An unholy alliance (fwd)

Justin Mason jm at
Tue Nov 4 10:22:13 PST 2003

Hash: SHA1

Hi FoRKs,

There's been too much politics.  Let's talk religion! ;) Some interesting
religion bits from the subscriber-only depths of New Scientist.
Translation: fundies of all stripes are happy to make up, if it means they
can torpedo the latest godless atheistic science together.

  An unholy alliance

  New Scientist vol 180 issue 2419 - 01 November 2003, page 21

  Muslims have diverse views on scientific ethics, yet only the
  conservatives are heard. And a Muslim-Vatican deal is not helping,
  warns Ehsan Masood

  EVEN in the atmosphere of mutual suspicion and hatred that has arisen
  between the Muslim world and the west following 9/11 and the war in Iraq,
  one thing remains clear: in Islam, as in Christianity, there are many
  voices. It makes as little sense to speak of a single Muslim view of, for
  example, free market economics as it does a Christian one. What is true
  in politics is equally true in science. Yet in science, the diversity of
  Islamic voices is not getting heard. On everything from stem cell research
  to abortion, the conservative line is crowding out more liberal views.

  An unofficial alliance forged this year between Archbishop Michael
  Fitzgerald, a top Vatican official, and Abdulaziz Sachedina, a leading
  Muslim bioethicist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville,
  seems likely to reinforce this trend. The two called for more dialogue
  between Catholics and Muslims. This is undoubtedly a good idea. But the
  alliance was also designed to push the Vatican's agenda on issues like
  abortion, stem cells and condoms.

  In this it is damaging, for many Muslims have views on these matters
  that are quite different from the Vatican's. Moreover, a failure to
  foster religious and intellectual freedom could seriously undermine
  scientific and technological progress in Muslim countries, as a report
  on Arab development published by the UN Development Programme last week
  points out.

  While the Catholic Church has an official line on technology, faith
  and ethics, Islam is not monolithic. "A diversity of views does exist
  and derives from the various schools of jurisprudence, different sects
  within Islam, differences in cultural background and different levels
  of religious observance," says Abdallah Daar, director of applied ethics
  and biotechnology at the University of Toronto.

  Take nuclear weapons. Iran's former president Hashemi Rafsanjani told
  a Friday prayer congregation in August that Islam does not permit the
  development of weapons "that destroy humanity". Yet in December 2002,
  a fatwa from Egypt's Al Azhar University in Cairo had said precisely
  the opposite: that the Koran urges the faithful to "be fully aware of
  its enemies in order to enable Muslims to prepare and to have at least
  equal means of deterrence - if not greater means".

  Bioethics is no different. Mainstream Muslim opinion says, for example,
  that third parties should not be allowed to donate eggs or sperm to
  couples seeking IVF treatment. Nor is surrogacy permitted. "Islamic
  teachings limit procreation to between husband and wife only," says
  Mohammed Albar, a consultant in Islamic medical ethics in Jeddah,
  Saudi Arabia. But according to Marcia Inhorn, an anthropologist at
  the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor who is studying infertility in
  Middle Eastern countries, the authorities in Iran do not necessarily
  agree. Having children is considered such a crucial part of marriage in
  Muslim societies that infertile couples sometimes end up divorcing. Iran's
  spiritual leader allows infertile couples to use third-party donor sperm
  and eggs to prevent them from splitting up, Inhorn says.

  Muslim academics often voice contrarian viewpoints on biomedical
  ethics. The Iranian philosopher of science, Abdolkarim Soroush, for
  example, says he can find nothing in Islam that prevents animal-to-human
  transplants. Nor can he see any reason why couples should not be allowed
  to choose the sex of their baby - two issues on which Muslim and Catholic
  conservatives take a more restrictive line.

  Even on abortion, the most forbidden territory of all, there is a
  divergence of views. A fatwa issued by the Islamic Jurisprudence Council
  of Saudi Arabia in 1990 allows abortion up to 120 days after conception
  if a fetus is "grossly malformed". What this means is that Saudi Arabia,
  one of the world's most conservative Muslim countries, is significantly
  more liberal than the Vatican, which has decreed that abortion should
  be permitted only if the mother's life is in danger.

  Why is there such pluralism in Islam? Unlike Catholicism and most other
  Christian churches, Islam has no official priesthood. Religious leaders
  do exist, but they are, technically speaking, first among equals. The
  upside of this is that individual Muslims have the power to make their
  own decisions.

  The downside is that almost anyone can set themselves up as an expert with
  a legitimate Islamic point of view. This makes it easier for organisations
  like the Catholic church to seek out Muslim voices that sound like their
  own - and vice versa. And this is what is happening. Even at the UN,
  the Vatican, conservatives from the US, and Muslim states often flex
  their combined muscle to defeat measures they dislike.

  For Muslim countries, such an alliance offers a rare chance to be seen
  by Washington conservatives as the good guys. The casualties are the
  millions of ordinary Muslims - and indeed Christians - whose legitimate
  views are crowded out in the name of a spurious consensus.

  Ehsan Masood
  Ehsan Masood is a London-based journalist

- --j.
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