Tuesday, September 18, 2007

How Far Do We Allow?

A Caliphate opened in SL recently, and indications are that it is going to follow traditional Islamic law, at least in Role play.

There's the usual bitching and whining, with debates engaged in discussing whether or not this is SL's expansion into multiculturalism (a result of SL's growth into every niche in the world) or an attempt to extend Sharia law into a virtual medium.

One does have to find it unsettling that a code of law which can be, under fundamentalist guidance, misogynistic and intolerant. Look at the prime example of Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed out without a man accompanying them (which was modified recently to include any male, even small boys). Or in Iran, where ageplay takes a whole new level with the age of consent set at the age of nine (any younger, and you cannot marry but instead take them as a 'mistress'). In either country, you can be stoned to death for merely converting to any religion save for Islam (as happened in Afghanistan, where the United States had to exert tremendous pressure to allow a convert to be expelled from the country instead of executed).

On the other hand, this may be an attempt at enriching our cultural horizons and bring architecture, music, art, and knowledge from their legacy (not to mention the incredible debt we owe to the 13th Century development of algebra and other developments which greatly advanced science and mathematics at a time when those fields stagnated in Europe). Can you imagine the incredible build taking shape there? The graceful arches and columns, the soaring golden domes of the local mosque? Their mosaics (which could never feature a human face? Talk about a handicap!), yes, this could be a unique opportunity, a great PR blow for SL. Certainly a break from the usual suburban cookie cutter houses and art which seem to dominate SL.

But this is the pivotal question here, the point of these debates: Will this be a museum exhibit of a culture, or a foray into fundamentalist extremism on our dear grid?

Can we have one without the other? And do we want that?

I think first we should ask some of the larger and influential Muslim groups in SL their opinions on it. Do they wish to have an exhibit of glory days long past? Is that really their religion today, a time capsule from the 13th century? As Dawkins put it, do we want to sacrifice an entire people (He used the example of the Amish) to living forever in the past without their consent merely for our entertainment and enjoyment? We need to get their views on it, as something like this island can and will influence the ideas and thought patterns of the SL public.

Second, we have to establish which of the two above directions the island owners and group leaders of this project are bearing into. Do we want hapless individuals to be swallowed into an ideology which we know is unacceptable in real life (one cannot look at sharia law and claim it is progressive, liberal, or enjoyable. Which is true of any theocracy, I suppose)? We here in SL already have problems, issues, and intense arguments over the effects of Gor and its laws and customs and sects. Imagine the flames when they're fanned by the addition of real life beliefs and canons! One of the main ideals of Islamic fundamentalists is that the world is subject to their laws. If it turns out this island is headed that way, how will they take to SL? Will it too be subject to their imposition? You can set your watch on it.

And finally, we have to ask ourselves and look into our crystal balls: will any of this even matter? It's our world, our imagination, and a world where death, pain, and suffering are avoided with a mere TP to another sim. So what if a small patch of three or four islands adheres to beliefs offensive to you, when there are four thousand mainland sim and at least six thousand islands? There's always a haven somewhere in SL for you, no need to get frizzled over a teeny archipelago you find offensive.

I believe the answer to these three will determine the appropriate response to this project. If we sit down and examine the responses to these, we can come to a rational conclusion without all the drama that this is kicking up.

If it does become a museum or a peaceful and tolerant place of SL worship, then I'll have no qualms about it. Live and let live. I think I might not even care if they practiced extreme Islamic law from literal Koran translations, provided they either provided fair warning of their activities or closed the island to those only in their group.

But where I'd draw the line is if they attempted to drag that into my public and private life. A few Goreans do this, where they can't keep their business on their sims. I find this mildly offensive, especially so since I don't force my beliefs and lifestyle on them on their sims. "You can't talk to me, and in such a tone! I am the Lord of so-and-so, and you are a mere slave. You are lucky today, in that this sim has damage disabled, else I would smite your smug face from my presence!". All that, for saying 'how's it going'. This was a one time deal, and I've found it is not the norm. Most Gors turn it off when visiting public areas and plazas. A few pull a more subtle form of imposing their beliefs on the masses, which is to bring their overly respectful and formal titles to others (the most notable being one fellow who addressed everyone as Lord or Lady, and treated them as such), but this I find less offensive and more annoying. Gor stays out of my face, I'm willing to allow its adherents to live SL as they wish.

So yeah, I draw the line where you start telling me what to do outside of commonly accepted laws and values (i.e. don't run around naked, don't grief, etc.). Don't you dare run up to me and demand I don a headscarf because you're offended by my lack thereof, and that if I don't you'll harass and stalk me throughout the grid until I do. Because I like to believe I'm a fairly tolerant person. I'm willing to live and let live (Nunchuck only knows that's necessary on a platform as rich and diverse as SL). But when you get all up in my grill, expect me to scrape you off my radiator.

As a final note, this is my take on all things, so don't leave me comments about my biases or double standards or such, because there aren't any. I paint with the same brush with which I brush my teeth and clean toilets. So please, think before you type, and read and mull over your comment before you press 'post'.

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