by Moira Clarke
Transcript and comments on debate, “Islam or atheism”. Disclaimer: While we can agree that atheism as a cause should not be conflated with that of secular government, when dealing with a movement that is politically active and is inherently anti-secular, we should certainly take an interest in any discourse which seeks to challenge secular viewpoints.
There was a very interesting exchange during a debate in Melbourne last week . . . and a subsequent statement put out on Twitter that would lead one to imagine that the debate had never taken place.
The debate’s topic was, “Islam or Atheism: which makes more sense?”. It was held at Swinburne University on the evening of 20th September, and organised by iERA. Speakers for the “atheist” side were John Perkins and Ian Robinson. Speakers for the Islamic side were Hamza Tzortzis and [name withheld*].
The partial transcription that I have provided starts shortly after 1:53:20 into the video and continues for the next few minutes.
Audience members, as verified earlier in the video, were mostly of the Islamic faith.
At the start of this segment, John Perkins said that he wished to raise a question that related to morality and the Qur’an.
John Perkins: The claim of Islam is that these texts are a source for the perfect kind of morality. Now I’m sorry [directed to the audience] if what I might raise causes discomfort, but I believe that I need to do this to demonstrate a point. I’m going to start at Sura 65:4. “If you are in doubt concerning your wives who have ceased menstruating, know that their waiting periods shall be 3 months. The same shall apply to those who have not yet menstruated.” As we know, the marriage of children in Islam is permitted, and the prophet Muhammad himself took a wife at the age of six, and the marriage was consummated at the age of nine — as we are informed. Last week in Yemen an eight-year-old girl died on her wedding night of internal haemorrhaging. Her new husband was forty years of age. Can you please indicate the perfect morality of the Qur’an that is indicated by my quote and this occurrence please.
[Some in the audience clap.]
[name withheld*]: Had the child reached puberty?
[Gasps and other disturbance from the audience. One audience member tells another not to swear. One audience member yells, “Does it matter?”]
[name withheld*]: Of course it matters! Of course it matters whether the child has reached puberty! That is precisely the point! Could you, John, or anyone, reach an absolute moral conception about the right age at which a marriage may or may not be consummated? Is there any positive position to provide me a basis for that morality? Why is it that in western cultures until recently, some countries, the age of marriage, (Tzortzis correct me if I’m wrong) twelve in some places, thirteen in others. Until last century, in western European countries, in medieval Europe, girls used to get married as early as eleven and twelve. So this is happening in many cultures around the world, ladies and gentlemen. It’s not just Islam that this is madly happening. But to answer the question. Islam, and the sources of Islam, and the hadiths [inaudible], which is classified as meaning a good transmission or a correct transmission it says, yes, it says the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) consummated the marriage with Aisha at the age of nine. I’m not going to deny that. That’s not bad — if she had reached the age of puberty at that age, then we say: probably that is fine. [To John] I want you to show me otherwise. I want you to show me how, if she had reached puberty and it is wrong, why?
John Perkins: Look, I’m afraid that your answer makes me feel – upsetting [disturbances from the audience] . . . Your answer . . . Your answer indicating that you condone the abuse of children . . . I just find it appalling . . . I’m sorry [name withheld* interrupts, inaudible] Look I started this whole . . . I’ve tried to honestly say how I think Islam causes harm to people. And all I’m getting is denial, and now, and now you’re even endorsing something which seems to me quite abhorrent . . . [more interruption, from either [name withheld*] or Hamza, “No, that’s not fair!”] . . . I find it quite upsetting.
Hamza Tzortzis: There’s other Islamic principles that you have to take into consideration, right. For example, it’s not just about. . . You see, I’ll ask you the question, what age should a woman get married at? [Pause.] You answer me, what age should she get married at? Give me an age!
John Perkins: When she’s old enough.
[Audience disturbance, laughter, Hamza crying out, “What does that mean?”]
Hamza Tzortzis: You give me a number! I want an answer.
John Perkins: The legal age here—
Hamza Tzortzis: [interrupts] Wait a second, what is the legal age? What is the legal age?
John Perkins: Eighteen.
Hamza Tzortzis: In England it’s sixteen. In Spain it’s twelve. In Greece it’s thirteen. In some places in America it’s twenty-one. This is the fallacy of secular law. It’s very arbitrary. This is our law: it’s nothing to do with age. Now listen to the principles. Number 1. Is she physically fit? Number 2. Is she emotionally ready? Number 3. Is she mentally ready? Number 4. Is this socially acceptable? Number 5. All these different kinds of principles that we apply. And it happened, that there was an outlier from the statistics that a nine-year-old was physically fit, was mentally ready . . . was . . . given by her own father and the tribe, so we have principles which makes our law far more typist, rather than putting a number, saying, you can do it when you’re sixteen. There are some sixteen-year-olds in this country that can’t even tie their shoelace. The point is: if that’s all you’ve got, a sexed-up view of sharia law, a Fox News narrative, if you study the situation properly it’s based on principles that you apply to different scenarios, and yes, if you apply them properly, the eight-year-old will not get married, because look you’ve damaged her, because the problem I have, is that there is no harming, so there should be no harm. So the point is this is really about sharia law on the basis of [inaudible] things and BBC News and Fox News and god knows what we have.
[Audience claps and cheers loudly.]
I wonder at what point anyone could decide, according to those so-called principles, that any nine-year-old child was an “outlier”, and therefore should be married and made to have sex with a man. If Hamza had been present at the arrangement of the wedding in Yemen, helping to make that decision, would he have been able to tell that during subsequent sexual intercourse the little girl was going to be “damaged” to the point of death? Would he have stopped to think about the trauma she would have suffered, even if she had not died or been injured? Would he have thought to inquire as to whether she could continue to go to school, in addition to being this man’s “wife”? I wonder how these “principles” could possibly be determined for any other nine-year-old, or twelve-year-old, or (in some cases) seven-year-old. Elsewhere in the debate, Hamza ridicules John and Ian on their confidence in scientific knowledge, such as evolution, claiming that knowledge stemming from the supposed authority of the Qur’an is just as valid, simply because John and Ian had not personally conducted the experiments documented in the peer-reviewed literature. It is therefore difficult to imagine by what means Islamic clerics would determine that a nine-year-old child was physically, emotionally and mentally ready for sexual intercourse with a man, or that an eleven-year-old was similarly prepared for pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood. Since the Qur’an is imagined to be the source of all knowledge, why look further? Of course, the minuscule detail of the child’s informed and willing consent was not mentioned. And on that note, it is a pity that, due to their age, gender and social status, no one will ever apply principles 1, 2, 3 and 4 to either Hamza or [name withheld*], with or without their consent.
Here is Hamza’s statement on Twitter, issued a few days after the debate:
I don’t believe any comment is necessary.
At this point in time a Royal Commission is being conducted into revelations of generations of child sexual abuse in institutions in Australia, with the Catholic Church taking centre stage. We know already that religious power is an extremely effective means of perpetuating abuse. I would dearly love to pack that same lecture theatre at Swinburne full of survivors of child abuse, those who have had the courage to tell their stories to the Royal Commission and other abuse inquiries. I would like nothing better than to give Hamza the opportunity to explain to them the four principles upon which we can determine that a child is ready for sex with an adult. I’m sure they’d be fascinated.
As for other issues with being “physically ready”, a girl’s body is not mature enough to endure childbirth until her late teens, and if sufficient medical help is unavailable the results are often tragic. Perhaps Hamza and [name withheld*] should take the time to look up the condition called “fistula” to educate themselves on one – just one — of the possible adverse outcomes of early childbirth.
I would have thought that in Australia and in the 21st century it should not be necessary to defend the premise, “child marriage is a harmful and immoral practice, and is contrary to the human rights of the child”. However, just to clear up any remaining confusion, please refer to the sources below.
Here is the story of the child in Yemen, as covered by the international organisation Human Rights Watch: http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/09/10/yemen-end-child-marriage. It was also covered by publications such as Reuters and Al Jazeera. I neither know nor care what Fox News had to say, as I do not typically look at their material.
There are objective criteria to be applied, and claims of immunity from criticism simply because “others do it too” or because similarly poor standards applied in western countries generations ago don’t wash. If they did, we would not be able to criticise any instances, anywhere, of slavery, child labour, crimes against homosexuals, women being treated as second-class citizens, and racist immigration policies. All of these evils have, in the past, existed in the West, due to ignorance and the abuse of power.
It does not follow that we should remain silent.
Hamza has seen this post, and let’s just say he’s not happy. His immediate response was to claim that I was lying. “Interesting that you ignored my condemnation during the debate of the Yemen case. Shame on you.” and “Are you lying again? Where’s my condemnation of the Yemen case?! Lying is immoral, do you know that?” When @TheRationaliser suggested that perhaps I had, indeed, missed some additional material that immediately followed the transcribed segment, I went back and checked. Nope. Nothing missing. Since posting I have modified just one word on a reader’s correction. Nothing has been added or removed. The original transcription already contains Hamza’s “condemnation” of the Yemeni case, but he somehow missed that when he read it. Why?
I suspect the problem is that Hamza’s own recollection of the debate has him fiercely railing against the death of that poor child, without reservation, perhaps giving it almost as much gravity as the remainder of his response. The transcription, however, reveals what really happened. Hamza condemns the Yemeni case in only a few words, less than a single sentence, and even that is heavily qualified by his insistence that it only happened because his “principles” were not (somehow) correctly applied, thus skirting around the real problem, that anyone would consider it okay to rape another human being, let alone an eight-year-old child, in any circumstances. Not only that, but this “condemnation” was immediately followed by another, that being the way such cases are portrayed by the media. and that somehow somebody’s “sexed-up” view of sharia law is the problem, rather than the inevitable consequences of that law.
Hamza is angry to see his words in writing because, as a transcription, they are stripped of his showmanship, All we see is what he is saying, the argument itself, devoid of any public speaking gimmickry that might serve to make such an unpalatable position seem reasonable to an already malleable audience. His argument, naked without its sugar coating, cannot withstand scrutiny. The unrehearsed and unpolished words of John Perkins, however, despite the fact that the transcription removes the pain that is evident in his voice, retain their sincerity and hence their power to evoke a similar response in the reader.
Look, I’m afraid that your answer makes me feel – upsetting [disturbances from the audience] . . . Your answer . . . Your answer indicating that you condone the abuse of children . . . I just find it appalling . . . I’m sorry [name withheld* interrupts, inaudible] Look I started this whole . . . I’ve tried to honestly say how I think Islam causes harm to people. And all I’m getting is denial, and now, and now you’re even endorsing something which seems to me quite abhorrent . . . [more interruption, from either [name withheld*] or Hamza, “No, that’s not fair!”] . . . I find it quite upsetting.
*Name withheld The name of the other person who took part in this debate is now withheld on humanitarian grounds because the the person involved was suffering bigoted abuse due to his debate contribution. It is in the interests of free speech that such debates take place without fear of intimidation, by any side. It was requested that we delete this entire page but we declined to do so.