Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Sep/10

8

A misunderstanding of civility

At The New Republic a writer is confused that a professor of Islamic Studies in Delaware would say this:

Along with the idea of God and prophets, the Quran is the thing that Muslims hold the dearest. My children have been listening to it since even before they were born. I use to recite it to them while they were still in the womb. Their children will be reciting it to them when they will be lowered in to their tomb. Believe me, there is nothing more precious to Muslims than the Quran, and watching people toss it into fire, will be horrifying. I would rather burn in fire myself, than watch a Quran burn.

I am amazed at how millions of Americans who are decent and honorable can watch this happen. No matter how ugly the act the Constitution permits this, is not an acceptable excuse. The Constitution does not permit this. The Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment. For Muslims this is worse than torture.

This is kind of weird coming from someone with Western values, but totally in keeping with someone espousing values which are normal in the Muslim world. Muslims do revere the Koran and Muhammed in a manner which is hard to understand for someone with a Western background. Unfortunately for Muslims if they move to a majority non-Muslim Western society their values are simply out of step, and they need to adjust. American Muslims Ask, Will We Ever Belong?:

Some American Muslims said they were especially on edge as the anniversary of 9/11 approaches. The pastor of a small church in Florida has promised to burn a pile of Korans that day. Muslim leaders are telling their followers that the stunt has been widely condemned by Christian and other religious groups and should be ignored. But they said some young American Muslims were questioning how they could simply sit by and watch the promised desecration.

If they’re American, they’ll counter-protest. There are more options than sitting & watching and violence & intimidation. That’s one of the things which Western societies learned during and after the Englightenment.

39 comments

  • Polichinello · September 8, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    At The New Republic a writer is confused…

    News at 11…Dog bites man…details to follow.

    But they said some young American Muslims were questioning how they could simply sit by and watch the promised desecration.

    There are 57 countries in the OIC. Let them depart for one of these blessed locales if they can’t take such “torture.” The Florida preacher’s a douche, but his douchery is pretty lightweight compared to stuff you see on Adult Swim or Comedy Central deal with Christianity. Indeed, at least he’s doing the Muslims the favor of taking their religious claims seriously instead of pretending they’re just Episcopalians with a heavy prayer schedule.

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 8, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    lol. it’s not just muslims who have this problem. some hindus and sikhs do too.

  • CONSVLTVS · September 8, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    Well, the State Department reaction (“may be his right to do it, but we hope cooler heads will prevail”) is exactly what most Conservatives said about the victory mosque at Ground Zero. Interesting how the Left said anyone who simply urged that the mosque not be built was Islamophobic, but people who simply urge the Florida minister not to burn the Koran are somehow not Christophobic. If you care for more on this, see my new blog (linked from my name) and tell me where I’m off base.

  • parabarbarian · September 9, 2010 at 12:56 am

    If the Quran is really the word of God then She/He/It can file a suit in Federal Court asking that Her/His/Its Intellectual Property be protected. Until them, if you own one you can burn it.

  • Oli M · September 9, 2010 at 12:56 am

    “CONSVLTVS”, that is not interesting at all. The rhetoric on the Left may be full of exaggeration that all of us should correct.

    Yet what’s relevant to the comparison you’re making is that there was no Bible-burning in conjunction with the construction of the mosque 3 blocks from Ground Zero, nor have any such burnings been announced. Stop trying to craft non-existent symmetries. It’s intellectually dishonest.

  • CONSVLTVS · September 9, 2010 at 1:14 am

    “Oli M” – Hmmm…what’s asymmetric about two vile, deliberate provocations? Never mind which one is worse (a matter of opinion), they’re both intended to offend.

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 9, 2010 at 1:19 am

    they’re both intended to offend.

    can you really glean this? i don’t think rauf et al. meant to offend at all. they think they’re religion is so f**king awesome that they don’t think there’s anything offensive about it. the reality is because of

    1) retarded attacks from neocons

    2) kid gloves from liberals

    american muslims don’t always have a good sense of how others view them. for example, i’m from a muslim family, but never believed, and have no connection with islam. my association with the religion is geopolitical. violence, etc. for an american muslim they have lots of personal events, holidays, family occasions, etc. yes, islam has a political aspect, but it’s highly personal and embedded in their social life. they understand that some americans have negative ignorant attitudes, but they could dismiss that as “hateful” or “islamophobia.” they have a hard time understanding genuine skepticism of religious claims, and a general lack of impressiveness of islam to many non-muslims. christian evangelicals have some of the same issues because of subcultural isolation, but not to the same degree and without as much import.

  • CONSVLTVS · September 9, 2010 at 1:44 am

    “can you really glean this?”

    Fair enough, we can never actually know what’s in someone else’s heart. Can’t say for sure what Imam Rauf’s intent is, but if it were truly for reconciliation, why isn’t he building an interfaith center with prominent condemnation of the 9/11 attacks? If he really is blind to the offensiveness of the actual project, well, perhaps the same can be said for Pastor Jones. The kindest thing I can say about both of them is that perhaps they are both acting from sincere faith. Of course, that doesn’t make their actions any the less offensive, but at least their true intent would not be to offend. In the end, I’d wager the odds for both favor some element of deliberate offense, because it would be too easy for both of them to change plans to something affirmative.

    “christian evangelicals have some of the same issues”

    I appreciate your “inside report” on American Muslims, which made me say, “Oh, yes, of course!” As a non-believer, I have always thought the reason both groups feel this way is that their respective religions are total solutions–that is, everything is answered in the holy book, which is the literal word of the deity, and which does not allow exception. My brother-in-law (Catholic) says everyone secretly believes his or her religion is the only true one.

  • John · September 9, 2010 at 2:12 am

    As a disco fan, I thought the Disco Demolition Night of 1979 was offensive. But, I don’t question their right to do it. I certainly wouldn’t threaten anyone over it. And as far as I am concerned, disco has been a larger net plus for society than the Koran.

    Oh yeah, the pastor is still a jerk.

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 9, 2010 at 4:11 am

    If he really is blind to the offensiveness of the actual project, well, perhaps the same can be said for Pastor Jones.

    well, i think jones is meaning to offend because he believes that non-christians worship demons, as per references by st. paul. this is not atypical for some very conservative christians, who basically conceive all religions besides their own as demon worship, and atheism as a form of satanism. it might seem ludicrous from the outside, but it’s coherent to them.

    As a disco fan, I thought the Disco Demolition Night of 1979 was offensive. But, I don’t question their right to do it. I certainly wouldn’t threaten anyone over it. And as far as I am concerned, disco has been a larger net plus for society than the Koran.

    i have some of the same attitudes. what is holy to me? the thing is, i think we atheists or secularists are in a weird and unfortunate rhetorical position because we really don’t have a good equivalent to the bible, or a communion wafer, and such. as i’ve noted before i think we’re kind of retarded in some cognitive ways and so can’t see deeper meaning that are self-evident to other people. the koran is after all processed paper with ink marks on it. same with the bible. a communion wafer is a cracker. but believers imbue it with much more.

    the only analogy with i think gets home the offense for believers is the idea of someone having sex with your dead mother’s body a few hours after her expiration. how’d that make you feel? she’s gone. the body is just an amalgamation of cells, which will soon start to brake down. but unless you’re autistic, you’d probably be offended.

    now, this isn’t an argument to respect every sacred cow. i don’t think we can really manage it so easily in a pluralist society. but it gives a window into the emotional impulse.

    (a separate issue is that some people react to blasphemy very differently than others)

  • Daniel · September 9, 2010 at 4:17 am

    >>Oh yeah, the pastor is still a jerk.

    No he’s not.

  • Don Kenner · September 9, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    “Yet what’s relevant to the comparison you’re making is that there was no Bible-burning in conjunction with the construction of the mosque 3 blocks from Ground Zero, nor have any such burnings been announced. Stop trying to craft non-existent symmetries. It’s intellectually dishonest.”

    What is intellectually dishonest, grinning fool, is this pretense of tolerant Islam (no bible-burnings scheduled) verses the “horror” of burning that worthless book of 7th century savagery. You could burn a christian and get less outrage from the chattering classes than we’ve had so far.

    Muslim girls are murdered for wearing blue jeans and using cell phones (two just up the highway from where I live); the news is broadcast coast to coast, and the cries of disgust barely register above the cricket noise.

    You want a comparison? Try this: the “backlash” against Muslim savages for 9-11, honor killings, bus bombings, etc. has been virtually nil. The backlash against choosing a breakfast cereal that offends Allah is bloody and on-going.

    As for the scheduled immolation of the holy book, our message to Muslims should be “Grow up or get out.”

  • Wade Nichols · September 9, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    As a disco fan, I thought the Disco Demolition Night of 1979 was offensive.

    John, you made my day!

    I’m a major disco fan myself, as my screen moniker alludes to Dennis Parker. His song “Like An Eagle” is one of my favorite obscure disco tunes!!

    My religious beliefs have withered over the years to near nil, but my love of disco has remained constant!

  • Le Mur · September 9, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    I would rather burn in fire myself, than watch a Quran burn.
    For Muslims this is worse than torture.

    I doubt it, and I doubt it.

    Do Muslim panties get knotted-up over korans burned and destroyed by Muslim terrorists?

    On Obama’s pandering – can you imagine anyone, much less the President, whining and worrying that the Germans or Japanese would be offended by WWII propaganda? How low we’ve sunk.

  • Narr · September 9, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    I caught a bit of Mayor Bloomberg on TV yesterday, and though I’m not a big fan of his, I think he had it exactly right–in the caes of the ICC in Lower Manhattan and the Koran immolation in Florida, the actors have both free speech and property rights to do what they plan. Cases closed.

    I was discussing this with some colleagues, and observed that we didn’t go into Afghanistan to make sure that Muslims were never offended. (I think we should get out now that the mission has failed, but that’s another issue.) If they don’t want to advance at least up to the late 18th-century C.E., the hell with them.

  • Sully · September 10, 2010 at 1:07 am

    You can move along folks. In the interests of religious liberty President Obama, Defense Secretary Gates and General Petraeus have succeeded in intimidating the loony pastor with the 30 congregants into dropping his koran burning plans.

    Perhaps they informed him that his address, make and model of auto and daily habits would be publicized and the local police would have orders to come slow if call. Or, more probably, perhaps they bought him off.

  • Mike H · September 10, 2010 at 2:47 am

    I don’t personally appreciate book burnings of any sort but I still think the Islamic reaction to this and other instances of “provocation” is disgusting simply because it strikes me as a very calculated power play.

    The statements of that scholar serve very obvious purposes they emphasize the severity of the insult and the possible severity of the response and the obligation of authorities to stop it – or else. It’s an implicit threat designed for us to take Muslim demands very seriously and to ultimately follow them. The exact same design can be found in remarks from various high-ranking politicians from Muslim counties and Islamic leaders.

    Western leaders, fearful of terrorism, desperate to secure co-operation from regimes in Islamic countries both in matters of trade and in the matter of prosecuting terrorists, are inclined to listen to such threats and will with the zeal that only fear can produce rush to appease Muslims. The more grave the insult supposedly is the more outraged the “Arab street” threatens to be, the more concessions are made. Incentive for Muslims? Be offended, be very offended, use terminology implying the most extreme sense of being insulted and predict possibly dire consequences. Muslims are the touchiest people alive because it’s worked for their leaders who do everything to assure the desired offended response (see Mohammed cartoon riots being promoted by regimes).

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 10, 2010 at 2:57 am

    muslims are just barbarians, OK? there’s a rational reason not to piss them off. i just wish people would be more honest about the structural reason behind the double-standard of offense for thee but tolerance from we.

  • Snippet · September 10, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Does it piss them off when they are referred to as barbarians?

    Hopefully not!

  • Apathy Curve · September 10, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    I would suggest that we burn all of the ‘holy texts’, but some opportunistic ass would just write another one. I find religious spats like this to be eye-rolling ridiculous and childish — which only makes sense, as zealots rarely ascend above the emotional level of a 12-year old.

    “My daddy can beat up your daddy!”

    “My book is more important than your book!”

    Makes me want to send them all to bed without supper.

  • Susan · September 10, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    As Razib says, there’s indeed a rational reason not to to annoy barbarians. And it would be nice if people had the guts to admit this instead of mouthing pieties about not offending others’ religious sensibilities. I’m reminded of the English artist who recently gave a show of anti-Christian-themed works. When a newspaper reporter asked him if he’d do an anti-Muslim show, he replied, quite simply, “No. They might kill me.” I applaud his honesty.

    But the issue of placating people (barbarians) becomes fraught when you realize that almost anyone can deem anything offensive. Where do you draw the line? Who decides where the line lies?

  • Apathy Curve · September 10, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    Susan wrote: “Who decides where the line lies?”

    Them with the biggest guns — and the will to use them.

    I get a snicker whenever some naive individual talks about “might doesn’t make right” or “that would make us no better than them.”

    Delude yourselves if you like, but I choose to live in reality, and the Universe does not give a flip about us or our beliefs. It simply is. Deal with it.

  • jld · September 11, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    As Razib says, there’s indeed a rational reason not to to annoy barbarians

    Mmmmn… Danegeld?

  • Le Mur · September 11, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    muslims are just barbarians, OK? there’s a rational reason not to piss them off.

    Yup, cowardice. Do you actually “think” that acceding to some insecure bully’s ludicrous demands accomplishes anything except more bullying? The best response to “don’t burn our comic book or we’ll do something mean to you” is to burn LOTS of comic books – and have parties while doing so.

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 11, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    le mur, i have low standards for commentary on this weblog, but don’t be a moron, and don’t assume i’m a moron.

    “Yup, cowardice. Do you actually “think” that acceding to some insecure bully’s ludicrous demands accomplishes anything except more bullying? The best response to “don’t dress provocatively at frat parties” is to dress even more provocatively at at frat parties.”

    we navigate the word of the possible and the world which we isn’t. it isn’t a black-white dichotomy. your recent trend of comments suggests you’re either a retard, or, you are using this weblog to blow off steam. hope it’s the latter.

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 11, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    and to be clear, i don’t think the koran burning would have resulted in a Götterdämmerung or apocalypse. so i didn’t “opppose it.” but, i find retarded sloganeering tiresome. so many blogs where you can brain-fart, why do it here?

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 11, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    Mmmmn… Danegeld?

    the danegeld was a tax extracted from the subsistence farmers of england. it was a yoke. just as the norman yoke was. that is not analogous to an aversion to causing cultural offense by the burning of books. does it pain you that you can’t burn the koran? in india muslims will often not eat beef, and hindus will often not eat pork, to respect each other’s religious traditions. i think this sort of behavior in the service of superstition is sad, that superstition clouds the minds of men so, but, it is not analogous to subjugation or dhimmitude.

  • Aziz Poonawalla · September 13, 2010 at 5:52 am

    Overall I think that yes some muslims can be barbarians, but this is such a vague and general statement that it is useless. Certainly you don’t want to piss off America either, because we might invade a random country or bomb your wedding. Don’t piss off overweight weight guys either because they might go slaving. I mean, where’s the metric for barbarism here? Unusually lazy statement from you, in my opinion.

    Anyway, quoting one self-appointed shrinking violet about the quran burning thing is pretty lame. Have you read Haroon Moghul’s piece at his avari weblog? Hussein Rashid at Huff Po? The excellent piece at altmuslim? how abbout my own commentary at City of Brass?

    you have far better data samples to gauge the response of any given event from the amerimuslim community; why go nutpicking? because it was easier, and perhaps more compatible with the local blog community’s predispositions and stereotypes? “there those muslims go again…”

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 13, 2010 at 7:38 am

    you know i am aware of the statistics. you’re in the minority in world islam on a lot of issues, and in fact, on a lot of issues you agree with me, not other (majority) muslims. in fact, as you’ve said, america is a much better country for islam (at least from your perspective) than most muslim countries. if you’re interpretation of islam was world normative islam there wouldn’t be an issue. it isn’t. in fact, you’d be treated far worse in most of the world by your putative ‘co-religionists’ because of your sectarian identity. and since i think religion is just man-made, i’ll judge them by the beliefs and actions of the majority, not the exemplars i prefer.

    and the issue in the post wasn’t american islam, which i am generally less concerned about, but world islam. the guy in question is a regular contributor to the washpo from what i’ve seen on islamic issues, but he regularly expresses embarrassing FOB attitudes on the religion (mostly they’re just funny, like how islam invented science, which is pretty normal to claim from many muslims just like indians and chinese do for their own civilization). and he’s not a nut, he’s a prof of islamic studies in delaware, and clearly fancies himself a voice for ‘moderate muslims.’ his attitude isn’t limited to muslims, i’ve seen hindus and sikhs say similar tripe about free speech because they haven’t internalized anglo-saxon norms.

    please don’t confuse me for some of the less intelligent commenters in these parts. when i say muslims are barbarians, i’m doing it consciously. chinese are barbarians too. just as they think we’re barbarians.

  • Audrey the Liberal · September 13, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    I know I’m reveling myself as a hypocrite, but I don’t care. I don’t have any problem with people burning Korans, unless said people are themselves religious fundamentalists. That said, I will defend to the death their right to free expression, even though they won’t defend mine.

  • Polichinello · September 13, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    I know I’m reveling myself as a hypocrite…

    No, you’ve actually just “reveled” yourself as incomprehensible.

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 13, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    yeah, didn’t know what that was about either….

  • Randall Parker · September 15, 2010 at 2:04 am

    Razib, Obviously there are situations where it is unwise to annoy the barbarians. I certainly would not do it when in barbarian societies. But I also see gains from annoying barbarians: The barbarian reactions educate the general public in ways that you otherwise can’t educate them.

    We live in an era where the very notion of the existence of barbarians is denied by the liberal mainstream. They would have us believe the world is just full of a richness of equally valid and equally moral cultures. Pushing the emotional buttons of barbarians helps to clarify understanding. So I’m for it in most cases.

    The barbarians are only dangerous if we let them get close. The liberals want to let the barbarians get close. Symbolic acts by some Koran-burning pastor yield rich dividends.

    As for threats to US troops from Koran-burning: These threats should cause us to reexamine the supposed utility of occupying barbarian lands. We should find ways to enhance our security without occupying those lands. Besides, we are just increasing the food supply of a country still caught in the Malthusian Trap. So more barbarians.

  • The Sophontologist · September 15, 2010 at 2:49 am

    Funny how the religion of peace’s first reaction is to become violent. And, when the entire Western world pretty much told Rev. Jones he was being a douche, they did not say “hey, these people are pretty tolerant!”, they went ALALALALALALALA, BOOM!
    As an avowed atheist, i regard all religions as, well, stupid. But burning books, even ‘holy’ books, you just don’t do that.
    That said, I support Rev. Jones’ right to do that. It sickens me that I have to support his right to be a world class asshole but if I do not support his right to free speech then it becomes an old buddies club and, in the end, meaningless

  • Randall Parker · September 15, 2010 at 3:45 am

    Sophontologist,

    When someone says it sickens them to take some position I figure they are just striking a pose and signaling.

    Very few non-Muslim people are truly sickened by the idea of burning Korans.

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 15, 2010 at 3:47 am

    As for threats to US troops from Koran-burning: These threats should cause us to reexamine the supposed utility of occupying barbarian lands

    yes. though you know that on foreign policy we lean in the same direction.

  • Polichinello · September 15, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    Very few non-Muslim people are truly sickened by the idea of burning Korans.

    Randall,

    Francois Truffaut did an awful movie version of Fahrenheit 451, but it had one truly ballsy scene, where the head “fireman” gave a speech about why the government had to burn books, because they offended “negroes” or Jews or women. “They all have to go,” he concluded as he held up a copy of Mein Kampf, and then tossed it into the fire. The scene worked you up to the point that even burning Hitler’s work was shown as wrong, and this only 20-some-odd years after WWII.

    The thing is, in a secular society, there is something upsetting about book-burning. It’s an act of vandalism. True, the pastor in question owns the books, but it’s still a viscerally disturbing act.

  • Randall Parker · September 16, 2010 at 3:17 am

    Polichinello,

    Most Americans dislike or fear Islam. Burning the Koran does not upset them.

    I grew up around lots of lower middle class whites. I still known plenty of them. I’ve got contacts going back to grade school and high school and know them in other parts of the country. I know they are not upset at the idea of Koran burnings. They do not have the reverence for books that you might feel. They’ve also got un-nuanced attitudes toward Islam: Definitely bad.

    So when I say that most people do not get upset by the burning of Korans I’m not talking about most intellectuals. I’m not talking about most NY Times readers. I’m talking about a much larger section of the US population.

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 16, 2010 at 3:33 am

    here’s some polling data:

    http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1706/poll-americans-views-of-muslims-object-to-new-york-islamic-center-islam-violence

    i suspect people are underreporting their fear/dislike, so randall parker may be correct, though on the face of it he is not. OTOH, from what i can tell about religious people they sometimes have generalized respect for religion even if they think religion X is false and such. so i’m not going to engage in psychological projects until there’s some public surveys of attitudes.

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