Wed, Jul
26
2006

That's Me in the Corner, Owning my Religion

Wed, Jul 26, 2006

The reliably nutty Western Standard has been in a furor these past few days, possibly in response to the revelation that there are 50,000 Lebanese Canadians in need of evacuation this past week, but also in feedback from the arrested terrorist plot involving 17 Islamic Canadians, and recent news that Somali Islamists have declared a holy war against Ethiopia. Some of the statements made in the comments section of the blog are flagrantly racist, and both Antonia Zerbiasis and Ceberus have taken the thankless task of logging those comments, so that we don’t have to grace the Western Standard with our hits.

However, the remarkable libertarian blogger Chris Seeley of Tart Cider (witness his wonderful takedown of bitter loudmouth Peter Worthington), and a poster in the Western Standard Blogs, has posted there to distance himself from the comments made:

For RightGirl, and for many people who frequent this blog, the hordes are Muslim. Because some Somalians put a jihad on Ethiopia, Canadians should be denied freedom of religion — that’s what RightGirl argued on Saturday. Prominent Canadians who should be forced to renounce their beliefs include MP for Edmonton-Strathcona Rahim Jaffer, activist Irshad Manji (author of The Trouble with Islam), Zahra Kazemi’s son Stephan Hachemi, Sun Media columnist and Canadian Coalition for Democracies Senior Fellow Salim Mansur, and hundreds of thousands of other peaceful folk with whom people like RightGirl interact every day without incident.

There can be no nobility or bravery in bigotry, particularly when it’s anonymous. RightGirl could preach her beliefs in the middle of downtown Toronto and no harm would come to her, but that wouldn’t do much for her “they want to kill us all because we’re not Muslims” theory. She’d just be left there, barking at the moon like a lunatic, desperately hoping that a Canadian suicide bomber might some day validate her delusions — much as she does now.

This is a sample of RightGirl’s original post:

If everything from smoking to lead paint to pitbulls can be banned because they are dangerous and deadly, why can’t Islam? At what point is a death cult afforded the status of legitimate religion, and why? What makes Mohammed any better than Jim Jones?

Predictably, some of the commentators have attacked Chris for breaking party lines, but some of the original people he criticized have responded a bit more thoughtfully — though in ways I still disagree with.

Here’s RightGirl’s comment:

I stand by what I say. I am not preaching internment of anyone with a Muslim name. I am just stating the fact that the religion of Islam is a danger, and that if it were banned/outlawed/pooh-poohed/whatever, it might give the “moderates” (who by Islamic standards are not really Muslim at all) the chance to get away from the cult and find faith in a peaceful manner.

Emphasis mine.

This moderates RightGirl’s original post somewhat. While extreme, she and I can agree on one thing: whatever the Charter says about our freedom to worship, it’s irrelevant when it comes to dealing with fanatics who would do violence against us as a result of their own fanaticism. It doesn’t matter if the seventeen alleged terrorists were Islamic, Christian or Agnostic: my expectation is that, in the interests of public safety, we’d prosecute them to the full measure of the law. If they’re citizens, we imprison them; if they’re landed immigrants, we deport them. That goes for anybody who seeks to commit violence on these shores. You’ll get no argument from me.

But it’s very interesting seeing where RightGirl departs from reality. When Chris tells RightGirl that the overwhelming majority of Muslims (including Rahim Jaffer of the Conservative government) are peace-loving people, and that 99.99% of Islamic Canadians are as decent and as loyal to Canada as she is, her response is, essentially, to agree, but then to say “but they’re not true Muslims.” She isn’t the only one to make that argument in this thread.

And I’m reminded of a Christian example.

As I am a centrist, I do not fit the stereotype of a Christian that you’ll tend to see in the North American media these days. You know the type: white bread, Republican, with a propensity to push Intelligent Design, bash gays, and blindly support President Bush. But, then, most Christians are like me: we’re not particularly political. We’re open minded, decent human beings, like most other human beings. We believe in compassion, self-sacrifice, self-reliance, leading by example and not imposing our religious beliefs on others — all those mainstream values. Unfortunately, the picture of the silent majority of Christians doesn’t often show up in the corporate media in discussing the so-called Culture War between the Religious Right and more liberal interests.

This is a common refrain of liberal-Christian blogger, the Green Knight. When Fred Phelps pickets soldiers’ funerals to promote his belief that America’s soldiers are being killed in Iraq as God’s punishment for America’s failure to publicly execute gays, he doesn’t speak for us. When Pat Robertson muses that the people of Dover, Pennsylvania can expect floods and other examples of God’s wrath for voting against teaching Intelligent Design in schools, he is not expressing what I believe to be a Christian philosophy. Indeed, Fred Phelps has rather publicly severred his connection with the Southern Baptist council, but you wouldn’t know that from certain commentaries. There are people out there who call moderate Christians an oxymoron, and who seek to lump us in with the Falwells and the Dobsons, the better to skewer us all.

I respect RightGirl’s acknowledgement (however after-the-fact) that the overwhelming majority of Islamic Canadians are as peaceful and as decent as she is, but I think she’s making a mistake in trying to remove these individuals from their faith. It’s very like confronting critics of Christians, who paint their strokes too broadly, and being told: “oh, we’re not talking about you; you’re a decent man, not a true Christian.”

It embarrasses me that my religion shares the same name as the religion professed by people like Pat Robertson, but there is no way I would vacate my faith, even in name, because of his statements. This is my faith; it has informed my decisions; it has helped to shape the person I am, and that’s the way most Christians are. At the risk of sounding arrogant, we are the true Christians, and if anybody is to leave their faith as a result of their unChristian activities, it should be the other guys, not us. And we’d react even stronger if others tried to take our faith from us, however well intentioned they were.

But this seems to be what moderate Muslims can expect. It doesn’t matter that the overwhelming majority live lives of moderation and peace. It doesn’t matter when one of their number risks his life to foil a terrorist plot. It doesn’t matter how many moderate Muslims criticize the authoritarian regimes of the Middle East. They are still tainted by the fanatics whose religion shares their religion’s name.

Hey, I’ve been there. Between the Fred Phelps, the Jerry Falwells, the Pat Robertsons, the fanatics of Indian River, Delaware, my religion has been tainted in the eyes of others by their presence. I guess you’re judged by the company you keep. Even though this company is very like that obnoxious guest that doesn’t know when to leave.

But I still don’t understand why we should rob the moderates of their own religion and hamper their efforts to maintain its integrity. Why are we giving the fanatics an inch? If we want our religions to be peaceful contributors to our civil society, then surely it is in our interest to ensure that the ownership of our religions remains in the hands of the moderates?


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