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    Thought experiment

    I’ve never understood why more people don’t seem to do this kind of thought experiment (via Rondi):

    Imagine a woman – let’s call her Beth – who has been an unthinking atheist all her life, just because her family and her friends are too. One day, she decides to convert to Islam. As soon as she dons the hijab, her neighbours start to swear and spit at her in the street. A brick is thrown through her window; while she is sleeping, her car is torched. When she speaks out publicly, the death threats come. She is a “whore” who will be “raped to death”. All the other converts to Islam are receiving the same threats. Some have been beaten. Some are on the run. When they approach the police, they are wary-to-hostile. The officers ask suspiciously: what have you been doing to anger these Muslim-bashers?

    If this was happening this way, it would – rightly – be a national scandal. There would be Panorama specials, front page fury and government inquiries into Islamophobia. But it is happening – only in the reverse direction.

    Women like Mina expose a hole in the stale logic of multiculturalism. She shows that secularism is not a ‘Western’ value: she thought of it all by herself, in a rural village in Iran. Yet the attitudes that lead to the persecution of apostates are widespread even within British Islam, because we patronisingly assume it is ‘their culture’ and do not challenge it.

    I don’t agree with everything in Johann Hari’s piece. His “basic atheist truth,” that because holy books are in fact nothing more than the productions of flawed humans, they can be interpreted however believers please, overstates the case. Even taking into account the difficulties of understanding ancient languages and determining which passages “belong” in a sacred text, the resulting book says some things and does not say others. As civilization evolves and expands our understanding of the way life works, believers do stop taking some passages literally and repurpose them as metaphor or what have you. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t genuine, concrete wisdom in holy books that can’t be waved away as “superstition” that is infinitely “elastic.”

    I’m also, I must say, less hopeful than he that the “secular humanist” alternative will be alluring to many Muslims who are questioning their faith. I happen to think that belief in God is dodging unpleasant reality and that the wonder of life does not need to be legitimized by a transcendent, immanent personality—but that is not, to put it mildly, the way most people think, even those with a healthy level of intellectual skepticism. Judeo-Christianity at this point has a mature tradition of disinterested scientific inquiry, the separation of church and state, and tolerance of others’ beliefs that make it possible for citizens to debate our differences without knives being drawn. Islam as a political force hasn’t. In Western countries, conversion to Christianity is probably the obvious alternative for most Muslims who are alienated from the faith in which they were reared but don’t want to dump their belief in an Abramic-ish God altogether. Those who think Islam can be reformed from within are not helped by condescending dismissals of barbarous behavior as a defining feature of their culture that needs husbanding.

    It could be argued that Hari is wrong about the racism bit, too. There are white Muslims in the Balkans and elsewhere, after all. But I suspect that he’s far more right than wrong, given the prevalence of thinking like this (via Erin O’Connor):

    The [University of Delaware]’s views are forced on students through a comprehensive manipulation of the residence hall environment, from mandatory training sessions to “sustainability” door decorations. Students living in the university’s eight housing complexes are required to attend training sessions, floor meetings, and one-on-one meetings with their Resident Assistants (RAs). The RAs who facilitate these meetings have received their own intensive training from the university, including a “diversity facilitation training” session at which RAs were taught, among other things, that “[a] racist is one who is both privileged and socialized on the basis of race by a white supremacist (racist) system. The term applies to all white people (i.e., people of European descent) living in the United States, regardless of class, gender, religion, culture or sexuality.”

    The issue here is with a university in the United States, not with European social-democratic functionaries. Even so, the animating principle is the same: non-white people are underprivileged in some a priori way and should get a pass. If you question that, you’re the one with the funny ideas.

    2 Responses to “Thought experiment”

    1. Robohobo says:

      Here is the thought experiment I always like to use.

      Take whatever type of group you have espousing an agenda – xxxxx Power, etc. Replace xxxxx with White. If it makes you uneasy and queasy then it is probably wrong. White Power (OOOOH! Nazis!) White Congressional Caucus. I think you get my drift. But put any other group in there and we think nothing of it.

      What the U of Delaware was selling is that ONLY whites can be rascists. BS. The most racsism being practiced in the US today is AGAINST the white, middle aged male – W.A.S.P. EVERYONE else has some sort of protected status for government hiring, private sector hiring, etc. except for us white dudes.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      Plenty of white, middle-aged males in the States aren’t Anglo-Saxon, but otherwise, yeah. Legitimate concerns about racism have expanded into an entitlement free-for-all, which doesn’t really help anyone except professional facilitators and the like.

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