Dodgy Ruse

Sep 1st, 2005 1:39 am | By

Michael Ruse is another. Funny, strange, puzzling; something like that. There’s this interview in Salon – which means you have to page through an irritating pictorial (therefore slow to load) ad to read it, which is why I hardly ever link to Salon, but there it is in case you want to read the whole thing. It’s about his latest book and the usual subject – ‘evolutionism’ is religion blah blah.

But he thinks evolutionists must purge themselves of reflexive anti-religious fervor, and acknowledge at least the potential validity of the classic Augustinian position that science and theology can never directly contradict one another, since science can only consider nature and God, by definition, is outside nature. Without this consciousness, Ruse suggests, evolutionism is in fact a secular religion, a church without Christ. And if that’s what it is, what is it doing in biology class?

Okay – science and theology can never directly contradict one another, since science can only consider nature and God, by definition, is outside nature. Fine – but then what is theology, exactly? The study of something that can’t be studied? Inquiry into something that can’t be inquired into? Research in a subject that is incapable of being researched? An ology that has no ology? It has to be. Because if ‘God’ is by definition outside of nature, then we (who are well and truly inside nature) don’t and can’t – by definition – know anything or find out anything about it. Obviously. So then what is the upshot of this position that science and theology can never directly contradict one another? Surely it’s just that one is a field of inquiry and the other is…an empty postulate. A gesturing at something that – by definition, remember – is outside nature and therefore completely inaccessible and unknowable. Well, fine – I’ll buy that. God is outside nature therefore nobody (since all the anybodies we know are part of nature, not outside it) knows anything at all about it and therefore there is nothing whatever to say about it. So why talk about it at all?

But of course that’s not what people mean by God, is it. People mean something they do claim to know a lot about. Well, you can’t do both, as Kingsley Amis so wisely though belatedly said. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say God is outside nature just long enough to shut up the pesky scientists, and then go blithely back to talking bollocks about God when the scientists have gone back to their petri dishes and statistics.

I’m all in favor of social prescriptions, and I’m not knocking anybody for being an atheist…But I want to see what grounds you have for saying that, and whether or not your positions follow from one another. If they do, maybe you should ask yourself, “Am I not being a hypocrite in teaching evolutionary biology in American schools?” Given the fact that it’s clearly illegal. You’re not allowed to teach religion in biology class. I can’t understand why I can’t get through people’s thick skulls on this one. If in fact Darwinian evolutionary theory implies atheism, then you ought not to be teaching it in schools! It’s not good enough to say, “Well, I’m a National Socialist. But the fact that that meant a lot of Jews were hauled off to Auschwitz, that’s not my worry!” It bloody is! If your theory leads to 6 million Jews being made into soap, not only is there something deeply troubling about your theory, but you’ve got a moral obligation to face up to its implications. If this theory leads to atheism, then it’s got religious implications.

I beg your pardon? Thinking evolutionary biology hasn’t turned up any sweet little god-things curled up inside acorns or flying around bottle-brush trees is analogous to making Jews into soap? Is that the best analogy he could think of? Is that a good analogy? Is that even a coherent analogy?

Plus there’s the peculiar argument that if evolutionary theory implies atheism then teaching evolutionary theory is teaching religion. Eh? What he means seems to be something like ‘evolutionary theory does not need or draw on the God hypothesis to explain it therefore it is religion’ – which makes no sense. Besides which, since God is – by definition, remember – outside nature, God can’t have any role to play in evolutionary theory, because that would be dragging something outside nature into something inside nature, thus immediately making it part of nature, therefore no longer God. So…Ruse seems to be claiming that you can’t teach anything except theology in US public schools. If you’re not allowed to teach anything that doesn’t use ‘God’ to explain it – because that is atheism, which is religion, which is not allowed in public schools – then you can teach only theology. Which, we have already found, on Ruse’s own terms, means teaching nothing.

I must be missing something. Ruse isn’t silly. But this whole argument looks to me like just pure having it both ways. Making God transcendent as long as that’s convenient, and then making it part of nature when that is. But it has to be one or the other. It’s either outside nature or inside it, it can’t be both.

Polio and ‘Public Figures’

Aug 30th, 2005 8:12 pm | By

Here we have a media watch item. A rather strange one.

I noticed it late yesterday when I posted this item on the polio outbreak in Indonesia (dated today but I saw and posted it yesterday my time – today UK time). I noticed something missing that I was pretty sure I had seen in previous BBC articles on the subject – a paragraph on how the outbreak was thought to have started. Previous articles had, I thought, mentioned the fact that Muslim clerics in norther Nigeria had urged people not to get vaccinated (and not to vaccinate their children – with horrible results) because the vaccine was contaminated in a US plot. That item wasn’t in this latest article. Later yesterday, I listened to the World Service, which reported the same story. This time, the reporter did mention what was thought to be the origin, and did mention northern Nigeria, whereupon I listened very closely – to hear that ‘public figures’ had spoken against the vaccinations. Public figures – period. I was gobsmacked, and outraged. The BBC is now keeping it secret that polio is making a comeback when it had been nearly eradicated, because of stupid, destructive clerical behavior? Keeping it secret on the World Service, which could be listened to precisely by people who might very well need to know that? Why?? And how can they?!

Allen Esterson noticed the same lacuna, and emailed me about it, with links to further sources that were not as forthright as they ought to have been – including UN sources. He also emailed the BBC, he told me. Well, they may have paid attention. (Perhaps other people noticed and emailed too. One can hope.) The story has been updated, and the paragraph is now there.

The country was free of the disease for 10 years – but in March 2005 a 20-month-old boy in Java was infected. Since then more than 200 polio cases have been reported in the country. Officials believe the outbreak can be traced to Nigeria, where vaccinations were suspended in 2003 after radical clerics said they were a US plot.

I was right about having seen the paragraph in previous articles, I found – this one from July 22 for instance.

Okay, Beeb, well done for correcting it on the screen. Now, include it in World Service broadcasts too, okay? Never mind ‘offending’ people: this is life or death, paralysis or non-paralysis. Don’t mess around.

Can You Say ‘Average’?

Aug 30th, 2005 7:10 pm | By

Oh, come on, Beeb – can’t you write headlines better than that? “‘Men cleverer than women’ claim”? “Academics in the UK claim their research shows that men are more intelligent than women.”? Come on – pull your socks up, or get on your bike, or something.

A study to be published later this year in the British Journal of Psychology says that men are on average five points ahead on IQ tests.

Hello? That’s not the same thing as saying ‘men are more intelligent than women’? At all? Surely, surely, you know that, if you think about it for five seconds. Think of the stupidest man you know. Now think of the cleverest woman you know. Is he more intelligent than she is? I rest my case.

But, maybe they really don’t know that. It is a common mistake. I heard Andrew Marr make it a few months ago, and he’s not thick – in fact he’s probably one of those men who are more intelligent than quite a few other men. But he said to Steve Pinker on ‘Start the Week’ that Larry Summers had said ‘men are better at science than women.’ I let out one of those exasperated whines one does let out when hearing people say stupid things on major media outlets: ‘That’s not what he said!’ and Steve Pinker said wearily, ‘That’s not what he said.’ But if Marr got it wrong, the chances are that most people get it wrong. The comments on that BBC article seem to confirm that, too – hardly anyone points out the mistake.

That’s quite tragic, really. It could mean that most people actually do think that all men indeed are more intelligent than all women. How depressing.

Rights and Conventions

Aug 29th, 2005 10:36 pm | By

Something Norm said today that I’ve been wondering about. I can’t quite figure out how it works…

There’s a sense in which all concepts are social constructs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean – though it sometimes does mean – that what the concepts refer to are merely a matter of convention, of moral and cultural context, or what have you. It is true that some of the rights a person enjoys are a consequence of belonging to a particular community (your right to a British passport), or are relative to a given status she enjoys (as an old age pensioner), or the result of his past actions (as the party to a contract of sale). But there are other rights which a person possesses simply in virtue of being a human being. This is why we call them basic human rights. The right against being tortured is one of them. Even the most repugnant of individuals and those guilty of grave crimes, equally those merely suspected of some crime, share with everyone else the right not to be tortured. So the policy of not returning people to countries in which they face the danger of being subjected to torture ought to be upheld and defended.

There’s a whole large literature about this, of which I have read perhaps a page or two, so I’m stumbling around in the dark here, but – I don’t see how human rights can be anything other than a matter of convention. I don’t see how they can be anything other than social. Suppose you’re in a canoe paddling up a river (I read an account of just such a situation by an Australian philosopher once) and you’re attacked by a crocodile. You have a human right not to be tortured, which the crocodile is flagrantly disregarding. And – what? Nothing. What do human rights mean in such a situation? Nothing, that I can see. Surely human rights depend – quite heavily – on enforcement, laws, protection, recognition. So surely as a matter of brute fact, it is the case that all the rights a person enjoys are a consequence of belonging to a particular community – if they are real rights that she really does enjoy, at least, as opposed to being rights that no one in her world pays the smallest attention to. Some societies – a lot of them, actually, unfortunately – don’t respect human rights, or respect some but not others. Some human rights appear to be doomed for the foreseeable future in Iraq, thanks to the role of Islam in the constitution. So in what sense are rights not conventional? What does it mean to possess rights that are not enforced? Is it just a way of referring to rights we think people ought to have? I certainly have no problem with that; I’ve been talking about violations of [what ought to be] women’s rights in Niger, Pakistan, Guatemala, China, all over the place lately. But even then I don’t see how that makes such rights not a convention. We think women ought to have them, other people don’t; we can’t hold up anything labeled ‘human rights’ to show the other people and silence them once and for all. I wish we could, but we can’t.

Update: Norm points out that I don’t actually disagree with him after all. Since I said in an email message, “But I don’t mean that I think rights are a ‘mere’ convention – I’m happy to say they’re more than a convention – but I don’t see how they can escape being a convention too” – when he had said in the post I was wondering about, “There’s a sense in which all concepts are social constructs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean – though it sometimes does mean – that what the concepts refer to are merely a matter of convention, of moral and cultural context, or what have you.” (emphasis added) Well don’t I feel silly. I’m not quite sure whether I talked myself into something, or simply ignored the word ‘merely’ the first time and thus misread him* – but either way I’m a simp. Oh well. I quite enjoy talking about what kind of thing rights are, so it doesn’t matter – apart from disagreeing with Norm when I didn’t of course. But I have a right to be forgiven, so I’m sure I will be.

*Close reading! How many times do I have to tell you!

Sense and Sensitivity

Aug 29th, 2005 6:35 pm | By

Galloway’s a funny guy. Maybe not as funny as Pat Robertson (‘I didn’t say “assassinate”!’ ‘Okay I’m sorry, I’m rilly sorry, I was just in a mood that day.’) but still pretty funny. Okay not really funny, more like disgusting, but I get so tired of pointing out how disgusting people are. Still – he is.

Mr Galloway, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, said TV executives had to be “very sensitive about people’s religion” and if broadcasters did not show sufficient sensitivity they “had to deal with the consequences”. He said: “You have to be aware if you do [offend people’s beliefs] you will get blowback. You should do it very carefully, especially if you are a public service broadcaster.”

Thenthitive. They have to be thenthitive – and if they’re not thenthitive enough, then blam! Okay? Got that? Be thenthitive or I’ll kill you.

Rushdie called him on it, as well he might.

“Is that a threat?” asked Rushdie during the debate at the Media Guardian Edinburgh international television festival. Describing Mr Galloway’s argument as “craven”, the author said: “The simple fact is that any system of ideas that decides you have to ringfence it, that you cannot discuss it in fundamental terms, that you can’t say that this bit of it is junk, or that bit is oppressive … we are supposed to respect that?”

It’s craven, it’s stupid, it’s mindless, and it means we can’t discuss things properly. Which is pretty much how things are: there are all sorts of subjects that don’t get discussed properly because there’s way too much senstivity about ‘people’s beliefs’. A lot of people believe that women should be subordinated, locked up, owned, and without rights, and a lot of other people who don’t believe that nevertheless keep silent on the subject out of brain-dead sensitivity to ‘beliefs’. Call it Gallowayism, if you like, or hypertrophy respectis.

Sad about Kashmir.

“I have a deep feeling for Kashmir, and I just had to write this book,” Rushdie said. “[But] it’s very hard to write about real events. It becomes unbearable. The challenge in writing this book was: how do you write about these things bearably without sweetening the pill?” Rushdie said Kashmir had changed since the 1950s and 1960s. “There was no radical Islam in Kashmir then – it was pacifist, Sufist – and it had nothing to do with jihad. But in the last half century this terrible fundamentalism has got hold of the region.”

Like so many regions. Terrible nightmare – and not one to be respectful or sensitive about; one to be resisted and fought.

‘Gender Segregation’

Aug 28th, 2005 9:42 pm | By

I was going to say more about Juan Cole anyway, because a further point had occurred to me – a further bit of peculiar, evasive rhetoric. So it’s all the more motivating that commenters think I’ve misread him. I don’t think I have – not in the Vincent post. Cole may well be a great source of information in general, but I think this particular post is baaaad.

A little repetition here.

Clueless Americans don’t understand the principle of gender segregation for the most part, and if they do understand it they are horrified by it. But in large swathes of the world, it just is not considered right for a male to be in the company of an unrelated female. It isn’t just a matter of sleeping around, as my wingnut correspondents assume. It is being alone in the company of an unrelated man or woman, and having that be known publicly. Male honor is invested in the protection of the virginity of female relatives…Clueless Americans don’t understand gender segregation, and they don’t understand clan honor as practiced in most Arab societies. We American men aren’t dishonored in particular if our sisters sleep around, though I suppose in high school it can’t be pleasant for a guy to have everyone taunt him that his sister is a slut. But in Arab culture, a brother can’t show his face in public if his sister is known to be a slut.

There is one hell of a lot of bad faith in that passage. Notice the phrase ‘gender segregation,’ for instance. What does that sound like? Oh…maybe a school with separate classes for boys and girls, something like that. At any rate a system that is neutral between the two genders: both are segregated, both are separated, both get on with their lives. But of course that’s not the arrangement he is describing with that anodyne phrase. No. The system in question is one in which women are imprisoned; confined to home, required to ask permission from a male relative in order to leave the house, required to wear a tent when they do go out, while men are not confined to home, not required to ask anyone’s permission to go out, allowed to dress in clothes that don’t impede their movement or suffocate them. In which men are allowed to live generally free lives, to work, to go where they like – except for private houses where women are confined – and women emphatically and comprehensively are not. ‘Gender segregation’ doesn’t really characterize such a system accurately – the phrase gives a misleading impression.

Then notice the unmarked shift he makes. He starts out pretending to be gender-neutral, then suddenly in the fifth sentence, things change. ‘Male honor is invested in the protection of the virginity of female relatives…’ Ah. So it’s not symmetrical after all. It’s not about both genders. Female honor is not invested in the protection of the virginity of male relatives. No, it’s just male honor, and female virginity. But that’s not ‘gender segregation’ then, is it – it’s female segregation. So why did Cole euphemize it? Because…he wants ‘clueless Americans’ to accept it as routine and normal and not a problem? I don’t know. But the point is, euphemize it he did. He also completely failed to mention the fact that plenty of women in those ‘large parts of the world’ that have ‘gender segregation’ hate it and want to be free of it. It’s not just ‘clueless Americans’ who find the segregation and subordination of women repulsive.

And then notice one more shift. ‘But in Arab culture, a brother can’t show his face in public if his sister is known to be a slut.’ He doesn’t use scare quotes on the word, or say ‘thought to be a slut,’ or dissociate himself from the nasty idea in any way. And more than that – all he’s been talking about in this passage is unrelated people of opposite sexes being in each other’s company. So he is apparently accepting the idea that a woman who has been in the company of an unrelated man is a slut. And then (he managed to pack a hell of a lot of nasty stuff in that one brief passage) he appears to endorse the idea that a woman who ‘sleeps around’ (meaning not defined) is a ‘slut’ – while a man is not. Men are people who are shamed if their sisters ‘sleep around’ and are ‘sluts’ while women are people who shame men if they ‘sleep around’ and are ‘sluts.’ Period. It’s all a tad asymmetrical – and just a tiny bit misogynist. Frankly.

The whole system of clans, clan honor, and the investment of male honor in the protection of the chastity of females may be horrific. But it is the norm in much of the world (it operates to some extent in parts of Africa, in South Asia and in Central Asia, as well). Not understanding and respecting it can get you killed when you are out there.

A couple of readers said he was just describing, just giving a warning. That passage looks more like a somewhat neutral warning (although the ‘may be’ is odd, given how often the women end up dead, and how stunted and deprived their lives are in the process of all this aggressive ‘protection’), but given what he said in the first quoted passage and much of the rest of the post, I don’t buy it. I don’t think that is all he was doing. If it is all he was doing, then he did a damn bad job of it.

Independent Letters

Aug 27th, 2005 8:07 pm | By

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

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

And today this from Raza Griffiths along with several more:

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

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

We Had to Destroy the Woman to Save Her

Aug 27th, 2005 2:41 am | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The guy’s a piece of work.

‘Messianic-hysterical extremism’

Aug 26th, 2005 7:43 pm | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sounds like that South Carolinian utopia we heard about recently.

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

Dreams can be nightmares…

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

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

Colin Blakemore

Aug 25th, 2005 2:28 am | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hands Off the Sorghum

Aug 24th, 2005 11:18 pm | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vulnerable doesn’t even describe it.

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

Family values.

You Call That a Campaign?

Aug 24th, 2005 12:00 am | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexandra Simonon has a good reply on the Letters page.

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

And Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society has another.

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

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

Society for the Prevention of Kindness

Aug 23rd, 2005 8:33 pm | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pat’s a Sweetie

Aug 23rd, 2005 7:33 pm | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, is that controversial? People are so picky.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Have a Problem

Aug 23rd, 2005 2:20 am | By

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

Much food for thought. John Ware:

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

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

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

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

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

Ah yes, that is sad. Sacranie goes on:

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

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

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

Peering into the Gap

Aug 22nd, 2005 2:24 am | By

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

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

Pharyngula has a comment on the book from last week.

Chris Mooney is trying to kill me.

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

Don’t worry, be happy.

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

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

More on this subject later.

The Wrong Socks

Aug 21st, 2005 11:13 pm | By

More discussion of multiculturalism:

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

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

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

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

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

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

They Don’t Get Out Much, You See

Aug 20th, 2005 2:18 am | By

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

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

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

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

The BBC has more.

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

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

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

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

Eternal Recurrence

Aug 19th, 2005 8:53 pm | By

Not again.

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

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

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

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

Surplus to Requirements

Aug 19th, 2005 2:18 am | By

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

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


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

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

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

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

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