Thursday, April 17, 2008

The fine art of parsing in politics and religion

Parsing refers to breaking down words in a sentence into grammatical components, distinguishing each from the whole. In grammer there are rules about this, but apparently not so in politics and religion. For some reason, western societies have a hard time parsing aspects of religion, particularly as they relate to politics.

Take Islam, as an example. It has two major components: Islam the religion and Islam the political ideology. Whenever conflict in society occurs one needs to examine whether it is Islam the religion or Islam the political ideology that is informing public debate. The former should command the equal measure of respect that other religions are accorded. The latter need receive no regard and no respect in western liberal democracies, since the essence of political Islam is to replace the foundations of these democracies with Islamic rule and Islamic law.

Over the past couple of years, some of the following events have sparked debate. In Minneapolis, Muslim cab drivers started refusing to pick fares at the airport who were carrying liquor bottles (consumption of alcohol is forbidden by Islam); in England, people in retail checkout lines holding liquor bottles have similarly been refused service by Muslim clerks; a dentist insists that all his patients, Muslim or otherwise wear a headscarf; employees in government offices were asked to remove personal paraphernalia from their desks that had pigs as the theme because Islam declares pigs unclean; Muslim visitors to hospitals refuse to wash their hands with the anti-infectious liquid soap provided because it contains alcohol;cab drivers refuse blind fares with seeing-eyes dogs because dogs are considered unclean; employees in a hospital were asked not to eat their lunches in the cafeteria because the Muslim staff were observing the fasting rituals of Ramadan; non Muslim women in Muslim dominant towns in England must wear headscarves to avoid harrassment; politicians in some areas are told by Muslim spokespeople that they may not enter those areas to speak to their consitutents; universities in the United States retrofitted bathrooms to provide footbaths for Muslims who must wash their feet before prayer; college swimming pools insitituted separate swimming hours to accommodate only female Muslim students; airports are expected to build separate chapels for Muslims instead of the standard non-denominational ones.

Aside from these we are also treated to the antics of the British government under Brown. At first government employees were forbidden ever to use the words "terrorism" and "Muslim" together. This has now gone a step further: official reports or comments on acts of terrorism committed by Muslims shall be labelled as "anti-Islamic."

Here's how I think these break down using my Islamic parsing guide:

Pig emblem removals, guide dogs refusals, dentist chairs rules, cafeteria lunch eating bans, liquor bottle shunning by clerks and cabbies, non hand washing in hospitals, no go areas, forced headscarves, and separate airport chapels are all wrong. These are manifestation of Islam the political ideology. Each one is a case where the larger non Muslim society is expected to change its rules and habits to conform Islamic tastes. Screw off.

Swimming pool hours and footbathing facilities are simple reasonable accommodation for a religion and not objectionable.

Since acts of terrorism performed by Muslim in the name of Islam are manifestations of Islam the political ideology and therefore should be censured because it is an anathemic ideology. It is unclear what valuable purpose could be served by pretending that these acts have nothing to do with Islam. Put another way, are we really saying that all Muslims support these terrorist acts, tacitly if not openly -- only then would it make sense to try to pretend they are something they are not. Otherwise, one can assume that right-minded Muslims (those who see only Islam as a religion -- a spiritual fountainhead) would want no part of these actions by the extremists and would want them identified as Islamic ideologues to distinguish them from the right-minded Muslims.

Post Script: I should have included Canada, where Muslim university students demand to take over editorial control of general newsmagazines. This is Islam the ideology at work. Macleans magazine has just published a comprehensive statement of its defense to charges of promulgating Islamophobia. See here.