January 3, 2010
CALGARY, AB, Jan. 3, 2010/ — Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Muslim from Nigeria and a passenger on a commercial airliner destined for Detroit, is charged with attempting to blow the plane up. The Christmas-day near-catastrophe was the perfect scenario to feed further fear of Muslims. It should not.
Certain strains of Islam, like some varieties of Christianity and other belief systems, preach seriously dangerous ideas. With careful thought we can sort the real threats to our peaceful, democratic way of life from what is harmless, that, is, “different”. Without such careful thought, we will get more irrational mistrust of everything Muslim – more Islamophobia, pure prejudice. Lazy thinking leads to the bad; careful reflection is necessary for the good.
Consider the Swiss ban on minarets, the towers adorning some mosques. There are four mosques in Switzerland with minarets. Nevertheless, organizers of the anti-minaret initiative are said to believe that “minarets represent the growth of an alien ideology and legal system that have no place in the Swiss democracy.” “Forced marriages [for example] – we don’t have that in Switzerland, and we don’t want to introduce it . . . Therefore, there’s no room for minarets in Switzerland.”
Faulty logic, bad thinking
The “logic” appears to be this: because minarets are an architectural detail associated with a religion, some forms of which are incompatible with modern European democracy, it is OK to prohibit the construction of minarets. This would be silly if it weren’t so frightening.
Don’t get me wrong. I am as much against forced marriage and other forms of oppression – so much of it directed towards women – as anyone (in fact, as an unabashed feminist, probably much more so). But the reasoning behind the anti-minaret vote is rubbish.
Consider some of the sorrier episodes in Christianity. Probably most infamous are the Crusades, a series of bloody military campaigns waged largely against Muslims to restore control over Middle Eastern lands viewed as holy by Christians. Things did not improve much over time – remember the Inquisition?
It is widely accepted that the Catholic Church was sympathetic to the Holocaust of Europe’s Jews and other minorities by the Nazis. Then there was the Dutch Reformed Church fervent support of Apartheid in South Africa. Strict division of races and the supposed superiority of whites lay at the heart of that religion’s teachings.
There is simply no doubt that enormous evil has been done in the name of Christianity or with the tacit support of some of its most prominent leaders. So should the Christian cross be banned? Of course not.
We face a choice: let ourselves be tricked into thinking that the symbol (minaret, cross or the like) is the problem, or think it through. We can let ourselves be used by the demagogues and endorse suppression of symbols. But this will do no good and at the same time lots of harm by alienating those for whom the symbol is precious.
A happier alternative
Or we can recognize that dealing constructively with diversity-engendered conflict requires effort and application of our best thinking.
With the influx of people from cultures very different from those found in the liberal democracies (for example, in Canada, the United States, western Europe, New Zealand and Australia), there will be tensions – as there always have been. Some of the practices brought by contemporary immigrants are unquestionably backward, for example, favouring male children over female, exclusion of women from public life, or forced marriage. But it wasn’t so long ago that mainstream Canadian society emerged from that dark misogynistic place itself, and it would be regressive in the extreme for us to slip back from the human rights gains made by women and others, such as gays.
But avoidance of Islamophobia is also a human rights imperative and, in order to achieve it, we need keep two things in mind. First, some versions of Islam are not anti-women or otherwise dangerous to human rights. So aversion to Islam per se is nonsense. Second, while we ought to struggle against the importation of backwards views, there is nothing bad or good about a minaret. It’s just an architectural detail – beautiful to some, not so much to others, but not inherently evil or in any way dangerous.
We must make a distinction — there are things to get properly excited about (for example, the oppression of women and attempts to blow up planes) and there are differences which present no threat at all (like minarets). It is repressive and undemocratic to ban the latter. It is right and good to oppose the former.
Channels: Moncton Times and Transcript, January 11, the Amherst Daily News, the Truro Daily News, the New Glasgow Evening News, the Summerside Journal-Pioneer, January 11, the Trail Daily Times, January 15. the Prince Rupert Daily News, January 21, 2010