The fundamentals are the problem

Sam Harris has said that extremism per se isn’t the problem — “The crazier you get as a Jain, the less we have to worry about you” — but that if religious fundamentalists are led to violence, then perhaps the fundamentals of their faith are unsound. This makes sense to me; if a religion gets kinder and gentler the further removed it is from a strict interpretation of its foundational texts, then it’s increasingly indefensible for moderate believers to claim those texts as the heart and basis of their personal beliefs. And if you need to veer away from God’s express written word in order to practice a faith you’re comfortable with, then why not admit that you’re exercising your own judgment — that you’re picking and choosing what jibes with your conscience, and that the measure of what is good and decent and compassionate and humane comes not from a book or from thousand-year-old tribal codes, but from you?

And now we get this news from Pakistan (video here):

In the conservative Muslim nation, where the birth of children outside of marriage is condemned and adultery is a crime punishable by death under strict interpretations of Islamic law, infanticide is a crime on the rise.

More than 1,000 infants — most of them girls — were killed or abandoned to die in Pakistan last year according to conservative estimates by the Edhi Foundation, a charity working to reverse the grim trend.

The infanticide figures are collected only from Pakistan’s main cities, leaving out huge swathes of the largely rural nation, and the charity says that in December alone it found 40 dead babies left in garbage dumps and sewers.

The number of dead infants found last year — 1,210 — was up from 890 in 2008 and 999 in 2009, says the Edhi Foundation manager in Karachi, Anwar Kazmi.

Tragic tales abound.

Kazmi recounts the discovery of the burnt body of a six-day-old infant who had been strangled. Another child was found on the steps of a mosque having been stoned to death on the orders of an extremist imam who has since disappeared, he says.

Surely, I say to myself, there are other factors involved — the grinding poverty, the lack of other options — and yet I catch myself making this excuse, appalled. In what sane society is the murder of newborns conceivably the only available option for a struggling mother? And how can it be denied that it’s fear and shame — brought on by strict religious customs and laws — that compounds and intensifies people’s economic desperation, and leads them to commit such a horrific act?

And the fact that most of the corpses are little girls is not insignificant:

“The number of infanticides of girls has substantially increased,” Kazmi says, a rise attributed to increased poverty across the country.

Girls are seen by many Pakistanis as a greater economic burden as most women are not permitted to work and are considered to be the financial responsibilty of their fathers, and later their husbands.

Where else does this degraded social and economic role of women come from, if not the outrageous cultural claims of male dominance and female inferiority that are codified and made sacrosanct in Islam — as well as in the fundamental texts of other mainstream religions?

I have no words for the enormity of this crime, nor for the monstrous religious mentality that permits it.

(Photo via AFP)


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