Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Where Is the Outrage When it Matters?

Spenser Dopp

Where is the line that separates religion from culture? Does that line even exist? When is it socially acceptable to criticize the cultural or religious beliefs of others? These are questions that must be explored if we are to analyze and report on cultural and religious traditions, particularly those in foreign lands.

In these politically correct times, it can be hard to keep up with which groups we are allowed to criticize and which groups we are not. For example, saying anything even slightly negative about homosexuality (at least in the United States) is likely to get a person fired, whether the negative remarks in question are religiously motivated or not. But making fun of American Christians for believing in a 6,000-year-old Earth is perfectly acceptable in most circles. Why are we allowed to make negative comments about some groups and not others?
Credit: saddahaq.com
When groups or individuals in the United States speak out against homosexuality, social justice warriors are quick to denounce them as small-minded bigots or not “true” Christians. When sports journalist Chris Broussard came to speak at Ohio University in 2015, my class was told that other students were organizing a protest of the event because of Mr. Broussard’s stated belief that homosexuality (along with a list of other normal behaviors) is a sin. When extremist groups like the Westboro Baptist Church take to the streets with their signs and chants, just about everyone in the country agrees that they are, at best, misguided. Ordinary citizens even launch counterdemonstrations against such anti-gay demonstrators. To be clear, the Westboro Baptist Church does not actually deny LGBT people their legal rights. They would if they could, but they cannot because we live in a democratic society where most of us happen to disagree with the ideas of the Westboro Bapist Church. Religious zealots in many Muslim countries, however, do deny LGBT people their rights. In Saudi Arabia, it is flat-out illegal to be gay. In 2007, the president of Iran seriously stated that homosexuality does not exist in Iran. These are the same places where people are beheaded for practicing sorcery and rape victims are sentenced to flogging in the name of Islamic law. Where is the western outrage at these human rights atrocities? Why are Americans so eager to argue with and chastise each other for every perceived intolerance, but we are virtually silent in the face of rampant discrimination and persecution of minority groups (like LGBT people) in Muslim countries? 

Credit: saddahaq.com
It seems to me that America is so obsessed with tolerance and political correctness that we are reluctant to criticize the bigoted and backward religious laws of foreign societies for fear of appearing bigoted ourselves. We focus on achieving social justice here in the United States, and we leave it to international filmmakers like Parvez Sharma to combat religiously motivated persecution abroad. We are so determined not to offend that we turn a blind eye to atrocities committed overseas in the name of religion. We call nations our allies that sentence victims of rape to 200 lashes, forbid women to drive or dress themselves and execute citizens for sorcery. We pride ourselves on our commitment to equality, justice and other American ideals, and we fight for them fiercely on the domestic front. On the international front, however, our efforts leave much to be desired. While these horrific practices continue in places like Saudi Arabia, we direct our anger at people like Chris Broussard for saying a few words that we disagree with. We are more than happy to become politically engaged when it means shaming a person or a company for perceived intolerance of others, but we largely ignore human rights abuses committed by our allies. Is it because we do not feel the need to protect the rights of people who are not American? Is it because we fear coming off as intolerant of religious laws and customs? I do not know. But whatever the reason, I doubt that it’s a very good one.

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