Still pondering the implications of the near miss with gender segregation on university campuses.
In his 1950 book Psychoanalysis and Religion, Erich Fromm made the following distinction between authoritarian and humanistic religions which, though I can’t see where religion ends and politics starts, seems right to me:
“Man’s [sic] aim in humanistic religion is to achieve the greatest strength, not the greatest powerlessness; virtue is self-realization, not obedience. Faith is certainty of conviction based on one’s own thought and feeling, not assent to propositions on credit of the proposer. The prevailing mood is that of joy, while the prevailing mood in authoritarian religion is that of sorrow or guilt.
“Inasmuch as humanistic religions are theistic, God is a symbol of man’s own powers which he tries to realize in his life, and is not a symbol of force or domination, having power over man.
“Illustrations of humanistic religions are early Buddhism, Taoism, the teachings of Isaiah, Jesus, Socrates, Spinoza, certain trends in the Jewish and Christian religions (particularly mysticism), the religion of Reason in the French Revolution. It is evident from these that the distinction between authoritarian and humanistic religion cuts across the distinction between theistic and non-theistic, and between religions in the narrow sense of the word and philosophical systems of religious character.”
I read that David Edwards (incidentally co-founder of Media Lens – a site I distrust because it views establishment media as corrupt propaganda by definition, irrespective of quality, principles and governance) developed this further in his book ‘Free to be Human. Intellectual Self-Defence in an Age of Illusions‘ as the idea of ‘power religions’ and their mind chains,
“Power religion, unlike true religious endeavour, has nothing at all do with the search for fundamental, adequate answers to human life, but is purely a means of justifying, enforcing and facilitating the exercise of power. Power religion does not consist in a particular set of beliefs, but in a set of functions supporting power. Because these functions remain essentially constant, we discover close similarities between versions of power religion widely separated by historical time, geography and superficial appearance. The differences between these beliefs represent a sort of superficial clothing over an essentially identical framework of underlying function.”
Religious authoritarianism enforces practices in the name of religion. Examples are the strict subjugation and exclusion of women (Saudi Arabia), outlawing abortion (Republic of Ireland, USA, ongoing attempts in the UK), state-enforced child bearing (Ceausescu’s Hungary), restricting the education of women (most conservative religions).
There are plenty of practices associated with power religions that mainstream UK commentators are prepared to publicly condemn, criticise or satirise. The most striking thing about these practices is that they tend to be from the dominant culture. Richard Herring’s Christ on a Bike show, which contains extensive material on the Pope and the Catholic Church met with some offended and wounded reactions to which he responded without compromise and in similar vein as before,
“A lot of things that Christians say annoy me (for example the Pope saying people should not use condoms in AIDS infested areas) but I believe they have the right to say them. The point of the routine is that it is a bit much for the Pope to tell us what to do with [our] sperm when some of his priests are having sex with kids – maybe it’s a priority to sort that out first.”
and although he has some material on Islam he points out,
“It’s harder as a non-Muslim to “mock” Islam and obviously it’s a different thing to concentrate on a minority religion, who are already the subject of prejudice and opprobrium (whatever that is)”.
This makes good sense and I am continually reassured by evidence that I live in a country where scruples about minority sensitivities have considerable influence. But, for the same reasons, it’s also tricky to criticise anything done in the name of a minority religion. This has led to the current situation, where many (most?) of the people who don’t pull their punches on authoritarian practices associated with minority religions are either open or crypto racists, the most organised of whom support the English Defence League, the British National Party, or their respective fragments.
The opinion that political left has ducked its responsibility is strengthening. A couple of months ago when campaigner against female genital mutilation Leyla Hussein took a sounding of cultural eggshells in Northampton by asking shoppers to sign a petition in favour the practice, she was appalled by her success. Signatories were prepared to support misogynistic violence against adolescent girls in order to express their ‘cultural sensitivity’. Another example, incompletely documented in some of my earlier posts, is the recent Universities UK recommendation that higher education institutions consent to segregation by gender if demanded by a presenter. The ensuing debate drew out the view – shared by a number of intellectuals including politicians and feminists as well as activists for an Islamic state – that to be worried about segregation is to be Islamophobic. For others – who themselves often face opprobrious charges of racism – this reaction confirmed their existing belief that there’s a thin spot where non-racist campaigns against religious authoritarianism should be, and in their place is the racism of low expectations.
Which finally brings me to legal scholar Karima Bennoune’s recent book ‘Your fatwa does not apply here. Untold stories from the fight against Muslim fundamentalism’. The first review I read, by Julia Droeber, sociologist at An Najah University, Palestine, approached the book cautiously in the knowledge that its subject could make it attractive to political inclinations that are unfavourable to Muslims. However, her fears were quickly allayed:
“Bennoune admits that she is walking a tight-rope. She is painfully aware that right-wing elements in the West may use this book as a pretext for further discrimination against Muslims at home and abroad. However, she says that she felt compelled to document these accounts for two reasons: her fight for global human rights and her disappointment with the too-complacent view of allegedly “moderate” Islamists by the political Left in the West. To a large extent it is the tolerant and secular interpretations of Islam the protagonists of this book are trying to promote as they contest attempts by fundamentalists to place restrictions on their day-to-day lives, and Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here was prompted by the lack of attention paid in the West to those struggles.”
“… she takes issue with the view that Muslims and Muslim fundamentalists are victims (of the “War on Terror”, for example) and criticises governments for their reactions (or lack of reaction) to fundamentalist violence and its consequences for people’s everyday lives, for instance in Palestine.
“The final chapter’s title summarises the book’s message “Raise your voice while singing is still possible.”
Good advice – plenty more here.