Saturday, November 1, 2014

The L-Words

Libertarian Atheism versus Liberal Religionism

If you’ve followed the recent U.S. internet debates between liberal religionists and some atheists recently, you might smell a rat.  The liberals are making a big deal out of it.  Let’s look at one argument, specifically around Female Genital Mutilation, (“FGM”) a topic that no one should have two opinions about.  FGM is a curse on women anywhere, and part of patriarchal culture, which is not always divorced from capitalist or mercantile culture.  It is part of an attempt to oppress women and use them for free or low-paid labor by controlling and damaging their independent sexual existence. 

FGM came up because it is reported that atheist comic Bill Maher said to Iranian-born religion professor Reza Aslan that FGM was an ‘Islamic’ problem.  Aslan countered and said it was an ‘African’ problem, and that Maher was an Islamophobe.  This term ‘Islamophobe’ gets kicked around a lot, as it’s meaning has become somewhat overly flexible.  In fact, it is starting to mean any criticism of Islam by anyone.  Phobia means 'irrational fear,' like washing your hands every 5 minutes.  It does not mean 'dislike' or 'oppose.' The liberal Christians loved Aslan, who is ecumenical of course.  However, not sure what African-Americans would think about Aslan’s line. 

Religion, of course, is politics by other means. Bill Maher is closer to a 'leftish' form of libertarianism than anything else.  Aslan is a liberal religionist who is probably crowing over the Pope’s statement that the Big Bang … and subsequent evolution … is really not contradictory to the initial creation of the universe by God.  (Take note, some scientists…ex nihilo!)

Female Genital Mutilation

I got to be curious about FGM.  Look it up for yourself in Wikipedia and other sources.  Low and behold, both Maher and Aslan are wrong – and right.  FGM is practiced among some ethnic tribal groups in Africa.  But also in some predominantly Arab countries (the Kurds in Iraq, tribes in Yemen, the UAE), and in some countries in Africa with large Muslim populations – Egyptian rates are 90% of all girls undergoing FGM, and from 70-90% in Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia – mostly Muslim states.  Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria and Sierra Leone are also on the high end – 70% in Mauritania.  A small group of Ethiopian and Egyptian (Coptic) Christians support it.  The Maasai, the last remaining semi-nomadic people in Africa, practice it.  It is also practiced in South Asian countries like Malaysia and Indonesia with large Islamic populations and in other scattered countries around the world.  Some Somalis in the U.S. send their girls back to Somalia to be cut.  This also happens in other western countries like England where there is now a movement to prevent this. 

In spite of Aslan’s claim, religious opinion is split on FGM in many countries with Muslim majorities.  Some Islamic scholars denounce it as “un-Islamic” and not mentioned in the Quran (true) and others claim it is obligatory or ‘honourable.’  Many ordinary Muslim’s believe it is part of being a ‘good Muslim.’  It might be outlawed formally by the state, but the laws are not enforced, so it is still practiced. Just as there are splits between Christian religionists about various issues, so too among Islamists there are differences.  No surprises here. 

What is clear is that no atheist or socialist has ever condoned FGM. 

However some liberal relativists believe that whatever other cultures do is ‘right.’  This cultural relativism is supposed be a ‘blow’ against Westernism, but unfortunately in this context it has the effect of helping enslave women.  It also reveals the parochial and privileged condition of those tolerating it, as they would never allow their own girls to undergo it, nor would they if they had to organize for women’s rights in, let’s say, Yemen.

Don’t You Love Libertarians and Liberals?

Now why are both Maher and Aslan wrong on what seems to be such a factual argument?

Maher is wrong because, like the religious idealists he denounces, he practices a form of ‘idealism’ too – i.e. thinking that ideas like religion and not material reality ultimately determine our thoughts and practices.  If the U.S. and its tiny group of allies weren’t invading and bombing Muslim countries – Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen – while backing the invasion of others – Palestine – Islam might not be such a backward rallying cry politically or culturally.  Supporting various Middle-Eastern dictatorships doesn’t help either.  The secular proletarian and left forces in the Middle East have been decimated, while political Islam has taken their place.  Much of this has had to do with the functioning of U.S. imperialism, which undermined the left for many years in the Middle East.  Look at the war in Afghanistan against the Soviets for proof of that.  Or past Israeli and U.S. support for the Muslim Brotherhood against the PLO, DFLP and PFLP in Palestine. Even the invasion of Iraq and the support for the decimation of Syria were aimed at partially secular regimes.

The fig leaf of concern of women's rights is ultimately only an excuse for economic control.  In Iran it is the Iranian working class, poor, students and farmers who will settle with that theocracy, not the jackboots of the U.S. military or Israeli bombs.  After all, the U.S. government provided Sadaam Hussein with the gas used on many Iranians during that bloody, endless invasion of Iran.

Recently Richard Dawkins admitted that the problems in the Middle-East were not really caused by Islam. Which was a concession for him, and he’s certainly starting to figure it out. Maher himself rarely mentions the situation in the Middle-East or U.S. interventions, which is very suspect.   It’s ultimately all about oil and Israel, the dollar and political and military control of the region.  Even ISIS is all about the oil and the Sunnis in Iraq are really all about protecting themselves from being dominated by the Shia rulers in Baghdad.  The Middle-Eastern rulers use religion to solidify their base in the Middle East, just as the Republican and Democratic right-wing uses religion to solidify its base in the U.S.  The American Christian Dominionists are really no different – they just let the U.S. government do their violence for them.  When they aren’t already part of the military, that is.

Aslan is wrong because certain kinds of Islam in Africa and in other parts of the world do play a role in propping up FGM.  It is not purely an ethnic or tribal or “African” issue.  Its roots have several sources.  Here is a reference from Wiki, though there are many more:
“The historical religious view of Islam, on FGM, varies with the school of Islamic jurisprudence:[21]
  • The Shafi'i school of Islamic jurisprudence considers female circumcision to be wajib (obligatory).[22]
  • The Hanbali school of Islamic jurisprudence considers female circumcision to be makrumah (honorable) and strongly encouraged, to obligatory.[23]
  • The Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence considers female circumcision to be sunnah (optional) and preferred.[23]
  • The Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence considers female circumcision to be sunnah (preferred).[23]
Fatwas in favor of FGM have been issued in many Islamic countries,[44][45][46] some fatwas forbid FGM,[47] and some ambivalent fatwas have also been issued that leave the choice to the parents.[48]

In 2012 the Salafist Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was reported to be working on de-criminalizing FGM, and offering it as part of their community ‘service’ for a small fee.

As I pointed out, some Christian groups practice it too.  The fact that conservative factions in religions – be they Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism – always slight women’s rights shows that FGM is not some outlier.  It is not “Islamophobia’ to point this out.  Professor Aslan is covering for all varieties of Islam – as do religion professors normally.  And in the process, justifies the oppression of women.  Aslan, a darling of CNN, is not some kind of dedicated 'anti-imperialist' but just the most arrogant kind of religionist who hates atheism.  He considers it another 'fundamentalist belief.'  Of course, lack of belief is not a belief.  Nor is atheism a 'belief' in the same sense that religious ideas are belief.  One is based on facts, the other - not so much.

Why do some liberals defend religion as a knee-jerk reaction?  Is it because they are such great ‘materialists’?  Just asking the question answers it.  They defend religion as an ideological concept because it, like nationalism, racism, sexism and individualism, is part of the ‘thought matrix’ that keeps the population controlled.   We live in a material world while swimming in an ideological soup - and religion is part of the soup.

Islam and Anti-Female Theocracy – Uncomfortably Close

In particular Islam is the cover for most of the remaining theocracies in the world, and for regimes in which ‘kings’ still exist and have actual power - the majority supported by the U.S. government.  The Middle East is the center of most remaining real monarchies in the world, along with weaker forms in Morocco, Brunei and Malaysia.  Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritania, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Abu Dhabi, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, and Pakistan are basically religious theocracies by law, all based on ostensible Islamic principles.  The U.S. has attempted to restore the Tibetan Buddhist theocracy for years.  The Nepalese Buddhist theocracy was recently overthrown by a people’s movement led by Communists.  The Vatican is the last remaining Christian theocracy.  In Nigeria Islamic law is optional.  In oil-rich Brunei in southeast Asia, the “Sultan” is attempting to bring in an Islamic theocracy. 

Theocratic (Sharia) laws condemn women to second-class status in many of these countries.  Saudi Arabia and its official Wahhabism is the league-leader here, an absolute monarchy where even very wealthy women only recently got to vote in low-end venues, and are still banned from driving or going out alone.  Having a legal male guardian is required for many activities, as women have a ‘lack of capacity.’ This includes permission to travel, marry or divorce, work or get an education, get a bank account or a medical procedure.  Sex segregation is required, and that includes in workplaces. All this is enforced by the ‘religious police.’  The widespread practice of the hijab/ chador/ abayah/ burqa/ niqab/ veil/ headscarf is almost unique to Islam– similar to their use by nuns in the Catholic Church or fundamentalist female Mormons or rural female Amish.  The inescapable pattern for most Islamic countries regarding women is not at all sanguine - nor is it so among other fundamentalist religious groups.  It is many times hostile.

Here is one Quran quote re women’s rights:
Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband's] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance - [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand.
Qur'an[Quran 4:34]

Quranic literalists will be hitting their wives - simple as that.  Mohammed had a good number of wives, just like Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormons, so there could have been lots of wives to hit.  These are facts, not ‘Islamophobia.’  Nor is it ‘Islamophobic’ to point out that the ‘Sunni/Shia’ fighting reminds people of the ‘Catholic/Protestant’ wars, the last of which ended in Ireland 20 years ago.  That Irish war, like the present conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, was not really about religion anyway.  Even the religious crusade against Jews that animated the Second World War was a useful smokescreen for the German ruling class.  That is where Marxism comes in - understanding the material and economic roots of supposedly ideological, religious or cultural conflicts. 

Addendum:  Worst countries for women according to 24/7 Wall Street in 2013:  1. Yemen. 2. Pakistan. 3. Chad. 4. Syria. 5. Mali. 6. Iran. 7. Cote D'Ivoire. 8. Lebanon. 9. Jordan. 10. Morocco.  Notice the pattern.  All majority Islamic countries, although some also ripped by civil war.  Mali is 90% Islamic, Chad 56% and Cote I'Ivoire is 38.6% - still a plurality. 

Prior posts on these topics – commentary “The Big Bang Theory,” and book reviews 'Islamophobia" and “Spiritual Snake Oil.”

P.S. - Aslan recently gave a talk which supposedly 'destroyed Biblical literalism" at the Los Angeles World Affairs Counsel.  Perchance he will now be called a "Christian-o-phobe" ? 

PPS:  -  11/20/2014 - "The first doctor to be brought to trial in Egypt on charges of female genital mutilation (FGM) has been acquitted, crushing hopes that the landmark verdict would discourage Egyptian doctors from conducting the endemic practice.
Raslan Fadl, a doctor and Islamic preacher in the village of Agga, northern Egypt, was acquitted of mutilating Sohair al-Bata’a in June 2013. The 12-year-old died during the alleged procedure, but Fadl was also acquitted of her manslaughter.
No reason was given by the judge, with the verdict being simply scrawled in a court ledger, rather than being announced in the Agga courtroom."
Red Frog
November 1, 2014

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