Oh, Sharia. The amount of time I’ve spent dealing with comments on this topic over the past couple weeks is something I shudder to contemplate. We’re supposedly about inspiring democracy and development in the US, but we insist that it only proceed along certain lines. We completely forget that we traveled a long road to get to our current state of gender relations, religious tolerance, and legal rights and obligations. If a developing country doesn’t instantly conform to our 21st century post-industrial set of mores, we reserve the right to panic and insist on changes.
We also ignore the fact that our government has been eagerly participating in the spread of the worst ideas and approaches in Modern Islam. By all means, provide outlets for actual dissidents from these countries, who want to develop a better approach. But we need to look more seriously at our own approach to the Muslim world before we start angrily insisting on our vision of how Islam should be practiced. I find the whole conversation very irritating, which may come across a little too strongly in this video.
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. Today I’d like to talk about why Conservative Islam is not the enemy. We’ve gotten to a point in the US where some people see everything even vaguely Islamic as a problem. Everything from Sharia to headscarves are seen as a shortcut to terrorism. This is a mistake.
It’s easy to see why the mistake is made however. Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars pushing a fanatical version of Islam worldwide. They have worked really hard to forge a connection between conservative Islam and Militant revolution and terrorism. Their work has destroyed multiple countries.
But that’s not what most conservative Islam is about. It’s about money.
The Muslim world is finally getting wealthy again, after hundreds of years of decline. This is easy to miss, when all of our headlines are about war and terrorism. But most muslim countries are getting richer. People have leisure time, and they are getting more literate. People have the time and money necessary to make decisions for themselves. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, The first thing any people does, when it gets richer and more free, is get more religious.
The United States is a good example. It has been the richest and freest Western Country for quite some time. It’s also been the most religious. In the 19th century, when the US and Europe first developed a broader, literate mass culture, that culture got more religious, not less. For 19th century American women especially, it created an extraordinary tension. They got new opportunities for education and organization. But at the same time they had a newly well-funded patriarchal religion to deal with. New ideas like the Cult of Domesticity, that insisted a woman’s place was in the home came up, and old ideas about honor and chastity were enforced with new viciousness.
Take the year 1920 for example. After a century of fighting, women finally got the vote in the United States. That same year, the country embarked on a disastrous religiously inspired program of alcohol prohibition. Conservative religion wasn’t just something that was done to women. The Temperance movement that brought us Prohibition was led by women like Carrie Nation, who was famous for attacking saloons with her hatchet.
We see exactly these tensions in Islam today. Muslim Countries like Turkey and Pakistan elect female prime ministers, while women in some parts of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia aren’t allowed to eat dinner with their husband’s guests anymore. Women are graduating from universities in droves, even in the most repressive places, like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Some of those same women are pushing their cultures towards Sharia law and more traditional dress.
Now I don’t have much use for head scarves or Sharia. But you know what?
That’s none of my fucking business.
My business with conservative Islam, as it does with everybody’s life choices, ends at the point that it no longer affects me. In the US we are right to obsess over terrorism to some degree, but freaking out about Sharia, and other elements of conservative Islam is counter-productive. Sure, we should help Islamic reformers find outlets for their ideas. That’s a good thing. But if we really want to help these people out, the first thing to do would be to stop interfering with Muslim countries. Americans whining about Sharia, while our government participates in the spread of Saudi religion is just ridiculous.
Thanks for watching. Please subscribe, and if you want to learn a lot more about how religion and society actually work I’d suggest you pick up my essay, Everybody’s Lying About Islam, available now in paperback and ebook form.