Yuk is not enough

Jun 29th, 2007 12:21 pm | By

I found this quite unconvincing, so unconvincing that I looked for more on Jonathan Haidt, and found what I turned up unconvincing too. And not just unconvincing, but also unfortunate.

“Psychologist Jonathan Haidt wants to help liberal types like me understand why some people condemn homosexual relationships as immoral.” Imagine someone saying ‘Gay marriage will destroy society, because homosexuality is an abomination to God and will undermine marriage.’ Liberals think that’s a bad reason.

But Haidt, who works at the University of Virginia and specializes in issues of morality, says the conservative viewpoint isn’t just theta waves – it’s based on a moral compass that points in dimensions liberals simply don’t perceive.

I don’t think so. I think it’s based on a moral compass that is wrong. It’s not a failure to perceive, it’s a disagreement. In particular we disagree over god, and over what is or is not an abomination to any putative god, and over whether gay marriage will undermine marriage. There’s no sensory lack there; there’s disagreement, which is a different thing.

In Western societies, secular and liberal-minded people base their moral beliefs on fairness and the avoidance of harm…Most people set their moral compasses based on their sense of disgust. This is an additional moral dimension, which [Haidt] calls purity/sanctity.

You bet. Lots of people fret a good deal about purity and sanctity. We realize that – and we think it’s a mistake, usually a terrible mistake.

And Haidt and Rozin both say that widespread disdain for fundamentalists is misplaced. The moral compass of the religious right factors in that additional dimension of sanctity/purity, which is driven by disgust as well as religious teachings.

But that doesn’t make disagreement (or ‘disdain,’ if you insist on prejudicing the argument) misplaced. We understand that the moral compass of the religious right factors in disgust, and that’s exactly what we object to; they shouldn’t be disgusted, the disgust is irrational; and they certainly shouldn’t try to enforce their own disgust as a matter of law. If I want to eat slugs for lunch, what is that to them?!

Haidt says he was inspired by the University of Chicago’s Leon Kass, who headed President Bush’s Council on Bioethics from 2002 to 2005. In an earlier essay, called “The Wisdom of Repugnance,” Kass wrote that feelings of disgust come from “an emotional expression of a deep wisdom. . . . Shallow are the souls that have forgotten how to shudder.”

Well there’s your problem right there: don’t ever be inspired by Leon Kass. He talks terrible nonsense about instinctive revulsion that can’t be argued. Well yeah, like for people of other races, or women, or people with disabilities, or people of the wrong religion.

University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Arthur Caplan disagrees with Kass’ use of intuition…”People used to think it was revolting when two people of different races got married,” Caplan says. Letting your sense of disgust guide your views on gay marriage, he adds, “is just bigotry and bias dressed up with the clothes of wisdom.”

Just so.

Haidt goes into more detail in an interview.

Haidt has devoted his career to the study of moral judgment and decision-making; his results are revealing and perhaps a bit unflattering. We tend to think of ourselves as arriving at our moral judgments after painstaking rational deliberation, or at least some kind of deliberation anyhow. According to Haidt’s model—which he calls “the social intuitionist model”—the process is just the reverse. We judge and then we reason. What, then, is the point of reasoning if the judgment has already been made? To convince other people (and also ourselves) that we’re right.

Well, we already knew that of course; we’ve read our Hume and our Damasio; we’ve taken the Taboo test (which was inspired by Haidt’s work); we know we react first and think afterwards. But I don’t agree with the last sentence, at least not unless it’s worded differently. What’s the point of thinking about our first emotional judgment? To try to figure out whether it’s right or not! To second-guess it; to think; to consider; to ask if we’re just shooting from the hip.

It’s an interesting interview – full of places where one thinks ‘No, not exactly,’ but interesting. But some of what he says…

What I want to say is that there are at least four foundations of our moral sense, but there are many coherent moral systems that can be built on these four foundations. But not just anything can be built on these four foundations. So I believe that an evolutionary approach specifying the foundation of our moral sense can allow us to appreciate Hindu and Muslim cultures where women are veiled and seem to us to lead restricted lives.

But I don’t want to appreciate Hindu and Muslim cultures where women seem to lead restricted lives. I think if they seem to lead restricted lives, they do lead restricted lives, and I know enough about the subject to know that when their lives expand, they tend to be overjoyed; therefore I have no desire to appreciate cultures where they don’t even have that option, where they can’t even sample expansion to see if they like it.

Liberals use intuitions about suffering (aversion to) and intuitions about reciprocity, fairness, and equality. But there are two other foundations—there are intuitions about hierarchy, respect, duty… that’s one cluster. And intuitions about purity and pollution, which generate further intuitions about chastity and modesty. Most human cultures use all four of these bases to ground their moral worldviews. We in the West, in modern times especially, have to some extent discarded the last two. We have built our morality entirely on issues about harm (the first pillar), and rights, and justice (the second). Our morality is coherent. We can critique people who do things that violate it within our group. We can’t critique cultures that use all four moralities.

Oh yes we can.

No, we’re not jealous

Jun 28th, 2007 10:05 am | By

Not correct.

Having lost their own belief in progress and liberation, secular intellectuals are irked by their encounters with people who, on whatever basis, retain a vision of the good society and a commitment to realising it.

No; that’s wrong; that could hardly be wronger. That neatly gets the matter exactly backwards. It is because I have not lost my belief in (the desirability of) progress and liberation, because in fact that belief has considerably strengthened and sharpened as I’ve learned more about its pervasive enemies, I am, not irked, but repelled and horrified by my encounters with people who retain a vision of the bad society and a commitment to realising it.

They clearly feel rebuked by the undaunted practice of those who have not given up.

No. That’s not it. It’s not that they’re so dedicated and people like me are so indifferent. No – it’s that they want the wrong things, and they want them for people like me (atheist secular feminist women who cling to their own freedom and autonomy with bared teeth). I haven’t given up, and I don’t feel abashed or rebuked by the undaunted practice of misogynist theocrats.

Real men don’t eat quiche or coddle women

Jun 26th, 2007 10:31 am | By

So what matters to the rage boys? Putting women in their place, that’s what. Their place is either slavishly obedient, or dead; those are the choices; and it’s Rage Boy who gets to decide which rules women are required to obey.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said Islamist terror groups were behind one murder, as well as a case where a woman was threatened and is in hiding…Nazir Afzal, the CPS’s national lead on honour crime, told BBC Radio 4’s File on 4 programme the threats to kill a woman known as Miss B, who is now in hiding, came from her family but originated in an Egyptian terrorist group. He said: “They told her husband that if he didn’t put his wife in her place then they would do it themselves.”

Because they don’t want any sissy rage boys in their outfit, the kind who are too wimpy and girly to be willing to murder their wives. What kind of Rage Boy Brotherhood would that be?! Who is frightened of rage boys who won’t even murder their own wives? Get real.

Mr Afzal said honour violence was not confined to fathers and grandfathers, but was carried out by younger relations too….”They get their identity and their ethnicity from these traditions. We know they are bizarre and outdated but they get their identity from those traditions and they feel very strongly that how you treat your women is a demonstration of your commitment to radicalism and extremist thought.”

Oh do they – how inspiring. What an interesting idea of ‘radicalism.’ There was a whiff of that in the sixties, too, but then that whiff is what blew into second-wave feminism; men who wanted to hang onto any idea of ‘radicalism’ dropped the whole ‘barefoot chick in the background’ routine pretty fast.

However, Reefat Draboo of the Muslim Council of Britain told the BBC she disagreed with Mr Afzal’s comments.

And the BBC asked someone from the MCB what she thought why, exactly? The BBC talked to someone at the MCB and no one else why? The BBC felt it had to ‘balance’ what Afzal said with what someone else said so it asked – the MCB and no one else, why? Because it always does? Because it’s so lazy it can’t be bothered to find a different organization or a more informed view? Draboo’s comment is supremely irrelevant, because ‘honour’ murder doesn’t have to be condoned by Islam for Islamist terror groups to approve of it. Why couldn’t the BBC get its feet underneath itself long enough to find someone with something of value to say? Because if it asks the MCB then Rage Boy may get a little peeved but he won’t go into full red alert fury mode? Or is it because it makes people at the BBC feel kind of vaguely sympathetic and diverse and right on to turn to the MCB all the time. Do they all have their heads wrapped in thick bales of attic insulation there or what?

Ask not why Rage Boy is in such a snit

Jun 26th, 2007 10:00 am | By

Is it a fatwah? Is it a copy of the Quran allegedly down the gurgler at Guantanamo? Is it some cartoon in Denmark? Time for Rage Boy to step in and for his visage to impress the rest of the world with the depth and strength of Islamist emotion.

Hitchens is talking about much the same thing as I was talking about a couple of days ago – this business of the depth and strength and profundity and vehemence of emotion, and the work it does – the way it impresses some people in the rest of the world and prompts them to reason backwards from the intensity of the emotion to the magnitude of the crime committed by the person or persons who ’caused’ the emotion. Look at Rage Boy: his staring eyes, his gaping mouth; he is clearly upset to the very depths of his soul; let us frown heavily on the source of Rage Boy’s rage, be it novel or cartoon or free woman walking abroad on the public highway.

The acceptance of an honor by a distinguished ex-Muslim writer, who exercised his freedom to abandon his faith and thus courts a death sentence for apostasy in any case, came shortly after the remaining minarets of the Askariya shrine in Samarra were brought down in shards…But what does “Rage Boy” have to say about this appalling desecration of a Muslim holy place? What resolutions were introduced into the “parliament” of Pakistan, denouncing such shameful profanity? You already know the answer to those questions.

Well…you see…er…Rushdie was living in London at the time! That’s it. He’s an apostate, and an Orientalist, and a leave-homer, and a neocon. Yes he is, don’t try to deny it! He’s a neocon, he is, he is! The people who blew up the Askariya shrine, say what you like about them but at least they’re not neocons. So of course Rage Boy’s reaction is not a bit disproportionate or just plain barking up the wrong tree, it’s a reasoned political analysis translated into a loud scream, and hence to be respected.

We may have to put up with the Rage Boys of the world, but we ought not to do their work for them, and we must not cry before we have been hurt. In front of me is a copy of this week’s Economist, which states that Rushdie’s 1989 death warrant was “punishment for the book’s unflattering depiction of the Prophet Muhammad.” There is no direct depiction of the prophet in this work of fiction, and the reverie about his many wives occurs in the dream of a madman. Nobody in Ayatollah Khomeini’s circle could possibly have read the book for him before he issued a fatwah, which made it dangerous to possess. Yet on that occasion, the bookstore chains of America pulled The Satanic Verses from their shelves, just as Borders shamefully pulled Free Inquiry (a magazine for which I write*) after it reproduced the Danish cartoons. Rage Boy keenly looks forward to anger, while we worriedly anticipate trouble, and fret about etiquette, and prepare the next retreat. If taken to its logical conclusion, this would mean living at the pleasure of Rage Boy, and that I am not prepared to do.

No, nor am I. If I’m going to consult anyone about how to live, it won’t be Rage Boy or anyone like him.

*So do I!

‘This is a man who’

Jun 24th, 2007 2:33 pm | By

I finally got around to watching ‘Question Time’ and Shirley Williams doing her party piece. The man in the audience asked the first question: is the knighthood given to Rushdie an insult to Muslims? SW was the first to answer: ‘I think it’s a mistake,’ she said. Then she went on. ‘This is a man who has offended Muslims in a very powerful way,’ she said in an unmistakable tone of indignation, then pointing out, absurdly, that he’d been protected for years at great expense to the taxpayer. Then she said it wasn’t Blair’s doing, it was the committee, and they should have etc etc etc. That’s when Hitchens said, quite rightly, ‘That’s a contemptible answer.’ Well so it damn well is.

‘This is a man who’ – in a tone of controlled anger. Excuse me? Excuse me? This is a man who wrote a novel, in part of which he expressed some ironic views about the p. M. What is wrong with that? What possessed Shirley Williams to say that as if he’d committed sodomy on Princess Beatrice’s pet rabbit? Would she say that about an academic – as it might be a well-known philosopher, such as her former husband – who wrote something critical about the p. M.? I certainly hope not, but perhaps she would. But what is her operating assumption there? That it is forbidden to write something critical about the p. M.? Well if so, that’s an end to scholarship of many kinds – comparative religion, history, politics, and quite a few related fields. Then perhaps she thinks it’s forbidden only for novelists? But if so, why? On what grounds? And where is that rule written down? Why haven’t all potential novelists (which would be all of us) been told?

Perhaps she thinks, as some cowering people said in 1989, that he ought to have known, or he must have known, or he did know. But if he ought or must have or did – again, so what? So.the.fuck.what? What follows from that? So does Irshad Manji know, so did and does Ayaan Hirsi Ali, so do Maryam Namazie and Homa Arjomand, so does Ibn Warraq, so does the Council of ex-Muslims, so does Gina Khan, so does Necla Kelik, so do a great many people; and they bravely don’t let that stop them. What is Shirley Williams saying – that they ought to? That they ought to know that Muslim men (much more men than women) will be offended and therefore shut up? Does she really think anything so contemptible? Or has she just not thought it through.

What people apparently do with these ‘offended’ claims is reverse engineer: they reason backwards: they look at the magnitude of the ‘offence’ and then assign guilt accordingly – but that’s wrong. If that rule held no one would ever criticize or dispute or tease anything because of the risk of ‘offence’ out of all proportion to the intent and to the harm done. Instead what people should be doing is coldly examining the merit of the putative grievance, independent of the quantity of fuss made.

Human arrangements, practices, customs, habits, institutions have to be open to discussion – family and marriage included, George S to the contrary notwithstanding. ‘This is a man who’ is not an appropriate response to such activities. (As George S notes in his very next post.)

Oh do get it right for once

Jun 24th, 2007 11:29 am | By

Update. Oh never mind – don’t bother reading this. I’d take it down except that there are already comments. As Rowan pointed out, this is an old news item, and (worse) I’ve commented on it before. Well I never said I wasn’t predictable…

More from the inexplicably bad clumsy journalism file. The ruining your own story simply by wording the basic point badly file. The don’t you have any decent editors? file. The I’ve told you this before, do I have to keep pointing it out year after year? file.

‘Men cleverer than women’ claim. Academics in the UK claim their research shows that men are more intelligent than women. A study to be published later this year in the British Journal of Psychology says that men are on average five points ahead on IQ tests.

On average. ‘On average’ doesn’t translate to ‘men are cleverer than women’ – obviously. As the article makes perfectly clear, it does translate to ‘there are more men with higher scores’ but that is decidedly not the same thing. As I’ve said before (so excuse the repetition if you remember the previous eye-roll) it takes only a few seconds’ thought to realize that ‘men are cleverer than women’ can’t possibly be right since it means that all men are cleverer than all women which means that the least clever man is cleverer than the cleverest woman, and that is obviously not the case.

It seems such a basic point, yet they keep getting it wrong. That’s not very clever of them.

Rod Liddle on Rushdiephobia

Jun 22nd, 2007 11:59 am | By

Gorgeous. Someone gets it.

The decision to knight the author Salman Rushdie has brought together, in angry concordat, almost the entire world…Rushdie is loathed — and not just by the mediaevally minded bigots of Islamabad, Tehran and the Finsbury Park mosque. He seems to be loathed by everyone else, too. No sooner had his knighthood been announced than the British Right waded into attack….We give him expensive police protection when the mad mullahs order his death and he repays us by continuing to speak his mind. Beneath all this is the usually unspoken intimation of racism: Salman — well, he’s a darkie, isn’t he? A chippy little wog. Comes from Bombay or Mumbai or somewhere ghastly like that…The British Left hates him, if anything, even more. It has long carried a torch for Islam, despite the misogyny, homophobia and authoritarian impulses of the ideology.

And the death penalty for ‘apostasy’ and the slight huffiness about blasphemy and a few other not obviously left-wing details. It’s the great central mystery of our time, as far as I’m concerned, this inexplicable torch carried for Islam. Stalin, Islam – gee, parts of the left just don’t seem to have very good taste, do they.

Like most haggard and tired former commies, I have little time for the honours system; it’s an infantile, reflexive thing on my part, I suppose. Certainly I will be the first to show up with my bucket of ordure when some tenth-rate, brain-dead pop star or footballer or soap actor has a medal pinned on him out of the government’s desire to kowtow to public sensibilities.

Or, now you mention it, some tenth-rate head of a certain Council who gave it as his opinion that death was too good for Rushdie.

But if we are to have the honours, I find it difficult to think of anyone more deserving of a knighthood than Sir Salman Rushdie. While the rest of us were still worrying about the Cold War, Rushdie was warning us about the war yet to come. He addressed the Islamic revolution with sophistication, philosophical elegance and great literary inventiveness. And he did so with enormous courage and candour. He is perhaps Britain’s only writer who has successfully examined the soul of Islam and, in so doing, examined the soul of the West too…He has witnessed the most wretched of little political weasels, the likes of Keith Vaz, marching through the streets at the head of a throng of howling Muslim maniacs, demanding his book be burned.

Yes but – but – but – but he caused offence to the Muslim community! Don’t you understand, Mr Liddle? He caused offence. He caused the ‘spiritual leader’ of Iran to call for his murder – don’t you see how wicked that was? Are you blind? Are you an Orientalist? Or what are you altogether?

You’re one of the few people writing in the mainstream rags who gets it, that’s what. Have a chocolate; you deserve it.

Sympathy for the community

Jun 21st, 2007 5:37 pm | By

More sinister crap.

Jack Straw today sympathised with the hurt feelings of the Muslim community over the knighthood awarded to the author Salman Rushdie – and disclosed that he too is no fan of Sir Salman’s writing.

Ah – he too. He too like…? He too like Ijaz ul-Haq who thinks strapping on a bomb is the right response to novels one is not a fan of? He too like Khomeini who thought novelists who write novels unworthy of fandom should be murdered forthwith? Is that what Straw meant? If not, what did he mean? Well, maybe nothing, since maybe it was the reporter who put it that way. But why say it at all? An effort to throw a bone to a dog? ‘Well, dear members of the community, I can’t quite promise to snatch back the gong, or extradite Rushdie to Iran, or have him arrested and executed, but hey, at least I am no fan of his novels, so is that any help? Please say it is – I do so sympathize with the hurt feelings of the Muslim community over the knighthood awarded to Rushdie, and I do so long to cuddle the Muslim community until it stops crying.’

Why does he sympathize with the hurt feelings of the Muslim community over the knighthood awarded to Rushdie? No, really; why? What business do they have having hurt feelings about it at all? Why don’t they instead have abashed embarrassed exasperated feelings over 1) the attempts to get Rushdie killed and 2) the grossly disproportionate reaction to one passage in one novel? Well, some of them probably do, but you’d never know it to listen to all the moaning about hurt feelings and outrage and hoof huffff foomp waha.

Mr Straw…condemned the idea that Rushdie should be the subject of a revived fatwa, or Islamic death sentence, for the offence he caused to Muslims in his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses. But, questioned by MPs about concern in the Muslim community and asked how the knighthood came to be bestowed, Mr Straw said that he found Rushdie’s books heavy going.

So the Times can’t get it right either. The Times too says Rushdie caused offence to Muslims. Can no one over there get it right? Is there not one journalist in the UK who can manage to mention Rushdie without saying he caused the offence and the fatwa and global warming? (Yes, Johann Hari; any more?) Is there not one journalist in the UK who can dredge up a little skepticism about ‘concern in the Muslim community’? Concern about what, they don’t ask sharply – so let us ask it. Concern about what? About the fact that someone once wrote a novel that said something about the prophet that they don’t like, and to this day that someone has not been murdered or executed and now he even has a K? Is that what the concern is about? But given how obvious the stupidity of such concern is, why are MPs asking questions about it? Why aren’t they instead making statements about how footling it is, and then moving briskly on to other business?

Of course I understand the concerns and sensitivity in the community. That said there can be no justification whatever for suggestions that as a result of this a further fatwa should be placed on the life of Mr Rushdie.

Well you shouldn’t, Mr Straw – you shouldn’t understand the concerns and sensitivity in the community. They’re bad concerns, they’re not worth understanding, they have to be resisted and disputed, not understood. They’re wrong. They’re coercive, and dangerous, and wrong, and the more people understand them and sympathize with them and weep salt tears over them, the more coercive and dangerous they will become.

The Satanic Verses was condemned across the Islamic world on its publication and led to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran issuing a fatwa, encouraging Muslims to kill the author.

The Satanic Verses was condemned across the Islamic world without having been read by most of that Islamic world, and it did not ‘lead to’ Khomeini issuing a fatwa, Khomeini did that of his own volition. (Either that or a buttefly made him do it; anyway it wasn’t Rushdie.)

Isn’t it kind of common knowledge to everyone who’s ever had or met a toddler, that you don’t make a big sympathetic fuss over every single whimper if you don’t want to end up with the Spoiled Monster From Hell who weighs 800 pounds and won’t leave? I’d have thought it was. So why is everyone falling over each other in the rush to treat ‘the Muslim community’ like the most demanding petulant screaming toddler that ever was on land or sea? I leave it to your wisdom to determine.

Rushdie has time to reconsider, BBC points out

Jun 20th, 2007 1:55 pm | By

This is the worst yet. Tendentious manipulative hostile language in every line. It defies belief. The damn BBC seems to be convinced that Rushdie committed a crime.

Salman Rushdie’s knighthood has provoked protests around the Islamic world and a diplomatic row. So how was the decision made, and why did no-one appear to consider the consequences?

See? There it is again – the knighthood ‘provoked’ protests. No it fucking didn’t – some mindless zealots and some political thugs keen to distract attention from their own real malfeasance decided to make a fuss; Salman Rushdie’s knighthood didn’t provoke anything. And what does ‘consider the consequences’ mean? Predict that mindless zealots would blow their tops again and that therefore an otherwise reasonable and desirable act should not be performed, because it’s always good to do what mindless zealots demand? What a stupid question. Why didn’t the BBC consider the consequences of publishing this horrible article?

The lengthy process involved makes it all the more surprising to critics that little consideration was given to a likely backlash.

Somebody should get a damn good thrashing, yes? The critics are quite right, yes?

[I]n Sir Salman’s case it looks as if his cheerleaders were the English branch of Pen, an international writers’ group.

Cheerleaders. Girly, overexcited, useless – not sober adults who seriously think Rushdie is at least as deserving of a K as Iqbal Sacranie, who said death was too good for him, was.

His book, The Satanic Verses, was seen as so offensive to Muslims that he was forced into hiding, under threat of death.

Seen by whom? Forced by whom? Threat of death from whom? What’s with all the passive voice and the anonymity? The mealy-mouthed belly-up excusing of a dictator putting out a hit on a citizen of a foreign country? I don’t suppose the BBC talked about Pinochet in this hyper-tactful way; why does it talk about Khomeni this way?

And then we get to Conservative MP Stewart Jackson.

“Salman Rushdie was subjected to one of the most famous death sentences in the 20th Century. If the senior officers of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office were not able to use their knowledge of the Islamic world to consider the likely ramifications of this decision, then I’m extremely concerned.”

It wasn’t a death sentence, because Khomeini had no jurisdiction over Salman Rushdie; it was a contract, a hit, an incitement to murder. It’s staggering to see a Tory MP dressing up a mob hit in that way.

His objections to Sir Salman’s knighthood do not stop there. “He’s only semi-resident in this country and his books are rubbish, tedious and without literary merit. There’s no question that we can rescind the award, it would make us look weak and it’s not for Britain to kow-tow to extremists but perhaps it would be appropriate for Salman Rushdie to make the decision not to accept this award,” said Mr Jackson. That seems unlikely given Sir Salman’s initial reaction that was he “thrilled and humbled to receive this great honour”. He does, however, have time to reconsider since he is unlikely to be formally presented with the award by the Queen until the end of the year.

Thus Jenny Percival makes it clear that she thinks he should damn well step up to the plate.

Foul stuff.

More lefthand dreck

Jun 20th, 2007 11:19 am | By

Next round of sinister crap. (Who is this Michael White? Why have I never heard of him before? Why have none of you pointed him out to me before? He certainly seems obvious enough.)

So who is to blame for the latest blow to the fragile relations between Britain and two key Muslim states 19 years after The Satanic Verses earned its author that fatwa from Iran?

Isn’t that cute? Isn’t that just adorable? Someone is to blame for Rushdie’s gong; it is blow to the fragile relations between Britain and two key Muslim states; Rushdie’s novel earned its author that fatwa. That’s a lot of nasty stuff for one sentence.


Jun 20th, 2007 11:05 am | By

Man, there’s a lot of sinister crap out there today. From Bunglawala for instance, on his way to disavowing book-burning.

The Thatcher government had banned Peter Wright’s Spycatcher and had gone to court to prevent its distribution. Surely, Rushdie’s novel, which had caused such offence to hundreds of millions of believers, deserved a similar fate?

The Thatcher government didn’t ban Spycatcher because it ’caused such offence’ to anyone. That’s not to say it had good reasons, it’s just to say it had different ones. Much more to the point, what on earth does he mean, ’caused such offence to hundreds of millions of believers’? ‘Such’ as what, exactly? What ‘such’ does he have in mind? He must know perfectly well that the hundreds of millions of believers (if that many were offended; I’m not sure anyone made an actual count) didn’t all read the book, that in fact it’s probably a very small percentage that did. So what kind of ‘offence’ are we talking about exactly? What is it about that kind of offence that deserves the honorific intensifier ‘such’? In what way, exactly, does Bunglawala take the hundreds of millions of believers to have been offended? They were told that Badman Rushdie had written something blasphemous about the Prophet – is that the kind of offended he means? Well, if so, it’s a tad remote and third-hand and abstract, and it’s also highly dubious to say that Rushdie’s novel caused that. Rushdie didn’t go on a book tour beseeching imams to tell ‘believers’ that his book was blasphemous – did he? Not that I recall! And surely it would have come out if he had.

No, what Bunglawala is doing there is basically just a trick. A form of persuasion. He’s claiming that Rushdie’s novel caused ‘such offence’ to hundreds of millions of believers, in a bid for sympathy and respect and solidarity and concern, even though his claim is fundamentally flawed and manipulative. He sees the point of free speech now, good, but he’s still determined to revile Rushdie.

I remember being rather puzzled as to why Rushdie’s defenders were so vigorous in arguing for the right to offend Muslims. Muslims were not writing books making fun of Christ and other revered religious figures. It seemed to be a deliberate attempt to mock deeply held beliefs.

Did anyone argue anything so stupid? I don’t think so. I think Rushdie’s defenders argued for the right to offend anyone, including religious believers, including Muslims – I don’t think anyone argued for the right to offend Muslims in particular. But Bunglawala gets to plant his nasty little barb.

So on February 14 1989, when the Iranian Islamic leader, Imam Khomeini delivered his fatwa calling for Salman Rushdie’s death, I was truly elated. It was a very welcome reminder that British Muslims did not have to regard themselves just as a small, vulnerable minority; they were part of a truly global and powerful movement. If we were not treated with respect then we were capable of forcing others to respect us.

That’s not respect, Mr Bunglawala, that’s contempt. All you wretched deluded fools have succeeded in doing is forcing others to have contempt for you. The attitude of reasonable people toward a cleric who demands the murder of a citizen of a distant country (or his own for that matter) for writing a novel is profound, astonished, repelled contempt.

Rushdie sparked calls for his own execution – right?

Jun 19th, 2007 4:51 pm | By

The flattering descriptions continue. The BBC says Rushdie’s book ‘sparked worldwide protests’. The Guardian says ‘The Satanic Verses provoked the ire of many Muslims and led to the issuing of a fatwa,’ and still talks of a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s ‘execution,’ still says the book was ‘immediately condemned by the Islamic world’ (it’s hard to know what that last phrase even means – it sounds quite surreal). On BBC World News last night a reporter said Rushdie ‘affronted Muslim values’ by writing the book. Horrible, toadying stuff.

Lisa Appignanesi gives Priyamvada Gopal one in the eye though.

During the dark years of the Fatwa, Rushdie lent his fame to help less well-known writers around the world who suffered similar fates or found themselves persecuted either by states or religious hierarchies for their work. As a vice-president of English Pen, the world association of writers, and for some years president of American Pen, he worked indefatigably for the cause of free expression, joining with us here to combat the worst excesses of the government’s “religious hatred” legislation. Perhaps in awarding him this honour, the government has also come to recognise the crucial importance of a freedom which underpins so many others. Rushdie’s “services to literature” also extend to a singular generosity in helping young, and particularly Asian, writers make their way in what is often a difficult literary marketplace.

Universal values, universal liberal values, not western, not European, not white. Universal. Think about it, Priyamvada Gopal.

Haram or halal?

Jun 19th, 2007 4:28 pm | By

A terrible moment in Shiv Malik’s Prospect article on Siddique Khan. He’s talking to Khan’s brother, as he has several times before.

For some reason, I translated my usual question of whether he thought what his brother had done was “good” or “bad”—he had said that it was a terrible thing several times—and instead asked him whether he thought 7/7 was halal (permitted) or haram (forbidden) in Islam. Only when a look of stunned surprise come over Gultasab’s face did I realise that I must have been asking him an entirely different question. After a brief pause, he replied. “No comment.”

Here, it seemed, was the perfect example of the division between two worldviews—secular ethics and an embattled Islamic faith. How long had Gultasab managed to function with these two conflicting positions fighting within him? Everyday morality told him that his brother had committed a cold-blooded act of terror, while his own Islamic theology told him that there was no clear answer and maybe his brother was a hero. How many thousands of young British Muslims are similarly conflicted?

How’s that for a crystal-clear illustration of why secularism is essential? On the one hand, everyday morality: murdering a lot of random people and injuring a lot of others is a bad thing to do; on the other hand, Islamic theology: hmmmmmmmaybe not so bad. That other hand won’t do. That other hand has got to go. If Islamic theology says maybe maybe maybe mass murder is halal – then Islamic theology is dead wrong and must not be obeyed. It’s only if everyone accepts secularism – believers as well as non-believers, theists as well as atheists – that that principle can hold. If people reject secularism, then ‘theology’ can be permitted to trump both law and morality – and welcome to hell on earth.

There’s a choice bit in Siddique Khan’s horrible video that is another crystal-clear illustration.

Part two, which makes up three quarters of Khan’s speech, is addressed to Muslims in Britain. Here is an excerpt: “Our so-called scholars today are content with their Toyotas and semi-detached houses. They seem to think that their responsibilities lie in pleasing the kufr instead of Allah. So they tell us ludicrous things, like you must obey the law of the land. Praise be God! How did we ever conquer lands in the past if we were to obey this law?”

There’s another unpleasant example from Stop Honour Killings:

A man who raped a Muslim woman because she showed an interest in Christianity has been jailed for at least five years by a Sydney court…Al-Shawany’s trial was told that he visited the woman, an acquaintance, at Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centre with another man. The woman had been reading the Bible and Al-Shawany noted her contact with Christians. The men told her they were “infidel people” and if she went with them, her killing “would be halal” – meaning her killer would go to heaven.

Oh yes, and where would she go?

Not a good way to think. Stupid, of course, but also dangerous, ruthless, murderous, immoral – just no good. A kufr thing to say, but there you go.

How dare you knight the man we want killed?

Jun 18th, 2007 4:01 pm | By

I felt very close to losing my temper when reading this.

Also today, Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said many Muslims would regard the knighthood as the final insult from Tony Blair before he leaves office next week. “Salman Rushdie earned notoriety amongst Muslims for the highly insulting and blasphemous manner in which he portrayed early Islamic figures,” Dr Bari said. “The granting of a knighthood to him can only do harm to the image of our country in the eyes of hundreds of millions of Muslims across the world. Many will interpret the knighthood as a final contemptuous parting gift from Tony Blair to the Muslim world.”

Insult is it. Rushdie earned notoriety is it. Harm to our image is it. Contemptuous is it. What about the serious and dedicated effort to get the novelist murdered merely for writing a story about ‘early Islamic figures’ you contemptible apologist for theocratic tyranny? What about that? Eh? Eh? Why are you so worried about an award given to a novelist and so unworried by murder and attempted murder? Why do you have such a pathetic, ludicrous, immoral, twisted sense of priorities? What is the matter with you?

The Guardian does the vocabulary thing, of course. ‘The comments follow other condemnation of the award for Rushdie, whose novel The Satanic Verses provoked worldwide protests over allegations that it insulted Islam.’ The novel ‘provoked’ protests. Bad novel, naughty Rushdie, provoking and insulting dear kind caring Dr Bari and his hundreds of millions of friends.

What they’ve assented to

Jun 18th, 2007 3:20 pm | By


Sir Salman, on the other hand, is partly the creation of the fatwa…The Sir Salman recognised for his services to literature is certainly no neocon but is iconic of a more pernicous trend: liberal literati who have assented to the notion that humane values, tolerance and freedom are fundamentally western ideas that have to be defended as such.

No he isn’t, no he doesn’t, no they haven’t. That’s crap. What they’ve assented to (the liberal ones – if they haven’t they’re not liberal) is the opposite: that humane values, tolerance and freedom are universal ideas that have to be defended as such, and that claiming they are a monopoly of any one region or nation or ethnic group is highly illiberal as well as dangerous.

Straw phrase? Broken-backed emollient?

Jun 17th, 2007 9:33 am | By

You know those phrases that are notoriously unconvincing and self-serving – so much so that they form a category, which people recognize? Phrases that are meant to reassure but don’t because they are so transparent? You know the ones I mean. The one I’ve been pondering is ‘It’s not personal’ – used about an obvious, blatant insult or rejection or exclusion or other bit of invidious treatment. The others I’ve been able to think of are ‘The check is in the mail.’ ‘Don’t worry, I’ll pull out in time.’ ‘It’s okay, I’ve had a vasectomy.’ ‘The donation in no way influences my vote.’ ‘It’s not you, it’s me.’

Does that genre have a name? And what are some others? There must be others, but I don’t seem to know of any.

Who offended whom?

Jun 17th, 2007 9:12 am | By

The BBC keeps doing things like this.

Iran has criticised the British government for its decision to give a knighthood to author Salman Rushdie. His book The Satanic Verses offended Muslims worldwide and led to Iran issuing a fatwa in 1989, ordering Sir Salman’s execution.

It’s terribly misleading to say that Rushdie’s novel ‘offended Muslims worldwide’ without qualification. There’s an enormous amount wrong with that offhand statement. One, many and probably most people who were ‘offended’ by Rushdie’s novel never read it, so the simple and active phrasing there – his book offended Muslims – is just inaccurate. An accurate version would be something more like ‘some Muslims were offended by what they heard or were told about Rushdie’s novel and by the fact that he had written it.’ Yes but they don’t have the space to say that in the second sentence. Okay, but if they don’t have the space, they shouldn’t say anything – they shouldn’t say something grossly and tendentiously misleading instead, especially not about someone who is under a standing death threat for doing the very thing they described so ineptly and inaccurately. What they do by phrasing it that way is half-endorse the attitude of the people who issued the fatwa, and they really ought not to do that on the basis of bad sloppy inaccurate phrasing.

How I wish I were their editor. How I wish I could sub their pieces; I would take stuff like that out.

Two, they also shouldn’t say the book offended Muslims in that straightforward way: the offense, like the offense over the Danish cartoons, was not spontaneous or instantaneous, it was worked up; it was decidedly not a matter of Muslims in general taking one look and swelling with outrage. Third, they really shouldn’t say the book ‘led to Iran issuing a fatwa’ as if Rushdie had brought the fatwa on himself and as if Khomeini had no choice in the matter. (Have I quarreled with them for this before? I think so.) And they shouldn’t say ‘execution’ as if Iran had some judicial right to ‘order’ it! The word is murder, not execution.

Frances Harrison did something similar in a World Service report on the same subject – she referred to ‘the Danish cartoons that insulted the prophet’ – as if that were the commonplace and straightforward description of the cartoons. Well it’s not! The cartoons were of the prophet, but they were far from all insulting, in fact none of them were really except possibly the bomb in the turban one, which can also be read as about the hijacking of the prophet by bomb-lovers. Yet there is Harrison reinforcing the outrage by being inaccurate.

They keep, keep, keep doing this. Why? Just sucking up? Just not wanting to piss off Tariq Ramadan any further? Not wanting to seem ‘Islamophobic’? Who knows.

There’s this familiar little bit of icing at the end, too – ‘in 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s spiritual leader, issued a fatwa.’ ‘Spiritual leader’ – you mean theocratic dictator. I wish they would stop with that spiritual leader crap. I’m tired of hearing about the ‘spiritual leader’ of Hamas and the ‘spiritual leader’ of Hizbollah and the ‘spiritual leader’ of the Muslim Brotherhood. I’m sick of all this wretched slavish prettying-up. It’s not pretty. Homicidal rage at novels and novelists is not pretty, fatwas ordering murder are not pretty, theocratic thugs are not pretty.

Save poor Denmark

Jun 16th, 2007 1:25 pm | By

So missionaries from the Third World are coming to Europe to convert the heathen to Christianity. Very droll.

Denmark is a wealthy nation of 5.5 million people that always scores near the top of surveys of the world’s happiest nations. To Johansen, the problem is clear: “We’re just too well-off in Europe.”…Johansen’s work takes him all over the world, he said, and he has noticed much stronger religious faith in poorer societies…”We’re basically rich and spoiled.”

So…religious ‘faith’ correlates with poverty and the absence of it correlates with prosperity and happiness – and that’s a problem for the people who are prosperous and happy? I wonder if it occurs to Johansen that one could interpret the correlation in another way – that poor people need the consolations of ‘faith’ more than prosperous and happy people do, and that the absence of ‘faith’ is not in fact a problem at all.

Do me a favour

Jun 14th, 2007 2:23 pm | By

Good old Vatican. Not that there’s anything surprising about it, but good old Vatican all the same. Grown women, who cares; pre-conscious insentient fetuses, all-important. So the woman was raped, so what; she has to have that baby!

A thought experiment. Not the kidney one, a different (though similar) one. A woman is newly pregnant against her will; she doesn’t approve of abortion and isn’t going to have one. She discovers the fetus has a very rare disease which is quickly fatal unless the fetus can be removed and implanted in a compatible host; such hosts are very rare but can be found via a computer search of a medical database. A compatible host is found. Is it murder if she refuses to be an actual host? Not just that – would anyone even think she had a very strong duty to be a host? Would anyone even think she had a weak duty?

I say no. Hardly anyone would think that. (Perhaps I’m underestimating the obsession with the fetus.) So the difference must be that in the usual case, the fetus exists because its mother had sex with a man. Why is that a kind of difference that makes a difference?

Okay put it more charitably, and emotively. The difference is because the fetus belongs to the person whose uterus it is in. But she’s the one who doesn’t want it. The Vatican perhaps thinks she ought to want it. But – is it really the Vatican’s business who loves whom, who wants whom? If the objects of the loving or wanting are not the kind of entities we otherwise think are owed occupancy of our bodies?

Family values

Jun 14th, 2007 10:56 am | By

Brian Whitaker on ‘family values’.

I always find it strange that when President Bush talks about spreading freedom in the Middle East he automatically focuses on authoritarian regimes…Yes, the regimes are a problem but families are the most basic unit of government in the region; at a day-to-day level, they are also the main instrument of tyranny and the biggest obstacle to personal liberty. I have lost count of the times I have sat in cafes – in Cairo, Beirut, Damascus and similar places – listening to complaints about the suffocating influence, not of the government, but of fathers, uncles, brothers and cousins.

Whitaker notes that Bush skips lightly over authoritarian regimes that are US-friendly, though he doesn’t actually spell out the words S-a-u-d-i A-r-a-b-i-a. But anyway, too right about families (not that Bush would ever say so, of course, being a family values kind of guy, as well he might be, since without family connections he would be the affable local drunk, not the most powerful man in the world). Families are indeed the bedrock sources of tyranny and obstacles to freedom, especially (obviously) for women. In many ways, blocking the freedom of women is what families are for.

The MCB condemned ‘honour’ killing in 2003. It said a couple of, um, interesting things in the process though.

In various countries throughout the world, particularly in the Middle East and parts of South Asia, women who bring dishonor to their families because of sexual indiscretions are forced to pay a terrible price at the hands of male family members.

Note the assumption that women do in fact bring dishonor to their families because of sexual indiscretions; note the assumption that what women do sexually is their families’ business – without any stipulation or limit, so that it applies not just to married women but to all women, so that it could include adult single women living on their own. Note the assumption that, like Islam, a family is something you’re not allowed to opt out of or leave or even be slightly independent of; note the assumption that women belong to their families and that what they do ‘brings’ things to their families. Note the claustrophobia, note the complete absence of freedom and autonomy, note the prison bars.

Islam is clear on its prohibition of sexual relationships outside of marriage. This prohibition does not distinguish between men and women…In order for a case to even be brought before a Muslim court, several strict criteria must be met. The most important is that any accusation of illicit sexual behavior must have been seen by four witnesses; and they must have been witness to the act of sexual intercourse itself.

And that applies to rape too – which of course means that women bound by these laws can’t ever prosecute a rapist. (What rapist would be insane enough ever to allow the number of spectators to swell to four?! They never ever invite more than three people to watch; if one brings along a buddy from work, no use, he can’t stay, no matter how hard he begs.) That’s not such a ‘progressive’ or compassionate rule as the MCB makes it sound.