Saturday, October 9, 2010

Saturday Afternoon Thinking Project: Is Islam a Religion of Peace? Chris Hitchens Versus Tariq Ramadan

“If you want diversity, you need a secular state with a godless constitution. Secularism is the only guarantee of religious freedom.”

Returning to the evening’s assignment, Hitchens said Islam requires the belief that the prophet Muhammad was “a perfect human being” and that the Koran is “a perfect book.” “These are categories that do not exist,” Hitchens said. “Yet any challenge to them is heresy. The demands that you believe these imperatives do not lead to peaceful outcomes.”

It is good to see Christopher Hitchens in the ring throwing punches and scoring points.

This debate is a good one that is akin to the classic rivalry between Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat and Ric Flair. Both Ramadan and Hitchens are at the top of their respective games. The latter a secular humanist, the former a religiously informed scholar. Styles make fights: Tariq Ramadan is at a profound disadvantage in this exchange as intellectuals who proceed from a faith perspective have already ceded too much territory in the terrain of rationality, empiricism, and truth to win any debate against Christopher Hitchens (or any other exemplary informed atheist or agnostic). Nevertheless, Tariq gives as good as he gets.

So, is Islam a religion of peace?

I have little taste for such questions as they are imprecise. Moreover, the trope that Islam is a religion of peace seems akin to a set of tired talking points that the well-intentioned and naive can recite without having to ask hard questions about the deeds committed in the name of Islam--and how said deeds are supported by selective citations of a text. But, I also don't think that Judaism or Christianity are religions of peace either. For in practice, individuals, States, charismatic personalities, and mindless followers of faith have committed any number of murderous deeds over the centuries in the name of their personal "God" (or "gods"). Here religion and "faith" seemed to embolden human wickedness and not temper it.

In these matters I follow a shorthand rule: in a secular society the religiously minded should learn to play nicely with others. Despite what some on the Right would suggest, religion and the claims thereof do not a priori and prima facie demand respect by virtue of their mere existence.

For example, in Europe there is a real struggle between the forces of the secular and politicized Islam. To pretend otherwise is to ignore the obvious when free speech is imperiled by threats of violence and murder; the obligation of the radicalized faithful to create a global caliphate, and where Sharia law is creeping forward. Likewise, in the United States the influence of Christian Nationalists, Christian Zionists, and Christian Dominionists is a dangerous encroachment on the public good in what is ostensibly a constitutional republic where church and state are separate.

Ultimately, I would respectfully suggest that the mysterious and the unprovable should remain private matters, as by virtue of the very necessity of faith to remove certain priors from debate what remains are matters unresolvable in the public square or through reasoned debate.

The full text of the Ramadan versus Hitchens debate can be found here.


Diedre said...

So you are privileging the scientific method with its notion of provability and objectivism over the subjective as a measure of truth. Surely Critical Theorists would cringe in their graves or in my case on my couch. Debate does not have have to end in a clear winner or loser. It can serve to clarify thought and to bring alternate voices from the margins into the public domain. This in itself if a worthy endeavor, particularly in these polarized times of tea parties and ignorance.

The public square USED to be a place where we could hold contradictions and forward the possibilities of our democracy by discussing many messy facets of our human lives. Without this, it becomes a place for sound bites and stone throwing. We can't limit our parameters without losing the fullness of who we are and the different realities that make up this world.

Plus, western ideas about reason and notions of truth have been used to limit the freedoms and legitimacy of too many folks' perspective for me to buy into empirical truth and supposed rationality as trump. Post-structuralists give us reason to pause and think more deeply about varied perspectives, suppositions and voices.

chaunceydevega said...

Thanks for chiming in...could here the crickets. There is a good conversation over at Alternet where this is cross posted.

Sure, I can play the Foucault Truth/Power argument about truth as a function of power and the framing of memory. But, as a practical matter, please "prove" the "truth" of religion to me.

This is akin to the debate between creationists and evolutionary biologists (I forgot the scientist involved but it was featured in Nature or Science magazine). The scientist refused to show up for the debate because you can't debate mythology with empirical rigor or facts. There are no terms for debate.

This is what Hitch gets at so well--and why I like Ramadan--he is fighting with one hand behind his back because his priors are indemonstrable...either about the divinity of a book or his personal God and prophet. Thus, the appeal to the mysteries of faith.


Diedre said...

Help me find the alternet conversation please. As far as your response, thank you and I'll get back to you as soon as I finish this blasted mid-term!

chaunceydevega said...

Good luck on your exams!

Diedre said...

Would never attempt to prove religion. For two reasons: proof is a limited construct and only one way of knowing and two religion or spirituality although able to flow concurrently with science, is not meant to exist within its confines.

BUT, I would say that sociologically and medically, we can discuss empirical phenomena regarding people's religious experiences and beliefs. We've learned that whatever folks believe have important consequences for individuals and societies. Thus, we must contend with the inherent power in religion/spirituality for the benefit of the common good, the public sphere and human experience.

I liked this post,