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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Everybody Draws Muhammad Day and lessons in cultural relativism

May 20th is Everybody Draw Mohammed Day - a day when you too can join the defense of Free Speech by drawing a cartoon. Or if you really suck at drawing you can make a shop of Muhammad like me.

Prophet Muhammad, artist's conception
If you think I'm wrong, draw a better one

Lesson #1 - Principle of dissimilarity

Recently I have been convinced by some TTC audiobooks that Jesus might have probably existed as a historical person. You know what's the best argument for it? The criterion of dissimilarity.

It's not any pomo deconstructionism - just plain old historical analysis. The idea is that authors have an agenda, but life doesn't always agree with it. So every time the text admits to something that is clearly against the authors' agenda, it suggests it probably had some basis in reality - because they wouldn't make this up on purpose. A few examples from Jesus' life:
  • Crucifixion was embarrassing kind of death reserved for slaves, rebels, and other lowest status scum. If someone was making up the story they would have Jesus die in battle, or die some other "respectable kind of death". So actual Jesus was most likely actually crucified.
  • All the messy explanations how "everybody thought Jesus was born in middle-of-nowhere Nazareth but actually he was born in Bethlehem like King David" suggest that Jesus was probably born in Nazareth. If they were making this up, they'd skip the Nazareth story altogether.
  • Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist - being baptized by someone was signaling submission and inferiority to that person. This story is clearly embarrassing to Bible writers, they put words like "I should be baptized by you" in John the Baptist's mouth, and the last Gospel omits it altogether.
The sheer volume of such cases suggests that Bible is an "enhanced" story of some actual life, as opposed to being completely made up. There's no question that all the supernatural bits have been inserted, and it's widely believed that the real life stories were quite significantly massaged - but it does such a bad job at covering a lot of embarrassing parts like these that the hypothesis "Bible is vaguely based on a life of a real person, and these embarrassing stories were widely known so couldn't be ignored" is much more compatible with the evidence than "Bible is completely made up" - and as their Bayesian priors are not terribly different in the first place, historicity of Jesus can be reasonably believed in. The "Bible is real" story on the other hand is both against the priors and against the evidence, so let's not even go there.

Rambo Cat by Gerard Girbes from flickr (CC-NC-ND)

Lesson #2 - Why is Muhammad widely considered a pedophile?

The criterion of dissimilarity must be truly infuriating to the true believers - it essentially says that every time they like some part it's probably false, and every time they dislike some part it's probably true. By the way this applies to all historical texts, not just religious ones - parts of Commentarii de Bello Gallico that are overly sympathetic to Julius Caesar should be looked at with more suspicion than parts which talk about his failures, and so on.

So, what does it all have to do with Muhammad being a pedophile? Muslim texts clearly say that he was married to Aisha when she was 6, and fucked her when she was 9 year old.

Now how likely is it that this particular bit was made up? If you had a prophet who didn't fuck children, would you casually make up a story that he actually did? That'd go against all rules of proper writing. And it's not one isolated verse somewhere - as Wikipedia says "references to Aisha's age by early historians are frequent", and nobody questioned that back then.

So regardless of our believes, we can be fairly certain that
Muhammed fucked a 9 year old girl

And now some time for cultural relativism - this was considered fairly unremarkable back then. Our modern culture is obsessed about young people's sexuality and as a civilization we essentially lost the ability to propagate the species, but historically it was entirely normal for much younger people to marry, fuck, and have babies - biologically late teens are the optimal time to have children. In completely typical Ancient Rome - girls typically married in their mid teens, very soon after puberty. The idea was simple:
  • Regardless of societal constraints, many people will get sexually active once they hit puberty
  • Of people who get sexually active, many will get pregnant
  • Nearly everywhere except for modern times, it's really difficult to either provide for your kids without a husband, or get a husband if you already have kids
  • To avoid risking that, it's better to marry your daughters sooner

This was the baseline normal case for girls.

Western pedophile obsession (where all sexuality of people under 20 or so is a big taboo - this has little to do with what psychology calls "pedophilia") is a highly atypical case. 7th century Arabic children marriage, and fucking of prepubescent 9 year old girls was also rather atypical.

Not that it matters what's typical and what's not - abject poverty, illiteracy, and lack of broadband Internet are historical norm, and yet I much rather prefer atypical modern situation.

Anyway, what we see here is a conflict of values - Muhammed fucking a 9 year old was acceptable within his culture, and is not considered acceptable within ours - not even for most modern Muslim countries. Aisha most likely didn't mind getting fucked, and nobody was weirded out by this, in spite of modern fiction of "age of consent". She was most likely not scarred for life or anything like that - these laws exist primarily to make adult bigots feel good, not to "protect" children, and evidence is clear that plenty of teenagers (and an occasional pre-teen) have sex and enjoy it.

Lesson #3 - Freedom of speech

But that's not all. On top of one value dissonance about sex with pre-teens we have a second value dissonance about free speech and religious respect.

In Western culture since the Enlightenment, we have been very strongly attached to the idea that there is nothing that cannot be criticized. Yes, laws of different countries prohibit different kinds of speech (including United States, Supreme Court's favourite activity is making exceptions to the First Amendment and Elena Kagan doesn't seem any different here) - but every time such law is applied the media get freaked out and people feel highly uneasy about it. Even people who want to limit freedom of speech considerably universally consider it to be the default case - exceptions to be few and made only when "necessary".

These believes are not shared by many, apparently including modern Muslim societies. It seems that they approach Muhammed cartoons from another direction - that people's religious believes should be respected, and their holy figures shouldn't be mocked - freedom of speech being far lower in their order of priorities than that.

They don't even see the cartoons as a freedom of speech issue, just like 7th century Arabs didn't see fucking a 9 year old girl as a child abuse issue, and we don't see the cartoons as a blasphemy issue. Different cultures have different perspectives.

This basic cultural relativism does not mean that all cultures are equally wrong, or equally right. It would be intellectually dishonest to think that your culture is uniquely correct about things, and its beliefs are some sort of human universals - history shows that there are hardly any true human universals, and we might even get rid of death and taxes one day. But you are still free to follow your own culture's value system.

If you think that freedom of speech is valuable, and fucking prepubescent girls is creepy, mocking that and not giving a shit about angry Pakistanis is all fine.

In other words - enjoy the Everybody Draws Muhammad Day.


Mike Burrows (@asplake) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

From Sweden.
If muslims kill Sweden artists, is it self defense to kill muslims?
When mohammed was 50 he marry a 9 year child so he was a fucking pedophile and a slave owner so fuck him.
Watch and read mohammed T-shirt art from Sweden at,
Not mine ip nr

Unknown said...

It's off topic as it's re: the historicity of Jesus and not about Mohammed but:

"If they were making this up, they'd skip the Nazareth story altogether." - Nazareth was an attempt by Matthew to fulfill a supposed OT prophecy, but he changes the original word, Nazarite, which meant something completely different. There's actually reason to believe Nazareth did not even exist until the 2nd Century (not mentioned by historians who described the area in detail great detail, the author gets the geography of the place wrong).

"Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist - being baptized by someone was signaling submission and inferiority to that person." - John the Baptist was a figure people believed in and worshipped at the time the gospels came into print. By reinterpreting his character as one whose job it is to "prepare the way" for Jesus, they're in effect one-upping the importance of the man, whilst tying Jesus to an individual who (if he existed) was already revered by Jewish sects long after his death.

taw said...

Douglas: Sorry that I won't be engaging you now. This is a complex issue with far too much historical minutiae involved, but all Jesus examples I've given seem widely accepted among mainstream historical Jesus scholars, and here they serve only as examples of how principle of dissimilarity works.

I'm aware there are other defensible interpretations for nearly everything Jesus-related.

danielg said...

As a Christian, I support the right to blaspheme and insult, whether it be against the Christian God, Mohammed, or the Gods of political correctness who disallow 'hate speech.'

Inciting violence, no, but insulting those whose values are an insult to humanity and intelligence, no problem.

mehdi said...

U Shitface & tard marry to fuck

remove this blog,

Don't consider Prophet Muhammad as a normal human being,

Prophet Muhammad sallalahu alaihisallam he was last & best messenger of allah whatever allah told him he did.
U ass'ole couldn't understand the secret behind to marry Aisha raziallahuanhu(r.a)

Joker_vD said...

I think you would enjoy Zenon Kosidowski's "Opowieści ewangelistów". It was wriiten in mid-70-ies, and of course there surely are newer investigations, but I don't know about them. There are so many books to read, and they better be of good quality :( And this book is of good quality: the author wrote from reason, not from hatred or willing to disprove; and the style is very good, it's easy to read and follow.

I, of course, read it in Russian translation, but its Polish original is available online as well — so you should not have problems reading it :)