July 16, 2014

How Not To Talk About Religion:
Letter to the Editor claims that religion and fundamentalism are different

I don't have much to add to this piece. I've got a letter to the editor for you, and then a quote from Taslima Nasrin.

First, let me preface this by saying that I don't necessarily believe that all religion, in and of itself, is a bad thing. There are many good religious people.

However, I think on a larger scale, religion predisposes us to bad things™. There's a subtext to religion that can justify pretty much anything, from racism to misogyny to murder to ritual sacrifice, if it's left to run wild.

So I already don't necessarily agree with the following letter. But here it goes anyway:

Re: “Standing on guard for Canada” (Douglas Todd, July 12) 
Douglas Todd’s column is a perfect example of how not to write about religion, religious freedom, or how to “stand up for the country’s liberal democratic values.” 
Talking about religion as such and blaming it as a danger to Canadian values on the basis of the behaviour and actions of extremist groups of Muslims, or for that matter, the extremists of any religion, is equivalent of saying something like “women are irresponsible” on the basis of one woman having left her child alone in a hot car. Both Todd and the experts quoted seem to have disregarded the teachings of the religions they were writing about and dealt only on the basis of some activities that are actually contrary of what the Quran, that is, the religion, prescribes. 
This is a road that leads straight to a complete destruction of “the principles of liberal democracy and choice” and actually also their defence. Rights of choice in the last few years practically meant the freedom to be and act as an atheist and limit the freedoms of believers. Prayers may not be said at public meetings, because it may be against the comfort of an atheistic person, but without respect of the feeling of people of faith who are prevented to ask — at least publicly — for help in the work they will do. The participation of the figure of the child Jesus is forbidden on a Christmas parade, supposedly celebrating his birth, but only Santa is allowed, a figure that was originally adopted to act against the custom of celebrating the birth of Jesus. 
Smearing the very real faults extremists on the face of religion, or more specifically, religions, does not guard Canada as such, and even more specifically the democratic freedom that was so long the strength of Canada and its people. 
J.G. Glaser 
Now, a little background on Taslima Nasrin. In 1993, Nasrin published her novel Shame, a detailed account of the suffering of a Hindu family after a Muslim attack. For this, fundamentalists called for her execution. She has lived in exile since 1994. Nasrin was asked in an interview whether she blamed fundamentalists for the evils of the world. Nasrin's response was interesting, to say the least. She said:
I criticized fundamentalists as well as religion in general. I don't find any difference between Islam and Islamic fundamentalists. I believe religion is the root, and from the root fundamentalism grows as a poisonous stem. If we remove fundamentalism and keep religion, then one day or another, fundamentalism will grow again. I need to say that because some liberals always defend Islam and blame fundamentalists for creating problems. But Islam itself oppresses women. Islam itself doesn't permit democracy and it violates human rights. And because Islam itself is causing injustices, so it is our duty to make people alert. It is our responsibility to wake people up, to make them understand that religious scriptures come from a particular period in time and a particular place.  
Nasrin raises a lot of interesting points. For one, we have a tendency in the Western world to write off Islamic fundamentalism--where it doesn't threaten us--as merely extremes that we don't understand. This is true, but we also tend to shut down voices like Nasrin--who has experienced the Islamic world in a way the majority of us never will. We would never permit such a shutdown of voices about Christianity.

On the other hand, the most interesting question raised is this: If we did exterminate religious fundamentalism, and kept religion--how do we make sure that it never takes root again?

An intriguing query, indeed.

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