Losing our sense of the tragic and the human bond

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by Neil Godfrey

What depresses me most about debates like the recent discussion over Western attitudes towards Muslims is the black and white view so many people have. “If you disagree with us you can only be wrong and not worth listening to.” “I can’t hear you because you are arguing against something I strongly believe and the way I view the world.”

Ideologically driven closed-mindedness can be found on both sides, of course. But bloody hell, what’s wrong with trying to maintain a sense of humanity and tragedy in the whole discussion? We are all human and talking about the fate of other humans, and there is a strong tragic streak running through the whole human condition on this stage.

Someone here recently said he found Muslims are no different from us in their everyday concerns. That such a statement was thought worth pointing out (and it is!) speaks volumes for how semi-barbaric much of the discussion has become.

There are anti-war activists who have sons and daughters on willing active service (volunteers) in Afghanistan and Iraq. In a good number of those I have reason to believe they are very close to their children despite ideological (or generation) differences.

There are Muslim parents who will mourn to their graves their loss of a son or daughter to a suicide-bombing recruiter and families of those who lost loved ones in 9/11 who have visited some of those Muslims.

It would be good to keep all those sorts of families in mind when engaging with supporters of one side or the other.

The world is not black and white. There is no iron curtain or tentacle-extending behemoth. Except in our fears. There is evil that needs to be faced. Sometimes that means having the courage to be sure we ourselves are not the proverbial evil we have projected onto others. Tragedy needs a catharsis, or it truly will become unbearable.

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Neil Godfrey

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21 thoughts on “Losing our sense of the tragic and the human bond”

  1. One of the great sustainers of evil is the supposition that there is just something wrong with people who don’t see things as we see them. Religious believers think skeptics are afflicted with a moral defect. For too many skeptics, anyone who holds any religious belief is afflicted with insufficient intelligence. Both attitudes are equally counterproductive to any effort toward making the world a better place for all of us.

  2. > There are Muslim parents who will mourn to their graves their loss of a son or daughter

    The discussion was not about Muslims. The discussion was about Islam. Muslims are people, like for example Germans are. Islam is an ideology, like for example Nazism, Communism, Scientology and Apartheid are. While it is not OK to villify people, it is perfectly OK to criticize an abstract ideology, even if some people do not at all like it when “their” ideology is criticized.

    > what’s wrong with trying to maintain a sense of humanity

    You’re the first who I’ve read is even questioning humanity here. I thought we were discussing ideologies.

    1. I wish we were discussing ideologies. But we are discussing acts of murder, lynch mobs, plots to dominate the world. This great beast called Islam is orgasmically spreading its tentacles and those viruses in the heart of the beast are doing nothing to try to stop it. That’s what we are discussing.

      When we criticize Christianity we do much, much better at addressing the ideology and the psychology as I have pointed out several times. We manage to focus on the impact of the ideology in a way we do not when it comes to Islam. What we do, as a substitute for discussing ideology, is to scour the Qur’an ourselves for the bad bits where it rivals the Bible, and call that “criticizing the ideology”. We impose our prejudiced view upon the whole religion — that is, the people — and impute to them an ideology they themselves deny.

      But that only proves how self-deluded and in the bonds of something sinister they really are if they deny our pre-judgement and our interpretation of their books in defiance of what they themselves actually believe. We find a handful who believe bad, ignore the causes and rationalizations of their actions and beliefs, and attribute that to the entire people.

      And we call that criticizing them the same way we criticize Christianity and we call that merely addressing an “ideology” and not the people.

      We only impute to the people our own hate-filled delusions. That’s all. That’s only having an academic discussion about ideology, nothing about fanning ignorance and bigotry against a whole people.

      Someone said Islam is shit, and so am I. He was only discussing ideology, of course, and no-one else would think like that, not even Jerry kiss-my-arse Coyne.

      There is one side trying to bring the discussion to ideology and you are refusing to listen to that side. For you and others a few proof-texts is all you need to prove the ideology that possesses the minds of the millions that make up the body of the beast, and the overwhelming majority of Muslims can kiss Jerry’s arse if they try to disagree.

      . . . .

      Come to think of it, discussing an ideology — it’s kind of like discussing communism or terror and deciding to rid the world of these bad ideologies. It’s entirely academic. Dropping bombs is only about saving the world from bad ideologies.

  3. I am talking about a religion when I talk about Islam, and inevitably the people most oppressed by it are those who submit to it. Like most ideologies it has a founding book and endless commentaries on said book along with a large group of powerful men who maintain themselves in power by using the ideology to justify their oppression of others. When I see a mob of howling men calling for the death of atheist bloggers, I am appalled at what religion can do to people who would no doubt mostly be decent human beings, if they were not daily brainwashed into believing that they will suffer in hell for eternity if they do not defend Islam and defend the virginity of their women to the death, the women’s death that is. Brainwashed by men who parasitize society by living off the fear of others. As a woman I am particularly aware that should Islam achieve its stated goals of world domination (as proclaimed in the Qu’ran) that my life and that of my daughter would be ruined. I do not want to have to shroud myself in a cloth bag when I go out or have to give up my driving license or any of the other things justified using religious dogma. Islam is a very damaging set of memes and its vectors are all the people who submit to it. Just as one doesn’t blame the carrier of smallpox for having the disease, but yet must protect oneself and society against catching it, I don’t blame Muslims (or for that matter Christians or HIndus) who have been indoctrinated since birth to believe pernicious lies. Nonetheless I feel the need to protect myself and my society against the ill effects of these beliefs as far as possible, mostly by pointing out that they don’t deserve the special treatment they all crave and that are just plain deluded. Pretending that the world would be unchanged if Islam were to prevail or imagining it couldn’t possibly happen, would you even more deluded than the Muslims who blow themselves up at public gatherings imagining they’re going to paradise for their trouble.

    1. Critiquing a system of thought or a religion is one thing, but what we see dominating the discussion of Islam is fear based on ignorance, and that does not advance any critical discussion of a religion. It is one thing to critically point out the faults of a religious system but another to add to the very social fears, prejudices and divisions that we usually blame upon religion itself. Our manner of criticism threatens to add to the problems caused by religion, even aggravate them.

      The first thing we need to do to critique a religion is to learn what its followers believe from their own words and actions, and to understand the reasons for the wide diversity expressed, and to learn the facts, to understand what we are talking about.

      (Incidentally, you no doubt see many more Muslim women in western countries than you realize, since many choose not to wear a head covering and many are driving cars.)

  4. Although all religious texts feature a certain amount of wartfare and violence, there is none but the Koran that is solely focused on it or promises an instant forgiveness of all your sins to those who die in battle against the infidels the way the Koran does. Yes, the Old Testament has a lot of violence and bloodshed in it, but there is no place where it actually promises forgiveness of sins for killing people. And that makes the difference between Muslims and everyone else insurmountable. Of course if they are Muslims who don’t ever actually read the Koran, well then that’s a bit different isn’t it??!!?

    1. If you want to understand what Muslims believe you need to study the words of Muslims. It appears you have not done that. Imagine someone who knows nothing whatever about Christianity, but who is exposed to media deploring the wars and conquests of Christian countries, and they decide to read the Bible to find out what this Christianity religion is all about. They found in the Bible the passages that cohered with the negative media portrayal of Christians. How many Christians would accept that such a person really understood what Christianity is or what Christians really believed?

      1. Christians say the Bible is the infallible word of God, and the Bible for its violence does not even in the Old Testament make violence the core of the religion. Even there, it is peripheral. It certainly does not bring with it a promise of forgiveness. Whereas in the Koran, violence is made the core of the religion, and the promise of instant forgiveness of all sins is attached to it. And there is a passage that specifically says that whenever a Muslim kills an infidel they should not view it as if they have killed that person but as if Allah has, so in other words, they’re not responsible for it. Now, granted modernized Muslims probably have ways of explaining this stuff away just like Protestant faith-onlyists have ways of explaining away passages that require baptism. This is why you say “If you want to understand what Muslims believe you need to study the words of Muslims”: but there are many different sects, of course, as there also are in Christianity and it would be a daunting task. My point is only this: Regardless of sect, regardless of interpretive framework, each individual who is really pious in the religion reads the supposed “word of God” text and often comes to conclusions that differ from their denomination. I did so as a Christian; everyone does. Maybe the dominant view of the denomination is that baptism is not important, but because you read certain passages like Acts 2:38, Gal 3:26-27 and so on, you come personally to put more emphasis on it than your denomination. In the same way, I would imagine (having read the Koran and seen how much emphasis it places on violence against infidels) that even in modernized moderate Muslims denominations many individuals who are very pious in reading the Koran come to personally place more importance on violence. Maybe they aren’t brave enough to engage in it themselves, but being a pious believer that this book is the “word of God” and seeing what emphasis it places on it, they must naturally come to sympathize with those who are brave enough to engage in it, to support them at least in their minds. The Christian analog is for one in a faith-onlyist denomination to come to believe that baptism is essential to salvation, but not dare tell anyone, rather only sympathize with others who believe that (like Catholics) in their mind. But at some point if the debate between two Christian groups comes to a head, they might take sides with the Catholics; so also those moderate Muslims who’ve been secretly smypathizing with violence because of their personal reading of the Koran may someday finally put those sympathies into action.

        1. Your view here is entirely theoretical. You are constructing what you believe to be an apt explanation for what you see as the problem of Islam. Your explanation is not grounded in reality, from an engagement with Muslims themselves. You don’t seem to think this is even necessary.

          It is this approach that lies at the heart of our dehumanization of Muslims. We do not come to know them through human dialogue with them or base our understanding on real human factors. To paraphrase someone else, we rely upon abstractions of Muslims crafted from our interpretation of the classical texts in preference to direct evidence drawn from modern realities.

          Your view of Muslims is a classical extension of Western attitudes towards Orientals and Arabs in particular since time immemorial: violent or supporters of violence, untrustworthy, treacherous, incapable of democratic values.

          1. Why is it atheists these days all seem to be closeted Muslims? As for Arabs, I’ve got no problem with Arabs or people of any race. But Muslims are saturated with the idea that killing infidels is the greatest thing one can do in life.

              1. And if I were to talk about hell and say that Christians are steeped in the belief that everyone who doesn’t agree with them nearly perfectly will burn in hell, someone would be aghast with equal horror and accuse me of not knowing any Christians. Because people who don’t like the truth can always just pretend it isn’t true.

              2. You have avoided answering my question. You don’t get to know what people are like by reading holy book. Do you believe Muslims have the very same nature as you and your neighbours do? Are they any different as people, in the things they want in life?

                You cannot get to know anyone from merely reading a religious book. If you could then everybody would be the same and not really human. Come to think of it, that’s the very essence of Islamophobia — dehumanizing Muslims by viewing them as “all the same” and all being motivated or controlled by one idea.

              3. I never said anything about “all the same.” And I think its rather clear what I’m saying is the book is the problem. Like I said, Muslims who don’t actually read the Koran are just like everyone else. But those who read it and believe it, are undoubtedly schitzophrenick or something. I don;t see how else one can dissociate the intene call to violence in the Koran from the religion…eixcept by schitzophrenia or not reading the book. For Christians its the same with the faith vs works debate. To ignore that fact that the New Testament and even Paul gives two answers on justificaiton, you must either not read the book or go schitzo.

              4. You are still avoiding my question. You do say all Muslims who believe the Koran are the same. They are all “schitzo” you say. I guess you have everyone in the world figured out according to a few stereotypes. Must make life very simple and easy for you.

  5. @ Marella and descriptivegrace

    I am a Muslim and what you describe is not the way I understand the Quran or experience my religion. The Quran teaches the brotherhood of all humanity. Islam is not about oppression but about Justice and Liberty. Many Muslim women prefer the Quranic version of gender equality rather than western feminisim because they feel Islam gives them equality and freedom and yet also respects their needs as women.

    (I am a practicing Muslim and read the Quran everyday)

          1. Okay, that’s nice. But it’s hardly the issue, is it. We want to understand why certain Islamic extremists commit murderous crimes. I think we need to start with getting to know them — the people who commit those crimes, don’t you think?

            I happened to see something about the police in Boston not yet knowing what the motive was for the recent bombings. If they understood the situation your way they would not have a problem, would they. The could read the Koran and say, Ha! We got him! So that’s why they did it! Case closed!

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