“There is no God but God, Muhammod is the Messenger of God…” Or so said I in Arabic. I do not speak Arabic, but had a fairly good idea what I was saying at the time. While my memory is a little foggy of events 20 years ago, I do remember my new found Turkish friends telling me enthusiastically; “sen Islam (you are Muslim)!” After a picnic, we went to one of the largest mosques in the region and prayed. This I managed to do five times a day, until I moved on to my next destination (about three days later). My attention shifted from devout Islam to Kurdish separatists, but I kept a warm feeling towards these kind, religious friends.
1992 was definitely my last religious year. Up to that point my exposure to religion was reassuringly sterile. At age 14 I had dipped my toe into some fundamentalist Bible group (partly because of a girl), but that was short lived. My Irish father had been scarred by an abusive Catholic education and those stories just served to enforce my mother’s secular values. Indeed I was raised virtually religion-free and my value-system was moulded by the progressive, liberal values of the mild, democratic left. Not a bad philosophic grounding.
At the age of 21 I took a year break from university and travelled from Ireland to Turkey. I did so with wide eyes, respect and a genuine interest in exploring spirituality. Turkey was the first Muslim-majority country I had ever visited and the call to prayer was alluring. Turkish food is excellent and the people are wonderful hosts to visitors. The clear gender division dictated by Islam was obvious and became increasingly pronounced as I hitchhiked east. I remained wide-eyed and respectful. Moreover I had previously seen women with covered heads and traditional dress in other, non-Islamic societies (including back home in southern Alberta).
I managed to learn conversational Turkish quickly enough to interact at a more human level. Hitchhiking hundreds of kilometres I met many kind people and one very aggressive fellow who was preoccupied with my single earring (I expect he had sexual identity issues) – that was the last time I wore one. My only romantic interactions occurred with other backpackers (spartan as they were). Turkish men loved to meet foreign women and regale me with their stories of conquest, whereas Turkish women were mostly off limits; I doubt this has changed much with the more conservative regime. Men seemed to exercise their sexual demons through talk about foreign women, in brothels – or with each other. Hitchhiking with a blond American woman not only guaranteed a ride, but also a meal and a frank discussion about her physical merits. I understood these attitude to be misogynistic, but honestly did not think it my place to judge another culture.
My conversion to the one true faith was not undertaken with a great deal of belief, but nor was it in mock. Entering a Mosque during prayer intrigued me and understanding the daily rhythm of Islam fascinated me. I enjoyed the entire month of Ramadan in Turkey and was made to feel welcome at celebrations and after-sunset dining. Much as Christmas and Easter are major events in secular homes in christian countries, Islamic events are entwined into the fabric of Turkish society. I did meet secular and moderate Turks who enjoyed the Ramadan fast as a cultural event, but Islam was everywhere. Since that time I have returned to Turkey on several occasions and visited other Muslim countries. I always enjoy the sites, but have grow less accepting of what appears more like oppression than culture. Take away the belief and we’re left with a society that, at the very least, cuts out half the population.
The interaction between one’s faith-driven worldview and daily life is core to the nature of culture – this is what makes cultural travel so interesting. From Pachamama (Mother Earth) in the Andes to reincarnation among Buddhists, belief governs language, social interaction and power. And indeed faith is as often a tool of power as a source. Much as the sincerity of christian tele-evangelists are often suspect, I have to wonder how much the Muslim ruling classes really believe. Long we have heard the stories of drinking parties once planes take off from Saudi soil, but when we here Allah Akbar being chanted while suicide bombers tear apart public markets, I think it would behoove us to accept the sincerity of their conviction.
Many, many people do believe – and the least us secular, liberal-minded people can do is respect the fact those beliefs are real. However, we do not have to respect those beliefs … and here endeth my love-all liberalism. My tolerance must end, where intolerance begins. Live and let live may sound like a a healthy recipe for social cohesion, yet the incipient nature of intolerance within public discourse, voting, education and outright violence precludes some sort of equal but different stance between true believers and us hell-bound! When journalists are shot, or men accused of being homosexual are thrown from a high building in front of a crowd of Isis supporters (or subjects), we have to stand up and say; “enough!” Sociopath killers will surely find outlets for their perverse desire to kill (reference Mexico drug cartels) yet we the non-believers need to stand up and clearly say to the good majority, the tenants of their faith are wrong and even unacceptable.
In deference to overwhelming evidence – and despite the genuinely lovely people I have encountered on visits to the Muslim world – I acknowledge that my worldview and that provided by Islam are mutually incompatible. I do not accept the thesis of a God and I certainly do not accept that if there were a God, the Koran is its literal road-map to well-being. Writers such as Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens have done such a complete job dismantling these texts that any attempt to due so on my part would simply fall short. However, if required, I can defend the scientific approach I embrace and consequently reject core Koranic beliefs.
As a Muslim convert (albeit very short-lived) who has rejected the faith I could be killed for apostasy. I have no doubt the overwhelming majority of Muslims would not advocate for my murder, but there is clear evidence a significant group would choose to have my blood shed as per the dictates of the Hadith. This seems perfectly acceptable should one fully accept the teachings of Islam as the ultimate word of the creator of the universe. As I outrightly reject the Koran and Hadith, I cannot tolerate such intolerance.
True believers are not wrong to want to kill those who draw an image of Muhammad. Their faith requires it. And therefore the clash of our worldview with their’s is genuine. We fundamentally disagree. In fact if your belief-structure requires you to oppose what my secular values deem basic human rights (education, equal opportunity, gay marriage), we have competing philosophies and the two cannot coexist comfortably. I cannot tolerate intolerance.
Sam Harris, writer, neuroscientist and all-around smart guy, was recently criticized for calling Islam; “the motherland of bad ideas.” Of course tact is a skill always lost in sound-bites, but the point is fair. When death is glorified and followers really believe in eternity for killing infidels, their beliefs must be brought to heel.
Sadly I am a terrible artist, but I would certainly love to include in this blog an image of Muhammod slow dancing with the Pope. Why? Because true believers killed the writers of Charlie Hebdo. Even though I am a French speaker and have lived in Paris, I did not know the publication and will gladly admit some of their images make me feel a little uncomfortable. Probably if I read the journal I would have generally found myself agreeing with its point of view, but certainly not always and I do not respect shock media simply for its free speech (thus I can find FOX intolerable). But I am trained in the art of civil society and political debate and moreover, I really do believe in it!
In writing this submission I wanted to react to the murders in Paris. I am a writer and traveller and an advocate for human rights. In no way would I walk arm-in-arm with the extremist groups protesting against immigration or advocating for some society based upon nefarious ‘Christian’ values. It always seems easy to take an intransigent position, reacting violently against some perceived threat. I stand firmly in the middle of most major issues, but I feel the need to declare my adherence to secular values and therefore my opposition to Islam and any other belief system that offers a post-life reward for current-life murder, submission or abuse.
The response to this essay should not be lateral examples of human error, rather a discussion of how we can reject death cults and may embrace a society where the brainwashing of fundamentalist scripture is as accepted as the flat-earth thesis. Fundamentalists repeat the mantra; “hate the sin, love the sinner,” as an opaque tool for intolerance. Perhaps we should; “hate the faith and dispense with stone-age tribal beliefs is deference to overwhelming scientific evidence and a desire to construct an inclusive society based on the principles of diversity, open debate and fundamental rights.”