Monday, February 06, 2006

Democracy in a Cartoon

(By Ibn Warraq )

Best-selling author and Muslim dissident Ibn Warraq argues that freedom of expression is our western heritage and we must defend it against attacks from totalitarian societies. If the west does not stand in solidarity with the Danish, he argues, then the Islamization of Europe will have begun in earnest

The great British philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty, "Strange it is, that men should admit the validity of the arguments for free discussion, but object to their being 'pushed to an extreme'; not seeing that unless the reasons are good for an extreme case, they are not good for any case."

The cartoons in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten raise the most important question of our times: freedom of expression. Are we in the west going to cave into pressure from societies with a medieval mindset, or are we going to defend our most precious freedom -- freedom of expression, a freedom for which thousands of people sacrificed their lives?

A democracy cannot survive long without freedom of expression, the freedom to argue, to dissent, even to insult and offend. It is a freedom sorely lacking in the Islamic world, and without it Islam will remain unassailed in its dogmatic, fanatical, medieval fortress; ossified, totalitarian and intolerant. Without this fundamental freedom, Islam will continue to stifle thought, human rights, individuality; originality and truth.

Unless, we show some solidarity, unashamed, noisy, public solidarity with the Danish cartoonists, then the forces that are trying to impose on the Free West a totalitarian ideology will have won; the Islamization of Europe will have begun in earnest. Do not apologize.

This raises another more general problem: the inability of the West to defend itself intellectually and culturally. Be proud, do not apologize. Do we have to go on apologizing for the sins our fathers? Do we still have to apologize, for example, for the British Empire, when, in fact, the British presence in India led to the Indian Renaissance, resulted in famine relief, railways, roads and irrigation schemes, eradication of cholera, the civil service, the establishment of a universal educational system where none existed before, the institution of elected parliamentary democracy and the rule of law? What of the British architecture of Bombay and Calcutta? The British even gave back to the Indians their own past: it was European scholarship, archaeology and research that uncovered the greatness that was India; it was British government that did its best to save and conserve the monuments that were a witness to that past glory. British Imperialism preserved where earlier Islamic Imperialism destroyed thousands of Hindu temples.

On the world stage, should we really apologize for Dante, Shakespeare, and Goethe? Mozart, Beethoven and Bach? Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Breughel, Ter Borch? Galileo, Huygens, Copernicus, Newton and Darwin? Penicillin and computers? The Olympic Games and Football? Human rights and parliamentary democracy? The west is the source of the liberating ideas of individual liberty, political democracy, the rule of law, human rights and cultural freedom. It is the west that has raised the status of women, fought against slavery, defended freedom of enquiry, expression and conscience. No, the west needs no lectures on the superior virtue of societies who keep their women in subjection, cut off their clitorises, stone them to death for alleged adultery, throw acid on their faces, or deny the human rights of those considered to belong to lower castes.

How can we expect immigrants to integrate into western society when they are at the same time being taught that the west is decadent, a den of iniquity, the source of all evil, racist, imperialist and to be despised? Why should they, in the words of the African-American writer James Baldwin, want to integrate into a sinking ship? Why do they all want to immigrate to the west and not Saudi Arabia? They should be taught about the centuries of struggle that resulted in the freedoms that they and everyone else for that matter, cherish, enjoy, and avail themselves of; of the individuals and groups who fought for these freedoms and who are despised and forgotten today; the freedoms that the much of the rest of world envies, admires and tries to emulate." When the Chinese students cried and died for democracy in Tiananmen Square (in 1989) , they brought with them not representations of Confucius or Buddha but a model of the Statue of Liberty."

Freedom of expression is our western heritage and we must defend it or it will die from totalitarian attacks. It is also much needed in the Islamic world. By defending our values, we are teaching the Islamic world a valuable lesson, we are helping them by submitting their cherished traditions to Enlightenment values.


Comment lifted from The Locker Room. The event referred to is described here

It was just announced on Fox News that the torching of 5 Baptist churches were not being considered a "hate crime." This is because 4 of the churches were predominantly white. Of course, all five churches were Baptist and all 5 churches were Christian. I guess only race counts when "hate" is considered as a motive. On the other hand, if all 5 were mosques or synagogues? Maybe its only white Christians that can't be the victim of a hate crime.

The Rise in Divorce among older couples: It's Always Hubby's Fault

In both the United States and Japan, divorce among older couples is on the rise. The American Association of Retired Persons detailed the phenomenon among American seniors in a study last year, and Japan's wave of gray divorce is expected to swell into a deluge, since Japanese women will soon be legally able to claim half of their husbands' retirement pensions.

There are various explanations for the trend but media commentators agree on one thing--when the husband divorces his wife, it's hubby's fault. When the wife divorces her husband, well, it's hubby's fault too. In a recent New York Times article Terry Martin Hekker, whose husband of 40 years divorced her, criticizes what she and others in the media are calling a trend: selfish older men dumping their wives for younger women. In Japan, a popular book is Why Are Retired Husbands Such a Nuisance?, and one of Japan's most-watched television dramas is Jukunen Rikon ("Mature Divorce").

One Japanese newspaper says "some Japanese women see their husbands as an obstacle to enjoying their sunset years. With few hobbies or friends to turn to, many Japanese retirees, often nicknamed `wet leaves' for their tendency to cling to their wives, spend their time at home." These "wet leaves" are increasingly being swept aside by their newly independent wives.

In both countries this "Pin the Blame on the Husband" is unfair. For one, the stereotype of the husband trading in his wife for a younger model is by and large a myth. The women in the AARP study were 60% more likely to claim that they ended their marriages than the men were, and men were almost twice as likely as women to say that they never saw their divorces coming. In contrast to the Porsche and trophy wife stereotype, the AARP study found that these divorced men had many serious concerns, high among them their fear of losing touch with their children after a divorce.

Many of these men would see their fears in Hekker's description of her divorce. Hekker likens her anger to that of the jilted bride Miss Haversham in Dickens's Great Expectations who "spent decades.consumed with plotting revenge." She says that at a family baby shower recently, her niece said "I don't want to end up like Aunt Terry." In other words, Hekker plays the victim and the family has been instructed to feel pity for her and outrage at her ex-husband, who now is apparently persona non grata among his relatives. What a nice reward for the 40 years he worked to provide his wife and children with a comfortable standard of living.

Japanese women--who enjoy one of the longest life expectancies in the world-are apparently similarly ungrateful. Is it so surprising and contemptible that after four decades of work, work, work, retired Japanese men don't know what to do with themselves? They've never known the freedoms and unsupervised days that their homemaker wives have enjoyed.

This is not to say that there's no validity to women's complaints. Radio host Howard Stern recently interviewed television commentator Geraldo Rivera, who in 2003 married a woman less than half his age. Stern was only half-joking when he asked "aren't you worried about your future? Think of it--when you're 75, you're going to be stuck married to a 45 year-old woman."

In this area biology dictates much--if men found 60-year-old women as attractive as they found 30 year-olds, the human race would have died out a long time ago. Yet marriages break up for a variety of reasons, most of them having little to do with male perfidy. There's a big distinction between dumping your wife for a younger woman, and pursuing a relationship with a younger woman after your marriage has ended.

Though nobody says it, "dumped for a younger woman" is sometimes just a woman's cop-out for not taking responsibility for her own contribution to the marital breakdown. Hekker says her ex-husband spent 16 pages of his divorce papers "meticulously detailing my faults and flaws." Yet the New York Times' editors didn't ask her to devote a single one of her 1,600+ words towards giving the reader a clue as to what her ex-husband's feelings and complaints might be. Given the way the media is portraying gray divorce on both sides of the Pacific, this is no surprise.


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