Tone and trolling

Happy New Gregorian Calendar, everyone!  I hope you all enjoyed Christmas, New Year’s and the Mayan apocalypse (personally, it was my favorite apocalypse this year!).

So I’m going to answer a couple of questions that were left on other pages, because they’re involved enough that they’re going to take up a lot of space, and I try to maintain some sense of tl;dr on the comments.  Trigger warnings for discussions of rape and various kinds of phobia.

John Rgood asked: (in reference to this post) You didn’t address the part regarding rational phobia. There are things about religions, and ideologies, that are valid and rational to fear. Incitement to violence, misogyny, and orders to hate found in the Quran and Hidith.  (and in reference to this one) Does the Quran or Hadith really give women a chance ahead? Do women benefit by the sanction of rape in Islam? Is rape sanctioned in Chrisitanity, as it is in Islam?

Hi John!  Glad you found my blog!  I’m going to answer your questions below, but first I want to talk about your questions a bit.  I want to let you know that your questions are borderline trolling, but since they fall within that grey area of ‘trolling’ versus ‘just new to the conversation’, I’m going to take this opportunity to discuss why they’re borderline trolling.  If you’re just new to this conversation, or to blogging in general  – welcome!  There are some standards and practices for blogging, just like any other kind of social interaction. Trolling is an unfortunately reality of the internet, but most bloggers don’t have a lot of patience with anything that even resembles trolling.  There’s a couple of reasons for this.  Mostly it’s just that there’s a lot of it, and it generally never goes anywhere.  Also, most of us do this for free, and have friends on the internet, and it’s a bit like if someone was constantly breaking in on your friends’ conversation with random asides.  It’s not exactly wrong, but it’s at least pretty rude, and gets old fast.

So if you’re new to blogging or blogs about religion, and you’ve left comments before and not gotten a response, there’s a couple of red flags in your questions that make me think you might be trolling.  The first is the tone of the first question – “you didn’t address…”  Why not say “what about?…” or “what do you think about?…”  Direct statements like that imply that you know what I should have talked about in my blog, but it’s my blog, my space, and I get to discuss whatever I want.  The second red flag is the generality of both questions.  There are no specific examples, just vague statements of “what about?…”.  I’m pretty sure everyone who runs an ‘ask me’ blog gets these kinds of questions, but honestly, they’re exhausting, because if I’m going to answer, I have to dig up all of the citations for your argument and my counterargument.  It’s really helpful to me if you come with specific examples – a newspaper article, another blog post, even references to a conversation you had with someone else – so I have a starting point in responding.

The final thing I want to point out is the subject matter, and the sensitive nature of it, particularly referencing rape.  I’ll talk about this more below, but there are a lot of rape survivors out there, and a lot of them are triggered into feelings of discomfort, panic or depression by hearing or reading about rape, even in a general sense.  So most blogs use ‘trigger warnings’ to give people a head’s up that they might want to skip this post.  This isn’t mentioned in my comments’ policy, so I’ve added it.  In the future, I’ll be conscientious about using trigger warnings (or TW), and I’d ask that you, and all of my commenters, do the same.

I’ll give more detailed answers to your questions below, but you’ll probably notice that my answer are more responses to your questions than direct answers.  That’s the problem with these kinds of ‘but what about?…’ questions – the questions are vague, so my answers are going to be vague.  Moreover, I think you have the same misconception as a lot of people who start talking about religions – you’re holding “religion” (in this case, Islam specifically) to an arbitrary standard of behavior.  Religions have problems.  And people who are members of *any* given religion may be totally crazy.  The same goes for any ideological group – economic, political, you name it – for the simple reason that these are all social constructs.  In the case of religions, they may be social constructs based on divine intervention, but the development, interpretation, canonization, implementation and adaptation of that divine intervention was all done by humans.  And as humans, we’re flawed little monkeys who sometimes do really dumb things.

So with that in mind…

You didn’t address the part regarding rational phobia. There are things about religions, and ideologies, that are valid and rational to fear. Incitement to violence, misogyny, and orders to hate found in the Quran and Hidith. (sic)

Okay, so semantically-speaking, actually phobias can’t be rational.  Fears can have rationale (some spiders are venomous, you can die from falling from a great height, you can suffocate from being trapped in a small space), but a “phobia” is, by definition, a debilitating fear that negatively impacts on your behavior.  Some spiders are venomous, but you won’t die from having a spider in your immediate vicinity.  You can die from falling from a great height, but you won’t automatically fall to your death just by standing near a ledge.  You can suffocate in some small, enclosed spaces, like a mineshaft, but you won’t suffocate from walking into your closet or an elevator.

It is worth pointing out, however, that for people who suffer from phobias, they always feel rational – I myself have a terrible fear of heights, and have always claimed it was rational, because falling off of things is bad.  But the whole concept of a “phobia” is the description for a clinical problem that negatively affects the suffer’s life.

The problem with claiming a rational fear of a religion, however, is that it’s often a confusion of the difference between considering something problematic, and being afraid of it (particularly if that fear motivates actions).  You can find loads of things problematic for one reason or another – comic books, video games, Disney princesses.  But most people wouldn’t claim to have a phobia of any of these things.  Indeed, you can still enjoy these things, and recognize the sociological flaws with them  – I love comic books, but it still drives me nuts that all of the female characters are drawn like porn stars and not superheros.

When it comes to judging a religion, though, it’s really difficult to even claim that you rationally find aspects of that religion problematic, just because of the number of assumptions that go into that statement – 1.) that your interpretation of that religion’s beliefs is correct, 2.) that your interpretation is the only version of belief held by all members of that religion and 3.) that you’re in a position to judge fairly how all of the participants of that religion experience their beliefs.  And as it happens, no. 2 will *never* be true.  There is no homogeneous religion on earth.  Even religions with comparatively small numbers of participants, like the Amish or the Society of Friends, have massive varieties in practice and doctrine.

No. 3 is also unlikely to be true, because it ends up being something of a Catch-22 – if you know enough about the community to speak with expertise, you probably also know that no. 2 is true, and that you can’t make sweeping generalities about religions.  This comes up all of the time with criticisms that come from outside of a community – to take another non-religion example, many nongamers criticize video games as encouraging violent behavior, and will cite a handful of examples over and over again, like Grand Theft Auto, without ever discussing that these examples fall into a particular subgenre of video game, that there are other genres with either comparatively little violence (for example, Portal, which only has two characters that can die) or none at all (like Tetris, unless you think the little blocks feel pain).

So there’s no real way to claim that fear of Islam is rational – you can find aspects of the religion problematic, but you need to be aware that 1.) those aspects may not apply to all, or even most, Muslims and 2.) you may simply be misinterpreting what you think you know.

Does the Quran or Hadith really give women a chance ahead? Do women benefit by the sanction of rape in Islam? Is rape sanctioned in Chrisitanity, as it is in Islam?

Okay, two caveats to start with.  First, this question was the result of a conversation I was having, and was really more about the role that women played in the practice of each religion.  I knew this because I know personally the person who asked it, but from rereading the post, I can see now that it’s not really clear from the text. So sorry about that.

Secondly, I think it’s important to stress that “rape” is not, in and of itself, something that applies to women.  Rape is any non-consensual sexual act.  Men can be raped.  Men are raped.  And are often less likely to seek help because of the social pressure that implies that “rape” is something that happens to women.  But I’m going to assume that what you’re talking about is a social system that uses rape, and the threat of rape, as a social tool for regulating behavior, something that historically has been directed at women more than men.

Does Christianity sanction rape?  Depends what you mean by “Christianity.”  The New Testament doesn’t have any reference to it.  But the New Testament also has almost no references to sex at all.  Paul supports celibacy (1 Cor 7) and makes some vague references to homosexuality as practiced by Greeks (Rom 1), but the only precise regulation he gives is that a man who married his mother (or possibly mother-in-law) should divorce her (1 Cor 5).  Other than that, the New Testament gives no regulations about sex at all.

There are, however, passages of the Old Testament that would seem to sanction rape, probably most well known Deut. 22:28-29, which would seem to require a rape victim to be married to her rapist.

Now, there are a couple of problems with arguing that this passage would sanction rape in Christianity.  Firstly, there are multiple interpretations of this passage.  Secondly, Christians weren’t bound to the Old Testament law, as Paul discusses in his letter to the Romans.  However, historically, Christians have followed parts of the law as they saw fit – see, for example, how many Christians today cite Leviticus to argue that homosexuality is a sin in Christianity.

The thing is, though, all of these complications?  They apply to Islam, as well.  Does Islam sanction rape?  Does Christianity?  Does Judaism?  Maybe.  But that does nothing for explaining why rape, and the use or threat of rape as a sociological tool to regulate women, was so common in these societies.

To put this in perspective – in the year 2013 that we have just begun, in the US, 1 in 6 women will be raped.  So will 1 in 10 men.  Now, I could write to every religious authority I could find in the US and get all of them to denounce rape as wrong, and it would have very little effect on these statistics, because the people committing these crimes aren’t doing it as a form of religious practice.  They may turn to religion for justification, but if we take away that justification, they’ll just find another.  The use of rape to regulate behavior is a sociological problem found in nearly every society on earth, and one only tangentially related to religion.

And again, this is the problem with instating an arbitrary standard and then holding other communities to it – does it matter that we don’t meet that standard, either?


About askanislamicist

I'm an academic who specializes in early Islamic history and the history of religious interactions, who, in her free time, enjoys shouting into the internet.
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2 Responses to Tone and trolling

  1. David Evans says:

    “So there’s no real way to claim that fear of Islam is rational – you can find aspects of the religion problematic…”

    With or without a “real way”, if I thought that the kind of Islam to be seen recently in Timbuktu was coming to my country I would not only “find aspects of the religion problematic” I would be afraid. Very afraid. Need I spell out why?

    This is not of course to deny that other religions have burned books, oppressed women etc. I would be equally afraid if the Lord’s Resistance Army were to move in next door. I would also regard that fear as rational.

    • But the problem is that by claiming that this rationalizes fear against “Islam”, you’re still doing all the things I talk about in the post – conflating potential risk with imminent danger, and conflating the actions of specific individuals with an entire, worldwide religion.

      If we break down your argument, the logic would run like this:
      1.) Living next door to someone from a militant Muslim group from Timbuktu or the Lord’s Resistance Army would pose an imminent danger to you.
      2.) Thus, those people should be kept away from you, for the sake of your safety.
      3.) Thus, those people should be kept out of your country.
      4.) Thus, those people are essentially representative of Islam/Christianity as a religion, culture or movement, which therefore as a whole, poses an imminent threat to your safety.
      5.) Therefore fear of these faiths is rational.

      But again, no one portion of that logic actually holds true.

      To start with, although living next to militant religious zealots is undoubtedly not fun, it’s not necessarily an imminent threat. People around the world do it every day. For that matter, closer to home, loads of people live next door to drug dealers or gang members, and again, don’t instantly die from doing so. It probably isn’t improving their life, but it’s not an immediate threat in the same way holding a gun to someone’s head or dangling them off a cliff is. Again, phobias, by definition, equate potential risk with imminent danger – some spiders are venomous, some can be lethal, but a spider being in your immediate vicinity does not pose to you an imminent danger. The same holds true for dangerous and violent people – they probably pose more of a threat to you than non-violent people, but they don’t necessarily pose an imminent threat to you.

      Secondly, there’s no natural right that says that the people living next door to you can’t pose to you a potential risk. Actually the opposite is true – the people living next door to you *always* pose to you a potential risk, not because they’re drug dealers or militant zealots, but because they could burn down their house and catch yours alight, or use dangerous pesticides on their lawn and poison you. We put laws in place to reduce these risks, which would apply to the possible zealot/drug dealer neighbors, too, but these laws fail every day, and people are put at risk. That’s part of reality, not something that reasonably should be a trigger for constant fear.

      Thirdly, extrapolating from the neighbor scenario to the nation implies that you, or any individual, has the right to set policy for “your country.” Unless you’re the emperor of your country and I missed a meeting, no individual has that right. We collectively share that right, and we expect that in our collective decisions, we make choices that benefit the well-being of the majority of people in the country, but at least in the US, we have routinely made choices that we believed benefited the majority, but which severely harmed individuals (the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII leaps to mind – it was believed to be in the majority’s best interest, but it certainly didn’t improve the living conditions of the Japanese-Americans).

      Fourthly, extrapolating from the actions of individual members of a religion to that religion as a whole is basically impossible, for all of the reasons I explain in the post. Religions are not homogeneous. Religions are not static. And statistically, the chances are good that you live in close proximity to both Christians and Muslims right now, and this fact has not, at least by the time you posted this, resulted in your death (or you’re posting from beyond the grave, in which case – awesome!).

      So finally, the fear of a faith based on the actions of individuals from that faith still isn’t rational. It just requires too many false logical assumptions to qualify as rational.

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