April 17, 2017 by John Bruce Leonard
Persecuting the Persecutors
REMINDER once again of the insidious progressivist moralism which is slipped in like a narcotic where we least expect it. A report from The Economist informs us that a new study, which quantifies (devil could say how) “religious persecution,” has found such persecution to be globally on the rise. Or, put contrariwise (these points are evidently taken to be one and the same), global religious freedom is on the wane. Nor, we are given to understand, does Europe exempt itself from these troubling developments. And considering the visions that the words “religious persecution” inevitably evoke in us, of persons imprisoned for their beliefs, of families divided by controversies of faith, of idolaters and infidels stoned or ostracized, of state violence against entire communities—one could go on and on—we are fully entitled to see the rise of this persecution as a horrible and most lamentable thing, particularly worrisome here in Europe.
I admit to an inveterate skepticism regarding the studies of sociology. The value-free investigation into human values seems to me doomed from the start, and its presumed unbiased objectivity appears to mine eyes to be but the fig leaf covering the barrenness of its moral inadequacies. It takes very little prying to discover as much, and the present research is no exception.
Upon reviewing The Economist report, we discover that the purported measure of religious freedom employs a so-called “social hostilities index” confronted with a “government restriction index.” Beside these impressively scientific titles, we find a slue of insinuating language employed by The Economist, as “obstacles to observance of religion,” “religious persecution,” “restrictions on freedom of worship,” and “intolerance,” to show just how bad these phenomena are. No one will deny that some of the problems specified—such as the use of violence against persons of different religions—are real and grave problems. But we are led to wonder precisely to what extent our liberal West suffers from such troubles. The examples of the “intolerance” of the West do not much aid us: some religious practices, unspecified, are not permitted publicly in Russia, and France bans face-coverings in public spaces. Are we to assume, then, that any law even somewhat delimiting any given religious practice in certain predefined areas of a country, no matter the nature of the practice nor the reasons for the law, are held to be de facto religious persecution? And does this not seem an irresponsible enlargement of the idea?
Pursuing the data but another layer in, to the official website of the index in question, we discover that “incidents of government harassment…are not always physical, but may include derogatory statements by public officials or discrimination against certain religious groups.” That is a wide net indeed; one begins to wonder just what kind of fish it is really meant to capture. Fortunately, we do not have to wonder long. An example is provided immediately afterward, excerpted from the comments of Viktor Orbàn, bugbear of progressivist Europe: “Those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture. Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims.”
But is something so remarkable really to be let pass? We have just seen a comment, merely observing that someone hailing from an orthodox Muslim country and someone born in a liberal Western nation derive from radically different cultures—which is to say, a comment totally unobjectionable to all common sense and to our immediate experiences—we have seen such a comment, I say, openly characterized as harassment, which means it is perforce associated with “religious persecution” and “intolerance.” And this is, I remind, the official example given by the researchers, which is surely meant to present a totally uncontroversial sample of the kind of phenomena they have indexed. But really, must we not ask just how many such “data” have gone to inform the tendency of the study? Must we not ask on what grounds a statement regarding religions, is taken to be persecution or not? Must we not wonder if any distinction of degrees was drawn between a statement like Mr. Orbàn’s above, and the practice in Pakistan, for instance, of capital punishment for blasphemers? And if a distinction is drawn, must we not wonder on what basis, and how any points-based division here could ever pretend in the least to be objective?
I admit I have not investigated this matter at any further depth. In all honesty, although I do not doubt there would be information of interest to pry from this research, I am not interested in doing so. I have no doubt the Pew researchers would provide some response to some of my questions—and I have no doubt it would not be near enough to satisfy me. For I find such studies off-puttingly disingenuous; I find something tendentious in their very structure, hidden and never specified biases which lie under a nigh impenetrable gauze of official and high-sounding jargon. That the researchers in most cases have no will to deceive does not make their default of responsibility to my eyes any less; on the contrary. This study, for instance, works under the auspices of the scientific method, and carries behind it all the force and all the purported objectivity of science, from an organization, Pew, which is widely lauded for its sociological research. This study and its conclusions are passed off as authoritative, and will be taken as such by who can say how many people who read or hear about them second- or third- or fourth-hand. Their influence cannot be calculated, and certainly not by any nice clean “indexes” like those they propose to use to measure a phenomenon as complicated and relative as “religious persecution.”
We really must grow a little more suspicious of this avalanche of “research,” “studies,” and “indices” which are heaped upon us by the press, by online journals, and by hearsay; we must really begin to ask just what it is, at bottom, that they want of us. “Disinterested,” they are not, nor can ever be. Science has little business intruding itself into politics and social matters; it always makes a hash of things, and usually for the benefit of the pieties of the day. A hundred times would I prefer that we looked on things a little in the old, inexact, naive, but essentially honest way, rather than seeing the world constantly through the doubly distorting lens of a method which pretends to clarify, and in fact only muddles.