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To William. Psychology, Israel, critique of Islam...

Reader comment on item: How Israel Can Win
in response to reader comment: Individual vs. collective psychology

Submitted by Farid H. (Germany), Apr 6, 2006 at 21:23

Thanks for the good hint. I didn't read "The Social Animal" before, but I will certainly do now! My background is IT though, so I'm a bit of an amateur in social and behavioral psychology; though I've read Skinner, Milgram etc... Your hint is a great addition and complement, highly appreciated.

Regarding Israel, I think it's more than just about being just and humane that prevents Israelis from using too much lethal force against Palestinians. After all, other people think the same of themselves, yet it didn't prevent them from waging wars and being rather cruel and indiscriminating at it when it came to "disposing of" their vanquished enemies. The difference w.r.t. Israel is IMHO related to the experiences of the diaspora: having lived at the mercy of other people in so many countries may have resulted in a more tolerant and less vindicative, or should I say, more empathetic frame of mind, now applied to Palestinians -- despite all the violence that Israelis are enduring from them. But that's just my personal opinion: I can't prove it; it's a guts' feeling, no more, no less.

Regarding religion; first and before all, I'm a human being, and way too complex to fit within the confines of a single faith or ideology. While I unconditionally respect and actively support the right of people to believe in what they want and exercise their faith freely (as long as they don't overstep the freedoms of others -- i.e. they don't impose their faith on non-believers) and also change it at will, I don't want to be put in one of those small cupboards just because of my moroccan nationality, my arabic ethnicity, or the religion of my family. Having said that, I'm from a secular muslim family; but neither I nor others from my family can be viewed as being devout.

And since you're asking me about Islam specifically: the main beef I'm having with it, is that it's a religion that not only seeks to regulate spiritual life (there's nothing wrong with that, being a private matter after all), but also civil life. Why is it a problem? Unlike civil laws, which can be adapted every now and then when we consider them obsolete or not just enough, religious laws are "carved in stone." You can change a civil law, but how would you change a law that had been (presumably) handed down by God himself?

Or, more pointed: with Islam, separation of State and Religion is much more difficult than with other religions. Now, please don't get me wrong here: It's not *that* long ago that the Church ruled in Europe and heavily meddled with politics. The separation of Church and State has only come recently, a few hundred years ago. That same separation of Islam and State will have to come to countries with muslim majorities too, though it will still take time; and it will be more difficult, esp. because of what I've said above.

Even in my country Morocco, which is one of the most tolerant and western countries with nearly 98% or so of muslims, a modern legal system and mostly secular laws, we're still having a hard time introducing civil legislation when it directly and frontally conflicts with old islamic sharia law; esp. when it comes to social matters. The most prominent example is the long awaited reform of the family law (Mudawwanat) [for muslims. Jews are exempt from its regulations and can autonomously handle their family affairs before rabbinic tribunals, AFAIK]. A typical example? Here it goes:

You know that according to sharia law, men are allowed to marry up to 4 women if they can afford them financially. This is so backwards and has been practiced so seldomly, that the Mudawwanat heavily restricted this by requiring that men who seek to marry a second, third or fourth wife, must get permission in writing from their current wife(s). I'd have preferred that the law abolished polygamy altogether; but as politics goes, you can't change too much suddently, without letting people time to adjust.

Another example:

According to islamic inheritance laws, women are entitled only 1/2 (or 1/4th or 1/8th) of what men should inherit. Muslims rationalize this by arguing that this was a revolutionary step forward 1400+ years ago (yes, it was), and that wifes in a marriage are entitled to keep all their money for themselves, while husbands are legally bound to provide for the whole family (that's the case, though more theoretically than in practice). But I personally don't like this at all. It is unjust, and ought to be rectified in civil legislation. But, here again, progress is a snail, and it will take time to fully implement international standards of gender non-discrimination.

As my grandmother passed away, her four sons and one daughter were faced with this typical inheritance situation. My father and his brothers simply didn't accept that my aunt should get less than they would, so they internally, without involving the State, split everything equally among the five of them on a voluntary basis. This is one way of trying to correct mistakes in laws that are flawed with religious dogma; but the real solution would be, of course, to really achieve the separation of state and religion once and for all. But that is, at least for now, also a pipe dream...

Farid.
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