Friday, 29 January 2016

Malignant religious superstition

This blog would not normally concern itself with the kind of religious primitivism that is likely to be endemic in a place such as rural Pakistan. However, a case that was recently reported on the BBC Radio 4 The World Tonight programme warrants some analysis, as it has implications beyond its immediate locality, culture and tradition.

The case involves a fifteen year old youth who attended a sermon given by the local imam. The congregation was asked by the imam if there was anybody present who did not love the prophet Mohammed. One youth, mishearing the question, raised his hand. As a result the imam accused him of blasphemy in front of the congregation. Instead of taking the logical step of explaining that he had raised his hand in error because he had misheard the question, the youth returned home and took the drastic action of cutting off his own hand. The youth then returned to the imam to offer him the offending hand on a plate. He was hailed as a hero by the local population, and his father publicly declared that he was proud of his son's action.

It is clear from this incident that children in rural Pakistani villages, from an early age, are brainwashed into accepting, without any questioning, the tenets of Islam. The imam himself would have undergone the same indoctrination when he himself was a child, a process that has probably continued for countless generations. The fact that the youth's first reaction was to engage in this act of crazy self mutilation demonstrates the extent to which an individual can become enthralled to a prevailing religious superstition. The fact that the youth can be commended for such dysfunctional behaviour by his father and the rest of his village demonstrates the malign power that religion can impose over a whole community, where it has a monopoly over controlling the parameters of thought, beliefs and actions within a society.

There are lessons for British society to be learnt from this kind of incident. Although mainstream secular culture here has largely thrown off the kind of religious superstition that was still fairly widespread as recently as a couple of generations ago, in our own times a new secular religion known as political correctness has gradually been gaining ground in many British institutions. One aspect of this new belief system is its increasingly strong tendency to control and denounce any dissenting opinions to its ideology. To counter this threat to individual liberty it is crucially important that freedom of speech is preserved, and any attempts to undermine or reduce it are strongly resisted. So no subject should be off limits to public debate or investigation. Failure to do so could eventually result in the kind of madness that has overtaken this Pakistani village.

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