Sunday, October 29, 2006

The primary cause of the ‘East’ v’s ‘West’ collision, a mismatched “Moral Zeitgeist”

Prof Richard Dawkins in his book “The God Delusion” describes ‘how our morality has shifted through the centuries by what he calls a “moral zeitgeist”. [Zeitgeist he explains a German word meaning ‘spirit of the times’]. Dawkins states "We do not ground our morality in holy books, no matter what we may fondly imagine. We simply do not [now, in Christian tradition] kill people for adultery, working on the sabbath, or for many other [historical] biblical offences.” In the book he also mentions the current Zeitgeist or attitudes to slavery, incest, needless suffering, free speech, cheating and killing in general.’ ‘Instead [of a biblical guide] we use our senses, intelligence and new information to change our social condition by revising our outlook on racism, gender, and crime. We no longer believe in slavery. Women now have the right to vote. We simply don't need holy books to determine our moral status.’ (1)

In the article (ref 2 below) he says, “Religious apologists will try to persuade you that, without scriptural texts, we’d have no moral compass, no guidelines for what is right and what is wrong. Anybody who advocates basing our morals on the Bible has not read the Bible with sufficient attention. It is, of course, true that you can find verses of the Bible and the Koran, which we today might regard as moral, for example the Sermon on the Mount. You can also find verses suggesting that the worst thing you can do is make a graven image or break the sabbath. Both deserve the death penalty, as does cheeking your parents. The Bible is an ethical disaster area with islands of decent morality dotted about here and there.”

’When sceptics point to particularly nasty bits of the Old Testament – for example the disgusting story of Abraham almost sacrificing Isaac (or his other son Ishmael according to Muslim tradition), religious apologists are apt to reply in exasperation: “Yes of course, but we don’t believe that any more. We’ve moved on.” Theologians have moved on and have rejected the nasty verses (or written them off as ‘symbolic’ or ‘allegorical’ or ‘poetic’) while accepting the nice ones literally.’ He is again I assume referring to the western Christian perspective rather than today’s ‘total world’ reality. Perhaps it would have been more appropriate and accurate if he had of said SOME theologians.

He goes on…

”This is where the shifting moral Zeitgeist comes in. Public opinion moves in a mysteriously synchronous fashion, usually in the direction of becoming more liberal and gentle, although there are temporary reversals such as the United States is undergoing at the moment. The vanguard of opinion in one generation may lag behind the most reactionary and conservative representatives of a future generation.” He then uses the following example “Abraham Lincoln was far ahead of his time – but his time was the nineteenth century, when just about everybody was racist by today’s standards. Here is what Lincoln said in 1858:”

”I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races; that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say, in addition to this, that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and ­political equality. And in as much as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

Again he goes on to say: “I don’t know why the Zeitgeist changes so consistently, but it does.” He continues: ‘this shift is witnessed by: newspaper editorials, books, political speeches, judges’ decisions, parliamentary or congressional debates, the patter of stand up comedians, soap opera scripts and dinner party and bar room conversations.’ What we can see from looking at these over time is a constant and mainly positive shift in what is acceptable in society as a whole. “Our rapidly decreasing tolerance of collateral damage in warfare is one manifestation and an important one”. (2)
In the book he also examples the moving Zeitgeist trend by listing the dates at which women were given the right to vote.

New Zealand 1893, Australia 1902, Finland 1906, Norway 1913, United States 1920, Britain 1928, France 1945, Belgium 1946, Switzerland 1971 and Finally Kuwait 2006.

This brings me to my main point. What most ‘enlightened’ individuals have against fundamentalist and repressive regimes and their ‘holy ordinances’, is that they are out of step with the modern worlds moral Zeitgeist. What is worse is that as well as being out of step they want the rest of us to regress to a point somewhere in the past which is not acceptable to any free thinking intelligent individual. To be fair Dawkins does say that the trend although progressive [in the sense of upward or ‘morally improving’] is a “sawtooth not a smooth improvement” and that “there have been some appalling reversals”. I put this proposition to a friend who has lived for some years in the Middle East to which she responded, ‘it’s not a matter of the west being at the point of the sawtooth and Islamic (Arab) countries being in the trough [bottom of the notch], Arab countries are a large number of notches back’.

Unfortunately this “Arab moral Zeitgeist” or perhaps “Islamic moral Zeitgeist” is being pushed on the rest of the world. A few examples from the Jakarta Post dated 27th and 28th of October 2006. Headline: “Iran veil obligation masks colourful diversity”; quote: ”By the end of August this year the Iranian police said they had handed out 64,000 warnings to women for poor wearing of the veil”. Headline: “Saudi youth bored in Islamic state”; quote: “Islamist hardliners or ‘forces of darkness’ as [young Saudi] Omran’s blog has dubbed them, have come out fighting against liberal trends in society, arguing their must be limits to change in the land where Islam was born and which contains its holiest shrines.” And in other parts of the world: Headline: ‘Iraqi, afghan and Somali women under attack - UN”; quote: “Women [in the headlined countries] are facing violence (even as targets for assassination), especially when they speak out for women’s rights a senior United Nations official [Noelene Heyzer] told the UN Security Council.’ Headline: “Australian mufti’s sermons suspended amid firestorm over women comments”; quote “he said in one of his religious speeches that immodestly dressed women [whom he stated were like uncovered meat] were inviting sexual attack. Headline: ”Polygamy issue arouses intense passions in Muslim Malaysia”; quote: “The issue of polygamy is being hotly debated in mainly-Muslim Malaysia, after the government proposed legislation that would make it easier to enter into multiple marriages – a practice some women’s group’s want banned. Muslim men here are allowed up to four wives, but activists say the practice is cruel and that it has been distorted from its original purpose during the days of the Prophet which was to protect widows and orphans.”

This leads me to the question: Is Prime Minister Badawi just another ‘Muslim Leader’ with a Skewed Anachronistic Worldview?

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (AB-PM-Mal) - CNN Talk Asia transcript (edited for clarity and brevity, abridged excerpts) CNN - posted - October 23, 2006 - Anjali Rao (AR-Interviewer)

Excerpt of an AB UN Speech: "I am afraid the schism between the west and the Muslim world will grow even deeper unless the international community is prepared to accept certain facts as the truth!"

AR: I'd like to discuss with you is the role of Islam in the world at the moment. What is it that you think the non-Muslim world is missing?

AB: What they are missing is that Muslims have not been really able to portray faithfully in their country's development, and the development of Muslim xxxx??? [Ummah???] that reflect the true teaching of Islam. Through the activities of so-called Muslim terrorists, they have created bad name for Islam, and the Muslim. And today, there doesn't seem to be any kind of understanding, enough understanding, to create a better rapport, better relations between the two. And that to me, is the cause of what we are seeing today.

Ric (my, comment): With all due respect this is ‘a load of old goats knees’ and much of the teaching (or more correctly perhaps, the interpretations by later scholars) needs to be abandoned and as Dawkins explains in his book, ‘radicalism grows directly from mainstream teachings’ and unfortunately it also “teaches us not to change our minds”, even I guess in spite of new evidence or changing realities.

AR: You've also recently spoken of the humiliation that Muslims feel. Why is that an overriding emotion among the Islamic community and is it something that you yourself, as a Muslim feel?

AB: I do feel that way too. There's one thing that the west has failed to understand. That, to a Muslim, religion is very important. Religion to the Muslim is not kept at home. It is not a matter for the relatives. For the Muslim, religion is important. In the corporate sector, in his business, in the government, in whatever he does, he is very much dictated by the teachings of Islam. So really it is the interpretation of the Koran.

Ric: Exactly our (the ‘west’s’ point), we don’t want to go back to an era of non voting women and all the other crass and backward practices that many Islamic states practice today. Have the religion if you must, however don’t impose a Middle Ages lifestyle on the rest of the world or expect the rest of the world to condone your bad behaviour. You should feel humiliated, perhaps that’s a start to the process of thinking about whether as leaders (and followers) if your attitudes are appropriate for today or not.

AR: Speaking of violent reactions, there was, recently such a response to the comments made by the Pope. Are Muslims being over sensitive?

AB: Well when it comes to religion we are always very sensitive. Many people, when it comes to race, we are always very sensitive. Not just us, anybody else become very, very sensitive. The Pope need not bring it up! Why did he have to say it considering the present situation? Considering that between the Muslim group and non-Muslim group there is a state of tension, there's a state of perhaps, not perhaps, a state of unhappiness, a lack of trust and confidence. That's very important. So don't bring it up!

Ric: Surely the propensity for individuals to fly off the handle and go ‘wacky bananas’ at every adverse comment that is thrown at Muslims is a demonstration of the less than desirable levels of Emotional and Spiritual Intelligence much of the Ummah. Perhaps its time to educate the followers in a more adult (rather than a moralistic parent or fractious child) approach to life, i.e. recite less and understand more. By the way can you tell the city dwelling Arabs that they are not in the desert anymore and when they recklessly fire the guns in the air that “what goes up must come down” and they are risking the death of their neighbours and their children every time they do it… I mean how smart are these people! I don’t suppose this is covered in the Qur’an however I could be wrong.

AR: Prime Minister you recently met with George W Bush. One of the things I know you were talking with him about was the desire to really create global peace. But you said that your approaches to it differed. How important is it for heads of state to really be in step in order to achieve that?

AB: Well I think it's important, …if we want global peace, then it must be all of us, [we] must more or less have the same ideas of how to do it. If it's not exactly the same, the ideas must be compatible.

…When I was with him, I spoke as a Muslim, as a man from the East, a Malay, as a leader of a Muslim country, as the chairman of OIC. And I would like to reflect our feelings, our concerns and views on many things.

Ric: Please… I implore you, can you not just speak as a global human being and get the Ummah to move a bit further along the moral Zeitgeist… PLEASE

AR: Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew says that the Chinese population here is systematically marginalized. He's now sent you a letter explaining his comments. What do you want to hear from him? …and …Are you saying that his accusations are groundless?

AB: I will know what I can hear when I read his letter. But certainly I wouldn't want him to raise an issue like that [Marginalisation of the Chinese]. No, he doesn't have to. Yes, it's groundless. And it is an issue that can cause unhappiness to many people. Why? Some may even regard it as tantamount to interfering with what we are doing. The Chinese in Malaysia are doing well. They are better off than the indigenous people, than the Malays.

Ric: No criticism again, control the press… yes and the world I suggest will continue to interfere welcome to the 21st century, no man (or country) is an island etc…

AR: That's what he was saying though wasn't it, that because they're so successful that's why they're marginalized.

AB: No, they have been so successful because we give them opportunities to be successful. We allow their people, we allow their children to go to Chinese school, vocational school, to learn Mandarin. And they practice their cultures. Their Chinese New Year is celebrated not only by them, but also by the Malays, the Indians who are the Malays the Muslims, the Hindus. We have respect, mutual respect. That is growing in Malaysia, that's true.

Ric: Is PM Badawi inadvertently showing his true colours here when he refers to his own Chinese citizen’s as “their people” “ALLOW their children”, “their culture” and “them”? What a disgraceful thing for the leader of “Malaysia Truly Asia” to say and what terrible attitudes does it witness.

AR: You have said that freedom of press has its boundaries and that unbridled freedom could also lead to the chaos and suffering for everybody. (Yes it's true I still hold to that view.) In what sense? Why would there be such chaos and suffering?

AB: Because press can be irresponsible, can incite feelings, can also create mistrust, can also create a state of tension. What happens is, for example, you remember the caricature of Prophet Muhammad? Yes, nobody forgets about it, you see how the Muslims feel about it. If I have the same thing here in Malaysia, my god, you know what is going to happen!

Ric: Dear PM Badawi, the press doesn’t create tension, badly raised, backward and bigoted individuals of low moral and ethical standards carry the tension with them always… and what’s more, these individuals will use any excuse to lash out, particularly if they can get away with their anti-social behaviour in the name of god.

AR: But then where are you going to draw the line between freedom of expression and clamping down?

AB: The drawing of the line comes from an understanding of those people who are in the press, understanding of our society, of our sensitivities. That is very important, they understand the society, our cultures, our values, our sensitivities and political sensitivities. That's very, very important. If they understand, they'll know what to say and what not to say. And there are occasions when the press did something which many of us thought, oh my god what has happened? We have to deal with it. We have to deal with it, we have to cope with it, we have to understand but they cannot be doing that all the time. We can't, because I want to say there is no such thing as absolute freedom. The degree of freedom that one exercises varies from one country to another. This is the truth. (3)

Ric: Oh dear, oh dear… so disappointing and this from what is touted as worlds most shining example of what a Muslim nation can become.

Finally as writing this I heard on Australia Network – Insiders – Presented Barry Cassidy, a comment by one of his panellists that the area of where the Australian's, nasty, female “meat” hating, [Egyptian) mufti’s mosque is, Lakemba (Sydney), enjoys the lowest literacy rate, highest unemployment rate and the highest rate of violence in Australia… so I ask which is the chicken and which is the egg?


No comments: