Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Lesson of the Conviction of Mohammad Shafia

This trial has been getting lots of attention lately and we all know why. When a Muslim husband (along with his second wife and son) conspires to murder his three daughters and his ex-wife, all sorts of horrific images and thoughts come to mind; but chiefly they swirl around racism and what has lately been termed ‘Islamophobia.’ Those who are angered by the murder of these women are not simply humanitarians -- sometimes they hate Arabs, dark skinned immigrants, and cultures that are different from western culture. They are sometimes people who are afraid of anything different, and who will use this murder as an excuse to demonize the ‘other.’
            That is certainly not my intention.
            But a recent article in The Toronto Star by Sikander Ziad Hashmi focused my own thoughts on the matter. Mr. Hashmi is an imam at the Islamic Society of Kingston. His article presents a number of sensible arguments for how society can and should work to stop such a horrifying tragedy from ever occurring again. All fine and good. But, in defense of Islam, Mr. Hashmi, quotes that religion’s premiere prophet on male/female relations: “The best of you is the one who is best to his women.” 
            Does anybody else see the incredible irony in this defense? Mr. Hashmi tries to defend his faith against those critics who see it as misogynistic – but  the only quotation he offers  in defense of Islam is one in which the religion’s greatest prophet describes women as male possessions.
            The lessons of the trial and conviction of Mohammad Shafia has very little to do with Islam in particular -- and everything to do with fundamentalism. Whenever queer people talk to me about how gay civil rights are gaining momentum in Canada (and how happy they are to have a gay marriage ceremony in Toronto) I don’t hesitate to remind them that they live in a little bubble called ‘A Big Western City.’ Yes big western cities encourage a modicum of tolerance for gay/lesbian, trans and bi peoples. But those who live in these tiny bubbles must not forget that they are surrounded by a world in which the ancient, feudal intolerance for feminism and homosexuality grows daily This is because many countries in the world (including the United States of America) are trapped in the iron grip of fundamentalism.
            What is fundamentalism? Fundamentalism is any religion in which the primary worship of its followers centres around the ‘word of God.’ Fundamentalists attempt to lead their lives according to the rules of whatever scriptural doctrine they deem holy. And this is where the trouble begins. Nearly all of the ancient western religious scriptures are fundamentally sexist and homophobic. Their ethical laws are based on the notion that the body is evil -- and that women are evil because they are purveyors of the temptations of the body. Thus the body -- and particularly women’s bodies -- must be covered and shamed, sex is only for procreation, and sexual pleasure (especially queer pleasure) is an abomination.
            I am not a ‘Hitchensonian’ or a ‘Dawkinsonian.’ I am as skeptical of reason and science as I am of religion. It is my opinion that science -- for some, in the west at least, --  has become a new religion. I think that ‘reason’ and science are over-rated, and just as organized religion of all kinds can be connected to unimaginably horrific mass murders and tragedies (as in the Shafia trial) unquestioning faith in the wonders of science can also be lethal (remember Hiroshima?).
            The killer Shafia may have been crazy. So, probably, was Marc Lepine. But the unfortunate truth is that a fundamentalist religious ideology that demonizes women and queers lies behind these actions which we wish to imagine are only the isolated insane ideas of singular murderers and madman. Those beliefs may not be the cause of such murders, but the connection between them is neither benign nor accidental.
            My solution is simple. Be spiritual (please!). We all must come to terms with life and death. I consider myself a spiritual person. But I am not going to tell you what my beliefs are, or how I worship. When spiritual matters become social matters, we have entered the hallowed realm of religion. This is unfortunately the origin of much of the world’s hate, prejudice, pain and violence.
            We’ve got it all wrong.  In western culture, sex is considered private and religion is considered public. Why not the other way around? I think sex is something that is, and should be, social -- celebrated by, and with, groups of people. (When was the last time, after all, you were invited to a good old-fashioned orgy?) I don’t hate any specific religion. But I detest them all. I detest the impulse to turn a private and personal matter into one which people judge, flaunt, argue, and compete over their private beliefs, causing them to be jealous, covetous and hateful to each other.
 If you believe strongly in some God or other -- well that should be enough for you. If you wish to share it consensually with your adult intimates, go ahead. But spirituality should -- nay must be -- between you and your God. I would ask you, respectfully, to keep it to yourself.