Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Humanists and Muslims should be allies for social justice and human rights

Pam Geller
There is nothing innately seductive about hate. A mentally healthy individual, whose material needs have been met, whose human rights are protected (and respected) and who has found a way to create a life of meaning, does not fall into hate, join hate groups, or engage in petty violence. The forces that conspire to create racists and homophobes, terrorists and sociopaths, Nazis and jihadis are many and varied, but we have developed some ideas as to what kind of environments contribute to their creation, and what kind of people fall into them.

The idea that an otherwise normal person can be corrupted by something as simple as video games, comics, horror movies or exposure to some dangerous ideology is simplistic and silly. Complex factors lead people to do great evil in the name of simple ideologies, and combating the ideology uselessly tackles a symptom, but doesn’t get to the root causes of the illness.

Pam Gellers’s idiotic and offensive MTI bus ads are appearing this week in New York City, sporting anti-Islamic hatred with slogans such as “It’s not Islamophobia, it’s Islamorealism.” One ad the MTI refused to run read had the phrase, “Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah.” Geller’s group is suing because of the censorship.

Today comes news that Geller is pulling one of her ads, the one that shows American journalist James Foley on his knees a moment before his brutal on camera decapitation. According to Reuters “Geller’s lawyer said the image will be replaced out of ‘compassion for the family’s pain and anguish,’” but in a letter from the Foley family’s lawyer to Geller’s group, the family’s position is made abundantly clear:
Having lived in and reported from communities in which nearly everyone was of Muslim faith, [Foley] had great respect for the religion and those who practiced it. The advertisement you are preparing to run seems to convey the message that ordinary practitioners of Islam are a dangerous threat. This message is entirely inconsistent with Mr. Foley’s reporting and his beliefs.
In other words, running Foley’s picture on such a hateful ad campaign is insulting to Foley’s legacy. Foley understood that bad and damaged people do terrible things, and that ideological fealty is the excuse, not the reason, for their actions.

If we really want to eliminate Islamic terrorism, then we need to take difficult and expensive actions. We need to get off oil, stop the militarization of the region, defend the rights of women, provide educational opportunities for children and learn to reach across cultural barriers. Simply insulting the people who have religious ideas we don’t share contributes to the problem. It doesn’t respect their rights, and it detracts from their wellbeing.

James Foley understood this and he gave his life for what he believed.

Humanists believe in freedom of conscience. Part of that freedom is to choose a life stance other than Humanism, as long as that life stance is not violent and respects the secular rights of everyone in our society. No one should be persecuted for their beliefs. Humanists must stand with the persecuted and against hate and oppression. Humanists should always be ready to defend against racism and prejudice, not just when it is directed at them, but when it is directed at any member of our society.

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