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The Love of Gods

“The thing that convinces people that their religion is true, is that the more they study it the more they realise that God hates the same people as they do”. So runs an old witticism and it’s probably true in many cases.

Another is, “The difference between philosophy and religion is that philosophy is questions which may never be answered, and religion is answers which may never be questioned”. Quite amusing, but the intolerant nature of gods (and their believers) whose answers cannot be questioned is extremely dangerous.

Take the case of  Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. By the time you read this she may well be dead. And if she is not it is probably because the bigoted, religion riddled, foolish old men who interpret Allah’s wishes in Iran can’t decide how to kill her.

In 2006 she was convicted of being an accessory to her husband’s murder although her confession, some human rights activists believe, was made under duress. She was given 99 lashes and jailed for ten years. She was then convicted and sentenced to be stoned to death for conducting an illicit relationship outside marriage, a charge, which, says Amnesty International, she denies. One of her lawyers Houtan Kian is in jail after speaking to the media. Her other lawyer, Mohammed Mostafaei, was also arrested and forced to flee. He now lives in Norway.

After an international outcry by various human rights groups, Malek Ajdar Sharifi, head of judiciary in East Azerbaijan, said she may escape stoning because her prison did not have the “necessary facilities” to carry it out. “There is no rush” he said. “Our Islamic experts are reviewing Ashtiani’s sentence to see whether we can carry out the execution of a person sentenced to stoning by hanging instead”.

It’s not only in Iran, of course, where Allah’s words and answers must never be questioned. In Derby, as this column is being written, five men are on trial for allegedly handing out leaflets calling for gay people to be killed. One of the accused told police that the leaflet, which suggested three different ways to kill gay people, simply expressed what Islam says about homosexuality and it was his duty therefore, as a Muslim, to condemn it. (Guardian 11 January).

Of course Islam doesn’t have the monopoly on religious hatred. In December there were clashes in the town of Beit Shemesh in Israel between secular and moderate Jews on one side, and an ultra-orthodox group known as ‘Haredi’ on the other.

The Haredim have been demanding enforced gender separation on public transport, in shops and in medical centres, and a ban on women soldiers taking part in singing and dancing events organised by the army.

What really upsets the Haredi men though, and has led them to spit, and shout “whore” and other insults at a group of females, is their “immodest” style of dress - knee-length skirts and tops with sleeves to the elbow. The females concerned are girls as young as six whose school happens to be next to an ultra-orthodox enclave.

NW