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Ray Harris Ray Harris is a frequent contributor to this website. He has written articles on 9/11, boomeritis, the Iraq war and Third Way politics. Harris lives in Australia and can be contacted at: [email protected].



Ray Harris

In reading Tony's response I kept thinking of the principle of reciprocity. The most famous version is the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Another version is - do not blame others for doing what you would do if you were in a similar situation. Or this cruder take – live by the sword, die by the sword.

Of course, people and cultures who are predominantly stuck at ethnocentric or egocentric stages of moral reasoning have trouble understanding reciprocity. Yes, everyone should be fair to everyone else but 'my' culture/religion is exceptional and 'essentially' different – or, these rules apply to everyone except me.

There is no doubt I slip up in this area – we all do. But I try to be conscious of being 'fair' and applying certain principles evenly. If Tony has accurately corrected me then he has done me and everyone a service.

But I'm not so sure he's done that. The reader must decide.

Take his comments about the Crusades as an example. When he says the invading Christian armies were not defending Jerusalem he is right inasmuch as we are talking about contemporaneous events (although he is wrong to say Christian pilgrims were not obstructed in any way, they were taxed), but wrong when we consider the longer span of history. Jerusalem used to belong to the Christian Byzantine empire, that is, before Muslims conquered it in an unprovoked attack. Tony assumes that Christian Europe forgot this bit of history when in reality it never did. There had long been dreams and plans to take Jerusalem back. What has to be remembered here is that Jerusalem is the most important holy site for Christians. If we apply the principle of reciprocity we should ask Muslims to honestly answer this question: what would they do if Christians conquered Mecca and built a church on the site of the Ka'aba, just as Muslims built the al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount? Let's not be coy here – the al-Aqsa mosque was built as a statement of conquest and contempt; 'Islam has conquered the Christians and the Jews'. We only need to see the reaction of al-Qaeda to US troops being stationed in Saudi Arabia, far from Mecca, to understand what might happen if Mecca was conquered and occupied by Christians. If the Muslim world is in turmoil now due to Islamist political violence, imagine the turmoil if the Ka'aba were desecrated? If there were riots over cartoons…?

Under the rule of reciprocity we might also ask all those who believe that Muslims are being unjustly targeted in the war against Terrorism what would happen if the shoe was on the other foot? Suppose the Muslim world was under threat from bands of Christian terrorists who had committed exactly the same type of attacks on Muslims? What if there was a mad monk equivalent of mullah Omar of the Taliban? How might Muslims respond to such a threat? I am no fan of the Patriot Act and similar conservative over-reactions. but I also recognize that the West is being far more circumspect than the Muslim world would be. The evidence for this bold assertion? The state of human rights in Muslim countries even without such a threat. Muslim countries are far more authoritarian than the US under hysterical Republicans. The fact remains that even after 9/11 Muslims in the West have greater freedom from persecution than do minority religions in Muslim countries without an equivalent threat. Does the principle of freedom of religion only apply to Muslims in Christian countries and not to minorities in Muslim countries? Reciprocity folks, reciprocity. It cuts both ways.

So it was inevitable that some attempt to recapture Jerusalem would be made, but Tony is right – it was particularly brutal and Jews especially were the target. As for the Crusades being a war to control trade routes, territory and booty – yes, absolutely – as were the expansionary wars of the Muslims. Besides, Christians were attempting to take back territory and trade routes that had once been theirs. Under Islamic law the winning army is fully entitled to take booty, including slaves, and confiscate property. Can Muslims complain if Christians behave in the same way?

The law of reciprocity – if you don't want someone to try and take something back, don't take it from them in the first place. If you don't want someone to pillage your territory then don't pillage other people's territory. In this respect Christianity and Islam are two peas in the same pod. Excuse me if I don't see Islam as the victim here.

So what is the Muslim protest really about? It's about the idea that Islam is an exception and that the expansion of the infidels is a form of desecration of Allah's will. There is the idea in Islam that Muslims are superior. The dhimmi laws make non-Muslims second-class citizens and there is a pervasive notion that Allah gave Muslims the lands they conquered. It is considered outrageous that infidels reject the word of Allah and dare to take back land Islam has claimed for itself. It's interesting to note how many Muslim scholars reject the 'Western' notion of human rights, yet this 'Western' notion is in fact based on the universal principle of reciprocity.

Now I could continue with a tit for tat response to Tony but I suspect that would be rather boring. Tony makes some fair points and it should be up to the reader to decide if he's provided a fair corrective balance. But there are a few errors I want to correct.

  1. Muslims are not denied entry to Jerusalem or Israel solely on the basis of their religion, but on the basis of their citizenship. Israel has Muslim citizens, but Saudi Arabia has no Jewish citizens. Israel allows freedom of religion, Saudi Arabia does not.
  2. Arabs sub-human desert dwellers? This is a crude attempt to paint me as a racist. Tony cannot deny that the Arabian peninsula is still a traditional society based on tribe and family and that Mohammed was a tribal Arab.
  3. In regard to the centre-periphery argument. Lebanon was part of the Byzantine empire and retained a large Christian population. Jordan is a modern state ruled by a 'Westernized' moderate.
  4. Racism is a problem in Australia, but it is also a problem everywhere. Again we return to the issue of reciprocity. Can the victims of racism complain if they are racists themselves? Is the issue racism itself, in all its varieties, or is it just an issue when you or your group are the target?
  5. Islam certainly does have an impetus for conversion. Can this really be doubted?
  6. The Koran expressly allows slavery – there are at least four passages where Mohammed says men may have sex with their slave girls - and sharia law regulates slavery.
  7. What if Germany voted in the Nazis again, would we stay silent and say it was their democratic right? I think not.

Finally, a comment on this quote:

Men should always have self-control, even with constant exposure to naked women. The reality is that it will take a long time to change the biology of millions of years of evolution…

Indigenous Australians went completely naked for the entirety of their pre-contact history. The fact is that we started out naked and as clothing developed we developed body shame and prohibitions on nudity; the Abrahamic religions being the most absurd (with the burqa being the most extreme form). Is Tony suggesting that for the tens of thousands of years of their history indigenous Australian men were in a constant state of arousal at the sight of naked women - victims of their biology? Or might being constantly surrounded by naked female flesh, even nubile, adolescent flesh (sisters, mothers, cousins, clan-kin) just become normal, unremarkable and non-arousing in itself? After a time the naked form just becomes a form of clothing and arousal is stimulated through other means. Clothing as modesty is a relatively recent invention.

Ray Harris, June, 2006

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