Why is Islam off-limits?

Rhodes University. (Supplied)

Rhodes University. (Supplied)

("Outrage over 'homophobia' posters", May 31).

First, as should be obvious, it is the theocratic Iranian regime that fails to "respect" the "dignity" of the men depicted in the photos, not those who merely draw attention to their fate! Second, the claim that these men are "of Semitic origin" is either meaningless or false. The term "Semitic" denotes a linguistic and not a racial category and, in any case, the people of Iran speak Farsi, which is not a Semitic language.

These errors aside, the complaint that Muslim countries are being disproportionately or unfairly targeted where homophobia is concerned is disingenuous. Of all countries in which homosexuality is a crime, 46% are Muslim (whereas only 26% of all countries in the world are Muslim).

Even more striking is that every country that still retains the death penalty for homosexuality is Muslim, namely Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Mauritania and Yemen.

Why must we be even-handed in our criticism of religions, cultures, countries and so on if some are plainly worse in their practices and legal systems than others?

In the same edition, Imraan Buccus ("Extremism has no virtue or place in Islam") makes the point that Islam is a religion in need of reform. Indeed, it is in need of such reform as Christianity and Judaism underwent centuries ago.

How will Islam be allowed to reform if at the slightest hint of criticism there is a hysterical chorus (often more pronounced among politically correct non-Muslims than among Muslims) of "Racism! Xenophobia! Islamophobia!"

To paraphrase the Pakistani-Canadian atheist Ali Rizvi: in Pakistan, they use blasphemy laws to silence us and in the West they use the "Islamophobia" charge. The goal is the same: to prevent any criticism of Islam. – Alex Myers, Cape Town

For someone working in a school of "social sciences", there is precious little of the "social" (or even the political) in Buccus's article. He states the pious hope that Islam will one day develop some progressive tendencies. Taking this on a purely ideological level, he wants to see some respect for women, for instance, as well as for "infidels" and so on, emerge from within Islam.

But why should it? Islam is an absolutist faith, and its most severe strains were mobilised, first, to install and legitimate the Saudi monarchy and then, later, to oppose that monarchy, even as radical Islam was mobilised to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and now the Americans.

Progressive tendencies (such as respect for human rights) emerge from the growing freedoms that developed in Europe after intellectuals escaped from the clutches of the church. Such progressive politics as the Declaration of the Rights of Man are, by definition, humanist and not religious – they are a product of secularisation.

Compare the situation of Islam today to that of Christianity a few centuries ago. How and when did Christianity become progressive?

Arguably, by the time it was opposing the slave trade, for instance, it was progressive only because it had been separated from the state and had no more "temporal" power. As long as religions are part of state formations, as they are in Iran and Saudi Arabia, or in any theo­cracy, they will not develop progressive tendencies. – DH Verleden, Durban

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