Re: Islam and extropianism

From: Charlie Stross (
Date: Sat Feb 24 2001 - 07:38:06 MST

On Wed, Feb 21, 2001 at 02:32:47PM -0800, John Marlow wrote:
> > You seem to assume that nearly all Islamic
> > countries are run by religious leaders rather than politicians; this
> > is not true.
> **Not at all--but religion is a far more powerful force in all of
> these nations than it is here,

I'm not sure it is.

There's an old saying to the effect that "he who is most immersed in
an ideology is most likely to be blind to it" -- we don't notice those
attitudes and outlooks that we are deeply submerged in until we leave
our own culture and look at it from outside.

Here in the UK, a lot of public policy is influenced by ostensibly
Christian attitudes and moral issues, even though the government and the
population are secular (such that only about 50% of the population
believe in God, only 20% are regular churchgoers, and only about 10%
are believers in the literal truth of the Bible). In the USA, the
proportion of believers is much higher (IIRC, >90% belief in God, >30%
are regular churchgoers, and so on). These beliefs influence us even
when we aren't clearly conscious of it. For example, our attitudes
to work, unemployment, charity, and so forth arise from mutation of
traditional Christian mechanisms. Our banking infrastructure is
descended from that of mediaeval Europe, with conventions on the
morality of interest payments and loans that we never question (because
they're useful to us) but which were originally determined by religious
courts. And look at the social infrastructure -- things like family
structures, marriage, the raising of children, attitudes towards sexual
involvement, and so on.

Our culture is heavily influenced by religion (specifically, Christianity)
to a degree that we fail to recognize only because we're deeply immersed in

> and Islamic leaders can and have been
> toppled for religious reasons. There are lines they will not cross
> (or will die or lose power upon crossing). Egypt? Look what happened
> to Sadat for valuing international relations over religious
> divisions.

Are you aware of the IAF paintball raid in October 1973, shortly before
the end of the Yom Kippur War, and of why the Soviet balistic missile
forces went onto Red Alert (followed by the USA going to Defcon 2)
about 24 hours before the end of that war? Clue: Sadat had a *very*[1]
good reason for making a permanent peace with Israel, and another *very*
good reason for not publicly admitting it. Which is why a lot of his own
citizens saw him as a traitor -- his assassination wasn't a purely
religious thing. (Think Dolchstoss syndrome, and compare with the
history of Weimar Germany. There's nothing new in political history ...)

> There are serious problems with civil liberties that
> > are in my opinion the strongest reasons for technological inertia and
> > underdevelopment, but they are not primarily of a religious nature.
> **An awful lot of those civil liberties problems--particularly as
> regards women--are, I would say, entirely of a religious nature.
> You've got dudes patrolling the streets to make certain that women
> are not dressed improperly, in some of these nations.

It's still worth remembering that when Islam was a *new* religion,
the legal status of women was elevated extraordinarily compared to
the preceding situation. In general Islam was welcomed by women because
it turned them into legal individuals rather than chattel.

By standards prevailing in the west today, their status doesn't look too
good -- but it varies substantially between different countries; judging
the Islamic world by Kabul under the Taliban is like judging the west
by conditions in some snake-fondling fundy backwater in the Deep South.
It's newsworthy, but not representative. As for the clothing thing,
when did you last walk down the street naked in your home town? Standards
of dress differ between societies, and if you violate American legal norms
you'll find yourself locked up just as fast as in an Islamic country.
We aren't as far out of the Victorian era as you might think.

This isn't by way of making an apologia for excesses carried out in the
name of Islam; I'm an atheist, of Jewish descent, with little time for
religion of any type. But I believe a lot of what we take for pragmatic
cultural adaptation is nothing of the sort -- it's historical detritus
left over from a time when the west was more inclined to religiosity
than it is today.

-- Charlie

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