In all variations of belief and non-belief you will find some truly eccentric individuals who spout outrageous ideas. While they can all indeed be mocked and ridiculed, most can also be safely ignored. However, when community leaders, politicians, or clerics take up the mantle of insanity, then it is time to truly worry, not just because the proposals being issued are crazy, but rather because these are individuals who have followers that lap up every word and consider it to be a “truth” that should be obeyed, or an ideal that should be perused.
Today’s example of this concerns the statement issued by Shaykh of al-Azhar, the Grand Imam of Sunni Islam. You can find it here; sorry it is in Arabic … but Google Translate can help, here are a few extracts …
“The Western understanding of human rights is against that which is sacred to us”
OK, stop there … “Western” seriously!! … is he suggesting that human rights are just a western ideal, or perhaps he is suggesting that there are different flavors of human rights, lets see where he goes with this …
“Not everything which is a right for the Western man is a right for the Arab or Muslim man.”
Sigh! yep, he is claiming moral relativism.
The context for this pep talk was his reception of Dr. Butrous Butrous Ghali, president of the National Council for Human Rights on 17th Oct. What he is attempting to articulate is that he objects to what he terms “globalization”, and instead reverts to the ideal as a civilization of the Ummah (That’s a term used to describe the entire Islamic community). He contrasted this community led by Islamic beliefs with with Western civilization which is driven by personal freedom.
This all brings to the surface some real concerns. What he is suggesting is that his values are not the same as our values, and so implies that we ought to tolerate Islamic beliefs that conflict with very basic principles of personal freedom. That is a position that is quite frankly incoherent and immoral.
The context here is that we are dealing with a belief system founded upon a collection of sayings and speeches by a 7th century religious fanatic who claimed divine guidance. Where the conflict with personal freedom arises is that the belief promotes a fascist totalitarian ideology … do are you are told, obey the clerics, and submit to what god wants as outlined in the 7th century text. Truth, as defined in this supposedly perfect text is not negotiable or open for modification. The result is an endless stream of intolerance and human rights abuses that we are supposed to turn a blind eye to because they have different values.
To illustrate what I’m getting at, anti-gay rhetoric is morally wrong. Even if a belief system claims it to be a divinely decreed crime and can point to a 7th century text as justification for the claim, it remains wrong. Even when they claim, “Our culture deems it to be offensive”, it is still wrong, and no logic or reason can be applied to change that. It is not a relative moral stance, but is instead basic human decency. It is this that he wants to dismiss, and that is why his claim that he has an alternative system is truly crazy.