Mustafa Siddiqi, Student, Jamia Ahmadiyya UK
In bizarre and rather disturbing news, UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund, one of the world’s most well-known and recognised children’s charities, published a report suggesting that efforts to restrict children from accessing adult content online, including pornography, may involve a breach of children’s “human rights”, including their rights to “access information” and “freedom of expression”.
It said, chillingly, that the possibility of their rights being apparently infringed in this way meant that different children’s rights must be “balanced”.
In the report, UNICEF asserts – without any evidence – that there is “no consensus on the degree to which pornography is harmful to children.” (http://c-fam.org/wp-content/uploads/Digital-Age-Assurance-Tools-and-Childrens-Rights-Online-across-the-Globe.pdf)
Fortunately, 487 child safety experts and advocates from 26 countries were on hand to sign a joint letter to UNICEF, co-ordinated by the US-based National Center on Sexual Exploitation, referencing an array of research demonstrating the egregious harm pornography causes to children. (https://endsexualexploitation.org/articles/unicef-report-dismissing-pornographys-harms-to-children-removed/)
As if then to twist the knife into the wound of anyone who would take fierce exception to the suggestion that children viewing pornography is somehow a part of their human rights, the report quotes a study of European children, which says that “most children who saw sexual images online were neither upset nor happy” and then proceeds to give statistics about how children felt after seeing pornographic images.
Worse still, in a way that appears not at all coincidental, but rather strategic, the final word of the section under comment is given to the statistic that “39 per cent” of Spanish children “reported feeling happy [emphasis added] after seeing such images.”
The above statistics are included in the section which seeks to assess the harm to children of viewing pornographic material. It starts off by commendably referencing research by advocates against allowing children to view pornographic material, linking it to a number of detrimental outcomes, even if it itself then undermines the very same research by suggesting that only “some” children only “appear” to be harmed by being exposed to only “some” kinds of pornography only “some” of the time – and even then the nature and extent of such harm “vary”!
The huge reluctance to say that “pornography is harmful for children” is glaringly obvious and extremely disconcerting; such convoluted language is reminiscent of the slipperiest corporate terms and conditions.
Yet when it comes to suggesting why children viewing pornographic material may not be harmful for them, in the same section, the same rigorous scepticism is nowhere to be seen. The report references the above-mentioned study and uses children’s feelings to somehow inform commentary on this issue, to somehow quantify the harm they suffer. Yes – children’s feelings. The same children who can’t legally work, vote, marry or drive; who practically can’t even live without harming themselves without constant adult supervision. The mind boggles.
Setting aside temporarily, then, children’s feelings being used to inform a UNICEF report about their rights as hopefully some kind of isolated moment of madness on UNICEF’s part, noteworthy is another justification presented in the report of children accessing pornography of it apparently being some kind of educational opportunity for them. It is suggested that pornography could be a source of “vital sexuality education”, though the report is careful here to euphemise the pornography referenced as “digital sexuality education media”; it adds that some of the described content “may be classified” as pornography in “certain contexts”. What these “certain contexts” are, where sexually-explicit, pornographic material that would otherwise be wholly inappropriate – and illegal – for children to view turns out actually not to be, is a mystery.
Besides, how on earth can children viewing pornographic material be justified as being “educational”? If “educational” is taken simply to mean “conveying new information”, then, yes, children viewing pornography would certainly be extremely educational; exposing nascent, immature minds to the world of sexuality. But if the educational value for children is measured solely on the basis of information only, then why aren’t all other forms of information accessible to children, irrespective of possible risks?
Instead of telling children the importance of being responsible, considerate members of society, why aren’t children shown graphic videos of racist and/or violent abuse? Instead of teaching children not to bully others, why aren’t children shown distressing videos of other children being bullied at school? Instead of reminding children not to talk to strangers, why aren’t children shown examples of children who’ve been kidnapped and killed by strangers? Surely, such an approach would be far more direct and effective than “mere words”.
“Not showing children such content (as mentioned above) would be a potential breach of children’s rights, including their rights to access information and freedom of information,” said no one, ever; not even UNICEF. Viewing material sexually explicit, however, seems to be some kind of natural, inalienable right inherently belonging to children.
Thankfully, UNICEF later removed the report from their website. While this is undoubtedly a good thing, it is no solution to the issue – because the report itself was never the problem.
The problem goes far, far deeper. The problem is that lacking God means lacking any form of objective morality.
Objective morality is the idea that what is right is right, and what is wrong is wrong, irrespective and independent of what anyone thinks or says about it.
Take, for example, the proposition that “torturing people for fun is wrong”. Presumably, everyone would agree with this. But the real question is: why is torturing people for fun wrong? Is it because everyone agrees that it is? If it is, what if not everyone agreed that it is? What if one person, or ten people, or half of society, or if everyone minus one, or if absolutely everyone thought that torturing people for fun wasn’t wrong? Would that mean it wouldn’t be wrong anymore, or perhaps less wrong?
Surely, everyone would agree that torturing people for fun is wrong independently of whether anyone thinks it is or not. So is torturing people for fun wrong, perhaps not because anyone says it’s wrong, but because it’s inherently cruel? Yes – but again, what is cruel? Is hunting animals cruel? Is eating animals cruel? Is keeping animals as pets cruel? There are people who believe just as passionately that all three are wrong as those who believe that all three are right. Waiting for consensus on what is and isn’t cruel (which has never happened in the history of humanity and appears no more likely to happen today than at any point in the past) before doing anything about it would be extremely cruel in itself.
So if objective morality means morality not defined by what we feel, but by something independent of us, what should dictate to us what is right and wrong? The law, in practice, for most people appears to define day-to-day what’s right and what’s not. But what is the law? In the democracies of the world today, the law is what a majority of people think is right. So what if tomorrow, the majority of people decided to have a law passed that says that torturing people for fun is right?
The above is no sensational exaggeration. Consider the example of Nazi Germany. According to a study by Oxford University professor Robert Gellately, there was substantial participation in, and consent to, the Holocaust from a large number of ordinary Germans (Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany, Oxford University Press). And even if we were to assume that no-one knew about the Holocaust at all and accepted that Hitler wasn’t even strictly democratically elected because of his abuse of the democratic system, the fact remains that over a third of the German population voted for him in the presidential election of April 1932, and over a third of Germans voted for the Nazis in the federal election of July 1932, which is when the Nazis became the largest party in the Reichstag, the German parliament. (https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/adolf-hitler-1930-1933). And on 30 January 1933, Hitler was appointed as chancellor of Germany by President Paul von Hindenberg, the man whom over half the German population had (re-)elected the previous year (www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/riseofhitler/runs.htm). From then began Hitler’s dictatorship, and the rest is history.
The above facts bear strikingly unpalatable implications for democracy, and surely practically put paid to notions of democracy being a viable basis for morality. Whether or not the German people knew what Hitler was to go on to do is immaterial; his leadership of the German people was justified from a purely democratic standpoint because it was ultimately the support of the people that allowed him to get there.
How does Nazi Germany relate to children viewing pornography? When God is taken out of the equation, the possibility of an external, independent basis for morality is removed. Moral values can then only be defined by someone’s saying so at some particular time. But even then, moral values don’t stay the same – they change according to the whimsical “tyranny of the majority”.
Consider the example of female public attire. Less than 200 years ago, a woman baring her ankles in public was considered “wholly indecent”(http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/projects/brightonline/issue-number-two/the-fetishization-and-objectification-of-the-female-body-in-victorian-culture). This is in sharp contrast to the modern era, where variously revealing clothes are the normal clothing of choice for women in the West especially.
As for sex before marriage – in 1650, the British parliament passed a law making it punishable by three months’ imprisonment, (www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/acts-ordinances-interregnum/pp387-389) a far cry from modern attitudes: in 2012, only 6% of British society considered it to be “always wrong”. (www.bsa.natcen.ac.uk/media/38723/bsa30_full_report_final.pdf)
Not only do these things run rampant in society nowadays, they enjoy widespread acceptance. As such, the larger part of society would presumably be happy with these shifts in opinion, pleased with the “progress”. It is interesting to speculate, however, how people of the past would view the state of our society today. How would modestly-dressed women of the Victorian era view women of today, with more skin often visible than covered? How would married couples of the past view modern society, where sex before marriage has become a social norm? After a wave of initial shock, with anywhere between disgust and sheer horror, one would imagine.
“But those people were from backward, unenlightened, barbaric times!” will be the likely response. “Why should we care about attitudes that were so clearly wrong!” The thing to do here would be to objectively compare attitudes now and then, and ask: why is women being free to wear revealing clothing objectively better than women not being free to wear revealing clothing? And why is the freedom to have sex before marriage objectively better than not having the freedom to have sex before marriage? Regardless of whether one believes society’s current situation to be better than that of the past or not, there is no objective way of proving that what we have now is any better than at any time before. The only possible justification for why today is better than yesterday is because more people are apparently “happier” on the basis that more people are able to “do what they want”.
But without objective morality, why is happiness even something of any value? Why should people’s happiness matter? Why should people’s happiness count for anything more – or be any more of a desirable outcome – than people’s sadness? Without objective morality, “good” and “bad” have no definition and so, morals have no grounds or basis – and then happiness, as a result, becomes an utterly meaningless and useless value.
The real problem with using an arbitrary, groundless concept like “happiness” as an artificial basis for morality is that since it lacks an external reference point and any kind of objective definition, it can thus have no boundaries or limits either.
If society today can dismiss the moral concerns of its forebears with a wave of the hand, purely on the basis of “we don’t like it”, then it must also, by the same token, be ready to accept similar dismissal from future generations. This may sound quite reasonable – acceptable, even – until one takes a glance at its unavoidable consequence: the dark undercurrents currently festering in the moral underbelly of society, and contemplates their unsettling ramifications.
Mirjam Heine, a medical student and TEDx speaker, argued in a talk in 2018 that paedophilia should be accepted as an “unchangeable sexual orientation just like, for example, heterosexuality.” All Heine did here was demonstrate logical consistency: if society has now, for example, accepted different types of sexual tendencies, why can’t the same courtesy be extended to paedophiles? Only because society wouldn’t like it as much?
Heine continued: “The difference between paedophilia and other sexual orientations is that living out this sexual orientation will end in a disaster.” The fact is – presumably to the joy of paedophiles the world over – paedophilia may not spell “disaster” for those who engage in it for too much longer.
Behavioural psychologist and therapist Dr Linda Mintle disagreed with Heine, calling paedophilia a “mental disorder” (www.metroweekly.com/2018/07/tedx-speaker-argues-that-pedophilia-should-be-accepted-as-an-unchangeable-sexual-orientation/). Let’s not forget, sexual tendencies that were labelled “mental disorders” in the past are now widely accepted and celebrated.
Today’s “mental disorder” is tomorrow’s “sexual orientation”, it would seem.
Theoretical physicist, cosmologist and renowned anti-theist, Lawrence Krauss, said in a debate with Muslim researcher, Hamza Tzortzis, when asked why incest was wrong, “It’s not clear to me that it’s wrong.” He said incest would not merit “absolute condemnation” if a brother and a sister loved each other, provided they “used contraception, […] it was once and they went off and it didn’t affect anything else […] if they love each other and care for each other”. He’d perhaps be willing to listen to arguments in favour of incest if they were “rational”. (https://youtu.be/uSwJuOPG4FI?t=4161)
It is quite sad to see that Krauss, led by his insistent rejection of God, for all his academic prowess and renowned scholarship, suffers moral bankruptcy to the point that he is unable to absolutely condemn even incest as wrong.
Though it seems shocking, it should perhaps not be entirely surprising. In a way, like Heine, he perhaps isn’t even entirely blameworthy – they both at least display creditable logical consistency absent from the vast majority of atheist discourse, which fails to recognise that a lack of objective morality can only result in a slippery slope of moral freefall.
Without God as one’s moral compass, nothing can be objectively good or bad. Without God, in fact, the entire Universe doesn’t even have a purpose – and if the Universe itself has no purpose, no meaning or moral value can be attached to anything in it either. Any artificially constructed “morality” is a baseless illusion; an illusion that can provide cover to, and in fact support, profoundly troubling expressions of unchecked, animalistic human instinct.
This mess of morality and the loss of a healthy moral compass will only continue to degrade society.
Today, UNICEF suggested open access to pornography for children is a human right; only God knows what is to follow.
The remedy to this is to come back to God – the Creator of humans – and His perfect teachings for humanity.
A pithy and profound warning of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa comes to mind:
إِذَا لَمْ تَسْتَحِي فَاصْنَعْ مَا شِئْتَ
“If you feel no shame, do whatever you like.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Adab, Hadith 147)