Community Talk

Aug 7th, 2006 7:22 pm | By

Well, Ash Kotak talks good sense, at least.

As for the “Brick Lane community” response, Greer is assuming a community speaks with one voice; it is patronising and arrogant. Any community is made up of a group of individuals. However a community together tries to protect and uphold common values, not everyone will support them all the time. This Brick Lane media-generated controversy has reinforced the truth that a community which has little voice – and some of those within it who have no voice – will continue to remain invisible.

Eg-zacktly. And the dang Guardian and the dang BBC don’t help by calling twenty people ‘the community’ all the time. Which surely they must be beginning dimly to realize, since people keep telling them and telling them and telling them – you think some day they’ll stop?

For some people living within such communities, that place is their entire world. There is little reason to “escape”, especially when you consider the outside, alien world to be hostile – examples of which are keenly sought by the protectors/oppressors within. Even though the protesters, generally, have been marginalised, a few self-appointed community leaders have perpetuated the stereotypical belief of the limited and inward thinking by “them” in the minds of the British public. To publicise their views is the same as giving one of the self-appointed Sikh community leaders a platform on Bezhti, the play that prematurely closed in Birmingham, and representing it as the voice of the community.

Isn’t it just. Ash Kotak, you rock.

Read the whole letter; it’s spot on.

The Undead

Aug 7th, 2006 7:11 pm | By

They’re ba-ack. The dear Department for the Promotion of Virtue and the Discouragement of Vice is making a comeback. Nostalgic, innit.

Behind a desk in a spartan government office, a bearded official says he is swamped with job applicants for a proposed department to promote virtue and discourage vice, which would send out religious monitors to uncover and correct un-Islamic behavior in the populace.

I bet. I bet he’s swamped with applicants who want to go out to uncover and correct things that other people are doing – laughing, singing, talking to friends, going outside; sinister stuff like that. Uncover it and correct it, quick, before everything goes to hell.

The cabinet also approved reviving the Department for the Promotion of Virtue and the Discouragement of Vice…It became notoriously punitive under Taliban rule, from 1996 to 2001, when turbaned enforcers whipped women if their veils slipped and arrested men for wearing too-short beards or playing chess…”We would be as different from the Taliban as earth and sky,” said Sulieman Hamid, an official of the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs who would oversee the virtue and vice monitors. “They used Islam for political purposes. We only want to stop people from committing bad acts and help maintain the honor of Islam.”

Ohhhh, well then – nothing to worry about. Yes indeed. I know if I learned that the government was going to set up a Department for the Promotion of Virtue and the Discouragement of Vice and it assured us that it only wanted to stop people from committing bad acts and help maintain the honor of Christianity, I wouldn’t be worried at all that it might be ever so slightly intrusive and coercive and that its ideas of ‘bad acts’ and ‘honor’ might be different from mine. Nope, that wouldn’t be an issue. Everything would be fine.

“We would not beat people or force women to wear scarves. But we have to do something to protect society, to tell people they should not drink alcohol or smoke hashish or kill their Muslim brothers.”

Tell people? Just, gently, softly, in a nice voice, tell them? Or…something a little firmer than that? And then – drinking alcohol and killing are the same kind of thing? ‘Dear sister, you should not drink that vodka martini, it is un-Islamic. Dear brother, you should not kill that Muslim brother, it is a bad act.’ And then – it’s only Muslim brothers people will be told not to kill? So it’s okay to kill women and it’s okay to kill infidels? And then – isn’t killing people against the law anyway, so isn’t a Virtue Committee to amble out and whisper to people that they ought not to, a bit superfluous? Or could it be that the final item was thrown in to make up the numbers, so that the alcohol and hashish ones wouldn’t look quite so footling? Hey, all we’re going to do is tell women they shouldn’t let their faces stick out and they shouldn’t murder people – is that so harsh?

If the parliament takes up the issue, it is likely to pit factions led by Islamic clerics and former militia leaders against others composed of professionals, women and Western-educated figures. These groups represent major competing strains in Afghan society as it charts a path between traditional Islamic values and modern democratic norms.

That’s a rather stupid and confused opposition, the one between traditional Islamic values and modern democratic norms – because traditional Islamic values can perfectly well be democratic: as long as a majority prefers them, that’s what they are. What the writer probably means is ‘modern secular norms’ – but that’s not really an acceptable thing to say in US mass media. It might be okay in The Nation or Mother Jones, but not a big newspaper; so journalists say ‘democratic’ instead, even though it makes the argument a little meaningless. But it’s interesting that (if I’m right) ‘secular’ is not an acceptable word here – interesting and somewhat alarming.

Boldly Go

Aug 6th, 2006 10:55 pm | By

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown reviews Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism in the Indy.

Cosmopolitanism, in its reconstructed meaning, says Appiah, provokes attacks from the left for whom it is dilettante and elitist. The right despises it because cosmopolitans make bad nationalists and patriots. All authoritarians detest the internationalist spirit. Hitler and Stalin launched regular invectives against “rootless cosmopolitans”.

Yeah. And identitarians hate it, which is one reason it is worth trying to dispute identitarianism, especially of the solitarist variety, John Gray notwithstanding. Cosmopolitanism is a good thing. Cosmopolitanism is Sarajevo before everything went to hell.

The Professor of Philosophy at the Centre for Human Values, Princeton no less, is not as bold as he could have been. A crucial treatise is rendered impotent by neat self censorship and a surfeit of facts. He elegantly turns away from the implications of his advocacy, in particular for the US…This volume ends up being a nice book for good people. He confesses: “This book is not a contribution to the debates about the true face of globalisation. I’m a philosopher by trade and philosophers rarely write useful books.” And that’s the pity of it all.

Well I don’t agree with him about that, actually, I think Cosmopolitanism is a useful book. I admire useful books. Jerry and I are working on a book that we think could be useful. We’re not philosophers, so we plan to be as bold as we can be.

The Solitarist View of Identity

Aug 6th, 2006 10:36 pm | By

John Gray is not entirely convinced by Amartya Sen’s Identity and Violence, despite his admiration.

Impassioned, eloquent and often moving, Identity and Violence is a sustained attack on the “solitarist” theory which says that human identities are formed by membership of a single social group…There is a deeper unrealism in Sen’s analysis, which emerges in his inability to account for the powerful appeal of the solitarist view…Along with many liberal philosophers, he seems to think human conflict is a result of intellectual error. But if the error of solitarism is so blatantly obvious, why do large numbers of people continue to believe in it and act on it? Sen refers repeatedly to manipulation by malevolent propagandists…But are people really so stupid? Or is the failure of understanding actually in the liberal philosopher?

I’m very interested in that question, because I share in the failure of understanding (if it is one), at least partially. I think I understand the appeal of the solitarist view, up to a point, but I do have trouble understanding why it doesn’t break down fairly quickly under pressure from non-solitarist views. In other words, I see the temporary appeal of identifying with other (whatevers) – women, Muslims, Americans, Jews, gays, blacks, Asians, whatever – but I don’t fully see how one item on the menu manages to trump all the others all the time. I don’t. I extrapolate from myself, and so I don’t see it. I think of myself as a woman (and a feminist) some of the time, and I certainly don’t ever think of myself as not a woman (or a feminist), but I don’t and don’t want to think of myself as primarily a woman all the time; in fact I hate it. It bores me and it makes me feel claustrophobic and above all it makes me feel diminished. If the most important thing about me is that I Am A Wooman along with some 3 billion other people on the planet – well I might as well decide that my identity is all wrapped up in being a mammal, or a vertebrate. I might as well be a grain of wheat in a thousand-acre field (as of course I am, but I don’t particularly want to make that a Badge of Identity). I want to think about other things, and that precludes always uninterruptedly obsessing over and massaging my identity as a woman – or as anything else. So that’s my blind spot, that’s why I have trouble understanding the solitarist view: why do other people want to hug just one identity? Why don’t they get bored?

What does Gray tell us on this point?

For Sen, as a good liberal rationalist, it is an article of faith that the violence of identity is a result of erroneous beliefs. He cannot accept that its causes are inherent in human beings themselves…The people who knifed the day-labourer in Bengal and who dragged off the man to his death in Petrograd made no error. They did what they did from fear, desperation or cruelty. Such atrocities express deep-seated human traits that are not going to be removed by the kind of conceptual therapy offered by Sen.

That answer seems to me a good deal less satisfactory than anything Sen writes. Just for a start – the people who knifed the day-labourer in Bengal did make an error, because whatever fear, desperation or cruelty prompted them to do it, it certainly didn’t gain them anything. That is an error – an error is exactly what it is. To be so crazed with fear, desperation or cruelty that you murder someone of the ‘wrong’ religious or ethnic (or both) group just because he is of the wrong group and is in ‘your’ neighbourhood – is a big fat error. It’s not an error in arithmetic or spelling, but it’s still an error. So what does Gray mean saying it isn’t? In other words – I think he’s right that the appeal of solitarist identity has to be explained, but I don’t think he did anything at all in the direction of explaining it, and I think he made an error besides.

Unedifying, Anti-Semitic, Wrong

Aug 5th, 2006 5:52 pm | By

This is Jerry, so don’t blame OB for this post.

I’ve just returned from my protest against the awful anti-Israel, pro-Hizbullah march in London. Here are four pictures from the march.

Draw your own conclusions.


Aug 5th, 2006 5:18 pm | By

Interesting. Mediawatchwatch points out that Germaine Greer’s defense of her article on the Brick Lane ruckus slightly adjusts what she said in the first article. It’s right there for all to see…

July 24:

The community has the moral right to keep the film-makers out but they cannot then complain if somewhere else is used and presented to the world as Brick Lane.

August 5:

I have been accused of saying things I never said about Monica Ali’s novel Brick Lane and the campaign to prevent its filming in the East End of London…Natasha Walter, writing on these pages, claims not to know what I could possibly mean by saying that the residents of Brick Lane have a “moral right” to refuse to cooperate with the people making the film of Monica Ali’s book.

Come on, GG – play fair.

The irony is, she has grounds for her defense: after all, she immediately goes on to say ‘There is only one remedy available if your reality is being recycled through a writer or a movie-maker, and that is to write your own novel or make your own film – and accept ostracism as your just desert.’ She could have just said that was her basic point; but massaging what she actually did say is an error.

Little Atoms

Aug 4th, 2006 6:37 pm | By

So didja listen to JS on Little Atoms? It was pretty funny, in an absurd sort of way. He has some kind of bee in his bonnet that people who sign the Euston Manifesto think it is going to set off a mass progressive movement. It turned up in that HERO interview too. HERO asked ‘Ophelia, you are a signatory to the Euston Manifesto, and Butterflies and Wheels is an affiliated site. What are your expectations of the movement for a rational left, and how much do you feel that blogging and, more widely, the internet has contributed to the timing of this development?’ and he answered –

The Euston Manifesto will die a quick death. There is no chance for any kind of mass movement of the rational left, and blogging and the internet will have little effect outside the chattering classes. I think there is an interesting point here about wishful thinking, irrationalism, etc., which is that it has always been the case that the politically engaged – well, large numbers of them anyway – have very little sense of just how uninterested the mass of the population are in politics.

But notice – the HERO question doesn’t say anything about a mass movement – JS inserted that ‘mass’ himself, for no apparent reason. Of course I don’t bloody think the Euston Manifesto is going to set off a mass movement! I’m not insane, or delusional, or on Ecstasy. Just signing something isn’t such a huge colossal effort that making the effort implies a magical belief that it will change the universe. I signed the dang Euston Manifesto (despite disagreeing with parts of it, especially the part about the US as a great country – I think the US’s tragically broken political system makes it difficult to say that without instant qualification) for the same sort of reason I (and presumably JS) co-wrote WTM, and I have to point out, signing the EM was a great deal less work and took up far less time. If writing that book was worth doing (and I think JS thinks it was) then why wouldn’t siging a manifesto you mostly agree with be worth doing? Consider: the first takes some months, the second takes – what? five seconds?

I’ll have to give him a good sharp talking-to on the subject if I ever get the chance. But it made for some pretty funny listening – you could tell the hosts were starting to want to slap him. I know the feeling. snicker. There was also some nonsense about how people who disagree with religion (people like me, it seems, since he muttered something about me before launching that particular tirade) don’t understand about death and loss. Now really. Really. He would know, if he ever read the essays I write for TPM Online, that at least half of them are about nothing else; that I’m obsessed with the subject. I mean really.

Then there was the beginning where he said actually he’s not sure truth does matter – that was amusing too. (Mind you, in the sense he meant, nor do I, and I spent the first couple of pages of the book saying so. But ‘why truth matters in rational empirical inquiry’ would have been a not very catchy title, so we didn’t bother suggesting it.) Anyway, it was quite an entertaining interview.

Hitchens Rakes Gibson

Aug 4th, 2006 1:37 am | By

And for dessert, some pleasant savagery from Hitchens; a relief from all that offendedness-frotting.

There’s a lot to dislike about Gibson. He is given to furious tirades against homosexuals of the sort that make one wonder if he has some kind of subliminal or “unaddressed” problem. His vulgar and nasty movies, which also feature this prejudice, are additionally replete with the cheapest caricatures of the English…He has told interviewers that his wife, the mother of his children, is going to hell because she subscribes to the wrong Christian sect…And it has been obvious for some time to the most meager intelligence that he is sick to his empty core with Jew-hatred.

I’m not sure Hitch has a very high opinion of Gibson.

At the time when The Passion of the Christ was being released, many nervous evangelical Christians tried to get the more horrifying bits of anti-Semitic incitement toned down…Many conservative Jews, from David Horowitz to Rabbi Daniel Lapin, stuck up for Gibson as a man who defended family values against secular nihilism.

And why not, I’d like to know? Aren’t family values worth a little anti-Semitism among friends? Sure they are.

It was even proudly announced that Gibson’s next big project would be about the Holocaust. Whether Gibson tries this last catch-penny profanity or not, it is time to lower the boom on him…But this should not be yet another spectacle of the “offensive” and the “inappropriate,” swiftly succeeded by rehab and repentance and perhaps – who knows? – a joint press conference with Elie Wiesel. Gibson did not “misspeak”…No, he spoke his “mind,” and in case anyone wants to burble about political correctness, it should be added that he spoke this way because of his religion, not just his warped personality.

Take that, sugar tits.

Everyone for Miles Around is Offended

Aug 4th, 2006 1:19 am | By

And then there’s the tragic clash of world views (or Weltanschauungen as we call them in old Stuttgart) between the Gay Police Association and ‘Christians’ i.e. some Christians.

An advert placed by the Gay Police Association (GPA) that claimed a 74 per cent rise in homophobic incidents due to religious belief has caused widespread offence among Christians…The GPA advert has also prompted a police investigation. The Metropolitan Police says the inquiry “centres on whether the advert constitutes a faith crime”.

A – what? A what crime? A faith what? I know about the religious hatred bill and all, but so do you guys now have something called a ‘faith crime’ that the police investigate? Seriously? For real? Isn’t that just a little…alarming? Isn’t that like Rowan Atkinson’s and Salman Rushdie’s worst nightmare come true true true? Are you all sure you’ve panicked enough?

“The suggestion is that if you get rid of faith, you get rid of homophobic attacks,” believes the Reverend George Hargreaves, leader of the Christian Party, who also sits on a number of Metropolitan Police committees and steering groups. “I believe this whole matter has left us with evidence that the Gay Police Association is Christianaphobic, and I therefore think an investigation is the right course of action. I also believe that the chairman of the Gay Police Association, Paul Cahill, should resign.”

Other than that, of course, the Rev George is as liberal and broad-minded a fella as you’d want to meet – all he wants is for the police to investigate ‘Christianophobia’ and for somebody to resign (as chairman? as cop? he doesn’t say). Modesty itself.

The Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship (LCF) is among the faith-based organisations that are questioning the rise in incidents that the advert refers to…”The incidents need not be criminal offences and may be lawful expressions of opinion, such as an opinion that adoption by gay couples constitutes a risk to the welfare of children.”

Uh…or such as that the Bible fosters homophobia – that kind of expression of opinion. So if yours isn’t theirs isn’t, and if theirs is yours is. You don’t get to make it that yours isn’t but theirs is. Nuh uh.

Cahill says the purpose of the advert was not to cause offence, but to raise awareness…Among other people who were offended by the advert was Dr John Dubbey of Norwich, who believes proof is required to back up the GPA’s statistics.

Come on, Cahill, you know nobody cares what the intent is; if offence occurs, then it is offence, and people are offended, and intent to raise awareness is entirely beside the point. It’s a faith crime to offend people. Like Dr John Dubbey of Norwich. Dr John Dubbey of Norwich is offended – along with other people. People were offended, Cahill, don’t you understand? Offended! They were offended! And there you are swanning around talking about awareness. You should not only resign, you should go on a pilgrimage to someplace nasty and rub dirt on your head.

Meanwhile, J Hale of Sutton says: “We were horrified when we saw a copy of the advert. It does not take into consideration my human rights to religious freedom and to freedom of conscience as a Christian. It is an affront to what I believe in to see the mockery behind the portrayal of the Holy Bible and, presumably, the blood of Jesus Christ, and the words that accompany it.”

Um – who’s J Hale of Sutton, and who cares what it says, and why? And who’s ‘we’? And where did J Hale say all this, and to whom, and when, and why? And why is the Indy collecting what it says? Besides – Sutton – I ask you. Who cares what people in Sutton think?

Time for a Spot of Fractal Maneuver

Aug 3rd, 2006 7:38 pm | By

Okay a great tidal wave of opinion, by which I mean one person, has demanded a post on the contribution of high theory to the Israeli military. I never resist surges of opinion; I splash about in them like a happy little child playing in the surf. By which I mean, that is quite an intriguing piece, isn’t it.

The Israeli Defence Forces have been heavily influenced by contemporary philosophy, highlighting the fact that there is considerable overlap among theoretical texts deemed essential by military academies and architectural schools.

Oh, that fact. Well, one can see that both military academies and architectural schools have a genuine and keen interest in the subject of buildings – but one can also see that it’s a fundamentally different kind of interest. One is up the other is down; one is together the other is fissile; one is assemblative the other is disassemblative; one knits the other unknits; one constructs the other – okay you get it. But anyway it appears that there is more to all this than the theoretical and practical differences between piling bricks on top of one another and knocking them all to the ground.

…the reading lists of contemporary military institutions include works from around 1968 (with a special emphasis on the writings of Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari and Guy Debord), as well as more contemporary writings on urbanism, psychology, cybernetics, post-colonial and post-Structuralist theory. If, as some writers claim, the space for criticality has withered away in late 20th-century capitalist culture, it seems now to have found a place to flourish in the military.

Oh dear – has the space for criticality withered away? The way the state was supposed to but didn’t so much? I didn’t know that. Here I’ve been dancing around in my little space for criticality (as well as nagicality and mockicality and derisionicality) in blissful ignorance, unaware of the walls creeping ever closer. But that’s how it goes, innit – late coughcough capitalist culture makes the space for criticality wither away the way it always does, the pesky thing, but happily the military comes along and saves it and gives it a place (or a space) to flourish. That must be ironic. Or do I mean de-centered.

Kokhavi, commander of the Paratrooper Brigade…said…’We interpreted the alley as a place forbidden to walk through and the door as a place forbidden to pass through, and the window as a place forbidden to look through, because a weapon awaits us in the alley, and a booby trap awaits us behind the doors. This is because the enemy interprets space in a traditional, classical manner, and I do not want to obey this interpretation and fall into his traps.’

The hermeneutics of alleys and doors and windows. Cool.

Kokhavi’s intention in the battle was to enter the city in order to kill members of the Palestinian resistance and then get out. The horrific frankness of these objectives, as recounted to me by Shimon Naveh, Kokhavi’s instructor, is part of a general Israeli policy that seeks to disrupt Palestinian resistance on political as well as military levels through targeted assassinations from both air and ground.

Uh…yeah. And this came as a surprise to you? You’re taken aback by this horrific frankness? Uh…what did you think the objectives were then? To enter the city in order to teach members of the Palestinian resistance how to embroider? Are you sure you have a firm grasp of what words like ‘military’ and ‘battle’ and ‘weapon’ mean?

In a lecture Naveh showed a diagram resembling a ‘square of opposition’ that plots a set of logical relationships between certain propositions referring to military and guerrilla operations. Labelled with phrases such as ‘Difference and Repetition – The Dialectics of Structuring and Structure’, ‘Formless Rival Entities’, ‘Fractal Manoeuvre’, ‘Velocity vs. Rhythms’, ‘The Wahabi War Machine’, ‘Postmodern Anarchists’ and ‘Nomadic Terrorists’, they often reference the work of Deleuze and Guattari.

Way cool. That’s what I call a rich, well-rounded life – combining warfare with referencing the work of Deleuze and Guattari. Doncha think? It’s kind of like Socrates fighting at Potidaea, or those Renaissance men who wrote poetry with one hand and stabbed cardinals in the back with the other. Exciting and erudite both at the same time.

I asked Naveh why Deleuze and Guattari were so popular with the Israeli military. He replied that ‘several of the concepts in A Thousand Plateaux became instrumental for us…allowing us to explain contemporary situations in a way that we could not have otherwise. It problematized our own paradigms.’

I love the smell of problematized paradigms in the morning.

That’s not even halfway down the page – there’s a lot more. Read it all.

Arranged Marriages

Aug 3rd, 2006 12:14 am | By

There were some very interesting (and alarming) comments (by one ‘tarxien’) on this post by Sunny on the Brick Lane fuss by (the comments say) a GP who has seen some distressing examples of arranged marriage.

There is a very fine line between ‘arranged’ and ‘forced’…This is an issue I feel strongly about because as a GP working in Tower Hamlets and south London I have seen many desperate, depressed women in ‘arranged marriages’. None of them could be called ‘forced’ in that the women were not tied up and raped as has happened in some cases but you cannot ignore the emotional pressure that is put on young women by their families (i.e fathers in most cases). Once married these women have no realistic way out if they are not happy. Their own family disowns them once they are married. I could tell some shocking stories but space prevents me.

Then later:

Some of the worst cases of abuse I have seen in my practice are precisly where, either a British bengali woman has been forced or shall we say ‘persuaded’ to marry a man from Bangladesh who does not speak English or understand British traditions of womens’ rights or alternatively where a Bengali woman has been brought to Britain as a wife to a British man. The woman does not speak English and is extremely isolated, separated from her family and culture, often with a man who despises her for her ‘backwardness’.
In both cases it is the women who suffer. Obviously there are cases where the marriage works I would not dispute that. But there are a lot where it does not. There is usually a feeling among professionals – doctors, social workers etc, that we cannot intervene because it is a ‘cultural ‘issue and would upset the community.
I cannot begin to describe the frustration I have felt in having to walk away and leave these women knowing that their life is intolerable. One woman told me clearly that, after 15 years of physical, sexual and emotional abuse from a man who told her on their wedding night that he had only married her to obtain a British passport, that she was waiting until her daughter was old enough to look after herself and she would then take poison. She had tried leaving but her own family refused to take her in and told her to go back to he husband or the family would be disgraced. Shortly after this the family disappeared and I do not know what happened to her.

Do any of you know of any good books or articles on this? I’d like to know more.

Oxygen of Publicity

Aug 1st, 2006 9:30 pm | By

How come novelists are so violent? Why are they always running around swinging baseball bats and roughing people up? Are they on steroids or what?

Novelists Salman Rushdie, Hari Kunzru and Lisa Appignanesi have attacked community groups, the police and the media after Ruby Films decided to move shooting of an adaptation of Monica Ali’s Brick Lane out of London’s Tower Hamlets area last week.

Wow. That seems like a lot of people for three unathletic novelists to attack. Did they draw blood?

The criticism follows a march organised by the Campaign Against Monica Ali’s Film Brick Lane yesterday which drew no more than two women and 70 older men. Threats of violence and book-burning failed to materialise.

Ohhhhh, I see – Richard Lea means they criticized all those people, but he chooses to call that ‘attacking’ them. Hmm. Odd choice of word. Maybe that’s because it was the Guardian that made the protest of a few guys sound like the outrage of the whole ‘community’? Or maybe not, maybe it was just an odd choice of word with no sinister motivation.

“After the damp squib of the anti-Monica Ali protest in Whitechapel on Sunday”, said Rushdie, “it is clear that, as many of us suspected, there are no strong feelings in and around Brick Lane about the proposed film of Ms Ali’s eponymous novel.” He called for “all those who over-reacted in this matter”, including the police, the film company, Channel Four, the news media and “the censor’s friend” Germaine Greer to “admit their mistakes, so that the film can be completed, and we can move on.” “We cannot allow small numbers of ‘offended’ traditionalists the power of censorship,” agreed Appignanesi. “Mr Salique’s campaign, the media and the police’s willingness to accept him as a representative, are shaming to the proud history of Brick Lane…”

In other words, stop cheering on tiny groups of male ‘protesters’ who want to silence novelists and playwrights especially when they’re women.

Natasha Walter seconds the motion.

But there can be no justification for trying to suppress fiction because it has not measured up against some irrelevant yardstick. What Germaine Greer meant when she said that, because of the novel’s supposed inaccuracies, “the community has the moral right to keep the film-makers out” is a mystery. Some people may have the power to do so, but nobody has the moral right to stamp on the cinematic recreation of this humane tale.

Not even if they’re offended? Hm. What a thought.

The bad thing about this controversy is not only that one side is barking up the wrong tree, but also that the media have followed the barking of certain voices to the exclusion of other voices in this community…Journalists and commentators have to think again about why we choose whom we do to represent a community.

And, I would add, whether calling anything and everything a ‘community’ doesn’t help along the very line of thought that is the problem here: that ‘communities’ are monolithic and united and cemented together by communal solidarity so that whatever noisy chump pipes up with the loudest voice can properly be assumed to be speaking for the whole ‘community’ because otherwise – um – someone with an even louder voice would be piping up?

Pola Uddin, the only Bengali woman in the House of Lords, was indignant when I asked her why we weren’t hearing more women’s voices in this debate: “Our voices aren’t sought! The media are not interested in in us.”

That’s for sure. The media are interested in wheeling out Bunglawala every thirty seconds, not in going looking for some pesky woman to talk to. Why is that?

People on the left should not feel that in order to support marginalised communities in their fight for more social justice we have to align ourselves with their most reactionary elements. That’s why we need not get caught up in the rhetoric of a clash of civilisations to go on supporting core values of tolerance and freedom of expression. These values are supported by people within every community, as well as by people who understandably feel they have no community that can speak for them, and so would rather speak for themselves.

Well said.

Follies of the Wise

Aug 1st, 2006 12:31 am | By

I’m reading Frederick Crews’s Follies of the Wise, which is terrific; don’t miss it. I thought I would give you a bit that resonated strongly with me.

When I began distancing myself from Freudianism around 1970, it was because of a growing, and personally vexing, sense that psychoanalytic ‘knowledge’ is acquired and certified by fatally lax means. I realized at that juncture that my deepest loyalty was not to any particular doctrine but to empirical rationality itself – the ethos that characterizes not just science but every investigative discipline worthy of the name. Ever since then, I’ve been fascinated by irrationalist movements that make a strong appeal to educated people who ought to know better. [page 344]

Well. It may be obvious why that resonates with me. It’s a pretty succinct and eloquent statement of the point of B&W. First the fact that my deepest loyalty is not to any particular doctrine but to empirical rationality itself, and then the fascination with educated people who ought to know better (and who teach other people, so ought to be especially careful and responsible) playing with irrationalist movements and failing (often flatly and explicitly refusing) to give their deepest loyalty to empirical rationality itself. That’s B&W, in a nutshell.

That has prompted me to ponder a little the question of why my deepest loyalty is not to any particular doctrine but to empirical rationality itself. It’s perhaps a slightly strange way to assign one’s deepest loyalty – loyalty usually seems like the kind of thing that is owed to more passion-inspiring entities than empirical rationality. It usually seems like the kind of thing that goes with inspiring doctrines but not so much with methods of inquiry. And yet deepest loyalty is the right phrase; that does describe it; it’s cognitive but also emotional; the two are thorougly entwined. So the question is why is that? I’ve come up with one version of an answer; I might write a book around it; but I’m not sure I’ve completely explored the question. We’ll see.

Rank Superstition

Aug 1st, 2006 12:18 am | By

Did you enjoy the Times article about the study that found – o wonder – that churchgoers are superstitious? Were you dumbfounded, gobsmacked, astonished, staggered, amazed, knocked for a loop – in short, were you surprised? I can’t say I was. What surprises me is that anyone thinks there’s a tension between the two. I know people do think that (there was that hilarious item a few months ago about some cardinal at the Vat complaining about that very thing – about people believing all sorts of bizarro superstitious nonsense) but it still surprises me that they do. It seems to me that they’re not quite thinking things through if they think that. They’re not asking themselves why it’s sensible to believe one superstitious thing and absurd to believe another. (I know, I know, I know – that helpful nag who likes to tell me I’m secular religious or similar without ever explaining what he means by that is, if he bothers to read this, triumphantly telling himself that I am riddled with superstitions but just don’t know it. Let the court so stipulate.) What exactly is the criterion by which they know superstition from superstition-free religion? Just that they’re – you know – different?

According to a study, nearly all churchgoers admit to practising superstitious behaviour such as crossing their fingers for luck, touching wood for protection or throwing spilt salt over their left shoulder…The Christian Church has always been highly antagonistic towards superstition, believing it to be irrational and linked to paganism. Through the Dark and Middle Ages, anyone suspected of using traditional charms to secure good or bad luck for themselves or others would usually be burnt at the stake or drowned. The victims were nearly always women.

I don’t think that’s accurate. I’m pretty sure it’s not. Gledhill seems to be conflating the witch trials in the 15th-17th centuries with the sanctions on using charms from the 4th century onwards. I really don’t think everyone suspected of using a good luck charm in that period was killed – there’d have been no one left. But never mind that; the real question is what ‘the Christian Church’ (the what?) means by ‘irrational’ and at exactly what place on the map it draws the line between the rational and the irrational.

The research was carried out by a team at the University of Wales, Bangor, led by Leslie Francis, Professor of Practical Theology and the country’s leading exponent of the sociology of religion…In the paper, to be published in the Journal of Implicit Religion, the authors say that the findings contradict the hypothesis that Christian teaching precludes superstitious beliefs.

Well…how could it? Unless you simply take the resurrection as not a superstitious belief – by defining it that way. But that would be a rather glaring bit of special pleading. So…how else is it done?


Aug 1st, 2006 12:00 am | By

The Archive

The Interrogations Archive

Where’s My Chalky Makeup?

Jul 30th, 2006 8:04 pm | By

I had one or two things in mind to talk about before I tottered over to the computer, but they done got swept out of my mind and displaced from the agenda by reading this review by Simon Blackburn of several books on truth one of which was a book on truth that I take a particular interest in, owing to my fondness for the fly-specked lightbulb on the cover. It’s a funny thing…I’ve noticed it before…and probably mentioned it before…it’s a funny thing, but the reviews of this book 1. keep rolling in and 2. keep being surprisingly favourable. Or not at all surprisingly, you may want to urge, battering down my native modesty and diffidence. But – well, they’re not just favourable, they’re – you know – surprisingly favourable. Surprising kind of meaning very as well as surprising.

Oh well – I won’t go on. I’d like to, but I won’t. You get my drift, I daresay. I really am surprised. It’s the old Groucho Marx joke – you know the one.

So anyway here’s what the professor of philosophy at Cambridge said about the lightbulb book:

Postmodernism is often billed as attacking truth and science. This is how it is presented in the valuable little book Why Truth Matters, by the editors of the sceptical website, Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom. They mount a spirited counterattack, reminding us – in the way that Cambridge philosopher GE Moore was famous for doing – that if it comes to a battle for hearts and minds, basic convictions of common sense and science beat philosophical subtleties hands down. Where Brian King horrifies us with his liars, Benson and Stangroom reveal a parallel rogues’ gallery of social constructivists, who look at how individuals and groups participate in the creation of their own perceived reality. These “rogues” include the feminist Sandra Harding and the neo-pragmatist Richard Rorty, but the doyen must surely be the French philosopher of science Bruno Latour. Latour’s confusion of words and things led him to the precipice of denying that there could have been dinosaurs before the term was invented. Presumably a similar argument would show that nobody before Crick and Watson had DNA. Why Truth Matters is an excellent example of philosophy done well but also, and not coincidentally, made accessible and exciting. Truth matters, it tells us “not in a dull perfunctory dutiful sense, but in a real lived felt sense – ‘on the pulses’ as Keats put it”.

So you see what I mean. Surprising.

Jew Boy in Delaware

Jul 29th, 2006 8:43 pm | By

Okay. Another biscuit has been decisively expropriated. Words once again fall down on their duty and decline to give me the aid and sustenance I requested. My usual simple credulity is unable to encompass this particular manifestation. In short, I am stunned. And disgusted.

After the graduation, Mrs. Dobrich asked the Indian River district school board to consider prayers that were more generic and, she said, less exclusionary. As news of her request spread, many local Christians saw it as an effort to limit their free exercise of religion, residents said. Anger spilled on to talk radio, in letters to the editor and at school board meetings attended by hundreds of people carrying signs praising Jesus. “What people here are saying is, ‘Stop interfering with our traditions, stop interfering with our faith and leave our country the way we knew it to be,’ ” said Dan Gaffney, a host at WGMD, a talk radio station in Rehoboth, and a supporter of prayer in the school district.

No, actually, that’s not what people there are saying. What people there are saying is, ‘Stop trying to use a public facility that is by law open and free to all citizens in a more constitutional manner and instead put up with using it in an unconstitutional manner that we here, the majority who claim to have been here longer than you the outsiders and Jews have, prefer and want to impose on everyone including you you Jews because these are our traditions and our faith and those are two holy sacred words that stand for two holy sacred things that no outsider Jews are going to interfere with so stop interfering with them or else get out and actually we’d prefer you to get out because we don’t like Jews and if they get pushy we call them things like Jew boy.’ That’s what people there are saying.

More religion probably exists in schools now than in decades because of the role religious conservatives play in politics and the passage of certain education laws over the last 25 years, including the Equal Access Act in 1984, said Charles C. Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center, a research and education group. “There are communities largely of one faith, and despite all the court rulings and Supreme Court decisions, they continue to promote one faith,” Mr. Haynes said. “They don’t much care what the minority complains about. They’re just convinced that what they are doing is good for kids and what America is all about.”

Yes. And that’s why people like me hate them and fear them. I do fear them. I wish I thought there’s no reason to, but I can’t manage it. They keep gaining more and more power. And they’re not nice people – but they think they are the very nicest people – even as they call other people Jew boy. That makes them scary. They’ll be banishing or killing people next, all the time thinking they’re just the nicest folks you’d want to meet.

Until recently, it was safe to assume that everyone in the Indian River district was Christian, said the Rev. Mark Harris, an Episcopal priest at St. Peter’s Church in Lewes.

No it wasn’t. The rev may have thought it was, but it wasn’t; it’s never safe to ‘assume’ you know what everyone thinks, and Christianity isn’t a genetic attribute, it’s what you think; you can’t just ‘assume’ everyone thinks it simply because you live in a small coercive narrow-minded parochial intolerant place.

“We have a way of doing things here, and it’s not going to change to accommodate a very small minority,’’ said Kenneth R. Stevens, 41, a businessman sitting in the Georgetown Diner. “If they feel singled out, they should find another school or excuse themselves from those functions. It’s our way of life.”

And they’re just a bunch of Jews, so that settles that.

Mrs. Dobrich…described a classmate of his drawing a picture of a pathway to heaven for everyone except “Alex the Jew.”…A homemaker active in her children’s schools, Mrs. Dobrich said she had asked the board to develop policies that would leave no one feeling excluded because of faith. People booed and rattled signs that read “Jesus Saves,” she recalled. Her son had written a short statement, but he felt so intimidated that his sister read it for him. In his statement, Alex, who was 11 then, said: “I feel bad when kids in my class call me ‘Jew boy.’ I do not want to move away from the house I have lived in forever.” Later, another speaker turned to Mrs. Dobrich and said, according to several witnesses, “If you want people to stop calling him ‘Jew boy,’ you tell him to give his heart to Jesus.”

Notice, depressingly, that Mrs Dobrich herself doesn’t seem to get it – she doesn’t want separation of church and state, she doesn’t want secular schools, she just wants a little less detail and specificity. Notice that she originally asked the ‘school board to consider prayers that were more generic and, she said, less exclusionary’ – rather than asking them to drop prayers in school altogether. Notice that she wants policies ‘that would leave no one feeling excluded because of faith’ but apparently doesn’t mention feeling excluded because of no ‘faith’. Notice what a horrible clash of tyrannical certainties it all is. Why can’t they all just shut up about their ‘faith’ until they get home, why can’t they just go to school to learn stuff and do the praying in their living rooms?

But no. That’s not how that works. It works the other way. Hosannah.

The only thing to flourish, Mrs. Dobrich said, was her faith. Her children, she said, “have so much pride in their religion now. Alex wears his yarmulke all the time. He never takes it off.”

Peachy. One fanaticism creates another.

All Together Now

Jul 28th, 2006 8:35 pm | By

Here’s another odd or at least interesting comment. From an article on global happiness and what seems to cause it and why Denmark is Topp.

Adrian White from the University of Leicester in the UK used the responses of 80,000 people worldwide to map out subjective wellbeing…He said he was surprised to see countries in Asia scoring so low, with China 82nd, Japan 90th and India 125th, because these are countries that are thought as having a strong sense of collective identity which other researchers have associated with well-being.

A strong sense of collective identity is associated with well-being? Well, if researchers have found that (but have they found it, or merely done the associating themselves? hard to tell) then perhaps it is. But it seems a peculiar idea. You could have a strong sense of collective identity as a pack of losers or failures or victims or starving downtrodden forgotten human refuse. Would that be associated with well-being? Or you could have a strong sense of collective identity as a pack of delusional unthinking ignorant fundamentalist god-besotted fatuous arrogant buffoons who elect such another to be the most powerful human being on the planet. That can happen. It happens to me whenever I read or hear an acid comment about Americans on the BBC or the Guardian. It irritates me, because it’s not as if he was elected unanimously, after all, but however much it irritates me, one, I understand the feeling of shock and disdain all the same, and two, facts are one thing and perception is another and that is the way a lot of people think of Murkans – Lionel Shriver just yesterday for example: ‘Apologies for the condescension, but honestly: when even the American public (more than two-thirds of whom support this research) achieves a consensus on an issue, it can’t be too hard to resolve.’ (Geddit? If even the notoriously dumb American public can figure it out, it can’t be too diffy.) That’s the perception, and I’m a Murkan, so when I read that that becomes my collective identity and I have a strong sense of it. But it’s not much associated with well-being.

In short, I can see how such a sense would enhance well-being under certain circumstances, but I can just as easily see how it would do just the opposite – and that’s before we even consider the claustrophobia of the idea. So – I thought it was odd or anyway questionable.

What Does That Mean?

Jul 28th, 2006 7:55 pm | By

Wait – what does that mean?

Islamic tradition explicitly prohibits any depiction of Allah and the Prophet.

That doesn’t make any sense. In fact it makes non-sense. How can ‘tradition’ ‘explicitly’ prohibit anything? It can’t: that’s why it’s called tradition to distinguish it from law. Law can, obviously, explicitly prohibit things, but tradition can’t, it can only implicitly prohibit them. Tradition isn’t written down or codified; it’s fuzzy; it’s implicit; it has blurry edges. It’s the very opposite of explicit.

We can probably figure out what happend with that goofy sentence. I think when the Motoon fuss started a lot of media reports claimed that the Koran explicitly prohibited any depiction of A and the P, but then a lot of other people pointed out that actually the Koran doesn’t, that it’s a tradition rather than a Koranic law. So the reporter decided to split the difference – don’t say it’s the Koran, lest people write in and say ‘can’t you get it right?’ – but still say it ‘explicitly prohibits’ because that sounds so much sterner and more binding and holy and thus more of an outrage and provocation and offense for people to do, and there is (it appears) a journalistic impulse to do that – to emphasize the bindingness and the outrage – so as to – to – to distance oneself from those naughty people at Jyllands-Posten, I guess. That’s all interpretation; I don’t know that that’s why that silly sentence is there; but if that’s not why, then why? Would the BBC say for instance ‘Christian tradition explicitly prohibits gay marriage’? I wonder. I seriously wonder. I have to doubt it. (Do search for such a thing if you’re so inspired; do let me know if I’m wrong.) Because the BBC probably doesn’t approve or even sympathize much with fundamentalist Christian urges to push gay people around, but it may sympathize just a little bit with the putative horror of depictions of the Prophet on the part of Muslims. So it phrases the matter just…ever…so…slightly oddly.

Respect Me or I’ll Shoot This Dog

Jul 27th, 2006 6:09 pm | By

I like this one. Oxymoron in action; very droll.

But the lead convener of the Campaign Against Monica Ali’s Film Brick Lane, officially launched yesterday, vowed to continue with the protest irrespective of where the movie is filmed. Abdus Salique threatened to burn Ali’s book at a rally on Sunday which is expected to be attended by hundreds of protesters…[H]e added: “[If] she has the right to freedom of speech, we have the right to burn books. We will do it to show our anger. We don’t like Monica Ali. We are protecting our community’s dignity and respect.”

Heeheeheehee. Yup, that’s what you’re doing all right, protecting ‘your community’s’ dignity and respect by standing around talking idiotic threatening drivel to a Guardian reporter. Yup, that’s dignity and respect-protection all right; you bet. Good move. Everyone’s way impressed with your dignity.

He continued: “It is not just filming [in Brick Lane] which is the problem. We don’t want a film which degrades our community.”

No, because you want to do the degrading yourself. Very enterprising.

Much more refreshing is the letter to the Guardian from PEN members Lisa Appignanesi, Hanif Kureishi, Anthony Lester QC, Salman Rushdie and Gillian Slovo.

Your article (July 18) about Brick Lane residents’ response to the filming of Monica Ali’s novel gave the mistaken impression that there was a united Bangladeshi community in the area threatening protest and keen to stop the production of the film of this supposedly “insulting” novel. Your readers may wish to know that there is no such united and censorious front. There are many differing Asian voices in the area. Few of them are as punitively adamant as the chair of the Brick Lane Traders’ Association, who, according to Asians in Media, leads a small minority of Sylheti traditionalists and has overblown the size of local protest.

It’s what Sen is talking about, in a way – this pretend unity which is a mere pretense. Hearing twenty people squawk and calling that ‘the Bangladeshi community’. There are many differing Asian voices in the area, and everywhere else; people don’t have to and generally don’t want to speak as a bloc. Not every ad hoc group is a ‘community’ much less the ‘community’. It’s more dignified and respect-worthy to realize that.