“Why do you care about hell? You’re an atheist!”

April 21, 2016

“Those that deny Our revelations We will burn in fire. No sooner will their skins be consumed than We shall give them other skins, so that they may truly taste the scourge. God is mighty and wise.” – Quran 4:56

Imagine for a second if the above passage was written by a World leader, and instead of “those that deny our revelations“, it was “Muslims…“. Quite rightly we would call it out for the violent bigotry, the dehumanising nature of its narrative. And yet, strangely, some seem to argue that as long as it’s religious, it isn’t bigoted, and thus isn’t a problem at all.

An early task in my university days was to explain to the group how we identify ourselves made up of our beliefs, our gender, our ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, or any other form of identification we may assume for ourselves. I included ‘atheist‘ in my identification. A weird identifier given that it relies solely on denying something that isn’t there. For that, I’m also a-unicornist. But the latter has no real-world affects, whilst the former absolutely does – an important distinction as we shall see. A religious guy in our group told me he’d like to hear my perspective on the World – a welcome discussion and one that continued for the next three years – but that he “couldn’t endorse your lifestyle“.

Around the same time that a man who had never met me told me he “couldn’t endorse my lifestyle“, Mehdi Hasan was giving a talk to the Al Khoei Islamic Centre, in which he states of others he’s never met:

“The kaffar, the disbelievers, the atheists who remain deaf and stubborn to the teachings of Islam, the rational message of the Quran; they are described in the Quran as, quote, “a people of no intelligence”, Allah describes them as; not of no morality, not as people of no belief – people of “no intelligence” – because they’re incapable of the intellectual effort it requires to shake off those blind prejudices, to shake off those easy assumptions about this world, about the existence of God.”

– And this is the problem of religious doctrines. It influences mentalities and behaviour. It casts non-believers as inferior, with believers the superior. It influences moderates & Islamists alike. Whilst Mehdi dehumanises us, a member of Malay Islamist group ISMA told me:

“I am better than you because I believe in Allah. You simply do not believe in Him. Need another reason?”

Around three years after Mehdi expressed some shockingly dehumanising views – based solely on religious dogma – about non-believers, Alexander Aan in Indonesia was being stripped of his job, beaten by religious thugs, and imprisoned for expressing his atheism online.

The point is, religious bigotry is the bedrock for a supremacist narrative that feeds policy. Once you dehumanise a section of the population, withdrawing their basic rights becomes easy. According to a report on the treatment of non-believers across the World, by The International Humanist & Ethical Union:

“12 countries in Africa, 9 in Asia, and 10 in the Middle East, were given the worst rating for committing “Grave Violations”. Some of these governments were found to openly incite hatred against atheists, or authorities which systematically fail to prosecute violent crimes against atheists.

Furthermore, in 12 of the worst-offending states, religious authorities can put atheists to death for the crime of “apostasy” (i.e. leaving religion; in all cases the religion was Islam).”

– It kills to be a non-believer in a society dominated by religion. And yet, if you highlight the real-world affects of bigotry inherent to religious texts, your concerns are dismissed:

belief

– So what if billions of people believe a doctrine that includes you having no intelligence, and deserving of nothing but setting on fire for eternity. So what if that religion has control over the lives of others. So what if it the divisive, supremacist nature of it is taught to children? It is as if beginning a dangerously discriminatory sentence with “God says….” negates whatever follows.

The fact is, person A not believing a religion to be true, does not suddenly mean the religion is not promoting bigoted ideas to those who do believe it to be true.

So “why do you care about hell if you’re an atheist?”
– Because whether hell exists or not is irrelevant, the behaviour of those who believe it does is exceptionally cruel.


Labour’s anti-Semitism problem.

April 2, 2016

Khadim Hussain is a local councillor for Keighley Central Ward. This week Mr Hussain sensationally announced his resignation from the Labour Party following claims of anti-Semitism. Here is Hussain’s resignation post on Facebook:

Khadim

Khadim is clear that the allegations of anti-semitism against him are ‘unfounded’. Indeed, his supporters echo this. One of his supporters on Facebook expressed his anger:

Nazim
– Not only is he convinced this is a vast injustice, a witch hunt against Khadim the social justice warrior, he’s also convinced that any allegations of anti-Semitism against Khadim, are simply a conspiratorial attempt to silence criticism of Israeli policy.

So, with all of those denials, and the victim-playing, let’s take a quick look at what Khadim has posted on his social media recently. Firstly, who is responsible for ISIS, in the Councillor’s mind:

israel

IMG_5273
– The Jews! Of course! This is blatant anti-Semitism. It is disheartening that Labour Party supporters (of which until very recently, I’d count myself as one) attempt to twist this sort of bigotry into something that is simply framed as criticism of a random state. But it is, as I said, blatant anti-Semitism in that instead of any meaningful analysis of the past few decades of Middle Eastern politics, of the role of romanticising the Caliphate, of the massive civil war in Syria, of the role played by both Saudi Arabia and Iran in competing for influence, of the US and Russia in a power play, or how restrictions of individual rights of expression and belief might contribute to animosity, or Saddam’s successful attempts to further the rift between Sunni and Shia (an absurd and pathetic religious squabble) it instead jumps straight to reviving centuries of false blood-libel and simply blames Jewish folk, through the tried-and-tested means inventing conspiracy used to dehumanise & provoke suspicion (based on nothing…… the article that Hussain posted is full of “you’d have to be mad to believe that it’s not Israel!” conjecture). When confronted with a clear problem, if not civil war, in his own religion, Khadim would rather just blame Jews.

Now, you may think I’m using the term ‘Jews’ when Khadim clearly means Israel (though focus on this one state, this Jewish state, rather than a much wider contextual analysis that the situation requires, choosing to ignore all the states that surround Israel implies either a very simple mind, or bigotry at its heart). Well, Khadim answers that himself, by reposting an image that refers to all those Jewish people murdered in the holocaust as “Zionists”:

Hitler
– A shocking image for a Labour politician to be posting and propagating. If not just for the child-like “shut up about the dead Jews already!” mentality of the entire piece, nor just for the fact that Khadim has no problem referring to millions of Jews as ‘Zionists’ (something he doesn’t like), nor for just the grotesque use of murdered Africans to take a dig at Jews, but also that Khadim seems to again ignore the problems his own religion caused in Africa. In 1866 – two years after the Egyptian cotton boom – Dr David Livingston writing from Africa noted the horrifying treatment of slaves by their Arab ‘owners’:

“We passed a woman tied by the neck to a tree and dead, the people of the country explained that she had been unable to keep up with the other slaves in a gang, and her master had determined that she should not become the property of anyone else if she recovered after resting a time. . . . we saw others tied up in a similar manner . . . the Arab who owned these victims was enraged at losing his money by the slaves becoming unable to march, and vented his spleen by murdering them.”

– The point of this picture was not to highlight the brutality that Africa faced during the colonial period. Indeed, those victims were simply used to highlight the actual point. The point was to re-emphasise at every possible moment how European colonialism was a grave evil (true), that Jewish folk – dehumanised here as 6 million ‘Zionists’ – always get all the attention (ironically exactly what the anti-Israel lobby do by focusing little to none of their energy on the abuses of the states that surround Israel). If the abuse of Africa were at all the point of the image, Khadim might have spent – or ever spent – some time explaining that his own religion and its supremacists were also culpable for the mistreatment of Africa. He might further accept that if we are to talk about World War II in the school classroom in the United Kingdom, we may extend the sphere of discourse to include both the Grand Mufti’s, and Hassan al-Banna’s flirtations with Nazism, that in turn lead to groups like Hamas using Nazi propaganda from time to time. It might take us up to the present day, when a publication – Al-Hayat al-Jadida, Official daily newspaper of the Palestinian National Authority – published right next to the only Jewish state in the World published an article in March 2013 that praises the man who committed a mass genocide against those neighbours:

“Had Hitler won, Nazism would be an honor that people would be competing to belong to, and not a disgrace punishable by law. Churchill and Roosevelt were alcoholics, and in their youth were questioned more than once about brawls they started in bars, while Hitler hated alcohol and was not addicted to it. He used to go to sleep early and wake up early, and was very organized. These facts have been turned upside down as well, and Satan has been dressed with angels’ wings.”

– Khadim’s narrative can be found all too often recently in the Labour Party. It takes three steps. Step 1) Find a way to blame Jews for something, usually conspiratorial, attempts to dominate the Globe, a flashback to Catholic Church-inspired blood-libel, if it requires ignoring the influence and history of your own ideological position, that’s fine. Step 2) Plead ignorance when your anti-Semitism is highlighted, and try to claim you’re just anti-occupation. Step 3) Whether it be your religion or your political ideology, play the victim for it. The media is against you, the Zionists are out to get you (or steal your shoe), you are probably being oppressed. Khadim followed this formula to the letter, and Labour’s current leadership – a man who referred to Hamas as ‘dedicated to social justice’ – cannot possibly understand why this is unacceptable.


Caitlyn Jenner and the liberals embracing transphobia.

March 15, 2016

There’s an odd self-defeating narrative that my fellow liberals sometimes espouse. Whether attacking Muslims fighting Islamist narratives, or excusing anti-Semitism, it either seems to be getting worse, or I’m becoming more observant to it.

To be liberal is to champion the rights and the dignity of the individual to make choices free from group coercion. To be oneself, free from expectations & coercion of others is the very essence of liberalism. To be liberal is to consider the agency of the individual inherently a right, over the demands of a group, culture, religion which of course, have no inherent rights. It is the most fundamental principle of liberalism that liberals seems so confused with how to apply.

Take, for example, Caitlyn Jenner. Since coming out as transgender, liberals held her up as a pillar of strength. An inspiration to those struggling with their identity. She was not afraid to be herself, and we liked that. Indeed, individual identity and the freedom to express oneself according to our how we identify ourselves, because we know ourselves greater than others know us, is exactly the liberal proposition. Conservatives decided she was awful, an abomination, she angered the magic sky man invented in 1st Century Palestine that seems to confirm their deeply held prejudices. And a yet a strange flip occurred recently. Jenner – in perhaps a bigger show of individual strength than coming out as transgender – came out as a transgendered Republican Party supporter. Liberals everywhere lost the plot:

Jenner

– It is deeply unsettling to me that fellow liberals are so quick to embrace bigotry, to be so transphobic, the moment transgendered women think differently to what is expected of them, from ‘liberals’. They have taken on her appearance only. They have decided exactly what thoughts Jenner ought to have, and that if she doesn’t conform to what is expected of her, she is a traitor, deserving of transphobic language. Indeed, some even imply that women in general who do not vote for Democrats, are traitors to women. They do not deal with her arguments (which are weak at best; she implies that Republicans handle the economy better, create jobs, defend the country to a greater degree than Democrats, small government, self-responsibility…. a simple argument that is easily refuted without having to resort to bigotry), they focus on her appearance and a group-mentality they think she should have embraced, thus depriving her of her right to be an individual, as if she the moment she came out as transgendered, her faculties of reason should be replaced by the thoughts of the group, and anything short of that, permits bigotry. It doesn’t. This isn’t liberalism.

Consider this; liberals accept that conservatives have had a detrimental affect on racial issues in the United States in current years. This is our political belief. I suspect Ben Carson disagrees. At that point, would liberals be so quick to start referring to Ben Carson using racist language, or would we focus on his arguments? Would be call him a traitor to his skin tone, or would be analyse his points and form a counter narrative? Is focusing on his skin-tone, rather than the content of his argument in itself not a form of white privilege, given that we with white skin are never expected to be a single voting block? Is the same not true here for Caitlyn Jenner?


Joey from Friends drove past the Cenotaph of freedom… and you should be banned from seeing it!

March 14, 2016

I’m sat right now watching Piers Morgan being very upset and offended. Offended that Matt LeBlanc from Top Gear had driven quite fast past the Cenotaph on Whitehall. This meant that he disrespected veterans, we were told. People felt the need to reveal that Joey from Friends has not done as much for this country, as troops who died in WW2. Morgan was so offended, that he had to quickly move on to a story about a West Highland Terrier that won Crufts. But then it came back to being offended again. A good three minutes per hour was dedicated to being offended.

It was an odd thing to be offended by, and an odd reaction from the always outraged Patriotic brigade, who, on balance, didn’t seem to care when Clarkson was mocking dead prostitutes and punching producers. So it goes.

But then it soon became oddly ironic as well (perhaps more so than Morgan – a man fired from his job as editor of The Mirror for publishing faked photographs of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment abusing Iraqi prisoners).

Good Morning Britain included a quote from an angry British Commander in Afghanistan who insisted that the BBC should never show that clip ever. It is so offensive to the memory of people who fought for freedom, that we shouldn’t be free to see it. For liberals like me, a person in a position of power implying that we – as adults – should not be allowed to see a clip of something he finds personally offensive, is a much greater insult to those who understand and fought for freedom, than Joey from Friends driving fast past a memorial. Play the clip, if it offends me, I’ll turn it over. Do not tell me I shouldn’t be free to see it in the first place. This is an insult to the memory of my grandparents who fought for freedom. He should apologise.

Further on the ironic side of this whole bizarre episode, he was a commander in Afghanistan. British troops are fighting an Islamist Taliban regime, that during the ’90s had funded support from the Saudis. Somewhere on Whitehall, close to the Cenotaph, the decision was made that the UK would send arms to the Saudis throughout the late 80s, the 90s, and today. Daily the PM or the Conservative Party is forced to defend the Saudis, to drop the British flag to half mast when their monstrous leaders finally die, to conspire to sit that grotesque nation at the head of the UN Human Rights Council as it beheads democratic reformers. A nation that funded a regime that killed British troops, that we lower the flag in support, that we now hand over arms is apparently not as offensive to the memory of our troops, than driving a car quite fast down the road.
And we must be banned from watching that car driving fast down a road.

Irony.

On a side note, I once walked drunkenly past the Cenotaph, from one of the many drinking establishments on that road. This must imply that I hate our troo….. what a cute West Highland Terrier!


‘Heaven On Earth: A Journey Through Shari’a Law’ – A Critique.

February 10, 2016

kadatI confess that I am only at the very beginning of Sadakat Kadri’s book ‘Heaven on Earth; A Journey Through Shari’a Law‘ and yet on every page of the opening chapters, I find myself compelled to comment.

Kadri presents a time period before the Qur’an as much in need of revolutionary ideas. Infanticide if the child was female is the norm, stoning of those accused on flimsy evidence is rampant. Pre-Islamic Arabia is a cruel and divided land, for Kadat. And yet, when the similar cruelties of the religion that rapidly took over the area, and the dictates of its leader are highlighted, Kadri seems to excuse the most grotesque behaviour. For example, Kadri writes:

“The criminal justice provisions instituted at this time, as reflected in the text of the Qur’an were straightforward enough. God required humanity to punish four sins, known as haddood. Theft was said to merit amputation of the right hand, fornication earned a hundred lashes, and falsely accusing someone of the same crime was punishable by 80 strokes. The gravest crime, the ‘waging of war against Islam or spreading disorder in the land’, was attended by an entire battery of punitive possibilities: exile, double amputation, suspension from a cross, and decapitation.”

– We must take from this, the dangerous idea – belonging to a faith that is taught to children – that God believes chopping someone’s limbs off is the morally correct way to handle theft. That physically harming someone, is morally better than stealing someone’s property. After such a gruesome back catalogue of violent attacks upon the individual, and the unquestioned assumption of religious supremacy over the individual, a page later Kadri bizarrely writes:

“Torture, which was routine under the Christianised Roman law of Byzantium, found no place in the Qur’an.”

– It takes an extraordinary mind to note that hands were ordered to be put on blocks and chopped off, for theft, and to follow that note up with a denial of torture. I suspect the one receiving a double amputation, or being decapitated may consider themselves tortured. One may claim that it was the context of time, that believers nowadays know better, but that of course requires dismissing the fact that this is all conceived by a divine rule giver who transcends time, and so is supposedly morally superior to not only Muhammad 1400 years ago, but also believers today. Context of time is irrelevant when dealing with a time-transcending being.

Kadri goes on to note that whilst stoning to death for illicit sex is prescribed in the Qur’an, it is actually progressive insomuch as it makes the penalty far harder to impose than that which came before. Kadri relates a story of Muhammad and an adulterer, quoting an Islamic criminal law book from the 20th century:

“Calling a spade a spade, (the Prophet asked) ‘Did you **** her? Ma’iz said ‘yes’. He asked ‘Like the kohl stick disappears into the kohl container and the bucket into the well?’ He answered ‘Yes’. Then he asked ‘Do you know what zina means?’ He said ‘Yes, I did with her unlawfully what a man does with his wife lawfully’. Then the Prophet asked ‘What do you intend with these words?’ He answered ‘That you purify me’. Then he ordered him to be stoned.”

– This vicious story, a story of a man who died from rocks being hurled at him by a man who claims (not proves) to be a messenger of god thus permitting himself the right to decide who lives and dies. A story of stoning human beings considered less morally questionable than having sex with someone you’re not married to, is a story that Kadri spends the next two pages making excuses for. For example, he says:

“Pious Muslims see only extraordinary restraint on the Prophet’s part, and they often point out additional signs of his mercy; the fact that he made no attempt to track down the woman concerned, for example. At the opposite end of the spectrum are people who focus on nothing but the outcome. But a single perspective on a controversial event never makes for balance…”

– It is difficult to know where to begin with this. Perhaps at the point where just a few pages earlier, Kadri highlights Muhammad’s forward thinking policy that ‘the killing of a single person was meanwhile tantamount to the killing of the whole of humanity’ apparently negated a few moments later, by his order to stone a man to death. Or perhaps that the point where Kadri implies that those who praise Muhammad for ‘extraordinary restraint’ for not slaughtering the woman involved also are of a similar short sightedness with those of us who ‘focus on nothing but the outcome’. The outcome in this instance, is the taking of the life of a human being, for having consensual sex with someone. Focusing on anything else is to relegate the life of that human being, to less as important as the philosophical reasoning behind it. Focusing on anything else is to accept without question a man’s self imposed right to decide who lives and dies based on the delusional supremacy of his own beliefs. Kadri clearly thinks that those of us who focus on that, on murder, are short sighted. I would argue that those who focus on anything other than that murder, or try to trivialise that murder, the brainwashing of a young man to believe he need be punished for sex, and the brutal order to stone him, is not only short sighted, it excuses cruelty. Kadri continues his excuses:

“…. and as soon as other hadiths are taken into account, a subtler picture begins to emerge. One of them states that the execution divided Muslims into two camps, and another has Muhammad asking the killers of Ma’iz ‘Why did you not leave him alone? He might have repented and been forgiven by God’. At least two more suggest that Ma’iz’s real offence was not illicit sex, but indiscretion. One contemporary was heard to ruminate many years later that the young man had been punished only because he insisted on telling everyone he was guilty.”

– Far from a ‘subtler picture’ emerging, we simply change the reasons for murdering a man from having sex, to saying he’s had sex. As if this is any more of a legitimate reason to end the life of another human being with rocks. Either way, we are given clear evidence that Islam was never simply reserved as a guide to how to live one’s life, to better oneself, a spiritual system of inner peace. It was always a system of control, because it decided who does and doesn’t deserve to be murdered by other believers. A political system, like liberalism, fascism, communism, capitalism, and thus open to all the criticisms that all other systems of power must be open to.

But for now, I will continue to make my way through Kadri’s book, fully in the knowledge that he begins from the premise that Muhammad’s cruelty can be excused if we simply focus on other things, and just not question the relationship between a man of his time, a transcendent god, and binding moral laws anchored to 1400 years ago. A tactic that continues to permit some from turning their heads to religious supremacy and the dangers of idolising moral squabbles from centuries ago.


The birth of liberty…

February 2, 2016

“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they are.”
– Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

It may seem peculiar to some that the word ‘Christendom‘ is no longer used except in the context of historical analysis. We don’t use it to describe Christian supremacy in Uganda or elsewhere in Africa, strangely. ‘The Muslim world‘ is still a term that summarises not an Islamic romanticised ‘Ummah‘ but countries with Islam built into its framework and its institutions, in much the same way (though applied a little differently – Islam certainly doesn’t suffer from a lack of Papal power) that ‘Christendom‘ once worked.

Christianity as a Theocratic power, it may be said, is a victim of its own oppressive nature, with ‘Christendom‘ a term that died with the Enlightenment in Europe. The 16th century saw Martin Luther pin his 95 theses to a University door in Germany, sparking a vast revolution against Papal authority, it encouraged the printing of criticisms, and most importantly for our purposes here, the right – in many cases – to read the Bible in one’s native language rather than have it read out in Latin, thus allowing the individual the right to think about the text for themselves. Whilst this wasn’t a freedom – an unintended consequence from the deeply oppressive mind of Luther – that came without its oppressive caveats (Acts of Uniformity, by the very term, aren’t exactly freedom inducing), it sparked a movement toward the breaking down of oppressive barriers, and the freeing of the individual that eventually gave us the Enlightenment, with all its emphasis on free expression, representative government, secular constitutions, science, and rationalism. Christian Theocracy died because humans are born free.

It is an often repeated phrase, that Man is ‘born free’ – indeed the UN Declaration of Human Rights begins its very first article with it – but the implication & significance is seldom discussed, so I thought I’d elaborate here.

The liberal proposition is clear, though often confused by cultural relativists; empower the individual, not the group. It is that simple. We do not sacrifice the individual on the alter of culture. Cultural norms are not worth protecting, if they harm the individual. Cultural relativists tend to act as if protecting the cultural norms or religious dictates – especially if those cultures or religions are perceived to be a victim of Western bullying (a curious tactic employed by several people on the BBC’s Sunday morning The Big Questions this past week to disguise deeply unpleasant beliefs) – of oppressive societies is worth more than individuals within those cultures or religious theocracies whose freedom is chained to the beliefs of others. Indeed, the  premise of any religious control of other people (and cultural relativists who defend the principle) – be they non-believers, ex-believers, women, or the LGBT community – is ownership of the individual. And that’s a concept that seems wholly illegitimate to me.

Let me explain the basis for the liberal proposition. Above I note that we rely on the premise of empowering the individual over the group. Why is that, what makes you right, and where does the very premise come from, you might ask. Let’s take you, the reader, as the example. It must be clear to all that you were not born naturally attached to any ideological framework of power. This is not a ‘Western value‘, it is a universally observed truth, because the opposite is not only unproven, lacking any form of evidence, but it is also quite obviously absurd. Indeed to claim the opposite is to claim an ideology preceded humanity, and is intrinsically a part of each individual, not only that, but a controlling part. That the individual must submit to the rules of that ideology that preceded humanity without definitive proof of its reality, is as close to the definition of irrationality as I may ever be made aware of. To claim such a grotesque absurdity requires not simply your individual belief, but as much proof as 1+1=2. Further, it implies that we can all argue the same, if we simply precede an ideological demand with “My god says…”. To argue for your own privilege based on your belief (not proof) is to argue for everyone else’s privilege to treat you the same according to their belief. To prevent the other from doing the same to you, requires oppression. It is a Hobbesian state of perpetual war. It is therefore not only irrational, it is irresponsible and dangerous, whilst having the joyful effect of advertising your belief as psychopathic. What makes me right? Well, I concede that I might be entirely wrong, I might be born intrinsically attached to a single ideological framework that I am compelled to submit but in my evil rebelliousness I have chosen not to, sinning my way through life as I do. I concede it is a possibility, but I’m yet to encounter a convincing (or even basic) argument to imply that humans are not born endowed with liberty.

The birth of liberty, is the liberty of birth. From that basic truth, springs progression; the right to free expression, the right to freedom of conscience and belief, the right to love whomever you fall in love with regardless of gender, the right to the pursuit of happiness regardless of gender or ethnicity, the right to your property over your own person. To argue that anyone must be compelled to follow, or be judged by the dictates of your religion, first requires you to prove that your presumed right to ownership over another individual is factually based and inescapable (which of course, is untrue of any ideology). Otherwise, it is meaningless and can be dismissed as such.

Liberalism is the equalising of all, according to the clear principle that no one is born naturally superior to anyone else. It frees all to participate in society – regardless of natural human distinctions like sexuality, gender, ethnicity – whilst allowing all the right to a private existence free from oppressive barriers erected by others for the love of their supernatural sky man. It is the spring from which creativity, innovation, love, democracy, and plurality shoot. It recognises our evolutionary nature as both a group species, and individuals within groups, and it aims to free the individual to participate as fully as possible within the group, to develop our own ideas, to express ourselves, to debate openly, to be happy and free, right up until the individual seeks to harm the same natural freedoms for others.

The history of the past 500 years of Christian power in Europe and the United States has been one in which the barriers erected by that power have slowly eroded, to reveal humans in a much more natural state of being. We have progressed more since the Enlightenment, than at any time in our history. This is how a grown up, civilised society operates. Liberals must not excuse illiberal cultural norms, for the sake of opposing Western colonialism, because we recognise that illiberal cultural norms – in so much as they chain the individual – is a form of colonialism itself. And so It isn’t that I believe ‘Western culture‘ to be supreme, it is that I recognise any society that trends toward liberation of the individual more than it trends toward oppression, to be supreme.


A liberal response to the refugee crisis.

January 8, 2016

The grotesque coordinated sex attacks on women in Cologne on New Years has rightfully sparked a discussion in the Western World on the issues that the refugee crisis has brought with it across Europe. The response seems to range from a willful refusal to engage with the issue through fear of being labelled a bigot, to the dogmatic idea that all refugees should be blocked from fleeing to safety. When the liberal left fails to create a narrative, the far-right pounces. I thought I’d offer my perspective, but before I do, I think it prudent to note that I genuinely have no idea how to solve such a complex issue, and that in itself aids a bizarre far-right narrative:

refugeecrisis

– I say I don’t know how to solve the issue, he hears an apologist for sex abuse. His response implies just two choices; either European women, or sex attacking Syrians… who do you choose? A simplistic and weak straw man. But this highlights an important issue; if liberals have no basis by which to start the conversation, we lose the base to the far-right, and that has always been exceptionally dangerous.

There is a risk when appealing to our philosophical and political values, that we treat the people we are essentially discussing the future of (as if we have that inherent right anyway) as an abstraction, a variable, an object in our philosophising. It is dehumanising to an extent and makes it easier to offer illiberal solutions, as those human beings stand with Assad’s gun at their backs, and Europe’s far-right fist to their face. I will endeavor to express why liberalism must focus on those people as individual human beings first and foremost, and not a collective, nor an abstraction.

It is important to know that refugees are fleeing persecution. That is to say, they have had their rights as human beings with property over their own person – liberty we are all naturally born with, regardless of the political framework we are born on to – completely and unjustly stripped from them by abusers. It is a sense of terror that we cannot imagine, given our entire existence has been within a framework that grants us those rights without question. The liberal World, the World that understands and protects those natural liberties must therefore predicate its response on restoring those natural liberties and rights, to people fleeing. It must not abuse them further. This is done in several ways.

Firstly, there must be a global effort to end the conflict that causes so many to flee their homes and take an extremely dangerous trip to the safety of Europe. If you are willing to put your child on a small boat and make a terrifying journey across seas and land with no guarantee of safety, you are desperate for help, and no country that basis its framework on the protection of civil rights should refuse you entry simply for where you came from. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t be refused entry for other reasons. But our obligation toward those fleeing persecution is not to be compromised based on ethnicity or country of origin. For too long the rest of the World has simply sat by as human rights were so cruelly abused in Syria, despite having the power to prevent it. The only way to stop people fleeing persecution in the long run, is an end to the refusal to recognise and protect the rights of those refugees, which is to say, an end to civil war.

Secondly, hand-in-hand with ending persecution in Syria, is a frank and honest discussion on illiberal policies, cultural norms, and religious oppression and supremacy. This includes highlighting illiberal notions in our own society. For example, you might be under the impression if you listen to certain anti-refugee sections of society, that refugees disproportionately commit crimes. This is wrong, and works to fuel a dehumanising narrative of suspicion. Indeed, ‘Die Welt’ using police reports, notes that refugees are no more likely to commit crimes than German citizens.

That isn’t to say that cultural attitudes outside of our own are not an issue also. We must not be afraid of critiquing culture. Culture is not off-limits, it is not to be protected from criticism. If a specific culture has obscenely illiberal misogynistic norms, we musn’t be scared to say so and to empower and defend voices of dissent in those cultures. We must champion the rule of law, secular humanist values, gender and sexuality equality, liberal civil rights, democracy, and speak up for those seeking democratic reform in cultures with deeply entrenched oppressive structures. The freedom to inquiry and express, and the same rights and dignity applied to all regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity and belief is what separates the civilised from the barbaric, and we must champion the civilised, holding to account those who defend and excuse the barbaric. We must not be afraid to highlight the fact that religious doctrine and dogma, influences behaviour, and that doctrine of moral ideals from a single time and place centuries ago, might be problematic in the 21st century. This discussion is too often cut short by fear of being labelled bigoted, or racist. I do think we can have a debate on cultural regressive attitudes and dangerous religious dogma that limit so many chances across the World, without resorting to racist stereotypes and dehumanising rhetoric.

We must not meet regressive and violent attitudes, with a victim-blaming mentality. Maajid Nawaz writing for The Daily Beast highlights the obscene letter from Martin Thalhammer, the headmaster at Wilhelm-Diess-Gymnasium, in which he advises parents to make sure their children dress ‘modestly’ simply because refugees are accommodated close by. The letter says:

“The Syrian citizens are mainly Muslims and speak Arabic. The refugees are marked by their own culture. Because our school is directly next to where they are staying, modest clothing should be adhered to, in order to avoid discrepancies. Revealing tops or blouses, short shorts or miniskirts could lead to misunderstandings.”

– This is obscene for two reasons. Firstly, it implies that ‘misunderstanding’ are the responsibility of the people at the gym to prevent, to change their behaviour, rather than the fault laying with the attitudes of individuals who might be offended or use it as an excuse to attack. It is classic victim blaming. Secondly, it implies that the refugees – as a collective (we shall come onto this shortly) – are somehow unable to help themselves. It is bigoted as well as victim-blaming. Regressive attitudes must not be met with victim-blaming. It must be met with progressive attitudes. As Nawaz says:

“The only person to blame for rape is the rapist. Employment and education among migrant males will be a more conducive and far more consistent approach than asking European women to change how they dress or when they go out.”

Thirdly, if liberalism is to mean anything it is to place and empower the individual above the group. We pride ourselves on advancing the freedom of individuals to be themselves, to express themselves, to love whom they choose to love, to vote how they choose to vote, to pursue their own happiness, to dress how they choose to dress without coercion from the ‘group’, where it does not harm the same liberty for others. If we believe this true for ourselves, we must defend it for others, and we must be consistent with how we apply it. I support helping refugees in this country, because I see no other way of protecting those rights and freedoms they were born with immediately.

We believe in the fewest restrictions on the individual by others as is necessary to protect each other from each other, so that the individual is empowered with their own life to achieve and enjoy such a short time on the planet as they see fit. And so the response from some, that no refugees should be granted safety in Europe, thus arguing for the complete withholding of the core concept of liberty that we hold so dear, for people who have committed no crime, simply for the country they were unlucky enough to be born into, is to me unfathomable at best, and an admission that our values are not universal and so are completely worthless at worst.

We do not equate the individual with the collective, we do not hold responsible an individual within a loosely defined collective – ‘refugees’ – as responsible for the actions of other individuals within that collective. We do not ban men from teaching in schools because they might be a sexual predator. Indeed, we do not ban American military personnel from Europe, despite Donald Trump’s statistic that implies – if we are to be consistent – that they might be dangerous:

trump

The rights of person A to security and liberty must not be determined by the actions of person B. Individuals are responsible for individual actions. Their belonging to a group – and a group not of their choosing, but of necessity – must not infringe upon their right to life. The Syrian families who live in the city that I am from, whose children are now safe, and who are not harming anyone are the lucky few who escaped and are protected. Others like them must not be cast out into the ocean by a liberal, democratic nation, for the crimes of those who attacked so many women in Cologne.

To summarise; liberals must pressure governments to work together to end the conflict. Liberals must feel free to critique illiberal and oppressive power structures across all cultures without fear of being stigmatised, whilst supporting our democratic, secular, liberal friends within those cultures working hard for reform. And lastly, liberals must not equate the individual with the group, nor decide who is deserving of rights based simply on nation of origin. Whilst I do not have the answers to how we solve the refugee crisis, I do not believe that compromising liberal principles is at all a basis upon which to start the conversation. Much the opposite; we must be stronger in our values in the face of inhumanity, than we are at any other time.


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