To be called racist or prejudiced in our society is among the worst slanders to be borne. It’s also the cheapest. Its power combined with its tawdriness makes it an irresistible tool for many to use when they’ve run out of rational arguments or applicable facts. So are the Ben Afflecks of the world made.
The primary purpose of the Enlightenment Project has, admittedly, Platonic aspects. That is to say: there has been an attempt to define a universal morality by which the civil liberties of all people are protected, including their right to free speech and criticism, freedom of belief and by extension non-belief, and the freedom to engage in all of these liberties and more without the fear of hostile retribution.
But that mentality comes into conflict when such civil liberties are flouted by cherished cultural structures: namely, religion.
And so, in order to criticize some practices (such as the fact that marital rape is, apparently, halal), one must adopt what can commonly be called an anti-cultural stance in its best form–at its worst and most obscene, a racist mentality.
It’s imperative that those who speak out as humanists do not let these inane distractions muddy the road towards constructive social criticism. After all, no one would deign to label the calling out of the Invasion of Kuwait jingoistic in relation to Iraqi culture, nor would calling the practices of the Third Reich “repugnant” be racist against Germans. The standard by which we understand the innate liberties with which all people are born cannot be flouted because some people adopt a laissez-faire system of social liberalism.
Case in point: if Islam demands violence on nonbelievers (at least 109 verses in the Koran suggest it), above and beyond the many inhumane actions that the labeling of “halal” makes just, or the unconscionable premises of shari’a, then you can be damned sure Islam is worthy of criticism from an Enlightenment perspective. Resa Aslan and his ilk will call this kind of criticism a generalization of a prejudicial manner, and perhaps they are right–in that I have extreme prejudice against submission to a lie, public killing for its proliferation, and the indoctrination through blood ritual of children (such as Muharram). Incidentally, none of these claims is made on the basis of race, ethnicity, or nationality, as anyone of any of these identities may adhere or reject the tenets of this faith and others on an individual basis.
It must be our first duty, as humanists, to say that if we retain our most basic civil liberties for ourselves, then they must, by extension, apply to all–and no cultural influence, however traditional, well-practiced, or violently supported can impede that. For those who disagree, your complaints would be better taken up with Bibi Aisha, Farkhunda, and Raif Badawai. And remember that the difference between your civil liberties and theirs is that they had the misfortune to be born into a culture where theirs aren’t recognized or protected.
The ones who are actually culturally deluded are those who believe the paradigm of culture is more worthy than the lives, happiness, and freedom of those who inhabit it.
(Image: HBO / YouTube Screencapture)