There Is No Alternative
I randomly flick through TV channels on this morning of my birthday, and stop at a jaunty song, Love is my religion, sung by a young man looking suspiciously like Bob Marley - his son, I think. It strikes me, prima facie, as a pleasant enough sentiment, certainly one worth dancing to, and I try, not too strenuously, to consider it in the light of my current understanding of religion. If religion is submission as the Moslems, as well as Paul of Tarsus and Augustine of Hippo, appear to believe, why not submit yourself to love? Probably because it would have disastrous consequences, if carried to its logical conclusions, but it's good for three minutes of fuzzy feeling.
The love side of the equation sits there waiting to be wrestled with, but I prefer to ignore it for the time being.
I'm inundated with books, inspired by the current Adelaide Festival of Ideas, and though I tried to avoid the religious issue, picking up such texts as Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers, High & Dry by Guy Pearse, an insider's view of Howard's climate policy and the 'greenhouse mafia' that has apparently been writing it, two books by the unknown [to me] Francis Wheen, and Blood and Oil, by Michael Klare, I couldn't resist going back and buying Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a natural phenomenon, which I'm hoping will be closer in spirit to Pascal Boyer than to Dawkins or Hitchens. I'm also still reading The caged virgin by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a book which strikes me as far less naive than some would have led me to believe. I hope to expand on my response to Hirsi Ali's text soon.
I've also tried to steer clear of religion when attending Festival talks, though I did catch one on Islamism. It didn't tell me too much that was new, and it took the line, which I largely agree with, that Islamism, or fundamentalism or primitivism, is a reaction to complexities in the modern world, and frustration at the increasing material disparities between east and west. A retreat into the putative certainties of The Book. One of the themes that the speaker, Riaz Hassan, focused on was anti-semitism, which he noted was a relatively recent addition to the Moslem mind-set, brought about largely by the creation of the state of Israel and its support by the west and particularly the US, and also by anti-semitic propaganda from the Nazis in the thirties. Whether this provides an adequate explanation is hard to say, but Hirsi Ali has written that the word Jew was the greatest insult in use in her childhood in Somalia and Saudi Arabia.
Historically, Moslems didn't harbour the hatred and fear of Jews that Christians did, as perpetrators of cosmic evil. Unsurprisingly they held them in disdain as followers of the wrong religion, but there are apparently conflicting attitudes towards Judaism in the Qu'ran. There was at least one woman with hijab in the audience for Hassan, and I always wonder about these women's responses [though more to the likes of Hirsi Ali than to this inoffensive lecturer who, when confronted towards the end with a question which was really a statement from one audience member, that religion generally is a form of insanity, retreated into the shelter of his profession, that of a sociologist who could only treat religion as 'a social fact'].
I will say some things about Hirsi Ali now though. If she's naive it's only in that she has grossly underestimated the magnitude of the task, which is nothing less than reforming or even dismantling Islam. A more realistic aim would be the emasculation of Islam as a political force, as Christianity has been emasculated [though its resurgence in the US is of course to be deplored and combatted], but even so the task might seem impossible. Yet it's a task that needs to be undertaken, for any alternative is too horrible to contemplate. We're witnessing some of those alternatives now in fact, in the Middle East and in Northern Africa, and it truly is a hideous sight.
Labels: just stuff