Monday, June 02, 2008

The imprimatur of truth

Leila Hussein — the mother of 17-year-old Rand Abdel-Qader, savagely murdered in an "honor" killing by her unrepentant father, Abdel-Qader Ali, for falling in love with a British soldier — died on May 17, murdered by unknown assailants in a hail of gunfire that also left two women's rights workers injured. [h/t to Pharyngula, twice]

The idea that the murder of young Rand was the aberration of a monster is obviously contradicted by the facts:
[A]s Rand was put into the ground, without ceremony, her uncles spat on her covered corpse because she had brought shame on the family. ...

Her mother, "screamed and called out for her two brothers so they could get their father away from her. But when he told them the reason, instead of saving her they helped him end her life." ...

The murdering father boasts, "The [police] officers were by my side during all the time I was there, congratulating me on what I had done."
And, of course, Abdel-Qader Ali did not himself kill his wife.

It is possibly the case that Leila's murder was incidental.
Police said the incident was a sectarian attack and that there was nothing to link Leila's death to her family. 'Her ex-husband was not in Basra when it happened. We found out he was visiting relatives in Nassiriya with his two sons,' said Hassan Alaa, a senior officer at the local police station in Basra. 'We believe the target was the women activists, rather than Mrs Hussein, and that she was unlucky to be in that place at that time.'

It is plausible. Campaigners for women's' rights are not acceptable to many sections of Iraqi society, especially in Basra where militias have partial control in some districts and impose strict laws on locals, including what clothing they should wear and what religious practice they should follow.
But that's no excuse.

Islamic apologists will (and probably already have) made the argument that it is Iraqi culture, not the Islamic religion, that is responsible for these brutal murders. They are, in a sense, correct. The Islamic religion is not responsible, because there is no such thing as the Islamic religion: there is no such thing as religion.

I mean by "no such thing as religion" that there are no gods. All religion lacks extensional meaning. Religion does not refer to anything at all in objective reality.

But of course there is some such thing as religion. Lacking extensional meaning, religion can have only intensional meaning. Religion refers to a set of ideas within our heads. And the ideas that religion refer to are invariably pernicious: social, cultural constructs that are falsely and fallaciously given the imprimatur of objective truth. And it is precisely this religious component of Islamic culture that is directly responsible for these brutal murders.

Very few people, I would imagine, would be willing to suborn murder, rape, segregation and marginalization on their personal preference. The guy who says, "Women who disgrace and dishonor their families must die because it's the truth that God wants it that way," sounds like a righteous paragon of morality; the guy who says, "Women who don't toe the line should be murdered just because I hate those fucking bitches," just sounds like a complete asshole.

Without the imprimatur of objective truth, when people are forced to take personal responsibility for their moral beliefs, the murderous misogyny of Islamic religious culture would have evaporated five hundred years ago.

The religious "moderates" aid and abet this extremism by supporting and endorsing the idea that there is some definite truth to the way God wants things, as opposed to the way we ourselves want things. It's completely irrelevant that the moderates claim that God wants all the same thing that sensible, civilized, empathic and feeling human beings want. It should be enough just that sensible, civilized, empathic and feeling human beings want something; there's no need to bring God into the discussion.

Worse yet, because this God is kind of shy, all the moderates have are the scriptures, delivered to ancients of a vastly different culture. And the scriptures — Jewish, Christian, and Islamic — are terrible, reflecting as they do the harsh prejudices of ignorant savages living on the edge of starvation and in conditions of brutal exploitation. The extremists have the fundamentals — the literal meaning of the scriptures — on their side. The moderates have to actually do more violence to logic and reason to read a modern, humanistic morality into these ancient mythologies.

People are still, by and large, creepy assholes. Basing our society directly on what people want, rather than what they believe God wants, is not a panacea, not a recipe for instant Utopia. But removing specifically religious belief from our society, undermining the imprimatur of objective truth religion gives to arbitrary social constructs, and forcing people to take personal responsibility for the moral beliefs they wish to impose on their fellow human beings, gives us at least a chance at improving our society.

5 comments:

  1. Darling, thanks for blogging about this. When you told me this morning, I got depressed, but I feel a little better now that it seems it may not have been her they were after -- strange that it should matter...

    ReplyDelete
  2. In the past I have not been a fan of the argument that there is little distinction between moderately-tempered believers and those of a more zealous bent. I never really discussed that difference of opinion because I honestly didn't care that much. I felt you were wrong, but not egregiously so. However...

    "Without the imprimatur of objective truth, when people are forced to take personal responsibility for their moral beliefs, the murderous misogyny of Islamic religious culture would have evaporated five hundred years ago.

    "The religious "moderates" aid and abet this extremism by supporting and endorsing the idea that there is some definite truth to the way God wants things, as opposed to the way we ourselves want things. It's completely irrelevant that the moderates claim that God wants all the same thing that sensible, civilized, empathic and feeling human beings want. It should be enough just that sensible, civilized, empathic and feeling human beings want something; there's no need to bring God into the discussion."


    This has convinced me of your point.

    ReplyDelete
  3. the argument that there is little distinction between moderately-tempered believers and those of a more zealous bent.

    This is not quite the argument. The distinction between the moderates and the extremists is that... well... the moderates are indeed moderate and the extremists are extreme.

    The argument is not that they are identical, the argument is that they are similar in to at least one interesting essential characteristic, i.e. the matter of some definite truth about God.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Once her daughter was murdered and she courageously decided to leave her abusive, violent husband, Leila’s life was at very high risk. But still. . .

    Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
    "Reclaiming Honor in Jordan"
    http://www.redroom.com/author/ellen-r-sheeley

    ReplyDelete
  5. It doesn't make me feel better if the gunmen were not specifically targetting Leila Hussein, because these terrorists effectively shut down the only organization in Basra that was helping women like her.

    From what I have read thus far, Rand's murder does not have sanction under Islam because she did not have sex with anybody. Her murder goes against the principles in the Cairo Declaration on Islamic Human Rights and that should leave an opening for pressing the Iraqi government to bring Abdel-Qader Ali and his sons to justice. As atheists, we might not like it, but if you want to get them to do the right thing, you have to find a way to couch it in Islamic terms.

    ReplyDelete

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