The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species.
– Christopher Hitchens.
About a week ago I wrote an article addressed to Abdullah Zaik Abdul Rahman, the leader of Malaysian Islamist group Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (ISMA) on the concept of human liberty, and his clear desire to reshape the concept of liberty, to mean those of his faith get the distinct privilege of controlling the rest of us.
Since then, my article was published on Malaysian news site “The Malaysian Insider” and has garnered a response from Norzila Baharin, an angry – and appalled! – critic and herself a member of ISMA, further seeking to redefine liberty to mean, having her belief forced upon everyone else. I thought it only right that I address a few of the bizarre points she raised. I will focus on her misunderstanding of the word ‘ideology’, her lack of ability to distinguish between ‘truth’ and what she’d like to be true, and her scientific illiteracy when it comes to nature masked as religious truth.
The title of the article is an indication of the direction the article itself takes:
“Islam liberates from man-made liberty.”
– I’m not entirely sure what is meant by “man-made” liberty, but I’ll presume it means my right to be free from the chains of someone else’s personal belief. It is important to note that your faith, having freely came to it, may indeed liberate you, according to your conscience. And that’s great. But it applies to you alone, and must not be granted the privilege of controlling my liberty, where my liberty conflicts with your belief. As we shall see, Baharin has real trouble distinguishing between her personal belief, and those of others.
Far from disproving the point of my original article, Norzila Baharin goes to great lengths to explain her individual belief, but doesn’t explain why that belief entitles her to place we non-believers, along with gay people, and apostates, at the mercy of that particular individual religious belief. She goes to those great lengths to explain her beliefs, by quoting scripture with absolutely no supporting evidence outside of the confines of her belief. This is entirely where her article collapses, insomuch as it is absolutely confined by belief. For example, about a quarter of the way through the article, Baharin says:
“Going back to Futile Democracy, firstly, I think he is confused between Islam and ideology.
“It is He who has sent his Messenger with Guidance and the Religion of Truth in order that He shows its superiority over all other religions even if the idolators detest it.” (Quran 9:33)
Islam is Allah’s final message to humanity, revealed through the Prophet Muhammad through revelations more than 1400 years ago.
“This day have I perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and chosen for you Islam as a religion.” (Quran 5:3)
So, as you can see here, Islam is a religion from Allah, and not a man-made ideology like other ideologies nowadays.”
– Telling me that Islam is Allah’s final message is irrelevant. I don’t believe Allah exists, so this is a pointless addition to the argument. Secondly, the last line, does not follow from the rest of the argument. It’s not “As you can see here”, more than it is “As I believe…”. Indeed, sending me quotes from your Holy Book to prove the validity of your Holy Book is the very essence of circular reasoning, and so is not to be considered reason at all to control my entire existence, by your faith. So this paragraph can be dismissed.
Quoting her faith, to prove the truth of her faith continues throughout the article. For example:
“The laws or Shariah, which the prophets were sent with, are guiding lights to the essential faith in Allah which is created in every human being. Furthermore, since this faith comes from Allah, it naturally follows that only laws capable of guiding man back to it must also come from Allah, hence Islam is also called din al-fitrah, the religion of human nature.”
– The conclusion again does not “naturally follow” from the premise, without establishing the truth of the premise in the first place. “The laws or Shariah, which the Prophets were sent with” presupposes the existence of a God, and then defers to tradition – weak tradition at that – and belief. Again, this isn’t a justifiable reason to control the lives of others. “Since this comes from Allah” is the point that she hasn’t proven yet. Nor has she proven that Allah even exists. Nor has she proven that a creator exists. Nor has she proven that it’s possible for something to exist outside of the confines of time and space. So this paragraph can also be dismissed.
If I invent a new God right now, and claim we all have a “natural disposition” to believe in Her (as we shall see, Baharin does) – obviously I provide no evolutionary evidence, neurological evidence, biological evidence, or in fact, any evidence whatsoever to credit this extraordinary assertion – and claim that therefore it “follows” that all laws come from Her for the benefit of glorifying Her, and that one of those laws was the punishment – perhaps execution – of Muslims, for being Muslims, thus assuming control over the lives of all Muslims, I’d expect to be asked to produce more evidence for my new found desire to own the lives of others, for calling for my belief to be granted state privilege, than simply believing it is true. Until I do that, the dogma based on my belief in my new one true God, is for me only. The moment I frame that dogma for political and economic power; an ideology is born. Suddenly, Baharin’s life becomes an object, owned and controlled by me, when before she was free from my desire to control. I’m almost certain she might object to that, for the very same reasons the rest of us object to being controlled by her faith. Indeed, if she is to deny me my freedom from her religion, then I have no freedom at all.
My original article posited that ISMA clearly don’t understand what an ideology is. Well, now we can expand on that. Not only are they completely unaware of what an ideology is (Islam is an ideology the moment it dismisses my equal right to personal belief, imposes her personal belief and thus seeks to infringe upon my liberty, unless I become Muslim), they’re also confused between “truth” and “what we’d quite like to be true”. The whole of Baharin’s article, is what a few religious fanatics would quite like to be true.
Shrouding an ideology in ‘God’ doesn’t make it any less of an ideology, nor any more ‘true’, especially if you haven’t even begun to prove the existence of that particular God. For those of us who don’t believe in a God, Islam is absolutely another man-made ideology, anchored to the moral landscape of 7th Century Arabia, and will remain so until ISMA, or others like them, convince us all – every human being on Earth – of its claim to perfect truth, with complete, irrefutable proof. Until then, it is just another ideology that seeks to restrict the liberty of those who don’t wish to be caged by its dictates.
Later in the article, Baharin says:
“Islam is a comprehensive system dealing with all spheres of life. It is a state and a religion or a government and a nation, a morality and power or mercy and justice, a culture and law or knowledge and jurisprudence, it is material and wealth or gain and prosperity, it is jihad and a call or army and a cause, and finally it is true belief and worship.”
– What a wonderful description of an oppressive ideology based on a man made belief that an individual might believe in, whilst others don’t. Fascism and Communism (short of claiming divinity) are much the same. The claim of divinity doesn’t add to its ‘truth’, it is simply another assumption. And for the individual believer, this is fine. Enjoy it. Live by it. You are entitled to frame your life according to your beliefs. But you still haven’t explained how this gives you an inherent right to interfere with the liberty of all those who don’t subscribe to your beliefs, or why other religious beliefs with adherents who claim truth also, don’t have a similar right to objectify and control your life. A faith may absolutely be a liberating guide for the one who believes only, but I do not permit my liberty to be placed under the control of a believer in one particular ideology that I don’t find liberating. And so, this paragraph can also be dismissed as irrelevant.
Let me be clear; if my right to be free from the cage of your religious beliefs is violated, I am – by definition – not free.
Whilst not understanding an ideology – twice now – and failing miserably to understand the difference between truth, and what they’d like to be truth, it seems ISMA also doesn’t understand sexuality:
“Islam has since the beginning of time prohibited not only illicit sexual relations and all that leads to them, but also sexual deviations known as LGBT. These perverted acts are a reversal of the natural order and a corruption of men’s and women’s sexuality and a crime against the rights of men and women.
The spread of these depraved acts in a society disrupts its natural life pattern and makes those who practise it slaves of their lusts, depriving them of decent taste, decent morals and decent manner of living.”
– It is getting somewhat tedious to keep having to point this out, but her claims on “decent morals” or “decent taste” or “decent manner of living” are also completely based on what she believes, ideologically crafted, and not at all reflected in reality, nor does she offer a reason why she believes her conception of “decent morals” and “decent taste” must be forced upon those whose tastes and moral compass does not align with hers. It is as if she believes herself to be some sort of God on Earth. There is a certain narcissism to religious demands for state power.
She firstly assumes a privileged position for the “values” of Islam (7th Century Arabian ‘values’ to the rest of us), in which we must concede that only Muslims – of one sect – get a distinct right to define “decent morals”, according to their faith alone, even if it conflicts entirely with reality. For example, Canada legalised same-sex marriage in 2005, and Canada seems to be doing just fine. Allah hasn’t burnt down Montreal. There is no social collapse. Children in happy, loving families are doing just great. It would seem that breaking down oppressive barriers, and freeing people rather than caging them, works. It is also the only justifiable position, because no one has yet been able to justify why we must cage anyone, according to that one person’s belief. Explaining the belief, or repeating the belief – as Baharin does countless times – isn’t justification. It’s just telling me what you believe, for which I don’t particularly care.
We know also from studies into same-sex parents adopting children, that the standard of living for the child is just as good, and in some cases better, than in heterosexual families. The religious argument predicated on heterosexual privilege and supremacy based solely on ancient myths, does not stand up to the most basic scrutiny. It is failing because it begins and ends at oppressive dogmatism unable to break free from ancient myths, rather than pragmatic, secular inquiry and an accumulation of knowledge. It is true that once we accept that we as humans are under no obligation to abide by the religious dictates of anybody else, nor are we to be punished if we do not fit the very narrow spectrum of what Baharin’s faith permits, we liberate inquiry, expression, we extend love and the freedom to be ourselves, we are given the full opportunity to be human without fear. If Baharin wishes to refer to this beautiful liberation as “slaves of our lusts”, I’m happy to embrace that label, because the opposite appears to be the horror of religious oppression.
The bizarre case she sets out for granting herself permission to harm the liberty of the LGBT community based on what she believes to be true – drowning in a sea of fallacies – is also not based on reality. As previously mentioned, it assumes a privileged position for heterosexuality, by curiously describing a particular sexuality as “normal” or “right”, whilst framing any sexuality that deviates from that absolute position as “preverted”. The religious are obsessed with the sex lives and love lives of others. Completely obsessed. Their hideous personalities are revealed when we see them use grotesque religiously inspired language that works to dehumanise a group of people, creates an environment of bigotry, in order to attempt to justify – in their minds at least – their own oppressive behavior.
The reason her position on sexuality is an ideological narrative framed by religious supremacists, is because it is entirely with odds with what we know about the nature of sexuality. Referring to a comment supposedly by the Prophet Muhammad (again, as if that matters) Baharin says:
“Fitrah here is defined as an inborn, natural predisposition which cannot change, which exists at birth in all human beings. It is not only a natural predisposition, but is also one which is inclined towards right action and submission to Allah, the one God.”
– Yet again, is just one person’s belief. It has no basis in the reality of evolutionary biology, or neurology, nor in any neonatal study. It is a claim that is assumed true, because the one making the claim says it’s true, because she believes it to be true, because an old book said so. It’d be nice to get through one paragraph of Baharin’s without being smothered by her attempts to frame flimsy and entirely wrong beliefs, as unquestionable fact.
So, with no single ideology present as a natural trait at birth (I know of no evolutionary biologists who have argued otherwise), it is enough to say that at birth, we are equal and we are at liberty. We have the liberty to think for ourselves, to believe whatever choose. We have to liberty to criticise without fear. No life inherently privileged above any other. No life inherently endowed with the right to impose its later learned religious beliefs upon any other life. Our liberty to pursue our own goals and our own happiness according to our own beliefs, to free inquiry and expression, to love according to our individual nature, to seek public office, to choose our leaders, without others interfering with that liberty, is a principle of freedom that must be upheld, protected by civil and secular rights, and must be the basis of any humane state. It is a principle completely alien to those who seek to make themselves Gods over humanity, whilst claiming a divine right from an unseen and unproven God as justification for taking yours and my liberty hostage.
Incidentally, whilst claiming we are “predisposed” to an ideology at birth is an absurdity created by the ideology itself and backed up by no science whatsoever, the spectrum of sexuality actually is determined at birth. Dr. Jerome Goldstein, Director of the San Francisco Clinical Research Center, says:
“Sexual orientation is not a matter of choice, it is primarily neurobiological at birth.”
– Goldstein continues:
“Using volumetric studies, there have been findings of significant cerebral amygdala size differences between homosexual and heterosexual subjects. Sex dimorphic connections were found among homosexual participants in these studies.”
– Further, a wonderful in-depth study by Binbin Wang et al, found that allele types differed greatly between homosexual men and heterosexual men. A further study by Sven Bocklandt et al, found that mothers of gay sons, have higher rates of extreme skewing of X-Chromosome inactivation, than those without gay sons.
Another study – and more recently – showed that a section of the X Chromosome called Xq28 influenced sexuality. The same is true of an area of chromosome 8. The theory being that genes in the region of Xq28 – passed from mother to son, and linked to sexual orientation – make women who carry them far more fertile, hence surviving the harsh realities of natural selection. A further study links genetic material passed down on the X Chromosome, to both homosexuality, and the fertility of the female. Far from being “a reversal of the natural order” as Norzila Baharin so hideously puts it, the opposite is true; to oppress sexuality – as would be the case if she was arguing for the oppression of people with a certain hair colour – is the definition of an attempt to reverse nature, for the sake of appeasing the poison of a very oppressive religious ideology.
In fact, there is not one reputable scientific source that will in any way suggest that sexuality is merely a ‘behaviour’. Not one that will None. In fact, The UK Royal College of Psychiatrists released a statement to:
“…clarify that homsexuality is not a psychiatric disorder. There is no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Furthermore, so-called treatments of homosexuality create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination flourish.”
– Further, Alfred Kinsey, the great biologist noted:
“Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories… The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.”
– This fundamental fact of nature is only ever opposed by those who seek to harm others, by establishing privilege for their own faith. You will perhaps note that no extensive study on sexuality references the Qur’an, nor gives credit to the claim that we’re all born Muslim, and that we must apply oppressive ideologies to one sexuality, whilst granting privilege to another. For that hopeless distortion of nature, and reality, we require religion.
On a side note; whilst sexuality is a natural spectrum, what isn’t natural is claiming jurisdiction over the lives of others, because your tradition holds than a man heard an angel in a cave. It is always amusing to be lectured on ‘nature’ by those with the most unnatural beliefs.
She goes on to try to defend the National Fatwa Council – a group of massively uneducated homophobic fantasists and supremacists, who once announced that if women dress like men, they might turn gay. Seriously. Her defence of this moronic sort of statement, does not require a rebuttal. It is self evidently wrong.
“Such worship or submission does not entail loss of freedom, for freedom is to act as one’s true nature demands, that is, as one’s fitrah demands.”
– Not applicable to gay people, ex-muslims, and non-believers. Instead, they’ll just be referred to as unnatural. It’s a rather effective way for oppressive ideologies to dismiss those who do not fit its manifestly absurd dictates, rather than accept that their ideology might be a little flawed. If again, we go back to my new found God. Had I said:
“Such worship or submission [of my God – the one who believes all Muslims should be oppressed] does not entail loss of freedom, for freedom is to act as one’s true nature demands, that is, as one’s mustatatatata [my new meaningless word, similar to ‘fitrah’] demands.”
– I would expect Muslims to tell me that it is not in their nature to worship or submit to my God, and so I have no basis by which to oppress them. I would expect rationalists to explain that it is no one’s “nature” to submit to any unproven divine dictator, and that to suggest so is simply a means by which to assert ideological authority over the lives of others, indeed to claim ownership for my faith, the lives of the entire planet. They would be correct.
“Man is distinguished from the rest of the creation because he has been endowed with intellect and free will. This intellect enables him to discern right from wrong. He can use these faculties to complement his fitrah and please Allah or to be untrue to it and displease Allah. The choice is his.”
– Another one of those moment’s in which Norzila Baharin misunderstands nature. Whilst “pleasing Allah” may be “true” to her moral compass, it is the exact opposite to mine. Secondly, humanity was not ‘endowed’ or ‘distinguished’ from the rest of nature, in much the same way that birds cannot be said to be ‘endowed’ or ‘distinguished’ from the rest of nature due to their flight capability. We – like birds – are simply evolved as much as we need to be for the survival of the gene pool, in the environment that we exist. If ISMA wishes to contest this, they are welcome to submit a thesis for peer review. I absolutely welcome that.
It is also probable that morality has an evolutionary basis. We know that very basic moral traits can be viewed in our primate cousins; empathy, cooperation, conflict resolution are all traits evolved for the sake of species survival, essential for group species. Claiming that morality only came directly from your particular God (rather than mine, or from any other of the thousands of Gods whose rules have been adhered to), and that we must therefore anchor ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ to what a tribe in the desert in 7th Century Arabia believed, despite all its obvious dangers, is going to take some rather groundbreaking evidence. I look forward to Norzila Baharin’s thesis on this.
She then discredits her own point with:
“Ibn Khaldun summed up the interplay of freedom and morality when he said, “Those, who of their own free will and without any compulsion, act according to the Quran and Sunnah (the practice of the Prophet), they are the ones wearing the turban of freedom.”
– This is yet another case of the premise being false. Ibn Khaldun isn’t summing up the interplay of freedom and morality, but is instead summing up the morality of freedom. It is true, that if someone of their own free will comes to a faith, and acts according to the dictates of that faith through their own choice, whilst not injuring the same freedom of choice for others, they themselves are free. The fact that there is no compulsion, is exactly the point. This has nothing to do with the dictates of the faith itself, it is the freedom to believe and worship without punishment, or “compulsion” that is highlighted. This is the exact opposite of what Norzila Baharin is proposing, when she insists that the freedom of others, should be constrained by the beliefs of her sect of her faith.
“So, lets be honest, you know it and I know it. Islam is the only religion of Allah, the only faith suitable for man because it is the religion of the fitrah or human predisposition. Its laws or Shariah are there to guide you and only laws which come from Allah are capable of guiding man towards righteousness and the divine path.”
– The first line, is one to instantly dismiss, on account of how tedious it’s becoming to explain the difference between individual belief, and truth. For me, there is no Allah. And so there is no “natural predisposition” to submit to Islamic laws. Further, Islam’s man-made laws have no jurisdiction over my life, no right to punish me for not following it, no right to interfere in my love life, or my sex life, no right to demand punishment if I adopt Islam and then leave Islam, no right to state control, no right to enact laws according to its dictates, and no right to silence criticism or satire of its ideology. I am permitted control of my life only.
It is perhaps worth paraphrasing Christopher Hitches; your religion is your toy only. You are entitled to play with your toy. You’re entitled to invite others to your house to play with your toy. You’re entitled to argue that your toy is the best toy of all the children’s toys! But don’t make me play with your toy, your toy is not something I wish anywhere near me, do not force children to play with your toy, and do not use your toy to hurt or injure those who don’t want to play with your toy. This was the point of my original article. A point that I repeatedly made. A point that seemingly danced in front of Norzila Baharin, wore a sign saying “I’m the point! Look at me!” and she still managed to completely miss it, as she spent an entire reply, arguing the case for why she should be allowed to harm others, for not playing with her toy.