Everybody agrees about everything hurrah

Feb 23rd, 2007 12:04 pm | By

Terry Eagleton says wrong things again.

The basic moral values of the average Muslim dentist who migrates to Britain are much the same as those of a typical English-born plumber. Neither is likely to believe that lying and cheating are the best policy, or that they should beat their children. They may have different customs and beliefs, but what is striking is the vast extent of common ground between them on the issue of what it is for men and women to live well.

Is he joking? No, apparently not, he apparently means it – he means that ‘the average Muslim dentist’ and the ‘typical English-born plumber’ and, presumably, by extension, everyone else in the world is unlikely to believe that they should beat their children. Really?! There’s a universal consensus that people should not beat their children? The inadvisability of beating one’s children is uncontentious? Who knew!

Or to put it another way, what a ridiculous claim. Of course it’s not – it’s not an uncontentious claim even in the US or UK, and it’s certainly not one in places average migratory Muslim dentists are likely to come from. Especially, I would point out, ever so tactfully, if the children in question have the bad judgment to be daughters.

So what does he mean by his very next words? ‘They may have different customs and beliefs’ – right, such as beliefs about whether or not it’s a good idea to beat children, and customs about beating children. Yet all the same, they have the same basic moral values, which just happen to bear an uncanny resemblance to the basic moral values that Terry Eagleton would like them to have, such as the error of beating children. And even happier and pleasanter and more delightful, there is a vast extent of common ground between them on the issue of what it is for men and women to live well. At least according to Eagleton. I would have said he was wrong about precisely that point, but there you go.

David Thompson comments too, and so does Tom Freeman.

Update: Rosie Bell (our friend KB Player) also comments, as does our friend Ed.

Operating on the very margin

Feb 23rd, 2007 11:36 am | By

Hitchens’s review of Robert Irwin’s Dangerous Knowledge starts well. Attentive readers of B&W may be able to answer his opening question.

Of what book and author was the following sentence written, and by whom? “Rarely has an Oriental servant of a white-identified, imperial design managed to pack so many services to imperial hubris abroad and racist elitism at home — all in one act.”

This was the quasi-articulate attack recently leveled, by a professor of comparative literature at Columbia University, on Reading Lolita in Tehran…The professor described Nafisi’s work as resembling “the most pestiferous colonial projects of the British in India,” and its author as the moral equivalent of a sadistic torturer at Abu Ghraib. “To me there is no difference between Lynndie England and Azar Nafisi,” Hamid Dabashi…said.

Remember Dabashi and his way with words (and thoughts)? He’s a piece of work.

I cannot imagine my late friend Edward Said, who was a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia, either saying or believing anything so vulgar. And I know from experience that he was often dismayed by the views of people claiming to be his acolytes. But if there is a faction in the academy that now regards the acquisition of knowledge about “the East” as an essentially imperialist project, amounting to an “appropriation” and “subordination” of another culture, then it must be conceded that Said’s 1978 book, Orientalism, was highly influential in forming this cast of mind.

Yep. As Ibn Warraq argued in an article right here on B&W nearly four years ago.

[T]hough Irwin does not say so explicitly, the general academic reticence about Islam that he so much deplores may well have something to do with the potentially atheistic consequences of any unfettered inquiry. As he phrases it: “Because of the possible offense to Muslim susceptibilities, Western scholars who specialize in the early history of Islam have to be extremely careful what they say, and some of them have developed subtle forms of double-speak when discussing contentious matters.”

This is to say the very least: “Western scholars” and authors like Karen Armstrong and Bruce Lawrence have adopted the strategy of taking Islam’s claims more or less at face value, while non-Western critics who do not believe in revealed religion at all, such as Ibn Warraq, are now operating on the very margin of what is considered tactful or permissible. Even a relatively generous treatment of the life of the Prophet Muhammad, such as that composed by Rodinson, is considered too controversial on many campuses in the West.

Yep again. Many people consider Ibn Warraq well over the margin of what is considered tactful or permissible. Worries about offense to theistic susceptibilities are not good for free and unimpeded inquiry. You already knew that, but I thought I would remind you.

Misogyny 6, women 0

Feb 21st, 2007 11:49 am | By

Oh, god. I feel sick. I feel like screaming. I do, I feel like screaming and screaming and screaming.

An Islamic fundamentalist shot and killed a female Pakistani minister yesterday because of her refusal to wear a Muslim veil. Police said that the bearded attacker had singled out the prominent women’s rights activist in the belief that women should not be in politics. Zilla Huma Usman, the Punjab provincial minister for social welfare and supporter of President Musharraf, was shot as she prepared to address a public gathering in the town of Gujranwala…As party members threw rose petals at her, the gunman shot her in the head, police said. They identified the attacker as Malulvi Ghulam Sarwar and said that he was opposed to the participation of women in politics and the refusal of many professional women in Pakistan to wear the veil…Mr Sarwar, a stonemason in his mid40s, appeared calm when he told a television channel that he had carried out God’s order to kill women who sinned. “I have no regrets. I just obeyed Allah’s commandment,” he said. Islam did not allow women to hold positions of leadership, he claimed. “I will kill all those women who do not follow the right path, if I am freed again,” he said. Usman was well known as a women’s rights activist and had organised a controversial mini-marathon involving female runners.

Meanwhile, back in Lancs:

Mohammed Riaz made every conceivable attempt to prevent his wife and daughters enjoying their Westernised lifestyle. He destroyed their clothes…t[T]he labourer killed his wife and four daughters by throwing petrol over them as they slept and igniting it.

I feel sick. Perhaps I’ll be told again that ‘we partly are for others, not just for yourselves. The aggressive individualism you often put forward here is almost equally as distasteful as the repression of individualism you rail against,’ but that’s just too bad. Funny how this ‘we are for others’ idea applies so much more to women than it does to men – applies to women so thoroughly that some men think they have the right simply to obliterate them when irritated. Fuck that. I’m not for others, and others don’t get to kill me because I’m not obedient enough. Aggressive individualism for all, that’s what I say.

We’re sorry, Zilla Huma Usman. Well done with the marathon and the women’s rights activism. We’re sorry, we’re sorry, we’re sorry. We’re sorry Caneze, Sayrah, Sophia, Alicia, and Hannah Riaz.

I feel sick.

Good and better

Feb 20th, 2007 2:49 pm | By

The opening of Steven Weinberg’s review of The God Delusion made me muse on something, not for the first time.

Of all the scientific discoveries that have disturbed the religious mind, none has had the impact of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. No advance of physics or even cosmology has produced such a shock…[A]mong the natural phenomena explained by natural selection were the very features of humanity of which we are most proud. It became plausible that our love for our mates and children, and, according to the work of modern evolutionary biologists, even more abstract moral principles, such as loyalty, charity and honesty, have an origin in evolution, rather than in a divinely created soul.

There is something both immensely fascinating, and highly disconcerting, about that possibility or likelihood or near-certainty. It is, really (and I think religious believers are missing something very rich if they reject this), genuinely interesting to consider the fact that the same kind of natural forces (predators, climate, availability of food or water) shaped whales’ ability to dive, and raptors’ ability to spot prey from a great height, and chimps’ ability to strip grass stems in order to fish for termites, and Bach’s Cello Suites and ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Las Meninas’. Really – it’s enthralling. Tracing it backwards is enthralling, and following it forwards is enthralling. Our minds are an adaptation. Thinking is adaptive. It’s a tool; it has survival value; if it didn’t, we wouldn’t have it. It has a lot of survival value; it has to in order to be worth its colossal expense. That’s what it is first of all; the poetry and music and charity and justice came later. That’s fascinating, and one could think about the implications for years. (It occurred to me just a couple of weeks ago how strange and in a way sad it is that humans didn’t know this about themselves until a little more than a century ago. Imagine – they just had no idea of even the possibility that human qualities and characteristics are shaped by selective pressures. To us now it seems such a basic thing to be unaware of.)

Yet as well as being fascinating it’s also disconcerting. In that sense it is not difficult to understand the resistance of religious believers. That’s because (I think) we want to think the things we think are good really are good, that what we think is better really is better. Realizing they’re all the product of a mind that is the activity of a brain that is what it is because of selective pressures seems inimical to that. Survival of course isn’t about good or better, it’s just about survival; it’s about what works. We don’t want to think that poetry or kindness ‘work’ – we want them to be more than that, and different – we want them to be special. Not just special because we think they’re special, special because we say so, special to us – really special, special in themselves, absolutely special.

Poignant, isn’t it.

To dream the impossible dream

Feb 20th, 2007 1:27 pm | By

So tell me something I don’t know.

A report of the American Psychological Association (APA) released today found evidence that the proliferation of sexualized images of girls and young women in advertising, merchandising, and media is harmful to girls’ self-image and healthy development…Sexualization was defined by the task force as occurring when a person’s value comes only from her/his sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics, and when a person is sexually objectified, e.g., made into a thing for another’s sexual use.

How could it not be harmful, for chrissake? What would it be, beneficial? How could it possibly be beneficial? Unless of course your dearest ambition from infancy on is to be a prostitute, and you never once deviate from that burning ambition. But barring that, how could it be beneficial?

In a way this is just a variant of that horrible (albeit evasive, cautious) pronouncement of Tariq Ramadan’s: ‘But the body must not be forgotten…In Islamic tradition, women are seen in terms of being mothers, wives or daughters.’ That’s an evasive, cautious way of putting it because what he means is ‘and nothing else,’ but he presumably didn’t want to say that to Ian Buruma or in the New York Times. At any rate, the outcome is the same: a person’s value comes only from her sexual appeal or behavior, or from her maternal or sexual function; she is, in short, a thing for the use of other people – primarily, of men, since if she produces daughers, they’re in the same situation, while sons are not. Women and girls are for others, men are for themselves and others and a range of other possibilities. This is the problem with the sexualization of girls.

I see that as a problem even in the absence of any reports from the APA. It’s a problem because of the implicit message, which is that females are supposed to be hotties, that that is by a very wide margin their chief obligation, that that’s what they’re for, that’s what they’re about, that’s what they do. I think this is a kind of death in life. The death of alternatives, of other possibilities, of hope, of breadth, of wide horizons, of a range of choices. It’s a horrible nasty pouty flicky twisty curvy silky little box. It’s the obverse of the niqab, but it’s pretty damn confining itself. It’s as if there is one and only one job open to women: that of lap dancer. There was one and only one job open to Jane Fairfax and Jane Eyre; I’m not sure the horizontal move to lap dancer is much of an advance.

Whither blogging?

Feb 19th, 2007 11:31 am | By

Nigel Warburton’s comment on an article about philosophical blogging that I wrote for the current TPM is amusing, at least to me.

In a recent article in The Philosophers’ Magazine (1st quarter 2007, no.37, p.12-14) Ophelia Benson (recently interviewed for Virtual Philosopher), opens up with the question of whether weblogs are somehow incompatible with ‘the rigour, discipline, and seriousness of real, grown-up philosophy?’ To me this is a bit like asking whether ink on paper is compatible with philosophy – apart from Socrates, most philosophers have agreed that it is.

I know. It was meant to be. In fact I think that’s almost obvious, especially given the ‘real, grown-up philosophy’ – that’s not a perfectly straightforward bit of reportorial phrasing. I was doing a combination of teasing Julian and acknowledging his view of the matter in the opening of the article, which seemed to make sense since he would be the first person to read it, it was his suggestion that I should write it, and he would either approve it or not. I suppose part of what I was doing in the article was giving my view (mostly via the view of the four blogging philosophers I interviewed) of why Julian’s view of blogs was not quite right. He gave his view via a parody blog on his site, but I can’t link to it as he seems to have taken it down. Well actually he didn’t give his view of blogs in general, he gave his view of what his blog would be like if he did one, he explained to me; I misread it as his view of blogs in general. But I’m not the only one who read it that way, and I think the reading was the most obvious one. A great fan of his read it the same way:

Julian Baggini has got to be one of my favorite living philosophers; he’s a least on a top twenty list of some kind…I recently visited his website, looked through some of his materials and came across a link his blog. The strange thing was that Dr. Baggini’s blog contained only one entry explaining why he thought blogging was a waste of time…His first claim was that it was unhealthy for someone to spend too much time reading the ‘ramblings’ of any one person. His second claim was that he thought it was a waste of his and the reader’s time.

See? That’s what it sounded like to two people, anyway.

Nigel makes many of the same points I would make (some of which I did make in the article).

I suspect Ophelia’s opening angle was a reaction to her editor’s parody blog that she mentions where he remarks ‘Blogging would waste my time and yours. Go read something I or someone else has put some prolonged thought into.’ Apart from the informal fallacy of assuming that more prolonged thought = better results (the Protestant Work Ethic Fallacy?), this seems confused. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, one of the best ways of conceptualising blogs is as published commonplace books. Once you see them that way, anything goes – including philosophy of any kind. For an example of a philosopher doing philosophy on a blog, see Stephen Law’s new blog with his ongoing discussions about relativism: the medium allows musings, links to articles, comments, responses to comments, and revisions…philosophy in action.

I know one person who really hates blogs; I probably also had him in mind when writing the article. I must say I find that a very odd view, because as a medium they seem to me to be full of potential. Of course, like so many things, they’re only as good as they are; bad ones are bad; but good ones enable people to do things they can’t do in other media.

To be continued, perhaps.

Special training to cling to the daftest ideas

Feb 19th, 2007 10:16 am | By

Alok Jha on a failure of rationality.

You wonder sometimes if government ministers get special training to cling to the daftest ideas. The dogged attempts of Caroline Flint, the public health minister, to ban the creation of animal-human hybrid embryos for stem cell research is a case in point. Her opposition, based on a biased public consultation that was hijacked by lobby groups, presupposes that the public feels ethically dubious about it.

That’s a pretty familiar phenomenon, I think – you get it in journalism a lot too. Caring reporters on NPR and the BBC often simply take it for granted that all this kind of research [caring voice] ‘raises serious ethical issues’ – even when it’s not a bit obvious why it should or in fact that it does. They just assume it does; that is, like the health minister, they presuppose it. It’s as if they’ve had special training to presuppose it. Why is that? one wonders.

I heard a particularly exasperating example on the World Service a few weeks ago, when one of the reporters talked to a researcher about cloning. The reporter kept asking about the risks of eating cloned animals and the researcher kept, patiently, correcting him: it’s not cloned animals that would be eaten, it’s the offspring of cloned animals. The reporter finally said yes yes, he got it, then as soon as the interview was terminated he recapped: issues about eating cloned animals. Journalists are really terrible about this stuff – they get it wrong to begin with and then they apparently can’t even absorb corrections. So we can be quite assured that all these controversies and issues are based on garbled reports of the subject at best. At worst they’re based on distorted or tendentious reports.

The science minister, Malcolm Wicks, warned against basing important policy on inaccurate public polls. He told the inquiry: “If certain lines of inquiry are not pursued, that has to be on rational scientific grounds; it must not be for other factors which lack rationality.”…Will this self-proclaimed pro-science government go with rationality, or will it allow the hysteria of the anti-science brigade to hobble a critical part of our medical future?

I would put Wicks’s point somewhat differently, since ethics can’t be purely rational. There has to be a combination of rational scientific grounds and ethical consideration, is what I would say. You could have rational scientific grounds for, say, preferring freshly-killed children for a certain kind of research, which would be trumped by ethical considerations that are not purely rational. They’re not purely rational but they have a rational component, and that’s why the rest of us find the purely irrational objections of some religious critics to (say) stem-cell research so frustrating – there is no rational component. The missing rational component is replaced by a Yuk factor that, Leon Kass famously claimed, we should respect, because it’s pointing at something real even if we can’t articulate it. The hell it is. A puddle of cells in a dish does not have the same kind of ethical standing that a child (or an animal) does. There are rational scientific grounds for saying that: the puddle of cells has no nervous system, no consciousness, no awareness. That fact is a component of well-conducted ethical thinking, which has to take facts into account. That’s probably what Wicks meant…

Gina Khan

Feb 17th, 2007 12:17 pm | By

You can keep your Tariq Ramadan. I’d much rather hear from Gina Khan.

Gina Khan is a very brave woman. Born in Birmingham 38 years ago to Pakistani parents, she has run away from an arranged marriage, dressed herself in jeans and dared to speak out against the increasing radicalisation of her community…The trouble is, says Khan, that many of the Pakistanis who have come to Birmingham are all too easily swayed. “Most of them are ignorant, uneducated, illiterate people from rural areas. It is very easy for them to be brainwashed, very easy. These are people who have been taught from the beginning that our religion is everything, it is the right way. You are going to Hell simply because you were not born a Muslim.” Khan is far too independent-minded to accept these beliefs wholesale…”I had too much rubbish fed in me that I would be too Westernised. I was told to keep my distance from you because I am a Muslim. It is still really hard to explain to you how you are conditioned. From a young age those thoughts are put in your head: ‘I am a Muslim. I do not mix with those people’. I would honestly say that we are more racist and more prejudiced than the English.”

Being conditioned is one thing, and being independent-minded is another. The difference is crucial. Some conditioning is of course useful. (Don’t hit. Don’t touch that, it will burn/cut you. Look both ways. Don’t bite. Say please. Don’t push.) But it should be minimal, and it should be good in itself. Some independent-mindedness is of course harmful. (I will hit. I will take what I want and the hell with everyone else. I will push, I will not say please.) But if it is coupled with decent minimal conditioning (or teaching, if you prefer), it is mostly preferable to the alternative, especially when the alternative is really bad conditioning, such as ‘keep your distance from those people because you are a Muslim’.

What has been done to her — and so many other Muslim women — is what incenses Khan most, and has emboldened her tospeak out. Muslim society, she says, is based on male domination and the oppression of women. The mosques are run entirely by men, the Sharia councils are run by men, the “voice” of the Muslim community is always male. And it is women who suffer as a result.

Well exactly. That’s why the long love affair with the MCB was so mystifying.

Khan herself was pressurised into marriage at the age of 16 by her father, against her mother’s wishes. “I was manipulated by my dad’s side of the family into a teen marriage – you know, you are a passport for someone from Pakistan. My mum wanted me to study and make something of my life because she knew what this country had to offer.” Khan married and became pregnant, but after her baby died she says that she suffered terrible postnatal depression and left the marriage. Her family disowned her, as did the Muslim community…She is full of praise for the instruments of the British state: social services, the police, job centres. If she were prime minister, she says, the first thing she would do is ban teen marriages. “They are still being pulled out of the local girls school here and taken back home, aged 16 or 17, not allowed to get an education.”

Creepily, yet not surprisingly, that exactly echoes what happened to girls at Goldenbridge. They were pulled out of school to do domestic chores, and not allowed to get an education. I sense a pattern here…

[A]lthough polygamy is illegal in Britain, it is still, says, Khan, being practised with a Muslim seal of approval. The “marriages”, after all, are being sanctioned in the mosques. “My mum would turn in her grave if she knew Sharia was here. This is England, how can this be happening, how in this country? People in Pakistan are fighting for it not to happen there.”Khan is also vociferous on the subject of the veil, which is not, she says, a religious requirement: “It’s a 7th-century garment that should not be in this country.”

Read it all. It’s hard to extract bits, because it’s all good. Don’t miss it. Go, Gina Khan.

‘We must not forget the body’

Feb 16th, 2007 11:34 am | By

More Tariq Ramadan. Maybe a little more Buruma, too, although I made at least one reader very cross the last time I disagreed (somewhat) with Buruma. Anyway, mostly Ramadan.

Buruma notes that he says different things in different contexts, then talks to Scott Appleby, who tried to get Ramadan to Notre Dame.

He is accused of being Janus-faced. Well, of course he presents different faces to different audiences. He is trying to bridge a divide and bring together people of diverse backgrounds and worldviews. He considers the opening he finds in his audience. Ramadan is in that sense a politician.

Okay. Fair point. He is trying to bridge a divide; he is a politician. Okay; but then that does tell us that what he says and writes is not necessarily entirely reliable. It’s as well to be aware of that.

Just as Marxists claim a universal validity for their political ideology, Ramadan says he believes that religious principles, as revealed in the Koran, are universal. It was as a universalist that Ramadan promoted the right of Muslim women to wear the veil at French schools. “Rights are rights,” he said, “and to demand them is a right.”

How about the right of Muslim women to be confined to the house, forbidden to drive, forbidden to travel without the permission of a male relative? Is it as a universalist that Ramadan promotes those rights? How about the right to be stoned to death for adultery? Or, to put it another way, how about the right of people to reject the ‘universal’ religious principles ‘as revealed in the Koran’? Does he take that to be a right?

“Whatever your faith,” he explained to me, “you are dealing with your fundamental principles. The message of Islam is justice. The neoliberal order leads to injustice.”

‘The message of Islam is justice.’ Is it? Justice for whom? ‘Ramadan’s defense of certain practices rooted in Islamic tradition creates much suspicion among those who might otherwise agree with his politics.’ Well, good; I’m very glad to hear it. Hold that thought.

Two media-driven controversies helped to make Ramadan both famous and notorious. The first was an exchange on French television in 2003 with Nicolas Sarkozy…Sarkozy accused Ramadan of defending the stoning of adulterers, a punishment stipulated in the section of the Islamic penal code known as huddud. Ramadan replied that he favored “a moratorium” on such practices but refused to condemn the law outright…“Personally,” he said, “I’m against capital punishment, not only in Muslim countries, but also in the U.S. But when you want to be heard in Muslim countries, when you are addressing religious issues, you can’t just say it has to stop. I think it has to stop. But you have to discuss it within the religious context. There are texts involved.”

Well that’s exactly where we differ, and why I want no truck with his universal religious principles as revealed in the Koran. No truck at all. I know there are texts involved, and I don’t want to negotiate or bargain or compromise with them, I want to ignore them and do better. I think you can, precisely, say it has to stop. Period. Not temporize or shuffle or suggest a moratorium, but say No. Forget bridging divides if it means shuffling on questions like this. Just say it has to stop.

The main reason his European critics, Jews or non-Jews, have turned against Islam, and political Islam in particular, is not Israel so much as a common fear that secularism is under threat. That fear is coupled with a deep disillusion, in the wake of failed Marxist dictatorships, with the kind of anticolonial leftism that Ramadan now promotes in the name of universal principles rooted in the heart of Islam…On global capitalism he speaks like a 1968 left-wing student revolutionary, but on social affairs he can sound like the illiberal conservatives whom those students opposed…The question of women is key to this.

It is. The question of, you know, more than half of the population. Hardly a minor issue.

I wanted to know what exactly Ramadan meant by “Islamic femininity”…He replied…”We must have the struggle for equal rights of women. But the body must not be forgotten. Men and women are not the same. In Islamic tradition, women are seen in terms of being mothers, wives or daughters.”

Right. And that again is (it should be needless to say) why I want nothing to do with it and why I find all this shuffling so frightening. It’s because I’m a woman. Let me explain: I don’t want to be seen in terms of being mother or wife or daughter. It’s very simple. Does he? Would he like to be seen in terms of being father, husband, son, full stop? It doesn’t look as if he would, does it. So I don’t want his ‘justice’ or his universalism.

Which is why I disagree with Buruma’s emollient concluding sentence: ‘His politics offer an alternative to violence, which, in the end, is reason enough to engage with him, critically, but without fear.’ No it isn’t. This is one of the things I disagreed with in his reply to Bruckner. Violence isn’t the only problem. I’m sorry, but I do fear people who say we must not forget the body, men and women are not the same, women are mothers or wives. I may be forced to engage with them, but I’m not going to pretty that up as a good thing, because I don’t think it is.

Brother Tariq

Feb 15th, 2007 11:44 am | By

Tariq Ramadan says a lot of words in this piece but they don’t add up to much. He has a point about the denial of his visa, but he also says some dubious things and some unmeaning things.

There are some subjects, so it seems, about which an American citizen or permanent resident must now maintain silence. A “moderate” Muslim, in particular, should never discuss the Middle East, the suffering of the Palestinians, or the arrogance of longstanding Israeli policy. To force people to accept such limitations is not only counterproductive, but, more important, it impoverishes the open debate American society so desperately needs. In an atmosphere of perpetual fear, tongues remain tied, while those who do encourage a thoroughgoing debate are simply expelled.

Well, no. We’re not forced to accept such limitations, to put it mildly. ‘Moderate’ Muslims here are not forbidden to discuss those things, and I strongly doubt that Ramadan’s having discussed those things is the only reason his visa was denied (which is not to say that it was denied for good or sufficient reasons). Open debate is not impossible here. It is impoverished in some ways, but more by the narrowness and laziness of the major media and by market pressures than by the difficulty of open discussion of the Middle East. Tongues are not tied, and as for people who encourage thoroughgoing debate being expelled – that’s just absurd.

We must recognize that American society, like all Western societies, has changed. The diversity of its population has produced a diversity of political views with which we must come to terms, particularly with regard to the Middle East and to our relations with the countries that have an Islamic majority. Millions of Western citizens of the Muslim faith have brought a new outlook toward the world and toward Western policy.

Must we? Why must we? And in what sense? What does he mean we must ‘come to terms’ with a diversity of political views particularly with regard to our relations with the countries that have an Islamic majority? He must mean something, but he’s noticeably unspecific about it, as he is throughout the piece. If ‘come to terms with’ means something like obey or incorporate into law, I don’t necessarily want to do that. There is, for instance, a diversity of views out there about whether women should be treated equally in various contexts, or not. I don’t want a diversity of, say, laws on the subject; I want one law, that says yes women should be treated equally. The hell with diversity. I want uniformity. I want an egalitarian secular monoculture, I don’t want any fun colourful pockets of religious inequality for women and other girlish weaklings. It’s noticeable that among all the words, Ramadan never mentions women and equality or rights in the same breath – he barely mentions them at all.

For Muslims, the Prophet’s life demonstrates first and foremost the importance of love; how crucial it is that Muslims do not reduce their fellow Muslim citizens to the narrow definition of “problems” or “threats.”

Really? Really? Does that apply to women? Is it true that ‘Muslims’ (implying, I think, all Muslims) think it’s crucial not to reduce women to ‘problems’ or ‘threats’? Not to mention the unpleasant ‘their fellow Muslim citizens’ exclusivity, as if it’s fine to reduce everyone else to problems or threats.

The importance of love – for the ingroup, and perhaps only the male and straight among them. How impressive.

Reading Danny Postel in Tehran

Feb 14th, 2007 12:04 pm | By

Scott McLemee’s interview with Danny Postel is a must-read.

“In hundreds of conversations I’ve had with Iranian intellectuals, journalists, and human rights activists in recent years, I invariably encounter exasperation,” writes Danny Postel in Reading “Legitimation Crisis” in Tehran: Iran and the Future of Liberalism, a recent addition to the Prickly Paradigm pamphlet series distributed by the University of Chicago Press. “Why, they ask, is the American Left so indifferent to the struggle taking place in Iran? Why can’t the Iranian movement get the attention of so-called progressives and solidarity activists here?” Postel, a senior editor of the online magazine openDemocracy, sees the Iranian situation as a crucial test of whether soi-disant American “progressives” can think outside the logic that treats solidarity as something one extends only to people being hurt by client-states of the U.S. government.

Let’s hope so, because that logic ain’t no logic, and the US government isn’t the only source of oppression and misery in the world. It does its bit, but it does not have a monopoly.

[A]fter reading this short book, I had to wonder if there might be another legitimation crisis under way – one affecting American scholars and activists who see themselves as progressives, who thrill to that oft-repeated demand to “speak truth to power.” An unwillingness to extend support to the Iranian opposition puts into question any claim to internationalism, solidarity against oppression, or defense of intellectual freedom.

It does. Then again, Scott asks in the interview portion, ‘isn’t the desire to avoid saying anything that could be useful to the neocons at least somewhat understandable?’

Yes, I do think the desire to avoid saying things that could be useful to the neocons is somewhat understandable. But it can also be a cop-out. It was actually more understandable back in 2002-5, when the neocons were endlessly frothing on about their support for democracy and human rights in Iran and it wasn’t as clear to the naked eye how bogus those claims were. Over the last year, however, there’s been a palpable and significant, though largely unnoticed, shift in neocon rhetoric about Iran. They rarely talk about democracy and human rights anymore.

Now it’s all about security, and threatening rhetoric.

That puts them at direct odds with the democratic dissidents and human rights activists in Iran, who are unequivocally opposed to any U.S. attack on their country…What the neocons want in Tehran is a pro-U.S. and pro-Israeli regime; whether it’s a democratic one or not is an entirely secondary matter to them. And Iranian dissidents know this, which is why they want nothing to do with the neocons…Due to intellectual laziness, a preference for moral simplicity, existential bad faith, or some combination thereof, lots of leftists have opted out of even expressing moral support, let alone standing in active solidarity with, Iranian dissidents, often on the specious grounds that the latter are on the CIA’s payroll or are cozy with the neocons. Utter and complete tripe.

Okay then. I got worried about that, as I think I’ve mentioned here, when Ramin Jahanbegloo was released from prison and gave that interview to the students’ news agency, saying he’d been deceived by human rights groups in the west and urging other Iranian intellectuals not to be deceived. I got worried I might taint dissidents inside Iran via solidarity or publication or signing petitions – not because I’m a neocon, but just because perhaps any western contact would be a taint. I wasn’t sure what to think. But Maryam Namazie made short work of that worry when she interviewed me. She said no, definitely not, dissidents want the solidarity and support; never mind about any taint, just as the struggle against apartheid didn’t. Okay then, I thought. And it became a little clearer that Jahanbegloo’s interview was coerced, thus what he said there had to be discounted. Okay then.

Leftists should be arguing not that we might say things that the neocons could put to nefarious ends but, on the contrary, that neocon pronouncements about Iran are fraudulent and toxic. The neocons are hardly in a position to employ anyone’s arguments about human rights and democracy in Iran when they themselves have forfeited that turf. Indeed it’s not the neocons but rather liberals and leftists opposed to attacking Iran who turn out to be on the same page with Iranian dissidents on this Mother of All Issues. It is we who stand in solidarity with Iranian human rights activists and student protesters and dissident intellectuals, not the Bush administration or the American Enterprise Institute.

Count me in.

There’s The Third Camp for one. Caroline Fourest has signed, so has Taslima Nasreen, so has Terry Sanderson. I got in early. Arash Sorx did an interview with me – it’s there (scroll down) but it doesn’t seem to open.

Read the whole interview; it’s great stuff. Solidarity with the dissidents of Iran.


Feb 14th, 2007 10:17 am | By

Alister McGrath is tiresome – in the same (agonizingly familiar) way so many theists and defenders of theism are tiresome. Tiresome via misdescription, is what they are. Strawmanism for short. They keep saying (over and over and over again) that atheists say X when atheists don’t say X, or Dawkins says Y when Dawkins never does say Y. Funny that (apparently) no editors ever strike them over the head and say ‘Stop that, he says no such thing.’ I would, if I were their editor. I’d love to strike them over the head.

Deep within humanity lies a longing to make sense of things. Why are we here? What is life all about? These questions are as old as the human race. So how are we to answer them? Can they be answered at all? Might God be part of the answer?

Sure, it ‘might,’ but so might a lot of things. Or not. That doesn’t get us very far.

Richard Dawkins, England’s grumpiest atheist, has a wonderfully brash way of dealing with this. Here’s how science would sort out this muddleheaded way of thinking: everyone else just needs to get out of the way, and let the real scientists, like himself, get to work. They would have these questions sorted out in no time…Science has all the answers…

Smack! Bad, Mr McGrath; do it over. He says no such thing. ‘Brash’ yourself. Accuracy counts.

This is what he says.

McGrath imagines that I would disagree with my hero Sir Peter Medawar on The Limits of Science. On the contrary. I never tire of emphasising how much we don’t know. The God Delusion ends in just such a theme. Where do the laws of physics come from? How did the universe begin? Scientists are working on these deep problems, honestly and patiently. Eventually they may be solved. Or they may be insoluble. We don’t know.

Maybe McGrath confuses saying ‘scientists are working on these deep problems’ with saying ‘science has all the answers.’ But if so, that doesn’t say very much for his care in reading and analysis.

See this gun? So shut up

Feb 13th, 2007 10:17 am | By

Poor Turkey, poor Orhan Pamuk.

Pamuk did not hesitate to publicly criticize the Turkish government, judiciary and society, which he held partly responsible for Dink’s death. “The murder of my courageous, golden-hearted friend has soured my life,” Pamuk confessed, “I am furious at everyone and everything, and I feel boundless shame.” As if to reinforce his words, Turkey was in an uproar last Friday over images of several police officers who were photographed in a chummy pose with the young murder suspect. The officers were suspended from duty, but not before the newspaper Sabah condemned the incident, writing that a nationalist murderer was being treated like a hero.

So Pamuk is in (very rational) fear for his life, and has left Turkey.

“Tell Orhan Pamuk to wise up!” one of the principal suspects in the Dink murder, right-wing extremist Yasin Hayal, a man with a criminal record, said publicly. The threat must have made a strong impression on the author. Last week the self-proclaimed “Turkish Revenge Brigade” (TIT) posted a video on YouTube depicting Dink’s corpse next to photos of Pamuk….The video ended with a shot of a Turkish flag and the head of a wolf – the symbol of Turkish ultra-nationalists, and the threat: “More will die.”

How I hate and despise people like that, and how little good it does me.

Pamuk, Turkey’s most famous writer and a man who ought to be the pride of this country as it seeks European Union membership, has been pursued by hate-mongering nationalists for some time, and he is not the only one. About a dozen Turkish writers, journalists and academics are currently the targets of hate-spewing, fanatical right-wing extremists. Pamuk’s hasty departure shines a spotlight on the clash of cultures and the climate of agitation, intimidation and fear dissidents in Turkey currently face, especially those who dare to tackle national taboos – of which there are many, including the 1915 genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire…According to statistics compiled by the Turkish Human Rights Foundation, close to 100 intellectuals have already been hauled before courts for voicing their critical opinions. Most have been charged with the crime of “insulting Turkishness,” or disparaging national institutions. Reactionary prosecutors use a notorious Turkish law known as Article 301 to persecute critical thinkers.

In a way it sounds not as distant and foreign and alien as I would like…

The hostile mood in Turkey reflects the country’s difficult relationship with its intellectuals and its deep distrust of its pro-Western authors who criticize the system from within. “We are always seen as potential runaways, if not potential traitors,” says writer Shafak. “Criticizing the country is considered practically the equivalent of hating it.” In a recent television interview, she was asked: “Did you ever say that you were not feeling at home in Turkey?”

Actually, to an American, it sounds unpleasantly familiar. The rage is not as murderous or as prosecutorial here, but the basic concept is, I’m afraid, the same. It’s the same and it’s deadly for independent critical thought.

Update. I said that last bit very clumsily, as you’ll see from comments. I’ll leave it so that the comments won’t look like gibberish, and for that matter because it serves me right for putting it clumsily. I didn’t mean that the US situation is comparable – I didn’t even mean to change the subject to the US; it’s the Turkish situation that horrifies me. I found the murder of Hrant Dink really upsetting, and still do; Pamuk’s comment on it – that the murder of his golden-hearted friend has soured his life – makes me want to throw ashes on my head. I just meant that it’s the same way of thinking, that’s all. It is; but the way of acting is a whole different ball game.

Pub Philosopher on Clare College

Feb 12th, 2007 11:04 am | By

Pub Philosopher is all over the Clare College thing, with useful links. For instance to a notice from the Senior Tutor:

Because of the publicity that has arisen, I strongly encourage you to return any copies of last week’s Clareification so that I can destroy them. Please post them as soon as possible through the slot in the outer door of my room, E5.

And…what will you do if I don’t? What will happen to me? What, exactly, does ‘strongly encourage’ mean? Is that meant to sound as threatening as it does sound? Or is it just mean to sound like concerned caring urgent advice?

PP provides also more loony tunes from the Cambridge Evening News and from the Local Cadre of the People’s Outraged Offended Insulted Party.

He emphasised Islam was not a violent religion, but like Mr Mumtaz, said he believed muslims in Cambridge would be outraged by the publication. Mr Arain also praised the quick action of Clare College in condemning the publication, and added he believed justice would be done through the college’s disciplinary system. He said: “What this person has printed is highly offensive and it has caused abhorrence and distress to many people. This person must realise what he has done and take responsibility for it and come out and make recompense for it.”

Understood. Because if person X does A, and many people opt to feel ‘abhorrence’ and distress and offendedness, then X must make recompense to those people. No need to inquire into whether the people have any genuine or valid or sensible reason(s) for feeling all that abhorrence. Well let’s all do that! Let’s give up the usual business of life and just buckle down to feeling abhorrence and demanding recompense, in the time we can spare from making our own recompense for all the abhorrent things we ourselves have said and done. Goodness, won’t life be fun in those days!

Alan Bennett on Identity

Feb 11th, 2007 2:09 pm | By

I read a lovely comment on group identity by Alan Bennett the other day.

6 April, Yorkshire. The new organic shop in the village continues to do well, the walk down the lane to the Nissen hut always a pleasure even in the bitterest weather…Today there are one or two customers in the shop. Everyone speaks, a little too readily for me sometimes, this friendliness engendered by the nature of the enterprise. It’s a kind of camaraderie biologique. In the same way, halted on my bike at traffic lights I will occasionally chat to another cyclist, cycling a similar undertaking with a creed and an agenda and its own esprit de corps de vélos.

I read an interesting one yesterday. (I’d read it before at some point, and it’s possible that I’ve even typed it into here before, so if I’m repeating myself and you’re aware of it, then your memory is a lot better than mine, and I apologize for self-repetition.)

10 August. Appalling scenes on the Portsmouth housing estate which is conducting a witch hunt against suspected paedophiles and the nation is treated to the spectacle of a tatooed mother with a fag dangling from her lips and a baby in her arms proclaiming how concerned she is for her kiddies.

The joy of being a mob, particularly these days, is that it’s probably the first time the people on this estate have found common cause on anything; it’s the ‘community’ they’ve been told so much about and for the first time in their lives each day seems purposeful and exciting.

Just so.

Some of the most senior staff are utterly distraught and disgusted

Feb 11th, 2007 1:55 pm | By

It’s the end of the world! It’s the worst thing that’s ever happened! It’s a catastrophe! It’s an outrage! It’s vile, evil, abhorrent, shocking, disgusting, terrifying, oh, hell, am I hysterical enough yet? Aaaaaaaaah!

Wassup? you ask. A student at Clare College, Cambridge ‘is at the centre of a race-hate probe after printing anti-Islamic material in a magazine’. That’s what. No words can begin to express the – the – the –

The 19-year-old second year student at Clare College was in hiding today (Friday, 09 February) after printing the racist cartoon and other vile material. The article is said to be so inflammatory the undergraduate has been taken to a secret location for his own safety…[S]enior college officials were locked in urgent talks about how the material came to be published and what action to take against the student at the centre of the scandal. A university spokesman said police had been made aware of the incident.

What action to take – quiet execution perhaps?

The student magazine, Clareification, printed a cropped copy of the cartoon of the prophet Mohammed next to a photo of the president of the Union of Clare Students. The cartoon was captioned with the president’s name and vice versa. There was also comment suggesting one was a “violent paedophile” and the other was “a prophet of God, great leader and an example to us all.” The cartoon was the same one which caused riots across the world when it was printed in a Danish newspaper.

No, the cartoon did not ’cause’ riots, some people chose to engage in riots in reaction to the cartoon. There’s a difference.

Enraged students have bombarded the Union of Clare Students with complaints…Clare College fellows have called a Court of Discipline which will sit in judgment on the youth responsible for sparking what is being regarded as one the most embarrassing incidents for the university in years…In a statement issued by Clare College, senior tutor Patricia Fara said: “Clare is an open and inclusive college. A student produced satirical publication has caused widespread distress throughout the Clare community. The college finds the publication and the views expressed abhorrent. Reflecting the gravity of the situation, the college immediately began an investigation and disciplinary procedures are in train.”

Quiet execution after torture, perhaps?

There’s a whole lot more of the same kind of thing. I find it absolutely staggering. You would think the guy had opened a local branch of Auschwitz. You would also think he’d broken a law. Publishing cartoons, even cartoons about the prophet, is not against the law. Do the officials of Clare College realize that? Do they even know the difference between ‘race-hate’ and religion-teasing? Do they know anything?

You’re upset? Say no more!

Feb 11th, 2007 11:02 am | By

This is worrying.

The challenges I face in the Religious Studies classroom today are unlike any I have encountered in more than three decades of teaching…it seems that the more religious people become, the less willing they are to engage in critical reflection about their faith. For many years, I have begun my classes by telling my students that if they are not more confused and uncertain at the end of the course than they are at the beginning, I will have failed. But now, as rarely in previous years, a growing number of religiously committed students consider such a challenge a direct assault on their faith…Religious correctness has become the latest version of political correctness. For those who are religiously correct, critical reflection breeds doubt and must, therefore, be resisted.

That is where the problem is, you know. That is what it boils down to – the refusal to reflect critically, and the making a virtue of that refusal. That’s the root of all evil – not religion, but dogmatic protected thought-refusing ‘faith’ of any kind, and yes I do include secular faiths in there.

(Okay, okay, not literally all evil. Don’t be so literal.)

A colleague recently told me that one of his best students reported that she did not like the course she is now taking from me, After God, because “it did not make her feel good.” I responded, “That is, of course, precisely the point.” The chilling effect of these attitudes was brought home to me two years ago when a university administrator at another institution where I was teaching called me into his office and asked me to defend myself against the charge of an anonymous student who claimed that I had attacked his faith because I urged him to consider the possibility that Nietzsche’s analysis of religion called the belief in absolutes into question. I was not given the opportunity to present my side of the story. The administrator assumed I was guilty as charged and insisted that I apologize to the student.

That reminds me of this item from last week.

Andrew McLuskey was sacked from Bayliss Court Secondary School in Slough after a Religious Education lesson discussing the pros and cons of religion. Pupils at the predominantly Muslim school claimed Mr McLuskey said most suicide bombers were Muslim. But he rejected the allegation and said the school was too quick to sack him without giving him right of reply…The school authorities denied they were being heavy-handed and said their first priority was pupils’ welfare. “I don’t think it’s important what I think,” said the school’s deputy head teacher Ray Hinds. “It’s what the pupils think that were in the classroom at the time. And they were very upset.”

Uh oh. Wrong. Ding ding. Go back, start over. Being upset is not the same thing as being upset for good reasons. I can vouch for that from my own personal experience. Don’t get dizzy and fall out of your chair, but I have been known to get upset or cross or bad-tempered for insufficient or bad or downright batty reasons. I have known other people to have the same problem. I’m going to go right out on a limb here and surmise that it’s not uncommon. Upsetness is not invariably a good or safe guide to what actually happened, or the malice of the other party, or to the intentions of anyone involved. Emotional blackmail is great fun, but it’s not what you’d call epistemically sound.

Buruma again

Feb 10th, 2007 9:36 am | By

More on Buruma. Because after another, slower reading I think the disagreement is not so elusive or subtle after all. There are some things he says that I disagree with quite strongly – though there are other places where it’s the implications of what he says (whether he’s aware of them or not) that I disagree with.

For instance, I wasn’t decided enough about that concluding sentence: ‘A free-spirited citizen does not tolerate different customs or cultures because he thinks they are wonderful, but because he believes in freedom.’ That’s a terrible assertion, because it is so wide open; it could mean anything. ‘Different customs or cultures’ could mean any damn thing, including the most awful tortures and oppressions. Well meaning liberals like Buruma have got to stop saying things like that! Because things like that just provide cover for people who want to go on exploiting or denying rights to or bullying people they always have exploited or bullied – it is their custom. It provides cover to archbishops who want to exclude gays from adoption on no rational grounds, it provides cover to people who want women to self-obliterate.

So let’s get this straight. I don’t in any blanket sense ‘tolerate’ any and all ‘different customs or cultures.’ It depends on which different customs or cultures we’re talking about.

Buruma does proceed to say that in the next paragraph, to be sure, but in doing so he simply contradicts the too wide-open claim he has just made. Why did he make it that way then? I’m seriously curious about that, because it seems so obviously too sweeping. Why would he want to say something obviously too sweeping? To show his heart’s in the right place?

At any rate, after he’s noted that ‘honour killings are murders,’ he goes on to say ‘But these are matters of law enforcement.’

No. I disagree. I disagree utterly. Maybe this is one place where we have a real, substantive disagreement as opposed to one over wording or rhetoric. I completely disagree that honour killings and violence against women and FGM are matters of law enforcement and nothing else (Buruma doesn’t say ‘and nothing else’ but that ‘But’ carries that implication). They are very much also matters of thought, consciousness, awareness; of consciousness raising. It’s much much better (I’d have thought this was obvious) to educate or persuade everyone (yes, everyone) into habits of mind such that they simply don’t think women are supposed to be beaten or genitally mutilated or forcibly married or murdered. The reasons are too many and obvious to enumerate. People who really think they ought not to do those things are less likely to do them than people who merely think they are illegal. And then life in general for women and even for men is a lot happier and more trusting when neither party expects the other to attack it. In short, there is nothing good to say about honour killings or violence against women, so why would it not be part of the agenda to persuade everyone to think so? Saying ‘But these are matters of law enforcement’ seems to deny that.

But if Islamic reform is the goal, then such denunciations are not the best way to achieve it, especially if they come from an avowed atheist. Condemning Islam, without taking the many variations into account, is too indiscriminate. Not every Muslim, not even every orthodox Muslim, is a holy warrior in spe. Isolating the jihadis and fighting their dangerous dogmas is too important to be dealt with by crude polemics.

This may be another substantive disagreement. Buruma there seems to be arguing that it’s only the holy warriors and the jihadis who are the problem. But it’s not. The problem is that Islam does have particular rules or laws relating to women, gays, ‘infidels’ and ‘apostates’ among others. Not just some Islam, but Islam itself. It’s not ‘indiscriminate’ to say that – again, check out the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights.

Bruckner mentions the opening of an Islamic hospital in Rotterdam and reserved beaches for Muslim women in Italy. I fail to see why this is so much more terrible than opening kosher restaurants, Catholic hospitals, or reserved beaches for nudists, but to Bruckner these concessions are akin to segregation in the southern states of America, and even Apartheid in South Africa.

Well, that’s quite a failure. Bruckner is right. These concessions are akin to southern segregation because – yo, Mr Buruma! – segregation is what they’re about. An Islamic hospital is ‘Islamic’ primarily via sexual segregation of doctors, nurses and patients. Reserved beaches for Muslim women are – hello? – segregated beaches. They are, indeed, a form of apartheid, of apartness.

So there it is; I think Buruma is mistaken about some things, and I think he argues his case by avoiding specificity at crucial points; I really dislike that tendency. By all means disagree with me (as plenty of people do in comments), but I think I do spell out what I’m saying. I intend to anyway. Let me know if I’ve obscured anything.

Spell it out

Feb 9th, 2007 12:52 pm | By

John Carter Wood has a different take on Kelek, Buruma and the rest. He thinks Bruckner did a hatchet job on IB and TGA. Maybe so, but I have more reservations about their replies to Bruckner than John does. They’re somewhat elusive reservations though…a matter of sensing, or thinking I sense, implications, of fitting statements into an existing context where they seem to me to take on a significance they wouldn’t have without the context. See what I mean? Elusive stuff. I wonder if I can pin any of it down…

Try Buruma.

Having turned from devout Islamism to atheism, she tends to see religion, and Islam in particular, as the root of all evils, especially of the abuse of women. Cultural traditions, tribal customs, historical antecedents, all of which are highly diverse, even inside the Muslim world, are flattened into a monolithic threat. Islam, as practised in Java, is not the same as in a Moroccan village, or the Sudan, or Rotterdam.

That’s a good example of what I mean. That first sentence is a familiar kind of thing. Atheists get told that kind of thing a lot at the moment, and there’s usually an agenda behind the telling. And I’m not sure I believe his account. Does AHA see religion and Islam as the root of all evils? I don’t know, I haven’t read enough of her work to know, but I wonder if that isn’t just the same kind of canard that gets tossed at Dawkins a lot. So I’m suspicious, doubly suspicious (of the agenda and the accuracy), but I can’t be sure it’s flat wrong. The third sentence is also a familiar kind of thing, and it’s one that’s very popular with defenders of Islam and not terribly popular with critics of Islam, for the reasons that Kelek indicates: in some important ways Islam is ‘the same’ everywhere; that’s why there is such a thing as the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights. There are reasons to think that fact should not be obscured by endless reiteration of the assumption that Islam differs from place to place. To put it another way, it may be true that the practice differs, but if the theory is 1) the same and 2) bad, it is still worth pointing that out. It’s much the same with the pope. Lots of Catholics ignore the pope; very good; that’s not a reason to think the pope is entirely harmless.

In Europe, even the issue of headscarves cannot be treated simply as a symbol of religious bigotry. Some women wear them to ward off male aggression, others because their parents insist on it, and some by their own choice, as a defiant badge of identity, even rebellion. Bruckner admires rebels. Should we only side with rebels whose views and practices we like? Or does living in a free society also imply that people should be able to choose the way they look, or speak, or worship, even if we don’t like it, as long as they don’t harm others? A free-spirited citizen does not tolerate different customs or cultures because he thinks they are wonderful, but because he believes in freedom.

Again – that paragraph seems more reasonable than it is. It’s sly. I’m sorry, but it is. It’s sly because it doesn’t say what ‘the issue of headscarves’ even is. It doesn’t say that the French ban is on headscarves in schools and government jobs, not everywhere, nor that even in a free society people can’t ‘choose the way they look’ in every possible situation and location. The paragraph is incomplete and manipulative and sly in a way that is all too familiar, and I don’t trust it. I don’t trust the intentions. And then in the last few sentences of it it’s all full of questions that desperately need qualification. ‘Should we only side with rebels whose views and practices we like?’ Well, yes, frankly. Depending of course on what is meant by ‘side with’ and ‘rebels’ and ‘like’ – but that’s just it. That’s another familiar ploy – rhetoric about freedom or tolerance or rebels or respect without specification of what is meant. But am I going to ‘side with’ ‘rebels’ who want to beat up women for refusing to move to the back of the bus or put on a niqab? I’m damn well not. Am I going to side with ‘rebels’ who would merely like to persuade women to do those things? No I’m fucking not. I choose my rebels, thanks, I don’t side with all rebels merely as rebels, I side with people I want to side with and I oppose people I don’t want to side with. Why wouldn’t I? Unless by ‘side with’ Buruma simply means something very minimal, but if that’s what he means he should say so. This is why I don’t like his article and why I think he’s being sly. And it’s all like that – full of innuendo and lacking needed specifications. John says it’s ‘carefully argued, well-written and – despite an understandable testiness – thoroughly reasonable.’ But I really don’t think it is. I think it looks that way on the surface, but that it’s terribly underspecified and elusive underneath. I think Buruma is trying to make his case while avoiding spelling out what he means by it – and I really do not trust that kind of thing. Bruckner may have been wrong, but I’m not convinced IB and TGA are right. I’m suspicious.

But then I sometimes overdo the suspicion, so who knows.

Used to be axiomatic among progressives

Feb 8th, 2007 1:53 pm | By

Oliver Kamm coments on that interview David Thompson did with your humble windbag the other day. I know, that was a week ago, but I get behind in these things – deadlines, you know. He wonders about that thing I wondered about and probably Johann wondered about and possibly Jerry wondered about and maybe some other people – people who liked Why Truth Matters for instance – wondered about. What’s a liberal neocon? Who is one?

He says something very good, too, in reply to an inanity from good old ‘Islamophobiawatch:

The only editorial amendment I would make to your headline would be to enclose the word “Islamophobia” in inverted commas, as I have just done. The notion that this fabricated, question-begging and illegitimate term bears any comparison to the great progressive causes of civil rights and opposition to racism is a linguistic feint that should not be allowed to pass by default. Criticism of religious doctrine and practice is an essential part of a free society and a vigorous intellectual culture. That is true for religion in general, and for religions in particular…The principles of the separation of religious and civil authority, and that government should protect the free exercise of religion but not the sensibilities of the faithful, used to be axiomatic among progressives. For some of us (I use the term “progressive” without irony in my case, but with plenty concerning the authors of Islamophobia Watch), they remain so.