Thursday, 15 August 2013

Religion and Racism

Reading recent articles and watching various media posts regarding religion, particularly, although not exclusively, about Islam, there is clearly an unwelcome tendency to characterise certain critical comments about faith, as racist.

I firmly believe that religious beliefs  are both qualitatively and quantitatively different from race, and that the two should never be confused. It can never be racist to criticise someone's beliefs, since specific beliefs are not an unalterable defining human characteristic, whereas race, clearly is.

People can not choose their race, they can however choose their religion. Even Judaism, which superficially, might seem to be assigned exclusively to a particular race, is of course, no different from any any other belief system. There are many famous Jewish atheists for example, and one can convert to Judaism no matter what one's racial origins. Also, one can stop believing in the teachings of any faith; although in Islam it would be unwise to announce this publicly, since the  penalty for apostasy, is death. A powerful disincentive to stating that one is no longer a believer.

Despite this, there are brave ex-Muslims, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who've been courageous enough to publicly announce their rejection of Islam, and who now suffer the consequences of requiring constant police protection.  

This tendency, to characterise criticism of Islam as racist, is having some very unfortunate consequences. not least, upon freedom of speech. No one, should ever be granted the right in law, not to be offended. Indeed, being critical of beliefs, especially when those beliefs are held without demonstrable evidence, is not merely a human right, but I believe, a human duty.

If, as a society, we wish to preserve our hard won freedoms, then we need to confront those who would conflate criticism of religion with racism and strenuously resist their efforts to make criticising faith a criminal offence.

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