Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Death of Moderation in Pakistan

For those who may have missed the story let's recap:

Asia Bibi is a Pakistani Christian which, apparently, in some parts of the Muslim world, relegates one to the status of an untouchable. Mrs. Bibi was working in the fields of Ittan Wali, a village 60 miles west of Lahore, when agricultural workers picking berries with her protested that she had been asked by a landlord to fetch water for them to drink.

The other workers refused to touch the water bowl because Ms. Bibi had carried the container.

“Suddenly she saw men and women walking towards her with angry gestures,” Mr. Masih, a laborer, said in a telephone interview. “They started beating her and shouting that she had made derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad.”

A mob then dragged Ms. Bibi to a local police station, where she was jailed and charged with blasphemy.

Subsequently, she was sentenced to death and has been in jail for more than a year. The sentence has not yet been carried out, at least not on her. The governor of the province, a brave Muslim by the name of Salmaan Taseer, petitioned the country's President on her behalf and criticized the draconian nature of the blasphemy laws. Mr. Taseer was promptly shot 20 times in the back by one of his bodyguards as retribution for his enlightened views.

The assassin's name was Mumtaz Qadri. Mr. Qadri, one might think, would be seen as the Pakistani equivalent of Jared Loughner, but that's not how things work in Pakistan. Sarah Topol at Slate reports that Mr. Qadri is in fact considered a hero among the Pakistani masses:
In the busy commercial market of Rawalpindi, Islamabad's twin city, the narrow alleyways of cloth dyers, jewelers, and shoe peddlers are crammed with shoppers. At a roadside food stall, men sitting at small, rickety tables warm themselves with steaming cups of chai.

Amid the swirling chaos on a frigid Sunday afternoon, everyone at the makeshift tent unanimously agrees: Mumtaz Qadri, the 26-year-old security officer who killed Punjab's governor, Salman Taseer, is a hero.

"It was the perfect action," says Malik Khan as he flashes me a thumbs up, "any Muslim would do the same thing." The bundled-up patrons clustered around us nod in agreement. And they aren't the only ones; I've been hearing the same refrain all afternoon as I traversed the bustling market.

This weekend in Karachi, 50,000 people came out in support of the blasphemy law Qadri was supposedly defending when he shot Taseer more than 20 times in the back.
As Christopher Hitchens notes in another article at Slate Mr. Taseer was murdered not for committing blasphemy himself but for criticizing a law that forbids it for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Little wonder that Muslim moderates are reluctant to confront the extremists. Debate with such people is not conducted on the level of ideas but in terms of who is most willing to murder his opponent. On that level the extremists certainly win.

Meanwhile, Asia Bibi continues to languish in prison for the crime of being Christian. That's not the official charge against her, of course - she is accused of slurring the Prophet - but anyone who has seen the movie The Stoning of Soroya M. knows how such accusations work in that part of the world. Nevertheless, even if it's true that she uttered something defamatory about the revered figure, sentencing her to execution for the offense certainly suggests that the Pakistani judicial system has a long way to go before Westerners see it as anything but barbaric.

Moral Darwinism

Tom Gilson reviews Benjamin Wiker's excellent book Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists and in the review makes this trenchant observation:
The Western world’s moral battles are not just differences of preference or opinion. They are the result of living in different worlds entirely. One of those worlds is built on an unsupported and unsupportable set of faith statements about the nature of reality, concocted not from evidence but in support of a particular moral view, which is in turn closely associated with what is believed to be our condition after death. It is a view that extends far back into antiquity but remains enormously influential in spite of modern-day scientific findings to the contrary. The rival world, the one that is forever at odds with the one just described, is that of the Christian theist.
Gilson goes on to write:
That is the point of Benjamin Wiker’s book. Unlike what I have just done (almost inexcusably, for those who would be inclined to disagree mightily with it), Wiker supports it with three hundred pages of historical and philosophical evidences.

The first world is that of Epicurus (341 BC – 270 BC). Thousands of years after his death, Epicurus remains astonishingly contemporary as the father of philosophical materialism and what is today known as scientific reductionism.
It's been some years since I've read Wiker's book (it was published in 2002), but I remember being impressed with it's scholarship and his fascinating account of the millenia-long dance between the worldviews of materialistic naturalism and Christian theism. From Epicurus to the philosophes of the French Enlightenment to the progeny of the European Enlightenment into the 20th century naturalist thinkers have struggled to offer people the possibility of ethics without God.

The project has been an utter failure, but, as Nietzsche has Zarathustra proclaim, the masses have yet to fully grasp the consequences of the death of the God they have "slain". Too many moderns still labor under the illusion that God is not necessary for morality, that man's liberation from the faith of his fathers frees him to live by the higher and purer lights of human conscience and reason. When the scales fall from their eyes, when they realize as Nietzsche did, that reason and conscience give no foundation or basis for the belief that we have objective moral duties, what then? Will they reject materialism and embrace faith or will they reject faith still and follow the logic of materialism in its spiraling descent into moral nihilism?

I urge readers interested in understanding why materialism and Christianity are ethically immiscible to read Gilson's post and, even more, to read the book itself which can be ordered at our favorite bookstore. Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists is a college course all in itself.

Thanks to Bradford at Telic Thoughts for pointing us to Gilson's review.