16 September 2008

At Malaysia's Freedom Film Fest 2008

This grassroots-organised event featured a weekend of short films on various human rights issues. In the discussions that followed, Islam featured strongly. Full essay.


Saint Splattergut said...

As Christopher Hitchens said, "Religion poisons everything."

I'm curious, YB.

Did you try to talk to anyone to make them realise they were open on one issue and closed on another? Or are you tired of it all, prefering just to state so in cyberspace?

somethingmissing said...

"One young woman in a headscarf argued that in Islam..."

What does her headscarf have to do with anything? Are we meant to take it as a clue indicating the kind of person she is? Sounds like yet more pseudo-liberalism to me.

Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett et al. are sadly misguided on the subject of religion. 'Religion poisons everything'? What does that even mean? Religion has been put to good, bad and neutral uses just like any other expression of human faith. Their views essentially stem from intolerance and elitism, and they have somehow subscribed to a delusion that their own belief in irreversible progress, enlightenment, the rapture of science and the significance of humanity are somehow different from religious beliefs.

People have a right to exclude from their religious groups those who make certain lifestyle choices (especially lifestyle choices that outrightly contradict a tenet of the religion) just as much as people have a right to make those lifestyle choices in the first place. The tenets of a religion are a matter for the religious to decide, so if there is to be debate as to what those tenets should be, let it take place between their theologians. As long as those who do not wish to follow the tenets are allowed to leave and live peacefully, there can be little issue with the restrictions placed on believers. There is a difference between thinking that it would be better if people didn't behave a certain way and thinking that people should be stopped altogether from behaving that way. If you argue that religions should be forced to change their tenets in order to accept everyone into their fold, then you are little more than a fascist.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Somethingmissing -

In Malaysia, the entire discussion of sexuality for ALL (laws, police action, administrative policies re transgender documents, the ban on sex change operations) is predicated on Islam. Since the religion imposes itself on non-Muslims, as Farish Noor himself said, the religion has brought itself out into the public domain for contestation.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Saibt splattergut -

I didn't quite put it so starkly since I was in a foreign country. What I did say was that to debate morality using one's own religion as a starting point leads nowhere because others don't even accept the starting point. If they are interested in human rights, they have to start from public reason, objectivity and a reality as exists, not from scripture.

somethingmissing said...

Yawning Bread:

That's where this bit of my comment becomes relevant:

As long as those who do not wish to follow the tenets are allowed to leave and live peacefully, there can be little issue with the restrictions placed on believers.

I agree that this state of affairs has yet to be created in Malaysia, and ought to be created. But increasingly when I look to the battle for greater liberties I see it being co-opted as a means to channel bigotry towards and oppression of the more conservative members of society. I believe as strongly in someone's right to be gay as I do in someone's right to believe that god punishes gay people. I may not like this belief, I may argue against it, but I strongly hold to people's rights to hold even beliefs that I do not myself hold.

When you say 'the religion' has brought itself into the public domain for contestation, what are you referring to? Islam has no central authority handing down teachings in the manner of, say, the Catholic church. You are simply lumping all Muslims into a single category and taking the beliefs and actions of some as license to attack the practice of Islam altogether. These are the seeds of oppression. Why must we always throw off one yoke in order to then impose another?

A religions does not 'bring itself' into public contestation... how can it? It is people who do so, and every religion is in fact a site of dispute as to the true teachings, meaning that treating it as a monolithic entity is akin to saying that because African-Americans commit a disproportionate amount of crime in the US, the problem is African-Americans. The question of whether Islam is right or wrong on these matters is an issue for Muslims to decide... the real issue we should be debating is whether or not a religion should have this kind of authority in the public domain, not whether or not the religious beliefs are contestable. Make no mistake, the belief in liberties that you and I share is as contestable as any tenet of Islam - it is in fact our equivalent of a religion, and I have often seen it used as a front for bigotry - Farish Noor being a frequent offender himself.