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Johann Hari has an excellent article explaining how Islamic dictatorships at the UN are chipping away at free speech: the UN’s Rapporteur of Human Rights, who is supposed to call out countries that suppress free speech, just had his job description changed so that he could criticise so-called ‘abuses of free expression’. Meaning that if you criticise, say, Islam, you’re open to being condemned by the UN. Or, as Hari puts it, ‘Instead of condemning the people who wanted to murder Salman Rushdie, they will be condemning Salman Rushdie himself’.

Of course, this has nothing to do with respecting religious faith, and everything to do with stopping condemnation of these very states for human rights abuses. Evidently, the UN has been hijacked by theocracies to undercut its own commitment to human rights. Will they condemn me for pointing out that Islam, along with most other religions, are silly, false, and serve little purpose other than brainwashing people?

The article is too good to pick out a single quote to summarise, but here a couple of incisive ones:

Anything which can be deemed “religious” is no longer allowed to be a subject of discussion at the UN – and almost everything is deemed religious. Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union has tried to raise topics like the stoning of women accused of adultery or child marriage. The Egyptian delegate stood up to announce discussion of shariah “will not happen” and “Islam will not be crucified in this council” – and Brown was ordered to be silent. Of course, the first victims of locking down free speech about Islam with the imprimatur of the UN are ordinary Muslims.

Here is a random smattering of events that have taken place in the past week in countries that demanded this change. In Nigeria, divorced women are routinely thrown out of their homes and left destitute, unable to see their children, so a large group of them wanted to stage a protest – but the Shariah police declared it was “un-Islamic” and the marchers would be beaten and whipped. In Saudi Arabia, the country’s most senior government-approved cleric said it was perfectly acceptable for old men to marry 10-year-old girls, and those who disagree should be silenced. In Egypt, a 27-year-old Muslim blogger Abdel Rahman was seized, jailed and tortured for arguing for a reformed Islam that does not enforce shariah.

To the people who demand respect for Muslim culture, I ask: which Muslim culture? Those women’s, those children’s, this blogger’s – or their oppressors’?

Underpinning these “reforms” is a notion seeping even into democratic societies – that atheism and doubt are akin to racism. Today, whenever a religious belief is criticised, its adherents immediately claim they are the victims of “prejudice” – and their outrage is increasingly being backed by laws.

All people deserve respect, but not all ideas do. I don’t respect the idea that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water and rose from the dead. I don’t respect the idea that we should follow a “Prophet” who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn’t follow him.

I don’t respect the idea that the West Bank was handed to Jews by God and the Palestinians should be bombed or bullied into surrendering it. I don’t respect the idea that we may have lived before as goats, and could live again as woodlice. This is not because of “prejudice” or “ignorance”, but because there is no evidence for these claims. They belong to the childhood of our species, and will in time look as preposterous as believing in Zeus or Thor or Baal.

When you demand “respect”, you are demanding we lie to you. I have too much real respect for you as a human being to engage in that charade.

I can only hope this will spur more people, both in Western democracies and inside illiberal states, to defend free speech against this tide of religion being used to strangle it.

(Hat tip: Sullivan)

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Sullivan summarises how I subconsciously think of conservatism:

When you use the c-word among the next generation, they no longer associate it with small government, individual freedom, humble faith, balanced budgets, respect for tradition or a strong but prudent foreign policy. They think of religious fanaticism, big spending, massive debt, and social intolerance.

My emphasis. Sullivan’s assessment about my feelings on the c-word is bang on. I kind of like that first part (not the faith or tradition part, but you can’t have everything…). But conservatism hasn’t been about the first part for as long as I’ve been following politics (for about 15 years now, and I’m 28).

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Memo to Sarah Palin

It’s pronounced ‘nook-lee-er’, not ‘nook-u-ler’. Also, it’s not debating when you’re reading from a prepared set of notes consisting of talking points that don’t actually answer the question.

At least Biden wasn’t as annoying and long -winded as he usually is.

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Whaaaa?

Sullivan points to what is either an utterly deranged assessment of the Bush presidency, or an over-the-top satire of ‘conservative’ thinking about the past eight years, from a law professor at Northwestern:

This Administration deserves to be trusted because it has kept us safe from terrorist attack since 9/11, has fought and won two wars, has presided over eight years of economic growth, has appointed two stellar justices to the Supreme Court, and has even learned how to do Louisiana’s job of protecting that state from hurricanes. The day will come, and not before long, when Americans will wish that George Bush was still president.

I put the word ‘conservative’ in quotation marks because most of what the Bush administration has done for eight years is not at all conservative, in the real sense of the word. I’m glad I added Sullivan to my daily reading list – I’m slowly learning what it means to be a conservative. Which is good for a budding libertarian like myself, because I still can’t for the life of me figure out why we’re supposed to consider conservatives our natural allies.

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Palin’s favourables swing negative by 21 points. Yes, it’s DailyKos but it’s definitely a trend. And good grief, she’s annoying to listen to.

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Small Government?

Watching the Republican convention tonight, I noticed several speakers mentioning that the Republicans stood for small government. After the past eight years, during which the size of the federal government increased faster than at any time since the 1930s, these claims leave me incredulous. Doesn’t anyone at the convention understand how palpably ridiculous and insulting this sounds? Is anyone there not in denial about this? What right do Republicans have to claim that they’re for small government anymore? Sullivan thinks it’s a massive televised mental breakdown. After tonight I understand what he means: they’ve become blind to the difference between their rhetoric and their actions. They no longer understand the difference between campaigning and governing. And frankly, they need to be kicked out.

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I haven’t updated the blog in a long while because I’ve been traipsing about the globe – but I’ll tell you about that in another post. I’ve spent some time thinking about McCain’s choice for VP, Sarah Palin, a woman who was mayor of a town of 6000 people before becoming governor of Alaska in 2006 – a pick completely out of left field. She established a reputation for bucking the Republican establishment in Alaska; indeed, she can plausibly be described as a reformer, something which undoubtedly appealed to McCain.

I don’t mean the title of this post to be derogatory – not ‘What the hell is he thinking?’ but, rather, ‘What really made him pick Palin?’ The more I think about it, the more I see a very risky, yet possibly extremely shrewd, nuanced choice for VP.

First, let’s examine her positions (all this is obtained from The Atlantic blogs). She’s pro-life. She supports drilling in ANWAR but understands the importance of energy independence. She is a lifelong member of the NRA. She is a fiscal conservative. She is an evangelical. She opposes gay marriage, but vetoed an anti-gay bill that crossed her desk. She is known to support creationism. Nobody knows anything about what she thinks of Iraq, Afghanistan, the crisis in Georgia, or any other foreign policy issue. We don’t know anything about her position on stem cell research, AIDS policy or immigration reform. We can glean that she has more respect for the constitution than Bush or Cheney, since she vetoed the anti-gay bill because it was unconstitutional.

Also, she is a woman. Which may appeal to disgruntled Hillary voters. Or not. The overwhelming focus on cable news this morning was on whether or not they might now consider voting for McCain, with a woman on the ticket. This is beside the point – if Hillary voters go for McCain because of the female veep, that’s a bonus but should not be expected. Why would Hillary voters, many of whom are presumably fairly liberal, vote for a woman who has established strong conservative credentials? In particular, a woman who is pro-life? I can’t see that happening.

There are two main benefits for McCain to choose Palin, insofar as his own campaign is concerned:

1. She consolidates and energises the conservative base that remains suspicious of McCain. This is especially important because of the enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans this year. It also undercuts some of the reasons for voting for Bob Barr in nominally red states that may vote for Obama because of vote splitting between him and McCain.

2. She reinforces his image as a reformer and maverick. He can point to her record as governor and say ‘Obama talks about change, but Palin has actually accomplished change’.

That’s all well and good, but what does it do to the Obama campaign? Her lack of any serious experience (even more so than Obama) is a major weakness, and they can’t even point to good judgement as a substitute for experience (à la Joe Biden’s speech on Wednesday) because there’s no record there. Of course, by pointing this out, Obama’s campaign risks inviting comparisons to his records, so they need to tread carefully.

I think there’s a trap here for Obama: they can criticise her positions, her Christianism, her rather extreme views, but by doing so they also publicise them, thus energising and enthusing the conservative base that handed the election over to Bush in 2000 and 2004. That’s not to say that she’ll get McCain enough votes to win the election, but it does bridge the enthusiasm gap. Moreover, the experience issue is a problem because McCain-Palin can point to her experience as a reformer in Alaska whenever someone in the Obama camp tries to bring up her lack of experience.

So, possibly a shrewd choice. That’s if she survives the rigours of the campaign trail, which is not at all clear. From what I’ve been reading, it’s doubtful she’s even been fully vetted, having come fresh with a minor scandal about inappropriately influencing the firing of a public official. In fact, I think the risks definitely outweigh the benefits, because I fully expect her to make a major gaffe of some type that will affect the McCain campaign during the campaign. (Fallows explains why very convincingly.) She also full of electoral liabilities, which doubtless Obama will exploit to the fullest.

None of this addresses the actual merits of the pick, of which there are virtually none. To paraphrase another blogger, if McCain dies of melanoma in office, can you imagine her staring down Vladimir Putin? I give Andrew the last word:

Think about what the Palin pick really says about how McCain views this campaign and how he views his potential responsibilities in national security.

Think about what it says about the sincerity of McCain’s own central criticism of Obama these past two months in foreign affairs.

Think about how he picked a woman to be a heartbeat away from a war presidency who hadn’t even thought much, by her own admission, about the Iraq war as late as 2007.

Think about how he made this decision barely knowing the woman.

Think about how the key factor in this decision was not who could defend this country were something dreadful happen to McCain in office but how to tread as much on Obama’s convention bounce and use women’s equality as a wedge issue among Democrats because it might secure a few points here or there. Oh, and everyone would be surprised. And even Rove would be annoyed.

This is his sense of honor and judgment. This is his sense of responsibility and service.

Here’s the real slogan the McCain campaign should now adopt:

Putting. Country. Last.

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