Saturday, September 26, 2009

Fun and games in identifying fallacies

An e-mail arrived yesterday in response to my posting of July of this year in which I commented on the female journalist in Sudan who was facing prosecution for wearing trousers in public, the penalty for which is up to 40 lashes.

This is what my reader, whose nom de plume is Anonymous, had to say:

40 lashes for wearing pants is not Islam. Don't confuse the countries culture with the religion. Islam is practiced in many different countries. In Saudi Arabia, its illegal for women to drive (which I agree is fucking stupid) but it has nothing to with where in the Quran does it say that women cant (sic) drive cars (that's absolutely ridiculous) but it happens. In turkey, Syria, and Lebanon women have the choice to cover or not to cover. People are people wherever you are; there are good people and there are bad people.

Apparently, I am the one who does not understand.

Au contraire, dear reader.

Your comment is full of fallacies. Let me pick through them for you.

The Fallacy of the Literal Translation

In judging Islam, according to this view, one has to pay strict attention to the actual words in the Koran. If it doesn’t specifically mention trousers then laws regarding the wearing of trousers fall into the category of a secular culture, not religion.

I have perused the Koran and I cannot find anything about high jacking airplanes and flying them into buildings, therefore, in accordance with the Literal Translation Fallacy, I must conclude that it is Saudi Arabian and Egyptian culture that drove those young men to do this.

The basic falseness with this proposition is that Islam purports to govern every single aspect of a Muslim’s life. There is no room for secular activity in a Muslim-governed society that cannot be found to have a basis in Islam. Fortunately, for Islam, there is a default position, as explained by a local prominent imam: if Islam does not specifically forbid something then it is allowed.

This brings us to this recent news item:

Egypt’s top Islamic authority defended women’s rights to wear trousers in public following a high profile court case in neighboring Sudan were women were flogged for dressing in pants, the local press reported Wednesday.

Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa said in response to a question during a public lecture that trousers covering women’s bodies are permitted, though they should be loose and not see through. He specified that “stretch” pants were in particular unacceptable.

Gomaa described the question as “strange and weird” and smiled as he responded. He is the top religious authority of Egypt and appointed by the government.

Sudan caused a stir when it flogged 10 women for wearing trousers. One woman, Lubna Hussein contested penalty and was let off with a fine for public indecency in a trial that garnered international attention.

Ever since her arrest in July, the 43-year-old Hussein used her case to draw attention to Sudan’s indecency law, which allows flogging as a punishment for any acts or clothing that is seen as offending morals. The law follows a strict interpretation of Islamic laws. Human rights campaigners criticize the law as vague.

Egypt also has vaguely worded indecency laws that can be widely applied, but women are given quite a bit of leeway in their attire. Unlike Sudan, no moral police is entrusted with implementing the law.

While the vast majority of Egyptian women wear headscarves and loose flowing robes, Western style dress, including trousers, is also quite common.
Odd that this cleric did not simply say that Islam has nothing to do with trousers and it is Sudanese culture that creates this problem. That would have been an easy out for him, but to do so would be to admit that there is some aspect of life in Sudan where the writ of Islam does not run. We can’t have that.

The Fallacy of Culture

Whenever honour killings occur in the West we are always treated to this one; it is culture not religion.

When we talk about culture in this context we mean social and legal customs pertinent to a certain political/geographic area. We pretend that culture is something divorced from religion, a kind of parallel universe that operates on its own rules.

This is not a tenable argument. When you are dealing with societies that have fallen under the influence of the Abrahamic religions for centuries their culture cannot be separated from the religious notions of morality as defined and refined by those religions. All our ideas of justice, compassion, mercy, equality, fairness, etc. find their roots in the religions that have dominated us since the Bronze Age. Here we refer to it as the Christian-Judeo tradition. Elsewhere it is simply called Islam.

And while our tradition leaves room for secular activity that may not have religious sanction or approval, Islam does not. Note that the law pertaining to the Sudanese woman is considered a morality issue.

Islam is very clear about the second class citizenship of women. They are subservient to men. They are not equal in the eyes of Allah. So it is a natural outcome that Islamic males would pass secular laws dictating how women should dress and disport themselves in public.

The Evil People Fallacy

According to this one, religion is all good and it is only evil people who cause problems. This is a fallacy that has been embraced equally by U.S. President Barack Obama and former U.S. President, George W. Bush, so it should not be surprising to find it has some currency with Anonymous.

Let’s see if we can apply this one to German National Socialism. Nazism was a good doctrine that was perverted by an evil man named Adolph Hitler. Hmmmm. No, that won’t fly. National Socialism which was rooted in racism and was an evil doctrine from the beginning. An argument could be made that it perverted many young minds to perform acts of evil that they might not have been otherwise inclined to commit.

Likewise Islam has some poisonous ideas in the bosom of its texts that inspire some people to carry out evil acts; i.e., that is, evil as we define it.


Anonymous said...

You have great blog and this post is good!

yulia said...

1)'Islam is very clear about the second class citizenship of women. They are subservient to men. They are not equal in the eyes of Allah.' Can you prove this claim based on the Koran?
2) 'Let’s see if we can apply this one to German National Socialism.' This is false analogy fallacy.

Navigator said...


I did say the German National Socialism analogy doesn't work.

Let's look at Sharia law:

A woman requires 4 witnesses to prove she has been raped.

A woman's testimony in court is valued at half that of a man's.

A man can marry multiple wives; a woman only one man.

A man can marry a non-Muslim, a woman cannot.

A woman can only collect up to half of a man's estate; a man get all of the woman's.

There is no "approved" Muslim clothing like niqabs and burkas for men; not so for women.

A man can demand sexual services from his wife at any time; a woman has not reciprocal right with her husband.

A man can divorce his wife by simply saying three times (or sending her 3 e-mails) that he divorces her. A woman must seek approval to divorce.

Do I really need to go on?

Anonymous said...

keep quoting these dead white guys for a reason. We seem to be repeating some particularly nasty history, right now.