the unconscious in the male psyche at both ends of the spectrum.
[...]
So we have to ask; if fundamentalist Islam works so hard at supressing female sexuality and Western neo liberal culture works so hard to exploit it, are they not just two sides of the same coin?

I’m afraid to say my reaction to a women in a full burqa in the height of summer is the same as when I see a clearly uncomfortable woman hobbling around in stiletto- stripper shoes and a mini skirt in mid-winter; my first thought is- you are oppressed.
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:43 PM on November 3, 2014


I don't know why this wasn't on Crash Course's Big History playlist, but relevant: Asian Responses to Imperialism, which outlined the general history that led to a loss of faith in liberal democracy as a viable political system.
posted by cendawanita at 4:58 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


oops, I mean World History!
posted by cendawanita at 5:09 AM on November 4, 2014


Unless liberal arts schools have changed much in the past 30 years (I'm sure they have) I am certain that as soon as the commencement speaker is announced there's some segment of the student body looking to protest, unless it's Chomsky or Bill Murray. this time they just had an easy target.

Snarking about liberal arts schools seems rather irrelevant in a conversation that is actually about a large public research university.
posted by naoko at 7:47 AM on November 4, 2014


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