Notes and Comment Blog


Jun 23rd, 2008 2:24 pm | By

Ziauddin Sardar likes a new translation of the Koran by Tarif Khalidi.

The best way to demonstrate its newness, and how close it is to the original text, is to compare it with an old translation. The translation I have in mind is Khalidi’s predecessor in the Penguin Classics: The Koran, translated with notes by NJ Dawood…It has been a great source of discomfort for Muslims, who see in it deliberate distortions that give the Qur’an violent and sexist overtones. It is the one most non-Muslims cite when they tell me with great conviction what the Qur’an says.

Hmm. That’s interesting – because one has to wonder what Muslims Sardar has in mind. Most Muslims, certainly including most Muslims in the UK, after all, don’t know Arabic – so when these Muslims that Sardar mentions ‘see’ in Dawood’s translation ‘deliberate distortions that give the Qur’an violent and sexist overtones’ – how do they know about the distortions? Unless Sardar means only Muslims who do know Arabic – but in a UK context (which this is, being the Guardian) that would be a pretty small and rarified bunch, so you would think he would specify that was what he meant. But perhaps he didn’t mean only Muslims who know Arabic – but then what did he mean? How do Muslims in general know what is or isn’t a distortion of a translation of the Koran when they can’t read the Koran in Arabic themselves? It’s interesting that Sardar chose the word ‘see’ there. That’s consistent with just seeing violent and sexist overtones and then concluding that they are the fault of the translation. It’s not a tremendously straightforward way to say things though. And then there are those wicked non-Muslims who cite Dawood’s translation. Well granted that is very naughty of them, but then what about the Muslims Sardar knows? Don’t any of them cite translations when discussing what the Koran says? Does he not know any Muslims who don’t know Arabic? In short, is he trying to bamboozle the reader? I kind of think he is.

Dawood translates Az-Zumar (chapter 39) as “The Hordes”, suggesting bands of barbarian mobs; Khalidi renders it as “The Groups”…The old Penguin translation uses rather obscurantist images throughout to give the impression that the Qur’an is full of demons and witches. For example, in 31:1, Dawood has God swearing “by those who cast out demons”. Khalidi translates the same verse as: “Behold the revelations of the Wise Book.”

Okay. But which is more accurate? Sardar doesn’t say. Maybe Khalidi’s is; but Sardar doesn’t say.

So this translation is a quantum leap ahead of the old Penguin version.

Not quantum; wrong word; ten points off. But more to the point: is it? There’s only one place where Sardar actually says Khalidi translates something correctly; all the rest of it has to do with whether he translates it flatteringly. That’s a different issue. It’s not clear that a more flattering translation is a leap ahead. It may be a more accurate translation, but one can’t tell whether it is or not from Sardar’s review. That’s either careless or…not.

Shocked, shocked

Jun 22nd, 2008 11:37 am | By

They still don’t get it. (Who? I don’t really know – I don’t really understand who these people are. The people who think Islamism is okay. Who are they [apart from Islamists of course]? I don’t know. I don’t understand what this tendency or ideology or grouping is. They baffle me. I encounter them here and there, but what they think their politics might be remains opaque. I know they get very irritable with people who have reservations about Islam [let alone Islamism], but that’s not exactly manifesto-quality thought, is it.) They find it astonishing that a clever literate person would despise Islamism. Because – what? Because they themselves would find life in Jeddah perfectly pleasant? Because they would be quite happy to see their children enrolled at a madrassa instead of a real school? What?

The novelist Ian McEwan has launched an astonishingly strong attack on Islamism, saying that he “despises” it and accusing it of “wanting to create a society that I detest”. His words, in an interview with an Italian newspaper, could, in today’s febrile legalistic climate, lay him open to being investigated for a “hate crime”.

It could? Where? In what jurisdiction? If he were Canadian, it probably could; but he’s not; so what can that mean? But more to the point, why are a couple of Indy reporters astonished at the strength of McEwan’s attack on Islamism? Do they think Islamism actually, contrary to McEwan, wants to create a society that no right-thinking person could possibly detest? If so…do they live in burrows underground?

I myself despise Islamism, because it wants to create a society that I detest, based on religious belief, on a text, on lack of freedom for women, intolerance towards homosexuality and so on – we know it well.

Well, some of us do; others apparently don’t. Or else they have very peculiar tastes.

Slow down

Jun 21st, 2008 6:11 pm | By

Not so fast. Harvey Silverglate, a civil liberties lawyer, disagrees with Anthony Lewis’s suggestion that some speech is genuinely dangerous even if it doesn’t imminently threaten anyone. (I agree with that, in case you’re wondering. I don’t think there is no danger until one says ‘Here, kill this person right here, now, hurry up.’ I wish it were that simple, but I don’t think it is.)

“Free speech matters because it works,” Mr. Silverglate continued. Scrutiny and debate are more effective ways of combating hate speech than censorship, he said, and all the more so in the post-Sept. 11 era. “The world didn’t suffer because too many people read ‘Mein Kampf,’ ” Mr. Silverglate said. “Sending Hitler on a speaking tour of the United States would have been quite a good idea.”

Not so fast. What do you mean ‘free speech works’? Free speech works in the sense of never issuing in violence? You’re kidding, right? And what do you mean the world didn’t suffer because too many people read Mein Kampf? How the hell do you know that, and is it even true? I’m not a bit sure it is true. It’s not as if the Nazis took power through some kind of magic, after all – they took power because there were Nazis, it wasn’t just Hitler and a book that had no effect on anyone. Anyway even if that very dubious claim were true, it wouldn’t necessarily be extendable to all other books and speech acts. Even if it is true that the world didn’t suffer because too many people read Mein Kampf, the world (at least a part of it) certainly suffered because too many people listened to Serbian State Radio or Radio Mille Collines. In other words if the Mein Kampf point is supposed to stand for all kinds of speech and writing – well, it can’t. It just isn’t the case that violence is never set off by people hearing or reading people saying things. It would be tremendously helpful if that were the case, but it isn’t.

The human what council?

Jun 21st, 2008 11:40 am | By

David Littman of the Association for World Education makes a joint statement with the International Humanist and Ethical Union to the UN Human Rights Council, in which they denounce the stoning to death of women accused of adultery and the marriage of girls age nine in countries where Sharia law applies. The UNHRC heartily agrees, right?

The speaker, David Littman, was interrupted by no fewer than 16 points of order and the proceedings of the Council were suspended for forty minutes when the Egyptian delegate said that “Islam will not be crucified in this Council” and attempted to force a vote on whether the speaker should be allowed to continue. On giving his ruling after the break Council President Costea said that the Council “is not prepared to discuss religious questions…Declarations must avoid judgments or evaluation about religion…I promise that next time a speaker judges a religion or a religious law or document, I will interrupt him and pass on to the next speaker”.

Oh. So any human rights abuses that have a religious element are…off limits to the UN Human Rights Council? Well. That seems rather disabling.

But read on, and it seems more than a bit disabling.

At the Islamic summit in Mecca in December 2006, the OIC decided to adopt a policy of zero tolerance against any perceived insults to Islam as part of their overall strategy of advancing the cause of Islam worldwide. The measures agreed upon included creating an “Observatory” to monitor all reports of “Islamophobia”. Muslims throughout the world were to be encouraged to report any cases of perceived Islamophobia, however trivial. Cases submitted so far, for example, have included Muslims who have received “hostile glances”.

And that Maclean’s case.

Plans were also put in place to seek changes in national and international law to provide additional “protection” for Islam. The battlegrounds were to include the European and national parliaments, and the UN, including the Human Rights Council. It was also proposed to move towards the creation of a new Charter of Human Rights in Islam, and the setting up of an Islamic Council of Human Rights to be based not on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but on Sharia law. Fast forward 16 June 2008. The Egyptian delegate to the Human Rights Council, Amr Roshdy Hassan, saw an opportunity to wrong-foot the Council by attacking the statement by AWE/IHEU. Egypt had prepared their ground carefully, breaking protocol by arranging to receive advance copies of our statements, and finding in our statement on violence against women exactly what they were looking for.

Littman begins his statement, Egypt interrupts, Pakistan joins Egypt, Slovenia says hang on – and Egypt goes into unrehearsed unscripted bullying mode.

Mr. President, through you Sir, please Sir, I would humbly and kindly ask my colleague from Slovenia to reconsider. What we are talking now about is not about the right of NGOs to speak but about the Sharia law and whether it is admissible to discuss it in this Council. I appeal to my colleague from Slovenia not to accept any discussion of the Sharia law in this Council because it will not happen. And we will not take this lightly.

The UN Human Rights Council is apparently dominated by an alliance of thugs. Sharia is protected, and women’s rights are buried under a hail of stones. Terrific.

How to train girls for the harem

Jun 19th, 2008 11:31 am | By

Warren Jeffs lectures the girls at ‘Alta Academy’ – Alta Academy being the pseudo-school inside the walls of the FLDS compound. The teachings give an interesting insight into the ‘beliefs’ and practices of Jeffs and his subjects.

The Lord on purpose has sent us into this world to meet the two opposite powers, and we must choose. And I testify to you young ladies the right, the eternal way, is Priesthood. If Priesthood is not involved in something, we should not want it. The holy Priesthood is the eternal power where God himself places his nature into a man. The women do not bear the holy Priesthood, but they have the power of that Priesthood in them through their husbands or their father if they are unmarried.

Clear enough? The Priesthood is everything. Whatever ain’t got the Priesthood is anathema. God sticks it into men. He doesn’t stick it into women. Women get to use the power of it through a man, but they don’t get to have it itself. It’s for men. Women are – how shall I put this – not good enough.

And when you are sealed to a man, you become part of him. I emphasize, “part of him.” You don’t become all of him, but part of him. The woman who wants to be everything, will seek to rule over her husband. And it’s our job, each one, to find our place in this oneness as part of the work of God. In this world today there are great battles between men and women and their rights. So I remind you of what the Prophet said. “It takes a man and a woman to make a man. It takes a man and many women to make a man.”

Clear enough? Women become part of men, but not all of them. It takes a lot of women to make one man. Women are kind of like building material – but men are the actual buildings. Women are an old pile of bricks and window frames, men are the buildings.

You wake up each day yearning to please [your husband]. You rejoice in his will towards you. You pray for him, you seek his counsel. In your life there’s no secrets you keep from him, but you keep his secrets. You keep sacred your relationship with him, and all this as a oneness with your Priesthood head…I remind you that Priesthood government is persuasion through love. It is not force…And so you ladies, to fulfill that command of the great Jehovah that, “Your desires shall be to your husband and he shall rule over you,” it requires you willingly submit.

Right. Here’s how it is; it’s like this and no otherwise; listen up and do what I say. This here is persuasion through love; it is not force. And so to fulfill the command, it requires you willingly submit. You have to, but you have to do it willingly. You are required to submit, willingly. After that would you kindly go to the blackboard and draw us a square circle in the hand of a married female bachelor.

Now what if you detect that he might have a weakness? Maybe you have come from a good father, and perhaps you would be given to an inexperienced man or a man who has great weaknesses, or you think so. What should you do? For sure, if a woman rules over the man, both will lose the spirit of God. If a man only does good because you tell him, both of you don’t have the spirit of God, you both lose. Pray for him, seek his counsel in faith on the Lord Jesus Christ, our Heavenly Father.

Clear enough? The Priesthood is in men, and it is not in you, so even if we shove you onto a stupid nasty man who hasn’t got the morals of a stoat, he’s still your boss and you’re still scum, so what you do is, you pray and hope for the best. Don’t, whatever you do, try to tell him what’s what, because if you do, God will hate you. And don’t forget you have to do all this willingly. Or else.

I am approaching this lesson toward the path of success, not just the warning of failure. And the success is to give yourself to your husband — mind, body, soul, with a living faith in God that the Lord will guide him right in teaching you and training you…[A]s the prophet Brigham Young said, a mother or wife who has the spirit of God will never intrude on the rights of her husband. She will never go beyond her bounds and try to rule over him. Don’t try to step out ahead, say the Prophets.

Even if he’s a shit and a fool and you’re not – still – don’t you dare try to step out ahead. Why? You know why. He’s got the Priesthood, you ain’t. Even if he is a shit and a fool, he’s still better than you, because of the Priesthood. He’s always better than you, no matter what, because he’s a man and you’re a woman. The Prophets said this.

So when the prophets say, “Beware. Don’t try to dictate your husband,” you must realize it could happen in any area of life where you haven’t on purpose sought to become one with him. And oneness means submission, “Thy will be done.” It’s a living faith in God that He will lead you through your Priesthood head, your husband.

True womanhood is attained through Priesthood. Motherhood, womanhood, is glorified, honored and blesses others through Priesthood. All your connection with other women should be through Priesthood, through your head. All your conversations with other women should be to please your head. Your secrets, the desires of your heart, should be centered in him. And that takes some doing.

Yes I just bet it does – even if you’ve been trained to it by Warren Jeffs and his slaves from infancy on up, it still takes some doing – it still takes Warren Jeffs coming along to nag and nag and nag and nag just in case any of those Priesthood-deprived girl-humans might disobey. Gotta get in there and really ‘persuade’ those girls to act like zombie slaves for the comfort of men.

Holy holy holy.

Saying is not imposing

Jun 18th, 2008 4:46 pm | By

What is fanatical atheism? Dan Gardner had some thoughts in the Ottawa Citizen last year.

In the past, I’ve tried to avoid talking about religion in such sharp terms. It’s not that I fear giving offence (which would be something of a limitation in my line of work). Rather, I know, as all humans do, that it’s scary knowing you’re going to die. And if belief in angels on high eases the existential fears of some, I won’t begrudge them. Whatever gets you through the night, as a long-haired prophet once said.

Sure. I don’t go to funerals so that I can tell the assembled mourners that there are no angels on high. I don’t force my views on anyone. But I do feel entitled, and permitted, and free to talk about them among friends and acquaintances, and to write about them here and elsewhere. I draw a distinction between forcing one’s views on people, and talking and writing about them in public places. And this means that I get more than a little tired of people who call atheists who discuss their atheism in public fanatics or too noisy or similar. I get called all those things myself now and then, and I think the charge is fraudulent. I think it’s fraudulent when made of the putative New Atheists, too. No one is forced to buy their books, or to read them, or to listen to them through buds in the ears, and it’s not as if they’ve altered the prevailing culture so radically that religious belief has all but disappeared. So where does the fanaticism come in? Where are the evil snarling monsters of fanatical atheism?

The first problem for the moderate believer comes from those who like their faith hot. You’ve agreed God exists and that He mucks about in the world. You’ve agreed this book contains His holy commandments. So how do you respond when the mad religious zealot says, “hey, here on page 23, it says we should slice open unbelievers and use their guts for garters. And over here on page 75, it says we should bury homosexuals up to their necks and stuff olives up their noses.”…[T]he more common response is to simply pretend the garters-and-olives passages don’t exist and prattle on about how God is merciful and loving.

But the garters-and-olives passages do exist, and lots of people think God is not merciful and loving but wrathful and punitive, at least when dealing with other people. So why is the onus on us to pipe down?

Then there’s the problem on the other side — among the atheists such as Richard Dawkins who have been labelled “fanatics.”…When the Pope says that a few words and some hand-waving causes a cracker to transform into the flesh of a 2,000-year-old man, Dawkins and his fellow travellers say, well, prove it. It should be simple. Swab the Host and do a DNA analysis. If you don’t, we will give your claim no more respect than we give to those who say they see the future in crystal balls or bend spoons with their minds or become werewolves at each full moon. And for this, it is Dawkins, not the Pope, who is labelled the unreasonable fanatic…This is completely contrary to how we live the rest of our lives. We demand proof of even trivial claims…and we dismiss those who make such claims without proof. We are still more demanding when claims are made on matters that are at least temporarily important.

Just what I was saying yesterday. We want good reasons to believe even trivial claims in the rest of our lives, so why is there this fenced-off bit of our lives where we don’t? And why is it considered fanaticism to ask questions like that? (As long as one changes the wording, at least. To ask questions like that in the same words over and over again, day after day – okay that’s fanaticism. You know who you are. Don’t make me write your name on the blackboard.)


Jun 17th, 2008 12:18 pm | By

George H Smith remarks in his book Why Atheism? that salvation religion includes the belief that “at least some knowledge necessary for salvation requires faith in divine revelation, knowledge that cannot otherwise be justified through reason alone.” [p. 28 n. 1] That’s an interesting idea. It means that salvation religion believes in a god who is a terrible cheat and bully – one who makes “salvation” dependent on voluntary stupidity.

It also requires us (if we want “salvation”) to divide our thinking and functioning in two – because for ordinary purposes, faith is not the right way to go, it’s the wrong way. It’s wrong and we know it’s wrong. We don’t claim to use faith for purposes of ordinary inquiry. We may use it of vague guessworky subjective matters – the future, people, results of actions – in combination with more rationally-based knowledge, but we don’t use it of empirical subjects. On the contrary, we use maps and schedules and recipes and blueprints and we expect the people who make them to use something other than faith. Yet in this other area, the rules are completely different. Well why? Why do that? Why make different rules? Why give us a reliable way of finding out things, and then make it a condition of “salvation” that we not use it in this one important area? What kind of arrangement is that? A perverse, unfair, backasswards, unreasonable one, that’s what. If faith isn’t good enough for ordinary inquiry, why is it good enough for any kind of inquiry? Even in the more guessworky subjects, blind faith is no good. Blind faith in a person you have abundant reason to know is a malicious enemy is a bad idea. So what kind of god would make faith the right way to get knowledge in one area but not the other? A trickster? A demon? What?

In a way that doesn’t matter, because of course the real reason “faith” is necessary is the fact that there is no evidence. But in another way it does matter, because it means that people believe in a god who plays wicked games with human cognition.

Somebody somewhere said

Jun 16th, 2008 3:38 pm | By

Andrew Coyne’s running blog of the Macleans-BC Human Rights tribunal hearing is fascinating and horrifying. He keeps pointing out that the chair is deciding this or that but that it’s hard to know what the basis of the decision is when there are no rules of evidence. Ponder that. Macleans is up before a tribunal but the rules are made up on the spot.

1:59 PM: [W]e’re walking through another passage—which Faisal Joseph notes is particularly significant—in which Steyn particulalry disavows any suggestion that his concerns attach to all Muslims, but rather that the trends he observes prevail in “enough” of the Muslim population of Europe to be worrisome. This strikes me as eminently arguable—but whether it is or not, it is just surreal in a free and democratic society to be calling in a government panel to decide it. Instead of, you know, arguing it.

A couple of hours later –

3: 50 PM: Back from a break, as the tribunal members wrestle with yet another ruling on admissibility in the absence of rules of evidence. They’ve decided again to sort-of admit questioning about the “impact,” not of Steyn’s article, but of various, mostly obscure blogs who were allegedly “inspired” by Steyn’s piece. Understand: we’re now to be subjected to the state’s inquisition, not for anything that appeared in the magazine, but for whatever lunatic ramblings might appear anywhere in the blogosphere! 4:10 PM: Now we’re into, not even blogs, but comments left on a YouTube post. Is bathroom grafitti next?

Inspiring, isn’t it?

Ten is the new thirteen

Jun 16th, 2008 10:52 am | By

The Freethinker has an atheist blog challenge in which it tapped me, so I’ve obliged.

How would you define “atheism”?

Non-theism; no belief in any gods.

Was your upbringing religious? If so, what tradition?

Very vaguely and nominally, and less and less so over time. And it never took.

How would you describe “Intelligent Design”, using only one word?


What scientific endeavour really excites you?

Several do – but I’ll go with cognitive science. But there’s astronomy, too. So I’m a cheater.

If you could change one thing about the “atheist community”, what would it be and why?

Well to start with I would never call it a community! I feel fully entitled to be an atheist without being a member of any poxy community – which is not to deny that I feel a certain commonality with other atheists, especially vocal ones. But I still don’t think of atheists as enough of a community for it to be meaningful to want to change something about that community. All I know about atheists as such is that they are atheists, and I have no desire to change that.

If your child came up to you and said “I’m joining the clergy”, what would be your first response?

It was nice knowing you.

What’s your favourite theistic argument, and how do you usually refute it?

Oh, there are so many…One fave is the ‘science can’t explain why we are here’ type. I don’t exactly refute it, I just say neither can religion.

What’s your most “controversial” (as far as general attitudes amongst other atheists goes) viewpoint?

Er, er, er. I’m not sure I have one – possibly because I’m not sure what general attitudes among other atheists are. There are a lot of other atheists! The only general attitude I’m confident they have (excuse repetition) is non-belief in gods, and I uncontroversially share that one. Come on, try. Er, er. Well I’m not a humanist (except in the minimal sense of not being theist); that will have to do.

Of the “Four Horsemen” (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris) who is your favourite, and why?

I don’t have a favourite. They’re all fine upstanding members of the atheist community.

If you could convince just one theistic person to abandon their beliefs, who would it be?

The Saudi king.

Now name three other atheist blogs that you’d like to see take up the Atheist Thirteen gauntlet.

The New Humanist. Um…that will have to do; I’m too shy to name anyone else.

The truth is not a defense

Jun 15th, 2008 5:06 pm | By

You Can’t Say That.

A couple of years ago, a Canadian magazine published an article arguing that the rise of Islam threatened Western values. The article’s tone was mocking and biting, but it said nothing that conservative magazines and blogs in the United States do not say every day without fear of legal reprisal.

Sigh – not just conservative magazines and blogs. Why is this so hard to grasp? Islam is not left-wing or liberal. Islam itself is far, far more conservative than most of the conservative magazines and blogs in the US. Islam is reactionary; Islam is in many ways medieval. It is not, repeat not, just conservatives who have strong reservations about ‘the rise of Islam.’ You don’t have to be a conservative to argue that the rise of Islam threatens liberal values – although being a conservative may tend to cause you to call liberal values ‘Western’ values, which is silly and wrong. (Newsflash: one of the values in question is universalism, which means that the values can’t be purely Western ones, and they’re not; they done spread.)

Things are different here. The magazine is on trial. Two members of the Canadian Islamic Congress say the magazine, Maclean’s, Canada’s leading newsweekly, violated a provincial hate speech law by stirring up hatred against Muslims. They say the magazine should be forbidden [to say] similar things, forced to publish a rebuttal and made to compensate Muslims for injuring their “dignity, feelings and self-respect.”

But what if the rise of Islam does in fact threaten liberal values? What then?

[T]he lawyer for Maclean’s, Roger D. McConchie, all but called the proceeding a sham. “Innocent intent is not a defense,” Mr. McConchie said in a bitter criticism of the British Columbia law on hate speech. “Nor is truth. Nor is fair comment on true facts. Publication in the public interest and for the public benefit is not a defense. Opinion expressed in good faith is not a defense. Responsible journalism is not a defense.”

Oh. You can’t say it even if it’s true. That’s interesting.

Grasping at straws

Jun 13th, 2008 11:49 am | By

Giles Fraser is both wrong and confused.

In a recent paper for the journal Intelligence, the notorious Professor Richard Lynn has argued that intelligent people are “less likely to believe in God”…Dr David King…said: “We find Richard Lynn’s claims that some human beings are inherently superior to others repugnant.” The same thought applies to women with blond hair, to people with darker skin, or to those of us with religious belief.

No it does not. Sex, hair colour, and skin colour are all genetically determined physical differences. Religious belief is not. The two categories are not comparable. This is not, obviously, to claim that people ‘with religious belief’ are inherently inferior to others, though Giles Fraser wants to try to trick us into thinking it is. It is merely to point out that the same thought does not apply to Fraser’s mixed bag of people.

[W]hat’s really nasty here – and it’s a part of a growing phenomenon – is the way religion is being used as a subtle code for race. Belief in God is alive and well in Africa and in the Middle East and declining in western Europe. Writing about the intelligence of religious believers has, for some, become a roundabout way of commenting on the intelligence of those with darker skins whilst seeking to avoid the charge of racism.

Really? And how many is ‘some’? A few hundred?

Actually it looks to me as if it’s the other way around – as if Giles Fraser has spotted a handy and self-flattering way of warding off criticism of ‘faith’ as a way of thinking. He’s noticed that there’s a lot of belief in god in the third world and not so much in Europe (though he failed to mention the US, which of course doesn’t fit this simple-minded pattern) and realizes this presents an opportunity to wrap himself in the anti-racist flag. So wrap he does.

The BNP, for example, has started using religion as a category of racial designation so as to deflect charges of racism. For instance, they seek to defend something called “Christian Britain”. But what they really mean is “no Muslims” – and that really means “no Asians”. The fact that these categories are not in any way equivalent does not detract from the message the BNP is sending by using them in the way they do.

And the fact that your categories – people with darker skin and people with religious belief – are also not in any way equivalent doesn’t seem to have slowed you down much, either. In any case, if the BNP is defending Christian Britain, it’s not claiming that people without religious belief are inherently superior, is it – so what do you mean ‘for example’? For example of what? Not what you were talking about, at any rate.

Just being around isn’t experience

Jun 10th, 2008 12:49 pm | By

I’ve never understood, or accepted, this idea that Clinton is the feminist candidate, or even that her election would be much of a victory for women or feminism. I’ve always thought it would be radically, drastically compromised by the huge boost she got from whose wife she was. I’ve always thought such an election would be a victory for women or feminism only if the woman in question did it on her own merits, not partly those of her husband.

Indeed, Clinton has never been just a victim of her gender. When it came to the deeper narratives of the campaign, Clinton benefited, as do many women in politics, from her good fortune of having married a successful political man. Hillary Clinton has spent only four more years than Obama in the Senate, but she was consistently assumed to be a more plausible commander-in-chief than her rival based on her time as First Lady.

Being married to a president does not make anyone a more plausible c-in-c, any more than being the offspring of a president does. And I think this kind of sloppy thinking does feminism in general no favours, in the same sort of way that invented history does feminism in general no favours.

At the same time, it’s been widely assumed that she’s been entirely vetted, leaving many parts of her life–her disastrous leadership style on health care reform, her role in trying to silence and discredit Bill’s mistresses, her husband’s post-White House financial dealings–unexamined.

Which, again, I’ve never understood. She keeps being credited with having ‘experience’ with health care reform. But her only experience was in completely fucking it up! Why is that supposed to be a plus?

And above all why are so many women loyal to her on the grounds that she is a woman? She’s not the only woman in the world! Thatcher’s a woman, too, but I don’t feel any need to be loyal to her. And to be quite frank, I despise some of the tactics Clinton used in the campaign; I despise that ‘elitism’ nonsense: it’s fraudulent, it’s cheap, it’s anti-intellectual, it’s ridiculous, and it’s just plain low. Feminism doesn’t mean admiring all women unconditionally no matter what.

The inter-faith world

Jun 9th, 2008 12:15 pm | By

What exactly does Blair have in mind with this ‘Faith Foundation’ thing?

We want people of one faith to be comfortable with those of another because they know what they truly believe, not what they thought they might believe.

But what if ‘people of one faith’ believe things that in fact make ‘those of another’ uncomfortable? And vice versa? And why on earth does Blair assume (as he apparently does) that that can’t and won’t be the outcome? Why does he assume that once people know what people of another ‘faith’ believe, then they will necessarily be ‘comfortable’ with them? Has he never in his whole life met or heard of someone who believed loathsome sinister vindictive murderous things? We know that’s not true – we know he’s heard of lots of people who believed such things. We know he heard of some of them on the morning of July 7 2005, for just one example. So what does he mean? What is he thinking? Is he seriously thinking that if ‘people of faith’ just hash things out for long enough, in the end everyone will be ‘comfortable’ and we’ll all get along? He can’t be – he’s not stupid. But then what is he thinking?

We cannot afford religious illiteracy. No modern company would today be ignorant of race or gender issues. The same should be true of faith.

No it shouldn’t. This is the same pie-eyed thinking that tried to treat ‘religious hatred’ as the same kind of thing as racism and sexism, but it’s not the same, it’s different, because religion is propositional while race and sex are not. Race and sex are genetic and physical while religions are sets of ideas.

We have agreed to partner the proposal initiated by the Co-Exist Foundation to establish Abraham House in London. Though expressly about the Abrahamic faiths, it will be open to those from the wider faith community. It will be a standing exhibition, library and convention centre for the inter-faith world.

Ecch. That’s as substantive as he gets in the whole speech. You keep looking for something specific about what he is actually going to teach at Yale, about what ‘faith’ is actually supposed to have to do with globalization, but all in vain. It’s a big blob of warm fuzzy well-meaning wool. Maybe his friendship with Bush isn’t so surprising after all.


Jun 9th, 2008 11:39 am | By

One the one hand what do you expect from a conference of the OIC, but on the other hand, what sinister bullying crap.

Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary-general of the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference, warned there seemed to be a growing “campaign of hate and discrimination” against Muslims by a small number of individuals and organizations. In a speech to a conference in Kuala Lumpur on improving ties between Muslims and the West, Ihsanoglu praised Western nations for criticizing acts such as the recent release of an anti-Quran film by a Dutch lawmaker, but said more should have been done. “Mere condemnation or distancing from the acts of the perpetrators of Islamophobia will not resolve the issue, as long as they remain free to carry on with their campaign of incitement and provocation on the plea of freedom of expression,” Ihsanoglu said.

Well that’s blunt enough. Mere criticism and condemnation and distancing are not enough, as long as people remain free to criticize Islam. Mere condemnation is not enough: they have to be stopped, they have to be prevented, they have to be made not free to carry on. Criticism of Islam must be made globally universally illegal; only that will ‘resolve the issue.’

On the one hand, criticism is too weak, more must be done; on the other hand, criticism is much too powerful and must be forcibly stopped. Criticism of Islamocritics must be enforced with forcible silencing of Islamocritics, while criticism of Islam must be eliminated altogether. Yeah, that’s fair, also a really good idea, being as how Islam is so perfect and all.

“It requires a strong and determined collective political will to address the challenge,” Ihsanoglu said. “It is now high time for concrete actions to stem the rot before it aggravates (the situation) any further.”

Bully bully bully bully; threaten threaten.

Imam Feisal Rauf sets us all straight.

What we have today is much less a “Clash of Civilizations” than a clash of perceptions. Little about our cultures, religions or ways of life—though these are certainly different—suggests coexistence to be impossible; rather, it is our perception of this impossibility that drives discord…Incorrect perceptions in the West about Muslims need fixing too, including the oft-heard charge that Muslims categorically practice violence and abuse women. As we know, however, Muslim-majority countries are more tolerant and diverse than many in the West suppose.

That’s nice – and probably true, because it’s so vague. Exactly how tolerant and diverse is that? More so than many in the West suppose. Ah! That clears that up. But it’s perhaps just as tolerant and diverse as many others in the West suppose, and a great deal less tolerant and diverse than many still others in the West suppose. There are lots of people in ‘the West’ and they suppose lots of things. But how tolerant and diverse Muslim-majority countries actually are is another question – and the sad truth is that we know damn well a lot of them are not very, and are getting steadily less so. The sad truth is that we are hard-pressed to think of a majority Muslim country that is overall anything we would call really tolerant. Indonesia? Jordan? Morocco? Better than some, but not exactly starry.

The impressive plurality of ethnicities, languages, beliefs and opinions among today’s population of more than 1.2 billion Muslims does more than validate the Prophet’s tradition that “Differences of opinion in my community are a blessing”—it puts to rest the notion that Muslims are a homogenous and insidious group, naturally opposed to dissent from within or without.

Oh that tradition! The one that fits so nicely with dire punishment for apostasy, and the division of the world into Muslims and unbelievers – that tradition. And the issue isn’t whether Muslims are ‘naturally opposed to dissent’; of course they’re not; that’s a red herring; the issue is whether they are trained (by Islam) to be that way. There is considerable evidence that they are, and that it takes a lot of effort and courage to resist.

Issues of perception are key in debunking the sense that cultures are clashing. Lately, it has become clear just how carefully religious scholars, politicians and commentators must choose their language to avoid making the problem worse. To illustrate, the current US Presidential election has seen both John McCain and Barack Obama distance themselves from former spiritual guides—Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who famously blamed the US for the September 11th terrorist attacks and Reverend Rod Parsley, the notorious defamer of Islam. Though both candidates have rightly disavowed such comments, they recognize that more work still needs to be done, and have sent representatives to Kuala Lumpur to help repair the damage to the public’s perception of the Muslim-West divide.

Hmmmm. Okay, but is it only Christian ‘spiritual guides’ who say stupid or vicious things? Do they have a monopoly on hate-mongering? Are there no imams who get a little heated sometimes? Is it really all a matter of ‘the West’ trotting obligingly along to KL to grovel and apologize and promise to do better, while the Organization of the Islamic Conference presents it with a list of ways to crack down harder on ‘Western’ people who fail to admire Islam? Hmm?

Whatever’s good for you

Jun 7th, 2008 6:05 pm | By

Gourevitch on Mugabe.

Mbeki has been utterly unwilling to show any spine in dealing with Mugabe. On the contrary, he has exhibited a sinister solidarity with his fellow onetime liberation fighter…In April, South African stevedores refused to unload a shipment of seventy-seven tons of rockets, mortars, and other munitions from China destined for Zimbabwe—a cargo reminiscent of the deliveries to Rwanda before the genocide of 1994. And, in deliberate contrast to Mbeki’s obliging absence, the American Ambassador to Zimbabwe, James McGee, has been making his presence felt, leading his colleagues in the diplomatic community into the rural areas to investigate and report on the extent of the torture. On a recent excursion, he collected testimonies, notebooks, and photographs that document how Mugabe’s goons flay their victims and break their bones. McGee offered this evidence to Mbeki’s representatives; they declined to meet with him, and Mugabe threatened him with expulsion.

Meanwhile, in Burma, people go on dying miserable deaths while the USS Essex and four support ships steam away with all their relief supplies still on board. Mugabe tells international aid agencies to stop distributing food and Burma’s generals turn away relief – callous thugs are perfectly content to sacrifice thousands or millions of people for their own trivial self-interest. It gets you down. Hundreds of thousands of people suffering starvation, thirst, exposure, disease on the one hand, and a few people protecting themselves on the other. There’s a lack of proportionality there. Contemplating this doesn’t make one think well of human beings.

Sex and the shantytown

Jun 5th, 2008 12:05 pm | By

If you’re a woman – don’t live in Sierra Leone if you can help it.

One in 8 women dies during pregnancy or childbirth, and women have an abysmal life expectancy of just 43 years, one of the lowest in the world. Girls can expect to receive only six years of schooling. On top of it all, the horrors of Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war, in which perhaps a third of the country’s women and girls suffered sexual violence, haunt women today. Widows struggle to get by, survivors of wartime rape face stigma and discrimination, and men continue to assault women with impunity.

One in 8! One in 8!! That’s grotesque. But Papua New Guinea is not great either.

Girls in Papua New Guinea can expect to receive only five years of schooling. What’s worse, accusing women of sorcery is often used as a form of social “payback.” If someone unexpectedly becomes ill or dies, the grievance is often taken out on an alleged “sorcerer”—almost always a woman—who is beaten, raped, or even killed in retaliation.

Haiti isn’t a female nirvana.

Nearly half the young women and girls in the capital’s Cite Soleil shantytown have been raped or sexually assaulted…[T]he problem isn’t taken seriously because many Haitians, including members of the police and judicial system, consider nonconsensual sex as rape only if the victim was a virgin….[I]f a husband finds his wife engaging in adultery in his home, the criminal code excuses him if he kills her…

And as for Yemen, why, it sounds very much like Saudi Arabia –

Early marriage is commonplace in Yemen, with 48 percent of girls married by the time they are 18 and some brides as young as 12….One in 39 women die during pregnancy or childbirth, and 1 in 10 children doesn’t make it to a fifth birthday. Yemeni women live particularly restricted lives; for example, getting a passport and traveling abroad requires a husband’s or father’s permission.

If you’re a woman…be very careful about where you settle down.

Denmark used to have a reputation

Jun 5th, 2008 11:45 am | By

Jakob Illeborg says Denmark should have known better.

[T]he hawkish approach taken by the Bush administration internationally is reflected by a similarly tough position on Islam and Muslims in Denmark. If the US is leading a global mission, the Danes have been fighting an inner mission, standing up against what is perceived, by some, as a threat to our democracy. Ever since the prophet cartoon crises of 2006 and 2008, Islamist extremists around the world have been threatening bloody revenge on Denmark.

So…maybe that’s why this ‘what’ is perceived by some as a threat to our democracy? Because of the, you know, threats? Of bloody revenge? For some cartoons? Could that have something to do with it? And could there be a way to describe it other than ‘hawkish’?

Monday’s attack, is of course, indefensible, but it raises questions about the wisdom of the much-debated cartoons and Danish reactions to Muslim wrath…The tragedy in Islamabad only confirms the views of those on both sides of the argument…[M]any are proud of Denmark’s newfound role as a “player” in the international conflict between the west and Islam. This is certainly not a position we used to pride ourselves on – nor is it one that is shared by other Scandinavian countries. Denmark used to have a reputation as a liberal, consensus-seeking country advocating calm and reason…

Whereas now it has…what? A reputation as an illiberal country that thinks newspapers should be able to publish innocuous cartoons without triggering death threats and riots and car bombs outside embassies? Is that what he’s saying? Is he saying that publishing the cartoons is not liberal? That it’s anti-liberal?


Particularly insidious

Jun 5th, 2008 11:18 am | By

Very good take-down of Edward Said (and review of Ibn Warraq’s Defending the West). I don’t always agree with Peter Berkowitz (much less the Hoover Institution) but I do here.

Like the book it introduces, the preface exhibits a master propagandist at work, as he weaves together moderate and reasonable pronouncements with obscurantist rhetoric and sophisticated invective.

That’s how it’s done, of course – mixing the two so that the reasonable stuff provides cover for the obscurantist rhetoric.

Certainly, Said’s conclusions can be convenient. Learning Arabic, Turkish, and Persian, and studying the Koran and Islamic jurisprudence, Muslim poetry and philosophy, and the social and political structures and history of the peoples of the Middle East are exacting and arduous labors. It’s much easier to forgo all that hard work and instead, following Said who follows Foucault, proclaim that such learning and study inevitably falsify their subject matter and ineluctably contribute to the domination of cultures that the Western mind can never hope to understand. Better not to engage in systematic study of Arabs and Muslims, and better still to take one’s stand against those who do. In this way, Said and his disciples stand the scholarly vocation on its head, transforming the self-imposition and social enforcement of ignorance into intellectual and moral virtues.

And what’s really annoying about that is that Said has countless epigones who think and say that he was a great scholar, when that’s just what he wasn’t. David Barsamian on ‘Alternative Radio’ the other day, for instance:

Edward Said, the great Palestinian-American scholar commented that racism against Arabs is the last acceptable form of racism in the U.S. Arabs are constructed as the Other, dark and evil.

Uh huh. Barsamian ought to visit Saudi Arabia sometime if he wants to see some real Othering.

There’s one passage that every scholar, journalist, popularizer, and educator should learn by heart.

Said’s brand of propaganda is particularly insidious. Although he presents himself as a heroic defender of liberal learning and systematic scholarship, he conjures egregious misrepresentations and promulgates toxic misunderstandings, thereby undermining the separation between scholarly vocation and partisan pleading in defense of which he purports to write.

Yeah. There’s a lot of that around. That’s bad.

Sisterhood is powerful

Jun 4th, 2008 6:00 pm | By

I love it when women push back against exclusion and demand their rights, don’t you?

Muslim extremist women are challenging al-Qaida’s refusal to include – or at least acknowledge – women in its ranks, in an emotional debate that gives rare insight into the gender conflicts lurking beneath one of the strictest strains of Islam. In response to a female questioner, al-Qaida No. 2 leader Ayman Al-Zawahri said in April that the terrorist group does not have women. A woman’s role, he said on the Internet audio recording, is limited to caring for the homes and children of al-Qaida fighters. His remarks have since prompted an outcry from fundamentalist women, who are fighting or pleading for the right to be terrorists.

Well I should think so. The nerve of that guy! A woman’s role is limited to house and children, indeed – doesn’t he know it’s the 21st century?! Jeez – wake up, dude, we got past that awhile ago. Women can do anything! Free to be you and me! Our bodies ourselves – our bodies belong to us and we can blow them up just as well as men can. We probably do it better – we’re better at planning and patience, you know.

“A lot of the girls I speak to … want to carry weapons. They live with this great frustration and oppression,” said Huda Naim, a prominent women’s leader, Hamas member and Palestinian lawmaker in Gaza. “We don’t have a special militant wing for women … but that doesn’t mean that we strip women of the right to go to jihad.”

All right! Way to go Hamas, not stripping women of their right to explode themselves and others. Solidarity forever.

Mr. Al-Zawahri’s remarks show the fine line al-Qaida walks in terms of public relations. In a modern Arab world where women work even in some conservative countries, al-Qaida’s attitude could hurt its efforts to win over the public at large.

Uh…so it comes as a newsflash to these women that al-Qaida isn’t really a feminist outfit? Have they been paying full attention?

On the other hand, noted SITE director Ms. Katz, Mr. al-Zawahri has to consider that many al-Qaida supporters, such as the Taliban, do not believe women should play a military role in jihad.

Well quite. This is what I’m saying. Many al-Qaida supporters do not believe women should drive cars, or have jobs, or get medical attention when ill, or refuse to marry when told to, or leave the house. Playing a military role kind of fits into that larger picture, if you see what I mean.

Mr. Al-Zawahri’s stance might stem from personal history, as well as religious beliefs. His first wife and at least two of their six children were killed in a U.S. air strike…“I say to you…[I have] tasted the bitterness of American brutality: my favourite wife’s chest was crushed by a concrete ceiling,” he wrote in a 2005 letter.

Oh…that’s a shame. So sad that it wasn’t his least favourite wife instead. Poor guy.

Women bent on becoming militants have at least one place to turn to. A niche magazine called “al-Khansaa”…has popped up online…Its first issue, with a hot pink cover and gold embossed lettering, appeared in August if 2004 with the lead article “Biography of the Female Mujahedeen.”

Excellent! Kind of Sex and the City for the abaya set.

She baked a date cake as a thank-you

Jun 2nd, 2008 1:02 pm | By

But of course the real crime is the murder of Leila Hussein – a story I can hardly make myself read.

Leila Hussein lived her last few weeks in terror. Moving constantly from safe house to safe house, she dared to stay no longer than four days at each. It was the price she was forced to pay after denouncing and divorcing her husband – the man she witnessed suffocate, stamp on, then stab their young daughter Rand in a brutal ‘honour’ killing for which he has shown no remorse. Though she feared reprisals for speaking out, she really believed that she would soon be safe. Arrangements were well under way to smuggle her to the Jordanian capital, Amman. In fact, she was on her way to meet the person who would help her escape when a car drew up alongside her and two other women who were walking her to a taxi. Five bullets were fired: three of them hit Leila, 41. She died in hospital after futile attempts to save her.

She was so close.

‘She had not been able to sleep the night before. I stayed up talking to her about her plans after she arrived in Amman. I gave her some clothes to take with her and she was packing the only bag she had. She was too excited to sleep.’ Mariam said that when she awoke Leila had already prepared breakfast, cleaned her house and even baked a date cake as a thank-you for the help she had been given.

And then they shot her.

As she lay in her own hospital bed receiving treatment, Mariam said that she heard someone saying that Leila had been shot in the head. But there were other mutterings that were clearly audible. ‘I could hear people talking on the corridors and the only thing that they had to say was that Leila was wrong for defending her daughter’s mistakes and that her death was God’s punishment. ‘In that minute I just had complete hatred in my heart for those who had killed her.’

Yeah. And I still do – and for the hateful malicious vindictive brutal shit god they invoke. I hate them all.