Morality police

I’m not a fan of morality police, who set themselves up as upholders of societal decency. Maybe my distaste has its origins in my own experience with those presumed to be gatekeepers of ethical standards.

Long ago, in the dim and distant past, some such folk thought that for the crime of thinking a girl in my midst was quite sweet, I ought to be smashed to pieces. Naturally, taking the threat seriously, I walked away, but that’s not to say that was the end of it. Actually, that experience had a profound effect on me, lasting years.

Still, I was one of the lucky ones. In many countries and communities, those seen to infringe the boundaries of cultural expectations are not so fortunate. Sometimes the enforcers are family members, parents, siblings, spouses — or the jilted prospective spouse. Sometimes they are complete strangers, whether a self-appointed community leader or a representative of state.

What causes an individual to land in trouble can vary from place to place. In some repressive states, a single Tweet can result in a thirty-year prison sentence. In other places, either wearing a headscarf, or not wearing one, can result in all manner of sanctions.

But I am of the personal responsibility school of thought, shunning compulsion in matters of the heart. In the realm of faith, especially, compulsion seems to fly in the face of both reason and revelation. For sure, a forced faith is no faith at all.

And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed — all of them entirely. So would you compel the people in order that they become believers?

Quran 10:99

There is a clear difference between those actions which cause others harm, and matters of the heart. The robber must be prevented from stealing. The warmonger’s tyranny must be confronted. The terrorist or brigand must be brought to justice.

But as for that which does no harm — seemingly the concern of the morality police everywhere — leave the people be. How strange that so often those strictest on minor issues of personal piety are silent on the major abominations, such as taking a life or depriving others of their rights.

As for those concerning themselves with alleged infringements of morality, here’s an idea for you: consider talking to those involved. Perhaps a kind word, in place of hostility, will change absolutely everything. That too is from our tradition.

Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching, and argue with them in the best of ways…

From Quran 16:125

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