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The Compleat Sceptic: Of Fathers and Dissident Daughters

May 23rd, 2008 | By R Joseph Hoffmann

As mesmerized television viewers know, America is beset with vapid discussions of the faith of their future president masquerading as “compassion forums.” In the April 12 CNN version of what may become a permanent feature of American political showmanship, candidates were challenged to describe whether they have ever felt the Holy Spirit move within them and whether, in their best judgment, God wanted him, or her, to be president.

No, this was not a BBC satire. It is American Realpolitik. The questions were deadly earnest, exceeded in absurdity only by the feigned seriousness with which the combatants stumbled through their rehearsed platitudes. Neither contender was asked the unfashionable empirical question that used to dominate discussion: Would you push a red … Read the rest

Edward Blyth: Creationist or Just Another Misinterpreted Scientist?

May 19th, 2008 | By James K. Willmot

In early December, 2007, my hometown newspaper, the Louisville, Kentucky Courier-Journal, published my opinion piece concerning the newly opened creation museum in northern Kentucky.[1] I’m a former science teacher with a particular interest in the understanding and advancement of science in society, so the article expressed my extreme concern that this $27 million monument to the acceptance of blind faith over science and reason is exceeding attendance expectations and gaining momentum in their mission to cast doubt, in whatever way they can, on evolutionary biology and the multitude of scientific theories that support it. I went to the museum and toured it twice during their opening weekend in late May of 2007. While no one can argue with the high … Read the rest

Cowboys and Palestindians: what the Kaiser thought about Israel

May 17th, 2008 | By 'Benedict Gardiner'

The first time I went to Israel, in 1983, when everyone could still drive freely around the West Bank, I got into an argument with a distant cousin, a social worker. Like many Israelis (and many social workers) she is Leftish and secular and regrets that proportional representation gives such disproportionate influence to Israel’s religious and expansionist parties. She and her husband are peaceniks, demonstrated against Israel’s 1982 involvement in Lebanon, and want the settlers out of the West Bank.

Like many Israelis, she also lost family members to the Nazis and came as a teenager to Mandate Palestine. She isn’t the sort who won’t listen to Wagner or Richard Strauss, though she still doesn’t like visiting Germany. We were … Read the rest

All the Tom-Toms of the Global Village

May 9th, 2008 | By Andrzej Koraszewski (translated by Malgorzata Koraszewska and Sarah Lawson)

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Our civilization is a civilization of fear. Walk into any bookshop and look at the titles – horrors assail you from all sides; open a newspaper, check how many headlines try to awake in you a feeling, if not of mortal fear at least of anxiety; take a notebook and a stopwatch to your evening news and write down how many times during one evening you are told about violence, disasters, crimes, and suppositions that aim to trigger your fear, flight impulse, or “righteous” anger.

Newspapers, radio stations, and TV stations are waging a deadly battle over who can frighten you more. Every day specialists check to … Read the rest

The Democratiya Interviews

Apr 28th, 2008 | By Max Dunbar

The online magazine Democratiya was set up by writers and academics in 2005 as a reaction to the status-quo left consensus that dominated liberal thought from the provincial dinner party to the pages of the British Guardian. From its founding statement:

When over eight million Iraqis voted in democratic elections in January 2005, at polling stations guarded by American and other foreign troops, emerging to dance for joy, their purple fingers aloft, only for Britain’s leading liberal newspaper to sneer that the election was ‘at best irrelevant’ it was clear that something had gone terribly awry. When Iraq’s heroic free trade unionists were called ‘collaborators’ and ‘quislings’, while their torturers and murderers were hailed as a ‘liberation movement’ one

Read the rest

Apologetics and the Surrender of the Fourth Estate

Apr 16th, 2008 | By Gil Gaudia

It has been debated whether the term “the Fourth Estate” which refers to journalism or a “free press” was originated by Edmund Burke, who once pointed to the gallery of reporters in the British Parliament and declared them to be the fourth, and most important, element overseeing a triumvirate of governmental power. In my opinion, this was one of the most perceptive descriptions of democracy and its processes, applying equally well to the British Parliament and the Estates General of France (from which the term was derived); the constituents were supposed to be representatives of the society’s main elements— the nobility, the middle class and the clergy. Burke was saying that the influence of a free press was, and should … Read the rest

The truth about Islam…and where to find it

Apr 6th, 2008 | By Adrian Reddy

It is a matter of increasing importance that non-Muslims should be able to get a clear idea of Islam’s true attitude towards them. The questions are simple enough: Does Islam teach violence, or peace? Does it wish to coexist with other religions, or to dominate them? Do the jihadis represent Islam, or are they just a lunatic fringe? It should be a simple matter to get definitive, authoritative answers to such questions but, in fact, it is far from simple.

For those in politics and the media, the solution appears to be obvious: ask a Muslim theologian. This has been the approach taken, for example, by Ken Livingstone, the present Mayor of London, in his meetings with Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi: … Read the rest

Distorted Outlook on the Archbishop’s Speech

Apr 2nd, 2008 | By Allen Esterson

On 12 February 2008 the BBC World Service “Outlook”
news magazine programme devoted some fifteen minutes to a report on the reactions in Britain to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech the previous week in which he had advocated incorporating certain aspects of less contentious Sharia law (relating to civil matters such as marriage and divorce) into the British legal system. Notoriously, quite what he was advocating was by no means clear – Dr Rowan Williams himself later acknowledged elements of “unclarity” in his speech, and of “clumsily deployed” words.

Now there is no doubt that much of the response to the Archbishop’s speech was based on a knee-jerk reaction to the more unpleasant aspects of Sharia law advocated by extreme … Read the rest

Swat Valley After Emergency in Pakistan

Mar 31st, 2008 | By Khadim Hussain

Many believed that General Musharraf would act swiftly against the militants in Swat valley after he imposed a State of Emergency in Pakistan on Nov 3 2007. After all, extremism and militancy were what the general presented as an excuse to pull the plug on constitutional democracy and to suspend the fundamental rights in the country. There are several reports in today’s dailies that the militants have captured more installations over the last few days. According to the reports from the local residents, the whole valley, from Kanju to Kalam, has come under the control of Taliban over the last few days. Inamullah, a teacher, social worker and lexicographer, reports, “Taliban entered our village ‘Bahrain’ the other day with heavy … Read the rest

Conference to Remember Du’a Khalil

Mar 30th, 2008 | By Houzan Mahmoud

Date: Saturday 12 April, 2008
Time: 5.00-9:00pm
University of London Union (ULU)
Room 3D,
Malet Street London WC1E 7HY
Closest underground: Russell Square

A year after the world was stunned by images of a 17 year old girl being stoned to death in Iraqi Kurdistan; an international panel will debate the rise of honour killings, violence against women, gender apartheid and political Islam in Kurdistan/Iraq and the Middle East.
The high profile speakers are women’s rights activists, academics and experts from Kurdistan, Iraq, Iran, Sweden, New Zealand, and Britain and include:

-Dr Sandra Phelps: Head of Sociology Department, Kurdistan University
-Houzan Mahmoud: representative of Organisation Women’s Freedom in Iraq
-Heather Harvey: head of women’s campaign-Amnesty International in UK
-Maryam … Read the rest

Colin Blakemore on Stem-cell Research

Mar 26th, 2008 | By Jeremy Stangroom

This is part of an interview of Colin Blakemore by Jeremy Stangroom which took place in 2004. The whole interview appears in What Scientists Think, Routledge 2005.

The issue of animal experimentation is not the only area of dispute in the field of medical science. There is also, for example, considerable public debate about the use of stem cells – roughly speaking, cells which have the capacity to differentiate into cells of any type – in medical research. What, I ask Blakemore, is the importance of stem cell research?

‘It’s very easy to slip into hype when answering this question, but even so, I would say that the discovery of stem cells, and of their potential to transform … Read the rest

The Counter-Enlightenment

Mar 25th, 2008 | By Max Dunbar

His pockets were stuffed with fifty different kinds of conflicting literature – pamphlets for all seasons, rhetoric for all reasons. When this man handed you a tract you took it no matter what the subject: the dangers of atomic power plants, the role played by the International Jewish Cartel in the overthrow of friendly governments, the CIA-Contra-cocaine connection, the farm workers’ unions, the Jehovah’s Witnesses (If You Can Answer These Ten Questions ‘Yes’, You Have Been SAVED!) the Blacks for Militant Equality, the Kode of the Klan. He had them all, and more, too. [Stephen King, The Stand]

The man (although not really a man) in the extract above is Randall Flagg, an agent of chaos and destruction who … Read the rest

Rome Town 2008: Per Omnia Saecula Saeculorum

Mar 21st, 2008 | By R. Joseph Hoffmann

Progress in the Church of Pope Benedict is a moonwalk. That is what I have decided, anyway. For the pop-cultural non-cognoscenti, the moonwalk is a dance popularized by Michael Jackson in one of 1983’s most vibrant contributions to American civilization: “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, and Forever.” I’m told the correct name for the dance is the “backslide”—an illusion creating the impression the dancer is moving forward when he’s actually moving backward. Imagine the Pope and the curia perfecting this in the papal chambers, cassocks raised mid-calf, to the sound of the Electronic Boogaloos. Now try not imagining it.

It didn’t get sillier than John Paul II’s October 1992 expression of regret for how Galileo had been treated by the Church, … Read the rest

Against Sexual Apartheid

Mar 20th, 2008 | By Maryam Namazie

This is my open letter to anyone who will listen.

Sexual apartheid is the outrage of our century. In Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and countries ruled by Islamic laws, millions of women and girls are segregated, degraded and relegated to second class citizenship. Keeping women and girls separate and unequal are important pillars of Islamic rule, affecting every aspect of people’s lives. Sharia law itself specifies that a woman is worth half that of a man and that she is the property of her male guardian, needing his permission even to travel and work.

As the source of ‘corruption’ and ‘chaos’, she must be segregated at workplaces, schools, libraries, universities, in sports and recreation, transportation, the health system, and … Read the rest

The Life of Ivan Ilyich

Mar 9th, 2008 | By Allan Nadel

Tolstoy’s grotesque caricature did a grave disservice to this fine and noble man. Tolstoy wrote: “Ivan Ilych’s life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible.” On the contrary Ivan Ilych’s life was complex, if not extraordinary certainly exemplary, and therefore most wonderful.

What was so terrible in Tolstoy’s eyes? True, Ivan Ilych was “an intelligent, polished, lively and agreeable man…a capable cheerful, good-natured, and sociable man, though strict in the fulfillment of what he considered to be his duty.” However—and this appears to be his tragic flaw—“he considered his duty to be what was so considered by those in authority.” You see, Ivan Ilych led an unexamined life, and as we all know an unexamined life … Read the rest

A Secular Symposium: The Portable Atheist

Mar 5th, 2008 | By Max Dunbar

Before I discovered Christopher Hitchens, I seriously doubted that non-fiction prose could be savoured and reread. How wrong I was. As a writer, Hitchens has the style of Byron, the depth of Faulkner and the wit of Wilde. Possibly the most well-read man on the planet, Hitchens has the ability to communicate complex arguments with a warmth and economy that can engage the dullest layman.

I would read Hitchens on anything, but Hitchens on religion is especially fine. In this breezeblock anthology of secularist thought, he has gathered broadsides against religion from the pre-faith age to the twenty-first century. The word symposium, in Ancient Greece, simply meant ‘drinking party.’ This is a rough, raucous party of a book, where … Read the rest

Religion is Owed no Respect

Feb 23rd, 2008 | By Robert Nola

The idea that all religions are owed respect and understanding comes readily tripping off the tongue these days. Tolerance might be mentioned, but often only in passing. Since religious doctrines conflict with one another, it is hard to see how mindless respect can be extended to all of them at once. Respect would have to be equally given not only to the conflicting Christian doctrines of Trinitarianism and Unitarianism, but also to the Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist, not to mention atheist, denial of these doctrines.

The demand for understanding is ambiguous but can be sorted out. It might mean simply grasping the significance of a doctrine for a community. But anthropologists and psychologists do not have to be believers to … Read the rest

Save Southall Black Sisters

Feb 21st, 2008 | By SBS

Many hundreds of migrant women who have suffered domestic violence and were facing removal from the UK, have benefited from the advice and support provided by SBS. SBS have over the years helped numerous women facing removal from the UK after leaving their violent partners, set up anti-deportation campaigns, all of them successful.

Demonstrate 26th February 2008, 6:00pm to 7:00pm, Ealing Town Hall, Uxbridge Road, Ealing W5 2BY

Southall Black Sisters under threat of closure

We are writing to you to request support for our organisation. We are currently facing threat of closure as a result of our local authority’s (Ealing) decision to withdraw our funding as of April 2008.

Our campaigns in such critical areas of work as forced … Read the rest

Triumph of the Hedgehogs

Feb 17th, 2008 | By David Dabscheck

What characteristic do neo-conservative Norman Podhoretz, hard left-wing political magazine The Nation, conservative-without-qualifiers The National Review and liberal commentator Eric Alterman all share? Despite their bald divergences in political ideologies and opinions, they are, without exception, hedgehogs, as identified by Isaiah Berlin in his 1953 essay on Tolstoy, “The Hedgehog and the Fox.” Berlin saw in the words of the Greek poet Archilochus—“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”—the two essential perspectives from which thinkers interpret the world. Hedgehogs are those that “relate everything to a single central vision,” while foxes are wary of grand truths and embrace a diffusive, pluralistic outlook. To put it another way, Hedgehogs think centripetally around a central organizing … Read the rest

The Archbishop’s Message

Feb 16th, 2008 | By Azar Majedi

Perhaps Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury thought his statement about Sharia Law would be received enthusiastically as well-intended and an effort to reduce racial tensions in the society. However, his proposal got him into trouble. He was attacked from right and left. Those who saw their “white Christian culture” under threat asked for his resignation. Women rights activists, secularists and such like attacked him for the negative effects of Sharia Law on human rights, particularly the disastrous effects of such a practice on women in so-called Muslim communities. In response to harsh criticism he tried to qualify his proposal by stating that he did not mean the whole Sharia Law, but only in family matters. He has just missed … Read the rest