Monday, June 18, 2007

Religion Of Pieces

By now, most have us have practically grown accustomed to the hysterical whinging of religious fanatics of all stripes, many of whom are hiding behind the anonymity of a masked snuff video. With the knighting of Salman Rushdie comes similar violent rhetoric, but from putatively respectable corners:

The award of a knighthood to the author Salman Rushdie justifies suicide attacks, a Pakistani government minister said today.
"This is an occasion for the 1.5 billion Muslims to look at the seriousness of this decision," Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq, religious affairs minister, told the Pakistani parliament in Islamabad. "The west is accusing Muslims of extremism and terrorism. If someone exploded a bomb on his body he would be right to do so unless the British government apologises and withdraws the 'sir' title."

Read those last two sentences again, and savor the cognitive dissonance ul-Haq is marinating in. Yes, why would anyone accuse people of "extremism" and "terrorism", when they use their governmental capacity to express that the appropriate response to a perceived insult -- and a ceremonial one at that -- is to fucking explode oneself in a crowd of innocents? Where do these strange ideas come from?

Musharraf's government understandably utilizes some of this moronic extremist sentiment to help ventilate the grievances of the medievalist hardliners in their midst. But in this context, Islam is merely a proxy tool to leverage tribal and political differences with the government. A responsible government would not put up with this bullshit from one of its own ministers; ul-Haq needs to be slapped down and reminded of the idiotic nature of his comments.

Mohammad Ali Hosseini, a spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry, said the decision to honour the novelist was an orchestrated act of aggression directed against Islamic societies.

He said Rushdie was "one of the most hated figures" in the Islamic world.

"Honouring and commending an apostate and hated figure will definitely put the British officials [in a position] of confrontation with Islamic societies," Mr Hosseini said.

"This act shows that insulting Islamic sacred [values] is not accidental. It is planned, organised, guided and supported by some western countries."

"Giving a badge to one of the most hated figures in Islamic society is ... an obvious example of fighting against Islam by high-ranking British officials."

This word "aggression" -- I don't think it means what Hosseini thinks it means. Even if Rushdie's knighting is needlessly, deliberately provocative (a dubious contention at best), so what? How does that legitimize senseless brutality, indiscriminate murder? And does it occur to them that Rushdie has written more than one book, that if they had just let the perceived insult of Satanic Verses go in the first place, it would have long ago been written off as just another book from an established author with a long and varied career? Of course it doesn't. I have no more patience with these fucktards than I do with the Fred Phelpses of the world, but at least no one from Phelps' flock has any position of official responsibility.

Responsible, legitimate governments truly interested in peace and cooperation would perhaps view this as an opportunity to identify and repudiate the genuine radicalizing elements, rather than allowing them to attempt to ventriloquize the sentiments of over a billion Muslims. I hate agreeing with the neoclowns on this subject, though I certainly don't regard it as necessitating harsh actions, as they do. But really, the fact that the supposedly serious governments of Pakistan and Iran continue to utilize this very dangerous political theater -- over a book, mind you -- bespeaks the fundamental problems underlying their societies, and their relations with other societies. Christians may get upset over Piss Christ or what have you, but they're not rioting over cartoons, or advocating violence over heretical novels.

I understand that religion, like war, is simply politics by other means, but I do not understand how these countries expect us to grant them the legitimacy and respect they seek, when they continue to indulge in this self-destructive nonsense. These violent temper tantrums over piddling religious/cultural bullshit, while perhaps orchestrated pushback at the government level, appear a bit more serious and potentially volatile at the street level. And for a government official to actively encourage violent retribution is simply unacceptable.

The thing to fear is that we are also governed by people who allow symbolic provocations to be used as pretext for justification, but perhaps with a bit more discretion (though there are instances of "my god can beat up your god" yahooism emanating from American pieholes as well). And while cartoons and books are nothing to riot about, it seems like this should be -- both there and here.

Rumsfeld was vague, in his appearances before Congress, about when he had informed the President about Abu Ghraib, saying that it could have been late January or early February. He explained that he routinely met with the President “once or twice a week . . . and I don’t keep notes about what I do.” He did remember that in mid-March he and General Myers were “meeting with the President and discussed the reports that we had obviously heard” about Abu Ghraib.

Whether the President was told about Abu Ghraib in January (when e-mails informed the Pentagon of the seriousness of the abuses and of the existence of photographs) or in March (when Taguba filed his report), Bush made no known effort to forcefully address the treatment of prisoners before the scandal became public, or to reëvaluate the training of military police and interrogators, or the practices of the task forces that he had authorized. Instead, Bush acquiesced in the prosecution of a few lower-level soldiers. The President’s failure to act decisively resonated through the military chain of command: aggressive prosecution of crimes against detainees was not conducive to a successful career.

In January of 2006, Taguba received a telephone call from General Richard Cody, the Army’s Vice-Chief of Staff. “This is your Vice,” he told Taguba. “I need you to retire by January of 2007.” No pleasantries were exchanged, although the two generals had known each other for years, and, Taguba said, “He offered no reason.”

Maybe it's time the people at the street level start getting pissed about the important stuff, instead of allowing their governments to distract them with meaningless piffle. The effigy-burning goons in Islamabad are getting played, just as surely as any other mindless jingo anywhere else.

[Update: The Pakistani minister, ul-Haq, is now claiming to have been mistranslated, saying that he had actually said that people would use Rushdie's knighthood as justification for violence, not that they should. Perhaps he could prevent future misunderstandings by appending such statements with even a pro-forma repudiation of such tactics, as would befit his standing in a government that wishes to be a major player in world affairs.]

1 comment:

john lenin said...

Christians may get upset over Piss Christ or what have you, but they're not rioting over cartoons, or advocating violence over heretical novels.

This has been one of my Cassandra-ish hobbyhorses for some time now.

I remember having an argument with a local punk rocker right after 9/11, where I argued that our theocrats were just as bad in essence as theirs, and it was only our long tradition of secularism that had ingrained in us the idea that it's crazy to kill over metaphysical differences. (He disagreed, which may be the only recorded instance of a punk rocker defending Falwell and Robertson, I'm not sure.)

This is why people like O'Reilly with his crusade against "secular-progressives" send me into a homicidal fury - why would even the most cynical of these motherfuckers want to play games with all the defenses we've built against the collective religious id? It hasn't been that long since we saw what life was like in Christian societies where church and state were the same thing.

I look at it like: Christianity had 1500 years, roughly, where it ran the Western world, and yet it never got around to instituting all that peace and brotherly love stuff. The links above are from shortly before the American Revolution, for fucksakes. But speaking of that revolution, and the 230ish years since, it's amazing how quickly people adapted to the idea I mentioned above - that being free to believe what you want without having to worry about being burned at the stake or tortured to death, either by a bunch of torch and pitchfork-wielding villagers or by government officials, is one of the greatest ideas we've ever stumbled across. We've made greater strides towards that kind of peace - or at least live-and-let-live tolerance - in that short span of time than religion did in a millenium and a half. Who would be insane enough to want to discard that?

Rhetorical question, of course. The same people who thought the main lesson of the famous faith-based initiative known as 9/11 was that we need more religion in daily life. I feel despairing and helpless to do anything about all the structural problems in Islam, so all I can do is try and fight all the lunatics here who are hellbent on bringing us to the same state of affairs.