A long time ago, safety helmets were made compulsory for every motorcyclist and pillion rider. Thereafter, some smarty-pants wore helmets with visors to rob banks. Although I was still in school at that time, I remember the so-called solution which our authority came up with to solve that problem. They simply banned helmets with visors. Problem solved, right?
Many years ago there were concerns over deaths caused by accidents involving water-scooters on Penang beaches. Of course, before everybody could finish saying “water-scooters”, I remember some hot-shots proposed that water-scooters be banned. Fortunately that did not happen.
Baby dumping? Oh well, that’s easy. Ban, among others, Valentine’s Day celebration.
The best of the lot are the efforts taken by some of our so-called ulamaks to solve the problem of Muslims having very weak “aqidah” or faith.
Muslims in Malaysia must be among the weakest when it comes to “aqidah”. After all, a parliamentarian readily told the Parliament last year, if I am not mistaken, that Malaysian men cannot “tahan” to see their wife (or wives) cooking in the kitchen when they come back from work. The wife (or wives) must thus be ready to have sex with the men there and then. This was, and is still, of course readily agreed to by the Obedient Wives Club which also advocates, among others, spiritual sex. (I think the OWC took the idea of spiritual sex from the cyber sex or phone sex phenomenon.)
Sorry, I digress.
Yes, Muslims in Malaysia are very weak in their “aqidah”. Solutions, anybody? Yes, ban the poco-poco dance. Ditto Valentine’s Day celebration. In Bangi, someone actually said cinemas should not be built. What else ya? Oh, yes. Electronic Bible. Ban it please. While we are it, why don’t we ban the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia as well, right? That would be a holistic approach. Yes. Superb.
If those were not enough, we should then have a seminar titled “Strengthening the Faith, the Dangers of Liberalism and Pluralism and the Threat of Christianity towards Muslims. What is the Role of Teachers?”
Of course, recently, we have the Erykah Badu banning. All because of some art work on her body. The most recent is Irshad Manji’s book. Over in Indonesia recently, they went gaga over a Lady Gaga concert. You all know the result, right? Yes. What else but a ban.
Looking at the trend, the enemies of Islam are not just the Israelis, the Jews, the United States and their allies. The most potent poison one could unleash against us, Muslims, is nothing but women, apparently. Send Irshad Manji and that’s it, 15 million Muslims would lose their faith soon. Send in Lady Gaga and hundreds of millions of Muslims would be out of their Islamic mind sooner than one could spell “Gaga”.
Malaysia is, however, not alone when it comes to banning things. China, which coincidentally invented paper, started banning books on philosophy which came from anywhere other than the state of Qin in the 3rd century BC. In fact, China is still leading the way in this area of socio-illogical move. Most recent is its banning of Kate Winslet’s breast in the “Titanic 3D” movie for fear of the men reaching out to touch them in the cinema. Classic.
Books seem to be the favourite for this activity. In this regards, Islam is not the only religion in whose name books were banned. The Catholic Church had forced Peter Abelard to burn his own book, which consisted, among others, his interpretation of the Trinitarian. There was also a time when the Bible was prohibited from being translated into the vernacular. And guess what? The Catholic Church also used to have issues with Greek plays as well as Arabic and Jewish texts. Hmm… déjà vu?
In England, Henry VIII led the way. He actually did not like William Tynedale’s version of the Bible and had it, of course, banned. Not enough with that, he burned him at the stake.
Meanwhile, the “greatest nation on Earth”, aka the US of A, is not spared with this disease as well. In Massachusetts, the Quaker texts were banned. And, of course, they also hanged witches at Salem. Boston saw the imprisonment of Ann Austin and Mary Fischer for texts which offended the then acting governor.
One of the most astounding book burnings happened in the land of freedom and liberty itself — France. In 1842, surprise, surprise, officials at the school for the blind actually collected books written in Braille and burned them. Of course we all know that Louis Braille’s method later became a universal writing method for the blinds.
Anything which can be banned would be banned. Australia, the land of wonderful beaches, man-eating sharks and kangaroos, a year or two ago sought to prevent exploitation of children in pornography. And how did they propose to do that? Hilarious. That’s how. They proposed a ban of small-breasted women in pornography.
Malaysia’s regulations on prohibited names are perhaps necessary due to the fact that some parents do give their children names such as Siti Mazda or Abdul iPhone. We can however take refuge in the fact that we are not alone. In Denmark, there is the Law on Personal Names to be content with. Under that law, people expecting children can choose a pre-approved name from a government list of 7,000 mostly West European and English names — 3,000 for boys, 4,000 for girls. Those wishing to have non-approved names must seek permission at their local parish or church. Among those who wish to deviate is Lan Tan, a 27-year-old Danish woman of Singaporean and Malaysian descent who is trying to win approval for her daughter’s name, Frida Mei Tan-Farndsen. Yes. Go Malaysia!
The subject of illegal immigration continues to spark passionate debate across the nation, and as the 2012 election heats up, the issue can be expected to take a central role on the political stage. In a highly unusual turn of events, many religious groups — otherwise divided on social issues, such as gay marriage or abortion — have found themselves aligned in their support of immigrant rights, including brokering pathways to legality for the undocumented. While these organizations’ ideas concerning how to accomplish this goal vary (some support pushing legislation such as the DREAM Act, while others propose incorporating fines, probationary periods, straight away amnesty and other steps), Christian groups across denominational lines have backed humane immigration reform, while also condemning anti-immigrant laws such as Arizona’s SB 1070 and its copycat counterparts in other states.
For most of these groups, this pro-immigrant stance is rooted in their Christian faith and in core biblical principles such as love, mercy, hospitality,and the ethical imperative to help those who are less fortunate.
But is this position truly substantiated in the Bible? Or are the biblical stories, injunctions and teachings being taken out of context to support political claims?
Not all Christians exhibit such scripturally inspired generosity for the undocumented, as evidenced by the hard-line attitude of former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, who joked about constructing a fence along the whole border that would electrocute migrants, or that of Michele Bachmann, who said that even the children of the undocumented deserve nothing from us — not to mention Mitt Romney, whose unequivocal rejection of any path to legality for “illegal aliens” may cost him dearly in the election, according to many pundits.
Nonetheless, there are millions of American Christians — harkening variously from Catholic, mainline Protestant and evangelical traditions — who “share a set of common moral and theological principles that compel us to love, care for and seek justice for the stranger among us,” according to the umbrella group Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
These principles are rooted in Old Testament injunctions to love neighbor as self, including the “alien who shall be to you as a citizen among you,” as well as New Testament stories such as the Good Samaritan, which picks up on this call to love “the least of these,” whosever they may be, regardless of race, citizenship or social status. The coalitions also ground their arguments for humane border policies and merciful treatment of the undocumented in the many biblical narratives involving forced migration, uprootedness, exile, homelessness; in an egalitarian ethic rooted in the belief from Genesis that all humans are created equally in the image of God; and on the themes of justice, mercy and unconditional love woven consistently throughout the Scriptures. According to Jean Bethke Elshtain, Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School, “Overwhelmingly, Scripture is filled with an imperative to offer succor and kindness to the stranger, to the bereaved, the homeless, et cetera.”
On the other hand, there are those Christians who turn to the Bible to support their anti-immigrant rhetoric, although their arguments are limited mostly to Romans 13, and a handful of other passages that emphasize the divine warrant for authority and a citizen’s duty to respect and obey the rule of law. But the faith-based immigrant advocacy groups believe that these passages are vastly outweighed by those urging radical hospitality for the stranger, as do many theologians and clergy. “So much of the Bible and Christian tradition line up against this view; there really are not many places they [Christians opposing aid for the undocumented] can go to in the Bible,” says M. Daniel Carroll R., Professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary and National Spokesperson on Immigration for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
Still, using the Bible to justify contemporary political convictions is inherently problematic. While the ethical impulse to dismantle unjust laws may be inspired from Scripture, as was the case, for example, when Martin Luther King engaged in civil disobedience, one must also guard against the pitfalls of proof texting — taking isolated passages out of context to legitimize a certain ideology. The problem with proof texting is that it disregards the original intent and context of the author. As Elshtain says, “Scripture could in no way have imagined the modern nation-state, issues of borders and citizenship and all the rest.” The idea of democracy, she points out, is a modern concept, and so too the idea of the state and meaningful membership in a state as a citizen; proof texting, then, can lead to irresponsible, even dangerous, conclusions.
“Since the Bible can be used to justify anything such as slavery, racism, bigotry, anti-Semitism, war and even anti-immigration sentiments, proof texting in immigration debates is futile. The Bible cannot be used as some kind of divine answer book for complex problems like migration. But it can challenge the operative narrative in our minds and hearts that affect how we evaluate the issues,” says Daniel Groody, Catholic priest and Associate Professor of Theology at Notre Dame.
As the National Association of Evangelicals’ latest immigration resolution put it: “The Bible does not offer a moral blueprint for modern legislation, but it can serve as a moral compass and shape the attitudes of those who believe in God.”
So while we cannot rely on Scripture to enact public policy per se, we can read the Bible — or other religious and humanist texts that grapple with the relationship between self and other, citizen and stranger, the fortunate and the less fortunate — as a means of awakening in us a heightened moral consciousness. We can hope that this exercise might inspire more humane discussion in the public sphere concerning the plight of migrants, and might lead to more just and equitable solutions at our borders.
The Ability to Question – Western culture is predicated on questioning: inquiring of authorities how they came to the conclusions they reached — a concept from the ancient Greek word “historayn,” to learn by asking. Although in the Shiite world questioning occurs among religious authorities and the educated elite, in the Sunni world, for centuries, asking questions of those more learned or in positions of authority has been unacceptable. Until Muslims once again allow themselves to ask questions and engage in critical examination, they are disabling themselves from accomplishing as much as they otherwise might.
The Role of the Individual vs. the Role of the Group – In much of the Muslim world, people are often seen not as individuals but as members of particular families, clans, tribes, ethnic groups, or religions. In the Muslim and Arab world, a problem between two people can become a problem between two families, with the individual becoming a “soldier” in the ensuing feud. What an individual might think personally – who is right and who is wrong – becomes irrelevant, fostering a mindset that obstructs the impersonal and dispassionate analytic thinking that defines the modern world.
Encouraging Creativity – A good way to define Western intellectual creativity in the Muslim world is to use the Arabic word ijtihad, roughly meaning using one’s intellectual and reasoning capabilities to determine answers. Today’s Islamic culture seems not to encourage this ability: among the Sunni Muslims, who comprise about 85% of the approximately 1.4 billion Muslims, the “Gates of Ijtihad” were closed about a thousand years ago, apparently for political reasons: religious authorities declared that all questions had been addressed during the past four centuries, so there was therefore no more need for questioning. Since then, Muslims have been asked to accept institutionally what they learn from their authority figures – as in the word Islam, itself, meaning “submission.” Islamic culture therefore does encourage creativity as much as it might; it appears actively to discourage it – people are educated to memorize, not criticize.
Creativity requires, above all, questioning the accepted ways of doing things. What many Muslims do, therefore – and do very well – is produce things invented by others. The Turks, for example, who have had longer and closer contacts with the West than most other areas of the Muslim world have had, are superb at replicating what others have created. Although the F-16, for example, was created in the US, the only perfect one ever manufactured by the mid-1990′s was assembled in an F-16 plant in Turkey. Individual Turks would have been perfectly capable of inventing an F-16, but often feel constrained to think creatively in their own country. This might be a reason that gifted individuals in the Muslim world who feel the need to expand their abilities often abandon their native countries for the West, and do brilliantly there.
The Ability to Admit Failure and Learn from It – Although no one particularly likes to fail, people in the West expect those who have failed to examine why they have failed, and to learn from their mistakes. Some high-tech firms even try to hire people who have failed at startups in the hope of gaining insights so their companies will not pursue avenues that did not succeed. It is hard to imagine a similar approach in any Muslim country, where it is virtually impossible for anyone publicly to admit failure. The concept of personal honor (in Arabic, ‘Ayib), what others say about you – is prevalent everywhere: admitting failure means shaming yourself, a situation to be avoided at all costs. In Western culture, this concept of shame is largely alien; we are more of a “guilt” culture, in that what we think about ourselves counts more than how others view us, and largely motivates our advancement.
In Asian cultures, for example, which also care deeply about “face,” a more neutral way of recognizing problems has evolved. The Japanese and the Chinese, for instance, do not say they have failed; they say that the road that had been chosen did not prove to work, so the direction should be changed. This indirect way of admitting failure has helped them advance. Such a blameless approach, however, is virtually non-existent in the Muslim world, and a major reason so much of it remains in squalor.
The results of this contrast – The Asian and Western cultures on one hand, and the Muslim culture on the other — might be described as two kinds of cakes: just looking at the cake tells you nothing about how it tastes. The Western world is like a cake covered with an uninviting khaki-colored frosting. Although it might look awful, the cake inside tastes great: its ingredients are first class and well-baked. By contrast, the Muslim world is like a cake covered with beautiful frosting, but made out of ingredients that might disappoint the people at the table.
The Learning Process – Muslim culture emphasizes memorization. Universities in Muslim lands grant degrees based on the students memorizing vast amounts of material, but not necessarily knowing how to apply them. In engineering, for instance, the Arab world graduates more than 250,000 engineers each year, but when the Arabs want to build an airport, they invariably import foreigners to do it, In the Arab world, engineering degrees often have become symbols of “personal honor” rather than knowledge to be used.
Taking Responsibility for One’s Actions – In the same vein, there is no equivalent in the Muslim world to the Western concept of taking responsibility for one’s actions. The word mas’uliya in Arabic, Turkish, and Persian is usually translated in Western dictionaries as “responsibility,” but it really has a meaning which corresponds more to the Western concept of “being held responsible for, or being blamed for something not going well.” The meaning of this word in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish has little to do with the Western concept of responsibility — defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the ability to act independently and make decisions,” and largely devoid of personal honor.
How Information Is Passed On To Others – In Western societies, information is usually passed down along a chain, based on information moved up it by subordinates. In Muslim societies, the opposite usually occurs: the job of the subordinate is to implement what superiors pass command him to do; the subordinate almost never participates in the decision-making process. The Middle Eastern subordinate fears not doing what his superior tells him to do, even if the subordinate knows that what his superior wants him to do is wrong or will not work. At best the subordinate is discouraged, on pain of being fired, from questioning the decision — true even in the most Westernized country in the Muslim world, Turkey. Most officers in the Turkish army, for example, have a sign behind their desks: “The commander wants answers, he does not want questions.” That attitude was most likely the reason senior Turkish military officials could not learn how deeply the Islamic fundamentalists had penetrated the military establishment – their subordinates knew their officers did not want to hear that their units had been penetrated by people who disagreed with Ataturk’s philosophy of separating religion from the state.
The Western Concept of Compromise – In the West, the precept of “win-win” forms the basis of how we negotiate. To reach an agreement, each side gives in to some of the demands of the other side; doing so entails no loss of personal honor. In the Arab, Turkish, and Persian worlds, however, giving in to the other side’s demands involves enormous amounts of shame and the loss of honor – which is why the culture in these Islamic lands requires negotiations only after victory. Asking to negotiate before one has won indicates weakness – or why else would one be reaching out to end a conflict? — and another loss of personal honor to be avoided at all costs. After one side has decisively won, and has then imposed a solution on the vanquished party, then one begins to negotiate: the vanquished party licks his wounds and looks for the opportunity to redress his loss. This is known in Arabic assulh, somewhat like the Western concept of a truce, by definition temporary. In such circumstances, there cannot be a win-win situation. This is, unsurprisingly, why conflicts in the Middle East are never permanently resolved, and why life in the Muslim world, unlike the West, seethes in a constant state of tension.
The Western Concept of Peace – In Western culture, making peace boils down to putting the past behind one, letting bygones be bygones, and moving on from there. This mindset already existed in ancient Hebrew culture, in which the word shalom, from the root sh-l-m, meaning completeness, involved leaving past disagreements behind. But in the Arabic, Turkish, and Persian cultures, such a concept does not exist. The Arabic word salam – used in all three languages – derives from the same Semitic root, but instead means “the special joy that one gets by submitting to Allah’s will through Islam.” The word Islam, from the same root, means submission; not exactly the same as peace. If bygones can never be bygones, conflicts can never be resolved. In these Muslim lands, when one side is stronger, it attempts to subdue its ancient enemies. The culture does not permit Muslims to put the past behind them: the internet, for example, is filled with discussions among Muslims about how they must and will reconquer Spain, which they lost to the West 520 years ago. In the Muslim culture, individuals — both the leadership and the common man — spend so much time looking for ways to right perceived wrongs, that they might find it disconcerting to focus their energy on looking what we might think of as more productive and positive activities.
Book Publishing – The subject of most of the books sold in the Arab world, except for Lebanon and Iraq, concern either to Islam or hatred of the West – more specifically, they are either anti-America or anti-Israel. The number of books translated annually into Arabic is about the same as those translated into Finnish. There are, however, about 365 million Arabs, compared to 5.5 million Finns. How are Arabs to acquire the knowledge necessary to propel them into the modern world if they do not have access to modern scientific and intellectual thought, easily available in their own languages? Sadly, there does not seem to be a market in the Arab world for these types of books. Is this because there is little desire for that knowledge? If so, this inertia guarantees that as the outside world gallops into the future, the Arabo-Muslim world will find it harder and harder to catch up to Asia and the West. Arabs leaders can, of course, buy modern technology, but this solution, although instant, only guarantees a permanent dependence on outsiders.
The Status of Women – The great 19th century Ottoman historian, Namik Kemal, argued that the Muslim world was in danger of being left behind because of its oppression of women. He asked how a country could advance if it oppressed and failed to educate half its population — the equivalent of intentionally paralyzing half of one’s body. Further, this paralyzed part of society is the one responsible for raising the next generation of males. Much of the Muslim world continues to place great obstacles in the paths of its women. In Iran under the Shah, for example, the marital age for women was 16; under the Islamic republic, this age was lowered to nine lunar years, meaning that an 8-1/2 year old girl can legally be married off by her family. In the Arab, Turkish, and Persian worlds, women can be murdered, often without definitive proof, if the male members of their families believe that they may have done something that could have put a stain on the family honor; if a woman is regarded as contaminated, the entire clan can be held in disrepute and cast out by the community.
In some parts of the Muslim world, females are pressured to undergo various forms of “female circumcision,” a cutting of their genitals presumably intended to prevent women from having sexual pleasure — a practice that often takes place in unsanitary conditions that can cause significant health problems, if not death. This practice, however, has nothing to do with Islam; it is tribal, it pre-dates Islam, and it has everything to do with Islamic culture and a seeming male terror of being tempted by women’s sexual allure.
The Oil Curse – Since Muslims in the oil-rich states can now afford to have others do everything for them, they are not compelled to use the one renewable resource available to everyone: the human brain — if exercised to think creatively, capable of amazing feats. But given the cultural realities and financial wealth available in so much of the Muslim world, there seem to be few incentives, if any, to be productive in ways other than gaining, conserving, or enjoying wealth.
Palestinians, as well, are easily capable of accomplishing what anyone else does, if only their education, governance and cultural incentives were changed from destroying their neighbor, Israel, to building a felicitous society. Palestinian political leaders, however, seem to have decided that the rewards from the international community, at least for them, will be greater if they are seen as victims receiving perpetual handouts, rather than as leaders receiving rewards linked to accomplishments. The economic system seems to have evolved into bribes in exchange for promises that are never kept, followed later by the request for still more bribes.
Ironically, all genetic analyses of the many ancient Muslim Palestinian families indicate that they are largely from the same genetic stock as Ashkenazi Jewry. So what is the difference here? The Jewish culture encourages questioning and thinking from an early age, whereas the Palestinian Muslim culture does not. What is encouraged instead is the unexamined acceptance of whatever is set before one, whether on government-run television or in government-written textbooks. Religion has nothing to do with this situation; Islam therefore is not the problem: Islamic culture is. Only when Muslims address their culture head-on can there be any real hope for their world to overcome its self-imposed limitations and start fully contributing to the wonders of the 21st century.