Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Death to heretics....   posted by Razib @ 7/11/2006 07:09:00 PM

This letter to the editor in the Lansing State Journal is making the rounds on the blogosphere:

...Islam is a guide for humanity, for all times, until the day of judgment. It is forbidden in Islam to convert to any other religion. The penalty is death. There is no disagreement about it.

Islam is being embraced by people of other faiths all the time. They should know they can embrace Islam, but cannot get out. This rule is not made by Muslims; it is the supreme law of God.

Please do not ask us Muslims to pick some rules and disregard other rules. Muslims are supposed to embrace Islam in its totality.

Nazra Quraishi
East Lansing

"Nazra Quraishi," or someone with that name, does live in East Lansing (you can look this up). Now, the reality is that in to my mind many Muslims who emigrate to the West (not all) have a particular view of their own religion and what constitutes blasphemy within that context, but do not truly comprehend the secular sacrality (yes, a paradox?) of the West and what constitutes blasphemy here. An implication that there is compulsion in religion, to use a Muslim phrase, at least for adults, is simply blasphemous to the elites of the West.

When Abdul Rahman was in the news for being an apostate to Christianity in Afghanistan, I do not truly believe many Muslims understood the reaction in the West (though many secularized elites did intellectually). Westerners were positively hysterical and unhinged, and so they should have been. The outrage and invective aimed at Baruch Spinoza was characterized by disproportionate response when he published Tractatus Theologico-Politicus in the late 17th century because he violated openly and publically the established bounds of reasonable civilized discourse, he transgressed upon the common shared norms which bound Western European civilization together and even restrained the free wheeling capitalism of the Dutch republic. Blasphemy tells us what is incontrovertibly sacred, it tells us what we hold precious and beyond debate, reason or analytic decomposition. Believe as you will we say in the open air of the public space, that is inviolable.

But as I imply above this was not always so in the West. Though there have always been men who were "heretics" and "unbelievers" privately, outright rejection of the divine was forbidden within Western culture. Even Spinoza himself published his Tractatus ostensibly to refute charges of atheism, he was a pantheist who elucidated upon the character of his religiosity through a refutation of revealed theism. The movement toward religious pluralism and toleration was halting, and within Europe itself nations like Spain have embraced freedom of public conscience only within this century. Our pluralistic consensus is fragile, and I am not one who trusts reason to maintain it, at the end of the day we must be willing to battle to keep the freedoms that which were unveiled before us in the centuries between the 30 years War and the emancipation of the European Jews.

The attitude of many Muslims that decency demands adherence to basic respect for the tenets of their religion is not surprising, that has been the character of civilization. The prosecution of the Greek philosopher Anaxagoras for atheism in Athens was in large part a function of his relationship to the politician Pericles, but, it shows that blasphemy did have deep pre-Abrahamic roots. The Chinese philosopher Xun Zi was a skeptical in regards to the supernatural, but, he did advise that the rituals and customs of society should be perpetuated in the interests of harmony and stability. Why is rape more vile as a crime than a non-sexual assault which may cause more substantial harm?

I am conflating and exploring multiple issues above. The issue of rape is not simply one of social mores, there are deep primal cognitive reflexes relating to sexuality which must be acknowledged. Other taboos and "blasphemies" seem almost trivial in their character, shibboleths which serve as tribal markers and now carry the authority of custom through chance. But something like theism and veneration of cultural gods lay in the grey land between, to some extent theism is, I believe, an outgrowth of convential modal psychology. Its particular manifestation though is contingent upon social and historical events, even if its universality seems established. Religion is a melange of private and public commitments, and the decision to aver, reject or convert affiliations or identifications is something of interest and significance. Frankly, the direction of Islamic attitudes toward apostacy is not surprising, though its magnitude is rather substantial.

The question though moves on to the West and its own values. Do you believe in gods? Despite the de-Christianization of Western Europe, it is still a predominantly religious in its populace, if not its elites. The United States is famously an outlier in its religiosity being out of proportion to its affluence. But, it is acceptable, even if grudgingly, to reject God in the West. These are the freedoms granted to unbelievers by the work of generations past, and the culture has moved in a direction where most believers would even find explicit compulsion in religion offensive. George W. Bush was born an Episcopalian, but he is now an evangelical Methodist, while his brother, Jeb, is a Roman Catholic. This is not to say there is not a prejudice toward atheism in the United States, but, that is different from asserting that it is a blasphemy. Rather, I would contend that the majority of American theists, a famously reactionary lot within the developed world, would still find the compulsory biases of Muslims more offensive than the heresy of an unbeliever. Of course, the ancestors of these same modern Westerners executed Thomas Aikenhead in 1697. I am not quite saying yet that we are in danger of losing the heresies which we have embraced, but the lessons of history show that the alternative is no anomaly.

Addendum: The individual above works for an Islamic Sunday School in East Lansing. Here is a response from a Muslim doctor to the letter to the editor. He states:

Death for apostasy is a very successful meme and was adopted with varying degrees of rigor by these schools, but since most of their other rules and regulations are no longer a part of muslim life, one wonders why death for apostasy should continue to be Ms. Qureshi's pet cause?

I find the use of the term "meme" amusing, as it was coined by a militant atheist and turned against religion as a whole. But, in any case, what is the "real Islam" here? Well, that isn't particularly relevant, what is relevant is that the blasphemer Nazra Quraishi works to indoctrinate children, and it seems quite likely that she promoting anti-liberal heresy. Now, as civilized folk we can not consign Nazra Quraishi to the pyre, or behead her, the punishment for incorrect belief is not death. But, incorrect belief must be fought. The reality is that the types who end up teaching "Sunday School" as a vocation are often rather primitive and cognitively deficient in American Islamic communities, forgive her my fellow citizens, for she knows not what to think. Especially in immigrant Muslim communities stacked with busy successful professionals teaching Sunday school would likely be the lot of those with little better to do and an attenuated life of the mind. But from these isolated bush fires can blasphemous heresy eventually explode in a conflagoration unless counter-measures are taken.

So what do you do with memes that are pernicious? Why memetic warfare of course! The hysterics emenating from places like Jihad Watch are entirely appropriate here in my opinion, the witch has blasphemed, and her kind should be excised from decent society. Her kind includes all those who refuse to bow to the No-god of freedom of conscience. But the attack must be multi-pronged. From below the foot soldiers may scream and engage in their human wave attacks, but they need air support, and the modern West has a deep well of anti-religious polemic from which it can draw from here. If we unbelievers are to protect our sacred right to unbelief, we must not shirk our duty to engage in proper and pious contempt, condescension and critique at what is clearly savage and unrepentantly primal superstition of a gross sort, idolatry scaffolded in the garb of high culture. Let us bring the precision guided bombs and simply eviscerate them from on high. We have the swords on hand now, and we are no longer blind, we are the gods of our own future history.