May 15, 2013
May 10, 2013
Despite the federal government’s efforts to keep this debate from happening, we apparently are going to be having a big national debate about abortion. (For those following from outside the borders of Former Soviet Canuckistan, Canada doesn’t actually have any abortion law on the books at the moment, and Stephen Harper’s government of “bitter-clinging, right-wing, Bible-thumping, fundamentalist Christian” Conservatives is desperate not to have to bring one in.) Colby Cosh explains why the efforts by some back-bench MPs to use “gendercide” as a way to force the government’s hand won’t work:
Here, then, is my contribution to the big conversation.
(1) “Gendercide” is incoherent religious militancy in cheap drag. (Editors certainly shouldn’t be taking sides by putting it in headlines as if it were an actual thing.)
(2) However you feel about personal eugenics, which is an accurate name for “mothers choosing babies that are likely to be better in some respect they deem relevant”, the Era Of It is arriving now and will not be wished away.
(3) Sex-selective abortion perpetrated for reasons of religious superstition is, upon all evidence, a marginal phenomenon in this country, probably a fading one, and quite likely to be an inherently self-correcting one. It makes a shabby excuse for blowing up the political truce our country clings to when it comes to the topic of abortion. (It seems remotely possible that Stephen Harper has perceived this and concurs with it.)
(4) In particular, no statute is likely to be effective against sex selection by mothers. We had one, you know, and it actually made a hypothetical exception for parents at risk of X-linked gene disease. A Liberal government devoted to “reproductive choice” criminalized sex-selective embryo implantation by means of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act; a Supreme Court found that law offensive to the Constitution; and a Conservative government closed the agency that was supposed to enforce it because it had accomplished the sum total of jack squat ever.
(5) People who wish to police sex-selective abortion had better figure out what exactly kinds they don’t like. And why. And what other reasons for a woman to have an abortion don’t cut their brand of mustard. And whether they really want their wives, girlfriends, daughters or nieces to end up as a future Case 6 running afoul of the law.
(6) Fellow-travellers of Mark Warawa who think he makes an awesome test case for parliamentary purity should consider looking for one that, pardon the metaphor, doesn’t have quite so many oopsies in its DNA.
May 5, 2013
Strategy Page looks at some of the widely held beliefs in some Islamic countries:
… in most countries where there is a dominant religion, especially a state approved one, there is usually still a fear that the previous religion (or religions) will try to make a comeback. The former faiths often involved some really old-school stuff, including magic and sometimes animal, or even human, sacrifice. It is not uncommon for there to be civil laws covering those accused to be practicing such sorcery, and severe punishments for those convicted. At the very least, the accused will be driven from any senior government jobs they might hold, and that’s what’s being done to dozens of Ahmadinejad associates.
All cultures have a certain belief in magic and what Westerners call “conspiracy theories” to explain otherwise unexplainable events. In the Islamic world, there is a lot of attention paid to sorcery and magic, and people accused of practicing such things are regularly attacked and sometimes executed. Conspiracy theories are also a popular way to explain away inconvenient facts.
For example, back in 2008 many Pakistanis believed that the then recent Islamic terrorist attack in Mumbai, India was actually the work of the Israeli Mossad or the American CIA and not the Pakistani terrorists who were killed or captured and identified. Such fantasies are a common explanation, in Moslem nations, for Islamic terrorist atrocities. Especially when women and children, and Moslems, are among the victims, other Moslems tend to accept fantastic explanations shifting the blame to infidels (non-Moslems).
[. . .]
American troops arriving in Iraq after 2003 went through a real culture shock as they encountered these cultural differences. They also discovered that the cause of this, and many other Arab problems, is the concept of “inshallah” (“If God wills it.”) This is a basic tenet of Islam, although some scholars believe the attitude was a cultural trait that preceded Islam. In any event, “inshallah” is deadly when combined with modern technology. For this reason, Arab countries either have poorly maintained infrastructure and equipment (including military stuff), or import a lot of foreigners, possessing the right attitudes, to maintain everything. That minority of Arabs who do have a realistic attitude towards maintenance and personal responsibility are considered odd, but useful.
The “inshallah” thing is made worse by a stronger belief in the supernatural, and magic in general. This often extends to technology. Thus many Iraqis believed that American troops wore sunglasses that enabled them to see through clothing, and armor vests that were actually air conditioned. When they first encounter these beliefs, U.S. troops thought the Arabs are putting them on. Then it sinks in that Arabs really believe this stuff. It’s a scary moment.
April 27, 2013
An obituary (and short history lesson) in The Economist:
AT THE heart of several cities in Belgium lies an unexpected treasure. A gate in a high brick wall creaks open, to reveal a cluster of small, whitewashed, steep-roofed houses round a church. Cobbled alleyways run between them and tiny lawns, thickly planted with flowers, grow in front of them. The cosiness, the neatness and the quiet suggest a hortus conclusus, a medieval metaphor both for virginal women and the walled garden of paradise.
Any veiled women seen there now, however, processing to Mass or tying up hollyhocks in their dark habits and white wimples, are ghosts. Marcella Pattyn was the last of them, ending a way of life that had endured for 800 years.
These places were not convents, but beguinages, and the women in them were not nuns, but Beguines. In these communities, which sprang up spontaneously in and around the cities of the Low Countries from the early 13th century, women led lives of prayer, chastity and service, but were not bound by vows. They could leave; they made their own rules, without male guidance; they were encouraged to study and read, and they were expected to earn their keep by working, especially in the booming cloth trade. They existed somewhere between the world and the cloister, in a state of autonomy which was highly unusual for medieval women and highly disturbing to medieval men.
Nor, to be honest, was it the first thing Juffrouw Marcella thought of when, as a girl, she realised that her dearest wish was to serve her Lord. But she was blind, or almost so, and no other community would accept her. She wanted to work, too, and was not sure she could in an ordinary convent. The beguinages had originally been famous for taking the “spare” or “surplus” women who crowded into 13th-century cities in search of jobs. Even so, the first community she tried sent her back after a week, unable to find a use for her. (In old age she still wept at the thought of all the rejections, dabbing with a handkerchief at her blue unseeing eyes.) A rich aunt intervened with a donation to keep her there, and from the age of 21 she was a Beguine.
April 23, 2013
In the New Statesman, Eleanor Margolis ponders the cultural similarities between Jews and lesbians:
You don’t have to be a devoted Woody Allen fan to be aware of the “Jew as hypochondriac” stereotype. Not only is it one of the core themes of Jewish humour, it’s true. I grew up in a household with a medicine cabinet that looked like a branch of Boots. Lesbians are identically health-obsessed. I’ve learned the hard way never to ask a fellow-gay girl about her physical wellbeing. Aside from shagging other women and feasting on organic legumes, we love absolutely nothing more than discussing our ailments. In great, often gory, detail. If a lesbian has a yeast infection or diarrhoea, she will tell you. In fact, the frankest discussions I’ve ever had about my bowel movements have been with my lesbian friends (and my mother. Natch).
[. . .]
So, aside from our shared hypochondria and foodiness, what else suggests that the Book of Lesbians might be missing from the Old Testament? Well, a hobby practiced by many a Jew is discussing, often to the point of argument, “who’s Jewish”. Similarly, we lesbians are keen to identify others like us. “Is she/isn’t she gay” discussions are a regular fixture at lesbian dinner tables and they often get heated. What Jews and lesbians have in common here is a desire to claim people as our own. If there’s someone we want on our team and there’s even the slightest hint that they might be Jewish/lesbian, we will fervently, and often speciously, argue that they are so. For example, there’s a longstanding lesbian obsession with the sexuality of boyish Canadian actress Ellen Page. And when rumours about her having dated Drew Barrymore surfaced a few years ago, we said a collective and triumphant, “Told you so”.
Another thing. In the same way that the more religious of Jewish parents don’t want their children to marry outside the religion, lesbians are often suspicious, dating-wise, of bisexuals. There’s a fair bit of prejudice towards women who aren’t fully-fledged lesbians. Rest assured, bi buddies, I don’t remotely condone this. But to some lesbians, it seems, bi girls are a no-go. What’s more, I’ve seen a certain amount of stigma attached to gay women who, like me, slept with men pre-coming out. A gay girl who has never had sex with a man is known on the scene as a “gold star lesbian”. Read: “kosher lesbian”.
In sp!ked, Frank Furedi examines the recent phenomenon of “nice guys” turning into terrorists:
… homegrown terrorism is viewed as a problem of ‘radicalisation’, where young people are seen as having effectively been warped by some imam or ideology promoter. So within days of the Boston bombers being identified, a local mosque was blamed for radicalising Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Others have looked for alternative sources of radicalisation, such as jihadist courses on YouTube or extremist Islamist websites. The theory of radicalisation is based on the premise that the lure of jihad politicises otherwise disgruntled individuals and transforms them into hardened militants.
Yet it is not clear what exactly constitutes the lure of jihad. Young people who are attracted to jihadist websites rarely adopt a new worldview. In fact, their perspective is very similar to numerous non-Muslim Westerners who visit nihilistic websites and become fascinated by destructive themes and image. Those who visit jihadist sites are choosing a fad rather than a coherent ideological outlook. In this regard, it is worth noting that some radicals arrested for terrorist activities in Europe are neither religious zealots nor political idealists. A study of ‘The Mujahideen Network’, a Swedish internet forum, discovered that its members’ knowledge of Islam was ‘virtually non-existent’ and their ‘fascination with jihad seems to be dictated by their rebellious nature rather than a deep ideological conviction’ (5). In other words, these people seem to have been driven by their estrangement from society rather than being pulled by a vibrant and dynamic alternative.
[. . .]
In fact, there are formidable cultural forces that denigrate the West’s historical achievements and its traditional belief in progress and enlightenment. Some commentators argue that the West, finding it difficult to believe in itself, faces a moral crisis. In such circumstances, is it any wonder that many young people feel deeply estranged from the Western way of life? Fortunately, only a handful opt for the nihilistic course of action taken by the Boston bombers. But the real problem is not to be found in the impressionable minds of youths but in the failure of society to inspire these young people with positive and forward-looking ideals.
Young people are not being seduced by mystical jihadist ideologies; they are being driven away by a society that fails to lead or enthuse or move them. There will, of course, always be a handful of confused and disturbed individuals who opt for acts of violent destruction. But as long as their community believes in itself, the damage they cause will be contained. The experience of the post-9/11 world shows that winning the arguments for an open society is the most effective answer to the threat of terror.
April 7, 2013
I have to assume this is a week-delayed April Fool’s prank:
In addition to groups that probably belong on such a list (Hamas, Al Qaeda, the KKK), some of the more startling additions to the list:
- Evangelical Christianity (U.S./Christian)
- Catholicism (U.S./Christian)
- Jewish Defence League (U.S./Judaism)
- Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (U.S./Morman [sic])
The U.S. Army listed Evangelical Christianity and Catholicism as examples of religious extremism along with Al Qaeda and Hamas during a briefing with an Army Reserve unit based in Pennsylvania, Fox News has learned.
“We find this offensive to have Evangelical Christians and the Catholic Church to be listed among known terrorist groups,” said Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. “It is dishonorable for any U.S. military entity to allow this type of wrongheaded characterization.”
March 17, 2013
In Slate, David Plotz separates the myth from what is known about the real St. Patrick:
Today we raise a glass of warm green beer to a fine fellow, the Irishman who didn’t rid the land of snakes, didn’t compare the Trinity to the shamrock, and wasn’t even Irish. St. Patrick, who died 1,507, 1,539, or 1,540 years ago today — depending on which unreliable source you want to believe — has been adorned with centuries of Irish blarney. Innumerable folk tales recount how he faced down kings, negotiated with God, tricked and slaughtered Ireland’s reptiles.
The facts about St. Patrick are few. Most derive from the two documents he probably wrote, the autobiographical Confession and the indignant Letter to a slave-taking marauder named Coroticus. Patrick was born in Britain, probably in Wales, around 385 A.D. His father was a Roman official. When Patrick was 16, seafaring raiders captured him, carried him to Ireland, and sold him into slavery. The Christian Patrick spent six lonely years herding sheep and, according to him, praying 100 times a day. In a dream, God told him to escape. He returned home, where he had another vision in which the Irish people begged him to return and minister to them: “We ask thee, boy, come and walk among us once more,” he recalls in the Confession. He studied for the priesthood in France, then made his way back to Ireland.
He spent his last 30 years there, baptizing pagans, ordaining priests, and founding churches and monasteries. His persuasive powers must have been astounding: Ireland fully converted to Christianity within 200 years and was the only country in Europe to Christianize peacefully. Patrick’s Christian conversion ended slavery, human sacrifice, and most intertribal warfare in Ireland. (He did not banish the snakes: Ireland never had any. Scholars now consider snakes a metaphor for the serpent of paganism. Nor did he invent the Shamrock Trinity. That was an 18th-century fabrication.)
March 5, 2013
David Friedman on the recent book The Birth of the West: Rome, Germany, France, and the Creation of Europe in the Tenth Century, by Paul Collins.
Take five or six soap operas set in central and western Europe in the 10th century. Chop in pieces, stir, and glue together more or less at random. You now have something reasonably close to the picture that emerges from The Birth of the West, 427 pages of 10-century history as presented by the Australian author and broadcaster Paul Collins. The reader is left wondering whether the chaos is a bug or a feature, a failure of the author to shape his material into a coherent story or a deliberate attempt to show the reader the chaos of the period.
[. . .]
The most interesting thing about the book may be what it implies about how much we do not know. Thus, for instance, Collins offers a lurid account of Theodora and Marizia, a mother and daughter heavily involved in papal politics. (Marizia was supposedly the mistress at age 14 of an 80-year-old pope.) He then mentions that his source was writing 50 years after the events he describes, that another source presents a much more attractive picture, and that both have axes to grind. But he goes on to treat the first account as accurate. He offers a glowing portrait of Theophano, a Byzantine princess who became the wife of Otto II and mother of Otto III, dismissing a much more critical picture from a contemporary source. A historian with a different set of biases could have given us an equally convincing version in which some of the good guys and bad guys switched hats.
[. . .]
Collins presents the conventional view of the dominant role of religion in medieval Europe, cites several books by the French medievalist Georges Duby, but not the one in which Duby argues that the picture is badly distorted by the fact that almost all of our sources are clerical. The point is relevant for modern sources as well: Collins himself spent much of his life as a Catholic priest before resigning over a dispute with the Vatican and taking up a second career as writer and broadcaster.
None of that means that the story he tells is wrong. The modern reader inclined to take any single historical view as gospel might consider how much disagreement there is on issues for which we have enormously better information — the Vietnam War, say, or the evaluation of controversial political figures such as FDR, Reagan, or Thatcher. It does not even mean that the book should have been written differently. The story Collins tells is confusing enough as is; it would be far more confusing if he had tried to keep all of the alternative narratives going at once. And, to his credit, while he tells a single story, he makes it clear that alternatives exist — almost all of my critical comments are based on information he himself presents. I would not recommend the book as light reading, but it does provide a vivid picture of the century.
February 9, 2013
It is not an original thought to say that public health crusaders often resemble religious zealots, but seldom is the comparison more literal than in the case of Mike Rayner, director of the British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group.
[. . .]
So far, so mundane. Another illiberal battler against the free market with a heightened sense of his own importance and his nose in the trough. The only point of interest is that Mr Raynor is a Church of England priest who is guided by voices.
In all of this I see a sacred dimension. You may not believe that I have heard God aright but I think God is calling me to work towards the introduction of soft-drink taxes in this country and I am looking forward to the day when General Synod debates the ethical issues surrounding this type of tax rather than some of the other issues that august body seems obsessed by.
Golly. Where to begin? On a theological note, I do wonder whether Jesus would really be in favour of a deeply regressive stealth tax that would take from the poor to give to the rich. Perhaps the reason the General Synod does not debate tax policy is because they recall the old “render under to Caesar…” message and realise that it’s none of their business.
If we weren’t already sceptical about the documents coming from Mr Rayner’s team of would-be policy-makers, the fact that its director believes that God has told him to bring about a fat tax in this land should be enough to make us suspect that a tiny bit of research bias might have crept into his work. Considering that the Almighty has approved of the policy, what are the chances of his loyal servant producing evidence that would question its efficacy?
Christopher Snowdon, “Fat tax campaigner: ‘God told me to do it’”, Velvet Glove, Iron Fist, 2012-05-21
February 3, 2013
Sheldon Richman explains why it could be a problem if the American presence in northwestern Africa is further expanded:
Ominously but unsurprisingly, the U.S. military’s Africa Command wants to increase its footprint in northwest Africa. What began as low-profile assistance to France’s campaign to wrest control of northern Mali (a former colony) from unwelcome jihadists could end up becoming something more.
The Washington Post reports that Africom “is preparing to establish a drone base in northwest Africa [probably Niger] so that it can increase surveillance missions on the local affiliate of Al Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups that American and other Western officials say pose a growing menace to the region.” But before that word “surveillance” can bring a sigh of relief, the Post adds, “For now, officials say they envision flying only unarmed surveillance drones from the base, though they have not ruled out conducting missile strikes at some point if the threat worsens.”
Meanwhile Bloomberg, citing American military officials, says Niger and the U.S. government have “reached an agreement allowing American military personnel to be stationed in the West African country and enabling them to take on Islamist militants in neighboring Mali, according to U.S. officials.… No decision has been made to station the drones.”
The irony is that surveillance drones could become the reason the “threat worsens,” and could provide the pretext to use drones armed with Hellfire missiles — the same kind used over 400 times in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, killing hundreds of noncombatants. Moving from surveillance to lethal strikes would be a boost for jihadist recruiters.
January 27, 2013
The failure of an Islamic faith school in the UK to provide a pupil with any knowledge about sexual relations, other than to teach him that women were “no more worthy than a lollipop dropped on the ground”, led to the trial of an 18-year-old who was charged with raping a 13-year-old girl.
But, according to this report, instead of being jailed, the “naïve” Birmingham teenager, Adil Rashid, was handed a suspended sentence in Nottingham Crown Court by Judge Michael Stokes, who said:
Although chronologically 18, it is quite clear from the reports that you are very naive and immature when it comes to sexual matters.
The judge added that because Rashid was “passive” and “lacking assertiveness”, sending him to jail might cause him “more damage than good”.
Rashid admitted having sex with the girl, saying he had been “tempted by her” after they met online.
After they had had sex, Rashid returned home and went straight to a mosque to pray. He was arrested the following week after the girl confessed what had happened to a school friend, who informed one of her teachers.
He told police he knew the girl was 13 but said he was initially reluctant to have sex before relenting after being seduced.
Earlier the court heard how Rashid had “little experience of women”due to his education at an Islamic school in the UK, which cannot be named for legal reasons.
After his arrest, he told a psychologist that he did not know having sex with a 13-year-old was against the law. The court heard he found it was illegal only when he was informed by a family member.
January 14, 2013
Ghaffar Hussain reminds us that historically Muslim societies were much more open to scientific thought than they are now:
So why didn’t these ideas take off and integrate into the fabric of mainstream Muslim thought and society? There are a number of reasons.
Firstly, Muslim empires in the past believed in centralising knowledge rather than disseminating it en masse. Centres of learning, such as Baghdad and Cordoba, had their houses of knowledge in which scientists would work, preserving and developing on, primarily, Hellenistic knowledge. There was no printing press, and even when it did arrive it was rejected, thus such knowledge was largely reserved for an elite audience. When centres of learning were conquered and destroyed, as Baghdad was in 1256 by the Mongols, most of the knowledge was lost too.
Secondly, the religious authorities of the time were largely opposed to ideas being put forward by scientists and other rationalist thinkers such as Ibn Rushd, and before him, Ibn Sina. They felt threatened by non-theological attempts to ascertain truths and Muslim leaders often sided with the religious authorities for political reasons.
Thirdly, literalist and dogmatic strands of Islamic theology have been aggressively promoted all around the Muslim world over the past few decades or ever since huge oil deposits were discovered in the Arabian Gulf. The Saudi state, in an attempt at cultural imperialism, has done its best to mainstream Wahabi thinking in Muslim communities everywhere. The result: a retardation and stagnation of thinking in parts of the world that were already very stagnant.
December 31, 2012
In the Globe and Mail, Gordon Gibson discusses the “Church of Green”:
Religions have certain characteristics. They consist of a body of belief based on faith (as, for example, in God). This faith is not to be challenged, distinguishing religions from other belief sets. Scientific theories, for a counterexample, must always be questioned. Not so with religion. Unwavering faith is the hallmark.
Religions of the sort decried by Mr. Bouchard have high priests who can speak ex cathedra and gain immediate belief. David Suzuki, Al Gore and Amory Lovins, among others, have this otherworldly gravitas. They have their religious orders. Just as there are Jesuits and Benedictines, there are Greenpeace and the Sierra Club.
Religion has an enormous usefulness to many individuals. But there’s more. Religion is, by its nature, absolutist. Because it embodies the Truth, one should not deviate. Of course we all sin, but deliberate tradeoffs are not permissible. It’s not allowed to do a little bit of evil to become a little bit rich, and especially not great evil for great wealth.
Such absolute rules can work fine for individuals. They can do as they wish and take the consequences. It’s where religion is imported to govern the doings of the collective — of a society — that the trouble begins.
[. . .]
Now, no one could argue against the need for great weight to the natural environment. The difficulty comes in agreeing — or not — to tradeoffs. If we take an absolutist position, we humans are rather bad for the planet, so we should all do the decent thing and stop having children.
This was Mr. Bouchard’s point. His issue in Quebec was “fracking” to produce natural gas. The current “religion” in Quebec is that fracking is bad, just as in B.C. pipelines are bad. Among true believers in both cases, absolutism reigns. The badness is self-evident; the projects must not proceed. You can’t trade a little evil for a little wealth — there must be zero chance of harm.