I knew it would come, I knew it would stay and I knew it would suck. I am referring to that thing that makes Australian summers’ Australian – the sun. The last few days (before it started raining) have reminded me that this continent cannot (despite what popular science tell me) be more than five miles from the surface of the sun in January. It’s so damn hot, and my portable elevated fan provides little reprieve for the repressive heat that squats like a hobo in our sun-baked unit. It was in my sweat-induced insomnia that I decided to do what any reasonable person does at 02:30 in the morning and log on to Facebook. A friend had recently commented on a Sydney Morning Herald article, meaning it showed in my news feed instantaneously. Like a broken record the breaking news story skipped across my screen. Another possible terrorist attack. Innocents dead. A collection of pissed-off Muslims – but no suspects. Different location. Different time. Different target. Different mode of attack. Same religion. Same story.
I have, on many occasions (as many of my friends can attest to) stood up against the bigoted and xenophobic attitudes directed towards Muslims after events such as this. Hate is not cool, and I won’t stand for it. Nor will most other reasonable thinking people in a civil and respectable society stand for it either. But I’m growing tired, I’m growing weary, of seemingly defending the indefensible. I want to reiterate that I will defend Muslims here and abroad the right and the freedom to practice their faith in safety and void of any discrimination. However, Islam the religion – can go get bent. It’s a faulty, backwards and violent ideology that belongs back where it was shat out… in the Iron Age.
I’ve also been emboldened to write this blog after a very good friend of mine (who will remain anonymous) text me recently with this question:
Hola Professor Gonzo! Quick question since I find you to be the least bias and up front intellect like Bill Maher out of my friend network lol do you find something in the Quran that is making these miliant groups go spastic? Cause I was trying to look up passages in the Quran and Bible about killing non believers etc. And both religions talk about it but why does it seem Radical islamic groups are more prevalent then Radical Christian groups? I need closure for my thought process lol
I told them it was a pretty fucking heavy question to sum up in 140 characters, so I would attempt to answer it in my blog… however I doubt I’m going to be able to address all parts of the question in this blog. But before I go on a tirade, I’d like to explain my personal relationship with the religion of Islam – however limited it may be. I grew up in Penrith, so my interaction with the faith was sparse. Penrith is typically WASP territory (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant), and besides a couple of token Muslim friends and my Iraqi hairdresser I had very little interaction with the faith that over 1.8 billion inhabitants of this world adheres to. In my teens I was involved in a pretty serious car accident in which I was hospitalised. Just before impact (which involved a B-double truck impacting the small sedan I was in, at high speed) I literally saw my life flash before my eyes.
I came to consciousness in the ER with doctors and nurses alike telling me I was lucky to be alive, and it was a miracle that I wasn’t seriously injured or killed. Let’s dwell on that word for a moment – ‘miracle’. Was it by some divine intervention that I was not seriously hurt or killed in that accident? Did I have some guardian angel or some other such heavenly force personally looking out for me? Growing up in a Christian household this is what I had always been told, but I had drifted away from the faith as I grew into adolescence. Considering the ‘miraculous’ event that had just happened to me, I felt invigorated to explore faith again – and not just the faith I had grown up with. I knew Christianity well – it’s pro’s, it’s con’s, it’s pitfalls and shortcomings. I needed to look further afield – open my horizons. So I turned to the faiths’ that were not so familiar to a boy from Penrith. Hinduism, Buddhism, New Age faith’s and Islam were all on my exploratory hit-list. I borrowed the Qur’an plus a bunch of other books on the ancient faith from my local library and started reading it fervently. I was hoping that this faith, above all others, would finally make sense of my place in the universe.
It didn’t, and to be honest I didn’t even finish reading the Qur’an. When you find out that you will never truly understand the divine message of Mohammed unless you can actually read and speak Old Arabic, the faith seems unfairly elusive and exclusive (especially considering it claims to be a faith for all peoples). It’s also boring as all fuck, and makes the Old Testament seem like a thrilling Tom Clancy novel in comparison. Despite this, the stories it contained and the rich history behind this holy book left me inquisitive about the faith and curious about its’ followers. I’ve since traveled extensively in predominantly Muslim countries and areas – including Egypt, the U.A.E, Morocco, Bangladesh, and to the predominantly Muslim areas of China west of Xian and the southern areas of Thailand. I was in Cairo when the revolution took place in 2011 and was personally blown away by the generosity provided to me by strangers and the solidarity displayed by the people of Egypt. I was in Bangladesh in the middle of a political crisis (what they refer to as a ‘hartal’) and was humbled by the camaraderie the people displayed in the face of oppression and adversity. My family on my fathers’ side also hails from the south of Spain, where the technological and architectural remnants of the Moors (North African Muslims) can still be seen today. Whilst the rest of Europe were accusing each other of being witches and wallowing in their own filth, the Moors were busy making things like Al Alhambra. In comparison to the Christian faith, and in particular the strain of Christianity that was borne of the Protestant Reformation, I believe the adherents of Islam have a lot to show the world. I witnessed a people that seemed less individualistic (i.e. less selfish), more caring of the poor, and more family and community orientated than what I have personally witnessed in the highly individualistic and introverted societies of the Western world – particularly the U.S, Britain, Canada and Australia.
However, none of this makes their god any more real. From an atheistic perspective (of which I am a card-carrying member) Allah is nothing but a figment of their imagination. As Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris so bluntly put it in their writings, if their god doesn’t exist (and there is no evidence to suggest that he does) they are essentially talking to, and acting on behalf of, voices in their very own head – they are technically insane. Dawkins said it best when he stated in The God Delusion (2006):
Admittedly, people of a theological bent are often chronically incapable of distinguishing what is true from what they’d like to be true.
By any standard definition of insanity, voices in the head is up the top of the list. So is it any surprise that a few people – either in the centre of Sydney, the halls of Parliament in Ottawa, or on the streets of Paris, might exhibit violent traits in accordance with their delusion of an imaginary sky god? This is what makes the recent events in Paris so gob-smackingly awful. Watch this raw footage of the attack and witness the callous way in which this officer is murdered by these men in cold-blood. How could anyone act in such a manner unless deluded with hallucinations of grandeur and superiority. Let’s boil this particular event down beyond what is being currently said in the mainstream media: this was a deadly attack by Muslims against atheists for being smart-arse atheists. It’s as simple as that.
The part that strikes at me so personally here is that (as I’ve previously stated in my ‘About‘ section of my blog) I have a real passion for the arts and cartooning. I’ve previously had some of my political cartoons published for various groups, including the local paper out in Penrith. I have in the past (and may do in the future) illustrated with a political bent. It’s horrifying to think that somebody would want to put a bullet in my head for doing such a thing. Anybody who has had their political illustrations published know that your drawings are much more than just art – they are an expression of your freedom and a personal artistic representation of how you see the world. To know that there are deluded individuals out there who want nothing else than to snuff that out is disturbing and depressing in equal amount.
I will, however, agree that the staff at Charlie Hebdo were offensive. Crass, opportunistic and inflammatory are other words that come to mind. Did they die for my freedoms – or did they die for their ability to humiliate, ostracise and demonize a minority? I honestly think the answer to that question borders on irrelevance, but it does not hide the fact that Islam takes the insult (or even the depiction) of Muhammad very seriously. As stated by Sikander Hashmi of the Kanata Muslim Association in Canada:
…for many Muslims, they value and love the Prophet more than they would love anyone else, including their own parents. To me, if someone is poking fun at or cursing or making ill mention of the Prophet, it’s more hurtful to me than someone doing the same to my mother or to my father, for example.
Now, if you’ve read the rest of the interview I’ve linked here, Mr Hashmi is comparable to every Muslim I’ve ever met in this regards – tolerant, polite, reasoned and reasonable – religious, of course, but ‘moderate’ in their belief and generally pretty easy-going. What every Muslim group sadly feels compelled to tell the general public every time some dickhead with a gun (who claims to be Muslim) goes on a rampage is that he ‘does not represent’ them and that ‘the vast majority of Muslims condemn this violence’. This is true, but there is more to this than meets the eye. Muslims, like Christians, are too plentiful on this finite earth to all be defined as ‘radicals’ and ‘fundamentalists’. If this were not the case, Christians would be storming your local Family Planning (i.e. abortion) Clinic right now armed with semi-automatics with a target trained on the medical staff, whilst an event on the scale of 9/11 would be happening every other weekend. Moderate people of faith, or as Mr Hashmi refers to them, ‘ordinary’ people, make up the vast majority of the Muslim population and they will not resort to violence. This is irrespective of how toxic the political/economic environment becomes or how frayed ethnic or racial tensions end up. However, according to a famous Christian douchebag who caused a mini-scandal on Facebook, this isn’t the case. Clayton Jennings, an evangelical American author/actor with over 200,000 Facebook followers, posted this after the events in Paris:
The difference between Jesus and Muhammad:
Jesus, ‘I died for you’
Muhammad, ‘Kill for me’
This is a simplistic attitude I see demonstrated by many Christians who seemingly like to whitewash the stories in the Bible. Genocide, rape, murder and torture are all things advocated by their god in their Bible (and correct me if I’m wrong, but Jesus and the Lord are technically the same thing, right?) and they seemingly forget these things all too often. Rupert Murdoch also recently chimed in with some very silly comments too. This ignorant attitude held by Jennings and Murdoch is also expressed by a lot of people, and the general Muslim population should rightly feel aggrieved and wronged by such slander. However, I’d like to refer to one of my favourite authors, Sam Harris (2008: 20), to articulate why I have little sympathy for their cause:
While moderation in religion may seem a reasonable position to stake out, in light of all that we have (and have not) learned about the universe, it offers no bulwark against religious extremism and religious violence. From the perspective of those seeking to live by the letter of the texts, the religious moderate is nothing more than a failed fundamentalist. He is, in all likelihood, going to wind up in hell with the rest of the unbelievers. The problem that religious moderation poses for all of us is that it does not permit anything very critical to be said about religious literalism. We cannot say that fundamentalists are crazy, because they are merely practicing their freedom of belief; we cannot even say that they are mistaken in religious terms, because their knowledge of scripture is generally unrivaled. All we can say, as religious moderates, is that we don’t like the personal and social costs that a full embrace of scripture imposes on us. This is not a new form of faith, or even a new species of scriptural exegesis; it is simply a capitulation to a variety of all-too-human interests that have nothing, in principle, to do with God. Religious moderation is the product of secular knowledge and scriptural ignorance – and it has no bona fides, in religious terms, to put it on a par with fundamentalism. The texts themselves are unequivocal: they are perfect in all their parts. By their light, religious moderation appears to be nothing more than an unwillingness to fully submit to God’s law. By failing to live by the letter of the texts, while tolerating the irrationality of those who do, religious moderates betray faith and reason equally. Unless the core dogmas of faith are called into question – i.e., that we know there is a God, and that we know what he wants from us – religious moderation will do nothing to lead us out of the wilderness.
This little excerpt is actually directed at ‘ordinary’ Christians, but can easily apply to ‘ordinary’ or moderate Muslims too. In regards to the second part of the question my friend asked me, why are they going ‘spastic’ now? Putting aside the political incorrectness of the question for a moment, I think the answer does lie predominantly in current political/economic factors. I alluded to this point in my post on the Sydney siege – it’s as simple as this: they have our oil and gas deposits, they are strategically located to control trade – and we want it. Simple as that. Add a sprinkle of religious dogma within the population you are attempting to oppress and you have a recipe for disaster. I remember my Sociology professor showing us a map of the world in class once, and noting no less than 20 predominantly Muslim countries where Western powers were financing or actively suppressing Islamic forces or the general population operating within that country – from Mali to the Philippines. Genocide is being committed against Muslim minorities in Burma, India and elsewhere. Also, from a Muslims’ perspective, is it unreasonable that they may see this as some sort of modern Western Imperialism, or worse – a religious war?
To quote the Imam Mr Hashmi once again:
We also have to look at the other factors, and the fact is that these incidents are not happening in a vacuum. They were not happening 20 years ago, but today they are – in the context of growing frustration over the loss of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives in the Iraq war; discrimination, racism, ghettoization (especially in Europe), inaction in Syria despite years of war and brutal human suffering and so on. So it’s high time that Muslim leaders, law enforcement, politicians, social workers, academics and others got together on a national level and seriously talked about what’s happening and how it can be tackled. Imams are ready to do their part but we can’t do it all alone. Education is just part of the solution.
He’s totally right, we do have to look at the other factors – the attack in Paris and Sydney did not happen as a singular event – they are reactions to other events. However, when he refers to education, I’m pretty sure he’s referring to a different type of education to what I believe is ideal. I believe in an education devoid of any belief in some fake sky-god for the Muslim youth of today. Mr Hashmi on the other hand, wants to foster their fantasy in Allah. Education is about being able to think for one’s self – even about the very real possibility that their may be no god. If that type of ‘education’ isn’t allowed in the Muslim world sometime soon, I fear this current pattern of violence is something we should start getting used to.
NB: So I seem to have written a huge fucking essay without properly addressing the question asked of me or addressing the title of the post. Sorry for that. If you think I’m being a bit too hard on Muslims in this point – wait until I get around to the Christians or the Jews. Zing! On that note I encourage debate and would love you to comment on this post if you want to raise any issues with me. Keep it polite and nice. Furthermore, if you feel that I have offended in any way by writing this post, I want to state that was definitely not my intention – and I’m sorry.