Recent Posts

Sunday, September 13, 2009

When Ideologies Clash: It’s a Numbers Game - But What Are We Counting?

As the birth rates of many Western countries plummet, with those countries’ orthodox religious communities picking up the slack, the “numbers game” concept is gathering steam. Where even a couple of decades ago, this xenophobic demographics-based concept was the nearly exclusive domain of right-wing nationalists, more and more liberals seem to be jumping on the “numbers game” bandwagon.

The panic is certainly understandable: as Muslim communities expand throughout Europe and North America, their members are seen as carriers of an ideology that threatens the hard won progressive secular values of their host countries. Like a menacing clawed hand of the enemy army crawling across the map of Europe in old World War II movies, Islam can be seen as leeching into the Western culture, carrying with it the threat of misogyny, homophobia and intolerance, and pushing Christianity (which can be - and has been throughout history - no less virulent given half a chance) back into a dangerous position of relevance along the way. But does the “numbers game” attitude help to stave off the threat to secular values like women’s self-determination, sexual freedom and gay rights?

On the contrary: I suspect that it only compounds the problem.

No child is born with a built-in ideology. Children are indoctrinated, often aggressively or violently, into their community’s acceptable way of life by their families, their schools, and their culture. In Muslim countries, children are bombarded with uniform messages from all sides - but despite this blanket indoctrination, Muslim countries frequently produce progressives, apostates and revolutionary thinkers. Much like Catholicism with its stifling and completely unrealistic demands, Islam, in spite of itself, has managed to give birth to some of the most inspiring free thinking individuals of the last few centuries, including such diverse yet socio-politically liberal thinkers as Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Omar Khayyam, Jalaluddin Rumi, Salman Rushdie, Tariq Ali, Maryam Namazie, Irshad Manji and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

The free thinkers that come out of Muslim countries are proof positive that being born in a Muslim family and growing up in a Muslim culture are not the only factors that determine one’s ideology. And if this is true of people growing up in societies where doubt is anathema (both the Quran and the Bible condemn plurality of thought in no uncertain terms), then it must be doubly true of people growing up in religious communities within secular Western countries. Unlike kids growing up in, say, Saudi Arabia or even the less hardline Pakistan, the Muslim kids of Britain, France and Canada have a whole tapestry of choices before them. No matter how much their parents try to shield them from the secular culture of the host country, these kids can’t help but be exposed to the plurality of ideologies that is the cornerstone of any free society.

People who get caught up in the “numbers game” fail to understand this simple fact. Instead of fighting the ideology that threatens their society’s progressive values, they focus on the attributes that cannot be controlled or changed: people’s familial connections, which is to say, their race. The “numbers game” concept is racist, no matter how you look at it, because it is based on the assumption that a person’s genes determine his or her ideology - which is to say, that a person is nothing more than his or her ethnicity. If that’s not racism, I don’t know what is.

Yes, the Muslim communities in Europe are currently producing more children than the secular communities - but what these kids believe in as they grow older is up to the host societies. One amazing teacher can fire up the imaginations of hundreds of kids; one great writer can introduce hundreds of thousands of children and adults to new ideas and ways of thinking. A woman can only give birth to so many children - an educator, be it a school teacher or a writer, can influence the minds of children of countless women. If it is, in fact, a numbers game, no birth rate statistic can beat education.

People who focus on the birth rates tend to forget about the power of education. Having already decided that these kids are lost to progressive values, they send the wrong message not only to their liberal supporters in the host societies, but also to the kids of the Muslim communities, playing right into the hands of Islamo-fascists within those communities who seek to turn Europe into a suburb of Saudi Arabia. Today, when a kid in a Muslim neighborhood starts questioning his or her upbringing and dares to step outside the ideological gates of his or her community, what he or she encounters too often is suspicion, which only serves to drive the kid back into the perceived safety of his or her “own kind.”

The only effective way to stave off the wave of repressive and dangerous ideology that is threatening the progressive values of the secular world is by the proliferation of pluralistic education and by further spread of social freedoms that will encourage more kids to question, examine and reject the intrinsically repressive aspects of their own background. That would require that these kids’ education be taken out of the hands of religious schools that systemically demonize the very pluralism that allows them to exist. This goes for both the misogynist, homophobic and culturally imperialist Islamic ideology and the equally misogynist, homophobic and culturally imperialist Christian ideology it tends to strengthen.

Most kids are eager for sources of inspiration, soaking up worldviews presented to them. By ghettoizing these kids further, the "numbers game" ideologues make sure the progressive worldview that values individual freedom and equality is, indeed, NOT presented to them. Instead of giving the kids of Muslim communities a real choice and trusting them to choose a better world for themselves, as most people inevitably do, they end up victimizing their most crucial would-be allies.

Most importantly, when these kids do rebel, as kids of any culture inevitably do, and venture outside the prescribed limits of their communities, the host society must be there, waiting for them with open arms, ready to welcome them with joy and without condescension or discrimination.


Post a Comment