Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Norwegian Islamic Council and Gays

The Norwegian minister of social equality, Anniken Huitfeldt, threatened to withdraw the goverment financial support for the Norwegian Islamic Council last week, after the council showed itself unwilling to mark its distance towards capital punishment for homosexuality. The council is awaiting advice from the European Fatwa Council before they will take a stand on the issue of capital punishment for homosexuality. The Norwegian Islamic Council receives around half a million Norwegian Crowns (appr. 62.500€) annually in government support.

One might discuss the issue of whether the State should give any financial support at all religious institutions at all, even the State Church. Especially if the Norwegian state purports to be a secular state, that would be a relevant topic to discuss. And since we do subsidize the State Church, why not support other faiths, especially the ones that a large part of the Norwegian population belongs to? Personally, I am a bit skeptical to the idea that we should spend public money on religious organizations, whether they be Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or anything else, even when it comes to such small amounts as 500.000 NOK.

But since we do in fact subsidize religious institutions with government money, that leads to the question of to what extent it should be expected that the recipients of financial support aligns itself to what is acceptable viewpoints. You could argue that the Islamic Council is free to express whatever viewpoints it choose, as long as it respects Norwegian legislation. On the other hand, its viewpoints might influence the attitudes of its members, and that as long as they receive government support, they need to adhere to some basic values that we base our society on. In either case, to abolish any kind of financial support for such institutions would eliminate that problem altogether.

The issue of the Islamic Council's stance on homosexuality has raised a hefty amount of debate. Reading through the comments on some of the articles in various online newspapers, I must say that I am slightly taken aback by a large part of those comments. Judging from the comments, the level of antagonism towards the Islamic Council itself and towards Muslims in general seems to be quite high. Now, it's probably mostly those that are emotionally involved that bother to post their comments, so its fair to argue that those do not give a representative overview of the Norwegian people's general opinion. Nevertheless, it is clear that there is a great deal of animosity towards the Muslim population because of this issue.

I find it truly tasteless to express the view that homosexuality should be punished by death - just as much as it is tasteless to express the views that Jews should be annihilated, that women's rightful place is in the kitchen, or that people of different skin colors are of lesser intellect than whites. Still, not all, even most, of Norwegian Muslims hold the view that homosexuals should be stoned to death. And we also need to be aware that many Christians hold fundamentalist views on many issues, such as homosexuality. Religious texts are after all interpreted in the context of our society. If you read the Bible to it's literal meaning (or what you believe it's literal meaning to be), you could find many a place where it will be incompatible with our modern society. The same goes for the Quran.

That homosexuality is to be punished by death, or that women should be wrapped up in burkas, or that a sister who does something the brother does not approve of needs to be killed in order that the family not lose their honor is just abhorrent. But you could argue - and I do that - that such viewpoints are more the expressions and norms of a culture than the religion as such. It is perfectly possible to be a liberal and progressive Muslim, just as much as it is possible to be a liberal and progressive Christian. Still, there is no doubt that some in the muslim community hold views that are unmodern and barbaric.

The Western culture have some values that we should be very proud of, such as equality, freedom of speech, and tolerance for others that are different from ourselves. Those are values that we should stand up for and fight for. And we should try our best to spread and foster those values in our society. We can punish people who break the law, but to have the "wrong" values is not a punishable offense in itself - we cannot force people to hold the "right" values. That is actually one of our values - that people can believe what they will. We can - and should - try to convince others that our set of values on the whole are right and good, but that needs be done with reason, debate and open discussion, not by trying to deny others the right to hold values that we ourselves believe are wrong.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said!