“Tolerance of intolerance is cowardice.” – Ayaan Hirsi Ali
A while ago, around December, I went to have Christmas dinner at my Mother’s parent’s house. After the food, crackers, and hats were all finished with my Grandmother leaned over the table, rested a hand on my Mother’s arm, and said – completely out of the blue – “I brought you up to respect other people’s beliefs.”
Now, as this somewhat hushed and accusatory utterance was so unexpected and random, my Mother was a little confused. I was too.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“You’re always laughing at religious people, it’s not nice.”
Now my Mother knew what she was going on about. She crossed her arms.
“Mother, I refuse to ‘respect’ intolerant views. Why would I?”
“It’s just not nice, Victoria. My Father always said-”
At this point I chimed in.
“Oma [German for Grandmother], the point is that no belief – while belief itself is a right – should be exempt from reasonable criticism.”
“But it’s what they think. It’s mean to go around making fun of-”
“-Take, for example, the beliefs of the members of the Nazi Party. Did they demand ‘respect’, or criticism?”
My Grandfather didn’t like this point.
“That’s irrelevant! You’re changing the subject.” he said.
“No he isn’t.”, replied Mum, still confused as to why the whole subject came up in the first place, “He used a fair example of a belief obviously not worthy of tolerance – and that’s my point! I refuse to tolerate intolerant views.”
There was silence as some people shook their heads.
“Now, who wants desert?” said Oma…
What I think I take from this somewhat tangential narrative is that some people seem to think that criticising religion is always wrong. Religious belief, I’m sure they will insist, is a human right – and opposing certain beliefs goes against the believer’s right to believe them.
Not so. A certain distinction must be made here.
I wholly believe in the freedom of speech and the freedom of belief – without these values, there is only oppression. But I do not advocate and will openly oppose words which are hate-filled and beliefs which are dangerous. In other words; I respect every individual’s right to hold beliefs, but not necessarily the content of said beliefs.
But many forget this distinction. They see, say, opposing the Catholic Church’s views on gay rights as opposing each and every Catholic’s right to believe whatever nonsense they want to believe (perhaps about crackers).
And calling the beliefs nonsense is not a personal attack on each and every Catholic intended to hurt their feelings; it’s a criticism of the opinions they hold as facts. A significant handful of them may even act on their nonsense opinions – which would cause genuine ‘insult’ to, for example, potential HIV sufferers who are told that condom use is wrong (and doesn’t prevent the spread of HIV).
‘Insult’ and a death sentence, I might add.
Another one of the most odious criticisms of the public ridicule of religious beliefs comes in the form of labelling objections to bigotry, inequality and intolerance as racist.
What I’m of course referring to is the tendency for some Muslims to instantly brand an objection to some of the Qur’an’s ‘teachings’ as islamophobic. The problem is; non-Muslims do it too.
I don’t quite know if it’s out of fear or not, but when Ayatollahs (high-ranking Shia clerics) issue bounties on free-thinking people’s heads on a whim – with even a single Muslim happy to fulfil the deed as a perceived core element of their faith – fear is understandable. Being bullied into shutting up is therefore the fate of many public criticisers of Islam, which all stinks of the history of Christian burnings at the stake to me. Much of Islam is stuck in the dark ages with regards to specific beliefs and related politics, and it’s about time people more openly expressed this.
I understand that the ‘solution’ to such a problem (and it is a problem) is not opposition to Islam’s (or any other religion’s) beliefs in the form of conflict. The ‘solution’ is freedom of information.
Friendly discussion with the world of secular values is what major religions are really scared of. Once gender equality, rights to education, sexual equality, freedom of speech, science, and comedy (among other things) are glimpsed, there’s no going back.
Sadly, extremism will fight this every step of the way – and it should be openly ridiculed because of it. Nothing ‘demands respect’, and any belief system that claims to is both silly and dangerous.