More From the ‘Community Leaders’

Jul 22nd, 2006 11:53 pm | By

More good stuff*. More on the Community Pitching a Fit.

Residents and traders in Brick Lane, east London, have threatened protests and street blockades to prevent filming of a screen adaptation of a book by bestselling novelist Monica Ali which they claim is “racist and insulting” toward the Bangladeshi community…Last night, after a series of public meetings about the film, community leaders vowed to do “anything it takes” to block filming, labelling the book “a violation of the human rights of the community”.

Monica Ali’s novel is racist, insulting, and a violation of the human rights of the community – those community leaders certainly have the jargon down pat, don’t they. They know what you’re supposed to say – and the dear Guardian comes trotting up to help them say it.

Abdus Salique, chair of Brick Lane Traders’ Association, who is coordinating the campaign from his sweetshop, said he feared the book would enrage younger members of the community…”Of course, they will not do anything unless we tell them to, but I warn you they are not as peaceful as me. She [Ali] has imagined ideas about us in her head. She is not one of us, she has not lived with us, she knows nothing about us, but she has insulted us.”

She. She, she, she, she, she. Is it paranoia to think that five repetions of the female pronoun in quick succession are used on purpose to rile up ‘younger members of the community’? Any bets on what gender those ‘younger members’ are? Any thoughts on the whole air of menace and threat? She is a racist and has insulted the community and violated its human rights, and the young men (lots of them) are enraged and we’re not sure we can hold them back…Threatening enough? Bullying enough? Disgusting enough? Yes, I think so.

“She is definitely a good writer,” said Mahmoud Rauf, chairman of the Brick Lane Business Association. “But she didn’t use her skill to the benefit of the community. We will take this as far as it has to go.”

Because…any writer from ‘the community’ is obliged and required to use her skill ‘to the benefit of the community’ according to our lights, and if she fails to do that, we will ‘take this’ as far as it has to go, by threatening everyone in sight. We all know what happens to writers who piss off ‘the community,’ don’t we.

Repulsive stuff.

*thanks to Paul of Pulpmovies for the link.

Stop Her!

Jul 22nd, 2006 7:59 pm | By

Here we go again. The community. Offend. You can’t. Protest. Warn. Prevent. You mustn’t, you can’t, you shan’t, we’ll stop you, shut up, don’t write, don’t talk, don’t say, shut up, The Community.

But to many of the residents on Brick Lane…the novel offers such a negative portrayal of the community that they have mobilised protest groups against a film being made…[R]esidents and traders gathered to prevent filming after hearing that a crew were to begin their work along the Brick Lane area. Some residents have warned of blockades to stop the film from being made…”Yes, you create a work of fiction, but you do not create fiction which offends a whole community.”

Authoritarianism and do-what-I-tell-youism raises its nasty scaly pustulant head again, brandishing its usual coercive banner of The Community to put a sanctimonious gloss on the revolting thing. And – gee, what a coincidence – yet again the author being told what to do is a woman. Fancy that. What do you know. ‘Behzti’ ‘offended’ a ‘whole community’ and got slapped around and shut down and now it’s time to do the same to ‘Brick Lane’. It’s doubly if not triply or quadruply offensive when a woman ‘offends’ ‘The Community.’ Why isn’t she locked up somewhere instead of running around in the world writing books or plays and getting them published and offending The Community? It’s an outrage. Up go the blockades.


Jul 19th, 2006 11:43 pm | By

Jeremy Waldron in the LRB:

A more troubling reading, however, is that Nazi speech is worth protecting even if a consequence of that protection is that someone gets hurt or killed. ‘I will defend your right to say it, even if your saying it makes violence more likely against the people attacked in your pamphlets.’ Is that what is meant? Defenders of free speech squirm on this point…they assure us dogmatically that there is no clear evidence of any causal connection between, say, racist posters and incidents of racial violence…

Yeah. The assurance often seems very dogmatic to me – it just somehow has to be true that there is no causal connection between racist speech and racial violence, and hence no clear evidence of same either. It has to be true because defenders of free speech want it to be true because – um – otherwise they find themselves defending free speech that could get people killed and they’d rather not but they’d also rather not think in detail, rather than in dogmatic generalities, about free speech? That’s what I often suspect, anyway.

…in other contexts, American civil liberties scholars have no difficulty at all in seeing a connection between speech and the possibility of violence. They point to it all the time as a way of justifying restrictions on citizens’ interventions at political gatherings. If Donald Rumsfeld comes to give a speech and someone in the audience shouts out that he is a war criminal, the heckler is quickly and forcibly removed. When I came to America, I was amazed that nobody thought this was a violation of the First Amendment…So there is an odd combination of tolerance for the most hateful speech imaginable, on the one hand, and obsequious deference, on the other, to the choreography which our rulers judge essential for their occasional public appearances. The Nazis can disrupt the streets of Skokie, but those who disrupt Rumsfeld’s message will be carried away with the hands of secret service agents clamped over their mouths. I have given up trying to make sense of any of this.

I still sometimes try, but I get lost quickly, like those people who set out to get a PhD in political science and accidentally end up in the English department.

Putcher Glasses on, People

Jul 19th, 2006 11:42 pm | By

And there’s this interesting article by Scott McLemee which is a good read in itself and also the cause that – there is much silliness among the commenters. Why does a piece by an omnivorous reader like Scott attract so many people who can’t read at all? People who read the label on a can of pineapple juice and think it contains Crisco? Dunno, but the result is pretty funny. Somebody started off by reading Scott’s “There are plenty of conservative publicists in America now. There are not many conservative thinkers, proper, worthy of the name” and, first, paraphrasing that as “America has lots of conservative pundits. But thinkers? Not so much,” which is a pretty bad job of paraphrasing (also pointless: why not just paste in the actual words?), and leads to an even worse retort: “You should do some reading then.” But then even better, people start giving examples of conservative thinkers [not publicists, remember – the whole point is thinkers as opposed to publicists] in America now. Like these:

“Frederick Hayak. Ayn Rand. Milton Friedman (or any of his fellow Nobel/economics winners). George Will. Pope John II.” “I would also add the late Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver and Peter Viereck.”

See? They’re nearly all at least one of 1. dead 2. not in America 3. publicists but not thinkers. I find that sidesplittingly funny, somehow. Hey – what about Confucius! He was pretty conservative, right? Genghis Khan? Lycurgus?

Didja Drop Your Compass?

Jul 19th, 2006 8:49 pm | By

One remark in this CHE piece on learning to hate literature in order to get a PhD in it particularly caught my attention. It’s so expectable and yet so odd.

In a course I taught last spring, after three months of tracing the development of literary theory from humanism to structuralism to poststructuralism to the dilemmas of the present, I finally asked my students the question: “So, why do you want to study literature, knowing what you now know?” I wondered if studying a century of cynicism had altered their motives in the slightest. They were all considering graduate school, but their answers had little to do with what I knew they would need to write in their application essays…It surprised me that none of my students mentioned a commitment to social justice or to some specific political ideology as a motive. Nearly all of them would have skewed to the left on most of the usual subjects. When I asked about that, one said, “If I wanted to be a politician, I’d major in political science. If I wanted to be a social worker, I’d major in sociology.”

Well exactly. Exactly. How terribly odd it is that Thomas H Benton (presumably not that Thomas H Benton, nor that one either) is surprised that none of his students mentioned a commitment to social justice or to some specific political ideology as a motive for studying literature. Why would they? Why on earth would they? What is the connection? Why, on earth, would someone who is fired up with a commitment to social justice or to a political ideology sit down with a beer and a dish of cashews to ponder what kind of advanced degree to get, and come up with – literature? Literature? Why that? Why not opera, or interior design, or mincing and prancing? Those make just as much sense. That is what I always wonder about these bizarro world people who orate about their concern with social justice instead of actually saying anything about literature despite the inconvenient fact that they are, in truth, teachers of literature. Did they take a wrong turn in the corridor and simply keep going until they had the wrong PhD and it was too late? Why don’t they have exactly the same limpid thought the student offered Benton? If they want to do politics, why don’t they get their degrees in political science instead of literature? Why are they so…lost?

Stride me no Strident

Jul 19th, 2006 8:44 pm | By

So Katha Pollitt talks a little more about that imbecilic review of her book. Perhaps I’m not the only one who thought it was jaw-droppingly stupid.

Emily Amick: There’s a discussion raging on the blogosphere right now about Wonkette’s ‘post-feminist’ review of your book in the New York Times.

Ah. I rushed over to Google blogsearch to find out about that, and the comments seemed to be running heavily in the ‘jaw-droppingly stupid’ direction. Good. But – what did the Times ever run a review like that for? What is its point? What next? Assigning a stand-up comic to review Amartya Sen’s next book? Assigning Tom Cruise to review a book by John Searle? What is their point? That US public discourse isn’t stupid enough yet, they have to put their shoulders to the wheel and make it even stupider?

Katha Pollitt: You certainly wouldn’t know from the review that the book is not, actually, one long grim fulmination against high-fashion shoes and the young women who wear them. It’s fine that she hated the book (well, not really!), but I wish she had accurately conveyed its contents.

Oh but that wouldn’t do, because that would have been non-stupid, so would have defeated the whole (deeply opaque) purpose.

Katha Pollitt: There are pieces about Republicans, Democrats, Greens, fundamentalists ( of all stripes), creationism in Kansas, sexism in the media…and daycare workers sentenced to long prison terms for sex abuse that almost certainly did not occur. There are pieces about Muslim women’s rights – a topic Wonkette says I’m “fixated” on, which is an odd choice of word, don’t you think? Maybe she’ll tell us someday exactly how much concern is the right amount to have.

Yes, I do think. I very much think, and I’m not the only one. I was telling JS about Cox’s review yesterday via Messenger and he interjected – ‘Fixated?’ Just so: fixated: this is what we have come to. We’ll have to be writing another book about this kind of thing. The grindstone is whirling, the knives are stacked up ready for sharpening.

E.A.: Yet many young women believe the feminist movement doesn’t allow them to wear stilettos and lipstick. So where is the line between “stridency and submission?” K.P.: We’re still on Wonkette, I see. Have you ever heard that word “strident” applied to a man? I can’t believe the conversation is stuck on this idiotic plot point: Feminists with loud voices and hairy legs versus girls who just want to have fun.

Exactly. ‘Strident’ is of course a word largely reserved for feminists, and boring feminists versus fun sexpots is an idiotic plot point. Wonkette should sit on the naughty stool for a very long time.

‘Hadiths are serious stuff’

Jul 18th, 2006 2:19 am | By

This is a piece of really very good news. The author says it hasn’t had much attention in the West – or elsewhere either. So let’s pay attention.

In a bold but little-noticed step toward reforming Islamic tradition, Turkey’s religious authorities recently declared that they will remove these statements [such as “If a husband’s body is covered with pus and his wife licks it clean, she still wouldn’t have paid her dues.” – OB] , and more like them, from the hadiths – the non-Koranic commentary on the words and deeds of the prophet Muhammad…Hadiths are serious stuff. More than 90 percent of the sharia (Islamic law) is based on them rather than the Koran, and the most infamous measures of the sharia – the killing of apostates, the seclusion of women, the ban on fine arts, the stoning of adulterers and many other violent punishments for sinful behavior – come from the hadiths and the commentaries built upon them. Eliminating these misogynistic statements from the hadiths is a direct challenge to some of the most controversial aspects of Islamic tradition.

The most controversial and the most life-ruining and misery-producing. What a tremendous step toward the improvement of the lives of millions of people, especially women, it would be if all religious authorities removed such hadiths. Let’s earnestly wish them every success.

The media and intellectuals of Ankara and Istanbul largely welcomed last month’s decision, which the Turkish government supported…Yet, despite the rhetoric about the need to make alliances with progressive Islam in the midst of the fight against terrorism, Turkey’s move toward reform has been widely overlooked in the West, and there has been little acknowledgment of it in other Muslim countries.

I wonder if the BBC has asked the MCB what it thinks about it yet.

“I can’t imagine a prophet who bullies women,” said Hidayet Tuksal, a feminist theologian in Ankara. “The hadiths that portray him so should be abandoned.” Similarly, in proposing to create its new standard collection, the Turkish Diyanet intends to look beyond the chain of transmitters to logic, consistency and common sense. In many ways, this is a revival of an early debate in Islamic jurisprudence between rival camps known as the adherents of the hadiths and the adherents of reason – a debate that ended with the triumph of the former.

Go, adherents of reason. Sayings from the 9th century that can’t be second-guessed in the light of reason are not the kind of thing that ought to triumph.

An Analogy That Isn’t

Jul 16th, 2006 10:26 pm | By

Here’s something I don’t get. Or maybe I do get it and just think it’s silly. One of those. It’s from an article by Michael Ruse in Robert Pennock’s collection Intelligent Design Creationism and its Critics, “Methodological Naturalism under Attack,” page 365. Ruse is making the distinction (which featured heavily in the Kitzmiller trial) between metaphysical naturalism and methodological naturalism; he’s making the distinction and explaining it and arguing for it.

This is not to say that God did not have a role in the creation, but simply that, qua science, that is qua an enterprise formed through the practice of methodological naturalism, science has no place for talk of God. Just as, for instance, if one were to go to the doctor one would not expect any advice on political matters, so if one goes to a scientist one does not expect any advice on or reference to theological matters.

Just as? Just as? I think not. Not just as at all, I would say. Because claims about God are claims that God is real and really exists. They may (or may not) be metaphysical claims, but they are pretty much always truth-claims about God; the claims may include the stipulation that God is supernatural, outside time and space, but since they mostly also include claims about the way God creates or acts on this world, that stipulation seems a tad half-hearted. Especially when it comes to fans of ID, which is Ruse’s subject matter. The whole point of the ID God is that it designed the universe and the earth and wonderful us. So – that means the doctor analogy is an absurd analogy. It is not the case that science is to theology as medicine is to politics. Theology is about is, politics is about ought. You can always define God (and hence theology) as supernatural and metaphysical but in that case no one has anything to say about it, including theologians – it is by definition out of reach and unknowable. But if it is within reach and knowable, then it’s accessible to anyone who looks. Theologians don’t get special technical training that enables them to find God (how to use a special kind of microscope perhaps, or a special microtelescope), they don’t learn research methods and equipment-use that no one else knows, nor do they learn magic tricks. So it’s just bizarre to say that scientists have nothing to say about God while at the same time pretending that other people do have something to say about God. That involves pretending there is some kind of expertise or special knowledge that scientists don’t have. There is no such expertise or knowledge. That box is empty.

The physician may indeed have very strong political views, which one may or may not share. But the politics are irrelevant to the medicine. Similarly, the scientist may or may not have very strong theological views, which one may or may not share. But inasmuch as one is going to the scientist for science, theology can and must be ruled out as irrelevant.

But how can it be irrelevant unless the theology in question concerns something that is wholly outside the natural world and thus inaccessible to human investigation altogether? How? They want to have it both ways; that’s the problem. They want to say that God and theology are in this special magical category that is completely different from science and that science therefore has nothing to say about, while at the same time saying that they are perfectly entitled to lay down the law about God and theology. Well I do not see how it can be both! And I think the idea that it can be both rests on some kind of weird hocus-pocus about what theology is. Either that or it just rests on plain old rhetoric. Or, the original suggestion, that I just don’t get it. Okay let’s assume that I just don’t get it. Somebody explain it to me.

Atheists in America

Jul 16th, 2006 6:38 pm | By

Sometimes I think I should keep a suitcase packed at all times, ready to grab when I hear the sirens approaching.

Penny Edgell, Doug Hartmann and I published a paper in the American Sociological Review called “Atheists As ‘Other’: Moral Boundaries and Cultural Membership in American Society.” In a national survey, part of a broader project on multiculturalism and solidarity in American life that we call the American Mosaic Project, we found that one group stood out from all others in terms of the level of rejection they received from the general public. That was atheists. And not by a small margin, either.

That’s not in the least a surprise, but it’s a useful sharpening.

How does such a small group pose such a threat to a large majority? The more we explored this finding, the more we came back to a simple answer for it. Like it or not, many (possibly most) Americans see religion as a marker of morality. To many Americans, “Atheists” are people who lack any basis for moral commitment.

I’m not sure that is the main answer though – although it’s presumptuous to say that since they did the research and I didn’t. But still…I don’t think that accounts for the gut hostility as well as other reasons do. One, people who think god is real and really exists take atheism as personally wounding, hurtful, insulting, to god even more to themselves. I think – it’s a hunch, but it’s also based on conversations and what theists say – it’s a feeling rooted in loyalty, and love. An admirable feeling, actually, but unfortunate because directed at an imagined being; unfortunate because the source of hostility towards existing people for the sake of an imagined one. Two, atheism is threatening to theism, because of course theists suspect that their reasons for believing in the god they believe in are vulnerable. Three, given this threat, this suspicion and vulnerability, theists suspect that atheists think theists are deluded. This suspicion opens the door for all sorts of class, hierarchical, populist, anti-‘elitist’ tensions and worries. In short, theists think atheists think theists are stupid, and (naturally) it pisses them off. I think all those bite deeper than the idea that atheists have no reason to be moral. I don’t have the research; that’s just a sort of hermeneutic or interpretive guess. Why do I think it? I suppose because I think the morality explanation doesn’t have the kind of emotional kick that the others do. I certainly think it matters, but I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that makes the lower lip tremble or the blood boil, whereas the others are.

Wonkette, Phooey

Jul 16th, 2006 2:53 am | By

Okay, what’s the deal here? I thought Ana Marie Cox was supposed to be so clever, or witty or interesting or something – ? Isn’t she? I thought she was. I’ve never read or even glanced at Wonkette, because life is short and time is scarce and blogs are many and the subject matter – beltway gossip? Urrgghh – is so very unappealing; but I’ve gathered (how? I don’t know – as one does) that she’s good in some way. But clearly there has been some mistake. That “book review” is a piece of crap; it’s stupid and smug and truly staggeringly predictable. So if that’s Wonkette, I’m glad I’ve never wasted so much as a nanosecond on it.

Strident feminism can seem out of place – even tacky – in a world where women have come so demonstrably far. With Katie Couric at the anchor desk, Condoleezza Rice leading the State Department and Hillary Clinton aiming for the top of the ticket, many of the young, educated and otherwise liberal women who might, in another era, have found themselves burning bras and raising their consciousness would rather be fitted for the right bra (like on “Oprah”) and raising their credit limit.

Oh right. Of course. How stupid of us not to think of it. Because Hillary Clinton married the right guy and there’s – gasp! – one woman reading the news on tv, therefore feminism has nothing further to say, and if it says it it’s (oh christalmighty) “strident”. That’s the kind of thing that makes grizzled old feminists like me (and Pollitt, I daresay) want to send smug smirking young postfeminists off to – where, exactly? Let’s see. How about northern Nigeria. Or southern Afghanistan. Or Iran. Or Egypt. Or rural India, or China, or Congo. Sound good, Wonkette? Sound like a fun way to find out how far women have come? Hmmm?

Her new collection of essays, “Virginity or Death!,” culled from her columns for The Nation over the past five years, shows her to be stubbornly unapologetic in championing access to abortion and fixated on the depressingly slow evolution of women’s rights in the Middle East. In the midst of our celebration of Katie’s last day, Pollitt is the one who would drown out the clinking of cosmo glasses with a loud condemnation of the surgery available to those women who would sacrifice their little toes the better to fit their Jimmy Choos.

Fuck. I can’t even read any more. That’s only the first paragraph, and it’s some of the stupidest shit I’ve seen in a long time. And it’s in the New York Times, which still keeps insisting it’s a good newspaper! What is their problem? Why do they publish insulting garbage like that? Are they trying to show that they’re “hip” or not some bunch of latte-swigging elitists or what?

Okay, sorry, beg pardon. It’s the feminist in me – do excuse me, I mean the “strident” feminist – again. I’m sure I’ve told you, probably more than once, about seeing a panel of feminists – Pollitt was one – at the Los Angeles Book Fair a few years ago, on C-Span, and seeing a glam young French woman stand up and ask the panel why they were all so angry. They were all, to a woman, absolutely dumbfounded, and I was scarred for life. Seriously – Wonkette needs to learn about something beyond D.C. gossip. She also needs to learn to write better. A lot better.

Nussbaum Reads MacKinnon

Jul 16th, 2006 2:15 am | By

Martha Nussbaum’s review of Catherine MacKinnon’s Are Women Human? ties in well with Danny Postel’s interview of Fred Halliday. Both put rights at the center – and in fact, as I noted in ‘Fred Halliday Rocks,’ Halliday cites Nussbaum (and Sen) on the subject. I would so much rather read Sen or Nussbaum or Appiah than Andrew Murray or Faisal Bodi or Inayat Bunglawala.

Inequality on the basis of sex is a pervasive reality of women’s lives all over the world. So is sex-related violence…Despite the prevalence of these crimes, they have not been well addressed under international human rights law…Until recently, abuses like rape and sexual torture lacked good human rights standards because human rights norms were typically devised by men thinking about men’s lives. In other words, “If men don’t need it, women don’t get it.” What this lack of recognition has meant is that women have not yet become fully human in the legal and political sense, bearers of equal, enforceable human rights…”Women’s resistance to their status and treatment” is now “the cutting edge of change in international human rights.”

Good. Let us know if we can help in some way.

MacKinnon’s central theme, repeatedly and convincingly mined, is the hypocrisy of the international system when it faces up to some crimes against humanity but fails to confront similar harms when they happen to women, often on a daily basis.

Violence in prison cells in Chile (or Guantanamo, as Nussbaum doesn’t say) is recognized as torture, but violence in kitchens in Nebraska is not.

As in her prior work, MacKinnon is caustic about the damage done by the traditional liberal distinction between a “public sphere” and a “private sphere,” a distinction that insulates marital rape and domestic violence from public view and makes people think it isn’t political. “Why isn’t this political?… The fact that you may know your assailant does not mean that your membership in a group chosen for violation is irrelevant to your abuse. It is still systematic and group-based.

Domestic violence including forced marriage, systematic subordination of females, systematically asymmetrical allocation of resources between males and females, genital mutilation.

Throughout the book MacKinnon reasserts the conception of equality that has been, so far, her most influential contribution to legal thought. Similarity of treatment, she has argued throughout her work, is not sufficient for the true “equal protection” of the laws. Mere formal equality often masks, or even reinforces, underlying inequalities. We need to think, instead, of the idea of freedom from hierarchy, from domination and subordination.

I’ve become somewhat obsessed with domination and subordination in recent years, as you may have noticed. Maybe it’s partly from reading Nussbaum, I don’t know. But I think it’s mostly from learning about women and girls who are indeed very thoroughly and systematically dominated and subordinated. I take it personally.

And there’s even a bonus:

Because feminist theory, in her understanding, is committed to reality, MacKinnon is deeply troubled by some of the excesses of academic postmodernism. One of the gems in the collection is an essay called “Postmodernism and Human Rights,” which ought to be required reading for all undergraduates and graduate students in the humanities.

Along with – oh you know.

Fred Halliday Rocks

Jul 15th, 2006 9:16 pm | By

This is a stirring piece.

Fred Halliday: My view is that the kind of position which the New Left Review and Tariq have adopted in terms of the conflict in the Middle East is an extremely reactionary, right-wing one. It starts with Afghanistan. To my mind, Afghanistan is central to the history of the Left, and to the history of the world, since the 1980s. It is to the early 21st century, to the years we’re now living through, what the Spanish Civil War was to Europe in the mid and late 20th century…The issue of rights is absolutely central. We have to hold the line at the defense, however one conceptualizes things, however de-hegemonized, of universal principles of rights. This is how I locate my own political and historical vision—it is my starting point.

And it is emphatically not the starting point of all too many people on the left now, and that’s the problem. But…that ice-jam seems to be breaking up a little now. Check out the comments on this absurd piece at Comment is Free for example. A cheering sign, I think.

I feel much happier with a copy of the U.N.D.P. Human Development Report than with the New Left Review. Or with the very courageous three annual editions of the Arab Human Development Report, which itemize in a statistical, perhaps over-quantified way, things like women’s access to education, women’s access to politics, treatment of minorities, freedom of speech, fair elections, and the like.

Danny Postel: “Bourgeois” liberties.

Fred Halliday: No, I don’t accept that category.

Danny Postel: I mean that in scare quotes: the crude, ultra-left way of dismissing such rights.

Fred Halliday: Exactly. And Marx himself had too much disparaging language of this kind as well…But I will barricade myself in my bunker with copies of the U.N.D.P. Report and with Amartya Sen’s and Martha Nussbaum’s attempts to define new forms of universal human needs, with feminists who are concretely engaged in social policy…


Smile When You Call Me That

Jul 14th, 2006 5:50 pm | By

Hey I feel marginalized and neglected and I yearn – I yearn, I tell you, I yearn and burn and pine – to be understood as a community. Won’t someone please understand me as a community? It would make me so happy. Just once in awhile? On weekends maybe? Or during the World Cup?

Hindus…feel neglected and marginalised and yearn to be understood as a community…[They] do not want to be described as “Asian”, according to a big study of the community…The report, Connecting British Hindus, to be published in the Commons today, was funded by the Government and carried out by the Runnymede Trust and the Hindu Forum.

Connecting British Hindus. Connecting them to the community. The Hindu community – not the Asian community – no no – Asian community right out, not to be connected to. The community in ‘the community’ is the Hindu community and not some other kind, else there will be yearning and feelings of neglect. See – if it were called the Asian community, then no one would call it The Community in that thrilling way, whereas if it’s called The Hindu Community, people will. See?

Note the funding by the Hindu Forum. That’s those nice people who got the Husain exhibition closed down. Another reactionary religious ‘forum’ claiming to speak for the whole ‘community’ and being taken at face value by a major newspaper.

Sunny at Pickled Politics notes some bad methodology in that ‘study’:

The survey was carried out through people in focus groups that the Hindu Forum personally invited and an online survey only promoted through their website. The report does not acknowledge there might be a bias towards more religious Hindus than simply cultural Hindus because of this. Not only that, the survey doesn’t actually ask if respondents prefer a Hindu identity over an Asian identity. It asks vaguely interconnected questions and does not pose the question – Do you prefer being described as Hindu or Asian? The Hindu Forum has an obvious interest in promoting this viewpoint because, like the MCB and other religious organisations, they want people to be identified by religion rather than race. That would mean more government/media attention (and money) would go to faith than race groups. Of course, being ‘Asian’ is a very, very vague label that totally ignores the diversity of Asians. But that is a good thing in my opinion because it means less people can speak on our behalf. In fact why not just refer to us as Britons and do away with “community leaders”?

Gosh, there’s a radical idea!

Back Page

Jul 14th, 2006 5:20 pm | By

The Front Page ‘discussion’ with Norm and Nick is hilarious in a sad sort of way – sad if only because of the waste of time and effort and attention. Norm and Nick might as well have conversed with two nice four-foot lengths of solid brick wall, for all the good it did them.

Here’s FP’s Jamie Glazov starting things off, for instance:

The Left has a long, depressing, ugly and blood-stained record of worshipping the most vile and barbaric tyrannies of the 20th century, including Stalin’s Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnam and Castro’s Cuba…But if you are on the Left, are you not part of an ideology that holds that human redemption, accompanied by human equality and a classless society, is possible and that it can be engendered through social engineering?

No. Why? Because the left covers a lot more ground than that, as both Nick and Norm patiently explain over and over again. But…

After everything that the Western Left has perpetrated in the 20th Century, including the facilitation of the bloodbath in Indochina after forcing an American withdrawal from Vietnam, that you would represent the Left with a reference to an effort in a free society to improve the quality of public schools . . . . leaves me somewhat speechless. Stalin’s, Mao’s and Pol Pot’s killing fields were spawned by the notion of the possibility of earthly redemption. Those who believe that earthly redemption is possible and work towards such a reality, having learned nothing from the past, are complicit in the earthly incarnations of their ideal. I remained somewhat puzzled as to what is so complicated about this.

Nick tried gently and sweetly to explain it to him.

Here you are up against a psychopathic totalitarian ideology. You ought to have the sympathy of democrats around the world. But if you, like the Bush administration, refuse to understand that there are different currents in democratic thinking and say with no self-consciousness of what a fool you sound that ‘the Left has been totalitarian throughout its history’ you alienate your potential allies. Democracy is a little more than one notion of the free market from America, which in practice America follows more in theory than in practice. Now get a grip and read some history.

Then another round of the same thing, then Horowitz, amusingly, plays the religion card.

Your refusal to answer my question as to why you choose to belong to a movement in which the views you represent have been consistently marginal for a hundred years suggests that your commitment to the left has a religious rather than a rational basis.

Norm offers another gentle retort:

If I want an exchange with someone who tells me that my commitments have “a religious rather than a rational basis,” and puts the word “explanation” in scare-quotes to refer to a view I’ve expressed, I can drop into some rabid comments box somewhere. But I have better ways of spending my time.

See? This business of charging that someone’s commitments have ‘a religious rather than a rational basis’ is a rhetorical ploy used by some unpleasing characters; Philip Johnson springs to mind (because I’ve just been reading an article by Robert Pennock disputing just such accusations). So it’s a little puzzling when people who have no great fondness for the Horowitzes and IDers of the world say the same thing. There’s a mystery here, and some day I will get to the bottom of it.

Secular Religion

Jul 14th, 2006 2:50 pm | By

I was discussing religion and related subjects with an acquaintance yesterday, and he said I have a lot of secular religious or quasi-religious beliefs. I was skeptical of this claim, and we wrangled a bit, but didn’t have time to wrangle thoroughly. So I’ll talk to myself on the subject here, and you can listen in.

The argument was that I (and most people – it’s a general point) hold certain beliefs in a quasi-religious way: moral beliefs for instance. I think murder is wrong, and I believe it’s true that murder is wrong, and that is a commitment without reasons, hence religious. But I dispute all of that. All of it. For one thing, I don’t really think it is factually true that murder is wrong; not in the sense of being true throughout the universe. I think it’s factually true in the sense that it’s factually true that it’s wrong for humans, and that (or because) humans generally consider it wrong, for good reasons; but that’s a limited, parochial, contingent sort of truth, so not like religious beliefs, which tend not to be limited to this earth and this species, but to take in everything. Then, the commitment isn’t without reasons; it’s not a logical truth, but it’s not based on nothing, either. There are good reasons for saying that murder is wrong that do not rely on any supernatural beliefs. Then, I don’t think all beliefs that are short of logically necessary are religious or quasi-religious – unless one defines religion in some special or tricksy way, and that is just what I won’t do. I refuse. I’ve refused before, many times, and I’m going to go on refusing.

The other example of one of my secular religious beliefs is that Shakespeare is better than Enid Blyton. I don’t buy it. I do believe that, yes, but I also know perfectly well that that idea is a purely human idea, that relies on all sorts of contingent products of the development of language and what words have resonance; it’s the very opposite of something inscribed in the nature of the universe. It has no meaning at all even to other species on this planet (unlike murder perhaps, which could at least be argued to mean something for some non-human species), let alone anyone anywhere else. So I fail to see what is religious about it. I can see calling it something else, including something pejorative, but not religious. Unless, again, religion is re-defined in a tricksy way.

If I understand the thought, it is that all beliefs (or commitments) that are not completely grounded are religious, or quasi-religious. But what is it that is religious about them? It seems to me rather that they share one feature with religion, the ungroundedness; but just ungroundedness is not enough to characterize or define religion. You need more than that. You need the supernatural, you need a deity. (Of course one can always say ‘No I don’t’ and define religion as ungrounded beliefs; but then it covers a huge amount of territory, and isn’t what most people mean by religion, so the discussion becomes idiosyncratic and somewhat confusing.) Many promoters of religion of course like to define religion as just a feeling of benevolence, or an attitude toward the universe, or a heightened sense of compassion, for the purpose of promoting religion, reverting to the much narrower theistic meaning when the coast is clear. But that’s a ploy to entice people to join the flock, and I refuse to go along with it, because if we do that we acquiesce in the bait and switch.

This is the distinction between onto-religion and expressive religion; I have no quarrel with expressive religion, but I do have a quarrel with the ontological kind, especially when it gets aggressive, as it so often does these days.

The matter interests and concerns me because I dislike credulity: on a very gut level, I dislike it (so there’s another quasi-religious belief, perhaps). That means I really don’t want to have mindless or uncritical or unthinking or unexamined or superstitious or taboo beliefs. But I don’t think I do – not in principle anyway, not that I would refuse to examine or think about if challenged. I no doubt have lots that I haven’t noticed, but not any that I’ve carefully placed inside a shrine.

No Really, You’re Too Kind

Jul 13th, 2006 6:45 pm | By

What a lovely morning. I woke up far too early (anxiety, no doubt), I spent most of an hour deleting spam from the comments database, then I got an email from a helpful reader (it is just barely possible that some of you can guess which one) who was worried that I might not realize that the signatories of the letter about ‘Christianophobia’ in the Telegraph were loopy. Apparently this reader, who reads B&W regularly and often and has done so for a longish time, thought that perhaps I posted that link because I approved of the letter and the signatories, or that while I might be a little doubtful about their stance I was perhaps not doubtful enough – that I didn’t grasp quite how loopy they actually are. Thus worried, this helpful reader kindly and helpfully told me that they are, in fact, seriously loopy, and dangerous nutters. Ah. Oh. I had no idea. I’m all of a heap. I thought they were quite sound and sensible, of course. Obviously. Naturally. What else would I think? It must be obvious in every word on B&W that I go in for a credulous trusting sentimental attitude toward all religious believers, and particularly ones who are writing letters to newspapers advertising their indignation at not being allowed to persecute gays.

So I was terrifically grateful to have it explained to me (in easy words) that no, these were naughty silly loopy dangerous people. I do love being helped and guided, I do love having my tottering steps carefully steered away from the precipice. So I shot back a grateful reply. And the dear faithful perceptive reader replied in turn, saying that the reader realized I probably knew at least some of their insanities, but was still not sure if I do realise just how insidious these people are (hence the kind assistance), and suggesting that I should save my sarcasm for the believers. So I shot back another reply, a less sarcastic and more literal one this time, laced with a swear word or two. It’s hilarious, in a way, but it’s also very irritating, and I’m in a foul temper today, so in a mood to mix sarcasm with violence and bad language. So watch it.

Going to School

Jul 12th, 2006 10:50 pm | By

What life is like when there is no rule of law, no security, no strong-enough central government, no one able to keep the strong and cruel and violent and selfish from preying on everyone else. Thrasymachus world. Thug world, warlord world, Mafia world, feudal world, give me that world, extortion world. Do what I say or I’ll hit you with a stick or cut you with a knife or shoot you world. Nightmare world.

Escalating attacks by the Taliban and other armed groups on teachers, students and schools in Afghanistan are shutting down schools and depriving another generation of an education, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. Schools for girls have been hit particularly hard, threatening to undo advances in education since the Taliban’s ouster in 2001…Human Rights Watch found entire districts in Afghanistan where attacks had closed all schools and driven out the teachers and non-governmental organizations providing education…Afghanistan’s rapidly growing criminal networks, many involved in the production and trade of narcotics, also target schools because in many areas they are the only symbol of government authority.

How we take education for granted. I certainly did when I was a child; I would have preferred to stay home to read fairy tales and wander the fields and woods all day. But then I’d never had men with knives and sticks and guns telling me I couldn’t go, or beating me up or throwing acid in my face if I did go, or murdering my teacher. I think of my teachers…and I just imagine that experience.

Well, at least the contrast is stark; at least we know what side we’re on; even the most infatuated, the hand-wringers about consumerism or alienation or other crimes of modernity, know what side they’re on. On the one hand thugs, bullies, crime, violence, preventing people from teaching and learning. On the other hand education. Learning, growing, expanding, thinking, discovering the world. But the thugs are winning.


Jul 11th, 2006 8:45 pm | By

This is an interesting bit of reasoning.

The letter pinned overnight to the wall of the mosque in Kandahar was succinct. “Girls going to school need to be careful for their safety. If we put acid on their faces or they are murdered then the blame will be on their parents.”

That’s good, isn’t it? If we put acid on their faces, the blame will be on their parents. Well of course it will – if it hadn’t been for their parents, the girls wouldn’t be there to have faces that Talibanists can put acid on. Furthermore, if the parents hadn’t fed them all those years, again the girls wouldn’t be there to have faces. If the parents hadn’t neglected to slice the girls’ faces off with a sharp knife or sword or farming implement, again, the faces would not exist. If the parents hadn’t ignored their obvious duty to behead their daughters, how could the Talibanists have found any girls’ faces to put acid on? They couldn’t; so you see; the blame is on the parents. That’s called ‘determinism’ and it means that the Talibanists are simply bowing to the inevitable.

Bob and Kenan Say It

Jul 11th, 2006 1:34 am | By

Bob from Brockley tells us of a good item on Radio 4’s The World This Weekend. I haven’t listened yet but I’m going to, as well as to Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Start the Week, which Nick S mentioned. (Time! I have no time!)

a very interesting segment on Radio 4’s World This Weekend about who represents British Muslisms…A number of British Muslims forcefully argued that the Muslim Council of Britain completely fails to represent the perdominantly Sufi Sunni British Muslims, who do not have a Muslim Brotherhood worldview, but rather have a much more theologically open perspective…A new organisation is needed to better represent them…Particularly daming was the testimony with Haras Rafiq from the Sufi Muslim Council on the way post-9/11 (and especially post-7/7) the MCB has used the war on terror to channel funds to their corrupt, reactionary affiliates.

I hope the subject of the over-reliance of the BBC itself on the MCB was part of the discussion.

For me, the deeper issue is the ideology – central to the New Labour version of multiculturalism – that ethnic groups constitute homogeneous “communities” who can be “represented” by “community leaders”. French republicans call this ideology “communautarisme”…I am sick of hearing politicians say “The Muslim community wants X”, “The gay community is Y”, “The Asian community feels Z”. These definite articles imprison us, over-emphasising differences between “communities”, under-emphasising differences within “communities”, hiding the oppressive nature of “community leaders” who define what each “community” thinks, feels, is. We need to escape from this foolish and dangerous notion!

Just so. Well said Bob from Brockley.

Kenan Malik in the Times the other day, too.

The starting point in any discussion about terrorism and extremism seems to be that Muslims constitute a community with a distinct set of views and beliefs, and that, for them, real political authority must come from within their community.

Exactly. And what a bizarrely patronizing and stultifying starting point that is.

But the trouble is the bargain itself. Not only is it rooted in a picture of the Muslim community and its relationship with the wider British society that is false, but also the cosy relationship between the Government and Muslim leaders exacerbates the problem it was meant to solve…The Government has long since abandoned its responsibility for engaging directly with Muslim communities. Instead it has effectively subcontracted its responsibilities to so-called community leaders. When the Prime Minister wants to find out what Muslims think about a particular issue he invites the Muslim Council of Britain to No 10…Rather than appealing to Muslims as British citizens and attempting to draw them into the mainstream political process, politicians of all hues prefer to see them as people whose primarily loyalty is to their faith and who can be politically engaged only by other Muslims.

Patronizingly and stultifyingly.

The policy of subcontracting political responsibility allows…self-appointed community leaders with no democratic mandate to gain power both within Muslim communities and the wider society. But it does the rest of us — Muslim and non-Muslim — no favours. It is time that politicians dropped the pretence that there is a single Muslim community and started taking seriously the issue of political engagement with their constituents, whatever their religious faith.

Hear hear.

The Seen Unseen

Jul 11th, 2006 1:05 am | By

Bill Moyers also talked to Mary Gordon in that installment of his ‘faith and reason’ series. Gordon said a lot of interesting things, as she generally does; I like her, she’s shrewd, self-mocking, funny, and a believer in the non-triumphalist and non-accusatory (why don’t you believe too?) way that seems so out of fashion in the US. But I wanted to take exception to one thing she said because I think it relies on equivocation (though not necessarily deliberately), and it’s an equivocation that does a lot of work for believers of the triumphalist and accusatory variety.

Without faith we would be paralyzed. We believe that all men are created equal. That our mothers, or at least our dogs, love us. That the number four bus will eventually come, all these represent a belief in the unseen.

A belief in the unseen, yes, but that’s not how the word ‘faith’ is generally used right now. ‘Faith’ is used to mean either religion, in a flat substitution, as in ‘faith-based initiative’ or ‘faith school’, or pious ardent belief of a religious kind that is an antonym of empirical or evidence-based belief. So Gordon’s examples are tricksy; all of them. 1) We don’t exactly ‘believe’ or have faith that all men are, factually, created equal; we believe, in the sense of think (not really in the sense of have faith) that all people ought to be treated as equal before the law (and in some other ways, but not in all ways). That’s not really the same as having ‘faith’ that they are in fact created equal. 2) We believe or have faith that our mothers or dogs love us, for reasons. If our mothers or our dogs show every sign that they hate us rather than loving us, we tend to heed those signs, and think something is amiss with their love; that in fact it may have turned to hate. We don’t really have faith in a completely ‘unseen’ love of our mothers or dogs; signs of that love are seen. If the signs are not seen – if the smiles are replaced by frowns or stony glares, if the wagging tail is replaced by bared teeth (at the other end) – we don’t go on having faith in the unseen love, we conclude it has diminished or gone away. 3) The belief that the number four bus will eventually come is least of all like ‘faith’ as commonly understood. We believe the bus will come solely because of prior knowledge: we know there is a schedule, there are bus drivers, there is a bus barn, it has come before, it is supposed to come, people rely on it; and with all that we know perfectly well that it might not this time, it might have broken down or gotten stuck in traffic or even been driven off a high bridge onto the roof of an apartment building after a crazed gunman shot the driver. So the implication (if it is an implication – Gordon may have made the same point in the rest of what she said, for all I know) that religious faith is the same kind of faith as the faith that the bus will come, is a spurious implication.