Sorry about the Apology

Kudos to our readers for successfully baiting the bloggers!

Today's post, a day late and a dollar short (I promised to post on Tuesday, and to include a syllabus -- more on that below), is a response to a question about why Muslims never seem to apologize:
Just wondering if you might have a few words of snark for religions that, oh, publicly execute raped women, or topple stone walls on top of gays. And, as far as I can see, the soi-disant moderates of these religions don't even bother to register a protest when this stuff happens. Can we get a witness?
I responded (making the assumption that the snide reference was to Islam) that there is a flood of Muslims who disavow and criticize oppressive misrepresentations of Islam.

Since beginning to compose this post today in the snippets of free time (obligations to my parish and family coming first, dear readers), a further comment has been made crossing the line from critical to blatant, willful ignorance fueling Islamophobia. I won't bother reproducing it here, but you can read it in the "Stupidity is non-discriminatory" thread).

Here I'm going to ignore the advice of Holy Scripture, "Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself" (Proverbs 16:4) but take the advice of Holy Scripture, "Answer fools according to their folly, or they will be wise in their own eyes" (Proverbs 16.5 Go figure...). I'm responding because the views expressed are hardly unique.

The promised syllabus is going to have to wait another week -- not because there is a lack of sources, but because there are many and to provide a useful annotated bibliography requires more time than I can provide in the week before Ash Wednesday. Writing about this, as I do below (at crazy length), I can do in bits of free time. A useful syllabus takes a different kind of research that can't be done from my laptop at work. Sorry about the delay.

Now, in scholastic tradition, I will lay out a series of arguments. There's nothing funny in this post; if you want funny, I suggest going to "Allah Made Me Funny" instead.

Argument the First: There is a significant movement in every Muslim community working against extremist fundamentalism.

The assertion has been made moderates don't protest acts of violence carried out by Muslim extremists. This assertion is patently untrue.

Yes, there are a number of Muslim-majority countries with extremists governments or judiciaries, just as as well as Muslim majority countries which are fully democratic but may have radical muslim movements. In each of these countries, there are also movements of Muslims who believe that Islam and human rights (including equal rights for women) are totally compatible. Here are just a couple : Sisters in Islam (Malaysia), Change for Equality (Iran). There are more, but that reference work is part of the syllabus project that you'll just have to wait for.

Being a human rights activist is dangerous work in countries that don't respect human rights -- witness the murder of Zil-e Huma Usman in Pakistan-- and so it's not surprising that those countries which are both Muslim-majority and non-democratic, we hear less about the activists. The murder of human rights activists in Pakistan is seen as a proof that Islam is undemocratic. Is the murder of human rights activists in Burma a proof that Buddhists are fanatical oppressors?

What is true, is that protests by Muslim moderates are very rarely covered by the press for a variety of reasons. One reason is that what bleeds leads; a story about rabid bearded men is going to get more play than a peaceful protest or letter to the editor. Another reason is that a number of developing countries have oppressive governments that suppress such protests -- and most Muslims live in developing countries.

Finally, there are a number of Muslim majority countries that have very good human rights records. Morocco, for example, has enacted a number of reforms that support women's rights (while the United States voted down the Equal Rights Act a number of years ago). Malaysia is a large Muslim country with a strong matriarchal and matrilineal culture. Indonesia has a steadily improving human rights record. [Interesting side note, there is a higher percentage of women in the Iranian parliament than there is in the US congress; ditto for the percentage of women at University/College. I'm not saying that Iran is great on women's rights, but that perhaps the pot shouldn't be so quick to call the kettle black.]

If you compare neighboring Muslim and non-Muslim countries in a given region, you don't see any strong correlation between religion and human rights (for eg, Burma, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia -- only Malaysia, a Muslim majority, is not ruled by a military junta [or in the case of Thailand, recently ruled by a junta though now a democracy again]). There is nothing within Islam or any other religion that predisposes folks to extremism -- the factors that lead to oppressive state regimes have to do with economics, education, colonial and military history.

Argument the Second: Who should be apologizing, and to whom?

I do not expect the pope to apologize for the rape and violence carried out in the name of Jesus by the Fundamentalist Church of Later Day Saints. Yet both the Pope and the FLDS both consider themselves Christian, and the Pope is the leader of the largest group of Christians in the world. I don't expect Thich Nhat Hanh to apologize for the actions of the Burmese junta, even though Burma is majority Buddhist and particularly discriminates against their Christian and Muslim minorities. I don't expet Elie Wiesel to apologize for sections of Deuteronomy that encourage Jews to rape war captives ( cf. Deuteronomy 21:10-14 ).

Why would I expect that Muslim moderates, working to uphold an Islamic tradition of human rights, apologize to me or to the West in general? Am I God because I'm an American, that they should apologize to me?

Argument the Third: Crimes Committed by White Christians are treated as abnormalities, while crimes committed by Muslims are treated as "Islamic"

Until very recently, it was legal in Texas to kill your wife if you discover she is committing adultery (Article 1132 section 2 in, Title XV of the Texas Penal Code, which you can read thanks to google books here) . This is not seen as a tenant of the Christian faith, though the law was written by a majority Christian state and is supported by Christian scriptures (Deuteronomy 22:21; while Jesus prevented the carrying out of this penalty, he also stated that he did not intend to change one iota of the law [Mt. 5:17-18], and did not directly disavow the Deuteronomic text). If a man kills his wife for adultery, on the other hand, under sharia (Islamic law) this would be considered murder.

The gruesome beheading of Aaisiya Hassan this week in New York is a murder case, and would be treated as murder in Islamic courts as well. It is not an act condoned by Islam. While sharia, like Jewish, Christian and other religious laws, does have a death penalty for adultery, the penalty is almost impossible to carry out in Islam -- it requires two respectable witnesses to have seen the actual act of penetration, and by seeing the act they themselves become less than respectable witnesses. As far as I can tell from the hadith (the acts and sayings of the prophet), the Prophet Mohammed worked to make sure to minimized the use of the death penalty -- a dramatic and liberal reformation for his time.

According to the United States Department of Justice, over 50% of murders in the United are committed by family members -- spouses, relatives or boyfriends/girlfriends. Quite honestly, the idea that "honor killings" are a particularly Muslim idea is not supported by the data. "Honor Killings" are against Islamic law, and the rates of such killings are comparable to that in other societies including here in the US.

Argument the Fourth: Secularists and Atheists are not Immune to Stupidity

Dan has already made the argument that stupidity occurs with fundamentalists in every religion, so I won't repeat it much further. I will say, though, that violent fundamentalism is not caused by religion. Religion is a convenient vehicle, but some of the worst genocides of the modern era have been carried out by atheists (Stalin, the Khmer Rouge), secularists (Ataturk), and neo-pagans (Hitler, who claimed both to be Catholic and lamented the loss of pre-Christian pagan religion and worked to restore it in Nazi propaganda). Eliminating religion would in no way end racism, sexism, homophobia, or the violence that accompanies these sins.

Argument the Fifth: The West shares some culpability in supporting Extremists within Islam

It is interesting to notice how much modern Islamic fundamentalism is borrowed from Western sources -- the nasty anti-semitism coming from fundamentalists, for instance, often uses a source created by Christians, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." The recent stance against Darwinism by some Muslims (including Yusef Islam) is likewise a copy of Christian fundamentalism. Nor should we forget that the United States funded and supported the Taliban for years. What would Islam look like today if we hadn't been giving money to Muslim extreemists in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and elsewhere, and been giving that support instead to pro-democratic Muslim movements?

Is it all the evil colonialsts fault? Of course not. We're talking about grown adults here, and idiots like Ahmenidjad have only themselves to blame for being stupid, violent, anti-semitic homophobes. But I object to a kind of exceptionalism that believes that every other religion has 'outgrown' violence except Muslims. We continue to inform one another, in both directions -- witness Pete Sessions, a Republican congressman from Texas, who declared to the National Review that the GOP should model themselves on the Taliban.

Arguement the Sixth: Islam was historically the most progressive religion viz. human rights, and many Muslims are working to restore Islam to the progressive edge.

At the beginning of Islam, Muslim countries had the most progressive stances in the world on the rights of women and religious minorities -- rights to own property, to be safe in ones home, the right to divorce, access to education, etc. This at a time in Europe when women were chattel and Jews were being killed in progroms.

Until this last century, married women in Christian countries such as the United Kingdom could not own property. Women did not have the right to a divorce even from an abusive husband. It was legal to kill your wife in Texas (and several other states) if she commits adultery; it is still legal throughout most of the United States to discriminate against someone if they aren't heterosexual, and it is still legal in many states to rape your wife -- permission for spousal rape being largely based on the writings of Saint Paul. Women did not gain the right to vote in some parts of Christian, calvinist Switzerland until 1971 (and in at least one canton in 1990). Perhaps we should be apologizing to Muslims for how many of our governments have treated women as well as racial and religious minorities? Oh sorry, it's only Muslims that have to apologize...

In conclusion...

Yes, there are huge areas of civil rights in some Muslim-majority countries that need to be addressed and fixed, and every one of the Muslims I know (and that's hundreds) are working to address those issues. Some of them are vocal activists, others work quietly behind the scenes or within their own communities without feeling the need to issue personal statements to Christians about their commitment to human rights.

Yes, we err if we think that because our nation is killing hundreds of Muslims a week that we should cut them some liberal 'slack' about human rights. And we err if we lie about the violence of the West and pretend that Islam is a uniquely violent religion. Such lies may boost our own egos and insescurities, but they do a grave diservice to Muslim human rights activists and put them in a terrible bind -- when we repeat those lies, we help perpetuate the false impression that "human rights" is a Western trojan horse for attacking Islam.

I believe human rights across the world will improve much more quickly if we are honest about our own shortcomings as well, and if we hold everyone to the same standards and expectations, without resorting to anti-religious bigotry.


  1. Unfortunately, I can't respond to a lengthy blog post in comments; not because there aren't good, rational arguments against the points Devin's post has, but because there is insufficient room in the margin here. Maybe I should start my own blog. Naaaa.

    I would make a couple of observations. One, stupid ideas don't deserve respect. I don't respect the idea that the earth is flat because there is no evidence for it and plenty of reasons it can't be true. Similarly, I don't respect Islam because there is no evidence for it and plenty of reasons it can't be true. The same argument applies more or less to Christianity, Hinduism, and Judaism. That *doesn't* mean I do not respect people who happen to practice Islam, or Christianity, or Judaism, or Hinduism. Believing stupid ideas isn't a moral wrong but a human failing; heck, even I believe in stupid ideas, somewhere, I'm sure, but I'd stop believing them once I discovered they were stupid, just like you.

    Two, I agree about holding everyone to the same standards and expectations. In fact, it was that very belief that led me to make the comment that started this whole episode. I suggested Dan up his snark level on Islam. He's plenty ready to mock and ridicule fundie Christians, and I would like to see him go after fundie Muslims as well as a service to the readership and humanity.

    For example, I think Muslims who ship 9 year olds off from England to the olde homeland to be repeatedly raped by elderly "husbands" in arranged marriages ought to be mocked (at least), the government functionaries who avert their eyes ought to be mocked (at least), and the Muslim community at large ought to be mocked (at least) until this behavior stops. Perhaps Devin disagrees; I hope not, but I don't know since he also thinks the millions of decent Muslims are doing a great job condemning and reforming the wacko wing of the religion.

    Finally, Devin misreads my comments in a peculiar way. I've never said that Islam is the only religion that has yet to outgrow violence. I do not expect personal apologies from Muslims for the evil behavior of their co-religionists. What I do expect is that Muslims ought to be deeply ashamed of the wicked behavior of some Muslims, and that Islam should not be exempt from ridicule and snark.

    Now, back to your regular programming.

  2. John, why should I up my snark about Muslims? As I mentioned in my initial post, the crimes of the Taliban et al are well known. I don't have anything new to say about them.

    Secondly, Christianity is my religion, and thus I have a higher degree of ire when idiots like Falwell give it a bad name. My country is a majority Christian nation, and Christians insert their moral beliefs in public policy far, far more than I happen to like.

  3. Wow John, what is it like to be God almighty? You talk with the surety of him. Now let us see if I can follow your logic, you don't respect Islam, Christianity, Judaism, or Hinduism (I am sure Buddhism falls right in there as well) yet you respect those who practice it, because, you know, people like to believe stupid things and are just too stupid to realize how stupid these things are.
    How that makes them worthy of respect is beyond me, maybe you are being true to your Godlike nature and can overcome internal contradictions.
    I have one question, is this meant to be satire? Nobody can be quite so arrogant and stupid at the same time and not be named Sarah Palin.

    And your last paragraph was particularly idiotic. I have zero reason to be ashamed at the actions of anyone other than myself (and my children, but their actions do reflect on the quality of my raising them). This notion of collective guilt is so 2nd grade.

    And your line about 9 year old girls...beyond idiotic, you have no clue. All of the nations of the Middle East have age of consent over 16. Mohammed did not rape a 9 year old, the tradition then was for young girls to live in the house of their future husband so as to assure their virginity. It was only after girls had their period when they could be considered women. Now of course we consider sex with a 14 year old girl to be wrong, but at that time it was acceptable and even necessary given the low life expectancy.

    You don't believe me, go to Saudi Arabia and try to marry a 9 year old, better have your will ready before you go.

    Honestly, you gotta be into satire right? One bit of advice, if you are going to try for humor, at least try to do it right. Being a jackass just ain't funny.


  4. Hi Anonymous. Wow, you wrote so much wrong in so little space... where to start? Oh well, let's start here:

    "And your line about 9 year old girls...beyond idiotic, you have no clue. All of the nations of the Middle East have age of consent over 16."

    Your claim is provably false.


    "'The youngest child we have dealt with was nine years old,' she said. 'The girl told her teacher she was going to be forced to marry someone and initially she was not believed."


    The article describes girls of 9 and 11 seeking divorces. It also says "Although Yemen has a law stating that 15 is the marriageable age, it is frequently flouted, particularly in poor rural areas where society is run along tribal lines."


    "Ten-year-old girls are ready for marriage, according to Saudi Arabia's most senior cleric.

    "Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al Sheikh, the country's grand mufti, told Al Hayat newspaper that those saying ten or 12-year-old girls are too young to marry are being 'unfair' to them.

    "Al Sheikh's comments come at a time when Saudi human rights groups have been pushing the government to put an end to marriages involving the very young and to define a minimum age for marriage."


    "[The photo] shows Mohammed, 40, with his new 11-year-old wife, Ghulam. Taken by US photographer Stephanie Sinclair, it was named Unicef Photo of the Year [in 2007] yesterday."

    I could continue, but it is pretty clear that the age of 16 consent laws don't exist in some countries or are not enforced where they do exist.

    As far as Big Mo and his marriage to a 6 year old, well, I have no informed opinion. What I do have are Muslim talking heads helpfully explaining that Aisha got her period at 9, and they started having intercourse. Our pediatricians here will no doubt learn something new; according to the Muslim speaker, girls in hot countries get their period early (8-10), while in cold countries it can be delayed till the early twenties. Who knew?

    (video from the MEMRI-TV site, which has more info but requires registration)


    "Being a jackass just ain't funny."

    I defer to your obvious expertise here.

  5. Yes, I can always tell a racist jackass who has no humor from a mile away. And you really have your head up your ass. You write about what a few nutjobs say as proof of what all Muslims believe forever. In Delaware the age of consent until not to long ago was 12. I imagine you are probably from Delaware and are a product of one such relationship, or perhaps you are upset you can not be in one such relationship as well, and are venting over the fact that you percieve Muslims as being able to.

    In fact, the law in Delaware was a blue law, left over from Colonial times, the fact that not too long ago someone like Jerry Lee Lewis could marry his 13 year old cousin is unremarked by you. Shall we condemn America and all Americans. Rabid idiots like you, of course, would.

    Anyway, I am tired of arguing with a complete nitwit. Respond if you must, I shan't return to this thread.


  6. "You write about what a few nutjobs say as proof of what all Muslims believe forever."

    Umm, no. I write about what a few nutjobs believe to do two things. One, show that you don't know what you are talking about by demonstrating that your claims are wrong. Two, show what some Muslims are doing today to the evident approval of mainstream religious authorities.

    Since you bring it up, you do know what happened to Mr. Lewis after marrying his first cousin? From Wikipedia

    "The scandal [of the marriage] followed Lewis home to America, and as a result, he was blacklisted from radio and almost vanished from the music scene. Lewis felt betrayed by numerous people who had been his supporters. Dick Clark dropped him from his shows. Lewis even felt that Sam Phillips had sold him out when the Sun Record patriarch released "The Return of Jerry Lee," a bogus "interview" cut together by Jack Clement from excerpts of Lewis' songs, which made light of his marital and publicity problems. Only Alan Freed stayed true to Jerry Lee Lewis, playing his records until Freed was removed from the air because of payola allegations.

    "Even though Jerry Lee Lewis was still under contract with Sun Records, he stopped recording. He had gone from $10,000 a night concerts to $250 a night spots in beer joints and small clubs. He had few friends at the time whom he felt he could trust."

    I think that's precisely my point. In 2009, marrying a 13 yo ought to have severe social costs, regardless of religion. Why don't you get back to me when the Muslim guys are shunned when they have intercourse with their 9 yo brides? Don't worry, I'm not holding my breath.