Posts Tagged ‘extremism’

– Yes, mandatory work activity schemes are mandatory, and no, they aren’t fair. The nonsense of “fairness” is shown up for what it is in this article, too. If fairness means making others suffer so that those who are already suffering feel better about not suffering alone, then no thanks.

– Plenty of extremist maniacs still want Salman Rushdie dead, but they’re not willing to pay so much for it nowadays.

– How is America’s attempt to cut back on spending going?

– “A second term for Obama won’t in and of itself awaken the public to the bipartisan, systemic nature of American plutocracy anymore than Bill Clinton’s second term did. A Republican in office might awaken the partisan left’s devotion to peace and freedom again, but only until the next Democrat is in power.

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– It’s nice when the crazies come right out and demand a dictatorial theocracy, with themselves at the top. At least you know where you stand, once they abandon all pretense of things like fairness, justice, compassion.

– We know he was good at maths, cryptography, and being hounded to suicide for his sexuality, but Alan Turing also knew a thing or two about tigers.

– Amidst all this fuss about the hugely unpopular NHS reforms being pushed through by the Tories, it’s worth taking a moment to remember some of the other things David Cameron is wrong about.

Some drivers say that this sign is “too complicated”.

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A couple of weeks ago, a particularly intellectual and astute Muslim totally destroyed some heretics’ arguments with his superior powers of logic and deduction. Before they’d even spoken, he conclusively demonstrated that the facts were entirely on his side, and that any rebuttals made by the non-believers would necessarily be false.

By which I mean he threatened them and had a debate cancelled.

Still, I’m sure they were all persuaded. I’m sure that everyone there who might have believed something derogative of the holy Prophet Muhammad – say, that he had multiple wives and had sex with at least one pre-pubescent child – now realises that it’s not true, for the obvious reason that if they were to say that it’s true then they might be violently attacked. To still believe the truth of such a fact, even in the furthest recesses of one’s mind, would be an affront to reason.

So, well done, Islamists with no interest in debate or discovery but who are willing to attack and harm others for crimes of thought. You won in a way that really matters.

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The Heresiarch is characteristically spot-on in his take on the matter of the recently firebombed French magazine that had dared to publish blasphemous cartoon images of the prophet Mohammed. In particular, he’s taking on the idea that an organisation that goes out of its way to deliberately cause offense to millions of peace-loving Muslims deserves no sympathy when a small violent faction is driven to bloody vengeance.

I think when I do this it’s called a pull-quote:

The irony is that this kind of argument is a form of Islamophobia itself, both because it demonstrates actual fear of Muslims (they might bomb us) and because it caricatures them as all the same, all equally thin-skinned and all interested in nothing beyond upholding the dignity of their holy prophet. But in fact Muslims (whether they know it or not; many do) have much more than other people to gain from a lifting of the taboo on criticising any aspect of their religion, whether Sharia law, the Koran or the personality of Mohammed.

This is exactly right. If the over-sensitive cultural taboo wasn’t so keenly and aggressively in place, then cartoonists and satirists wouldn’t find it nearly such a rich vein of subject matter. Magazines wouldn’t bother putting the images in question on their covers, because there’d be no worthwhile point to be made by doing so; and so the extremists subgroups wouldn’t keep firebombing people and reinforcing the public image of Muslims as violent reactionaries who the rest of us ought to fear. Surely that unfortunately widespread perception is more damaging and hurtful to the majority of Muslims than the occasional drawing of their prophet.

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Osama bin Laden has been killed by US military forces. I learned about this on Twitter.

I’m not going to wax political at any great length about what this means. There’s already a good deal of opinion out there, of an interestingly diverse range.

There’s the jubilant and perhaps justifiably smug:

And there’s the rather less thrilled:

Now that every good, patriotic liberal believes Barack Obama is personally responsible for the success or failure of every U.S. military action undertaken during his watch, can we call the dude a mass murderer yet?

Some musings on the legality and morality of killing him are worth reading at Heresy Corner and the New Statesman. Also leaping into action is Hitch at Slate.

I’m finding it hard to muster any particularly strong convictions about any of it myself. I’m certainly not going to miss the guy, but it doesn’t seem like there’s much worth celebrating here, except for those in the US political system for whom this was a massive PR coup.

The only thing I’m pretty sure I’m standing firm on is that I’m 100% against anything purely retributive. I don’t think I could ever support increasing the amount of misery in the world for the sake of “fairness”, under any circumstances. Not saying that’s what was done here. Just saying.

There was a quote being tossed back and forth on Twitter earlier, from a survivor of the 9/11 attacks, who refused to revel in bin Laden’s death. In trying to track that down again to mention it here, I actually found a few other reactions from 9/11 survivors and the families of those who were killed, and they seem to be pretty mixed. Some say that bin Laden’s death brings closure, others specifically report that it doesn’t. I’m not sure there are any grand conclusions to be drawn there.

I was about to leave it there when the latest work from the Digital Cuttlefish appeared in my RSS feed. I basically agree with the sentiment, but I think a lot of zir reasoning behind it is actually irrelevant. You don’t need to “understand” why bin Laden and other extremists might think the way they do, thanks to American foreign policy and whatnot, in order to be opposed to sadism. And it can’t be anything other than sadism, however much it might be dressed up as a desire for “justice”, which opposes bin Laden’s killing on the grounds that it gets him “off the hook”.

The harm he did has been done. We might have lost the chance to enact some more thorough, brutal, viscerally satisfying revenge – but unless his abrupt death snatched away the chance to do something good, we shouldn’t mourn that loss.

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Here’s an interesting account of someone’s experiment wearing a veil which covered her hair, and the shift in attitudes she experienced when people assumed she was a Muslim. It’s a troubling tale of prejudice and discompassion.

Here’s a clip of Sam Harris, one of my heroes, talking about Islam, asserting among other things that Osama bin Laden’s interpretation of the religion is an entirely reasonable one.

Does one of them have to be wrong?

No, they really, really don’t.

Holding two distinct ideas in your head isn’t always a sign of cognitive dissonance. They have to be directly conflicting for that to be the case; otherwise it’s just a matter of appreciating nuance and complexity. Hell, sometimes it’s no more complicated than understanding basic object permanence, which most humans get the hang of by the age of 12 months.

Islam is a dangerous religion which lends itself to murderous fanaticism. Its primary text advocates theocracy, murder, and slavery, and millions of its adherents use their faith to justify numerous barbaric, primitive, morally indefensible behaviours.

And yet, at the same time as all that being true, you should simultaneously not act like a douchebag to a woman you don’t know who’s wearing a veil to cover her hair.

I mean, who does that anyway? Deciding you know all about someone and how they deserve to be treated with less respect based on your assessment of the way they look? Well, I guess a lot of people do. No doubt I do too, to some extent, but I at least make an effort to watch out for it.

Knowing some facts about Islam is not the same thing as being racist (or rather, prejudiced against individuals because of your generalisations about their religion – I don’t think we have as snappy a word for that, though). Nor does it inevitably lead to it. Islam is shit, but people still deserve to be treated like people, at least, until they actually do something which proves them no longer worthy of that courtesy. And then a bit further than that, too.

If you’re going to say anything especially damning about the religion, it’s worth taking the time to clarify that you’re not seeking to disparage all individuals who follow it, because some people will still misunderstand you even then. Criticism of ideas can often look like bigotry and prejudice, particularly to people who aren’t really paying attention, and never in the history of our species has there been a shortage of those.

But these things can still be said, and sometimes it’s important that they are.

Am I repeating myself tiresomely yet? Hate all religion, love all the people. Same old story.

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Another thought regarding the Koran-burning thing.

Nobody’s disagreeing that Pastor Jones’s chosen form of protest was both metaphorically and literally incendiary. I imagine everyone shares the concerns that the Islamic extremists’ response would be violent, and would hurt people unnecessarily. As I’ve said before, these concerns are both reasonable and demonstrably correct.

One place where a difference of opinion comes in, though, is in whether Jones should be allowed to go through with it anyway. Is he acting within the boundaries of his own rights to free expression? Or do those rights not extend to a knowing incitement and provocation to violent acts?

I’ve seen more than one person comparing what Jones is doing to shouting fire in a crowded theatre, a classic free speech cliché intended to demonstrate that it’s sometimes necessary to place some restriction on people’s right to say any damn thing they want. A case can be made that, for instance, concerns for public safety overrule anyone’s first amendment rights to go raising a ruckus.

However, I don’t think this is a fair comparison.

The first distinction you might notice is that shouting fire would only be considered unworthy of protection under free speech laws if it is knowingly untrue. Of course you’d be justified in alerting people to an actual fire, and presumably if you had good reason to suspect that there was a danger then you’d be on safe ground too, even if it turned out to be a false alarm.

Burning a Koran, on the other hand, is not an explicitly declarative act. There’s no potentially untrue or defamatory statement being made.

But this might not matter, if the incitement is still predictable as a result of the act. There’s a more interesting point I haven’t seen being made yet though.

If you do raise some kind of alarm amidst a packed crowd in an enclosed space, you may cause people’s lives or health to be endangered as they charge towards the exits to get the hell out of there. You can reasonably expect that they’ll take your warning at face value, and might be harmed while responding reasonably to this.

However, the danger from Muslim extremists was not because Pastor Jones had provided them with a falsified threat, and they were reacting appropriately to a perceived danger. A violent reaction might be predictable, but you’d only cause violence and harm in response to someone else burning some books if you’re fucking crazy.

People should run for the exits if they’re stuck in an enclosed space and told that there’s a fire. If they’re sensible, they’ll be compelled to take action by a legitimate fear. But whatever reason the extremists might think they have for attacking the nearest standing structure in fury at someone’s disrespect, they are wrong.

In the case of the Koran-burning, then, people will only get hurt if other people behave like unreasonable shits.

Nobody’s entitled to shift the blame for their evil actions onto somebody else’s provocations, simply because they made threats or have a reputation for being dangerously irrational. Which is why I don’t buy Pastor Jones’s actions as an incitement to violence that should be censored.

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Ayaan Hirsi Ali is pretty awesome.

I read her memoir Infidel last year, inspired by the discussion about it on Skepchick, and their summaries of the book here and here. It’s a pretty amazing story, about her upbringing in Somalia and other parts of Africa, deeply entrenched in fundamentalist religion, and how she broke away from it as a young woman and became a philosophical and humanist spokesperson of some significance.

I made a note to myself a few weeks ago that I should comment on this article she wrote, and only just remembered about it. It’s about the recent constitutional ban on minarets – those pointy onion-shaped towers you sometimes get at the top of Islamic mosques – that was voted for in Switzerland, a country currently possessing a total of four such minarets. Like most people seemed to, I decided this was probably a pretty ridiculous over-reaction, but didn’t think a great deal more about it.

I didn’t expect there’d be a significant number of voices in support of the ban that didn’t come from the (probably Christian) conservative right. So Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s article, with the headline “Swiss ban on minarets was a vote for tolerance and inclusion”, kinda caught my eye.

Now, I’m very unsure of my footing here. I know that certain recent events have highlighted some of the dangers inherent in offering an opposing view in response to the position argued by people who are better informed and better qualified than you in every important regard. And yet, here I am, saying that I’ve given it more than a cursory mental glance now, and I’m still not convinced by Ali’s argument.

Part of her point seems to be that the Islam represented by the minarets is a political movement, not simply a personal religious faith, and that this political movement is oppressive and dangerous. She’s written before, and well, on the dangers of accommodating and pandering to religious extremists out of fear of alienating the more moderate majority. In Infidel, she described the tendency of many European politicians to make excuses for Islamic extremists and terrorists, to go out of their way to find ways to blame the West for these acts of terror, and to refuse to condemn any form of any religion, even when taken to such barbaric and deplorable ends, out of some misguided notions of “respect” and “tolerance”. I’m entirely with her on all this, and Islam should absolutely be open to criticism as a political movement.

But she also seems to be saying that allowing the minarets to stand and continue to be built would be an implicit endorsement of Islamic politics, and an assertion that any extremist or supremacist views associated with the minarets deserve equal respect in all public conversation. And I’m just not sure it would. I don’t see how restricting people’s rights to build their buildings, in which they like to air their views, however repugnant those views might be, is a tolerant or liberal act. Am I just being a wacky libertarian here?

She suggests we imagine a similar ban on “the building of an equilateral cross with its arms bent at right angles as a symbol of the belief of a small minority”. If my spatial awareness isn’t failing me, she’s talking about swastikas. But if someone wants to build a building on their own land, with their own resources, in the shape of a swastika, I don’t know how I can condone forcibly preventing them from doing so. It seems like that would necessarily make me a complete hypocrite with regard to every other time I’ve supported free speech when somebody’s complained about being offended.

I hope that a country like Switzerland would “reject the ideas and practices of political Islam”. But I’m not convinced that people have a right to extend their expression of that rejection, to the point where they’re telling other people what they can and can’t do with their own money, or build on their own land. I don’t need to be reminded how horrifyingly oppressive, misogynist, dictatorial, militaristic, and authoritarian some Islamist teachings are. But surely that’s not a good enough reason for us to start being oppressive and dictatorial ourselves. Find another way to reject their philosophy. One that promotes your own, and explains why it’s better, perhaps.

What are the odds I’m greatly over-simplifying things and missing the bit where all this has already been rebutted? I’m guessing pretty high.

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