Now that I’m back after my short holiday from writing political commentaries, I’ve decided this will be my first topic. I haven’t had much to say about the recent controversy about the anti-Muslim film, and part of that has to do with a discussion I had been having, for the umpteenth time it seemed, about whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear hijabs-niqabs-burqas and so on.
My position on this hasn’t changed for a long time, mostly because I haven’t heard anyone make any better points on the subject. My position is, basically, this: I think people should generally be allowed to wear whatever they want to wear, but I don’t really buy that Islam’s expectations regarding hijabs-niqabs-burqas are all that benign where the rights of women are concerned. I don’t care that I’m “outside the community”, I believe this is something I can comment on. I comment about the unreasonable expectations right-wing Christian extremists have of women, I _will_ also comment about the unreasonable expectations right-wing Muslim extremists have of women. Though I readily acknowledge there are numerous Muslim women who wear one of these kinds of clothing who are dynamic, positive role models, my observation is that such women are not in the majority, and that there is a reason for this – that this clothing requirement in Islam isn’t so much about modesty as it is about knowing one’s place within the culture. There are Muslim societies where people are well aware of this, in fact – take Turkey, for example, which has long banned the hijab from public universities.
Anyway, every time this issue re-emerges, I say what I think about it, and there are at least some people who gather from this that I am a dangerous foaming-at-the-mouth Muslim-hater. I’m not going to dignify that claim by responding to it here.
But let’s just say that, whenever that conversation gets started, everyone gets offended. I get offended because I don’t think people are taking seriously what I see as the real issue here – religious extremists barking out orders about how people are expected to dress and what their expected social roles are. I get offended because I see Western feminists making excuses for things there is no question they would not tolerate in Western societies. And my interlocutors get offended. After the discussion is over, there’s a whole mess of offended people.
Now, what should we do about that?
The reason I am presenting this article, by the well-known Canadian foreign correspondent Gwynne Dyer, is to try to answer that question. Ever since the author of this admittedly “silly” and incendiary film released it into the world, we have seen a multiplication of angry, offended exchanges between Muslims and non-Muslims. It is obvious that was the intent of this film’s author, to whip up anger between two cultures that have had trouble cooling it with each other.
Muslims have been very offended by what people in the non-Muslim part of the world have said about this film, or about the rights to produce and distribute such films. Non-Muslims, in response, have been very offended by what people in the Muslim part of the world have said about those rights.
Fine. We’re all offended. But here’s the difference between our offence and theirs. We just get angry about what they say. They kill us about what we say.
That is a relevant difference, and I am not going to allow people to play the ethnocentrism card in order to get me to ignore the importance of that difference.
Gwynne Dyer is right to describe the real issue here as being that extremists on all sides want us talking about this instead of doing what we can to actually create conditions of peace between these two civilisations. Christian extremists and Muslim extremists are, indeed, objective allies. The extremists on both sides know that, if they can whip up a controversy like this, all that messy Arab Spring democracy stuff can be pushed to the side, and we can get about the business of fighting a holy religious war.
My irritation with people who want to say that the solution is not to offend the Muslims is palpable. The solution is, whenever any of us get offended, we don’t kill each other. We talk.
Likewise, I have no interest in people hiding behind their religious views with phony nonsense about how “if we don’t think these Christians who are terrorists or narrow fundamentalists represent the Christian religion, why should we believe that those Muslims who are terrorists or narrow fundamentalists represent the Muslim religion”. The main reason I don’t put up with that line of thinking is that I’m a socialist, and for as long as I’ve been one, people have implied that I love Stalin, or the Red Brigade, or some other swinish figures who call themselves socialists. Of course, I don’t think any of those criminals represent the “socialism” I support. But the way I show you that I think that is by denouncing their crimes, and drawing a thick line between their “socialism” and mine. It’s not by acting like you’re being unreasonable for bringing the subject up.
If you are a Christian, and can’t draw that line between you and Christian terrorists, don’t come to me for sympathy. If you are a Muslim, and can’t draw that line between you and Muslim terrorists, don’t come to me for sympathy. It’s your job. Just like it’s my job to speak for what my real values are, it’s your job to speak for what your real values are.
When the extremists can threaten to kill those who merely offend them, it’s also not a “community versus outside the community issue”, really, because what they do to people outside your community, if you do not challenge them, will quickly morph into what they are prepared to do to you. That is a lesson people in the Middle East began to learn at some personal cost beginning in 2011. The people who challenge meddling Westerners and their free speech are the same people who are prepared to mow fellow Muslims down for protesting in a public square.
My entreaty to you is this – if you really value peace between the Christian and Muslim world so much, stop being an “objective ally” for both Christian and Muslim extremists.
But if my entreaty offends you, fine. That sometimes happens. Just don’t kill me about it.