Sunday, October 26, 2008

Blasphemy? Jeez, take a chill pill.

In "for f#@*'s sake" news this week, several cases of alleged blasphemy against Islam are causing headlines around the world.

First, Sony has delayed the release of its much anticipated new video game "Little Big Planet", in order to remove a piece of background music that some deemed to be offensive to Muslims. The music in question is Malian kora player Toumani Diabate's song "Tapha Niang", which includes a sung quote from the Qur'an.
A Muslim gamer playing an an advance copy of the game alerted the company to this and asked that it be removed. Some Muslims consider that the sacred texts of the Qu'ran should never be combined with music. Wishing to avoid controversy and surely thinking of their bottom line, Sony duly had the piece of music removed.
Now I have little interest in gaming so probably shouldnt care at all about this, but this whole issue is just a load of crap. I'm all for allowing for ethnic and religious sensitivities to a point, but it's got to stop somewhere. People are waaaayyyy too sensitive about stuff these days, religious people in particular, and plenty of Muslims seem to portray themselves as the most easily offended people on earth.
I would understand the consternation if it were a song cursing out the Prophet Muhammad's mother or something, but I mean, c'mon people, think about it. Referencing a couple of passages from the Qur'an to some beautiful West African music - that sounds more like a good advertisement for Islam, rather than an affront to it, in the same way that black gospel music is a great marketing tool for Christianity. Diabate himself is a devout Muslim who says that far from being blasphemous, his song celebrates Islam. I'm with him.

You can click below to listen to the song. If you are so fragile of sensibility that you going to get offended, DON'T LISTEN TO IT!

I'm willing to bet that the vast majority of Muslims could not give a damn about the musical background of the game. On the other side are those people who just love to get offended about things, and who seize on the most unimportant details and work themselves into a lather of indignation. This is hardly restricted to Muslims; others can see sexism, racism and indefinite other kinds of -isms in places where they don't exist. Some things in life are genuinely offensive, and it's valid to place restrictions on them. But some among us just need slightly thicker skin and a sense of humour. There is a certain point where if you are offended by something, that's kinda your problem.

But the Sony case is a minor thing really. In Afghanistan this week we saw a much more serious example of the ridiculousness of religious insensitivity and the concept of blasphemy.

In the Christian world, the idea of blasphemy has become antiquated and almost irrelevant, which is how it should be, really. There are few of us who don't exclaim, "Damn", "Jesus", or "Bloody hell" now and then. (It's hard to imagine sex without anyone ever saying "Oh my God!") No one really cares about these utterances. In the hardcore Islamic mindset, however, blasphemy is punishable by death.

So within a week we have seen British aid worker Gayle Williams murdered in Kabul by two gunmen, with a Taliban spokesman justifying the action because she worked for an agency he alleged to be preaching Christianity in Afghanistan; meanwhile 23-year-old Afghan journalism student Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for questioning Islam's attitudes towards women, first in his university class and then in an internet article. He had previously been sentenced to death.

Any condemnation I can give would hardly be sufficient in either of these cases. All I shall say is that there is no "Christian" nation today I am aware of that stops Muslims practising or proselytising. And as for Islam's treatment of women being somewhat less than enlightened, that’s about as shocking as saying Tiger Woods is rather good at golf.

I’ve always taught the teenage boys I work with that a sign of a mature man is the ability to rise up what provokes you, and the self-confidence to accept difference rather than always being threatened by it. The faith of Islamic radicals instead comes across as a school bully or abusive spouse, beating up on anyone who dares step an inch out of line, to cover up a deep insecurity about its place in this changing world.

All religions have their medieval elements that need to be discarded, but Islam in particular has struggled with the transition to the challenges of modernity when compared to some other faiths. My big problem with the concept of blasphemy is this: is God such a fragile, sensitive being that we must continually protect Him from the possibility of being questioned or getting hurt feelings? I think not. However it is that you perceive God, I’m more inclined to see Him as a magnanimous being, rather than the fascist control-freak of the fundamentalists.

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