Sunday, October 28, 2007

No headscarves? Get Back In There and Burn to Death

Faith is fine until it replaces reason; this is what happens when believers substitute religion for reality.

BBC News reports that Saudi Arabia's powerful “mutaween” religious police, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, prevented fifteen schoolgirls from leaving a blazing building because they were not wearing correct Islamic dress, headscarves and black robes, according to Saudi newspapers. The girls died in the fire.

The girls were locked in the school at the time of the fire, a common practice intended to ensure segregation of the sexes. The watchman refused to open the gates to let the girls out. Firefighters confronted the police and may have prevented even greater tragedy. The mutaween stopped men who tried to help the girls and warned "it is a sinful to approach them". Saudi parents and news media are incensed. Apparently it's OK to segregate them, stifle them, and treat them like second class citizens, but they draw the line at burning them to death.

It's difficult for the rest of the world to take Islam seriously when this kind of foolishness is a matter of official policy. The kingdom uses Islam to keep its rulers in power and its people under control. The mutaween are widely feared as a kind of religious stormtrooper. They roam the streets enforcing dress codes and sex segregation and ensuring prayers are performed on time. Those who refuse to obey their orders are often beaten and sometimes put in jail.

We in the West seldom see a dramatic clash between common sense and religion. Here the mainstream religions have been tamed and have learned to stay safely, irrefutably unreal. Preachers leave their predictions of religious manifestation- miracles, the end of the world- comfortably far in the future. They won't tell you the second coming will happen next Tuesday at 11:30 AM EST because those who've tried that have been disappointed. The rest of them caught on and dummied up quickly, not wanting to blow a cushy gig. Our remaining examples of sheer dogmatic idiocy are the occasional Jonestown or Heaven's Gate tragedy, Scientology, or the Westboro Baptist Church, wolves who have found some of the sheep that are always with us. Islam is state-sanctioned; none of the western sideshows are. This is why we separate church and state.