Monday, 16 August 2010

day 6: religion

the thing with privilege, or with not recognising your privilege, is that you tend to believe that the things you have are things that you deserve. you fail to recognise that the main reason that you have these things is because of fate, because you were presented with opportunities that aren't available to many people.

ok, the fact that you took advantage of these opportunities and made the most of them is a positive action on your part that may allow you to below that you deserve the fruits of your efforts. but i see that effort as part of human responsibility, our duty as it were, and not something to particularly be proud of. after all, there are others who made similar efforts or even more effort that you did, but were unsuccessful. there were others who weren't able to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them for many reasons that aren't apparently obvious when you look at them. the fact that you judge them as being lesser than yourself shows that you are not even prepared to take the trouble to consider the possibilities, the barriers they may have faced. it means you are not prepared to empathise or understand. it seems to me a rather selfish way to be.

the topic for today is the freedom to practice religion, or to not practice any religion at all. yes, i know my title is not inclusive of the people who have no religion and i'm sorry about that - it's just that i have this theme of one word titles that couldn't think of a word that included both. it's extremely important that people a have the fundamental right to choose to follow whichever religion they want, or to abstain from following any religion. they should be able to make these choices without any kind of fear.

unfortunately, this is not the case in much of the world. persecution for religious beliefs is a constant thread throughout human history, regardless of country or faith tradition. there are those who believe that religion is the root cause of much of the conflict in the world, but i dispute that. i have a speech i wrote on this topic called "fighting for faith: religion as a motivational tool for war & peace", but it's not online anywhere & i'm not sure how to make it available. it's way too long for a blog post, but my conclusion is that most major conflicts that are presented as religious conflicts are actually about something else altogether. it's usually a fight for power and control of resources, but religion is used as a tool to encourage groups of people to fight.

however, i'm not trying to deny that much harm has been caused to people because of their religious beliefs. i'm lucky to live in a country where i can practice my religion freely. for example, there are no laws in place that prevent me from wearing a
hijab, or even a burqa or niqab if i was that way inclined. this is in contrast to countries like france, turkey, tunisia, the sultanate of oman, syria, and belgium. there may be others that i'm not aware of. nor am i forced to wear religiously motivated clothing when i don't believe in it, as happens in saudi arabia, iran & parts of afghanistan.

i have not had to face violence because i wear a hijab, other than people shouting nasty things to me as they drive by. i haven't had my headscarf torn off my head, nor had to make the decision to not wear one due to fear of violence, like many american women did after the attacks in 2001. nor have i beaten with a stick or worse for failing to adhere to dress codes or for wearing make-up as happens in saudi arabia and iran.

i haven't yet had to face the prospect of a job loss or a demotion or even being constantly passed over for promotion because of my faith. i may have been considered an unsuitable candidate for a job because of my faith, but if that was the case, potential employers never said this to me because of the strong human rights laws in this country.

while this country has politicians that have incited hatred of migrants and religious minorities - for example, see
here for rt hon winston peter's speech on the end of tolerance - at least we don't have to deal with this guy. or worse still, things like the inquisitions and witch-burnings of the past.

in my country, my community has been free to build places of worship and to visit those places whenever we want. compare this to the recent
nastiness around the building of a mosque and cultural centre near "ground zero" in new york, which had lead to this. not only that, but people who visit mosques have been subjected to this and this. which is not to say that it has all been hostile - there has been this, this, and this, as well as support from president obama this week.

which is not to say that things have been perfect here in nz. our mosque in hamilton has been targetted, with people coming onto the section at night, pouring beer all around the place & leaving bottles with the result that we've had to put fences and gates around the place; with beer bottles being thrown at windows from people driving past with the result that we've had to put protective screens over the windows; with people breaking into the construction site when the mosque was being built and carving swastikas into the gib with the result that members of the community would sleep in the building shell to protect the place; and of course it was burnt down with the result that we now are required to have an extensive security system in place at the request of our insurers. we've had people get into the car park and chase people with their cars, and someone throw a plank of wood through a window with the aim of hitting worshippers (who look down when they pray so are unable to defend themselves) with the wood and broken glass.

thankfully we haven't had a significant event for a little while now, and i feel completely safe going to the mosque. nor in nz have we had to deal with incidents like
this. we have two muslim schools in this country, and they have both been able to operate without severe harassment. any issues have been purely internal.

in this country, we are lucky that the prime minister and members of parliament are elected regardless of faith, or even if they profess no faith. our previous prime minister described herself as agnostic as does the current one. we do still have to put up with a parliamentary prayer each day that parliament is in session which is far from inclusive.

if you are interested in promoting religious freedom and harmony, i'd strongly recommend getting involved in interfaith activities. there are details here, and i'd also recommend attending the national interfaith forum (hosted by regional interfaith groups, see previous link for details) and the annual diversity forum organised by the human rights commission - the latest one is in christchurch in a couple of weeks. of course, i know such forums may not feel inclusive for people who don't follow a religion, or not something they would be interested in attending. i think this is an issue that does need to be addressed, the bridging of the gap between people who prescribe to a faith and those who don't.

on the whole, i have a lot of privilege when it comes to religious freedom, as compared to people all around the world. even though things are not ideal here, they are much better than they could be. if you are one of those who find it difficult to practice your religion, are subject to harassement because of your beliefs or lack of them, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

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