Friday, 2 March 2012

Proud and Prejudiced: My Thoughts

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

There was a documentary recently released on Channel 4 called "Proud and Prejudiced". It followed 2 extremist political groups: the English Defence League (EDL), headed by Tommy Robinson, and a group of Muslim extremists, headed by Sayful Islam from the beginnings of the EDL, following an anti-war protest by extremist Muslims in Luton through to the present day.

I watched this documentary yesterday out of curiosity. All I was expecting to get out of it was a greater understanding of an extremist group I'd heard a few of the channels I watch on YouTube mention. If that was the case, I wouldn't bother blogging about it because honestly, who cares? What I got instead I found surprising.

First, a little bit about myself. I'm an atheist. I generally find religion to be a bit silly. Having said that, the atheist community that I'm a part of on YouTube has some quite shady characters at the top. These people are openly bigoted specifically towards Muslims, and all their talk about logic and reason breaks down around this issue. I am not a bigot. I don't harbour any hatred for anyone, let alone simply for having beliefs I don't agree with, different sexual gender preferences, skin tone etc. With all that in mind, the opinion I was left with, at the end of the documentary, was that Tommy Robinson, ideologically speaking, is better than those aforementioned atheists.

In the documentary, he repeatedly has to restate misconceptions which people have about him being racist. In a discussion with Jeremy Paxman on NewsNight, Jeremy uses a blatantly racist Facebook post to demonstrate the racism in the EDL, and Tommy defends the group saying that he discourages such behaviour and that out of the thousands of members of the group, anyone can upload photos to their page, that just because a few people might upload inflammatory pictures, it doesn't mean the group supports racism or is itself racist. Tommy is seen repeatedly chastising his group for racism which is often expressed by some of its members. He frequently has members of all different backgrounds and ethnicities follow his speeches. The best example, though, comes in response to David Cameron's line "multiculturalism has failed". His response is that it hadn't, that Britain was very multicultural and most cultures had integrated successfully. However, I was left confused as to his exact views on Islam and Muslims. We see him talking to a Muslim security guard (I think it was a security guard, but I can't be sure) while drunk. The guard claims Tommy thinks that "all Muslims are bad". Tommy, in a banterous manner, says something like "no, not all of them, just most of them. HAHAHA. Just kidding, mate. You are though. HAHAHA." Contrast this with something he says near the beginning: "3% of British people are Muslim! 3%! Look at what they did (talking about the protest in Luton). Just imagine what it'll be like when it's 20 or 30%." This assumes a similar proportion of extremists and that it'll ever reach that number. Tommy seemed to be of 2 minds then: one moment he has friendly banter with a Muslim and tells him he doesn't have a problem with them, the next he's decrying all Muslims at 1 of the EDL's rallies. Even the uncertainty of that would put him above the atheists I was talking about, if we were just going by ideology alone. Unfortunately, Tommy has a criminal record for assault, and ignoring a ban on 1 of his protests.

Now for Sayful Islam. His ideology, while he tries to emphasise the good parts in the documentary, is poisonous. He advocates Sharia law, and he tries to make it sound appealing by saying: "when people think of Sharia law, they think of stoning and cutting off people's hands. That's not what Sharia law is about. Sharia law is marriage. Sharia law is peace" etc. I see 2 huge problems with this. First, Sharia law CAN be about stoning and cutting off hands, if you have the Taliban, or someone like them, in charge. Secondly, even if it's not, Sharia law is still oppressive. Sayful said that under Sharia law, there wouldn't be a drug problem or prostitution. How? Only a kind of totalitarianism that would make Orwell cringe could achieve that. Or are we expected to believe that Sharia law is some work of legal and psychological genius that will disincentivise the behaviour and disassemble our drug abuse culture without making it feel like our liberties are being intruded upon? I'll eventually get to this topic on another post, but I would say the solution to those problems, counter-intuitive though it may be, is to go in the opposite direction: relax our current laws.

What I'd like to leave you with is this: generalising is bad. I made the mistake of prejudging Tommy by the actions of the EDL and I am dead set against generalising anyone. This was 1 that simply crept into my head. There are legitimate reasons to criticise Tommy but not for the same reasons you can criticise the EDL. As for Muslims, I've never generalised them. I've been fighting back against the popular atheists on YouTube that I described who do for some time, and I've had a lot of their mindless drones spew bigoted garbage at me for it, but bring it on I say. What Sayful and his group want is in direct conflict with what the vast majority of British people want, but very few Muslims are like him. The ones who are either grew up in a place where this is already normal, or were turned by people like Sayful Islam or Andy (or Anjem) Choudary. The vast majority of Muslims just want to live their lives in peace like the rest of us. While I have no reason to accept their claim of the existence of their God, disagreeing with them is as far as I'm prepared to go, or ever could go. If the top YouTube atheists are bigoted, a generalisation could be made against us, but if anything, I've seen far more understanding of ideological nuance among theists (especially Muslims) than even my fellow atheists. All I ask is that we never lose our awareness of these nuances.


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