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.

More Sen

Jul 27th, 2006 5:38 pm | By

Harmonic convergence time. I mentioned I’m reading that book of Amartya Sen’s (very slowly, you’ll notice as I give page numbers, but that’s because I’m reading other things too, also because I want to read it slowly – okay it’s because I don’t read well). It’s all, so far anyway, very ‘aha’ kind of reading (which is why I want to read it slowly) – just ‘aha, aha,’ every sentence, with no anecdotal stuff in between to give you a chance to read without going ‘aha’. In other words it’s one of those books that says very eloquently exactly what you already think so you keep sort of twitching like something in a cruel electric experiment. I knew it would be that kind of book, but it is, all the same. I gave an especially violent twitch while reading what he says about ‘faith’ schools in the UK, and resolved to do another N&C quoting that part. And while doing News found this article in the Telegraph.

[Sen] felt that Tony Blair’s government, for which he had voted, had unwittingly made two serious policy blunders – increasingly encouraging a society in which the ethnic minorities and especially Muslims were defined almost exclusively by their religion and endorsing the establishment of faith schools…Although he wanted mainstream British schools to broaden their curriculum to include more on the contribution of, say, Muslim mathematicians to science, he added that faith schools “are a pretty bad thing. Educationally, it’s not good for the child. From the point of view of national unity, it’s dreadful because, even before a child begins to think, it’s being defined by its ‘community’, which is primarily religion.

Well, see, that’s exactly one of the bits I was going to quote in here. Because I think he’s right, right, right, and I think everyone should listen and heed. Page 13:

Despite our diverse diversities, the world is suddenly seen not as a collection of people, but as a federation of religions and civilizations. In Britain a confounded view of what a multiethnic society must do has led to encouraging the development of state-financed Muslim schools, Hindu schools, Sikh schools, etc, to supplement pre-existing state-supported Christian schools, and young children are powerfully placed in the domain of singular affiliations well before they have the ability to reason about different systems of identification that may compete for their attention.

Which is exactly what Richard Dawkins says – very rightly, in my view – about children and religion: they have it forced on them long before they have the ability to reason about the subject, and the subject needs to be reasoned about. That’s what Sen is arguing (to a chorus of ‘aha’s from me): that it is both possible and necessary to reason about what we consider our identity, what we want to make a priority and what we don’t, what matters more than what. That it is crucial to be aware that it is a choice, and that it is a choice that can be reasoned about: our freedom and our ability to reason are both important here, and are both available to us, but only if we are aware of them and do make use of them. ‘Faith’ schools work to entrench the opposite idea: that we don’t get to choose, and that it’s not a matter of reason or choice but one of inheritance.

“We have many different identities because we belong to many different groups,” he said. “We are connected with our profession, occupation, class, gender, political views and language, literature, taste in music, involvement in social issues – and also religion. But just to separate out religion as one singularly important identity that has over-arching importance is a mistake. One of the problems of what is happening in Britain today is that one identity, the religious identity, has been taken to represent almost everything.” He argued: “Of course, this policy immediately has the effect of making some people extremely privileged – those who speak in the name of religion. There may be some moderate people but mostly they are extremists who appeal by saying, ‘Forget everything else, you are a Muslim’…This is a point of view that Islamic terrorists share with western theorists who define human beings only in terms of their religion because both agree that if you are Muslim, then that is your primary identity.”

He’s talking at the Institute of Public Policy Research, the Asia Society, the Nehru Centre and the Institute of Contemporary Arts. I’d go if I were in London.

Sen on Identity and Violence

Jul 26th, 2006 11:30 pm | By

Now for what I was planning to do this morning before I got all, erm, anxious. I’m reading Amartya Sen’s Identity and Violence – as is Sunny – and I wanted just to quote some.

“Given our inescapably plural identities, we have to decide on the relative importance of our different associations and affiliations in any particular context. Central to leading a human life, therefore, are the responsibilities of choice and reasoning. In contrast, violence is promoted by the cultivation of a sense of inevitability about some allegedly unique – often bellligerent – identity that we are supposed to have and which apparently makes extensive demands of us (sometimes of a most disagreeable kind). The imposition of an allegedly unique identity is often a crucial component of the ‘martial art’ of fomenting sectarian confrontation.” p. xii

“With suitable instigation, a fostered sense of identity with one group of people can be made into a powerful weapon to brutalize another…The art of constructing hatred takes the form of invoking the magical power of some allegedly predominant identity that drowns other affiliations, and in a conveniently bellicose form can also overpower any human sympathy or natural kindness that we may normally have.” p. xv

“What we need, above all, is a clear-headed understanding of the importance of the freedom that we can have in determining our priorities. And, related to that understanding, we need an appropriate recognition of the role and efficacy of reasoned public voice – within nations and across the world.” p. xvii

Truth Does Matter

Jul 26th, 2006 10:55 pm | By

This is absolutely fascinating.

When the University of Colorado moved last month to fire Ward Churchill, there was not much of an organized defense among professors – even among those in the academic left. That may be changing, although some believe it shouldn’t change and risks devaluing what the academic left stands for.

Sound belief. Because if the academic left turns out to stand for left more than for academic, then it does indeed risk devaluing what the academic left stands for. If you’re an academic (as opposed to an advertiser, or a public relations expert, or a movie-maker, or a novelist) you’ve undertaken a commitment not to let your leftism or rightism trump your academic responsibility, which is first of all to get at the truth as best you can. It is certainly not to claim that fraud and plagiarism should be overlooked if they are detected under unfortunate circumstances.

The debate might be summed up in an analogy offered by one of the faculty panels that reviewed Churchill and found that he committed, intentionally, all kinds of research misconduct. Committee members said that they were uncomfortable with the fact that Colorado ignored serious allegations against Churchill for years, and took them seriously only when his politics attracted attention. The panel compared the situation to one in which a motorist is stopped for speeding because a police officer doesn’t like the bumper sticker on her car. If she was speeding, she was speeding — regardless of the officer’s motives, the panel said. A group of professors…have joined forces to say that the officer’s motives do matter, and may matter more than the speeding. And they are organizing a petition drive, drawing support from some big-name academics, against Churchill’s dismissal.

Very few big-name academics, though. At least so far. But there is one big name that got my attention: Andrew Ross. Ross makes a cameo appearance in Why Truth Matters, saying some – hmm – provocative things about the truth-value of science.

Others on the left disagree. Campus Progress, published to provide a liberal take on issues for college students, came out against Churchill last week, releasing an article that said: “Progressive advocates of academic freedom should not rally to Churchill’s side. They should oppose the targeting of professors for their beliefs, even vile ones like Churchill’s. But the charges against Churchill justify his termination because fraud and plagiarism, as much as censorship, threaten academic integrity.”

Just so. And having scholars get up a petition that makes fraud and plagiarism a matter of academic freedom does not do much to protect academic integrity.

“I support his right to academic freedom, but not his right to plagiarize, not his right to create a fraudulent identity, nor his right to do faulty research,” said Oneida Meranto, a professor of political science and director of Native American studies…[S]he is also among a number of Native American scholars who for years have been complaining about the quality of Churchill’s scholarship. But the left, and specifically the white left in academe, didn’t much care about all of these problems until some saw him as an academic freedom case, Meranto said. There are academic freedom issues in his case, she said, and she’s not entirely comfortable with the way it has been handled. But she added that she would “not support Ward Churchill – the man or the myth” and that it was unfair for “academic freedom absolutists” to portray Churchill as a cause around which others should rally.

There you go. She doesn’t support his right to plagiarize, nor his right to do faulty research. Nor should she, nor should the rest of the left.

So long as it’s this hot

Jul 26th, 2006 6:30 pm | By

Never mind. I thought B&W was about to be closed down due to circumstances beyond my control.

Life is precarious you know. You never know when that piano is going to fall on your head.

Not That Kind of Faith, the Other Kind

Jul 26th, 2006 1:20 am | By

And then this review of books on science and religion. This ploy again:

Nowadays, when legislation supporting promising scientific research falls to religious opposition…scientists have to be brave to talk about religion. Not to denounce it, but to embrace it. That is what Francis S. Collins, Owen Gingerich and Joan Roughgarden have done in new books, taking up one side of the stormy argument over whether faith in God can coexist with faith in the scientific method.

Stop right there. That’s the same equivocation Mary Gordon used at that ‘Faith and Reason’ conference.

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

Faith in God is not the same kind of faith as faith in ‘the scientific method’ just as none of Gordon’s cited versions of faith are straightforwardly ‘belief in the unseen’. There is an immense amount of evidence that ‘the scientific method’ works, so belief that it works is not the same kind of belief as belief that God exists, for which there is no real evidence at all. It’s sly and tricksy to pretend the two things are the same kind of thing.

PZ has a great post on the review at Pharungula.

More Godbothering

Jul 26th, 2006 1:06 am | By

Creeping theocracy, chapter 472. There’s the court-stripping, and that park in San Diego for instance.

Perhaps you noticed an interesting confluence of events on Wednesday, July 19. On that day, President Bush vetoed legislation that would have authorized the expanded use of federal funds for stem-cell research, the House of Representatives voted to enact legislation depriving the federal courts of jurisdiction to hear any case challenging the constitutionality of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the House voted to purchase a municipal park in San Diego on which a 29-foot-high cross stands.

Impressive stuff, isn’t it. Very grown-up, very rational, very sane.

In vetoing the bill that would have funded stem-cell research, President Bush invoked what he termed a “conflict between science and ethics.” But what, exactly, is the “ethical” side of this conflict? Clearly, it derives from the belief that an embryo smaller than a period on this page is a “human life” – indeed, a human life that is as valuable as those of living, breathing, suffering children…What the President describes neutrally as “ethics” is simply his own, sectarian religious belief.

Yeah, that’s a good one – ‘a conflict between science and ethics’ when he means ‘a conflict between science and my irrational conviction.’ But it’s typical of course. Religious believers have a real knack for assuming they are the only people who ever think about ethics and morality. Hence the feverish need to buy little parks on the opposite edge of the country, just in case we run out of 29-foot crosses some day.

Well No Kidding

Jul 25th, 2006 8:09 pm | By

There’s an oddity in that piece in the Indy yesterday about Stephen Hawking’s rebuke of the reactionaries on the stem cell question.

President Bush and some religious authorities, notably the Catholic Church, argue that the microscopic, four-day-old embryos from which stem cells are derived are potential human lives.

Is that right? I don’t think it is. Because surely everyone argues or rather simply takes it for granted that any embryos, four day old or four second old, are potential human lives. We know that – that’s not disputed. What’s disputed is what follows from that; what’s disputed is whether potential human lives should be as protected as actual human lives. So – why did the reporters put that ‘potential’ in there? To make Bush and the Catholic church sound more rational and reasonable than they are? To make people who disagree with them sound less rational and reasonable than they are? A little of both? Don’t know, but it’s odd.


Jul 25th, 2006 6:46 pm | By

I’m not in a position to dispute the substance of this snide review of Hirsi Ali’s book due to the small inconvenience that I haven’t read the book that the snide review is a review of. But what I can do (and will) is point out the snideness, and the markers of same. (Now, you’ll be thinking, ‘But OB, you go in for a certain amount of mockery yourself on occasion, so do you not pause to murmur to yourself about stones and glass dwelling places?’ Fair point. Yes, I do pause, but not for long, for the simple reason that I have invincible Feelings of Superiority – I’ve been told that on very mediocre authority. No actually that’s not why my pause is briefer than that of a hummingbird; the reason is rather that there is a considerable difference between Notes and Comment and the New Statesman. I curb my mockery when writing for publication in places other than Notes and Comment. Also, frankly, I do a better job of it. Dispute me if you will.)

Snideness. Markers.

It’s obviously what I’ve been waiting for all my life: a secular crusader – armed with Enlightenment philosophy, the stamp of the liberal establishment and the promise of sexual freedom – swooping into my harem and liberating me from my “ignorant”, “uncritical”, “dishonest” and “oppressed” Muslim existence. At least that is what Ayaan Hirsi Ali thinks I’ve been waiting for.

Secular crusader, the stamp of the liberal establishment (what the hell is that? and what rock concert does it get you into?), swooping, my harem – and a very odd conjecture as to what Hirsi Ali thinks presented as a fact.

She soon became a prominent and controversial politician, a brown face made welcome by her shrill denunciations of Islam…However, the publication of The Caged Virgin couldn’t have come at a worse time for Hirsi Ali, a woman who has built her career on portraying herself as a victim.

Shrill – cf. ‘strident’. And as for the career built on self-portrayal as victim – I would have thought the career was built on a considerable amount of courage along with refusal of victimhood.

Now that doubt has been cast on the personal history Hirsi Ali relies on to give her arguments authority, her new book reads more like a whimper than a bang.

Shrill…victim…whimper. It’s all belittling stuff – and sexistly belittling at that; it’s unfortunate when women use sexist rhetoric and epithets against other women. It’s a wonder Alam doesn’t call her a bitch.

Hirsi Ali is not breaking new ground. Others, such as the controversial Fatima Mernissi and Leila Ahmed, have been here before, except their work is meatier, making reference to classical texts and engaging in important historical debates.

That’s not so much snide as, in my view, mistaken, even if it’s true. Hirsi Ali doesn’t have to be breaking new ground; she could be just publicizing existing ideas and research, for instance that of Mernissi and Ahmed; more people (at least in certain places) will read her book than will read theirs; there is a place for polemics and simply making existing material more widely known.

These brave women sadly do not have the luxuries of monetary resources, bodyguards, spin-doctors and PR agencies that she takes for granted.

That she takes for granted? Really? Does that seem likely, given Hirsi Ali’s history? She started out doing menial work in the Netherlands, after all. And as for bodyguards – she wouldn’t need them if it weren’t for the death threats, so it’s a bit much to throw them in her face.

It’s all rather nasty, and rather long on sneering and short on substance. Geoff Coupe (who alerted me to the review) has a good comment here – and he has read the book, so is in a better position to argue.

I can well imagine that if, as Hirsi Ali did, I worked as an interpreter in abortion clinics and refuges for battered women, then I might see the world through a jaundiced eye, but that does not remove the reality of those observations and experiences. One chapter entitled ‘Four Women’s Lives’ gives the stage to others to tell their story. One of the strengths of Hirsi Ali’s book is that she does provide the source references to her claims – although Alam sneers that: “she provides little evidence to back up her claims that the Muslim woman is a caged virgin – sexualised, segregated, denied human rights – and that Islamic theology is responsible for this”. Really, I wonder whether we’ve actually read the same book.

Anyone want to write a review for B&W? Geoff?

Do You See Any Misogyny?

Jul 24th, 2006 9:03 pm | By

I don’t see any misogyny. Do you see any misogyny?

Afghanistan’s notorious Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which was set up by the Taliban to enforce bans on women doing anything from working to wearing nail varnish or laughing out loud, is to be re-created by the government in Kabul. The decision has provoked an outcry among women and human rights activists who fear a return to the days when religious police patrolled the streets, beating or arresting any woman who was not properly covered by a burqa or accompanied by a male relative.

Whores. Putains. They just want to go outside and walk around and work and do stuff. They even want to laugh aloud! Can you believe it?

“This is a very bad idea at a bad time,” said Sam Zia-Zarifi, the Asia research director of Human Rights Watch. “We’re close to the edge in Afghanistan. It really could all go wrong and it is alarming that the United Nations and western governments are not speaking out on this issue.”…“They haven’t even bothered to change the name,” said Malalai Joya, a courageous female MP whose outspokenness means she has to travel with bodyguards and move every day because of threats to her life. Joya, 28, was physically attacked in parliament in May after she criticised warlords.

Well what kind of whore gets herself elected as an MP and be’s outspoken and criticizes warlords? With whores like that around, of course it’s time for some Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice – duh.

“In my opinion what we have in power under the mask of democracy are the brothers of Taliban — fundamentalists, warlords and drug lords,” she added. “Our country is under the shadow of their black hands. They are against women and re-creating the [department] is proof of this.” Afghan women recall with horror the department’s religious police who ruthlessly enforced restrictions on women and men through public beatings and imprisonment under Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001. Women were publicly beaten for wearing white shoes or heels that clicked; using lipstick; or going outside unaccompanied by a close male relative. The department banned women from educating their daughters in home-based schools as well as working or begging, leaving thousands of widows with no means of supporting their families.

So they starved; big deal. What else should happen to whores?

The government’s decision to re-create the Taliban religious police is seen by critics as the most shocking in a series of backward steps designed to appease conservatives.

Backward steps all over the place, from reinstating the Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice to deciding to keep forced marriage legal at the behest of the [expletive] MCB. Backward backward backward.

What Misogyny?

Jul 24th, 2006 8:47 pm | By

Misogyny? What misogyny?

The lives of young women might be ruined by the Government’s failure to make forced marriages illegal, a senior police officer has warned. Commander Steve Allen of the Metropolitan Police said that a decision by ministers last month to drop proposed legislation had been greeted by some ethnic minorities as a signal that forced marriage was acceptable. His concern about the about-turn, which was partly prompted by fears that the new law would stigmatise Muslims, is shared by a Crown Prosecution Service director and the head of Scotland Yard’s Homicide Prevention Unit. The head of a South Asian women’s charity said yesterday that girls were already suffering the consequences of the decision.

A couple of questions. Why is there more worry about possible stigmatization of Muslims than there is about the wrecked lives of women? And why is there such a worry anyway when the new law was intended to help (among others) Muslims – Muslim girls and women subject to forced marriage?

Although the proposal was welcomed by many victims’ groups, some organisations complained that it would increase racial segregation. The Muslim Council of Britain gave a warning that such a law might become “another way to stigmatise our communities”.

Oh. That’s why. Because the MCB piped up, that’s why. And when the MCB speaks, unfortunately, the gummint listens. Victims’ groups can welcome all they like, but if the MCB squawks about ‘our communities’ – well that’s that. Misogyny? What Misogyny?

Mr Allen, who tackles honour-related violence…, told The Times: “…For me the persuasive argument is about the message we send out. We have already received feedback from community groups suggesting that the decision not to make it a criminal offence means it must be all right.”…Nazir Afzal, the Crown Prosecution Service director for London West, said that a new law would have helped campaigners in minority communities to stamp out forced marriage. “I have heard it said that a new criminal offence would be just another stick to beat the Muslim community with, but my belief is that we should be carrying our own stick,” he said…”I hear dialogue from victims but I don’t hear a great deal from Muslim men.”…Jasvinder Sanghera, of the Nirvana Asian Women’s Project, which helps victims, said: “A new criminal offence would have given the victims the power to say to their family, ‘You can’t do this to me. It’s against the law.’ It’s a chance missed and it’s already doing damage. Political correctness is not an excuse for moral blindness.”

Read the whole article; read it and wonder yet again why the MCB outweighs Jasvinder Sanghera and Nazir Afzal.


Jul 24th, 2006 8:20 pm | By

Want to read this book. I’m intensely and permanently interested in misogyny, and where it comes from and why it’s so pervasive and universal and chronic and hard to get rid of.

You see, darling, I could have said, lots and lots of grown-up men don’t like women. For as long as there have been two genders, men have made enormous efforts to enforce and institutionalise the oppression of the female. Even in a supposedly enlightened and “post-feminist” society such as ours, hatred of women stinks out the whole shooting-match like a bad drain. Young women are bitches and sluts who absolutely force men to rape them by not wearing enough clothes. Old women are either invisible or grotesque, and when they get too old to shag, they have the temerity to take a man’s money if he goes off in search of something fresher.

Because men, of course, as we all know, never get too old to shag, hence all those Hollywood movies (written directed and produced by men) featuring men in their sixties and seventies pairing up with gorgeous women in their twenties. Harrison Ford, Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Woody Allen, they’re all out there collecting the glowing glimmering sparkling women age 25. Women are not people but consumer goods – when they get a little worn and chipped you’re supposed to trade them in for a newer one. Misogyny is pervasive and universal and chronic and hard to get rid of.

Every year, an estimated 5,000 women are murdered globally by their own relations for damaging the family “honour”. Millions of girls have their clitorises cut off and their labia stitched together. Millions more are expected to go about their lawful occasions shrouded from head to foot.

Millions are forcibly married to men not of their own choosing. Millions are aborted. Many millions are raped, beaten, coerced, exploited, overworked and underpaid.

This prejudice, he says, is the oldest of the lot, and runs so deep that it is almost invisible. “Was there,” he wonders, “a women’s history BC — ‘before contempt’?” If so, he has not found it…Misogyny is “a Gordian knot of interwoven dependencies” and can be attributed to the basic natural differences between men and women. But as Katharine Hepburn says in The African Queen, “Nature, Mr Allnut, is what we are put into this world to rise above.”

Damn right. Be careful not to hold your breath while waiting though.

External Resources

Cool School

Jul 23rd, 2006 11:35 pm | By

St Luke’s sounds like a fun school, doesn’t it?

The National Secular Society and Liberal Democrat peers used the Human Rights Act to force New Labour to give pupils over the age of 16 the right to boycott school assemblies. The climbdown followed a revolt by children at St Luke’s, a Catholic sixth-form college in Bexley, south London. They signed a petition that said their faith school was ‘more concerned with religion than education’…Instead of learning about computing, the use of English and other fripperies, pupils heard gruesome lectures at assembly from one Barbara McGuigan, an American anti-abortionist and founder of Voice of Virtue International.

Voice of Virtue International – that’s good, isn’t it? We are virtue and you are not. I know people like that – people who are brilliant at pointing out the faults of other people, ever on the alert to find a new one to make a fuss about, always wide awake and keen as mustard to spot any little foolishness or mistake or mere eccentricity – while being blind as a whole Arizona cave full of bats to their own glaring faults – one of which is in fact this propensity for playing Spot the Boo-boo and Then Point it Out. The Voice of Virtue International is also reminiscent of people who think, or assume, that whatever they think is synonymous with virtue (or kindness, justice, compassion, benevolence) and whatever people who disagree with them think is the other thing. I must say, I wish I had thought of founding something called the Voice of Virtue International. An opportunity wasted. Maybe it’s not too late – maybe I’ll found The Voice of Perfection International. You guys can join but I’ll be the most Perfect.

The head, who has since been suspended, also made them carry a statue of the Virgin Mary around the college while singing hymns and excluded for a day pupils who refused to attend Mass.

Yup – sounds like a fun school all right.

More From the ‘Community Leaders’

Jul 22nd, 2006 11:53 pm | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Repulsive stuff.

*thanks to Paul of Pulpmovies for the link.

Stop Her!

Jul 22nd, 2006 7:59 pm | By

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

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

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