Independent Letters

Aug 27th, 2005 8:07 pm | By

Allen Esterson has pointed out to me some interesting letters in the Independent lately. On Wednesday for instance, this one from Dr Shaaz Mahboob, among others:

Most secular Muslims are not members of any of the leading religious groups, nor do they follow religion with strict enough vigour which would allow them to be considered for membership of any of the leading so-called Muslim representative groups such as Muslim Council of Britain or its affiliates. Secular Islam in Britain is feeling marginalised. Without adequate platforms it is being ignored by both the media and the Government.
All that MCB and other hard-line Islamic organisations are doing is taking advantage of the lack of leadership from within the secular majority of Muslims. They tend to “Islamicise” every single issue that is faced by ordinary Muslims, thereby diverting the attention from the real core social issues. The latter include failed integration, due to self-imposed segregation by community elders hell-bent on maintaining the cultural customs that they brought with them at the time of migration to Britain. Other problems are purely economic, such as unemployment and obstacles faced by Muslim women joining mainstream careers.
For successful integration of both Muslims and Islam into the British society, the voice of modern, moderate and secular Muslims needs to be heard and brought into the mainstream.

And today this from Raza Griffiths along with several more:

As someone from a Muslim background, I find the Muslim Council of Britain’s defence of its right to promote its illiberal views by reference to freedom of speech somewhat disingenuous. Not very long ago many of its members openly supported the murder of Salman Rushdie because he had criticised Islam. The vast majority of Muslims who are moderate now need to move beyond the MCB, which is bringing Islam into disrepute and exacerbating the negative stereotypes that Muslims have to endure.

Keep at it, epistolarists. Keep chipping away at the stupid idea that all Muslims and people from a Muslim background share the ‘illiberal views’ of the MCB. It might sink in some day.

We Had to Destroy the Woman to Save Her

Aug 27th, 2005 2:41 am | By

I haven’t read Juan Cole before. The snippets I’ve seen here and there that other people have quoted didn’t appeal. But I saw this astonishing item at Drink-soaked Trot Popinjays, so I thought I’d pass it on.

Was American journalist Steve Vincent killed in Basra as part of an honor killing? He was romantically involved with his Iraqi interpreter, who was shot 4 times. If her clan thought she was shaming them by appearing to be having an affair outside wedlock with an American male, they might well have decided to end it. In Mediterranean culture, a man’s honor tends to be wrought up with his ability to protect his womenfolk from seduction by strange men. Where a woman of the family sleeps around, it brings enormous shame on her father, brothers and cousins, and it is not unknown for them to kill her. These sentiments and this sort of behavior tend to be rural and to hold among the uneducated, but are not unknown in urban areas. Vincent did not know anything serious about Middle Eastern culture and was aggressive about criticizing what he could see of it on the surface, and if he was behaving in the way the Telegraph article describes, he was acting in an extremely dangerous manner.

Errr. If her ‘clan’ thought she was ‘shaming’ them…then they might have decided to ‘end’ it. End it. By which he means, murder them; by which he means, shoot both of them multiple times. Well, yeah, I suppose that is one way to ‘end’ something. I suppose if someone stands too close to you at the bus stop, you can ‘end’ it by killing her. But in all fairness, that’s not what is usually meant by ‘ending’ an affair. Not to mention the fact that there wasn’t an affair anyway. Cole appears to have read the Telegraph article he linked to very sloppily. It doesn’t say they were having an affair, or that they were ‘romantically involved,’ and it says several things to indicate that there is a lot of room for doubt that they were – such as the fact that Vincent was planning to marry his interpreter for visa purposes, and that his wife was aware of that. The popinjays link to a site that posts a letter Vincent’s wife wrote to Cole. It makes for warm reading.

But even apart from that – the rest of it is staggering all on its own. ‘In Mediterranean culture, a man’s honor tends to be wrought up with his ability to protect his womenfolk from seduction by strange men.’ Excuse me? Protect? By killing them? That’s ‘protection’? He himself acknowledges (without apparently noticing that he’s done so) the nature of the protection in the very next sentence – ‘Where a woman of the family sleeps around, it brings enormous shame on her father, brothers and cousins, and it is not unknown for them to kill her.’ What’s the deal, here? Did it take him so long to compose and type the 33 words between ‘protect’ and ‘kill’ that he forgot he’d said the first by the time he got to the second? Or is he just stupid. Or is he worse than that, is he so intent on making ‘honor’ killing sound vaguely acceptable that – that he can write a piece of dreck like that.

Update. He’s even worse than I thought. He wrote a follow-up post in reaction to Lisa Ramaci-Vincent’s reply to him. (But he calls her ‘Mrs Vincent’ – which is obnoxious, to put it mildly, since she signed herself Lisa Ramaci-Vincent. Why does Cole get to decide what her name is? Why does he get to correct her on her own name? More concern for male honor?) It’s enough to put me off me dinner.

Clueless Americans don’t understand the principle of gender segregation for the most part, and if they do understand it they are horrified by it. But in large swathes of the world, it just is not considered right for a male to be in the company of an unrelated female. It isn’t just a matter of sleeping around, as my wingnut correspondents assume. It is being alone in the company of an unrelated man or woman, and having that be known publicly. Male honor is invested in the protection of the virginity of female relatives, and a conviction that something improper may have occurred would be enough in some instances to cause a vendetta. It is not just a Muslim thing. Many Orthodox Jews and Middle Eastern and Balkan Christians feel the same way.

Clueless Americans don’t understand gender segregation, and they don’t understand clan honor as practiced in most Arab societies. We American men aren’t dishonored in particular if our sisters sleep around, though I suppose in high school it can’t be pleasant for a guy to have everyone taunt him that his sister is a slut. But in Arab culture, a brother can’t show his face in public if his sister is known to be a slut.

The guy’s a piece of work.

‘Messianic-hysterical extremism’

Aug 26th, 2005 7:43 pm | By

Secularism, secularism, secularism. I’m tempted to get a bunch of t shirts made with ‘Secularism’ bannered across the front and back.

The prospects for secularism in Iraq are not looking very good. Actually they’re looking terrible.

Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq was a centralised and largely secular state. Now, if the Shia religious parties get their way, it will be a decentralised state with a pronounced Islamic identity. The draft of the new constitution describes Islam as “a main source” of legislation and stipulates that no law may contradict Islamic principles.

Great. There go women’s rights, for a start.

In many ways, Iraq is already dramatically different from the place it was just a few years ago. Mixed marriages between Sunni and Shia, once taken for granted, are becoming problematic. In many parts of the country, women dare not walk bare-headed in the street. And reports from parts of the lawless north-west paint a grim picture of Taleban-style rule by radical Sunni militants.

Peachy. Communalism and terrorized women. Heaven on earth, the shining city on the hill.

MCB Watch has an excellent article on Panorama, Mawdudi and Selective Quoting, which includes a long quotation from Mawdudi’s Islamic Law and Constitution:

Islamic State is Universal and All Embracing
A state of this sort cannot evidently restrict the scope of its activities. Its approach is universal and all-embracing. Its sphere of activity is coextensive with the whole of human life. It seeks to mould every aspect of life and activity in consonance with its moral norms and programme of social reform. In such a state no one can regard any field of his affairs as personal and private…The excellent balance and moderation that characterise the Islamic system of government and the precise distinctions made in it between right and wrong elicit from all men of honesty and intelligence the admiration and the admission that such a balanced system could not have been framed by anyone but the Omniscient and All-Wise God.

Well exactly. This is why people loathe and fear ‘a state of this sort’ – because it pries into every corner of people’s lives and then beats the crap out of them or extorts bribes (or both) if it doesn’t like what it finds. Marjane Satrapie illustrates this in Perseopolis. People used binoculars to peer into other people’s windows and then report them for having parties, dancing, playing music, playing cards. Not to mention of course the notorious constant supervision of every tiny detail of women’s dress, down to the individual hair showing. Nothing is personal, nothing is private. Spiffy. Let’s all live in an ant farm.

It is clear from a careful consideration of the Qur’an and the Sunnah that the state in Islam is based on an ideology and its objective is to establish that ideology…It is a dictate of this very nature of the Islamic State that such a state should be run only by those who believe in the ideology on which it is based and in the Divine Law which it is assigned to administer. The administrators of the Islamic State must be those whose whole life is devoted to the observance and enforcement of this Law…Islam does not recognise any geographical, linguistic or colour bars in this respect. It puts forward its code of guidance and the scheme of its reform before all men. Whoever accepts this programme, no matter to what race, nation or country he may belong, can join the community that runs the Islamic State.

Notice something missing from that lovely egalitarian list of things Islam ‘does not recognise’? Yeah – gender. Whoever accepts this programme can join the community that runs the Islamic State – except, of course, women. Because they are the ones being run, not the ones participating in the running. That is part of the very ‘ideology’ in question.

I prefer Amos Oz’s view of things. Of the settlers, for instance:

They have their own dream. The first stage is the “whole land of Israel,” filled wall-to-wall with Jews-only towns. True, Palestinians and Thai workers can come in to do the dirty work, but no more. The second stage is to transform Israel into a halachic state, a country ruled by Jewish religious law. Elections, the Knesset, the government and the courts may continue to function, but settler rabbis will decide just what issues are appropriate for these bodies to decide, and what issues are too “holy” and important to be left to the people and their elected officials. In their dream world, there is no place for secular Israel: Its culture is not culture, its values are not values, its opinions are not opinions.

Sounds like that South Carolinian utopia we heard about recently.

But we non-religious Israelis also have a dream. We want to live in an enlightened, open and just country, not in some messianic, rabbinic monarchy, and not in the whole land of Israel. We came here to be a free people in our own land. To be a free people means each person is entitled to choose which parts of Jewish tradition are important to him, and which to leave behind. It means to have the freedom to run our country according to our free will, rather than rabbinic dictates…For more than 30 years, the settlers’ dream has choked the dream of free Israelis. The dream of the whole land of Israel and a messianic kingship drains daily the hope of being a people free to build a just society.

Dreams can be nightmares…

This is the border without which we will have no state and without which there is no freedom, no society, nothing but fiery zealousness, messianic-hysterical extremism, and complete destruction…

Fiery zealousness – make it go away. Patrol that border.

Colin Blakemore

Aug 25th, 2005 2:28 am | By

I can’t help wondering…was it really about the guinea pigs? Or was it mostly about being a Protester, an Activist, a Rebel. Was it more about tormenting people than about rescuing animals. I can’t help suspecting, just as I can’t help suspecting similar things about those four guys on July 7. Zealots are like that. That’s why zealots are mostly so horrible.

Some protests at Darley Oaks farm have been peaceful. But other activists launched a campaign of intimidation against the Halls, their family, staff and suppliers. Their tactics, denounced as mob rule by some in the medical research industry, included hate mail, malicious phone calls, fireworks, a paedophile smear campaign, paint stripper on cars and arson attacks. The protests appeared to culminate in the theft in October of the body of Gladys Hammond, mother-in-law of Christopher Hall from the churchyard in Yoxall.

That sounds to me like cruelty for the sake of it, not for the sake of a goal. Just like those shits who gather outside abortion clinics and torment women on their way in.

Colin Blakemore talked about animal rights and the opposition to it and public opinion on ‘The World Tonight’ last night. He talked to Jeremy about the same subjects in the interview in Jeremy’s book What Scientists Think.

Ninety-nine percent of physicians in the United States say that it is essential to use animals in medical research; and more than ninety-five percent of British physicians say the same thing. So whilst it is important to listen to maverick opinion, it is clear we shouldn’t put too much weight on it when one considers that the American Medical Association, the Royal Society, the British Medical Association, and the General Medical Council all state that animal experimentation is necessary.

He also talked both on ‘The World Tonight’ and in the interview about what a huge majority – 90% – of public opinion agrees that animal research is necessary, which is a large shift in opinion from what it had been.

The support from the media, in particular, was quite extraordinary and a big surprise; virtually the entire spectrum made strong statements about the importance of animal experimentation. So the debate served a useful purpose; it produced a kind of national solidarity, which was much needed. This is also reflected in public opinion. The latest opinion poll shows ninety percent of the population in support of animal research. It is significant that there is no other major issue where you get this kind of consensus; we still treat the issue of animal research as if it is highly controversial, as if the public haven’t made up their mind; but they have made up their mind.’

But, the interviewer pointed out, the opinion poll Blakemore is referring to phrased its questions in a particular way (as opinion polls do). ‘For example, one question asked whether people could accept animal research for medical purposes, where there was no other alternative. But, of course, it is precisely the claim of the animal rights lobby that there are alternatives to animal research.’

‘Well, if there are, let’s see them delivered by those people who claim that there are,’ Blakemore responds, when I put this to him…’If there are alternatives, let’s see them. We want them. I don’t know of a single person who uses animals in their research who wouldn’t rather use an alternative.’

The whole interview is interesting. They all are. The Susan Greenfield one is my favourite, but they all are.

Hands Off the Sorghum

Aug 24th, 2005 11:18 pm | By

Yet another installment in the continuing series: Behold how women are treated like livestock if not worse in many parts of the world. Sometimes it’s hard to believe what you read…

Journalists who have visited Niger are reporting finding a strange phenomenon: villages in which women and children are going hungry, while there is still food in their households. Kim Sengupta of the UK’s Independent newspaper found that men had left their families, locking the grain store, while they were away. “They’ve gone away to look for work or look for money and sometimes across the border in Nigeria. And you have this strange situation where there were women in the villages with stocks of sorghum and millet with hungry children, but no access to the food,” he says.

Locking the grain store – that’s the interesting part.

There are reports that women are not even allowed to look in the family grain store – that it is taboo. There is widespread polygamy in Niger, and with men taking more than one wife, each woman is given a small plot to support herself and her own children. “There is a tradition that women are more or less supposed to cater for themselves and their children with the produce that they manage to get out of the tiny plots they are given when they are married,” says Moira Eknes of Care aid agency, who has just returned from Niger. “They also have to work on the larger family fields but the production from these large fields they have no control over and no access to,” she says.

That’s how it goes if you have the bad judgment to be a woman.

Every day, Minta, a 40 year-old mother of six, fetches water for the household, does the laundry in the river, labours on her millet farm and, if there is food, prepares the family meals before collapsing into bed, exhausted. But during this particularly difficult lean season, there is no food, and the daily grind has become even more unbearable. With her youngest child wasting away from hunger, Minta has had to walk three hours in the scorching sun on an empty stomach in the hope of getting some food aid…For Minta, and the other women at the hospital, the hunger that has reduced her children to skin and bone is just another hard fact of life. At the hospital the women each cradle at least one baby and most have a toddler or two in tow. Some babies – like the one curled in the folds of Minta’s blue tunic – are little more than tiny skeletons…The food crisis that has affected 3.6 million people in Niger, has highlighted the vulnerable position of women in what is a staunchly Muslim and conservative society and the second poorest country in the world, according to UN figures…

Vulnerable doesn’t even describe it.

“When you say food crisis, you say women,” Aissata Bagna, a prominent female activist and former health minister, told IRIN in her home in Niamey. “Men can go elsewhere, they can work for food or move away from the village. But the women have to stay behind. They have to take care of the children. They suffer the most,” she said. The wave of democratisation that swept through West Africa in the early nineties spawned the first women’s groups in Niger and increased their political influence. But at the same time, social progress was hampered by the rapid rise of religious fundamentalism, Bagna explained.

Family values.

You Call That a Campaign?

Aug 24th, 2005 12:00 am | By

Pat Robertson is a funny guy, but Madeleine Bunting is just silly. (I know, that’s grossly unfair. PR is funny because the stuff he says is so loony. He’s not funny at all, really, since a great many people listen to him and think he makes sense. But look, living in the US these days, you have to laugh at people like Patto if you don’t want to go plain nuts.)

A campaign is being orchestrated through the media to destroy the credibility of many of the most important Muslim institutions in Britain, including the Muslim Council of Britain.

Yeah, a campaign – she cites all of two features, one in the Observer and one on Panorama. That’s a campaign? And, that’s a campaign compared to all the cuddly fond admiring references to the MCB in the media? Why doesn’t she fret about the considerably larger ‘campaign’ being ‘orchestrated’ through the media to inflate the credibility of the MCB, and to portray it as far more benign than it is? What about that then eh?

The impact of this campaign – in the Observer and particularly in John Ware’s Panorama documentary last night – will be a powerful boost for the increasingly widespread view that there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim: underneath, “they” are all extremists who are racist, contemptuous of the west, and intent on a political agenda.

Well that’s just stupid. Shockingly stupid. Part of the point of that Panorama was precisely that there is such a thing as a moderate (not anti-secular, not misogynist, not Kaafir-hating) Muslim, and that they are ignored while the MCB gets all the attention. Part of the point was precisely that ‘they’ are not all extremists who are anti-secular misogynist Kaafir-haters, and that’s exactly why the MCB should not be treated as representative or average or ‘moderate.’

First on the charge sheet were examples of the former: the “conviction that Islam is a superior faith and culture which Christians and Jews in the west are conspiring to undermine”, and a “distaste for western secular culture”. This is ridiculous; I’ve yet to meet a member of any faith who doesn’t believe in the superiority of their beliefs, while fear of being undermined is similarly common. Since when has “distaste” become a cause for suspicion?

Oh, please. If you met some Christians who routinely referred to all non-Christians by an epithet – infidel, say – wouldn’t you feel uneasy? I would! I have in fact met one or two Christians like that, and they damn well do make me feel uneasy. I think journalists should point out that habit of mind.

What is deeply troubling is how exacting British society is becoming of its Muslims. A new set of “cricket tests” are being imposed on British Muslims – they are expected to sign up enthusiastically to every aspect of western secular society and to jettison any part of their intellectual heritage that is critical of the west. They are expected to keep their faith entirely out of politics (yet faith plays a crucial role in US politics).

Every aspect of western secular society? Are they? Not that I’ve seen. But women’s rights and gay rights – yes, critics generally do think Muslims should accept those as a part of western secular society that the people who live in it do not want to abrogate. I don’t think that is troubling. What’s troubling is to refuse to expect that, and to shrug and turn a blind eye to, say, ‘honour’ killings or forced marriage of children. And as for the role ‘faith’ plays in US politics – what of that? Has Bunting never seen a single article in the Guardian or the Observer or program on the BBC that criticizes the role ‘faith’ plays in US politics? I wonder what she would find if she typed ‘faith US politics’ into the Guardian’s search box. More than one article, I bet.

Alexandra Simonon has a good reply on the Letters page.

It’s a shame there are still people, like Madeleine Bunting, who believe some ideologies are extremist in one culture, but normal, or moderate in another. We should not accept the idea of “their world” and “ours”, as having totally different sets of values. The Muslims who fight bigotry and terror are not less authentic – and they are not “westernised” either.

And Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society has another.

Why are the official, government-recognised spokesmen for the “Muslim community” all theocrats? Why is there this unquestioned assumption that all Muslims are mosque-going, Qur’an-reading religionists, to whom only their faith matters? I know from experience there are plenty of Muslims who aren’t particularly religious, who don’t want to wear hijabs, who want to go down the local for a pint with their mates from work, who enjoy watching EastEnders and reading Harry Potter. Why don’t we ever hear their voices on official committees and on TV debates? Why is it only imams and “scholars” of religion? When Mr Blair opens his new Muslims schools, the preachers will be able to tighten their grip even further.

Why indeed. Why don’t we hear from Maryam Namazie or Azam Kamguian or Ibn Warraq as often as we hear from Iqbal Sacranie? Who ‘orchestrated’ that arrangment, Madeleine Bunting? Write an article about that, why don’t you.

Society for the Prevention of Kindness

Aug 23rd, 2005 8:33 pm | By

Jesus Christ. There is just no limit to human disgustingness, is there.

I am here to talk about her catastrophic childhood in an industrial school — a euphemism for workhouse — in Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s, and as anyone who survived this experience will confirm, it is a painful subject. There, incarcerated by 6ft walls and under the tutelage of the Sisters of Mercy nuns, Kathleen was beaten, starved and humiliated to a point where she felt worthless and wanted only to be invisible. Her education was scant; instead she was put to work scrubbing floors, in the laundry and, barefoot and dressed in rags, in the surrounding fields…Denied water between what passed for meals, she drank from toilets.

Denied water between meals. For what? For what purpose? For what monstrous purpose? Is it the Jane Eyre thing again, Catholic version instead of Protestant? You’re poor therefore you have to be given especially bad treatment, treatment that goes beyond mere neglect to outright sadism, so that – so that what? So that you’ll know ‘God’ hates poor people?

…the quality of their mother’s care counted for nothing when the NSPCC charged her with being “destitute” — ie, unmarried — and sent her daughters to St Vincent’s Goldenbridge, an Industrial School. Kathleen was 5. There she was put to work threading rosary beads on to wire that cut into her hands, and she was beaten…By the time Kathleen and her sister escaped a year later, they had scabies and ringworm and were painfully thin.

She was allowed to stay home for awhile but then she was raped by a neighbour and her mother tried to push for a prosecution –

unwittingly giving the NSPCC the proof it needed that she was an unfit mother and that her children needed “protection”. This time her daughters — there were now three — were committed to Mount Carmel Industrial School in Moate, Co Westmeath, until their 16th birthdays…But as she describes the eight years of persistent neglect and abuse that she endured, it is the emotional deprivation that is most disturbing. The girls were not allowed to talk to each other, which meant that there was no friendship or solidarity between them, no care for each other, no way of expressing how they felt — indeed they learnt not to express their feelings. Kathleen felt lost and alone and as she cried herself to sleep each night (and then invariably wet the bed), she could only conclude that she was a very bad girl.

It’s the NSPCC that got her sent there. Funny way to prevent cruelty to children.

We had no rights. We were fortunate that the nuns gave us a roof over our heads or we’d be walking the streets of Dublin. They had such power. When people visited we were threatened to within an inch of our lives. We had to say, ‘I’m very well, thank you, I’m very happy, thank you, we have lovely food, thank you’. You did it because you were within 6ft walls, there was no one to talk to and if you talked, you knew what you would get.

Sounds exactly, to the letter, like Mary McCarthy’s Memories of a Catholic Girlhood. If you haven’t read it – lose no time.

Thousands of children in Ireland were tortured, robbed of their childhoods, by the religious…How could they call themselves religious and treat children in this manner?…How could they have thought that they were doing good by beating us? Well, if you’re obsessed by the Devil, you need it beaten out of you, and that is what we were told. They were evil, sadistic people.

Also sounds exactly, to the letter, like that account of ‘exorcists’ and ‘witchcraft’ in small villages in Kinshasa. It seems safe to assume that immense numbers of children are treated this way around the globe.

Pat’s a Sweetie

Aug 23rd, 2005 7:33 pm | By

Pat Robertson’s a funny guy. He has his own ideas about things. Kind of deranged ideas.

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson has suggested that American agents assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to stop his country from becoming ‘a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism.”

For what? Muslim extremism? Er – why would Venezuela be that, especially? Is the Patster maybe a little confused?

We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don’t need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator…You know, I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war … and I don’t think any oil shipments will stop.

True, true, very true – assassination is a whole lot cheaper than starting a war – let alone continuing one! I tell you what, that can get really expensive. Can cost even more than filling up the gas tank on the SUV, hahaha. On the other hand, the consequences – what nowadays we like to call ‘blowback’ – of assassination can turn out to run up the tab quite a bit. Considerably more than the cost of the assassination or ‘take-out’ itself. Like the assassination of that one measly archduke and his wife, for instance – golly, that ended up being expensive. If you count the cost of the whole rest of the 20th century, which you kind of have to – whoo-ee. We’re talking serious money here. Plus body count. The body count, once all the numbers were in, was really quite high.

But, hey, so Mr R thinks a little short-term – nobody’s perfect.

Robertson has made controversial statements in the past. In October 2003, he suggested that the State Department be blown up with a nuclear device. He has also said that feminism encourages women to ‘kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

Oh, is that controversial? People are so picky.

A helpful Pat-watcher collected a few more pungent remarks of his so I’ll share a few with you. A little Tuesday treat.

If the widespread practice of homosexuality will bring about the destruction of your nation, if it will bring about terrorist bombs, if it’ll bring about earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor, it isn’t necessarily something we ought to open our arms to.

No indeed! Very true. And if the widespread listening to Pat Robertson will bring about volcanic eruptions, floods, traffic jams, tsunamis and possibly the sun veering off course and crashing into the earth – well then. ‘If’ is such a useful little word.

Many of those people involved with Adolph Hitler were Satanists, many of them were homosexuals — the two things seem to go together.

The three. That’s three things – the three things seem to go together – Hitler, homosexuals, and Satanism. ‘Seem’ is another useful little word.

God’s pattern is for men to be the leaders, both in the church and in the family…I know this is painful for the ladies to hear, but if you get married, you have accepted the headship of a man, your husband. Christ is the head of the household and the husband is the head of the wife, and that’s the way it is, period.

Poor ladies. But if they will listen to Pat Robertson…

The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.

And to make fun of Pat Robertson. Yup. Send me in, coach.

We Have a Problem

Aug 23rd, 2005 2:20 am | By

So there’s a transcript of Panorama – very useful for those of us too far away to watch it.

Much food for thought. John Ware:

Extremism feeds off a conviction that Islam is a superior faith and culture which Christians and Jews in the West are conspiring to undermine. My journey through Muslim communities since the London bombings suggests their leaders have not acknowledged the extent to which these views are held in Britain.

He talks to Dr Taj Hargey, who runs a centre for what he calls ‘progressive inclusive Islam.’ Good luck, Dr Hargey, then.

Ad infinitum and ad nauseum, it’s there, it’s with us. We see it from the time you’re a child, you’re given this idea that those people they are Kaafir, they’re unbelievers. They are not equal to you, they are different to you. You are superior to them because you have the truth, they don’t have the truth. You will go to heaven, they will go to hell. So we have this from a very young age.

Ware asks Iqbal Sacranie if he would still expect the government of the day to put pressure on the publishers to withdraw it.

There is no law at the moment, sadly, that would enable me to pursue with a legal course of.. of seeking its withdrawal.

Ah yes, that is sad. Sacranie goes on:

We respect the freedom of expression but we expect freedom of expression to be exercised with responsibility.

Which means, we feel obliged to say we respect the freedom of expression but in reality we’re dead against it. Except for ourselves of course. To express our grievance when books like that get published.

As Rushdie said a couple of weeks ago, ‘If Sir Iqbal Sacranie is the best Blair can offer in the way of a good Muslim, we have a problem.’

Peering into the Gap

Aug 22nd, 2005 2:24 am | By

I’m reading Chris Mooney’s new book The Republican War on Science. It’s pretty enthralling. Infuriating too, of course, but mostly enthralling. It’s so…so B&W. Consider this item from B&W’s ‘About’ page, the last in a list of what B&W was set up to oppose: ‘Those disciplines or schools of thought whose truth claims are prompted by the political, ideological and moral commitments of their adherents, and the general tendency to judge the veracity of claims about the world in terms of such commitments.’ Now consider this item from the book: ‘At a time when more political choices than ever before hinge upon the scientific and technical competence of our elected leaders, the disregard for scientific consensus and expertise – and the substitution of ideological allegiance for careful assessment – can have disastrous consequences.’

See what I mean? And that is – naturally enough – a central issue in the book. There are also closely related issues, such as the way protecting profits can (gosh, really? surely not! surely the market is never wrong!) conflict with the pursuit of truth.

Pharyngula has a comment on the book from last week.

Chris Mooney is trying to kill me.

It’s true. He sent me this book, The Republican War on Science, that he knew would send my blood pressure skyrocketing, give me apoplexy, and cause me to stroke out and die, gasping, clawing in futile spasms at the floor.

Don’t worry, be happy.

Good science needs to be independent of and unfiltered by desired outcomes; it aims to describe the world as it is, not how we wish it would be.

There’s that issue again – that pesky is-ought gap again. Chris’ book could have been called The Republicans Try to Throw a Bridge Across the Is-Ought Gap and Fall In, Pulling All of Us In After Them.

More on this subject later.

The Wrong Socks

Aug 21st, 2005 11:13 pm | By

More discussion of multiculturalism:

Multiculturalism has encouraged the politicisation of identity in ethnic or religious terms…[T]he children of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent or the Middle East have little option but to adopt the label of Muslim, which is thrust upon them by British society as much as by their own parents. If young Muslim women have embraced the hijab as a badge of identity in a way their mothers never did, as a public political symbol, this is more a result of the demands of British multiculturalism than a spontaneous assertion of allegiance.

Thrust upon them by the British media as well as by British society. The default assumption seems to be that if you look as if you come from the Indian subcontinent and you’re not actually wearing a sari, then you’re a Muslim. Secularism and atheism are not on the menu.

The elevation of victimhood has a corrupting and infantilising effect: it encourages members of ethnic minorities to exaggerate and parade their sufferings as a means towards personal and communal advancement. The result is to unleash a sense of grievance that is unlikely to be assuaged by the meagre offerings of the state to the local mosque or temple…When in 1989 Islamic fundamentalists issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie over his allegedly blasphemous book The Satanic Verses, the first instinct of the advocates of multiculturalism was to criticise Rushdie for his insensitivity towards the devout Muslims who took offence at his book…The potent forces unleashed by multiculturalism provide the context for the lurch towards narcissistic violence among second-generation immigrants in British society.

I feel a bit squirmy agreeing with all that. It has a depressing, blimpish, ‘pull your socks up’ ring to it. But – it seems to be true, that does seem to be what has happened, so it’s cognitively difficult not to agree. It’s really hard not to think that that ‘lurch towards narcissistic violence’ was indeed rooted in a worked-up sense of grievance that does indeed have a lot to do with the identity-massaging and victimhood-brandishing of multiculturalism.

In the past, second-generation immigrants often found new sources of identity through the trade unions, socialist and communist movements (which would have scarcely existed in Britain without Irish, Jewish and other immigrants). The disappearance of such sources of collective identification and aspiration is another factor that has encouraged the retreat of some young people into the mindset that culminated in the London bombings.

Yes. Nick Cohen talked about that on ‘Talking Politics’ the other day. Sources of collective aspiration other than religious or ethnic identities would be a good idea, it seems reasonable to think.

They Don’t Get Out Much, You See

Aug 20th, 2005 2:18 am | By

North West Frontier Province – what a fun place that must be.

Hundreds of thousands of women in various NWFP union councils (UCs) will be stopped from voting in the upcoming local council elections despite pressure by the Election Commission and government on jirgas to allow women to participate in the polls, Geo news channel reported on Tuesday. Tribal elder Haji Rahat Hussain said agreements to bar women from contesting and voting in the local council elections were signed by male candidates including nazims and naib nazims with a view to maintain law and order, the channel reported. “Traditionally, our women have always stayed away from elections and they are not even ready to step out of their homes,” he told Geo.

Isn’t that just a pip? Agreements to bar women were signed by male candidates – oh well that’s all right then. As long as the people not disenfranchised by this high-handed decision signed an agreement then everything is on the up and up – all legal and aboveboard. Swell. In the same manner, perhaps, the white candidates in elections in the Mississippi Delta in the early ’60s could have ‘signed agreements’ to bar blacks from voting, and then all that fuss and ruckus, and all those tiresome murders, wouldn’t have happened. And the reason of course would have been exactly the same (it always is) – a view to maintain law and order. You betcha.

And the loving concern is so touching, too. ‘Our women’ (as one might say our dogs or our sheep) ‘have always stayed away from elections’ – well yes I daresay they have, because you have always seen to it. Naturally they have. And ‘they are not even ready to step out of their homes’ – there again: yes, no doubt, because you have seen to it that they wouldn’t be. Keep people confined and locked up, uneducated and inexperienced, and what do you know, you end up with people who are a little shaky on their pins and a bit bashful around strangers. Therefore it follows that they must always stay that way. Of course.

The BBC has more.

The Chief Minister of North West Frontier (NWFP) Province, Akram Durrani, denied that tribal elders had prevented women from voting in some parts of the province. Tribal elders had banned women from voting in three councils in the province, but the government had persuaded local jirgas – or tribal councils – to lift the ban late on Wednesday. Nonetheless, reports from the area suggested that women were not turning out to vote in large numbers. In one women’s polling station in a suburb of Peshawar, capital of NWFP, not a single vote was cast in the first five hours of polling, the BBC’s Haroon Rashid in Peshawar says. Human rights activists are demanding the cancellation of election results in such districts.

Adam Tjaavk tells me the World Service reported that ‘women in NWFP had been asked (by men) not to vote as the weather is too warm for them – standing a long time in long queues would cause them to remove clothing that would cause a public disturbance!’ Right – so they’ll have to hope for cooler weather some other year then. But not too cool, or they might shiver, which would cause minor riots. And not raining, or their clothes would get wet, and you know what ah ah ah ah pant pant pant. And not too dark because in the dark women ah ah ah ah puff puff puff sweat.

There’s a bit in Persepolis 2 like that. (No doubt there were some four million bits in Marjane Satrapie’s life in Iran that were like that.) Marjane is running to catch a bus one afternoon and some uniformed berk shouts at her to stop running. She doesn’t even pay attention at first, because why would he be shouting at her. After the third or fourth time, she stops, bewildered – and he earnestly explains that she must not run because when she runs – and he gestures helpfully with both hands, to illustrate the way her bum moves. ‘Well don’t look at me then!!’ she shouts in his face, enraged.

Same for those lines outside the polling places. Look away, take a cold shower, get a nice hobby; whatever; but leave the damn women alone.

Eternal Recurrence

Aug 19th, 2005 8:53 pm | By

Not again.

Atheism, like religion, is an act of faith: evidence for the existence of God may be entirely anecdotal, but evidence for His absence is even more tenuous.

Oy, oy, oy – will that stupid trope never die? It ought to – it is so lame. Yeah right, atheism is an act of faith, and not collecting stamps is a hobby, and not playing squash is a sport, and not eating lentils is vegetarianism, and not taking a train is travel.

I don’t know if you listed to that Radio One series of philosophical chats, but one of the funnier moments was on the last one, when a Christian philosopher – a philosopher who is also a Christian, not a philosopher of Christianity – said just that – ‘atheism is a religion’ – and Stephen Law gave a protracted whine of indignation. I’m laughing again thinking of it. “I hate it when people say that,” he said tearfully.

But really – why do people keep saying that? Why don’t they realize how absurd it is, and stop? They don’t consider themselves believers in the ‘religion’ of atheism for not believing in Poseidon, or Loki, or the angel Moroni. So why do they say it of people who don’t subscribe to their own particular religion? Especially grown-up people, philosophers, people who write articles in the Guardian. Because they get away with it, no doubt, but that’s a crap reason. As the guy said, ‘Have you no shame?’

Surplus to Requirements

Aug 19th, 2005 2:18 am | By

Norm makes a good point, one that I’ve been vaguely wanting to make for awhile. He’s commenting on Michael Howard’s piece in the Guardian yesterday. Howard:

What do I mean by being proud to be British? At its core is a profound respect for, and allegiance to, the institutions that make Britain what it is, and the values that underpin those institutions.


The point I want to make is simply that it’s not because the values Howard mentions are British values that we owe them allegiance, but because they’re good ones – democratic, liberal, universally defensible. They are superior to those values which, for example, countenance the treatment of some people as inferior to others, or the silencing of dissenting voices, or the murder of the innocent. No one, however, need be loyal to such British values or traditions as cannot be upheld on a morally principled basis. The idea that something is to be supported just because it is British is defenceless in face of the counter-suggestion that other values and traditions are… whatever in fact they are, but in any case not British and preferred by the person who is asserting them. There’s no avoiding the discussion of the merits and demerits of the values or traditions themselves.

Exactly. Obviously, and exactly. That’s why I’ve been wanting to make the point for awhile: because there has been a lot of what seemed to me fairly muddled talk along those lines – talk about Britishness, and allegiance to Britishness, and allegiance to British values, as if they were all the same idea. But it doesn’t matter whether those values are British or not. That’s not the point. The point is whether they’re any good or not, not what nationality they are. If they’re crap values, then allegiance to them is a bad thing, not a good thing, and the fact that they’re British, or Samoan, or Peruvian, is irrelevant.

People need to pay more attention to what’s irrelevant and what isn’t, when they talk – and when they think. It’s clear enough that Howard’s real subject in that piece is – as it should be – the values in question, not their provenance. What he says would make more sense and might well be more persuasive if he kept that in mind.

This is exactly the same point I’ve been making about the stipulation – that women’s rights are okay and acceptable and permissible and a good thing – as long as they don’t contradict Islam. As long as they are on the right side of the divide between what (according to someone or other) pleases Allah and what angers Allah. Or God, or Jesus, or Athena – it doesn’t matter. The problem is the same. That’s beside the point. It’s irrelevant. It’s extraneous – utterly and completely extraneous. It’s the wrong question, the wrong criterion, the wrong standard. It’s like saying ‘You mustn’t put garlic in the gazpacho because the bishop can only move diagonally.’

It’s just a really really bad idea to try to talk about centrally basically important human subjects like values – like how we are going to treat each other and be treated – on the basis of criteria that have nothing whatever to do with the merits of the values themselves. You know? It’s just stupid. It may well be that the intelligent beings who live on a planet that orbits Alpha Centauri would consider our values – justice, equality, freedom, peace, prosperity – to be terrible, contemptible, evil, rebarbative values. But so what? We’re the ones who have to live with and according to them. Not people from Remulac, not Allah, not Jesus, not anyone who doesn’t live on planet earth – just us. We have to live here, and we have to do our best to do it in ways that minimize suffering and misery and horror instead of maximising it. We don’t accomplish that by blowing people to bits on tubes and buses, or by leaving small bombs all over Bangladesh, or by torturing children who are accused of witchcraft, even if (some people think) a deity thinks we do. If the deity thinks we do, the deity is wrong, and that’s that. So all those irrelevant adjectives need to be thrown out. British, Islamic, Christian, whatever – they add nothing to the equation. There’s no avoiding the discussion of the merits and demerits of the values or traditions themselves.

What a Racket

Aug 18th, 2005 2:24 am | By

Some more on this stipulation problem. On why ‘this pleases Allah’ and ‘this angers Allah’ are not the best criteria for what should go in a constitution – any more than ‘what would Jesus do’ is the best question for a 21st century polititian to ask himself.

Because it all depends on one’s conception of Allah or Jesus, for one thing. And guess what – people (my, what a suprise) have a tendency to conceptualize Jesus and Allah according to their own existing wants and opinions and deficits. If they don’t score all that well on the altruism or fairness or humility scale, well, their god is going to have a tendency to arrange things so that they get what they want and people who are in their power get screwed – and then they will call that outcome ‘what pleases Allah’ thus making it not just the way powerful men have arranged things to their own advantage, but Holy and Sacred and Right – so that not only will it never change, but everyone will respect it and worship it and revile anyone who criticizes or questions it. Quite a nice little racket.

And there’s no appeal, which is another reason those are not the best criteria, and why religion should be kept firmly out of government and politics. Because there is no one to file a grievance with and no way to second-guess the results. That’s how it works when you have a Book written 1500 years ago and a god who is never around to ask for updates. Very damn convenient, isn’t it!

‘Sorry – we’d love to let you have basic rights, like being allowed to walk around in the world without asking anyone’s permission, but it would anger Allah, so it’s out.’ ‘Oh yeah? You sure that’s not just your idea? Let’s ask Allah.’ ‘No can do. He’s not here. We can ask the imam.’ ‘I don’t care what the imam says, the imam will just say what you said, you probably asked the imam before you said it – you guys are all in this together. I want to take it to the top!’ ‘Not possible. Unless you want to get yourself one of those rucksacks, of course…’

Very very convenient. He makes the rules, according to what pleases him or pisses him off – but he’s never around to corroborate. There really is a serious design flaw with this whole arrangement. It’s just not the way to do things. You don’t set up a rule-system with a yes-no, on-off mechanism involving one guy when the one guy in question is someone who is never available for consultation – do you! Not in the real world you don’t. Dickens novels sometimes work that way, but other than that, it doesn’t fly.

That’s the problem with the whole supernatural thing. It’s such a perfect alibi, such an excuse, such a cop-out. Imagine other people trying that. The boss, the landlord, the merchant. ‘Hey! Where’s my paycheck? My roof just collapsed! Where’s that shipment of éclairs?’ Silence. ‘Hey!! Where do we go to file a grievance? How do we re-negotiate the contract?’ Some guy in a mitre strolls up. ‘You don’t, of course. The CEO is transcendent, the CEO is supernatural, the CEO is ineffable, and dwells in a region apart. Obviously you can’t re-negotiate anything. Have a nice day.’ Guy in mitre strolls away again. You’re screwed.

And people sign up to this arrangement voluntarily. It’s staggering. ‘Yes, please be the boss of me and tell me what to do based on outdated oppressive rules and hierarchies and never let me think rationally about any of it because that would be Displeasing to The Great Absent One. Thank you so much, now would you please kick me as hard as possible? Thank you and come back soon.’

Transcendence is a beautiful thing.

One Tiny Stipulation

Aug 17th, 2005 11:15 pm | By

So ‘Iraqis back women’s rights’ – with a stipulation. A stipulation that renders the whole idea pretty much worthless.

A survey conducted by Iraq’s constitution drafting committee showed that 69 per cent of respondents support full rights for women – as long as the freedoms don’t contradict Islam…

The survey I think is not all that reliable because of the methodology, but never mind, because what I want to look at, and poke with a stick, is the basic idea: that women’s rights are okay as long as they [why does the article shift without notice from rights to freedoms? they’re not interchangeable] don’t contradict Islam.

That’s a problem. That’s a big problem. Imagine if you were told – ‘Yes you are entitled to human rights – provided they don’t contradict Christianity/Taoism/Wicca.’ You’d feel pretty anxious and worried about what does and what does not contradict whichever religion was in question, wouldn’t you. Does your allotment of rights include the right not to be sacrificed to the gods without written consent of the sacrificee, or not?

That’s why it’s a problem when religion is allowed to trump ‘rights’ – because you just can’t trust religions to come up with rights-compatible systems, or Books. Especially not religions that were started a good few years ago, before notions like women’s rights had gotten much of a foothold. It’s really not such a great idea to tie modern legislation and constitutional protections to a set of ideas worked up two or three or five thousand years ago.

You can get an idea of the kind of thing from the Hizb ut-Tahrir site.

The work of Hizb ut-Tahrir is to carry the Islamic da’wah in order to change the situation of the corrupt society so that it is transformed into an Islamic society. It aims to do this by firstly changing the society’s existing thoughts to Islamic thoughts so that such thoughts become the public opinion among the people, who are then driven to implement and act upon them. Secondly the Party works to change the emotions in the society until they become Islamic emotions that accept only that which pleases Allah (swt) and rebel against and detest anything which angers Allah (swt).

That’s the basic framework – what pleases Allah is good and acceptable, what angers Allah is bad and detestable. Only – how do you know? Or how do they – the people in charge – know? By consulting the Book. But – sometimes there are conflicting interpretations. What do you do then? Oh – whatever. You ask the approved ‘scholars’. But then how can you be sure the scholars are right? How can you be sure you actually know what does please or anger Allah? Doesn’t it look as if there’s room for error or trickery or both here? How can you tell that someone somewhere along the line has not simply written down what he wants and called it the word of Allah? Put it this way – if someone had done that – how would you know? What would you accept as evidence that someone had in fact done that? Anything?

Well, we know the answer to that question, which is the point Irshad Manji has been making. Let’s hope she makes headway. But meanwhile, women’s rights in Iraq look to be headed for the memory hole.

Defiantly Obscure Texts

Aug 16th, 2005 11:39 pm | By

Look, if you’re going to talk about bullshit, you should at least be thorough about it, am I right?

In a paper published a few years ago, “Deeper Into Bullshit,” G. A. Cohen, a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, protested that Frankfurt excludes an entire category of bullshit: the kind that appears in academic works. If the bullshit of ordinary life arises from indifference to truth, Cohen says, the bullshit of the academy arises from indifference to meaning. It may be perfectly sincere, but it is nevertheless nonsensical. Cohen, a specialist in Marxism, complains of having been grossly victimized by this kind of bullshit as a young man back in the nineteen-sixties, when he did a lot of reading in the French school of Marxism inspired by Louis Althusser. So traumatized was he by his struggle to make some sense of these defiantly obscure texts that he went on to found, at the end of the nineteen-seventies, a Marxist discussion group that took as its motto Marxismus sine stercore tauri—“Marxism without the shit of the bull.”

I do so sympathize. I’ve read a good many defiantly obscure texts myself, and it can indeed be traumatizing. It’s kind of like getting on the slow train from Bangor to Ketchikan via Amarillo and discovering that your assigned seat mate (No Exchanges, No Refunds, No Alterations, No Seat Re-assignments) is a talkative semi-deaf Baptist with 427 great-grandchildren and a wealth of anecdotes. That of course is why the Dictionary was written – to get revenge on all those talkative anecdotal Baptists. So I do sympathize with G. A. Cohen. There’s even a poltergeist who haunts the corridors of B&W topping up our supply of defiantly obscure texts by depositing turgidly opaque comments back here at odd intervals, apparently worried that we might run short. So I do sympathize.

Simon Blackburn’s Truth is one of the books reviewed in this article. It’s about relativism, among other things.

In its simplest form, relativism is easy to refute. Take the version of it that Richard Rorty, a philosopher who teaches at Stanford, once lightheartedly offered: “Truth is what your contemporaries let you get away with.” The problem is that contemporary Americans and Europeans won’t let you get away with that characterization of truth; so, by its own standard, it cannot be true. (The late Sidney Morgenbesser’s gripe about pragmatism—which, broadly speaking, equates truth with usefulness—was in the same spirit: “The trouble with pragmatism is that it’s completely useless.”)

Blackburn put the joke a little differently.

Rorty…has a robust debunking attitude to the norms of truth and reason. Indeed, he once wrote that ‘truth is what your contemporaries let you get away with’. That is a shocking thing to say, outlandish even by philosophers’ standards. In fact, it is shocking enough to be something Rorty’s contemporaries wouldn’t let him get away with (and unsurprisingly, they didn’t). So again, if it is true then it is false – by its own lights it is false.

That made me laugh when I read it this morning.

Time to Admit

Aug 16th, 2005 2:20 am | By

Let’s everybody say this kind of thing more and more often, okay? More and more and more and more. Because there’s so much of the other kind of thing. And the more there is of the other kind of thing, and the less there is of this kind of thing, the more the other kind thinks it’s right, it’s the mainstream, it’s common knowledge, it’s conventional wisdom, it’s obvious, it’s the default position. The only way to resist is by resisting.

It’s time that we acknowledged honestly what most people believe, that religion is at bottom nonsense…[W]hat I think we should acknowledge is that religion contains a massive falsehood, namely that there is a God who determines our actions and responds to our plight…The hypocritical respect now being accorded to Muslim “scholars”, people who believe that the Qur’an was dictated word for word by God, is just one example of the mess we have got ourselves into by pretending to take religion seriously. Disagreements about society can only be resolved in the here and now on liberal principles of discussion and compromise. You cannot have a sensible discussion with fundamentalists, be they Christian, Jewish or Muslim, because they start from a different point.

They start from a different point, and they also stay there, no matter what, no matter what the evidence or what the argument – in fact that is the different point they start from: that evidence and argument are entirely irrelevant. That is not a good point from which to start a sensible discussion.

By pandering to the credulous while cracking down on “extremists”, we are trying to maintain the fiction that we are semi-religious in a harmless, Hobbity sort of fashion…We should make it absolutely clear that there are no special political or religious crimes, and we should make it clear that we do not tacitly promote religion in government or in schools. What we have to promote above all else is the liberal society, and this is best done by observing scrupulously the principles of that society. And that demands that we acknowledge that religion is, at base, nonsense. The sooner we eliminate the idea that life has “some cosmic, all-embracing libretto”, the better.


At Last

Aug 14th, 2005 9:05 pm | By

Well it’s about time. Hooray for the Observer. It is about damn time.

The Muslim Council of Britain is officially the moderate face of Islam. Its pronouncements condemning the London bombings have been welcomed by the government as a model response for mainstream Muslims. The MCB’s secretary general, Iqbal Sacranie, has recently been knighted and senior figures within the organisation have the ear of ministers. But an Observer investigation can reveal that, far from being moderate, the Muslim Council of Britain has its origins in the extreme orthodox politics in Pakistan.

Oh yes? Tell us more.

Far from representing the more progressive or spiritual traditions within Islam, the leadership of the Muslim Council of Britain and some of its affiliates sympathise with and have links to conservative Islamist movements in the Muslim world and in particular Pakistan’s Jamaat-i-Islami, a radical party committed to the establishment of an Islamic state in Pakistan ruled by sharia law…The organisation’s founder, Maulana Maududi, was a fierce opponent of feminism who believed that women should be kept in purdah – seclusion from male company. Although the MCB’s leadership distances itself from some of these teachings, it has been criticised for having no women prominently involved in the organisation.

One of the things it’s about time for is the realization and articulation of the possibility that opposition to terrorism is not the only issue, and not the best possible dividing line. It’s the same thing with Hizb ut-Tahrir – we keep being told that it’s non-violent, as if that’s all that needs to be said. Well non-violent is better than violent, to be sure, but there is a lot more to the subject than that. (And then, given the very real coerciveness of Islamism when it has power, coerciveness that involves beatings, acid attacks, and executions, it is not really all that non-violent anyway.) There are issues about attitudes to human rights, women’s rights, ‘apostasy’ and the like.

Last week, Salman Rushdie warned in an article in the Times that Sacranie had been a prominent critic during the Satanic Verses affair and advised that the MCB leader should not be viewed as a moderate. In 1989, Sacranie said ‘death was perhaps too easy’ for the writer. Rushdie also criticised Sacranie for boycotting January’s Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony. ‘If Sir Iqbal Sacranie is the best Mr Blair can offer in the way of a good Muslim, we have a problem,’ said Rushdie. A Panorama documentary to be screened next Sunday will also be highly critical.

Yeah! Take that, World Service and Jane Little! Strident yourself. ‘Hardly a respected figure’ yourself. Yaboosucks.

The origins of the Muslim Council of Britain can be traced to the storm around the publication of the Satanic Verses in 1988. India was the first country to ban the book and many Muslim countries followed suit. Opposition to the book in Britain united people committed to a traditionalist view of Islam, of which the founders of the Muslim Council of Britain was a part.

A worthy origin.

The MCB was officially founded in November 1997, shortly after Tony Blair came to power, and has had a close relationship with the Labour government ever since…It remains particularly influential within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which has a little-known outreach department which works with Britain’s Muslims. The FCO pamphlet Muslims in Britain is essentially an MCB publication and the official ministerial celebration of the Muslim festival of Eid is organised jointly with the MCB.

As Rushdie said – we have a problem.

There is no suggestion that Sacranie and other prominent figures in the Muslim Council of Britain are anything but genuine in their condemnation of the terrorist bombings of the 7 July. But their claims to represent a moderate or progressive tendency in Islam are becoming increasingly difficult to sustain.

Exactly. That’s just it. Merely condemning terrorist bombings is hardly enough to qualify an organization as progressive. Well done, Observer; well done, Panorama. It’s about time.

Tradition and Honour

Aug 13th, 2005 4:03 am | By

You want tradition? Here’s some tradition.

In this quiet northern valley, tucked into the Himalayan foothills, tradition and threats have forced Shad into an electoral profile so low it is almost invisible. She will never leave this high-walled compound to canvass votes, never knock on a single door…And even if Shad wins a seat in Lower Dir, an arch-conservative corner of North West Frontier Province, there is no guarantee the local Pashtun men will allow her to occupy it.

They don’t like the idea, you see. It’s not the tradition.

Since 2001 four women councillors have been killed in Frontier province. The latest victim died in June. Zubeida Begum, a veteran women’s rights campaigner, was shot nine times at her home in Upper Dir, close to Shad Begum’s home. The gunmen, who included one of her own relatives, also killed her 19-year-old daughter.


Hostility has been stoked by tribal and religious leaders who view women politicians as an insult to Pashtun custom and an unforgivable affront to Islam. “There is no place for a woman’s authority under sharia law,” says Maulana Hifz ur-Rehman, a cleric and former jihadi fighter who runs a madrasa on a mountain slope outside Ziarat Talash.

No, of course not, for obvious reasons – because men’s authority is so much more wise, and just, and compassionate.

Still, intimidation and social pressure is rife. Shad Begum says she has been tarred as a “Jewish conspirator” in a whispering campaign against her family because her aid agency receives help from western donors. “They say we are brazen people without honour,” says her brother, Shad Muhammad, whose pharmacy in Ziarat Talash has been attacked. “They say you want to take your women into the streets, and take ours with them.” Shad says the struggle is worth it. In the cloistered, tradition-bound world of Lower Dir, where women hardly dare step on the street, access to health and education is woeful. The district has just three female doctors for a population of more than 800,000; hardly any girls attend school; and so-called “honour killings” are common.

Honour. What a joke.