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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

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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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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It’s occurred to me over the past couple of years (probably because I read it somewhere) that Al-Qaeda’s strength comes from the support it enjoys from many Muslims in the Middle East, and that, unlike Al-Qaeda’s members and core supporters, much of that support rests on Al-Qaeda’s claims about ‘western infidels’, claims which tend to be reinforced by U.S. foreign policy, especially over the past seven years. In other words, while Al-Qaeda’s strongest supporters genuinely hate the western world and want to see it vanish, most of the support it enjoys is ‘conditional’ – in the sense that, if U.S. foreign policy changed to undercut Al-Qaeda’s argument (by, for example, getting out of Iraq as soon as possible), much of that support would weaken or vanish entirely. When that support vanishes, it delegitimizes and marginalizes Al-Qaeda (and related groups), making it more difficult for them to recruit and raise funds.

In fact, support for Al-Qaeda has plummeting (really plummeting, not just declining). Andrew Sullivan links to pieces by Lawrence Wright and Fareed Zakaria discussing the drop in support for Al-Qaeda in the Muslim world:

The Simon Fraser study notes that the decline in terrorism appears to be caused by many factors, among them successful counterterrorism operations in dozens of countries and infighting among terror groups. But the most significant, in the study’s view, is the “extraordinary drop in support for Islamist terror organizations in the Muslim world over the past five years.” These are largely self-inflicted wounds. The more people are exposed to the jihadists’ tactics and world view, the less they support them.

From the Zakaria piece. Yes, I know I’m quoting a piece from its quote in another blog. (Zakaria is discussing a study out of Simon Fraser University which deserves, but has not gotten, major play in the press. I strongly recommend reading it.)

An Al-Qaeda fanatic’s opinion won’t be changed by changes in U.S. foreign policy, and to him anything may be done to further Al-Qaeda’s goals – because that is the very nature of fundamentalism. That leads to tactics that most of the ‘conditional’ supporters of Al-Qaeda find repugnant, and eventually the indiscriminate murder of innocent civilians (in many cases, other Muslims) – which of course weakens support for such outfits. I still believe that a fundamental shift in U.S. foreign policy is the best long term policy to prevent Islamic terrorist organizations from becoming as powerful as Al-Qaeda has been, but in the meantime the terrorists seem to be doing a pretty good job of marginalizing themselves.

Update: Here’s some more from Andrew.

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Ted Haggard has quit his gay therapy conversion-straightifying-‘spiritual restoration’ program. As Joe puts it, ‘It appears that the best brainwashers in the business have failed with their most famous subject’. The implied message about the effectiveness of such programs should be obvious.

Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan for pointing this out – and you’ll notice he’s now been added to my blogroll.

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There’s a provincial election in the air here in Ontario, and the stink of religious politics is permeating it. According to ctv.ca, Conservative leader John Tory has suggested that creationism could be taught alongside evolution should private schools be brought into the public system. He then suggested that they might not be treated equally in a science class. While it annoys me to see this nonsense make its way here from south of the border where this asinine debate has been raging for years, Tory’s words betray the same fundamental misunderstanding of how science works as seen in proponents of creationism (and its dolled-up evil twin, intelligent design):

“It’s still called the theory of evolution,” Tory said. “They teach evolution in the Ontario curriculum, but they also could teach the fact to the children that there are other theories that people have out there that are part of some Christian beliefs.”

Of course the word ‘theory’ here does not mean what he thinks it means. A theory in science is a broad framework that provides an explanation for a variety of observed phenomena. It is not an idea that has a yet to be verified – a theory is the highest honour that can be given to a scientific principle, and the moniker is only applied to ideas that have considerable experimental scrutiny. There is no such a thing as an absolute truth in science because everything is verified by empirical evidence, and therefore, in principle, a single contradictory observation suffices to disprove a theory (in practice the process of rejecting a full theory is more complicated and generally involves a paradigm shift). If Tory wants to claim that creationism is a scientific theory capable of explaining the same broad range of phenomena that evolution can explain, I invite him to demonstrate how creationism is scientific and how it explains everything that evolution also does. Then we may speculate on whether it is appropriate to include in school curricula.

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Now playing: The New Pornographers – Mass Romantic
via FoxyTunes

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Here’s an interesting read I found last night.

‘Forgive me if it takes me a little time to get up to speed here, but it’s not everyday I get to question a deity’

The Deity’ he interrupted.

ooh. Touchy!’ I thought.

Not really – just correcting the image

Now That takes some getting used to!

I tried to get a grip on my thoughts, with an internal command – ‘Discipline Harry. You’ve always wanted to be in a situation like this, now you’re actually in it, you mustn’t go to pieces and waste the opportunity of a lifetime

You won’t’ he said.

Tell you! That’s the bit that made it feel unreal more than anything else – this guy sitting across the table and very obviously accurately reading my every thought. It’s like finding someone else’s hand inside your trouser pocket!

Nevertheless, something made me inclined to accept the invasion, I had obviously begun to have some confidence in his perception or abilities, so I distinctly remember the effect of his words was that I suddenly felt deeply reassured and completely relaxed. As he had no doubt intended. Man must have an amazing seduction technique!

So then we got down to business…

Maybe we can get to level two…

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