Shutting down debate

Dissent, criticism, resistance to bigotry and speaking out has never been as dangerous since the time of the Inquisition

What is it about criticism of religion that garners complete shutdown of civil discourse, or a grudging admission of the flaws and fallibilities of holy texts with the ever present "But"?

As a human being existing in this world and gradually comprehending one's place in the tribal hierarchy, the patriarchal setup, the make and model of the country one is born and brought up in (whether theocratic or secular) - as one comes up in age, it is inevitable that one starts reacting to unfairness, discrimination, injustice and outright brutality which is prevalent in the community/society.

Be it the unfairness of being a girl child and not allowed to go to school due to a Taliban diktat, or given less nutritious food than the male siblings, as is common in rural Indian homes; be it discrimination in pay scales or wages because of your gender, orientation or religion as a minority or scheduled caste; or the injustice of being forced to immolate yourself on the pyre of your dead husband (banned by the British in India, sporadic cases every 5 years or so) or the stigma of remarriage attached with a widow in Hindu culture; the injustice of the ease with which an irresponsible husband can divorce a wife by just pronouncing three words in the triple talaq; or the outright brutality of FGM (not restricted to African nomadic tribes as Reza Asan would have you believe, with the Bohra Indian diasporic community of Australia going to the courts against this practice and wide reports coming out of Muslim communities in modern day Britain, as well as rural Christian communities in the American midwest) - all of these regressive practices and beliefs find resistance within their respective cultures, tribes and communities by the apologists, the interpreters, the inter-faith leaders, the self-proclaimed scholars, the NGO-reconciliation-careerist teams and so on.

This brings forth the question why the resistance or as I see it 'deception' or hesitation in calling a spade a spade? A recent Twitter exchange is just an example of what reformers, critics, and dissenters of religion face. 

I keep Martin Niemoller's famous quotation very close to me:

'First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.'

Knowing all that can befall if any sort of injustice is not resisted, and how fascism can creep in our books, institutions, attitudes, values and behaviour, it is pertinent that one is alert and vigilant and bold to speak out against all violations of human rights. As Indian Muslims, it is a tough dilemma to face - should we speak out against the regressive practices in our religion, culture and families and risk the fascist Hindutva factions to exploit this for their own means, or stay quiet and let the bigoted mullahs, the closet Islamists and the moderate apologists further their own agendas for sharia law and a global Caliphate?

Dissent, criticism, resistance to bigotry and speaking out has never been as dangerous since the time of the Inquisition in the medieval age. Hedged between the right wing fanatics and the Left-Liberal (more like Fiberals) Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) practicing cultural relativism, it takes superhuman effort and clarity to focus on the wrong, the injustice and the upholding of individual liberty vs the greater good. With the Left's moral compass regressing and the rise of the right across the globe, it can be dicey to work for reform knowing silence is a double injustice to the oppressed by religious bigotry. 

It is true that billions of people derive spiritual fulfillment from religion, including my late husband, immediate family and a bygone era of the 70s and 80s paternal and maternal grandparents who did not go on a rampage because certain verses in the holy text said so. It is also true that religion, as envisioned by Marx, is a tool like any other and the dominant group whether in Darwinian terms or class terms, will try to subjugate the weaker group using any and all means of religious psychology and philosophy. 

So any person who shuts down criticism of religion by the lazy logic of ''white people cannot tell brown people, how to reform our own religions'', or ''Western people should visit those countries to understand our cultures and practices work',' reeks of apologia and a deceptive approach to empathizing with fellow humans especially if you profess to be a public figure or intellectual. Recalling Martin Niemoller, you do not have to be of a particular tribe or community to call out what is wrong or unjust. That is clarity. That would be the social responsibility of taking civilization and cultures forward not backward.

Otherwise judging by the way things are going on in the US and other European countries in this civilizational confrontation, where the very nature of Islam is being tested and questioned whether it is compatible with democracy - it won't be very long before anyone resisting criticism or shutting down debate will resort to fascist violence or outright Taliban-style assassinations against dissenters similar to the hacking of Bangladeshi bloggers/writers/thinkers or the abduction of bloggers/journalists/thinkers in Pakistan.

That is when we truly would have fascist states along the lines of Nazi Germany and East Germany under the Stasi after World War II, or as I am learning, Russia under Stalin and now Putin. 

Arshia Malik is a Srinagar-based writer and social commentator with focus on women issues and conflict in Kashmir. She makes her living as a school teacher and is an avid collector of literature. She is currently writing a book about her life as a female in Kashmiri Muslim society

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