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A Malevolent Sort of Ignorance

Most of us have pretty strong maternal and paternal feelings. We feel such empathy, not only for own progeny, but for children in general. We are appalled when we see violence done to children, whether physical or psychological.

When we see children grossly violated over long periods of time and such activity tacitly approved of or at least not actively opposed by institutions of our society we know as a community we must take action to protect the innocents.

We have heard recently of the abuse of children in the care of the Catholic, Anglican and Salvation Army church institutions currently being investigated by a Royal Commission. These bodies allowed children to be violated and abused and were often complicit in protecting the perpetrators. I do not mean to single out these institutions for I am sure there were many others just as guilty, just as I would acknowledge that these churches have also contributed positively in many ways to our society.

But in a modern Western society such atrocities are unlikely to be allowed to continue in the long term. By and large, despite all our faults, our society is largely open and questioning. The Royal Commission won’t be able to rectify or appropriately compensate for our past sins but should help ensure that children in the future have less chance of being so abused. And after some initial obfuscation and duck-diving (often to limit their financial exposure – a good Christian ideal) it is fair to say that the offending churches seem amenable to attempting to minimising the likelihood of a reoccurrence of this abysmal behaviour.

We can question our churches and their respective faiths without fearing physical retribution. We can debate our religious beliefs without fear of being silenced. And if a radical sect proposed modifying our law to take away some of our fundamental freedoms we would protest vehemently, or would we?

So all in all, a twenty-first century secular/Christian democracy is prepared to admit of its failings and take reasonable action to prevent the future abuse of its most vulnerable.

I suspect that all of us regret the atrocities that were performed by these Christian organisations, but they pale into insignificance in comparison to the atrocities that are carried out by radical Islam.

Let us look for example at what is happening in Nigeria.

Nigeria has both Christian and Muslim populations. In African terms, because of its oil reserves, it is relatively prosperous. Its annual economic growth rate is around 8% and its economy has recently eclipsed South Africa’s in size! The Muslims tend to occupy the north-eastern poorer region and where Sharia Law is extensively practised. Despite the growing economy Nigerians are poorer today than when they gained independence in 1960. The International Crisis Group is reported as maintaining this fact has fuelled the fundamental Muslim revivalism under Boko Haram (BH). North-eastern Nigeria has been referred to as “one of the most neglected, least governed, least visited places on the planet”.

BH is an Islamist extremist group responsible for dozens of massacres of civilians in its five-year insurgency operating out of the north. Apparently its name means “Western education is forbidden!”

In February, BH took over a school in northern Nigeria. It separated the boys from the girls. The girls were sent home and exhorted to read the Koran and find husbands. The boys, about 50 teenagers, were massacred. That such a gruesome event was not uncommon is attested to by the fact that it was little reported outside Nigeria and was soon forgotten by the world.

 

More recently, about a month ago, BH raided a girls school in the north-eastern town of Chibok and kidnapped some 250 girls, mostly Christian. A few days ago the deranged BH leader Abubakar Shekau released a video of about 130 of the girls, dressed in fundamentalist Muslim attire reciting the first chapter of the Koran. A few were interviewed, some claiming (unconvincingly) they had converted to Islam.

When the atrocity first occurred, the Christian Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, initially took no action in response to the atrocity. One can only assume that either the kidnapping was seen as rather commonplace in the social life of Nigeria or that he and his police and army are afraid of BH who are purportedly better armed than the government forces. Finally after a fortnight, no doubt spurred by the outrage expressed by the Western world, he made a belated and seemingly somewhat pathetic attempt, to locate the girls.

Abubakar Shekau has threatened to sell the kidnapped girls, just as though they were so many cattle. This seems to be the mindset of those obsessed with fundamentalist Islam.

Taking this discussion further presents some difficulties. If I am to take issue with the obscene practices of radical Islam, such as denying women the right to leave their homes without the consent of a male relative, performing marriages on young girls, undertaking female genital mutilation, stoning homosexuals, and so on I am likely to be condemned as Islamophobic. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the brave Somalian Muslim woman who fled an arranged marriage and who now questions her previous beliefs said recently, “…..political correctness makes it easier for radical Muslims to preach, inspire, mobilize and target Muslim communities, on the grounds of religious freedom. And those who criticize them in Europe are silenced or branded as racist Islamophobes.”

It is right that we should speak up against such atrocities whoever perpetrates them. Should we just hold our tongues while our fellow human beings who through no fault of their own and by a mere accident of birth happen to live in societies that enact laws that mandate harsh punishments (eg flogging, stoning, amputation, execution) for such crimes as theft, adultery or the renouncing of Islam. And of course these laws are particularly misogynistic treating women as vastly inferior to men.

I have no beef with moderate Muslims or indeed any religious group that practices their beliefs so long as that practice does not infringe upon the rights of their fellow citizens.

In the creation myth that the Old Testament called Genesis it always amused me that God forbade Adam and Eve to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. I always believed it was because God understood that if Adam and Eve became enlightened they would see him for the charlatan he was! (A bit like the Wizard of Oz.) Radical Islam attempts to keep people in ignorance for the same reason.

It does not take long to see if the Koran is to be the final arbiter of all truth, progress becomes difficult. It is no accident that most of the more fundamental Islamic states are impoverished. And while, we in the West might rail at the impact on us of radical Islam, make no mistake the suffering it causes is predominantly suffered by Muslims, themselves. I pointed out in a previous essay, that Western Europe suffered similarly during the Dark Ages when the Charistian church forbade learning that seemed in any way contradictory to the bible.

 (Is This the Islamic Dark Age?)

 

By the fourth century St Augustine was triumphally announcing:

“Nothing is to be accepted except on the authority of scripture, since greater is that authority than all the powers of the human mind.”

Subsequent progress when this approach was relaxed exemplifies its stultifying impact. This is why radical Islam is afraid of modern education.

Perhaps I might have stretched your credibility by making the comparison of mistreatment of young people in these two radically different societies. I guess I just wanted to highlight the benefits we accrue by living in an open liberal society that allows most things to be challenged and does not allow religious beliefs to impinge on our rights and freedoms.

In guarding such rights and freedoms we should be quite clear about the threat that radical Islam presents to them and we should not bow to the insults of Islamophobia by the politically correct in saying so. We should deplore atrocities, especially to children, wherever they occur and we should champion education as an antidote to ignorant fundamentalism, be it Muslim or Christian.

As I have intimated in the title to this essay radical Islam is propagated through a pervasive and particularly malevolent ignorance.

Let me finish by reiterating the conclusion of the aforementioned essay.

In the West, the Dark Ages were followed by The Renaissance and finally by The Age of Enlightenment. This facilitated major developments in art, literature, science and medicine and provided the platform for the development of our modern democracies and industrial development. It is difficult to imagine that this progress could have been made without abandoning a belief in the literal truth of the Bible. It seems to me that this Islamic Dark Age which is confronting many of our societies will not pass until the Koran and its various interpretations are also recognised as the spiritual outpourings of fallible men writing for a naïve audience fifteen hundred years ago!

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  1. 4 Comment(s)

  2.   By Graham Proud on May 18, 2014 | Reply

    Thanks again Ted for some challenging material to digest and consider.

    My last comment on your blog ended with “How can we ever be really sure about anything?” I would like to pick up that theme again in this context. I was reminded, in discussions over the last week about the two world wars, that history is written by the victors. If Hitler and Hirohito had been glorious in victory, what a different story we would have. We in Australia may have by this time learned to embrace Shinto!

    In reviewing the history of energy and astronomy, I have felt both encouraged and frustrated by the collection of discoveries and inventions coming from outside “the western world”.

    Fibonacci may be famous for giving us the concept of Zero, but he stole it from the Arabs!

    In the medieval Islamic world, the Turkish al-Fārābī was considered the greatest philosopher after Aristotle. Ibn Sīnā memorized the Qurʾān by age 10, and went on to demonstrate a prolific influence in philosophy, mathematics, geometry, astronomy, physics, metaphysics, philology, music, poetry, politics and religion. But what do we in the Western world know of these two?

    I am encouraged to think that the West (with its Judeo-Christian predisposition) is indeed not the source of all wisdom and knowledge.

    I feel frustrated when I think that our progress could be that much greater, had our societies been able to communicate and collaborate better across ethnic boundaries.

    Now to explain my introductory reference to your earlier blog titled “In Praise of Doubt”: given that many in the medieval Muslim world were indeed so very wise by any standard, how can we be so sure that we are so right?

  3.   By Mark Shaw on May 18, 2014 | Reply

    Extremists and terrorists do not enhance society, they restrict it.

    Education and the opportunity for trade have always and will always enhance any society.

    Too often throughout history the name of “God” has been used to defend atrocities. When will we learn to distinguish (what at least I consider to be) the sound principles of any religion from the way extremists twist them to their own purposes?

    I too encourage individuals of religious groups to practices their beliefs so long as that practice does not infringe upon the rights of fellow citizens.

    So Ted, like you, because I choose to discuss and debate a point of view and my opinion, perhaps I could also be labelled a racist, Islamophobic, or a range of other tags by those ‘offended’ by a different point of view.

    As always, thanks and best wishes

  4.   By Greg Brown on May 18, 2014 | Reply

    Interesting comment Graham. I agree that we are all too ready in the West to condemn the “primitive” or even “child like” dogma that we perceive exists in less enlightened societies. The problem is we fail to see that much of the dogma of the West is equally ludicrous if you step back and look at it objectively. The big difference though is that at least in most Western societies the dogma does not over rule what a reasonable person would consider are basic human rights. Women in the West are not treated as the property of men for example and adultery even though it is a serious sin under Christian dogma is not going to get you stoned to death and nor is criticising the dogma itself.

    The West is far from perfect but in the main religion in the West is not used as a tool for the strong to control the bodies and minds of the weak. I have no problems with the dogma of any religeon. I just don’t want it to be used as an excuse to break fundamental human rights. In my book that is simply wrong and any society that promotes it is wrong.

  5.   By Matt Smith on May 19, 2014 | Reply

    I enjoyed reading this Ted, thank you.

    For me this is about morals, and further, about the merits or not of moral relativism. At this point thoughts come to mind of Sam Harris in “The Moral Landscape” where he talks about right and wrong in relation to the “wellbeing of others”. This I find is the succinct standard of morality.

    Graham your last sentence calls for comment because it implies that you feel there is an argument for (as opposed to against) the atrocities Ted referred to. Is there another way to view these events, other than condemning them?

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