I don’t know how popular or respected the Sydney Morning Herald is (Aussies weigh in), but it’s just published an editorial that’s as intellectually misguided as it is poorly written. Have a look at the short online op-ed, “Jedi knights don’t need protection from free speech“, published five days ago. Now the title is provocative, but its message is simple. Muslims aren’t protected from “hate speech” because Australian law doesn’t protect religion. It does, however, protect hate speech against race. Therefore Australia should classify Muslims as “ethno-religious” groups, which apparently fall under the aegis of “race,” so that Muslims—unlike members of other faiths—get special protection from being insulted and offended.
Australia’s “hate speech” laws apparently vary among the states, but there’s also a national law stipulating the grounds for redress. As Wikipedia notes:
The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 forbids hate speech on several grounds. The Act makes it “unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person, or of some or all of the people in the group.” An aggrieved person can lodge a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission. If the complaint is validated, the Commission will attempt to conciliate the matter. If the Commission cannot negotiate an agreement which is acceptable to the complainant, the complainant’s only redress is through the Federal Court or through the Federal Magistrates Service.
Note that you can be prosecuted or forced into negotiation if you “insult, offend, humiliate, or intimidate” someone when the grounds are race, colour (I presume that’s equivalent to “race,”), nationality, or ethnic origin. You cannot say things to offend Asians, blacks, whites, Greeks, or the like. You can say things that will offend Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and so on. Now I object to all such hate speech laws, but at least the Aussies allow you to mock religion without fear of prosecution.
The Sydney Morning Herald doesn’t like that, because it doesn’t protect Muslims enough (they apparently don’t care about protecting other religions). But before they get into the reclassification argument, they also claim that “not all religions deserve equal respect.” They apparently make this argument because Islam isn’t getting enough “respect” (cue Rodney Dangerfield). This is what they say:
Not all religions deserve equal respect. There are some religions for which severe ridicule of adherents may well be an appropriate response. Jedi knights, for example? Or Scientologists, perhaps. Some beliefs which are claimed to be religious, and their adherents, ought to be open to ridicule, even severe ridicule. The position of adherents to religion is quite different to the position of members of ethno-religious groups. People choose to believe in a religion, but membership of an ethno-religious group is involuntary.
First of all, they’re wrong. All religions deserve equal respect: NO respect. People deserve respect, but not religions, for all religions that make truth claims and promulgate a morality supposedly derived from gods are fatuous.
Catholicism and Islam are no more deserving of respect than are Scientology or Christian Science. Why is the claim that someone was nailed to the cross, killed, revived, and now is the sole vehicle for eternal salvation in Heaven any more deserving of respect than the claim that the overlord Xenu stashed people in volcanoes and then blew them up, releasing body thetans that now afflict us? Or that disease is merely an instantiation of misguided thinking, and can be cured by prayer. None of the bases of these faiths—their fact claims—survive the merest scrutiny, and none of their behavior claims, including assertions about the afterlife or the efficacy of prayer, are credible to someone not brought up in the asylum. In fact, severe ridicule of doctrine (not “adherents”) is the appropriate response to most religions; or, if you’re not into mockery, calm analysis and rejection of their claims.
Muslims are different, says the Herald, because they belong to an “ethno-religious” group rather than a purely religious group. It’s not okay to criticize the former because, says the paper, membership in their tribe is “involuntary”.
But that won’t wash, either, for adhering to Islam is no less voluntary than adherence to any other faith. You’re a Muslim for the same reason you’re a Hindu or a Baptist: you were brought up that way. Yes, religions have connections with ethnic groups, but belief itself is an ideology that is inculcated into people by similar means, no matter where you live.
And so, to protect Muslims, the paper suggests making Islam, in effect, a “race” (my emphasis below):
The existing law already treats ethno-religious origin as being within the definition of “race” for the purpose of the prohibition on racial vilification. It is time that Muslims are incontestably recognised under NSW law as being members of an ethno-religious group. Such recognition would resolve the uncertainty that exists about the scope of NSW’s current racial vilification laws. That would be a far preferable way of dealing with the present problem of vilification of Muslims in our society than introducing general laws prohibiting religious vilification.
There is widespread concern about the existing law not being effective because there have been no successful prosecutions in NSW despite several cases, which should have justified the imposition of criminal penalties under racial vilification laws.
. . . It had been hoped that the NSW government would, finally, do the right thing and bring forward legislation that would do more to protect the numerous ethnic communities of NSW from vilifying attacks. Now it seems that there is every prospect that the push for reform will be derailed by the distraction of calls for protection against religious vilification. That would be a most unfortunate outcome.
I’m not going to argue here about whether “races” exist or are mere social constructs. I’ve stated my position on this before, which is that humanity is genetically differentiated throughout its range, to the extent that someone’s ethnicity, or geographic origin, can be pretty well diagnosed by their genes, even if we can’t partition humanity into a finite or discontinuous group of “races.” But let’s not get into that. The issue on the table is this: why are Muslims more a “race” than are adherents to other religions?
The answer is that they aren’t. We have Muslims from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Bosnia, and Albania, who could be considered “Caucasian” in ethnicity, though their cultures and genes are widely divergent; we have Black Muslims in the U.S. as well as Muslims in Somalia and other African nations, who could be considered “black,” though their cultures and genes differ from each other and widely from those of Bosnia; and we have Muslims in Indonesia (the world’s biggest Muslim nation) and southeast Asia, who would be considered ethnically “Asian.” All they have in common is their religious belief, and even that differs among locations, beginning with the divisisons among Shia, Sunni, and Sufi. The claim that Muslims are some kind of homogeneous “race” or “ethnic group” fails even for those who accept a concept of distinct races.
Let us be clear. The misguided Herald op-ed is twisting definitions to one end, and one end only: to protect Muslims more than members of other faiths. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps it’s because Muslims are more vilified in Australia than members of other faiths (certainly true), or perhaps it’s out of fear of the violent reprisal that often results when Muslims are offended. But it doesn’t matter. All religions deserve equal protection under the law—the right to exist and practice as they will. They do not deserve equal “respect” in any other way. And Islam certainly doesn’t deserve a special status as a race or “ethno-religious” racial subgroup.