Saturday, 17 January 2015

Them and us. Is integration possible?

The BBC Panorama program on 13 Jan 2015 highlighted issues with Islamic extremism in the UK. One of the key sources of extremism identified was that Muslims are taught to think of themselves as separate, different, better than non-Muslims. Yet at the same time, they also taught that they are 'oppressed' and 'voiceless' victims, a view reinforced constantly by the Islam Channel in the UK

The Panorama program clearly implied that it was Muslims who need to stop thinking of 'them and us' in order to integrate better. I totally agree with this. But it needs to be a two-way street and also very much applies to non-Muslims. 

In New Zealand, I have experienced an absolutely extraordinary stand-offish attitude from Pakeha Kiwi non-Muslims who suspect or hear rumours that I might be Muslim. As I mentioned previously, the 'Cone of Silence' is rigorously applied and possibly contentious subjects are avoided at all costs. Any social talk is severely curtailed and trust is quite obviously in short supply. This is in stark contrast to the UK where I have found people will at least engage in conversation and ask questions.

So, 'Houston we have a problem'. In NZ it is absolutely a 'them and us' situation, instigated, and promulgated by Kiwis for Kiwis... Even if we're not quite sure who 'they' are, but we suspect they might possibly be different. Best not talk to them, Eh.

Integration? Forget it - we're fighting a losing battle.

As Pogo said (in a different context) ...

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Fifty shades of grey?

In the wake of the murders in Paris of Charlie Hebdo staff and those at a Kosher supermarket, along with French Police killed in the line of duty, there has yet again been an outpouring of utter bulls*t as those ignorant of the background and issues reveal their prejudices. 

State Representative John Bennet (Tulsa, Oklahoma), yet again confused Islam with Muslims and he used both terms in a very general sense.

Islam is what Muslims practice, and perhaps the diagram below may help? 

  • In this inverted pyramid, there is an increasing level of interpretation in higher layers. That interpretation changes over time, as do the norms of any society. There are obviously feedback links between Personal and Societal interpretations. 
  • Over centuries there has been general movement to more peaceful interpretations but a small number of fundamentalists want to drag it back to the past, by creating division both between and within societies, polarising groups, delaying or reversing any integration.
  • The Shariah, is the scholarly interpretation of Qur'an Hadith and Sunnah, providing legislation of what is allowed and penalties for disobedience. 
  • The Sunnah, is the things the prophet is said to have done, providing an example for believers.
  • The Hadith are a collection of thousands of reported non-Quranic sayings of the prophet Mohammad and his close companions.
  • The Qur'an is believed to be the word of Allah / God, revealed to Muhammad by the angel Gibreel (Gabriel).
So where is Islam in this? It's hard to put your finger on it. Islam is what Muslims practice - and this is obviously their own personal interpretation, which can vary widely.

As an aside, I mentioned that there are feedback links between personal interpretations and societal interpretations, simply because society is composed of individuals. However, (and this is more contentious) looking back over hundreds of years, it is evident that there has been feedback between all layers of this diagram. The Sunnah is derived from the Hadith, or those same sources. And there is no question that the Hadith were manufactured by various parties to suit political purposes and then filtered and culled based on their 'reliability'. There is also evidence that the Quran has changed over time - even the Hadith comment on this.

What we can clearly infer from this confusion, is that Islam means different things to different people in different times and places. Fifty shades of grey? No, about 1.6 billion shades of grey. And of course each individual believes their personal interpretation to be the correct one. These views can be generalised, grouped or categorised in a crude fashion, but this oversimplifies matters.

Meanwhile Boko Haram in North Eastern Nigeria, in the same week, have clocked up a death toll many, many times that of the Paris killings and no-one seems to bat an eyelid. No messages of support from the US or condolences from world leaders. Around the world in the same period there will have been countless other Islamist attacks and there are websites that track these

Sometimes the attacks are simply seen as revenge or part of a local feud, but these attacks are all essentially ultimately intended to destabilise the local situation, creating division between and within communities, with the intention of bringing about changes whereby an Islamist or Islamic governance can be implemented. But, whose version of Islam....?

However, to finish up, lets get this in perspective. The vast majority of Muslims (and especially those in Western nations) do not wish to force their views upon  other by violent means. Jonathan Blundell distributed a nice Venn diagram to show the context. Thanks John.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Reality is taboo (tapu) in NZ

Yet again, I have to express my disappointment with my fellow secular Kiwi countrymen and women. 

You might expect that Kiwis would enjoy a meaningful debate or even a conversation about perennial topics such as philosophy, religion, politics and human rights.

Yet, it seems that their apparently intelligent and caring nature is merely a paper-thin veneer, hiding shallow, ignorant personalities that are incapable of dealing with nothing more challenging than discussion of TV shows, cars or sport.

I don’t know the reason, but I believe it must stem from their physically isolated geographic location. It seems to me that most Kiwis are hiding from something - I suspect it is from themselves. They appear to be incapable of honest reflection on their own individual lives and their place in the world; or if they are occasionally capable of it, they then run away and hide behind a mask of banal triviality. It is as if they are sleep-walking through life.

Generally, ex-muslims (deviants) such as myself, are all too painfully aware of the minute-by-minute onslaught of stupid behaviour around the world by Muslims and others. These behaviours are primarily driven by ignorance (wilful or otherwise) and it is painful to watch. 

Yet Kiwis are painfully ignorant (innocent? naive?) of the situations facing others around the world and even locally. In my experience, when I have attempted to gently allude to some of the situations, I would have expected their natural curiosity to lead to questions and a useful conversation. However, the conversation simply gets diverted or shut down - sometimes quite aggressively. In the worst case, a gentle attempt at opening discussions with Kiwis sadly led to complete and immediate termination of what had previously been good working relationships. 

The other alternative Kiwis tend to adopt is a ridiculous metaphorical 'cone of silence' whereby anything that could potentially lead to a conversation about known taboo topics is nipped in the bud, deftly steered away from or whispered about almost out of earshot.

Get Smart - Cone of Silence

Perhaps Berger and Luckmann's concept of 'recipe knowledge' is applicable here. A sudden exposure to a different reality is not something Kiwis have a pre-defined response or recipe for.

In my experience, the British on the other hand have quite a different set of behaviours, they have a much broader outlook and set of experiences from which to work and they'll dive straight in, ask questions and have a debate. 

New Zealand needs to wake up and join the rest of the world. They need to be face their fears, get informed and educated (not indoctrinated or propagandised) read a bunch of books, ask questions and seek real answers. 

Maybe I'm asking too much.

Back in 1967 Berger and Luckmann described reality as being a social construct with people inhabiting parallel universes; physically in the same location but interpreted differently by people based on their prior socialisation. What we're seeing is exactly this. How do we bridge the gaps between those universes?

The book describes 'two applications of universe maintaining conceptual machinery : therapy and nihilation'. I had identified these two things myself and had been referring to them in my own metaphorical slang as the egg-shellers and the barge-polers. 

The egg-shellers (therapists) will gently tiptoe around the deviant, remaining ever sensitive to anything that might upset things and gently try to rehabilitate the deviant, bringing them back into line; the 'cone of silence' being one of these methods. 

On the other hand the barge-polers (nihilists) will try to destroy the deviant in often an often quite unsubtle manner - but will not come close enough to develop a relationship or risk becoming tainted with deviancy; it will all be done at a distance using a metaphorical barge-pole. These people are often too cowardly to engage in direct conversation or debate, but will intimidate and bully indirectly ensuring their message gets across, but not saying or doing anything that could be responded to directly. A direct message might expose them to a direct response or even a rational adult conversation - and that would never do!

New Zealand and the rest of the world, desperately needs some rational bridge-building, to open up viewpoints between these various universes.