A Secularist Squid vs. Islam

Stephanie Fail

There is a particular breed of debater that no matter how loud they speak, I will never respect. For lack of a better term, I’m going to call them “The Squid”. The chief characteristics include:

1. An inability to stick to the initial concept being debated.

2. The use of stale, narrowly applicable examples, and

3. Inability to sympathize with another’s perspective.

They have long ago decided they are right. Like a squid hiding in a cloud of ink, these cowardly obstacles to true democracy hope to muddy the water so vague they are impossible to strike at. These slippery sorts are used to the Burger King approach to reality- they have it their way, everyday. They are incapable of walking a mile in someone else’s moccasins because they have themselves been wearing the same pair since birth. Thus, it does not surprise me when I witness again and again the self-intoxicated debater sticking to a flaccid viewpoint because their pride is at stake.

What did surprise me while reading the Mass Media’s (stupid, lousy, crummy, no-good -ed.) opinion section was that someone actually had recorded their own sober ignorance on paper. This article was written by a Ms. Rosie Healy in vehement retort to an opinion on a totally different subject.

On February 18th, Reem al Zaeem wrote an article criticizing the secularist West”s negatively portraying the lifting of Turkey’s ban on the hijab as a slide back towards the ages of an Islamist state when (in her opinion) preventing Muslim women from wearing their scarves in public institutions in itself is discriminatory and anti-democratic. On March 3rd, in response to Al Zaim’s critique, Healy agreed that in a secular country women should be able to dress however they like, but then began to elaborate why she did not respect the hijab, Islam, Al Zaim’s past choice of opinion topics, and organized religion in general.

In reading Healy’s argument, at first I felt like it was not my place to try to reason with a bigot, but I feel like Islam has had quite enough bad PR from western secularists and as a “humanist” myself, I felt compelled to step in towards the goal of quelling unfounded discrimination. Now regarding Healy’s stance on the hijab: she strongly feels that donning a hijab plays directly into the hands of patriarchy by asserting the difference between the sexes. I was with her on that- men should be able to control themselves in public places from leering at women- but the fact is that they aren’t starting anytime soon. Being a female who has traveled alone extensively in more patriarchal societies I understand completely why many women prefer to dress modestly. You feel naked when men look at you like that and it is degrading. For Muslim women, the hijab visually asserts to men that yes, that woman is sexually off-limits. So look at her for her inner qualities, not her outer. I do not see anything wrong with that. It does not automatically mean the Muslim is ashamed of her own skin. If, according to Healy, “self-respecting women ought to cultivate defiance rather than modesty”, what is she really saying? Women should flaunt everything as rebellion? I’m sorry, but I have seen way too many cheeks this season then I care to due to baby doll dresses. If that is feminist rebellion, count me out.

Her examples defending her disregard are weak and span over a period of several decades. Initially, she offers a dramatized movie instance from Iran, a Fundamentalist Islamic state during the beginning of it’s revolution as proof that the hijab does not succeed at making men respect the female form any more. The power-drunk soldiers in that caricature should not be considered proof of the hijab’s effectiveness in the Muslim community. The next example she uses is the rape trial of the girl of Qatif from Saudi Arabia, a nation whose pre-Islamic culture is the basis of its female oppression and is frowned upon by many in the Muslim world.

The case had nothing to do with a hijab. In the Koran it is up to the individual to decide which laws to follow and the book repeatedly discusses forgiveness and acceptance of the many paths to God. I feel that it is an ignorant fear from Turkish secularists that pro-Islamists will pressure secularist women to wear the hijab and believe that their negativity is more about political power pulls than female oppression. The hijab is a material request, and even a family who pressures their daughter to wear one against her will is according to the Koran itself acting un-Islamic. If one is going to fault al Zaeem for always writing pro-Islam and ignoring the negative side they should remember that it is almost second nature for western media to do the opposite. She is fighting a tidal wave of constantly repeated negative representation of Islam.

I never realized how much I cared about the dignity of America until I left these shores and discovered how much the rest of the world resents us. I would rather pull out my tongue than join those Americans I witnessed bashing our country just to fit in with a cluster of sneering Europeans. Why should she humor the haters who focus myopically on a tiny percentage of her people by rehashing what is already out there? It is the same reason why I refuse to debate 9/11 with a foreigner who has only seen Fahrenheit 9/11.

If Healy bothered to read al Zaeem’s article closely, she would notice that she is undoubtedly promoting justice and democracy while criticizing propaganda. Healy instead puppets back the worst stories about Islam she can think of while neglecting to highlight secularism’s many failures of supporting social justice. What about Iraq? Do you feel that war is just? What about how the secular U.S. essentially chewed and spit out Latin America for its own benefit over the last 30 years? What about how the U.N. ignored the genocide in Rwanda? What about how a large percentage of American brands are made through child labor? What about the gross neglect by the richest country on the planet of our own poor? Isn’t the dogged pursuit of expanded power and money a type of organized religion as well? The religion of Capitalismo! Preached on every billboard, in every paper, all over the internet, all the time. Is that encouraged endless consumption not just as dangerous to the free world, if not more so, than the strictest of organized faiths? We are at a point where our government values money more than the needs of its people. My goal is to not shame the U.S., but if we are going to point fingers at others we should not neglect our own blemishes. If Ms. Healy bothered to research Islam’s view on equality she would discover that its regard for civil rights extends back 1400 years. Even during Islam’s infancy the concept that women could run businesses, get divorced, and own property was far ahead of its time. Also, she grossly rips the line regarding the killing of infidels out of context. Islam strongly objects to the murder of noncombatants, woman, children, and the elderly. The past may have had more hand to hand combat, but now one could argue that an equal amount of blood is spilled presently through automated warfare. Islam itself does not support terrorism in any form. Religion does not have to be seen as antagonistic of modern society in an ideal secular state where all is allowed to believe as they wish.

Maybe the reason people repeatedly tell Healy to “respect” religious beliefs is because she is being disrespectful in the first place. One cannot prove there is or isn’t a God. It is all about the individual’s perspective. One can try to verbally shake down as many steeples as they wish, and seek to devalue deeply-held beliefs, but in doing so they discredit their own “humanist” identity. Maybe she needs to really try to understand that everyone experiences reality from a different perspective, and for some people the logical and consistently reinforced synchronicities in reality affirming their belief in God is just as real as the cereal she eats for breakfast. God is in the eye of the beholder, whether one’s god is their reflection in a mirror or the force that drives the cosmos.

As a self proclaimed “secular humanist” you certainly are leaving no room in your debate for people to agree to disagree. I am sorry Ms. Rosie Healy, but I think you are full of ink.