November 16, 2015

Accepting the truth in the wake of the Paris attacks

Filed under: Europe, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Douglas Murray on the slow, unwilling movement toward accepting the true reasons for anti-Western violence like the Paris terror attacks:

The West’s movement towards the truth is remarkably slow. We drag ourselves towards it painfully, inch by inch, after each bloody Islamist assault.

In France, Britain, Germany, America and nearly every other country in the world it remains government policy to say that any and all attacks carried out in the name of Mohammed have ‘nothing to do with Islam’. It was said by George W. Bush after 9/11, Tony Blair after 7/7 and Tony Abbott after the Sydney attack last month. It is what David Cameron said after two British extremists cut off the head of Drummer Lee Rigby in London, when ‘Jihadi John’ cut off the head of aid worker Alan Henning in the ‘Islamic State’ and when Islamic extremists attacked a Kenyan mall, separated the Muslims from the Christians and shot the latter in the head. It was what President François Hollande said after the massacre of journalists and Jews in Paris in January. And it is all that most politicians will be able to come out with again after the latest atrocities in Paris.

All these leaders are wrong. In private, they and their senior advisers often concede that they are telling a lie. The most sympathetic explanation is that they are telling a ‘noble lie’, provoked by a fear that we — the general public — are a lynch mob in waiting. ‘Noble’ or not, this lie is a mistake. First, because the general public do not rely on politicians for their information and can perfectly well read articles and books about Islam for themselves. Secondly, because the lie helps no one understand the threat we face. Thirdly, because it takes any heat off Muslims to deal with the bad traditions in their own religion. And fourthly, because unless mainstream politicians address these matters then one day perhaps the public will overtake their politicians to a truly alarming extent.

If politicians are so worried about this secondary ‘backlash’ problem then they would do well to remind us not to blame the jihadists’ actions on our peaceful compatriots and then deal with the primary problem — radical Islam — in order that no secondary, reactionary problem will ever grow.

Yet today our political class fuels both cause and nascent effect. Because the truth is there for all to see. To claim that people who punish people by killing them for blaspheming Islam while shouting ‘Allah is greatest’ has ‘nothing to do with Islam’ is madness. Because the violence of the Islamists is, truthfully, only to do with Islam: the worst version of Islam, certainly, but Islam nonetheless.

Theodore Dalrymple expresses a bit of sympathy for the politicians who must say something in the wake of atrocities:

One has to pity — a little — politicians obliged to react publicly to events such as those on November 13 in Paris. They can’t pass over them in silence: but what can they say that does not sound banal, hollow and obvious? They can only get it wrong, not right.

That does not excuse inexactitude and evasion, however. French president François Hollande called the attacks cowardly, but if there was one thing the attackers were not (alas, if only they had been), it was cowardly. They were evil, their ideas were deeply stupid, and they were brutal: but a man who knows that he is going to die in committing an act, no matter how atrocious, is not a coward. With the accuracy of a drone, the president honed in on the one vice that the attackers did not manifest. This establishes that bravery is not by itself a virtue, that in order for it to be a virtue it has to be exercised in pursuit of a worthwhile goal. To quote an eminent countryman of the president, Pascal: Travaillons, donc, à bien penser: voilà le principe de la morale. Let us labor, then, to think clearly: that is the principle of morality.

President Obama was not much better. He made reference in his statement to “the values we all share.” Either he was using the word “we” in some coded fashion, in spite of having just referred to the whole of humanity, or he failed to notice that the attacks were the direct consequence of the obvious fact that we — that is to say the whole of humanity — do not share the same values. If we shared the same values, politics would be reduced to arguments about administration.

November 14, 2015

QotD: Which religious group should organize your hypothetical rescue from terrorists?

Filed under: Humour, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Suppose you were kidnapped by terrorists, and you needed someone to organize a rescue. Would you prefer the task be delegated to the Unitarians, or the Mormons?

This question isn’t about whether you think an individual Unitarian or Mormon would make a better person to rush in Rambo-style and get you out of there. It’s about whether you would prefer the Unitarian Church or the Mormon Church to coordinate your rescue.

I would go with the Mormons. The Mormons seem effective in all sorts of ways. They’re effective evangelists. They’re effect[ive] fundraisers. They’re effective at keeping the average believer following their commandments. They would figure out a plan, implement it, and come in guns-blazing.

The Unitarians would be a disaster. First someone would interrupt the discussion to ask whether it’s fair to use the word “terrorists”, or whether we should use the less judgmental “militant”. Several people would note that until investigating the situation more clearly, they can’t even be sure the terrorists aren’t in the right in this case. In fact, what is “right” anyway? An attempt to shut down this discussion to focus more on the object-level problem would be met with cries of “censorship!”.

If anyone did come up with a plan, a hundred different pedants would try to display their intelligence by nitpicking meaningless details. Eventually some people would say that it’s an outrage that no one’s even considering whether the bullets being used are recyclable, and decide to split off and mount their own, ecologically-friendly rescue attempt. In the end, four different schismatic rescue attempts would run into each other, mistake each other for the enemy, and annhilate themselves while the actual terrorists never even hear about it.

(if it were Reform Jews, the story would be broadly similar, but with twenty different rescue attempts, and I say this fondly, as someone who attended a liberal synagogue for ten years)

One relevant difference between Mormons and Unitarians seems to be a cultural one. It’s not quite that the Mormons value conformity and the Unitarians value indivduality – that’s not exactly wrong, but it’s letting progressives bend language to their will, the same way as calling the two sides of the abortion debate “pro-freedom” and “anti-woman” or whatever they do nowadays. It’s more like a Mormon norm that the proper goal of a discussion is agreement, and a Unitarian norm that the proper goal of a discussion is disagreement.

There’s a saying I’ve heard in a lot of groups, which is something along the lines of “diversity is what unites us”. This is nice and memorable, but there are other groups where unity is what unites them, and they seem to be more, well, united.

Scott Alexander, “Reactionary Philosophy In An Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell”, Slate Star Codex, 2013-03-03.

November 10, 2015

The “War on Christmas” opens another front … at Starbucks

Filed under: Business, Media, Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Katherine Timpf can’t believe that anyone is taking this nonsense in any way seriously:

Please stop embarrassing yourselves.

I woke up this morning to find that real, adult people are actually upset that Starbucks’s holiday cups do not mention Christ or Christmas on them — and the absence of such language as an attack on their religion.

Yep, that’s right. The “War on Christmas” season has arrived, and Starbucks has chosen the side of the godless hedonism that is destroying our society. Don’t let the fact that it still sells a Christmas Blend, a “Merry Christmas” gift card, and an Advent calendar fool you — Starbucks is clearly The Devil’s Coffee, and you have every right to be this upset.

That is, of course, if you are an insane person.

November 6, 2015

Turkish politics, post-election

Filed under: Europe, Middle East, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Austin Bay looks at Turkey’s domestic political situation following the re-election of Recep Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party:

The threat to Turkish democratic institutions is a man notoriously jealous of Ataturk, current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The snap election gave Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party, AKP, overwhelming control of parliament (316 of 550 seats). The AKP had controlled parliament since 2002, but in the June 7 election it lost its one-party majority. Political haggling among opposition parties, including Ataturk’s Republican Peoples Party, the CHP, failed to produce a coalition government; a new election was necessary.

However, in the intervening month’s domestic terrorist incidents, the fitful war with the Islamic State in the Levant and Syria’s violent chaos dominated Turkish politics.

Erdoğan portrayed himself as the only leader capable of addressing Turkey’s deteriorating security situation. Domestic security certainly diminished; why it did stirs angry accusations. Erdoğan’s political opponents maintain that he used the violence to solidify political support. His more vicious critics accuse him of intentionally permitting violence. For example, they argue his government could have prevented the Oct. 10 terror bombing of a peace march in Ankara, now attributed to ISIL. Over 100 people were murdered in that attack.

Is it an over the top conspiracy theory-type accusation? Possibly. Erdoğan himself, however, believes over the top conspiracy theories, and he uses conspiratorial doubt and fear as political tools. His record for jailing journalists and intimidating political opponents associated with his alleged conspiracies is fact, not theory. The election didn’t assuage his fears — it ignited another surge of arrests. On Nov. 3, police arrested scores of people associated with Erdoğan critic and Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. At one time Gulen supported Erdoğan and the moderate Islamist AKP. However, Gulen broke with Erdoğan over credible charges of corruption within Erdoğan’s governing circle.

Daniel Pipes isn’t convinced that the terror stampeded voters in Erdoğan’s direction (especially Kurdish voters), and he suspects fraud in the election results:

Like other observers of Turkish politics, I was stunned on November 1 when the ruling Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, or AKP) was reported to have increased its share of the national vote since the last round of elections in June 2015 by 9 percent and its share of parliamentary seats by 11 percent.

The polls had consistently shown the four major parties winning about the same number of seats as in June. This made intuitive sense; they represent mutually hostile outlooks (Islamist, leftist, Kurdish, nationalist), making substantial movement between them in under five months highly unlikely. That about one in nine voters switched parties defies reason.

Polling results between the June and November 2015 Turkish elections

Polling results between the June and November 2015 Turkish elections

The AKP’s huge increase gave it back the parliamentary majority it had lost in the June 2015 elections, promising President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a semi-legal path to the dictatorial powers he aspires to.

But, to me, the results stink of fraud. It defies reason, for example, that the AKP’s war on Kurds would prompt about a quarter of Turkey’s Kurds to abandon the pro-Kurdish party and switch their votes to the AKP.

October 28, 2015

Europe: The First Crusade – Lies – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 19 Sep 2015

Time to look back on the First Crusade and talk about errors and stories that didn’t make the final cut! The religious nature of the First Crusade meant that many of the primary sources for it (certainly on the Christian side) had a vested interest in reinforcing the idea that the crusaders had the blessing of God. Untangling the truth from their stories reminds us that there is no such thing as “the real story” when it comes to history: our modern perspective cannot help but shape the way we see these events also, and even to the extent that we try to set aside our bias, the conflicting accounts mean we still have to conjecture about what’s most correct. This episode also features answers to questions posed by our supporters on Patreon!

October 27, 2015

QotD: The new censors

Filed under: Europe, Law, Liberty, Quotations, Religion, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Governments began to treat those threatened for their opinions almost as harshly as those attacking them. Dutch legal authorities tried repeatedly, if unsuccessfully, to prosecute Mr. Wilders for “inciting hatred” with his film. He was briefly prohibited from entering Britain. In 2006, Tony Blair’s government passed the Racial and Religious Hatred Act — a kind of “blasphemy lite” law — ostensibly designed to protect all religions against threatening expression but generally understood as intended to limit hostile criticism of Islam. Both the U.S. and the European Union have entered into a dialogue in recent years with the 56 states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which is seeking an international law prohibiting blasphemy. In 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the OIC that, while the First Amendment prevented the U.S. from prohibiting speech, the administration might still “use some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming so that people don’t feel they have the support to do what we abhor.”

Admittedly, it is difficult to draw a clear line between criticism of an Islamic belief and an attack on Muslims who believe it. If you denounce a belief as absurd, you are implicitly criticizing the believers as credulous fools. Christians have to endure explicit denunciations of their faith all the time from such writers as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. And so they should. If you can’t stand the heat, don’t listen to hellfire sermons from atheists.

Hearing criticisms of your own convictions and learning the beliefs of others are training for life in a multifaith society. Preventing open debate means that all believers, including atheists, remain in the prison of unconsidered opinion. The right to be offended, which is the other side of free speech, is therefore a genuine right. True belief and honest doubt are both impossible without it.

It isn’t just some Muslims who want the false comfort of censoring disagreeable opinions. Far from it. Gays, Christians, feminists, patriots, foreign despots, ethnic activists — or organizations claiming to speak for them — are among the many groups seeking relief from the criticism of others through the courts, the legislatures and the public square.

John O’Sullivan, “No Offense: The New Threats to Free Speech”, Wall Street Journal, 2014-10-31.

October 22, 2015

Justifying the murder of random Israelis

Filed under: Middle East, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Brendan O’Neill says that the left has managed to plumb the very bottom of morality:

It’s been clear for years that the left has been losing the moral plot. But I never thought I would see it apologise for, even defend, the stabbing to death of Jews. The silver lining for the left is that it’s impossible for it to sink any lower. This is as low as it gets.

The response in the West to the spate of foul murders by car, knife and meat cleaver in Israel has been almost as shocking as the killings themselves. Many have stayed silent, a global version of “bystander culture”, where people look awkwardly at the ground as someone is battered in front of them. The Western media is currently a shameless shuffling bystander to murders in Israel.

Others have asked, “Well, what do Israelis expect?” The crashing of cars into rabbis waiting for a bus and the hacking at Israeli citizens doing their weekly shop is treated as a normal response by Palestinians to their woes.

When the Guardian glorifies these killings as a “knife intifada”, and radical writers describe them as a natural kickback against Palestinians’ “ongoing humiliation”, they’re really saying Israeli citizens deserve to be murdered.

It’s understandable. It makes sense. These offerers of chin-stroking explanations for why a rabbi just had to be rammed with a car actually dehumanise both Israelis and Palestinians. They treat Israelis as collectively guilty for what their government does, meaning the old woman on a bus is a legitimate target.

And with their handwringing over “Palestinian despair”, with one writer claiming Palestinians are lashing out with knives because it’s “the only option left to them”, they infantilise Palestinians, reducing them to robotic knife-wielders who aren’t responsible for what they do. They heap contempt on both sides, demonising Israeli citizens and pitying Palestinians so much that they end up seeing them as mentally deficient, with no choice but to hack at the nearest Jew.

The decline of democracy in Turkey

Filed under: Europe, Middle East, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Last week, Daniel Pipes looked at the increasingly dictatorial ambitions of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan:

The Republic of Turkey is undergoing possibly its greatest crisis since the founding of the state nearly a century ago. Present trends suggest worse to come as a long-time Western ally evolves into a hostile dictatorship.

The crisis results primarily from the ambitions of one very capable and sinister individual, Turkey’s 61-year old president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. A career politician who previously served four years as the mayor of Turkey’s megacity, Istanbul, and then eleven years as the country’s prime minister, he forwards two goals hitherto unknown in the republic: dictatorship and full application of the Shari’a, Islam’s law code.

During his first eight years of power, 2003-11, Erdoğan ruled with such finesse that one could only suspect these two aspirations; proof remained elusive. This author, for example, wrote an article in 2005 that weighed the contradictory evidence for and against Erdoğan being an Islamist. A combination of playing by the rules, caution in the Islamic arena, and economic success won Erdoğan’s party, Justice and Development (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, or AKP), increasing percentages of the vote in parliamentary elections, going from 34 percent in 2002, to 46 percent in 2007, to 50 percent in 2011.

That 2011 election victory, his third in succession, gave Erdoğan the confidence finally to remove the armed forces from politics, where they had long served as Turkey’s ultimate power broker. Ironically, this change ended the increasing democratization of prior decades for his fully taking charge allowed Erdoğan to develop an oversized ego, to bare his fangs, flex his despotic muscles, and openly seek his twin objectives of tyranny and Shari’a.

Indeed, Erdoğan made his power felt in every domain after 2011. Banks provided loans to the businessmen who kicked back funds to the AKP. Hostile media found themselves subject to vast fines or physical assault. Ordinary citizens who criticized the leader found themselves facing lawsuits, fines, and jail. Politicians in competing parties faced dirty tricks. Like a latter-day sultan, Erdoğan openly flouted the law and intervened at will when and where he wished, inserting himself into legal proceedings, meddling in local decisions, and interfering with police investigations. For example, he responded to compelling raw evidence of his own and his family’s corruption by simply closing down the inquiry.

Europe: The First Crusade – VI: On to Jerusalem – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 12 Sep 2015

The Crusaders now held Antioch, but not securely. The Turks still control the citadel atop the mountain and had a massive army coming to reinforce them. The situation grew worse when Stephen of Blois deserted from the Crusades, and told the Byzantine reinforcements not to bother: he believed Antioch would fall immediately. Now entirely on their own, the Crusaders held the wall in constant vigil until a mystic named Peter Bartholomew claimed to have received a vision from Saint Andrew. Guided by his vision, he discovered metal which he claimed to be the holy lance of Longinus – nevermind that the church already had the holy lance in its possession. Though the Crusade leaders had doubts, the soldiers were inspired so they launched an assault on the Turkish armies. Surprisingly, they won the day: the Turks did not fully support their leader, Kerbogha, and many took the Crusade counter-attack as an excuse to abandon the siege. Bohemond now kept Antioch, while Raymond of Toulouse – after the disastrous Siege of Maarat led the soldiers to commit acts of cannibalism – took the remains of the army south to Jerusalem. His attempt to capture a small city called Arqa along the way almost fractured the crusade army again, and did lead to the death of Peter Bartholomew. They arrived in Jerusalem to find the local wells poisoned, giving them no choice but to attack the city head-on. After days of intense fighting, they won their way inside the walls and began a massive slaughter of the people who still lived inside Jerusalem – the Christian population had been expelled, leaving only Muslims and Jews still in the city. And thus, with Antioch and Jerusalem both in crusader hands, the First Crusade came to an end.

October 15, 2015

Europe: The First Crusade – V: Siege of Antioch – Extra History

Filed under: History, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 5 Sep 2015

After their victory at the Battle of Dorylaeum, the Crusaders have an open path to Antioch and beyond that, Jerusalem. After the Sultan of Rum, Kilij Arslan, ordered the wells destroyed along their path, the Crusaders struggled through the desert and eventually decided to split their forces. Tancred and Baldwin set off towards Tarsus and Tancred tricked the Turkish garrison into surrendering to him, but Baldwin claimed the city for himself and broke his oath to the Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenos. Tensions between the two lead to another confrontation in the next city, after which Baldwin abandoned the Crusade entirely and conned his way into becoming the Count of Edessa. Tancred meanwhile returned to the main force of Crusaders, who were besieging Antioch. When a force led by Bohemond and Robert of Flanders met Antioch’s Turkish reinforcements on a foraging mission, they attacked them and scared them away. Then Bohemond tricked the Byzantine general into leaving as well, and threatened to leave himself unless the Crusaders let him keep Antioch. They had no choice but to agree to keep their forces together. With this assurance, Bohemond engineered the capture of Antioch: he bribed a Turkish commander to let them through the gates. The Crusaders massacred the people of Antioch when the city fell, but they had no time to rest after their victory: a huge Turkish army was already bearing down on them.

October 12, 2015

The rise of the censors on campus

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Ginni Thomas discusses free speech under attack with FIRE’s Greg Lukianoff.

“The battle over free speech is not partisan,” says a proud liberal whose organization helps a wide variety of clients facing free speech threats. He has spent fifteen years in the field as a fearless advocate who worked at the ACLU before coming to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

Greg Lukianoff, the President and CEO of FIRE, starts this 20 minute video interview for The Daily Caller by assessing global issues. “The international situation for freedom of speech is dire,” says Lukianoff, focusing on the emergence of blasphemy laws to not offend Islam.

This harks back to a previous Daily Caller interview with Steve Coughlin, author of “Catastrophic Failure,” who discussed the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s Ten Year Program of Action to make Islamic speech codes the global speech standard. In America, this would entail making free speech conditional on not defaming Islam, a religion of less than 1 percent of the US population.

H/T to David Thompson for the link.

October 8, 2015

Europe: The First Crusade – IV: Men of Iron – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 29 Aug 2015

Having sworn their oaths to Emperor Alexius Comnenus, the Crusaders finally sailed across the Bosphorus River to Turkey. When they disembarked, however, there were no Turkish armies waiting for them. Unopposed, they marched to Nicaea, the capitol of the Sultanate of Rum, and laid siege to it. At last word reached the sultan, Kilij Arslan, who rode back to save his city (and his family) only to realize that this army of crusaders was much larger and better organized than the People’s Crusade which had come before. They had not yet realized, however, that the city of Nicaea was being secretly resupplied by ships arriving by night from Lake Askania. Once they did, the Byzantines transported their own ships overland to blockade the lake and launch a coordinated assault with the crusaders to force the city to surrender. The crusaders marched towards Jerusalem, but along the way, the Turks launched a surprise assault on Bohemond’s army. He ordered his knights to form a shield wall around the priests and civilians traveling with them, and they held for hours under a burning sun until reinforcements from the other crusading armies arrived. They rallied, defeated the Turks, and resumed their march.

QotD: The religious life of the early Roman Empire

Filed under: History, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The policy of the emperors and the senate, as far as it concerned religion, was happily seconded by the reflections of the enlightened, and by the habits of the superstitious, part of their subjects. The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord.

The superstition of the people was not imbittered by any mixture of theological rancor; nor was it confined by the chains of any speculative system. The devout polytheist, though fondly attached to his national rites, admitted with implicit faith the different religions of the earth. Fear, gratitude, and curiosity, a dream or an omen, a singular disorder, or a distant journey, perpetually disposed him to multiply the articles of his belief, and to enlarge the list of his protectors. The thin texture of the Pagan mythology was interwoven with various but not discordant materials. As soon as it was allowed that sages and heroes, who had lived or who had died for the benefit of their country, were exalted to a state of power and immortality, it was universally confessed, that they deserved, if not the adoration, at least the reverence, of all mankind. The deities of a thousand groves and a thousand streams possessed, in peace, their local and respective influence; nor could the Romans who deprecated the wrath of the Tiber, deride the Egyptian who presented his offering to the beneficent genius of the Nile. The visible powers of nature, the planets, and the elements were the same throughout the universe. The invisible governors of the moral world were inevitably cast in a similar mould of fiction and allegory. Every virtue, and even vice, acquired its divine representative; every art and profession its patron, whose attributes, in the most distant ages and countries, were uniformly derived from the character of their peculiar votaries. A republic of gods of such opposite tempers and interests required, in every system, the moderating hand of a supreme magistrate, who, by the progress of knowledge and flattery, was gradually invested with the sublime perfections of an Eternal Parent, and an Omnipotent Monarch. Such was the mild spirit of antiquity, that the nations were less attentive to the difference, than to the resemblance, of their religious worship. The Greek, the Roman, and the Barbarian, as they met before their respective altars, easily persuaded themselves, that under various names, and with various ceremonies, they adored the same deities. The elegant mythology of Homer gave a beautiful, and almost a regular form, to the polytheism of the ancient world.

The philosophers of Greece deduced their morals from the nature of man, rather than from that of God. They meditated, however, on the Divine Nature, as a very curious and important speculation; and in the profound inquiry, they displayed the strength and weakness of the human understanding. Of the four most celebrated schools, the Stoics and the Platonists endeavored to reconcile the jarring interests of reason and piety. They have left us the most sublime proofs of the existence and perfections of the first cause; but, as it was impossible for them to conceive the creation of matter, the workman in the Stoic philosophy was not sufficiently distinguished from the work; whilst, on the contrary, the spiritual God of Plato and his disciples resembled an idea, rather than a substance. The opinions of the Academics and Epicureans were of a less religious cast; but whilst the modest science of the former induced them to doubt, the positive ignorance of the latter urged them to deny, the providence of a Supreme Ruler. The spirit of inquiry, prompted by emulation, and supported by freedom, had divided the public teachers of philosophy into a variety of contending sects; but the ingenious youth, who, from every part, resorted to Athens, and the other seats of learning in the Roman empire, were alike instructed in every school to reject and to despise the religion of the multitude. How, indeed, was it possible that a philosopher should accept, as divine truths, the idle tales of the poets, and the incoherent traditions of antiquity; or that he should adore, as gods, those imperfect beings whom he must have despised, as men? Against such unworthy adversaries, Cicero condescended to employ the arms of reason and eloquence; but the satire of Lucian was a much more adequate, as well as more efficacious, weapon. We may be well assured, that a writer, conversant with the world, would never have ventured to expose the gods of his country to public ridicule, had they not already been the objects of secret contempt among the polished and enlightened orders of society.

Edward Gibbon, “Chapter II: The Internal Prosperity In The Age Of The Antonines — Part I”, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1782.

October 1, 2015

Europe: The First Crusade – III: A Good Crusade? – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 22 Aug 2015

Although it finds Peter the Hermit’s group from the People’s Crusade in shambles, the summer of 1096 finally sees the “official” forces of the First Crusade set out for Jerusalem. This was not one army, however, but five separate armies led by men with very different motivations and sympathies – many of them surprisingly hostile towards the Pope or the Byzantine Empire. Hugh of Vermandois, brother of the King of France, led one army despite his brother having been excommunicated by Pope Urban II. Godfrey de Bouillon from the German territory had actually helped kick the Pope out of Rome and install the anti-Pope. Bohemond of Taranto brought an army whose experience primarily came from fighting the Romans twelve years prior. Raymond of Toulouse led the largest army and believed himself the main leader of the Crusade, despite the fact that he traveled with the Pope’s appointed leader, Bishop Adhemar. Only Robert of Flanders could be said to be on good terms with both the Pope and the Eastern Roman Empire. When the five armies arrived in Constantinople, Emperor Alexius Comnenus approached them all privately with bribes and threats to get them to swear an oath that any land they conquered on Crusade would be returned to him. They all took it (except Bohemond’s nephew, Tancred) and so the emperor sent them across the Bosphorus to attack the Turks at last.

September 27, 2015

P.J. O’Rourke on Ann Coulter’s anti-semitism

Filed under: Humour, Media, Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In the Weekly Standard, P.J. O’Rourke discusses Ann Coulter’s recently expressed anti-semitic remarks during the Republican candidates’ debate:

She is young, scatter-brained, and heedless, but she is not an idiot. She graduated cum laude from Cornell and has a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School. But no intelligent hike through the Minotaur’s labyrinth of politics can be made in 140-character baby steps. Especially when you’re walking in clown shoes.

What Ann Coulter tweeted was:

    Cruz, Huckabee Rubio all mentioned ISRAEL in their response to: “What will AMERICA look like after you are president.”


    How many f—ing Jews do these people think there are in the United States?

Not anywhere near as many as there would and should be if FDR hadn’t been as much of a jerk about immigration as you are, Ann, you etiolated bean sprout butt trumpet.

As to why Israel is important, to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, “Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ikh bin a Ishral.’ ”

And I mean it, even if, pope-kissing Mick that I am, my Yiddish is maybe sketchy.

Partly this is personal, Ann, you jangle-tongue, you all-clapper-and-no-carillon, you crack in the Liberty Bell. To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, “It’s not me, it’s you.”

But, first, my contempt is moral. Antisemitism is evil. Per se, as you lawyers like to put it. For the sake of argument, let us “stipulate” that you are not per se an antisemite. Instead of saying that’s true, let us stipulate it with all the snarky lawyer freight that “stipulating” carries.

Being so stipulated, you are damn rude. One does not say, “f—ing Jews.” One does not say “f—ing blacks” or “f—ing Latinos” or even “f—ing relentlessly self-promoting Presbyterian white women from New Canaan.”

Manners are the small change of morality. You, Ann, are nickel and diming yourself. And may all the coins in Scrooge McDuck’s money bin land on you and squash you flat. (Scrooge, by the way, is not a Jew, he’s a duck.)

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