Much of what we do feels increasingly contingent upon something; something else. Did I say increasingly? Yes.
Often, of course, this something else is central to guiding or sharpening our response; let’s call that ‘focussing’; other times it obscures. Absurd I know to speak of the general run of things, but in the general run of things it feels like either nothing really is simple these days, or nothing really is. In this, our dorito-munching delirium, we can’t be arsed to work stuff out – whether that conundrum be a political choice or a moral one, or a nothing. With everything screened or distracted, by accident or design, our houses (and our mouses?) and our workplaces are mothering or at least hosting some anaesthetising fog; in which we waft around the place, more or less dumbly.
Is this just because the world gets older and more knowing? And choices, ironically, are massively more complex beasts than they were, say thirty years ago, when (allegedly–apparently) we knew nothing? In the same way that there can be no new rock music, is there is nothing in our lives at all free from influence? And if this is the case, why so difficult to cut through the crap and feel and be and express any honesties we may have? Why so difficult?
Despite my diabolical wordiness, I’m a pretty uncluttered bloke. I can and often do unleash opinions or contributions without raising any of the apparently essential filters used by brainyfolks – the sort that pre-empt faux pas, or vitriol, or the generally ill-considered. I don’t have that tetchily neurotic web out front, constantly dampening down before spinning my offerings to the universe. And that pleases me; mostly. I think very often that the mesh in this battery of excluders we raise before our spoken word is unhelpfully tiny; it catches far too much reactive wit and instinctive wisdom – if that latter isn’t a contradiction? And no, I’m not still talking about me.
Now, I am. Whether my colour (the colour of my writing, stoopid) is a mark of confidence/arrogance/brilliance/ignorance is for others to decide. It is in itself an invitation to counter colourfully. Counter-argue, counter-punch even. It’s my voice/it’s a stir. Because alongside of the fact that life/sport really is ‘about opinion’ we must, we need to share and test our most firmly held views. And if we can do this whilst creating something true, then we add to the store of generosity in the world – whether what we say contains beauty or not, I think. And so I raise this gambit-of-the-egos in order to talk about belief.
It would appear that anthropology is about making sense of people’s collective stuff; their culture, their social structure. It’s a conduit for understandings; ideally. It seems charged with furthering the cause of objectivity, by freeing study from opinion in order to note rather than judge. Because judging is inappropriate – too subjective. I am no anthropologist, regrettably.
Let me fix upon an issue which becomes then my example – a process again so loaded with ructions that if I/we ‘stop to think’ fear of misconstruction might confound the enterprise afore it’s hauled anchor. Islam; a faith no more or less absurd than any other great religion; let that be our example. Because it’s topical. Because it tingles and burbles with incoherent or inflamed (if not volcanic) assumptions. And shed loads of prejudice.
I am familiar with the argument – no doubt brewing behind the furrowed brow-zone of your sagacious bonce, dear reader – that white pseuds like me are at least as responsible for any reduction in intellectual freedoms as Islamic militants. Because white pseuds like me own and write The Daily Mail; because of widespread institutionalised xenophobia; because many things work against the radical. So I accept there is a case to answer on why I’m having a go at Islam rather than some other perceived enemy of the people’s right to Yaa Boo Suck(s). Some will feel this in itself reflects dubious standards – intellectual and moral – in me. Perhaps I need to challenge myself more vigorously – catch more stuff in the mesh.
But I do want to have a pretty significant grumble about this (to me, in my ignorance) amorphous/homogenous construct, the Radical Islamist. Chiefly because I spit multidinous seas reflecting on the closing down of our capacity to reply, to stand up to Islamic protest. Unfortunately, I want to do it an entirely non-anthropological way, leading with my chin, wagging and pointing fingers as I might in a trans-garden-fence rant: (I mean discussion.) In the knowledge that this is not, at all, the way to proceed, but in the hope that truths worth arguing about may spill forth ‘midst the spittle. Plus, someone has to say this stuff, right?
The Radical Islamist gets lots of media. Partly because what he/she does is often controversial – maybe intoxicatingly so? – and because of the frisson lit in our western hearts by any faint whiff of (contender again for word of the decade, for the 9,000th decade on-the-trot?) jihad. Jihad is major, no question; but cop this…
One of the most real terrors of our time might be the brutalised nature of the assumptions we in The West make about Muslims. The argument that this is the fault of Islamic terrorists is seriously beyond inadequate; but please note my acceptance that we are all culpable before I go on relentlessly towards my inflammation.
Now, such is the intimidating power of the broad swath of Islam-o-weapons – from reflective or seductive mullah to shocktroop loony – that The West, fascinatingly, is forced largely into apologetic mode in dealing with higher profile eruptions of Islamic faith. Young blokes assaulting embassy perimeters or old geezers quaking with sub-fatwa furies have backed us into a corner. Despite the obvious and pretty reasonable assumption that these are seriously deluded people we daren’t give them the equivalent of a direct bollocking; the level of their lunacy prevents this. In our unspeakable smugness, underscored as it plainly is by atrociously misjudged military interventions, we fear they might rustle up some further atrocity of ‘their own’.
The ironies are almost unbearably rich when patently dumb fervour is appeased by western concerns towards being ‘sensitive’ to religious belief, and by being incidentally frankly shit-scared. As though on the first instance religion deserves our respect and on the second it’s irresistibly mental. Because that aforementioned fervour is predicated upon the alarmingly real threat of violence. This passion/hate combo penetrates deeply into our western consciousness, even when our insignificant part of this clunky notion The West is largely dismissive towards or disinterested in any god blokes.
In this scenario, where Islamic ‘radicals’ have a hold over freedom of expression the tensions twixt that which might be said and that which may be said invites close and urgent review of that which is right, does it not? (Right being a concept so massively shrouded in laughably milky uncertainty that I can only use it casually, as though it has so many meanings I can’t be arsed to indicate a ‘true’ one; I can only hope you know what I mean.) (Relax. One just got through the mesh.)
The Choice therefore appears to be that we either paddle dangerously towards inevitable contention here, or we risk appeasing our way to denuded freedoms, if politically correct(?) or anthropologically sound nuancing is factored in. So, consider my oar about to be stuck right in… and would that could be done dispassionately.
The argument exists that it’s not right to allow the unhinged protestations of some hopelessly deluded fanatics to rob any of us – deserving or otherwise – the facility for free speech. Even if the embassy-manglers, as an example, are sincere and can articulate legitimate reasons for their actions. (The polar opposite view of course is that it is not just a right but an obligation before god to defend one’s faith.) Protests clearly may on occasion be a key indicator of both high and worthy aspirations – democratic expressions of our yearnings towards civility. We may need to look simply(?) at what kind of protest is legitimate, rather than what subjects may be demonstrated upon.
It may not be entirely vulgar to suggest these guys – the Islamists, the youths, the women, the children – offend plainly against criminal law and critically against freedoms more precious even than the right to ‘defend’ your faith. In fact there is a relatively convincing intellectual and philosophical case that this is so, particularly when we consider how difficult it has become to even reasonably oppose Islam. It’s just that the perceived visceral raging and biblical-animal reflex kicks the possibility for spiritual debate in this instance rather briskly into touch. Nobody’s listening.
But hear this – even if we factor out the necessary qualifications about not singling out this (western) generation’s feared ‘other’. Violating or burning property or killing people who sit anywhere on the religious respect-deficient continuum is viewed by many millions as a) an embarrassing own goal b) a virtual admission of the thinness of your belief c) counter to any notion of tolerance d) an irreligious outrage.
Let me just squirt this further lemony job in at this point. For me there is no god; simple. Religion really is a sometimes fascinating but generally insulting notion – an offensive one of itself. And/but if there was some god, some Allah, it seems unlikely he/she would sanction the brutalisation of any freedoms – even the freedom to offend him/her. Or maybe not. Whatever the truth of that, we in The West who are targeted by Islamic Radicalism in any form should be confident enough to say not only that recent ugly protests are ugly and unlawful, but they spring – like our religions – from fairy-tales.
Things like this take courage; clear-sightedness. And it’s not always possible to take the heat, the emotion, the counter-punching vitriol out. Gods are fictional and it’s about time we rose to that. And manage as best we can how others fail to deal with it. Others like the Islamic Radicals, so poorly represented by those who violate. Guys, we can look at you and say that we will not tolerate either your violence or the falseness at its heart. We cannot forever recoil from the ‘inflammatory’. You are wrong and you have been duped; like lots of us.
To be specific, I haven’t seen a single second of ‘Innocence of Muslims’, the currently hugely contentious ‘anti-Islamic’ film fomenting ‘reaction’ around the globe. But I don’t need to see it to know that the subsequent eruptions of violence are in any case a travesty against the most holy and humane thing we as a species possess – the facility to express our intellectual brilliance, our freedom to speak. Islam really does need a good dose of Monty Python’s; irreverence being next to godliness, in fact.