Listening to the CBC radio this morning, I heard some ignorant comments from fellow Canadians regarding the Charlie Hebdo shootings. Essentially, many of them equated the satirical cartoons that criticized Islam and the prophet Mohamed to racism and anti-Semitism. In this article, I will explore how they might have come to such an illogical conclusion, and demonstrate why this is a fallacy.
The Canadian Human Rights Act lists 11 prohibited grounds of discrimination. This list includes: Race, national or ethic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, and a conviction for which a pardon has been granted or a record suspended. Since religion and race appear on this list, some assume that they are one in the same, which they are not, just as race and sexual orientation are mutually exclusive. That's why they're listed separately. All this act does is prevent discriminating against a person based on something like their religious beliefs or a disability. Being critical of religion does not go against this list any more than would being critical of marriage, as long as the criticism isn't used to discriminate against a person.
The comparison to anti-Semitism suggests that, since Judaism is a religion of the Jewish people, race and religion are intertwined. Besides the fact that this ignores the fact that a person of any race can become a Jew by converting to Judaism, there exists many prominent Jews who proclaim to be atheists and agnostics. Clearly, there exists a distinction between Judaism and Jews. Anti-Semitism is defined as hostility towards or discriminating against a Jewish person or Jewish group of people based on their religion, ethnic, or racial group. Judaism is not a person or group of people; rather, it is simply a set of beliefs and practices observed by people. Therefore, it is possible to be critical of Judaism without being hostile or discriminatory towards the people who follow that faith.
Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and all other religions are ideas that came from the minds of men. These ideas are not people, and the progress of humanity is based on the concept of being critical to ideas. It's how we move forward and how things like vaccines are created. Old ideas about diet and nutrition are constantly replaced with new ones, as well as ideas about exercise and sleep as we endeavour to live longer, healthier lives. We ridicule the idea that smoking cigarettes can be healthy, even though this was once a commonly held belief.
Some people have a difficult time recognizing that criticism of their particular brand of religion is not an attack on them; in fact, it's not uncommon for a person to take offence whenever they hear or see criticism of anything they like. People become attached to cars, trucks, fashion, political parties, and even computer technology in much the same way. The guy who loves Chevy trucks and always buys nothing but Chevy trucks might want to punch you out if you say anything bad about Chevy trucks. That doesn't mean people shouldn't be critical of Chevy trucks just in case they might offend someone. What it means is that, if a person has made Chevy trucks so much a part of their identity that they might be prone to violence, they should probably avoid people and publications that might be more honest about their truck of choice than they are until they can sort out their anger issues. Along the same vein, someone who doesn't like Chevy trucks probably shouldn't discriminate against or be hostile towards people who drive Chevy trucks; it's a choice that really doesn't affect the other person.
Love the person, hate the religion. I don't believe Islam has a single redeeming value, but I believe some people who observe this religion are good people. On the grounds of discrimination, I consider religion to be more like a disability, along the same lines of alcohol and drug addiction. I believe the religion continues to do more harm than good like drug and alcohol addiction, but that good does comes from the people in spite of their religion. That's why atheists shouldn't take up arms against the people of Islam, but absolutely must continue, through satire and otherwise, be critical of Islam itself, because some truly wonderful people will recognize the truth and get better as they convert to no belief at all.
If you'd like to read more on this subject, I recommend the following:
Charlie Hebdo: The truths that ought to be self-evident but still aren't by Spectator Blogs
Confusing race and religion is dangerous by Psychology Today
What is Judaism? by Judaism 101