Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.


Say what you like provided you respect beliefs

Mar 7th, 2009 11:02 am | By

Hitchens ponders the UN resolution ‘Combating defamation of religions.’

Paragraph 5 “expresses its deep concern that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism,” while Paragraph 6 “[n]otes with deep concern the intensification of the campaign of defamation of religions and the ethnic and religious profiling of Muslim minorities in the aftermath of the tragic events of 11 September 2001.”…In Paragraph 6, an obvious attempt is being made to confuse ethnicity with confessional allegiance. Indeed this insinuation (incidentally dismissing the faith-based criminality of 9/11 as merely “tragic”) is in fact essential to the entire scheme. If religion and race can be run together, then the condemnations that racism axiomatically attracts can be surreptitiously extended to religion, too. This is clumsy, but it works: The useless and meaningless term Islamophobia, now widely used as a bludgeon of moral blackmail, is testimony to its success.

Well maybe we should try the same tactic then. Maybe we should start complaining about atheophobia and secularophobia and rightsophobia. Catchy? No?

[T]he U.N. resolution seeks to extend the whole area of denial from its existing homeland in the Islamic world into the heartland of post-Enlightenment democracy where it is still individuals who have rights, not religions. See where the language of Paragraph 10 of the resolution is taking us. Having briefly offered lip service to the rights of free expression, it goes on to say that “the exercise of these rights carries with it special duties and responsibilities and may therefore be subject to limitations as are provided for by law and are necessary for respect of the rights or reputations of others, protection of national security or of public order, public health or morals and respect for religions and beliefs.” The thought buried in this awful, wooden prose is as ugly as the language in which it is expressed: Watch what you say, because our declared intention is to criminalize opinions that differ with the one true faith.

Yes, and furthermore, note carefully that rights of free expression which are subject to limitations as are provided for by law and are necessary for respect for religions and beliefs are not rights of free expression at all. That last phrase simply makes a nonsense of the very idea. A right of free expression that is subject to limitation by respect for religions and beliefs is a thoroughgoing oxymoron.



Upon this rock

Mar 6th, 2009 11:42 am | By

Why do I frown on Blair’s adult-onset Catholicism? Why do I think it’s reprehensible for informed adults to join the Catholic church? Because the Catholic church is a reactionary cruel woman-hating bullying organization run by men and based on mythology, that’s why. If you join the Catholic church as a reasoning adult, then you are signing up to and endorsing that organization, just as if you joined a neo-Nazi party or the Taliban or any other organization. It makes no sense to disagree with many of its most vehement and public positions and yet join it anyway. Jimmy Carter, to his credit, left The Southern Baptist Convention when it announced a new woman-subordinating stance; if he gets credit for that then Blair gets uncredit for joining the unregenerate Church of Peter.

A Brazilian archbishop says all those who helped a child rape victim secure an abortion are to be excommunicated from the Catholic Church. The girl, aged nine, who lives in the north-eastern state of Pernambuco, became pregnant with twins. It is alleged that she had been sexually assaulted over a number of years by her stepfather.

And in any case she was sexually assaulted by someone, because she’s pregnant, and nine-year-olds can’t give meaningful consent to sex, much less to pregnancy and motherhood.

The Catholic Church tried to intervene to prevent the abortion going ahead but the procedure was carried out on Wednesday…The Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, told Brazil’s TV Globo that the law of God was above any human law…However, doctors at the hospital said they had to take account of the welfare of the girl, and that she was so small that her uterus did not have the ability to contain one child let alone two.

So the archbishop thinks that ‘God’ wants a young girl who was used as a sex toy to bear twins despite the fact that her body is too small to make the attempt safely – so the archbishop thinks ‘God’ is a moral monster. Well I tend to agree with him, but that’s why I think human law is not ‘above’ but better and also a great deal safer than the putative law of God. The archbishop of course does not know what ‘the law of God’ is or might be if there is such a thing; he merely pretends to, and then pretends that his own pretence is ‘above’ human realism and reflection.

Grown-up reasonable people have no business joining such an outfit. In fact they ought to be leaving it in disgust, not stumbling along to join it.



Opinion polling 101

Mar 5th, 2009 11:44 am | By

The BHA is critical of a survey by Theos because the wording of the questions is a tad peculiar.

The survey first asked whether respondents believed in “theistic evolution”. This was confusingly defined as “the idea that evolution is the means that God used for the creation of all living things on earth.” The survey then asked whether respondents believed in “atheistic evolution”, again reflexively defined as “the idea that evolution makes belief in God unnecessary and absurd.”

Yes, that’s pretty obviously tendentious. It’s amusing to remember, though, that some observers have thought the BHA’s own polling wasn’t entirely up to the best standards.

(Last link fixed!)



Happening to

Mar 5th, 2009 10:59 am | By

Tony Blair seems very confused.

In an interview published in the Church of England Newspaper , Mr Blair said: “Sometimes I think we as Christians are more sensitive than we should be although I say that as someone who when I was in office, although I was perfectly open about my Christianity, nonetheless kept it within certain boundaries that were restricted in terms of what I said publicly. The position of prime minister puts you in a unique category. But in general terms in British society there is a risk that people see faith as a personal eccentricity.”

But if faith is not in some sense ‘a personal eccentricity’ then why did Blair keep his Christianity ‘within certain boundaries’? If Christianity is a perfectly ordinary set of beliefs, with no hint of the irrational or the illusory or the wishful about them, then why is there any need for boundaries that are restricted in terms of what a PM says publicly? In other words, is not the perceived need for boundaries there because ‘faith’ is what it is – is belief in the absence of or in defiance of evidence? Yet Blair dances around that rather obvious fact.

“I hope and believe that stories of people not being allowed to express their Christianity are exceptional or the result of individual ludicrous decisions. My view is that people should be proud of their Christianity and able to express it as they wish.” He admitted that conflict is “inevitable” between traditional religions and the new liberal doctrine of human rights. But he went on: “The real test of a religion is whether in an age of aggressive secularism it has the confidence to go out and make its case by persuasion.” Mr Blair disclosed, however, that while prime minister he believed equality and diversity were more important than religion in the case of the Catholic adoption agencies, who failed in their bid to be exempted from laws requiring them to consider homosexual couples as potential parents. “I happen to take the gay rights position,” he said.

Does he really mean he simply ‘happens’ to take the gay rights position? Is he saying he doesn’t take it for reasons? Is he saying it’s not a principled view but just a quirk or a matter of taste, as if gay rights were butterscotch or plaid or Mozart? He is saying that, whether he would stand by it or not – that is, he put it that way in order to skirt the obvious problem that his position is the opposite of the Catholic church’s position and yet he is now a Catholic. He attempted to duck the issue by using a weasel word. He did that presumably because he doesn’t want to address the fact that the Church he just joined has bad nasty retrograde views on various human rights. This is not impressive. It’s also decidedly distasteful in the context of a snide remark about ‘aggressive secularism.’ If it weren’t for ‘aggressive secularism’ we wouldn’t have gay rights, and if it weren’t for aggressive theocracy we wouldn’t keep having to fight rearguard actions against the enemies of gay rights and women’s rights and rights to free thought and speech. It is unbecoming for a Labour recently-ex Prime Minister to blow that off with a ‘happen to.’



Lentils

Mar 4th, 2009 11:23 am | By

It’s interesting to notice how hard it is to think without thinking morally. I suppose it can be done, but one would have to be ruthlessly, dedicatedly, vigilantly selfish and solipsistic. Psychopaths can do that, by definition, but it must be very difficult for everyone else. (Autistic people are another exception but autism is a disability, so that’s a separate issue.) We think with our emotions, as Antonio Damasio has helped to make even clearer than it was before; most of our emotions are related to attraction or aversion; once we become aware, at about age 4, that other people have minds just as we do, we understand that other people have likes and dislikes just as we do. This means that we start to learn very early in life that which we need to know in order to think morally. It is possible to avoid or delay or enfeeble this learning process – but it’s not easy. If our parents and siblings don’t teach us, then other people do, sooner or later. We have to be very dense not to understand that if we hurt people, they don’t like it, and we have to be very callous not to eventually get to the thought that we ought not to do things to people that they don’t like.

Of course, after that there is the challenging and stimulating process of rationalizing our desires to hurt or damage or hinder people. It’s hard to be entirely solipsistic, but it’s easy to come up with reasons to explain why certain people must be subordinated or exploited or enslaved or raped or tortured or killed or all those. One quick and easy method is just to invoke a deity – ‘God says so.’ Custom, tradition, our people, the tribe, the nation can serve the same purpose. Secular liberals who oppose subordination and slavery and torture don’t have it so easy – we have to come up with something better than a one or two word label for our moral reasons. This takes awhile, and a number of words; this fact often leads observers to think that secular liberals have a weaker case than theists and traditionalists do. That’s wrong. Theists and traditionalists are the ones who have the weaker case; ‘God says so’ and ‘we have always done it this way’ are worthless reasons for doing anything. But fortunately we are not cats or wolves; we can decide to eat lentils instead of animals and we can spend time and words explaining why cruelty is bad.



Ah but who decides what ‘murder’ is?

Mar 3rd, 2009 10:41 am | By

We’ve been visited lately by someone who has (by his own admission) only just realized that different cultures have different moralities, and who has drawn sweeping conclusions from that fact, which he offers to us as if we had never heard that different cultures have different moralities. This is unenlightening and uninteresting – but the larger subject is interesting.

An irony in this is that part of his claim (entangled though it is in overgeneralization, oversimplification, rhetoric, and confusion) is one that I’ve talked about here more than once. It is true that there is a popular claim that ‘we all agree’ or ‘we can all agree’ on certain basics about morality. I think that claim is dead wrong, and often dangerous (because it can lead to such total confusion about what is going on). It may be true that ‘we can all agree’ on certain forms of words – but that doesn’t mean we agree on the moral substance, because the words can always mean different things, and they often do. For example: it might well be possible to get everyone around an imagined global conference table to agree that murder is wrong, but that just moves the issue back (or forward) a step, because people can always define murder in such a way that it doesn’t include the particular killing they want to do. This move works on all sorts of things. Rape doesn’t include husbands forcing sex on their wives, or soldiers forcing sex on ‘rebels’ or ‘the enemy’ or ‘traitors’ or whatever word is needed to make the object deserving of the subject’s action. That is all it takes to make an otherwise prohibited action perfectly acceptable or indeed meritorious.

Irshad Manji talks about this* with respect to a much-cited Koranic verse that repudiates killing – with a much less-cited proviso ‘except as punishment for murder or other villainy in the land.’ ‘Other villainy’ covers a lot of territory; it covers pretty much anything an aspirant killer might want it to cover.

Another version we often see is the remarkably fatuous assumption that people who commit ‘honour’ murders of daughters or wives or sisters ‘loved’ them despite murdering them. This is just a way of redescribing reality so that it’s a little bit consoling. Yes, he strangled his own teenage daughter because she didn’t want to wear hijab, but he loved her all the same. No, because if he had loved her, her life would have been a great deal more important to him than whether or not she wore hijab. Beware of the consoling lie, because it trains us to accept horrors.

People disagree about morality, and pious platitudes about all agreeing on the basics are just wrong. But it doesn’t follow from that, and it isn’t true, that nothing is better or worse than anything else, or that there is no way to choose among competing moralities, or that there is nothing to say about morality, or that it is possible to stand outside morality. Morality is a forced choice for anyone who acts in the world, which means all of us who are not comatose. We have to act in order to live, and acting means making moral choices all the time. We have to make them whether we want to or not. That being the case, it is as well to think carefully about them.

*As I’ve mentioned before, more than once; excuse the repetition, but things keep coming up, you know.



Life in Kabul, again

Mar 2nd, 2009 11:51 am | By

Paween Mushtakhel loved acting, and was very successful at it; now she wishes she had never discovered the stage.

In December her husband was murdered by unknown gunmen outside their home after defying months of telephone warnings to stop his wife appearing on television. “I killed my husband with my acting,” [she] says…She has spent the past three months in hiding, fearful for her life and those of her two young children. Her only option, she says, is to flee the country. She is not alone. There is an unease bordering on dread among many working women as the restrictions of the Taleban era begin to encroach again on the relative liberalism of Afghanistan’s cities. “The atmosphere has changed,” she said. “Day by day women can work less and less.”

Well god hates women, after all, so what do you expect.

Mushtakhel reels off a list of high-risk professions for Afghan women: serving in parliament, working for foreign aid agencies, journalism, medicine, teaching, performing as an actress, singer or dancer. The Taleban justifies its attacks on such women by alleging that they are a cover for immoral acts and prostitution. Western employers and managers concur privately that women Afghan employees have begun to resign rather face the risks…The murder of Afghanistan’s most celebrated female police officer, Malalai Kakar, in September was a grim milestone. It was followed by a stream of killings of women journalists, teachers and workers, including four Western female aid workers in the past year.

All in the name of justice, compassion and mercy, no doubt.



Once you eat the cake, it’s gone

Mar 2nd, 2009 10:25 am | By

Well which is it? Cherie Blair seems to want to have it both ways, or all ways. She says Christians are ‘marginalized in society.’

‘Everywhere you look today churches are being closed, Christians are often being marginalised and faith is something few people like to discuss openly.’…She added: ‘People used to suggest that Tony and George would actually pray together and that never happened of course.’

But why ‘of course’? If it’s worrying or upsetting or unfair that ‘Christians are often being marginalised’ then why is it ‘of course’ that Tony and George would not actually pray together?

The problem here is that there are very good reasons for citizens to be alarmed if their heads of state are praying together, because it would seem to imply that they are handing some of their duties and decisions over to a non-existent deity. But then that would be why ‘Christians are often being marginalised,’ too. If it’s true that Christians are being marginzalized, then that is at least partly because the rest of us think Christianity lacks rational foundations – but Cherie Blair seems to be at least partly aware of that when she says ‘of course’ Tony and George would never pray together. If Christianity were self-evidently reasonable, then why would it be a problem if Tony and George did pray together? She can’t have it both ways. She can’t pretend ‘faith’ is perfectly sensible and not worthy of being marginalized and at the same time treat as ludicrous the idea that Tony and George would pray together.

[Cherie] Blair said women were “virtually invisible” in the public face of Christianity and that its failure to recover from the social changes of the 1960s was one of its “fundamental weaknesses”. “Until the traditional churches fully resolve their relationship with the female half of the population, how can they expect Christianity to have a future in the modern world?” she asked.

Quite. So why does Cherie Blair expect the rest of us to refrain from ‘marginalizing’ (i.e. ignoring, dismissing, disagreeing with, mocking) Christianity? She doesn’t say, at least not in this piece. She doesn’t seem to be terribly reflective on the subject, frankly.



800 words, nothing too harsh

Mar 1st, 2009 12:53 pm | By

Nicholas Beale notes on his blog, ‘Quite a favourable review in the FT by Julian Baggini.’ The funny thing about that is that Julian said in his Talking Philosophy post that the FT rejected his first two drafts partly because they were ‘not sufficiently even-handed’ – which, when you compare the review to the TP post, clearly means not favourable enough. Yes it’s quite a favourable review in the FT, because the FT demanded a quite favourable review.

That’s funny in light of Beale’s post but it’s annoying in light of reality and justice. It’s annoying that media outlets commission reviews and then tell the reviewer what to say. It’s annoying that this book by Polkinghorne and Beale got a better review than it would have without FT nudging, especially in light of what we have seen of Beale’s way with an argument. I must be naïve, I thought reviews in responsible newspapers and magazines were supposed to be what the reviewer actually thought, not what the editors specified. I thought the reviewers were supposed to say what they found, not find what the editors told them to find in advance. Another illusion shattered.



A little warning

Mar 1st, 2009 11:49 am | By

Jeremy is going to move B&W to a different server this week (now you know why we needed the extra cache, just to make triply sure), so B&W may disappear for a day or two. Now you know this so you won’t turn pale and faint if it happens.



A little note from God

Feb 28th, 2009 5:59 pm | By

I jumped into the argument with Nicholas Beale, and – like several other people there, ended up surprised and a little shocked at his evasiveness, or shiftiness as Eric called it. NB said on Thursday about the putative Loving Ultimate Creator:

If a LUC exists then (s)he is unlikely to be incompetent and will therefore have some communication with the people (s)he loves. So if (s)he exists it’s reasonable to suspect that at least one of the major religions has a substantial core of truth.

I pointed out that the LUC hadn’t communicated with me, for one. He replied:

of course God communicates with you. But he doesn’t force you to listen or respond. That is freedom – and love.

I find that kind of thing annoying – downright rude in fact. No God does not communicate with me, and it’s presumptuous for strangers to tell me it does. Then of course what NB said is silly nonsense besides. I retorted, and got an even sillier response:

Surely you have heard of Jesus of Nazareth? A really fundamental difficulty that a lot of atheists seem to have is that they don’t seriously consider the possibility that Christianity is true…I’d hope that everyone on this blog would (at least on reflection) agree that if C is true then the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is a genuine communication from God.

No, I don’t. Even if ‘Christianity is true’ (and it’s not clear what that means) the fact remains that I have received no communication from God. It can’t be called a communication if I remain unaware of it and/or don’t believe in its validity. I don’t take the stories in Mark, Matthew and Luke to be anything other than stories with perhaps some traces of truth in them about what Jesus said. They’re words in a book; books can be wrong, they can be faked, they can be corrupted in transmission, they can be garbled. I don’t take some words in a book to be a communication from God, and I don’t think it’s sensible for anyone to take them that way – yet it proved to be impossible to get Nicholas Beale to deal with that question instead of a different one of his own choosing. He didn’t answer anyone else’s question either. Altogether it was not a very impressive performance.



The priority of morality to law

Feb 28th, 2009 11:42 am | By

Amartya Sen considers the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

[T]he Declaration took the firm view that human rights do not depend on legislation for recognition. People have these rights simply by virtue of being human. The contention here was that the acknowledgment of a human right is best seen not as a putative legal instrument, but as an important ethical demand–a demand that everyone should have certain freedoms irrespective of citizenship, nationality, and location. Such a recognition would lead to fresh legislation rather than await it. The Declaration championed the priority of morality to law.

That’s useful – the idea that the acknowledgment of a human right should be seen as an important ethical demand rather than as a legal instrument. The ethical demand comes first, then the legal instruments are drawn up in accordance with it.

Such a recognition would lead to fresh legislation rather than await it. The Declaration championed the priority of morality to law. It constituted an open invitation to all to re-organize the world in such a way that the basic freedoms recognized as rights would actually be realized.

Yeah. It’s also an open invitation to all to notice places where that is not happening, and to make ethical demands about them.



Our strong intuition

Feb 26th, 2009 12:37 pm | By

What is ‘God’? Nicholas Beale offers one answer:

On the loving bit, philosophically I’m inclined to offer “Loving Ultimate Creator” as a defintion of God. That is clearly fundamental to Christianity and I think broadly consonant with Islam & Judaism. It offers a philosophical explanations for Anthropic Fine-tuning the intelligibility of the universe, the existence of objective morality and beauty, and our strong intuition that love is the most important and fundamental aspect of the universe.

Whose strong intuition that love is the most important and fundamental aspect of the universe? Who is the we in that ‘our’? Beale and Polkinghorne? Theists? Human beings in general?

I don’t know, but I know I have no such intuition. My intuition would be more that love is not an aspect of the universe at all, but rather an aspect of animal mental life. Yeah in a trivial sense that makes it an aspect of the universe, because that’s where it’s located, but the most important and fundamental aspect? No. Maybe Beale just means that as a grandiose way of saying important and fundamental to human beings…but that’s not clear.



Looking at pictures

Feb 26th, 2009 11:58 am | By

There are no atheists in CAT scanners – or are there.

Katja Wiech is a cheerful young German researcher who is fascinated by pain. She’s discovered many things—for example, when devout Catholics are given electric shocks while looking at a picture of the Virgin Mary they feel less pain than atheists do when administered the same unpleasant treatment.

Mary; that’s interesting. Not Jesus, not God. (Showing people pictures of God is a little tricky of course. There are a few – that Michelangelo one of course, where God and Adam attempt to do a fist bump, and some medieval ones where God wears a mitre and looks eminently unSpiritual – but not so many that there’s a stock visual ‘God’ the way there kind of is a stock visual ‘Jesus’ [long hair, beard, blueish robe, pale unMediterranean skin, simpy look on face], so it would probably be hard to show subjects an unmistakable ‘picture of God’ whereas it’s easy with Mary. That’s iconography for you.) Mary is the intercessor, she’s supposed to be the forgiving one, the compassionate one – so is she more effective with pain? So is the effect more to do with the religious aspect or with the compassionate aspect? I wonder if the same effect can be induced with atheists via secular pictures if they are of the right kind. Pictures of Obama for instance? Mandela?

It would be interesting to know.



There is a part that is dangerous and ugly

Feb 25th, 2009 11:23 am | By

David Aaaronovitch heard ‘one of those fashionable voices that calls for more understanding of political Islamism and less confrontation’ on Start the Week on Monday.

The former MI6 agent Alastair Crooke, who has become a kind of Dr Dolittle of Islamist movements, was discussing his new book, Resistance: The Essence of the Islamist Revolution with Andrew Marr. Crooke’s point seemed to be that we in the West could learn a lot from Islamism, since it was, in some ways, morally superior to our fly-blown, materialist, individualist societies…Islamists wanted “a society based on compassion and justice”.

Oh do they. Then why is it that the first thing Islamists do is to kick girls out of school or tell women to ‘cover up’ or publicly stone to death a teenage girl who reports being raped? If they want a society based on compassion and justice, why do they go about it in such a stupid malevolent way? That’s not a straight question, of course, it’s heavy sarcasm. Of course Islamists don’t want ‘a society based on compassion and justice’ unless we change the meanings of ‘compassion and justice’ to mean the opposite of what they normally do mean. You might as well say the Nazis wanted a society based on compassion and justice, or that Pol Pot did, or that Milošević did. There is no justice in throwing acid on schoolgirls to bully them into staying out of school, or in burning down schools, or in locking up women, or in burying people up to the neck and then throwing rocks at their heads until they die. How dare he say such a disgusting thing?

Sure, Marr said, but what about the position of women, persecution of gays and the tendency towards blowing stuff up. “There is a part that is dangerous and ugly,” Crooke agreed…

But it is as nothing compared to the morally superior vision of a society based on compassion and justice. ‘Useful idiot’ would be a flattering description of Alastair Crooke.



Globalized, fluid, culturally impure

Feb 24th, 2009 11:57 am | By

Katha Pollitt read Johann Hari’s article.

[I]t would be nice to say that the world has learned what happens when freedom of speech and thought is subordinated to religious authority. In fact, the lesson seems to be the opposite: careful, you might hurt the feelings of the faithful. Oh, and they might kill you.

And, as Katha doesn’t go on to say but could have, since you hurt their feelings, it would be your fault if they did kill you.

Here on the American left we tend to see these incidents as gratuitous provocations by insensitive Westerners, and there’s something to that…The problem with that argument is that the same spirit of religious dogmatism backed by violence that shaped the protests against perceived Western insults operates, far more powerfully, in Islamic states–against their own citizens. In Iran and Pakistan, women have been imprisoned for protesting Sharia law. In 2008 Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, a student in Afghanistan, our client state, was sentenced to death for the crime of downloading a report about women’s rights. Even in relatively secular Egypt, blogger Reda Abdel-Rahman was jailed and tortured for calling for an Islam that does not include Sharia.

Well…yes, but…well it’s still worse when those bastard Western secularists do it than it is when the authentic homegrown unWestern authoritarian bullies do it.

Appeals to the hurt feelings of religious people are just a dodge to protect the antidemocratic and retrograde policies of religious states and organizations. We’re all adults; we have to live with unwelcome expression every day. What’s so special about religion that it should be uniquely cocooned? After all, nobody at the UN is suggesting that atheists should be protected from offense–let alone women, gays, leftists or other targets popular with the faithful. What about our feelings? How can it be logical to say that women can’t point out sexism in the Bible or the Koran but clerics can use those texts to declare women inferior, unclean and in need of male control?

It can’t, but that’s okay, because revelation don’t need no stinkin logic.

The clerics fight so hard to control speech because they know they are losing minds and hearts. Twenty years after the Satanic Verses fatwa, it’s more than ever Rushdie’s world – globalized, fluid, culturally impure. The fanatics just live there.

And blow bits of it up at regular intervals. Let’s hope we can hang on to the bulk of the real estate. Long live the culturally impure!



Defamation of religion, part 327

Feb 23rd, 2009 11:16 am | By

The IHEU is continuing to do sterling work in separating racism from criticism of religion, currently in preparation for Durban II.

In January 2009, the working group reviewed new references to religious matters for the Durban Review Conference outcome document. We note with concern that several of the propositions contained in paragraphs 24 to 28 may conflict with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights concerning Freedom of Expression.

The IHEU doesn’t link to the outcome document; I think this is it, in case you want to consult paras 24-28.

The IHEU continues:

The use of the terms Islamophobia and Christianophobia confuse and conflate opposition to religious beliefs with hatred of the believer. Criticism of any religious belief or practice is permissible within clearly prescribed limits under Article 19 of the ICCPR. It should not be equated with intolerance, hatred or violence towards Muslims or Christians.

Quite. A point whose importance is difficult to exaggerate, given the role that beliefs of all kinds and especially religious beliefs (which are clung to with a fierceness in inverse proportion to their reasonableness) play in human life. If we can’t oppose particular kinds of beliefs, we are well and truly stuck.

As a number of delegations have pointed out in debates in the Human Rights Council, Defamation of Religion is a concept that has no place in Human Rights discourse. We would add that criticism of a religion – even amounting to ridicule or “defamation” – has nothing to do with racism and has no place in the outcome document.

Quite, again.



The possibility of such disputes is endless

Feb 22nd, 2009 12:52 pm | By

Salil Tripathi takes a different view from that of Leicester Library in asking why the Statesman caved in to demonstrations by the ‘offended’ in Kolkata.

Two reasons explain this. One is the ridiculous section of the Indian Penal Code S 295 (A) — which allows anyone offended by anything to demand that what offends him should be banned…India is a multi-everything country with a billion people, and the possibility of such disputes is endless. And that’s where the second reason comes in: the failure of the state to protect rights. Muslims protesting against the Statesman are able to get away with it because of this failure. Anyone who can take umbrage, does; and his hurt feelings take precedence over others’ right to express themselves freely. Instead of protecting the right of free expression, the state defends the offended, thus circumscribing meaningful debate.

And that is a bad thing, not a good one. It is an interference with meaningful debate, not a glowing opportunity to show yet more ‘respect’ for all ‘faiths’ (and total disrespect for the absence of ‘faith’). It is not something to cheer or pat each other on the back for, it is a groveling craven surrender and an encouragement of ever more unreasonable demands.



The scriptures of all the major faiths are given respect in this way

Feb 22nd, 2009 12:27 pm | By

Crawl crawl crawl crawl crawl.

[S]ome Muslims in Leicester had moved copies of the Koran to the top shelves of libraries, because they believe it is an insult to display it in a low position. The city’s librarians consulted the Federation of Muslim Organisations and were advised that all religious texts should be kept on the top shelf to ensure equality…“This meant that no offence is caused, as the scriptures of all the major faiths are given respect in this way, but none is higher than any other.”

So libraries shift from being secular public institutions that make books easily available to everyone, to ones that make displays of ‘respect’ to all of the ‘major faiths’ and whose officials creep around on their stomachs in the effort not to ‘insult’ anyone or anything including a book and not to ’cause offence’ to anyone including the most neurotically hypervigilant offence-sniffing hair-trigger mewling whining sniveling bed-wetters within the city limits.

So what are they going to say when the same people decide it would be a good wheeze to get offended and insulted about all the books written by atheists and apostates and unbelievers and women and gays? What are they going to say when it becomes apparent that once you let people dictate public policy by claiming to be religiously ‘offended’ and ‘insulted’ there is no place to stop? What are they going to say when a gang shows up and tells them to have the Koran on a high shelf and no other books at all?

I suppose they will say ‘Wait just a moment while we consult the Federation of Muslim Organisations.’



Women and fundamentalism

Feb 21st, 2009 12:22 pm | By

Rahila Gupta points out the horrible ironies and tensions:

The fallout from the Rushdie affair was the widespread growth of religious identities at the expense of racial and gender identities. Secular anti-racists began to declaim, even reclaim, their Muslim identity. Muslim women increasingly adopted the hijab as a symbol of pride in their religious identity, not recognising or even accepting the fact that it set women back by placing the onus on women’s safety on their modest dress and behaviour rather than male aggression. The left displayed a reluctance to challenge reactionary forces within our communities because it might be seen as racist.

And goes on displaying – so we get people defending the archbishop of Canterbury’s reactionary embrace of sharia as something with great (if elusive) potential for…liberalizing sharia. In some other universe.

The state’s response has been divided to say the least: the “fighting extremism” agenda after 7/7 has seen the active wooing of so-called “moderates” (often linked to extremist organisations overseas) who may be moderate on the question of public order but certainly not on the question of women. This has led, for instance, to an explosion of religious schools and the growing acceptance that some form of sharia law should be accommodated within the legal system.

Exactly. It’s a dismayingly common trope to identify extremism with terrorism and moderation with non-terrorism, completely ignoring the ‘extremism’ of reactionary rules and punishments for women, gays, ‘apostates’ and unbelievers. Ian Buruma does this regularly. It’s a bad mistake. Just ask the women of Swat.