Friday, July 02, 2010

Who deserves respect? Botswana Guardian

In the Botswana Guardian last week Abdullah Moahi wrote a letter in response to another written by the very reasonable Ali Haider. This correspondence began when Moahi’s fellow Muslim, al-Hasan, wrote a letter complaining about recent cartoons featuring images of the Prophet Muhammad. I later responded by suggesting that if Muslims want to restrain themselves from portraying their prophet then that was fine but I felt that the rule didn’t apply to non-Muslims like me.

Well, al-Hasan and Moahi clearly disagree with me. They feel that people of another faith or those like me who have put superstition in the same place we put Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy must live by their rules whether we like it or not.

Obviously I disagree. My point was simple. I obey the law, do my best to be a good neighbour and I pay my taxes. So don’t tell me what I can and can’t do, OK?

Moahi and al-Hasan are confusing two different things. I believe that they, as individuals, deserve some basic respect. I won’t email them pictures of the prophet, I won’t invite them to eat pork and I will do my very best to leave them alone. I will offer them some basic respect. I expect them to offer me the same courtesy.

However I don’t think I am under any obligation to respect their belief system and they shouldn’t feel obliged to respect mine. I don’t think belief systems, whether they are religious or political, themselves deserve respect. It’s people who deserve some basic respect. If they want more they can earn it.

I also don’t think that anyone looks respectable if they write letters to The Botswana Guardian that are full of anti-Semitism and hatred like al-Hasan did a couple of weeks ago. Again I think he is confusing two different things. His letter is full of insults aimed at Jews, blaming them all for everything that is wrong in the Middle East. His target should obviously be the despicable Israeli Government, not every member of Israel’s main religious belief system. Jews and Israel are like Muslims and Iran. Not the same thing. Both the Israeli and Iranian governments frequently behave despicably but that doesn’t mean all Jews or Muslims are psychopaths. It’s not too hard to see the difference between a nation, a religion and people, is it?

Yes, I know I’m an atheist, according to al-Hasan a devil worshipper (he doesn’t exist, how could I be?) and an infidel. I have enormous respect for my friends who are believers in whatever faith they have but I don’t respect them because of their religion. I respect them because they are decent, hard-working and charitable people. Unlike some people the worst excesses of religion hasn’t corrupted them.

Moahi ended his letter with the words “silence is consent”. In that one thought we agree. I do not consent to my freedoms being constrained by any religion. I will not remain silent. Nor should anyone else who values their freedom to express themselves.