Monday, August 29, 2011

[EDIT: For my current views on Humeira Iqtidar's work, see my article 'Are Islamists secularising society?' The views expressed in the post below were, I believe, based on some misconceptions and have undergone significant change.]

This post is in response to this article by Humeira Iqtidar on Guardian. Quotes are excerpts.

Is it possible that groups such as the Islamists who oppose secularism may be, inadvertently perhaps, facilitating secularisation?

Let us assume that Islamists may inadvertently be facilitating secularisation to a degree. So? What does it suggest? That those who desire secularisation of society should now be encouraging Islamisation? That secularists should make peace with Islamists, and let them carry on with their work of radicalization, content with the comfortable knowledge that this radicalization is ultimately going to secularize the society anyway?

The general understanding about the relationship between secularism and secularisation is based on a reified reading of European history.... There are many problems with this narrative, including questions of historical accuracy, as well as immense variations and reversals in the European experience. However, it is important here to note that in this version secularism and secularisation seem to have developed together.

Let's grant that historically secularism and secularisation didn't happen together, but does it also mean that they cannot happen together? Furthermore, does it mean that individuals who wish to promote both secularism and secularization are somehow misguided? That the project to wed secularism and secularisation is intrinsically doomed?

But secularism as a separation of church (religion) and state does not make ready sense in societies where there was no hierarchical, structured church that had inherited an empire's state apparatus as the Roman Catholic church had in Europe. In the various versions of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism etc there has been no one clerical figure vested with the kind of power and authority that the pope excersised over domains now assumed within the modern state.

Perhaps you are taking 'church' too literally. "Muslim world has no Catholic Church, so how can there be separation of State and Church?" Separation of state and church implies separation of religious laws and state laws. Separation of state and church in the Muslim world means that Sharia will not be the law of the land. What's so difficult about that to grasp?

So we cannot assume that the lack of secularisation within these societies is due to some "lateness" on their part. They did not secularise in the way that Europe did because they did not need to.

Or maybe it was because the rational philosophical discourse wasn't strong enough in these societies to lead to Enlightenment and secularisation?

The Islamists are vehement in their public insistence on dislodging the idea of secularism as universal, claiming it to be a parochial, European experience – with some justification. Yet, the process of raising these and other questions about the definitions of public and private in the political arena, the fierce competition amongst Islamists to provide a definitive answer and the very structure of Islamist thought that emphasises an individual relationship with religious texts has led to a deep, conscious and critical questioning of the role of religion – a secularisation – in predominantly Muslim polities.

Perhaps it is simply an insistance of polarization? We had a largerly amorphous 'moderate' population of Muslims which was confronted with the Islamist literalist interpretation of religion, to which Muslims either responded by accepting it or rejecting it, vanishing the middle ground of remaining undecided. And even if secularisation is a reaction to Islamism, you ignore to see that Islamists are still in vast majority and outnumber the secularists by a thousand-fold, or even more.

The Protestant reformers were not arguing for less religion, they were asking for more – for a continuously religious life against the Catholic cycles of sin and repentance. Yet, as Max Weber's influential work suggests, they ended up rationalising and secularising. To say all this is not to suggest that Pakistani Islamists will have exactly the same impact as the German Protestants. There can be little doubt that they will produce a very different subject and citizen because of the disparity in context.

Not the same impact as the German Protestants... doesn't this imply the possibility that Pakistani Islamists may actually end up radicalizing and Islamising the society, a glaring possibility that you never seem to bring up?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Some Muslims make morality their Islam and some Muslims make Islam their morality.

The former are troubled by the backwardness of the latter and the latter are troubled by the modernity of the former. Both blame each other for ignorance of Islam. The former blame the latter for ignorance of the 'spirit' of religion and the latter blame the former for ignorance of scripture and sunnah.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Aati: Just for laughs, I imagine a burka clad feminist is a bit like a person sitting in a cage, telling on lookers 'How can you say I'm not the who's free?' I get the feeling it's like in their mind, they are in a cage but everyone else is in a bigger cage around their smaller one. That somehow makes them 'free' because 'at least we are not in that bigger cage!'.

Me: How much of this do you think applies to hijab?

Aati: The hijab is marginally less repressive, but more insidiously stubborn form of the same thing. Say, it's a cage on wheels :P 'I can go anywhere, I do anything, how can you say I'm not free?!' Pata hai Awais, I don't think burka-clad and feminist are paradoxical terms. A woman conditioned to live within a burka -- physical, social, and often mental -- still has the potential to realize the need for equality, and the capacity to struggle for it. Mujhe masla uss se hai jiska feminism hota hee usskay burkay main hai.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"The mismeasure of morals: Antisocial personality traits predict utilitarian responses to moral dilemmas" by Bartels and Pizarro is a thought-provoking study which reveals how psychological aspects of a person may underlie the sort of moral philosophical framework he prefers. The study specifically deals with antisocial personality traits and utilitarianism.

This is the abstract:

"Researchers have recently argued that utilitarianism is the appropriate framework by which to evaluate moral judgment, and that individuals who endorse non-utilitarian solutions to moral dilemmas (involving active vs. passive harm) are committing an error. We report a study in which participants responded to a battery of personality assessments and a set of dilemmas that pit utilitarian and non-utilitarian options against each other. Participants who indicated greater endorsement of utilitarian solutions had higher scores on measures of Psychopathy, machiavellianism, and life meaninglessness. These results question the widely-used methods by which lay moral judgments are evaluated, as these approaches lead to the counterintuitive conclusion that those individuals who are least prone to moral errors also possess a set of psychological characteristics that many would consider prototypically immoral."

What I see in this research is that the utilitarian methodologies (not necessarily their conclusions) are at odds with our innate moral sense (Universal Moral Grammar). The utilitarian idea that ends justify the means does not suit well with the conscience of most people, and this is what psychopathy is: the absence of a conscience. Indeed, most significant moral dilemmas we face in our lives are about the means to obtain a particular goal. Our moral sense is as much concerned with the actions themselves as it is concerned with their consequences. While utilitarianism provides us valuable answers regarding what to do in this or that particular situation, does utilitarianism offer us any valuable answer on what it means to be a good person, a better person, a moral person? I believe not. What makes us a better human being is not an exclusive concern with the consequences, but the development of virtues, the character traits such as compassion, empathy and justice. Consequences matter when it comes to specific moral acts; Virtues matter when it comes to being moral and living a moral life.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011







Who knew the Euthyphro argument could have such far reaching applications!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

And in case you haven't read his paper, you should: Moral Luck, Thomas Nagel.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Pakistan needs no resurrection. It doesn't need a lesson in history, already repeated ad nauseum, neatly divided up into right-wing and left-wing versions. Forget the two nation theory, forget whether Pakistan was created in the name of Islam, forget whether Partition was a bloody mistake. It's done. Forget the visions of Iqbal. Forget even what Jinnah wanted. The solution is not in sifting through the past, important though it no doubt is. What Pakistan should be has nothing to do with why it was created. The solution is in looking forward. The solution is in new beginnings. The solution is a liberal, secular Pakistan. The solution is toleration of diversity. The solution is in opposing extremism and fanaticism. The solution is in fighting terrorism. The solution is in a democratic culture sensitive to safeguarding human rights. The solution is in modern education and critical thinking. The solution is in our hands, the youth and those who know better, of a Pakistan that is yet to be built. But we are in a minority, under threat from the majority. There are delusions to dispel, and it will not be easy. Have resolve, be the change, and be ready to play your part when the time comes. Let us not be blindly patriotic, delirious with the anthems of our greatness. On this day, let us be humble, let us be hopeful, and let us be aware that humanity knows no borders and that we are all united in the struggle for a better world.

Monday, August 8, 2011

This was sent to me by Iris during an email exchange, and I felt it needed to be shared.

Excerpt from The Gulag Archipelago:

"It was only when I lay there on the rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not between states nor between social classes nor between political parties, but right through every human heart, through all human hearts. That is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: "Bless you, prison!" I … have served enough time there. I nourished my soul there, and I say without hesitation: "Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!"

(This is so similar to Sri Aurobindo's experience too. This sentiment of being grateful to prison life which was responsible for a great awakening in life.)

This is needed. Much needed. A dread. A terror. The suffocation. That rises from an awareness of being trapped inside the prison of a personal gulag in one's own life. That's the real key to one's awakening. A path to real freedom. That is the time one should rejoice the most, I believe.

Friday, August 5, 2011

My spin on xkcd: Standards... how Islamic sects proliferate!


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

How to avoid moral relativism without falling into moral absolutism:

Moral philosophy’s third way

 

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