I’m writing this in response to the senseless events of the past 2 days.
First, a brief bio:
I used to be a Muslim of over 20 years. My parents come from a country where insulting Islam is punishable by flogging, and leaving it is punishable by death. Though always a skeptic at heart, questioning Islam in my country of origin meant facing persecution at best, and the death penalty at worst.
I’ve seen beheadings, floggings and beatings in the name of protecting the sanctity of Islam. They’re not impressive in the least, and you don’t want any of them to transpire a few feet away from you at an impressionable young age. I’ve seen the effects of Islamic fundamentalism first hand, and how extremely effective it is at stifling an entire civilization from developing into a society that favors reason, rationality and the basic, axiomatic right to express your thoughts and ideas freely, even if they are perceived to be disrespectful, offensive or tasteless.
Through a series of unfortunate events that included loss and bereavement, I’ve come to terms with calling myself an atheist. I have an Islamic first name, yet I’m as godless as a bagful of decapitated puppies.
The reason why it’s frustratingly hard to come out as an atheist and share my identity with the world is the following:
If word goes out and reaches my country of origin that I’m an atheist, I would place my family in harm’s way. The reason for this is that even though I’m no longer physically located in the country in question, the government of said country will employ an Italian-mob like strategy wherein they would harass and even harm my family in an attempt to goad me into going back to face the music.
In addition, I’m not even as vocal a critic of Islam as I used to be, because doing so meant adopting a toxic, neurotic mindset wherein I’m constantly looking for things to complain about my former religion, however trivial they may be. I’ve found this to be a decidedly substandard approach to living, and that it is far more conducive to my well-being to light my past with a torch and move on with my life, rigorously pursuing my own educational and professional aspirations, Islam-free.
In the wake of what happened in France, however, I’ll make an exception.
I would like to emphasize the following crucial point that is the reason why I’m making this post:
What the perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo attack are trying to do is not just stifle freedom of speech, or force an entire continent into a state of terror and trepidation. What they are truly aiming for is far more sinister and diabolical:
They want to make it infinitely, ineffably and irrevocably harder for both Muslims and ex-Muslims to go about their lives peacefully in the countries that they have immigrated to.
They aim to foster an environment that has its foundations firmly rooted in fear and confusion. They hope that such an environment will make for fertile ground for prejudice, bigotry and intolerance to manifest and fester.
Muslims of all walks of life, be they Middle-Eastern, South-East Asian or otherwise, are deathly afraid of the blowback that they might experience through no fault of their own.
I implore you to not give in to the mindset that these fundamentalist thugs want you to succumb to.
If you see a girl wearing a hijab, instead of going “What the hell is she doing in my country? Why won’t she go back?”, buy her a cup of coffee. Perhaps a slice of cake. Watch what happens.
Do not be surprised if the girl bursts into tears –
because your out-of-left-field act of compassion and kindness will be an overwhelming reassurance that she is not subject to misplaced prejudice and unfair bigotry.
If the two schmucks who attacked the Charlie Hebdo HQ were subjected to the sonic barrage of a Ramones tune at an early age, I’d wager that many lives will have been spared, and that we would all go back to extolling the virtues of Pastafarianism instead. Obviously, it’s much too late for that. So what am I asking you to do?
This is not an appeal to emotion and compassion for the mere sake of being nice to your fellow human being.
Rather, I’m desperately appealing to reason and civility, concepts that are woefully alien to the perpetrators of the heinous acts of the past 55 hours.
I’m rather short on time, so please feel free to crosspost this to wherever you deem this to be relevant.
Thank you for your time.
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I think part of the problem with your mentality, as someone who once held it, is that it blinds you to the fact that people will do crazy shit for almost any kind of ideology, belief system, or structure, whether it is empirically backed or not, if they are furthering a pursuit of power.
I used to agree with statements like “religion is a mental illness” and “religion is responsible for these atrocities,” etc. etc. Then I got older and saw that economic problems exist all over the world, people are killing each other for stated reasons that are too stupid for words all over the world, and people holding virtually every kind of belief in human history have been crazy killers.
Buddhists can be serial murdering gangs driven by religion. Did you know that? In Southeast Asia there are bands of Buddhist monks that are murdering people. In the name of their religion. Same with Christian tribal groups in Africa. We waste all this time talking about how the Koran has special violence-supporting text in it that some religions also have (Judaism and Christianity, for starters) and some other religions don’t have (Buddhism); the reality is it doesn’t fucking matter. If you swapped out Islam for Christianity, made Islam the dominant religion of Western culture, and put Christianity into the minds of all the backwater tribal structures in the Middle East, the situation would look almost identical to how it looks now.
ISIS is using religion to inspire and control people. Religion itself has always been a social fiber, a way for society to impose rules and hierarchies. It’s one reason almost every society on Earth grew out of religious tribes — it’s such a convenient way to control people. But we don’t need religion to have that kind of control over people anymore. Hitler, Stalin and Mao all killed tens of millions of people using fairly boring, nuanced ideology about how the government and economy should relate to each other. Mao used one of the stalest books in the Great Book Collection, Das Kapital by Karl Marx, in the place of the Bible. Marx talks about supply and demand, production versus labor; the Bible tells us to stone people to death for doing weird things with our genitals. And using the former of those two books, Mao was able to control a massive population and kill approximately 50 million people. Did the book or its beliefs cause those people to die? Hardly. That book was just in the wrong place at the wrong time — it was yet another convenient excuse a power structure used to justify its existence to masses of people too uneducated to think otherwise and escape their society’s prisoner’s dilemma: Do I cooperate with all these nuts and possibly stay safe, or do I verge from them for what is right and risk everything?
The point is that it doesn’t matter why the terrorists say they are doing what they are doing. If it wasn’t cherry-picked Koran passages, it would be something else. Talking about religion as if it is the key problem will solve nothing, because dumb people are always going to believe and follow religion just like they’re always going to follow whatever other kind of shit a leader they trust tells them to do. If we want to solve problems in areas like the Middle East, economic and diplomatic solutions need to take the wheel.