Racial Profiling


As a victim of racial profiling, I feel I have a right to throw in my two cents on this issue.

In theory, I agree with racial profiling. Think about it. If the Green Nation of Green people were trying to break apart from the US, and there were several attacks by Greens against the US Government, it might make sense to racially profile Greens for extra screening and checkpoints at airports and targets of high impact. That makes sense. Instead of screening, say, 5,000 people, you only had to screen 100, that would save time and money. Worse yet, a Green terrorist might slip through the random screening process and pass through. So again, in theory I support racial profiling. I don’t think any rational person would disagree with this reasoning.

However…

Racially profiling doesn’t work. No really, it doesn’t work. We’re talking about racially profiling Muslims, of course. But, Islam isn’t a race that can easily be identified. A Muslim can any race, male or female. And what’s even more crazy? The people who did 9/11 were not wearing robes and sporting a beard, they were wearing western-style clothes and were beardless. What’s even more crazy? Some 20% of the Egyptian Arabs, who make up a large contention of America-Arabs, are Christians. It gets even more complicated. 1/3 of the Muslims in the US are Black. Then what about those who converted? What about those who just don’t “look Muslim”? The list goes on….

So while I theoretically support racial profiling, it just doesn’t work.

Your thoughts?

Secularizing Religion


When we think of a religion in the modern sense, we tend to break it down to a set of dogmatic beliefs and occasional rituals that emanate from a holy scripture. While this is correct, this embodies only the lowest common denominator of what any religion entails. This definition relegates religion to merely a set of enumerable creedal statements that are actualized maybe once a week. Traditionally, this was not what a religion was. Religions were a complete way of life that touched upon all aspects of the human conditions. But in modern times, most religions are shells of their former selves, having been secularized by the backdrop of western culture and internal movements within the faith.

Most religions provide mean to life. Meaning permeates all actions, stories, texts and beliefs of the faith. And since most religions claim to be complete ways of living, they in turn provide meanings to all aspects of life. For example in traditional Judaism every Hebraic letter has a sacred value. Hindu pundits wear markings on their foreheads during holy occasions. In Islam, the way you greet a person might be different if the person if of your faith. And collectively, because these subtleties touch on all aspects of life, everything an adherent does holds significance, from the way he eats, slepts, interacts with a person of the opposite gender or even uses the bathroom. While the doctrinal beliefs are important, people did not learn them in such an explicitly spelled out manor. They were just another part of the system of life the religion entailed, to be absorbed and experienced, not taught in a classroom on a chalk-board.

The spread of western culture has proven corrosive to religious traditions. Sacred clothes, languages, law and poetry have been replaced with a suit and tie, English, democracy and sitcoms, respectively. Religions are not conveyed in the traditional manor of an unbroken chain from teacher to student, but are studied in exactly the same fashion as any empirical science, such as in a classroom or through independent self-study. By its nature, this approach not only negates the possibility of guided personal experience of the transcendent, it rigidifies a religion from a lifestyle to a dry list of beliefs and practices. And most distasteful to the layman, minor discrepancies or disagreements are not overlooked in the backdrop of the overwhelming concurrence, but become battle grounds that fuel religious conflict and creates divisions.

What about the dogmatic beliefs? Have they too been compromised? Yes and no. While pure acceptance has been replaced with skepticism and condescension by their own adherents, of all aspects of religion this one has proven the most resilient. Even people who are completely immersed in a secular lifestyle have managed to maintain a token attachment to their creed. One possible reason is that immaterial beliefs that have no practical application in one’s daily life can remain dormant and thus unchallenged. This contrasts with, say, wearing a tefillin which is conspicuous and subject to question.

In the realm of philosophy, all philosophies are ultimately based on untested axioms upon which the rules of logic are applied to arrive at conclusions. Traditionally, the religious philosophers held their own axioms to be true. For example, one of the names of God, Haqq, is the root-word for the Arabic word for reality. The implication is that if God is not the central axiom of your view of the world, your understanding of reality is delusional. But, secular thought replaced this axiom and ones like it with a purely materialistic view of the world, which presupposes that there is no such thing as the supernatural. Even those who believe in God but who were born in such a culture articulate axioms that are antithetical to their own beliefs.

What is causing this shift towards the secularization of religion? It is a combination of both internal and external forces. First is the aforementioned spread of western secular culture. Its vanguard is the New Atheist movement that aggressively challenges the last vestiges of dormant, un-actualized belief. External factors are self-evident. But internal factors require a bit more elaboration.

Nearly all major religions form factions in unbalanced archetypal manors, with one emphasizing mysticism and spirituality (experience-based) and the other focusing on theology and law (text-based). Those upon the spiritual path are less willing to adapt to pervasive western secular culture. But their opposites are more willing to package the religion in the clothes of westernization for the sake of a perceived greater good. This leads to a flashy and attractive manifestation of the religion, which can be more easily conveyed in a “class-room” environment. Therefore, the theological and legal focusing archetype gains prominence amongst the common adherent. By its nature, it focuses on actions and outward manifestations of the religion, while de-emphasizing experience and meaning. Religion becomes dry beliefs and dry actions. Hence the secularization.

Examples in the Abrahamic faiths include modern Jews, who emphasize the Halakha (Jewish law) or their racial identity, but de-emphasize Kabbalah (mysticism). Some even rationalize their atheism by arguing that their disbelief in God does not violate the first commandment because rejecting God is not taking a false god. Protestant Christianity is the secularized version of Catholicism. It rids itself of Catholic tradition and history, replacing it with a scripture-only approach, Sola Scriptura. Islam’s Salafi movement de-emphasizes 1400 years of Islamic tradition, and reduces Islam to simplistic interpretations of the Qur’an and prophetic traditions. In my opinion, all of these are shells of their former selves, yet are able to capture the masses by appealing to what they want: unquestioned support for the state of Israel, theatric mega-church services, and beautiful recitations of the Qur’an and religious poetry on Jihad.

So, what does this all mean? Interpret it as you wish, but here’s what I take:

From the perspective of the believers, this has happened so gradually that what they perceive to be the normative manifestation of their faith is but a shell of its former self, masquerading as the same faith that was revealed to the original holy recipient. Feeling threatened, the adherents intensify their religious zeal, strongly clinging to what remains of the outward. But what they cling to is a secularized version of the faith. Their emphasis on merely dry actions leads to religiosity, which in turn causes them to be rejected by the masses and provides fuel for the New Atheists.

“Faith wears out in the heart of any one of you just as clothes wear out, so ask God to renew the faith in your hearts.”

Historical Narratives Affect our Views


When I was in high school, I used to take classes on “World Civilizations”. What that really meant was that we studied a detailed history of Western Europe, such as the wars between the French, English and Spain, a history of Rome, an overview of the Greeks, the splits within the Church, and other uniquely Western European lessons. The few times we looked into other parts of the world, it was Egypt under the Pharaohs, maybe China and parts of South America where (again, related to Europe) the Spanish explorers had colonized the land.

Perhaps the course was misnamed. Why is this a big deal? While this seems trivial, one’s view of the historical narrative profoundly affects the conclusions that one derives thereof. And though these conclusions are solely dependent on what part of the world you study, our ignorance leads us to believe that these conclusions are objective and true. Perhaps the most vehemently defended example of this is the separation of “Church and State”, which was codified in the Establishment Clause of the constitution. Consider the following historical narratives and the conclusions that are drawn from it:

During the European “Dark Ages”, the papacy held considerable authority over state affairs. This time was strongly correlated with the worst social problems Europe had ever seen. To list a few, widespread poverty, disease, illiteracy, opposition to scientific inquiry, persecution of the Jews, and many others. Continued scientific development was perceived as hostile to Biblical interpretation of reality and violently opposed. The Dark Ages are regarded as the worst period for Europe. This era was succeeded by the Renaissance, a time when government and intellectual thought were secularized. This was correlated with the greatest advancements and achievements that Europe had seen in the fields of economics, art, science, medicine, and others.

Those who study exclusively Western History might conclude that state-law directed by a religion stunted human development. Conversely, secular governments leads to economic, social and scientific progress. Therefore, it behooves a people to opt for a secular government over one led by a religious institution. In other words, as we Americans call it, the “Separation of Church and State”. Religion is strictly a personal matter. Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. (Mark 12:17)

Now compare this to the Muslim historic experience. When Muslims applied Islamic law to the state, this was correlated with the greatest era of Islamic rule, nostalgically referred to as the “Golden Age of Islam“. Muslims excelled in all areas of human intellectual endeavor, such as philosophy, science and medicine. Islamic intellectual thought never perceived continued scientific developments as conflicting with Islamic belief. Instead, they were an explanation of the way God acts in the universe. This is in sharp contrast to recent developments in the Muslim world, where Islamic law has been replaced with secularism. (It is a wide-spread myth that Muslim-dominated countries adhere to Islamic law. Anyone who has even basic knowledge of Islamic legal principles would immediately recognize that literally all Muslim-majority states are secularist. At best, only some token aspects of the society implement Islamic law ). And in complete opposition to the European experience, the Muslims are now going through their dark ages, with economic stagnation, oppression of women, wars, corruption and countless other social problems.

If this was your historic narrative, you might conclude that the implementation of religious law leads to human progress and success. Therefore, it behooves us to implement religious law in the state. Conversely, secularism is correlated with societal degeneration.

The conclusions of the West and the Muslim world are diametrically opposed, not because one is objectively correct and the other is objectively wrong. The real difference lays in their historical experiences. Unfortunately, we Americans and Westerners in general (of which I am unapologetically one) are profoundly ignorant of the history of other parts of the world. Things we take for granted stem from our uniquely Western historical experience. If we take the time to educate ourselves about the rest of the world regarding their differing presumptions and unique historical narratives, we will gain a better appreciation of why others are the way they are, or even come to question concepts we take for granted.

The above is not only true regarding historical matters, it is also true regarding all aspects of the human experience, such as philosophy, economics, gender dynamics, religion, and more…

Comments? Thoughts?