Wednesday, January 31, 2007
The prevailing feeling among Muslims is that they are being abused by the West. What should we do about it? We might as well surrender. After all, we're already on our way says Broder. The excerpts below are from Henryk M. Broder's German book "Hurra, Wir Kapitulieren," ("Hurray! We're Capitulating").
Ten years ago, in the spring of 1996, the world still seemed more or less okay. The towers of the World Trade Center dominated the Manhattan skyline, the American president had an affair with an intern, the Helmut Kohl era was coming to an end in Germany, and intellectuals killed time by debating over whether Francis Fukuyama was right in claiming that we have reached the "end of history" and whether capitalism had truly triumphed or socialism had merely lost the first round. In those days few were aware of the fine distinction between Islam and Islamism.
One had to look very closely to recognize the first signs of a brewing crisis. In Berlin, the Rote Gr?tze theater group was performing an enlightening piece called "Who Said Anything About Love?" To advertise the play, posters depicting a young man and a young woman, naked and full of innocence, were handed out in schools.
The schools had no qualms about displaying the posters, until a school official from Berlin's Tiergarten district requested a permit from the city's education authority. The agency turned down the request, arguing that the poster could hurt "the feelings of non-Christian pupils." The education authority was acting preventively and with what amounted to exaggerated concern for a cultural minority that had yet to be integrated into permissive German society. No Muslim pupils had complained about hurt feelings, nor had their parents expressed concerns about immoral harassment.
That was 10 years ago. Today everything has changed, except the resolve not to hurt the feelings of Muslims. The issue today no longer revolves around a group of Berlin pupils with an "immigration background," but around 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide -- many of whom are thin-skinned and unpredictable. At issue is freedom of opinion, one of the central tenets of the Enlightenment and democracy. And whether respect, consideration and tolerance are the right approach to dealing with cultures that, for their part, behave without respect, consideration or tolerance when it comes to anything they view as decadent, provocative and unworthy -- from women in short skirts to cartoons they deem provocative without even having seen them.....
A year ago on Feb. 3, 2006, a "Day of Anger" was proclaimed. Across the Muslim world, the Muhammad cartoons were the focus of Friday prayers. Millions of Muslims who couldn't even locate Denmark on a map demonstrated against these insults to the Prophet, incited by their imams. The embassies of Denmark and Norway were set on fire in Damascus, the Danish embassy was torched in Beirut, firebombs were hurled at the Danish consulate in Tehran, and Danish and Norwegian flags were burned in Nigeria and Algeria.
In the past, an attack on an embassy would have been reason enough to go to war. But this time the affected countries did their utmost to "de-escalate." The victims were repentant and begged the perpetrators for forgiveness. Indeed, the West was intent on not doing anything that could possibly give offense and cause these fanatical Muslims to become even angrier.
Objectively speaking, the cartoon controversy was a tempest in a teacup. But subjectively it was a show of strength and, in the context of the "clash of civilizations," a dress rehearsal for the real thing. The Muslims demonstrated how quickly and effectively they can mobilize the masses, and the free West showed that it has nothing to counter the offensive -- nothing but fear, cowardice and an overriding concern about the balance of trade. Now the Islamists know that they are dealing with a paper tiger whose roar is nothing but a tape recording.
As different as the West's reactions to the Muslim protests were, what they had in common were origins in feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. Critical souls who only yesterday agreed with Marx that religion is the opium of the masses suddenly insisted that religious sensibilities must be taken into account, especially when accompanied by violence. The representatives of open societies reacted like the inhabitants of an island about to be hit by a hurricane. Powerless against the forces of nature, they stocked up on supplies, nailed doors and windows shut and hoped that the storm would soon pass. Of course, whereas such a reaction may be an appropriate response to natural disasters, such a lack of resistance merely encourages fundamentalists. It completely justifies their view of the West as weak, decadent and completely unwilling to defend itself. Those who react to kidnappings and beheadings, to massacres of people of other faiths, and to eruptions of collective hysteria with a call for "cultural dialogue" don't deserve any better.
"The West should desist from engaging in all provocations that produce feelings of debasement and humiliation," says psychoanalyst Horst-Eberhard Richter. "We should show greater respect for the cultural identity of Muslim countries. ... For Muslims, it is important to be recognized and respected as equals." In Richter's view, what the Muslims need is "a partnership of equals."
But Richter neglects to describe what this partnership might look like. Does achieving such equality mean that we should set up separate sections for women on buses, as is the custom in Saudi Arabia? Should the marrying age for girls be reduced to 12, as is the case in Iran? And should death by stoning be our punishment for adultery, as Shariah law demands? What else could the West do to show its respect for the cultural identity of Islamic countries? Would it be sufficient to allow Horst-Eberhard Richter to decide whether, for example, a wet T-shirt contest in a German city rises to a level of criminal provocation that could cause the Muslim faithful in Hyderabad to feel debased and humiliated?
The discussion over which provocations WE should put an end to so that THEY do not feel upset inexorably leads to the realm of the absurd. Should devout Jews be entitled to demand that non-Jews give up pork? And should they have the power to impose sanctions if their demands are not met? Can a Hindu in India run amok because the Dutch do not view cows as sacred beings? Those who believe Muslims have the right to be outraged by the Danes failing to abide by an Islamic prohibition -- especially when it's not even clear that such a prohibition even exists -- must answer such questions clearly in the affirmative. Even illiterates must then be allowed to ransack bookstores; in a world in which anyone is entitled to feel offended and humiliated, anyone can also choose which provocations he is unwilling to accept.
The comments made by German pastor Burkhard Mueller on Feb. 11, 2005 on "Wort zum Sonntag," a weekly Christian program aired on the ARD public television network, demonstrate just how far we are willing to go when it comes to denying reality. "Islam is a great religion," Mueller said, only minutes after the previous news program had shown scenes of burning flags, devastated embassies and holy warriors yelling "death to the infidels!" Where does it come from, this determination to disregard the facts or conveniently distort them so that they cloud our perception of reality?
It comes from fear. Fear may be a poor counselor, but when it comes to educating the masses, there is no more effective tool. Mao famously said: "Strike one to educate one hundred" -- an axiom that helped him solidify his power. It is not respect for other cultures which influences behavior, but rather the awareness of just how fanatic and ruthless our adversaries are. The wilder and more brutal they appear to be, the more likely they are to attract attention and gain respect. Whether venturing into unfamiliar territory means taking a walk in a different neighborhood or visiting a foreign culture, our natural tendency is to avoid conflict.
"Nowadays acts of terrorism are not committed for their own sake, but in the name of an ideology one could call Nazi-Islamism," Romanian-American author Norman Manea told the German daily Die Welt in March 2004. The only difference, in Manea's view, is "that this ideology invokes a religion, whereas the Nazis were mythical without being religious." Manea believes that what he calls a "World War III" has already begun. "The Europeans are putting off the recognition -- as they did in the 1930s -- of the tremendous tragedy that awaits them and that has, in fact, already arrived."
This sounds like an extreme exaggeration, conjuring up visions of a Day of Judgment, of an Apocalypse Now! Of course, in 1938 hardly anyone could have imagined where the policy of appeasing the Nazis would lead. History does not repeat itself, and yet there are parallels that do not bode well. The willingness to submit to self-deception is as widespread today as it was in the years leading up to World War II.
The Europeans' wishful thinking stems from their need to avoid conflicts, coupled with a strong survival instinct. They may perceive reality, but they do so selectively. The Berlin office of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War has published a paper describing the consequences of an American nuclear strike against Iran. According to its scenario, more than 2 million people would die within the first 48 hours, and another million would suffer serious injuries. Ten million would be exposed to high levels of radiation. But one question the paper neither poses nor answers is this: What would be the consequential damage of an Iranian nuclear attack once the country is capable of producing and using a nuclear bomb?
No one wants to address this question, and for good reason: No one knows how to prevent an Iranian nuclear attack, or even how to influence the Iranians' policies. In contrast, there is a very small but real possibility that public pressure can be used to influence the American government to move in one direction or another. The proponents of peace whose protests are directed against America's plans to attack Iran and not against the mullahs' nuclear policies are well aware of this difference. They are not blind in one eye, as they are often accused of being, but instead have a clear view of everything that is happening. And they are as delighted as children discovering a surprise. "Peace Signals from Tehran," the Berliner Zeitung wrote ecstatically in early July, when Iran did not for once flatly reject one of the European Union's many proposed compromises, but instead declared that it would "give it serious consideration."
For those facing a hopeless situation and powerless to change it, self-deception offers at least some succor.
Another option is "change through ingratiation." Oskar Lafontaine, a one-time chairman of the Social Democratic Party and German chancellor candidate, sees "commonalities between leftist policies and the Islamic religion." In an interview with Neues Deutschland, he says: "Islam depends on community, which places it in opposition to extreme individualism, which threatens to fail in the West. The second similarity is that the devout Muslim is required to share his wealth with others. The leftist also wants to see the strong help the weak. Finally, the prohibition of interest still plays a role in Islam, much as it once did in Christianity. At a time when entire economies are plunging into crisis because their expectations of returns on investment have become totally absurd, there is a basis for a dialogue to be conducted between the left and the Islamic world."
Lafontaine called upon the West to exercise self-criticism ("We must constantly ask ourselves through which eyes the Muslims see us") and expressed sympathy for the "indignation" of Muslims. According to Lafontaine, "people in Muslim countries have experienced many indignities, one of the most recent being the Iraq war. What we are seeing here is resource imperialism."
In examining similarities between Islam and the European left, though, Lafontaine ignored an important point: how long he would survive without his beloved Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc if a union between leftist politics and the Islamic religion truly came about. His dialogue with the Muslim world would have to be conducted while sipping fruit juice and mineral water. "If you can't beat them, join them!"
All the events of last spring are only a foretaste of something much bigger, something still unnamed. And when it ends, those who have managed to escape will ask themselves: Why didn't we see the handwriting on the wall when there was still time? If Muslim protests against a few harmless cartoons can cause the free world to capitulate in the face of violence, how will this free world react to something that is truly relevant? It is already difficult enough to see that Israel is not merely battling a few militants, but is facing a serious threat to its very existence from Iran. All too often it is ignored that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has already taken the first step by calling for "a world without Zionism" -- a call that pro-Israel Europeans only managed to condemn with a mild, "unacceptable." How would they react if Iran were in a position to back up its threats with nuclear weapons?
In 1972, more than three decades ago, Danish lawyer and part-time politician Mogens Glistrup had an idea that brought him instant fame. To save taxes, he proposed that the Danish army be disbanded and an answering machine be set up in the defense ministry that would play the following message: "We capitulate!" Not only would it save money, Glistrup argued, but it would also save lives in an emergency. On the strength of this "program," Glistrup's Progress Party managed to become the second-most powerful political party in the Danish parliament in the 1973 elections. Glistrup had the right idea, but he was a number of years premature. Now would be the right time to set up his answering machine.
Multiculturalism 'drives young Muslims to shun British values'
The doctrine of multi-culturalism has alienated an entire generation of young Muslims and made them increasingly radical, a report has found. In stark contrast with their parents, growing numbers sympathise with extreme teachings of Islam, with almost four in ten wanting to live under Sharia law in Britain. The study identifies significant support for wearing the veil in public, Islamic schools and even punishment by death for Muslims who convert to another religion. Most alarmingly, 13 per cent of young Muslims said they "admired" organisations such as Al Qaeda which are prepared to "fight the West".
The poll exposes a fracture between the attitudes of Muslims aged 16 to 24, most of whom were born in Britain, and those of their parents’ generation, who are more likely to have been immigrants. A report published alongside the poll, commissioned by the Right-wing think tank Policy Exchange and carried out by Populus, said the doctrine of multi-culturalism was at least partly responsible.
A series of Labour ministers have broken recently with the idea that different communities should not be forced to integrate but should be allowed to maintain their own culture and identities. Trevor Phillips, head of the Commission for Racial Equality, and Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, have also expressed serious doubts about multi-culturalism.
Academic Munira Mirza, lead author of the report, said: "The emergence of a strong Muslim identity in Britain is, in part, a result of multi-cultural policies implemented since the 1980s which have emphasised difference at the expense of shared national identity and divided people along ethnic, religious and cultural lines."
The poll of 1,000 Muslims, weighted to represent the population across the UK, found that a growing minority of youngsters felt they had less in common with non-Muslims than their parents did. While only 17 per cent of over-55s said they would prefer to live under Sharia law, that increased to 37 per cent of those aged 16 to 24. Sharia law, which is practised in large parts of the Middle East, specifies stonings and amputations as routine punishments for crimes. It also acts as a religious code for living, covering dietary laws and dress codes. Religious police are responsible for bringing suspects before special courts.
The poll found that just 19 per cent of Muslims over 55 would prefer to send their children to Islamic state schools. That increased to 37 per cent of those aged 16 to 24. If a Muslim converts to another religion, 36 per cent of 16-to-24-year-olds thought this should be punished by death, compared with 19 per cent of 55s and over. According to the poll, 74 per cent of those aged 16 to 24 prefer Muslim women to wear the veil, compared with only 28 per cent of over 55s.
The report by Miss Mirza, British-born daughter of Pakistani immigrants, concludes that some Muslim groups have exaggerated the problems of "Islamophobic" sentiment among non-Muslim Britons, which has fuelled a sense of victimhood. The vast majority of Muslims – 84 per cent – believed they had been treated fairly in British society. And just over a quarter – 28 per cent – believed that authorities in Britain had gone "over the top" in trying not to offend Muslims.
The Government has been accused of failing to tackle the so-called "preachers of hate". No one has convicted under legislation introduced to deal with such figures. One radical cleric, Abu Hamza, was allowed to encourage extremism for years before finally being prosecuted – but under separate laws and only under threat of him being extradited to the U.S.
Muslim Labour MP Shahid Malik said the poll findings were disturbing. "There are evil voices out there and this poll shows some of them are definitely having an impact. "People are still turning a blind eye and hoping it will all go away. It cannot and it will not of its own accord. "Of course the Government has a role, but with the Muslim community itself more has to be done to acknowledge that this challenge exists. "For years, I have argued that the British National Party is a white phenomenon which it is up to the white community to address. Well, extremism exists in the name of Islam and that’s something the Muslim community has to take leadership on. "It’s my view that the mainstream, umbrella Muslim organisations have not risen to the challenge and don’t accept the depth of the problem that’s facing them." Mr Malik said one legal change which could help address radicalisation was to make committees of faith leaders who run mosques legally responsible for inflammatory statements made on their premises.
Baroness Uddin, the only female Muslim peer, said the poll did not reflect her experiences of the views of most members of the community. But she said many young Muslims who had been born in the UK did have completely different attitudes to their parents and grandparents, who migrated into this country from overseas. "Whereas we said, 'This isn’t our home, we have to fit in, we have to contribute', young people do have a sense that this is now their home and they are prepared to say what they don’t like about it. "They have asserted their identity and gone deeper into their religion. It would have been unheard of for someone like me, as a 16-year-old, to have complained about England. "But now, when young people go through difficulties in terms of job opportunities and education, they do make their opinions known." Baroness Uddin said she agreed with the "majority view" that British foreign policy had also aggravated Muslim grievances.
The Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, Khalid Mahmood, said: "Our young people have been allowed to fall into the hands of fringe organisations who are getting at them at universities, schools, colleges and mosques. They are being manipulated. "It’s difficult for the Government to prescribe a way forward for the Muslim community. I don’t think it can do that. "It’s up to the mainstream, national Muslim organisations, who frankly have failed."
BRITISH CONSERVATIVE LEADER FINALLY SPEAKS UP ABOUT MUSLIMS
Muslims seeking to live under Islamic law are as extreme as supporters of the British National Party, according to David Cameron. Making his first foray into the highly sensitive issue of Islam and multiculturalism, the Conservative leader said that Muslims who want Sharia, or Islamic religious law, are the “mirror image” of the neo-Nazi BNP, wanting to divide the country into “us” and “them”. He made the claim as an opinion poll from Policy Exchange, Mr Cameron’s favourite think-tank, suggested that 40 per cent of young Muslims want Sharia in Britain.
In a hard-hitting speech, Mr Cameron said that uncontrolled immigration and the failed “doctrine of multiculturalism” was threatening national unity. He claimed that the terrorist ideology of radical Islam was “one of the great threats of our age”, and said that public money spent translating documents should be spent instead on teaching people English.
The speech on Britishness, made from a church in Birmingham near the scene of recent race riots between blacks and Asians, was welcomed by Tory rightwingers who had complained that he had been too soft on the issue. However, Mr Cameron balanced his robust defence of British values by calling for greater support for Muslims — in particular women — to improve their opportunities in education and work. Today he will publish the party’s interim report on national security, which will propose measures to tackle Muslim alienation and underachievement. Most controversially it suggests that the Government should require immigrants to learn English before they are allowed to move to Britain.
In an uncompromising attack on Islamic radicals, Mr Cameron said: “Those who seek a Sharia state, or special treatment and a separate law for British Muslims are, in many ways, the mirror image of the BNP. They also want to divide people into ‘us’ and ‘them.’ And they seek out grievances to exploit.”
Sharia covers topics including marriage (allowing a man to have four wives, and stoning to death for adultery), criminal justice (hand amputation for theft) and religious affairs (death penalty for leaving Islam).
Inayat Banglawala, the spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said that Muslims had an emotional attachment to Sharia, just as Christians did to the Ten Commandments, but said it was scaremongering to suggest that they wanted to introduce it. “The idea of 3 per cent of the population imposing Sharia on the rest is nonsense. It is unfair to compare a real threat [the BNP] with fringe [Islamic] groups that no one takes seriously,” he said.
Mr Cameron promised to tackle what he said were the five barriers to social cohesion in the UK: extremist ideology, multiculturalism, excessive immigration, poverty and poor education. He attacked multiculturalism, saying that although it sounded good, it “has come to mean an approach that focuses on what divides us rather than what brings us together”. He blamed multiculturalism for public housing being allocated along ethnic lines, for police allowing Muslim protesters publicly to incite violence, and for the growth in translation in public documents, which he said reduced the incentive to learn English. He said that uncontrolled immigration was also threatening national unity, declaring that “it puts pressure on housing, on public services, and helps to create division, fear and resentment — among British people from all ethnic backgrounds”.
The report published today, from the Conservative’s national security policy review group, says that Muslims in Britain are held back by their traditional views on marriage and women’s education.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
A Muslim doctors' leader has provoked an outcry by urging British Muslims not to vaccinate their children against diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella because it is "un-Islamic". Dr Abdul Majid Katme, head of the Islamic Medical Association, is telling Muslims that almost all vaccines contain products derived from animal and human tissue, which make them "haram", or unlawful for Muslims to take. Islam permits only the consumption of halal products, where the animal has had its throat cut and bled to death while God's name is invoked. Islam also forbids the eating of any pig meat, which Katme says is another reason why vaccines should be avoided, as some contain or have been made using pork-based gelatine.
His warning has been criticised by the Department of Health and the British Medical Association, who said Katme risked increasing infections ranging from flu and measles to polio and diphtheria in Muslim communities.
Katme, a psychiatrist who has worked in the National Health Service for 15 years, wields influence as the head of one of only two national Islamic medical organisations as well as being a member of the Muslim Council of Britain. Moderate Muslims are concerned at the potential impact because other Islamic doctors will have to confirm vaccines are derived from animal and human products. There is already evidence of lower than average vaccination rates in Muslim areas, reducing the prospect of the "herd immunity" needed to curb infectious diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella.
Katme's appeal reflects a global movement by some hardline Islamic leaders who are telling followers torefuse vaccines from the West. In Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of India, Muslims have refused to be immunised against polio after being told that the vaccines contain products that the West has deliberately added to make the recipients infertile.
Katme said he was bringing the message to Britain after analysing the products used for the manufacture of the vaccines. He claimed that Muslims must allow their children to develop their own immune system naturally rather than rely on vaccines. He argued that leading "Islamically healthy lives" would be enough to ward off illnesses and diseases. "You see, God created us perfect and with a very strong defence system. If you breast-feed your child for two years - as the Koran says - and you eat Koranic food like olives and black seed, and you do ablution each time you pray, then you will have a strong defence system," he said. "Many vaccines, especially those given to children, are full of haram substances - human parts, gelatine from pork, alcohol, animal/monkey parts, all coming from the West who do not have knowledge of halal or haram. It is forbidden in Islam to have any of these haram substances in our bodies." Katme singled out vaccines such as MMR as ones to avoid, despite doctors saying that they are essential to keep a baby healthy. Others included those for diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis and meningitis.
Dr Shuja Shafi, a spokesman for the health and medical committee of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: "In terms of ingredients in vaccines, there are so many things that are probably haram, but in the absence of an alternative we are allowed to take it for the sake of our health."
Christian Chaplain Dismissed; Muslim Chaplain Promoted
Chaplain Lt. Gordon James Klingenschmitt has been court-martialed and dismissed from the U.S. Navy. His crime? Praying in Jesus' name in uniform outside a chapel. You read it right. After 15 1/2 years of exemplary service, Lt. Klingenschmitt is being drummed out of the Navy. Understand that Klingenschmitt has a meritorious military record. He graduated from the Air Force Academy and spent 11 years as an Air Force missile officer. He was promoted to the rank of Major and was offered a job at the Pentagon at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. However, Klingenschmitt wanted to be a chaplain. As such, he willingly took a demotion in order to serve in the U.S. Navy as a chaplain at the rank of Lieutenant.
Chaplain Klingenschmitt served in the Persian Gulf. While there, he and his men won 6 awards, including Best in the Navy, for outstanding Community Service. But now this fine Christian man is being discharged. He is losing his career (not to mention a million-dollar pension) for the "crime" of praying in Jesus' name. I recently interviewed Chaplain Klingenschmitt on my radio program and invite readers to listen to that interview at http://www.chuckbaldwinlive.com/Interview_Klingenschmitt.html
Now, compare what the Navy has done to Lt. Klingenschmitt to this report from World Net Daily. "[T]he Pentagon recently promoted a Wahhabi-trained Muslim chaplain who catered to al-Qaida detainees at Guantanamo and fought to establish the first Mosque in Marine Corps history." According to WND, "Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England personally promoted Navy chaplain Abuhena Mohammed Saifulislam from lieutenant to lieutenant commander. Saifulislam also received a Joint Service Commendation Medal at the Pentagon ceremony held on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Pentagon officials say the ceremony was unprecedented. 'It's unusual for a deputy secretary to personally promote an officer of that rank,' said one official who wished to go unnamed. 'No one has known of such a high-level dignitary doing that.'"
Furthermore, the WND report stated, "England also earlier this year personally dedicated a new Islamic center at Marine headquarters in Quantico, Va., on the advice of Saifulislam . . ." Now get this: "The Muslim chaplain, who is stationed at Quantico, recited verses from the Quran in Arabic and English at the summer dedication ceremony, which included representatives from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, several leaders of which have been convicted on terrorism-related charges."
Yet, it gets worse. According to the WND report, "Saifulislam, which is Arabic for 'Sword of Islam,' received his religious training at a radical Islamic school raided by federal agents after 9/11." Terror expert Paul Sperry said, "The Pentagon is giving him a permanent, taxpayer-supported platform from which to convert grunts to Islam." He also said, "With the Quantico mosque, the Pentagon is facilitating the study of the holy text the enemy uses, heretically or not, as their manual of warfare."
This kind of idiocy is what happens when presidents and their subordinates become consumed with political correctness. Logic, common sense, character, and appreciation for truth are thrown out the window. And good men such as Lt. Klingenschmitt must bear the brunt of it all. Readers should know that since Chaplain Klingenschmitt's dismissal, public outcry convinced the Pentagon to reverse its policy of punishing chaplains who pray in Jesus' name. Unfortunately, the decision is not being grandfathered back to Klingenschmitt's case, and he is still being drummed out of the Navy.
If you listen to my interview with Lt. Klingenschmitt, you will immediately be aware that this is a good man, a fine Christian patriot who is being unjustly punished. He is not bitter. However, seeking to be reinstated, he has hired The Rutherford Institute to represent him in filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Navy. I urge my fellow Americans to pray that God will vindicate the good chaplain and that he will be restored to his former position and rank. You might want to let your congressman know of this injustice, as well. I wonder how many more Lt. Gordon Klingenschmitts and Judge Roy Moores will have to be sacrificed before America comes to its senses?
Time to evict official anti-racism
The row over Britain's Celebrity Big Brother shows that hysterically witch-hunting 'racists' is a new British sport
Jade Goody may have been evicted from the Celebrity Big Brother house on Friday, yet the bizarre controversy surrounding her rows with Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty continues to rumble on and reverberate. And the acres of handwringing commentary in the tabloids and broadsheets suggest that Ms Goody is not the only one who is firing-off ill-judged opinions.
Trevor Phillips, head of the Commission for Racial Equality, waded in on Sunday with demands that Channel 4 be overseen by supernanny-in-waiting, Tessa Jowell. In his eyes the refusal of Channel 4 chairman Luke Johnson to describe the Goody/Shetty fallout as `racist' should be a sackable offence. Elsewhere, the granddaddy of race monitoring, London mayor Ken Livingstone, sought to slap Channel 4's wrists. And according to Guardian columnist Jackie Ashley, apparently the Big Brother freakshow is all New Labour's fault anyway - or at least Tony Blair's, whom she accuses of nurturing a public culture as cruel as any that existed under Thatcher.
It is a measure of the disrepair of political and public life that so many public figures, including Blair and the PM-in-waiting Gordon Brown, feel compelled to comment on Celebrity Big Brother. As Brendan O'Neill has pointed out, the speed with which commentators (over)reacted to Goody and her sidekicks' outbursts reveals their own blinkered prejudices about the white working class as a whole (1). Pundits have gleefully pounced on this incident as insurmountable `proof' that nasty racial prejudice is alive and kicking among the great unwashed.
In fact, the most striking thing about Celebrity Big Brother is that it simultaneously tells us very little about British society and an awful lot about brass-necked opinion makers. It is clear to anyone with eyes and ears that race no longer has the same corrosive impact it once had in British society. Indeed, many of my students who have Indian backgrounds say that Goody's clanking comments are hardly representative of their experience of living in Britain in the twenty-first century. They can shrug off the Goody v Shetty row precisely because race doesn't impinge on their lives. However, high-minded pundits cannot shrug off the idea that Big Brother exerts great `influence' on all the `couch potatoes' out there. Germaine Greer thinks the masses who watch the programme were probably cheering on Goody's taunts, seeing Shetty as just another `Paki bird'. Leaving aside the risible `monkey say/monkey do' implications here, it's worth questioning whether Big Brother is as popular or influential as pundits claim.
Prior to this year's race controversy, viewing figures were down to a paltry 1.4 million, before climbing to a still unremarkable four million. Even at the height of the non-celebrity Big Brother `mania' during the summer months, viewing figures hover around the seven million mark. If soap operas or flagship dramas like Prime Suspect pulled in those kind of viewing figures, they would be deemed as failures and possibly dropped. So why is Big Brother seen as `required viewing' for the mass of the population, when, in fact, relatively speaking not that many people watch it?
The truth is that Big Brother's core audience is teenage girls, students, and fashionistas/style journalists who can't let go of irony. It is this (largely) youthful audience that makes BB appealing to advertisers, as well as celebrity magazines and tabloids and broadsheets seeking a new generation of readers. For older generations of working people, Big Brother is largely irrelevant and a somewhat bizarre spectacle. Ironically enough, it is because Big Brother is a media rather than social phenomenon that all kinds of outlandish claims can be projected on to it. And in the Goody v Shetty debacle, reams of half-baked rubbish have been spouted about the `Vicky Pollards' who supposedly populate both the show and its audience.
The response to this year's Celebrity Big Brother shows how forceful official anti-racism has become as a conforming mechanism. Whether it is through televised autopsies or wankathons, Channel 4 has long courted rather prurient `controversy'. But engineering racial and cultural tensions has been a step `too far' for even staunch supporters of this increasingly idiotic channel. It seems Channel 4 can dabble with any taboo it likes, apart from the new orthodoxies surrounding race. There is a baying hysteria in contemporary `anti-racism'. As Goody herself said after the eviction: `I've never been so terrified in all my life.'
Far from striking a blow for racial equality and freedom, official and tyrannical anti-racism nurtures fresh divisions and fosters a culture of unfreedom. This was reflected by one anti-racist group's statement that `private utterances should be viewed in the same light as public ones' - that is, what people say behind closed doors, or presumably even think in their own minds, should be subject to rules and regulations in the same way that public speech too often is. The reaction to the Goody/Shetty farce has popularised such a dangerous and nonsensical idea, with its blurred distinction between a private argument between two people (filmed and aired, of course) and the wild claims made about what this reveals about our public culture.
The commentary on Goody/Shetty has become a vehicle for expressing a broader anti-human sentiment. If some pundits are sceptical that Goody is consciously `racist', nearly all agree that she is a `bully'. For Jackie Ashley, it is bullying rather than overt racism that is the single defining characteristic of contemporary British society. So much so that even `Jade-the-bully is then vigorously bullied and abused by the same newspapers that so recently found her funny' (2). In this light, Celebrity Big Brother is portrayed as a reflection on how rotten the (unregulated) human subject really is. Apparently if you put humans together the essential desire to dominate `the other' will always win through. And for many, racism naturally follows bullying as the primeval urge lurking within us all. Celebrity Big Brother popularises the idea that, in the words of actor/director Gary Oldman, `we all need therapy'.
For many pundits, the problem with Goody is that because of her `poor breeding', she is apparently more pathologically prone to hateful outbursts than others. Goody's blubbering, confessional interviews with both Davina McCall and the News of the World shows how quickly she has internalised the therapeutic mode.
The furore over Goody's crass behaviour towards Shetty has been a heaven-sent opportunity for half-witted commentators to obsess over an imaginary underclass. In truth, the tantrums inside the CBB house say nothing about what's happening in multi-racial Britain, though the furore reveals much about the nasty prejudices of certain commentators. If the Goody/Shetty incident reveals anything about the state of Britain, it is that official anti-racism has become an hysterical and authoritarian force. Far from fretting about Goody and Co's infantile behaviour, isn't it time we put that up for eviction instead?
French socialist party expels 'racist'
The French Socialist Party has voted to expel a senior member for saying there are too many black players in the national football team. A panel decided remarks by Georges Freche, head of Languedoc-Roussillon south-east regional government, were incompatible with Socialist values. After a public outcry Mr Freche, 68, had offered to withdraw from the party. The party's presidential candidate, Segolene Royal, publicly rejected his comments and called for his expulsion.
Mr Freche has indicated he has no intention of quitting his posts. On Thursday, a court fined Mr Freche 15,000 euros ($19,000) for describing Algerians who fought on France's side in the Algerian war of independence as sub-human.
Monday, January 29, 2007
A French Muslim who attacked a male gynaecologist for examining his wife just after she had given birth, saying it was against Islam, has been jailed for six months by a Paris court. Fouad ben Moussa burst into the delivery room at a Paris hospital last November and shoved, slapped and insulted Dr Jean-Francois Oury as he examined the woman after a complicated birth, the prosecution said in court on Wednesday. Police had to intervene to remove him.
Ben Moussa, a 23-year-old lorry driver, apologised for the attack and said he had requested a female doctor. French state hospitals comply with such requests when staffing permits but say patients must accept treatment from the doctors on duty. "This is a public and secular place," prosecution lawyer Georges Holleaux said of the state hospital where the attack occurred. "This is not the place where one can invoke religion to get different treatment."
French media have reported cases in recent years of Muslim men barring male doctors from treating their wives, sometimes resorting to violence, but legal cases against them are rare. France's five million Muslims make up eight per cent of the French population, Europe's largest Islamic minority.
British police refuse to chase 'helmetless' bike thieves
A mother has spoken of her fury after police refused to chase her sons' stolen motorbikes - because the thieves weren't wearing helmets. Pauline Nolan, of Droylsden, Greater Manchester, claims traffic officers told her they could not pursue the pair in case they fell off and sued the police force. She says her sons Bradley, 11, and Ashley, 18, are devastated. They usually spend every weekend travelling to motocross competitions up and down the country, but are now stuck at home.
Mrs Nolan, 44, was on her way home from work at 1.45pm when the thieves raced past her at 60mph on her son's bikes. "I recognised them immediately, but they were gone in a flash," she said. "I arrived home to find the garage door had been forced open. "They had drilled through the locks and cut the chains. They had even pushed our Corsa out of the way to steal Ashley's bike, which was purposefully blocked in.
"I can't believe they had the cheek to do it in broad daylight. I was minutes away from catching them red-handed. I called the police and someone arrived to take a statement." She says the police officer then told her that the bikes had been spotted in Beswick, Manchester. She said: "I thought 'we've got them', until he sheepishly added they couldn't give chase because they weren't wearing helmets. I was speechless. How pathetic is that? "I've never heard such a stupid law. It seems everything is weighed in favour of criminals nowadays."
Inspector Martin O'Connor, of the road policing unit, said: "In situations like this officers need to carefully consider the safety of all road users before deciding whether or not to begin a pursuit. "This means taking into consideration the time of day, weather, traffic conditions, the nature of the original offence and then make a risk assessment based on all these circumstances. "In this case a decision was made that it would not have been safe to pursue the bikes."
Mrs Nolan has put up a cash reward for the bikes' return - an orange and black KTM 250 and a black and green Kawasaki 65 with distinctive "Monster Energy" graphics. She said: "My kids live for motocross. We can't afford 7,000 pounds to replace them. The 11-year-old said he's going to sell his toys and his X-Box to save up for a new one. It's heartbreaking."
Democrats Want `Fairness' Doctrine To Stifle Conservative Broadcasters
Now that they control both the House and Senate, radical liberal legislators are going after freedom of speech under the guise of providing "fairness" on the airwaves. The so-called "Fairness Doctrine" was a federal regulation enforced by the FCC between 1949 through 1987 when the Reagan Administration dropped it. The doctrine required broadcasters to present both sides of a controversial issue - but the result was that many TV and radio networks avoided airing controversial subjects for fear of heavy fines or of being forced to provide free air time to opposing viewpoints.
Cliff Kincaid with Accuracy in Media says the reinstitution of the Fairness Doctrine would force conservative media outlets to hand over time to liberals. "Make no bones about it, they want to force the conservative media to hand over air time to liberals. When federal bureaucrats dictate the content of radio and TV shows, it's muzzling to tell them what to say and how to say it."
Kincaid notes there are plenty of media outlets for liberals. "Liberals used to dominate the media, and they are irritated there are competing voices, so now they want to reign in the conservative media using the federal government. There is no prohibition against liberal talk radio. Liberals tried talk radio and it was not successful in the market place."
Representative Maurice Hichey (D-NY) is sponsoring the "Media Ownership Reform Act," which will reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine. Leftist Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) plans on holding hearings on the media and the Fairness Doctrine.
Hichey admitted that his objective is to force conservative talk show hosts to be forced to air opposing liberal viewpoints. At a Free Press National Media Reform Conference held in Memphis, Tennessee earlier this month, Hichey told the audience: "If Rush shoots off his mouth, he must give equal access to our side. The American public will begin to get both sides or all sides of an issue. That is basic - fundamental to a democracy."
One of Hichey's aides told "The Raw Story" that Hichey is concerned about a corporate "fascist" takeover of the airwaves. Hichey also claims that talk radio is dominated by "right wing, even neo-fascist" hosts. He plans on punishing them with his legislation.
Cliff Kincaid reports that the National Media Reform Conference attended by Hichey in Memphis was also attended by members of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and the Communist Party, USA - all consumed with the idea that fascist corporations are taking over the airwaves. The Revolutionary Communist Party is aligned with North Korea.
Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) plans on introducing a Senate version of Hichey's liberal censorship bill.
"With literally hundreds of news outlets on TV, radio, and on the Internet," said TVC Chairman Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, "it is ridiculous to claim that alternative viewpoints do not get a fair hearing in the media. Much of the `mainstream media' has a liberal bias. There are literally thousands of liberal web sites; thousands of left-leaning newspapers and hundreds of leftist journalism schools. The liberal viewpoint has no problem being expressed. It is just that most clear-thinking Americans reject their views."
Hichey, Sanders and Kucinich are all members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a group of 70 Representatives and Senators who favor socialism as an economic system.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Unless we resist now, a thought crimes bureaucracy like those regulating Australia, Canada and Europe will soon rule America. In these nations, federal hate laws have destroyed citizens' rights to free speech. The Anti-Defamation League may reintroduce a federal hate law-the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act -in Congress as early as this week. Punishment of politically incorrect bias is the ultimate goal of this legislation. Democrats support hate laws and their control of Congress means almost certain passage-unless enough Americans protest and back ADL down from even submitting this bill.
A national hate law would shatter Americans' First Amendment rights, which are now sadly unique among Western democracies. We would lose our precious freedom to express politically incorrect ideas, moral judgments, or whatever personal convictions the reigning thought police deem "hateful."
Think this can't happen in America? Think again. Hostile work environment law and campus speech bans already severely curtail free expression in American workplaces and universities. A US federal hate law would follow the examples of Europe, Canada, and Australia where Christian pastors have been indicted simply for quoting politically incorrect Scripture in their sermons. Iceland's Orwellian hate law, for example, promises two years' jail if you verbally "insult" a person on the basis of their nationality, skin color, race, religion, or sexual orientation.
If a federal hate law were passed, free expression across the political spectrum would be threatened. What would happen to blasphemous art like Piss Christ or South Park, to Ann Coulter or Al Franken, to Christians protesting sodomy or homosexuals attacking the Bible? Every American, from left-leaning feminists to red state Republicans, should protest "anti-hate" legislation. If Rosie O'Donnell were an Icelander, she could have been prosecuted for verbal "assault" for her recent statement that radical Christianity is as dangerous as radical Islam. Political activists in nations with hate laws have already been indicted for criticizing Islam, Zionism, and homosexuality. Hate laws threaten your freedom to speak your mind, no matter what's on it. Here are some of the most powerful, bipartisan reasons to fight this legislation.
1. Speech bans are a political weapon used by those in power to silence their opponents and politically unpopular minorities.
Hate laws empower the government to enforce the orthodoxy of whoever happens to be in charge. The government can define which biases or "hatreds" are unacceptable and which are okay. For instance, hate laws in our PC age allow women to derogate men but would silence men from legitimate (though possibly hurtful) speech like a discussion of biological gender differences.
In 2004 Swedish feminist Joanna Rytel wrote a hate-filled screed published in a major daily. Her article describes white men as arrogant, sex-obsessed and exploitative, explaining that Rytel just wants to "puke" on them. Stockholm authorities refused to indict Rytel under their hate law, saying it was passed to protect ethnic minorities, not white Swedes. This is one example of speech bans' uneven enforcement; they are used to punish certain kinds of hate and allow others. Because almost every exercise of free speech offends someone, government officials would end up enforcing speech bans on the basis of their own bias. Speech bans simply can't be evenhanded unless everyone is shut up altogether.
In the real world, speech can and does wound. That's a cost of life. We naturally resent painful realities like economic competition, unfair comments, and hard work. But in each case, the cures we've tried were far worse than the sickness. Speech bans might censor some hurtful speech but would empower government to silence minorities and strip the intellectual marketplace of legitimate and needed expression-the kind that creates positive, social change precisely because it is minority and challenges the sins of the group.
2. Hate speech bans don't work.
Genuine racism and false hatreds exist in this world. Bans on hate speech, however, won't solve the problem. If you only break off a tick's body, its head will burrow deep beneath the skin. The only effective response to bad ideas is the truth. We should combat falsehoods with more and freer discussion, not less.
3. Hate laws aren't necessary.
ADL claims an epidemic of hate sweeps America that can only be fought with stiffened penalties for bias-driven crimes. Yet the FBI's 2005 Uniform Crime Report shows alleged hate crimes form a tiny 1/15 of 1 percent of all crime in America. Law enforcers' time would be far better spent fighting the 99.85 percent of crime that's happening every minute across our nation rather than getting entangled in discerning and testifying against the perceived motivations of a tiny minority of criminals.
Hate laws would require vast government bureaucracies, complicate law enforcement, and distract police and prosecutors from dealing with actual physical crimes. Government and law enforcement should focus on criminal acts, not words or motivations, in a nation where someone is murdered every 22 minutes, raped every 5, robbed every 49 seconds and burgled every 10 seconds. Discerning and prosecuting criminal motivations would only be a good plan if law enforcers had God's omniscience and time to waste. Ours have neither.
4. Hate speech bans are unconstitutional.
Because the First Amendment underwrites our most precious civil liberty, the US Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled against speech bans. In 1972 the Court declared, "[A]bove all else, the First Amendment means that government has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its contents." (Police Department of Chicago v. Mosley, 408 U.S. 92)
Some forms of speech are restricted; these include threats and "fighting words" that incite "an immediate breach of peace." But these restrictions are (and must remain) extremely narrow and content-neutral-the government is not allowed to censor speech based on the viewpoint it expresses but only on whether it constitutes an immediate threat. Hate laws, however, would punish the viewpoints expressed in speech, in violation of the Constitution.
International use of ADL-designed hate laws shows that the first kinds of speech to be sanctioned are extreme right, white nationalist speech and Holocaust reductionism. The average person is slow to defend such speech. But hate laws quickly broaden to punish forms of expression the average citizen would never dream of stifling. Sweden's 2002 modified hate law, for example, explicitly exposes Christian sermons to prosecution!
All forms of controversial political and religious speech are potentially vulnerable to prosecution under hate laws. This contradicts Supreme Court Justice Holmes Jr. who said in 1929, "[I]f there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment [loyal defense] than any other, it is the principle of free thought-not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought we hate."
5. Speech bans will be used against the very minorities they were meant to protect.
Speech bans silence some to protect the feelings of others. But when the government has power to silence expression that power can be wielded against the very people who once enjoyed its protection. Liberals, the champions of unrestrained speech in the 1960s, now vote as a bloc in Congress to support speech restrictions. Yet already in countries such as Canada, England and Australia, leftist critics of Islam have become the victims of hate laws, indicted for religious "hate speech."
Leftist artists Rowan Atkinson and Salman Rushdie realize hate laws don't just threaten white nationalists like David Duke but liberals as well- they recently fought for revision of Britain's hate law because it could be used to outlaw art that blasphemes or criticizes religion. Atkinson and Rushdie are just a few of hate laws' leftist critics who know that persons of all political persuasions have a stake in defeating this legislation.
6. Speech bans chill legitimate and valuable speech.
Under the threat of possible indictment, many people will refrain from discussing controversial but important ideas. Speech bans are often broad and vague, leaving citizens unsure what might get them hauled into court. This is what has happened in American workplaces, where hostile work environment law has left many employees unsure what they can say. Many Americans avoid all controversial speech and voluntarily refrain from exercising First Amendment rights at work. Hate laws would extend this dangerous minefield to the national political scene.
Legal philosopher Edmond Cahn points out that speech bans would leave our bookshelves empty. "[T]he officials could begin by prosecuting anyone who distributes the Christian gospels, because they contain many defamatory statements not only about Jews but also about Christians.Then the officials could ban Greek literature for calling the rest of the world "barbarians." Roman authors could be suppressed because when they were not defaming the Gallic and Teutonic tribes, they were disparaging the Italians.Then there is Shakespeare, who openly affronts the French, the Welsh, the Danes." (Beyond the Burning Cross, E. Cleary, Random House, 1994)
7. Speech bans greatly reduce the possibility of healthy, democratic change.
Criminalizing speech that expresses "hate" or "bias" would require us to outlaw history's most valuable speech, especially the political and religious speech that threatens social stasis and ignites progress. Aggressive speech is often the only tool available to political, social, or religious minorities whose access to government lobbying and mass media is limited. Those agitating for social change often need to use inflammatory and even "hateful" language to startle the public into hearing their message. Socrates compared himself to a horsefly biting the lazy flanks of his republic. We should certainly know enough by now to prefer the annoyance of stinging speech (even when we don't see its value) to a tyrannical majority that plods, unchallenged, toward slavery.
Americans are so used to our mudslinging, no-holds-barred political discourse that we find it hard to envision the way freedom of speech could disappear. But the freedom we enjoy is extremely rare in history, and quickly lost. Free expression for intellectuals is the first thing to go when tyrants rise to power; the history of oppressive regimes makes it clear that freedom of political speech is a delicate exception and the overarching tendency is for majorities or elites to get power and silence all opposition.
8. The government's interest in reducing violent crime does not outweigh our interest in preserving civil liberty.
Hate law advocates including the ADL argue that hateful speech incites violence, and appeal to the government's interest in reducing violent crime. But it would be unfair to ban, for instance, white racist speech or Christian sermons against homosexuality without also banning the plethora of other speech that might incite crime. Gangsta rap and videogames would be open to censure; we would also have to ban pornography, especially sadomasochistic porn, which certainly inspires violence against women.
Yet bans against these kinds of speech have been repeatedly declared unconstitutional. The government has an interest in lowering violent crime of all stripes but has always found the value of the First Amendment to be greater. It's unjust to argue that a few kinds of speech must be banned because they possibly incite violence (e.g., criticism of Jewish actions or homosexuality) yet permit huge categories of speech (violent sexual entertainment) that do the same. This would happen, however, under hate laws' unequal and partial enforcement. The ADL is not truly driven by the desire to reduce violent crime but rather to enforce a social and political orthodoxy.
Instead of passing a hate law that would shatter the First Amendment and impossibly complicate law enforcement, people concerned with hate-driven crimes should focus on improving our existing justice system and making sure hard crimes don't go unpunished.
9. Speech bans are offensively paternalistic.
They presume we can't think for ourselves, reject racist or hateful ideas for ourselves, or deal with the hurt caused by others' free expression. Are we such children that we need the government to cover our ears? Speech bans especially condescend toward the minorities they portray as helpless victims whose feelings must be sheltered from ideas they can't combat in a free intellectual market.
10. Speech bans permit government to do something an individual could not morally do.
Frederic Bastiat's classic treatise on The Law says government exists only to prevent injustice by defending our basic rights to person, liberty, and property. Government does not exist to guarantee our economic outcomes, redistribute our wealth, or protect our psyches. Speech bans would empower government to silence individuals by force. This is immoral whether it's one person silencing another person or the government silencing a fringe group of dissenters. Human fallibility requires at least enough humility to allow others to question, challenge, and dissent from our ideas. John Stuart Mill explains, "If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
11. Speech bans deny self-determination and individual freedom by criminalizing self-expression.
By censoring speech, hate laws censor thought and restrict our access to ideas. This is the essence of mind control. They deny the personal growth that comes from sharing ideas-including hateful, prejudiced, or false ideas-and having them challenged in a free intellectual marketplace.
Hate law speech bans have been repeatedly declared unconstitutional and would rend the very foundation of our freedom and democracy. Far from combating hate, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act is actually the most hateful and enslaving legislation to ever reach Congress; it would invade states' rights in law enforcement, enabling a hate crimes bureaucracy to police our thoughts and expression. Government could censor by force all speech that dissents from the reigning orthodoxy. Every American must speak up now in defense of the freedom for which our forefathers gave their very lives.
Act now! Contact your elected officials (both Democrats and Republicans) and demand they vote against any and all "anti-hate" legislation. Visit www.truthtellers.org for a powerful and easy-to-mail brochure that will astonish any political or religious leader or broadcaster who reads it. Our website presents a plan of action that has defeated the federal hate bill before and will work again. Together, we can make sure a hate crimes gestapo never takes over America. Make your voice heard today or it will be silenced tomorrow.
WEINBERG ON DAWKINS
Steven Weinberg is Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Texas. He is a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics and the US National Medal of Science. Although he also is an atheist, he faults Dawkins for treating Islam and Christianity as alike. Excerpt below:
Given the battering that traditional religion has taken from the theory of evolution, it is fitting that the most energetic, eloquent and uncompromising modern adversaries of religion are biologists who helped us to understand evolution: first Francis Crick, and now Richard Dawkins. In The God Delusion, Dawkins caps a series of his books on biology and religion with a swingeing attack on every aspect of religion - not just traditional religion, but also the vaguer modern assortment of pieties that often appropriates its name. In the unkindest cut of all, Dawkins even argues that the persistence of belief in God is itself an outcome of natural selection - acting perhaps on our genes, as argued by Dean Hamer in The God Gene, but more certainly on our "memes", the bundles of cultural beliefs and attitudes that in a Darwinian though non-biological way tend to be passed on from generation to generation. It is not that the meme helps the believer or the believer's genes to survive; it is the meme itself that by its nature tends to survive.
For instance, the persistence of belief in a particular religion is naturally aided if that religion teaches that God punishes disbelief. Such a religion tends to survive if the threatened punishment is sufficiently awful. In contrast, a religion would have trouble keeping converts in line if it taught that infidels are subject after death to only a brief spell of mild discomfort, after which they join the faithful in eternal bliss. So it is natural that in traditional Christianity and Islam, disbelief became the ultimate crime, and Hell the ultimate torture chamber. No wonder the mathematician Paul Erdos always referred to God as the Supreme Fascist. Dawkins's book focuses on Christianity and Islam, which traditionally emphasize the importance of belief, rather than on religions like Judaism, Hinduism or Shinto, which are tied to specific ethnic groups, and tend to stress observance more than faith....
Where I think Dawkins goes wrong is that, like Henry V after Agincourt, he does not seem to realize the extent to which his side has won. Setting aside the rise of Islam in Europe, the decline of serious Christian belief among Europeans is so widely advertised that Dawkins turns to the United States for most of his examples of unregenerate religious belief. He attributes the greater regard for religion in the US to the fact that Americans have never had an established Church, an idea he may have picked up from Tocqueville. But although most Americans may be sure of the value of religion, as far as I can tell they are not very certain about the truth of what their own religion teaches. According to a recent article in the New York Times, American evangelists are in despair over a poll that showed that only 4 per cent of American teenagers will be "Bible-believing Christians" as adults. The spread of religious toleration provides evidence of the weakening of religious certitude. Most Christian groups have historically taught that there is no salvation without faith in Christ. If you are really sure that anyone without such faith is doomed to an eternity of Hell, then propagating that faith and suppressing disbelief would logically be the most important thing in the world - far more important than any merely secular virtues like religious toleration. Yet religious toleration is rampant in America. No one who publicly expressed disrespect for any particular religion could be elected to a major office.
Even though American atheists might have trouble winning elections, Americans are fairly tolerant of us unbelievers. My many good friends in Texas who are professed Christians do not even try to convert me. This might be taken as evidence that they don't really mind if I spend eternity in Hell, but I prefer to think (and Baptists and Presbyterians have admitted it to me) that they are not all that certain about Hell and Heaven. I have often heard the remark (once from an American priest) that it is not so important what one believes; the important thing is how we treat each other. Of course, I applaud this sentiment, but imagine trying to explain "not important what one believes" to Luther or Calvin or St Paul. Remarks like this show a massive retreat of Christianity from the ground it once occupied, a retreat that can be attributed to no new revelation, but only to a loss of certitude.
Much of the weakening of religious certitude in the Christian West can be laid at the door of science; even people whose religion might incline them to hostility to the pretensions of science generally understand that they have to rely on science rather than religion to get things done. But this has not happened to anything like the same extent in the world of Islam. One finds in Islamic countries not only religious opposition to specific scientific theories, as occasionally in the West, but a widespread religious hostility to science itself. My late friend, the distinguished Pakistani physicist Abdus Salam, tried to convince the rulers of the oil-rich states of the Persian Gulf to invest in scientific education and research, but he found that though they were enthusiastic about technology, they felt that pure science presented too great a challenge to faith. In 1981, the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt called for an end to scientific education. In the areas of science I know best, though there are talented scientists of Muslim origin working productively in the West, for forty years I have not seen a single paper by a physicist or astronomer working in a Muslim country that was worth reading. This is despite the fact that in the ninth century, when science barely existed in Europe, the greatest centre of scientific research in the world was the House of Wisdom in Baghdad.
Alas, Islam turned against science in the twelfth century. The most influential figure was the philosopher Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali, who argued in The Incoherence of the Philosophers against the very idea of laws of nature, on the ground that any such laws would put God's hands in chains. According to al-Ghazzali, a piece of cotton placed in a flame does not darken and smoulder because of the heat, but because God wants it to darken and smoulder. After al-Ghazzali, there was no more science worth mentioning in Islamic countries.
The consequences are hideous. Whatever one thinks of the Muslims who blow themselves up in crowded cities in Europe or Israel or fly planes into buildings in the US, who could dispute that the certainty of their faith had something to do with it? George W. Bush and many others would have us believe that terrorism is a distortion of Islam, and that Islam is a religion of peace. Of course, it is good policy to say this, but statements about what "Islam is" make little sense. Islam, like all other religions, was created by people, and there are potentially as many different versions of Islam as there are people who profess to be Muslims. (The same remarks apply to Eagleton's highly personal account of what Christianity "is".) I don't know on what ground one can say that a peaceable well-intentioned person like Abdus Salam was any more a true Muslim than the murderous holy warriors of Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, the clerics throughout the world of Islam who incite hatred and violence, and those Muslims who demonstrate against supposed insults to their faith, but not against the atrocities committed in its name. (Incidentally, Abdus Salam regarded himself as a devout Muslim, but he belonged to a sect that most Muslims consider heretical, and for years was not allowed to return to Pakistan.) Dawkins treats Islam as just another deplorable religion, but there is a difference. The difference lies in the extent to which religious certitude lingers in the Islamic world, and in the harm it does. Richard Dawkins's even-handedness is well-intentioned, but it is misplaced. I share his lack of respect for all religions, but in our times it is folly to disrespect them all equally.
Britain: Libertarian traffic management coming?
Traffic lights, road signs and white lines would be removed from many high streets across the country under Conservative proposals to improve safety and reduce congestion by giving drivers and pedestrians equal status. Road humps, chicanes and other physical measures designed to reduce the speed of vehicles would be removed and the question of who had priority would be left open deliberately, making drivers more cautious.
The Conservatives are planning to publish a "green paper" on roads this year which will borrow heavily from so-called shared-space schemes in the Netherlands, where pedestrians, cyclists and cars are encouraged to mingle. Kerbs in several Dutch towns have been removed and the boundaries between the pavement and road blurred deliberately to prevent people from assuming they have right of way. Traffic lights have been uprooted and drivers must negotiate their way across junctions, forcing them to slow down and establish eye contact with pedestrians.
In the town of Drachten, the removal of traffic lights at one major junction has resulted in accidents falling from thirty-six in the four years before the scheme was introduced to two in the next two years. The average time for each vehicle to cross the junction fell from 50 seconds to 30 seconds, despite a rise in the volume of traffic.
Owen Paterson, the Shadow Transport Minister, visited Drachten and other Dutch towns. He told The Times: "There are some great ideas here which I would like to see in Britain. It's the opposite of the 1960s ethos of separating cars and pedestrians. By removing road signs and traffic lights and changing the appearance of the road, you avoid the impression that areas are designated just for cars. "The idea is to create space where there is mild anxiety among everyone so they all behave cautiously. No one thunders along at 30mph on a high street thinking that they have priority." Mr Paterson said that putting up more speed limit signs and painting more lines on the road had failed to make streets safer. "Instead of the State laying down the rules, we need to give responsibility back to road users. It's about creating an environment where it just doesn't feel right to drive faster than 20mph."
Some aspects of the shared space approach have already been adopted on London streets that have high numbers of pedestrians. At Seven Dials in Covent Garden, the road surface has been altered to give it the appearance of a pedestrian area and kerbs have been lowered to encourage people to wander across the street. In Kensington High Street, almost 600 metres of railings have been removed to allow pedestrians to cross where they want. The results have discredited the belief that railings prevent accidents: in the two years after they were removed, pedestrian casualties declined three times faster than the London average. Traffic engineers believe that drivers are now keeping a sharper eye out for pedestrians because they know that they may cross at any point.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is planning to introduce shared space ideas to Sloane Square next year. The aim is to encourage pedestrians to make greater use of the square, which is currently marooned by busy roads. A similar scheme is being planned for Exhibition Road.The idea of removing traffic lights was supported in a report published last month by the Institute of Economic Affairs.
Martin Cassini, the report's author, said: "Removing lights removes barriers to traffic flow and improves behaviour. If you observe a junction where the lights are out of action, there is rarely congestion. People approach slowly, wave each other on and filter in turn. Lights and other controls hamper instead of harness human nature, causing untold delay and harm."
Saturday, January 27, 2007
THAT should trump everyone else
The Muslim Council of Britain has backed the leaders of the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches in the adoption row. The intervention adds to the pressure on the Government to create an exemption for religious adoption societies under the new Sexual Orientation Regulations. This week the Anglican Archbishops of Canterbury and York entered the debate with a strong statement of support for the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-OConnor, who wrote to every member of the Cabinet warning that Catholic agencies could not accept a law that would force them to place children with gay couples.
Catholic leaders have given warning that the churchs seven adoption agencies, which placed 227 children last year, cannot breach Vatican guidelines against allowing gay couples to adopt, and would have no alternative but to close.
The Muslim Council said that it backed the churches principled stand. Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, the Secretary-General, said: The right to practise ones faith or the freedom to have no belief is a cornerstone of our society, as is the right of all to live free from unfair discrimination and harassment.
Homosexuality is forbidden in Islam. The Sexual Orientation Regulations as we understand them do not promote homosexuality but would provide protection against discrimination and harassment on account of sexual orientation. As Muslims, we are obliged to uphold the moral standards and codes of conduct dictated by our faith.
He said that the refusal to permit an exemption was inconsistent with previous antidiscrimination legislation. He added that the regulations should take full account of our multifaith, multicultural, multiethnic society and make accommodation to accord with differing beliefs and values.
Archbishop Mario Conti, the vice-president of the Bishops Conference in Glasgow, wrote to Gordon Brown, the Chan-cellor, John Reid, the Home Secretary, Alistair Darling, the Trade Secretary, Douglas Alexander, the Transport and Scottish Secretary, and Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, and repeated his warning to the Prime Minister that disallowing Catholic agencies to discriminate will be a betrayal.
The BBC's cultural Marxism will trigger an American-style backlash
Intolerant and consumed by political correctness, the corporation is waging an Orwellian campaign against British values
How often do you hear, on the Today programme or Newsnight, contemptuous references to the tabloid or popular press as if it was some disembodied monster rather than the very embodiment of the views of the great majority of the British people?
Fair enough. The tabloid press - and it's getting confusing here, because the Times and the Independent are, of course, tabloids now, and the Mail has more quality readers than most of the so-called quality papers put together - is big enough to look after itself. Except I don't think it is fair, because this ignores the ever-burgeoning influence of the most powerful media organisation in the world: the hugely subsidised BBC. And it's my contention that the BBC monolith is distorting Britain's media market, crushing journalistic pluralism and imposing a monoculture that is inimical to healthy democratic debate.
Now before the liberal commentators reach for their vitriol - and, my goodness, how they demonise anyone who disagrees with them - let me say that I would die in a ditch defending the BBC as a great civilising force. Indeed I for one would pay the licence fee just for Radio 4. But the corporation is simply too big. For instance, it employs more journalists and their support staff -3,500 - and spends more on them - œ500m - than do all the national daily newspapers put together.
Where there was once just a handful of channels, the BBC now has an awesome stranglehold on the airwaves, reaching into every home every hour of the day - adding ever more channels and even considering launching over 60 local TV news stations across the UK. No wonder Britain's hard-pressed provincial press complains it can't compete, our ailing commercial radio sector is furious that the market is rigged against it, our nascent internet firms rage that they're not competing on a level playing field, and ITN, aided and abetted by some pretty incompetent management, is reeling on the ropes.
But it's not the BBC's ubiquity, so much greater than Fleet Street's, that is worrying, but its power to impose - under the figleaf of impartiality - its own worldview. Forget the fact that the BBC has, until recently, been institutionally anti-Tory. The sorry fact is that there is not a single Labour scandal - Ecclestone, Mittal, Mandelson and the Hindujas, Cheriegate, Tessa Jowell, and Prescott and Anshutz - on which the BBC has shown the slightest journalistic alacrity.
No, what really disturbs me is that the BBC is, in every corpuscle of its corporate body, against the values of conservatism, with a small "c", which, I would argue, just happens to be the values held by millions of Britons. Thus it exercises a kind of "cultural Marxism" in which it tries to undermine that conservative society by turning all its values on their heads.
Of course, there is the odd dissenting voice, but by and large BBC journalism starts from the premise of leftwing ideology: it is hostile to conservatism and the traditional right, Britain's past and British values, America, Ulster unionism, Euroscepticism, capitalism and big business, the countryside, Christianity and family values. Conversely, it is sympathetic to Labour, European federalism, the state and state spending, mass immigration, minority rights, multiculturalism, alternative lifestyles, abortion, and progressiveness in the education and the justice systems.
Now you may sympathise with all or some of these views. I may even sympathise with some of them. But what on earth gives the BBC the right to assume they are the only values of any merit?
Over Europe, for instance, the BBC has always treated anyone who doesn't share its federalism - which just happens to be the great majority of the British population - as if they were demented xenophobes. In very telling words, the ex-cabinet secretary Lord Wilson blamed the BBC's "institutional mindset" over Europe on a "homogenous professional recruitment base" and "a dislike for conservative ideas".
Again, until recently, anyone who questioned, however gently, multiculturalism or mass immigration was treated like a piece of dirt - effectively enabling the BBC to all but close down debate on the biggest demographic change to this island in its history.
Above all, the BBC is statist. To its functionaries, insulated from the vulgar demands of the real world, there is no problem great or small - and this is one of the factors in Britain's soaring victim culture - that cannot be blamed on a lack of state spending, and any politician daring to argue that taxes should be cut is accused of "lurching to the right".
Thus BBC journalism is presented through a leftwing prism that affects everything - the choice of stories, the way they are angled, the choice of interviewees and, most pertinently, the way those interviewees are treated. The BBC's journalists, protected from real competition, believe that only their worldview constitutes moderate, sensible and decent opinion. Any dissenting views - particularly those held by popular papers - are therefore considered, by definition, to be extreme and morally beyond the pale.
But then, the BBC is consumed by the kind of political correctness that is actually patronisingly contemptuous of what it describes as ordinary people. Having started as an admirable philosophy of tolerance, that political correctness has become an intolerant creed, enabling a self-appointed elite to impose its minority values on the great majority. Anything popular is dismissed as being populist - which is sneering shorthand for being of the lowest possible taste.
The right to disagree was axiomatic to classical liberalism, but the BBC's political correctness is, in fact, an ideology of rigid self-righteousness in which those who do not conform are ignored, silenced, or vilified as sexist, racist, fascist or judgmental. Thus, with this assault on reason, are whole areas of legitimate debate - in education, health, race relations and law and order - shut down, and the corporation, which glories in being open-minded, has become a closed-thought system operating a kind of Orwellian Newspeak.
This is perverting political discourse and disenfranchising countless millions who don't subscribe to the BBC's worldview; one of the reasons, I would suggest, for the current apathy over politics.
How instructive to compare all this with what is happening in America. There, the liberal smugness of a terminally worthy, monopolistic press has, together with deregulation, triggered both the explosive growth of rightwing radio broadcasting that now dominates the airwaves and the extraordinary rise of Murdoch's rightwing Fox TV News service. Democracy needs a healthy tension between left and right, and nature abhors a vacuum. If the BBC continues skewing the political debate, there will be a backlash and I predict that what has happened in America will eventually take place in Britain.
Now, there's been much talk recently of the need for more civic journalism in Britain, the very thing the BBC prides itself on. But let's pose this question: what if a civic BBC finds itself dealing with an administration that does not behave in a civic way? An administration that manipulates news organisations and the news agenda, that packs ministry press offices with its supporters, that chooses good days to bury bad news, that favours news bodies that give it positive coverage and penalises those who don't, that fabricates health and education figures, and concocts dodgy dossiers - an administration that, in Campbell and Mandelson, thought nothing of engaging in systematic falsehood.
Is the BBC's civic journalism - too often credulously trusting, lacking scepticism, rarely proactive in the sense of breaking stories itself - up to dealing with a political class that too often set out to dissemble and to deceive? The bitter irony, of course, is that when, for once, the BBC was proactive in its journalism and did stand up to the Labour party by breaking a genuine story, the corporation and its craven governors all but imploded under pressure from a rabid Campbell.
And what is interesting is that this contrasted with the ruthless support for the Iraq war that Rupert Murdoch imposed on his papers and their equally ruthless suppression of any criticism of the invasion whether it involved the attorney general's malfeasance, virtually ignored in the Times, or Dr Kelly, all but hung drawn and quartered by the Sun.
Indeed, I would suggest that the intimacy and power-brokering between these two papers and No 10, and the question of whether Mr Blair would have got away with his falsehoods and misjudgments over Iraq - indeed, whether Britain would have gone to war at all - without the support of the Murdoch empire, is a brilliant doctoral thesis for some future media studies student.
Yes, the BBC is, in many ways, a wonderful organisation. But the fact remains that it depends for its licence fee on the British population as a whole, yet only reflects the views of a tiny metropolitan minority. If it continues with this abuse of trust, then the British people will withdraw their consent and the corporation will fall into discredit. And that would be a very great pity.
RUSSIA EXPELLING FOREIGN LABOUR
Thousands of migrant workers from the Caucasus, Central Asia and China are leaving Russia as the government institutes tough new measures aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration. Campaigners against illegal immigration are welcoming the measures, saying low-paid migrants were distorting the job market and taking work from Russian citizens. But critics say the moves are ill-advised because they will drive up retail prices and create a labor shortage that could hurt Russia's booming economy.
About 12 million people, mostly citizens of impoverished ex-Soviet republics who do not require a visa to enter the country, are currently working illegally in Russia, according to analysts. The new rules set the quota for legal foreign workers at 6 million, while at same time imposing fines of up to $30,000 on companies that employ foreigners illegally. Also, as of this month, only 40 percent of workers in Russia's retail markets are allowed to be foreigners, and none should be by April 1.
Foreign workers have traditionally dominated in Russia's retail markets, with people from Azerbaijan, for example, selling fruits and vegetables, and Chinese selling cheap manufactured goods. Illegal migrants, mostly from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, are also heavily employed as laborers in the construction industry. 'We aren't wanted anymore, so I guess we'll be going home,' said Artak, an Armenian who sells cigarettes and alcohol at a kiosk in central Moscow. 'I'll be surprised if they can find a Russian who is willing do this work all day for what they pay me.'
With illegal migrants difficult to track, it's not clear exactly how many are leaving Russia. But Russian police have been out in force to enforce the new laws, and signs are that few are taking the risk of staying. Many stalls at food markets across Moscow are empty as vendors leave the country. Some markets have closed altogether, while others have posted signs looking for vendors with Russian citizenship. Russian television has shown images of empty markets in the Far East, where Chinese stallholders have fled across the border.
A Russian union organizer who works with illegal migrants in the construction industry said companies are throwing thousands of workers off job sites in fear of being prosecuted. 'You used to be able to get off the plane and immediately find work. Now everyone wants to get back on planes to go home,' said the organizer, who did not want his name used because he worries that he'll be targeted by authorities.
The new measures appear to be a response to a surge in ethnic nationalism and opposition to immigration that has occasionally erupted in violence. In August, a bomb tore through Moscow's Cherkizovsky market, killing 13 persons, mostly illegal workers from Central Asia. Racist attacks have grown dramatically, with at least 53 persons killed last year in racially motivated assaults, according to the human rights group Sova. Last fall, President Vladimir Putin denounced 'ethnic gangs' that control Russia's markets and called for regulation to protect 'the native Russian population.'
Alexander Belov, the head of the influential Movement Against Illegal Immigration, welcomed the new rules as 'a step in the right direction.' But he said Russia needs to go further and impose full visa requirements on 'people from poor countries who take jobs from Russians and give nothing back to our society.'
Russia's population is shrinking by 750,000 people a year and has fallen below 142 million due to low birth rates and high mortality rates, especially among working-age men. There are fears the new measures could lead to an economic slowdown if foreign workers cannot be replaced. 'Most of the migrants working in Russia are doing jobs Russian citizens don't want,' said Svetlana Gannushkina, the head of the Migration and Law Network, which assists immigrants. She said the measures are little more than a populist move ahead of elections to the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, later this year.
This could backfire, she added, because the crackdown may also drive up costs in retail markets, hurting Russia's poor. The average Russian earns only about $5,000 a year, and low-income Russians do most of their shopping in retail markets. 'This is going to damage not only migrant workers but also all the people who won't be able to afford to pay more for fruits, vegetables and meat,' she said.
The government appears to be hedging its bets promising that prices will not rise and that the April 1 deadline for foreigners to be banned from markets could be extended. 'The laws are aimed at regulating the normal functioning of markets and not at reducing the quantity of goods traded,' Economic Development Minister German Gref said in televised comments. 'If we see any threat, the time limit can be extended by a government decision.'
Friday, January 26, 2007
Apparently Indian-style exercise for schoolchildren can be unislamic!
A mass yoga exercise for five million children in India, aimed at kick-starting a health drive, has provoked calls for Muslims to boycott schools today. The central state of Madhya Pradesh wants all children to take part in the Surya Namaskar, which in Sanskrit means "sun salutation". Elaborate preparations have been made for the performance of the 12-posture exercise and the Pranayama, the yogic breathing technique espoused by Swami Ramdev. In the absence of the yoga guru, who is holding a camp in Bangkok, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, will lead the session.
His commands will be broadcast at 9am from the city of Bhopal across the state on radio and television. Every child aged 11 and above has been invited to participate and every state minister ordered to attend. "We have a firm belief that Surya Namaskar is good for health and we want to teach it to everyone who is interested," Ajay Vishnoi, the health minister, said. "Five million children will be doing this."
The event has angered India's 150 million-strong Muslim community, which fears further marginalisation by the majority Hindu population. Madhya Pradesh is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindu nationalists. The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board appealed to the state governor to intervene, while the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, one of India's leading Islamic organisations, sought a high court injunction against an "unconstitutional" event. Both approaches having failed, Muslim leaders advised parents to avoid "an embarrassing situation" by not sending their children to school. "India is a secular country, and we don't think it is right on the part of the Government to hurt our religious sentiments by favouring a practice of the majority community," Shamshuddin Ahmed, a member of the Muslim law board, said. "Our religion does not preach reverence to the Sun. It teaches to pay obeisance to the maker of the Sun, Allah."
The controversy is the second in four months involving the promotion of Hindu nationalism in state schools. There was outrage in September after all educational institutions were instructed to sing Vande Mataram, the national song, to mark its centenary. Muslim leaders protested that the song, which translates as Mother, I Bow to Thee, was also against their principle of bowing before no one but Allah. The Government ruled that it was optional to sing the song - a rallying cry for Indians fighting British rule - but the BJP condemned the objections as unpatriotic.
Similarly, it is emphasised that the Surya Namaskar is not compulsory. "No one is forcing people to join in," Mr Vishnoi said. "It is for whoever wants to. It is nothing to do with religion. It is a health function." Swami Ramdev plans a yoga training and research centre in the state. The guru, who has broadcast daily on his TV channel since 2002, is said to have a $50 million empire.
The Surya Namaskar is said to strengthen the body, improve circulation and regulate breathing. Benefits include stronger abdominal muscles, reduced anxiety, improved memory, hair loss prevention and a less prominent Adam's apple. Pregnant women and hernia sufferers are advised not to do it
HOMOSEXUAL ADOPTION UNDER PRESSURE IN BRITAIN
The Church of England put pressure on the Prime Minister last night over the gay adoptions row with a letter giving warning that "rights of conscience cannot be made subject to legislation". The Archbishops of Canterbury and York declared on the side of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster after Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor wrote to every member of the Cabinet stating that the Catholic Church could not accept a law forcing its adoption agencies to accept gay couples.
The intervention by Dr Rowan Williams and Dr John Sentamu in a letter seen by The Times places unprecedented pressure on Tony Blair. If he accedes to the demands, he will face accusations from the gay rights lobby and many within his own Government of being a "Vatican puppet". If he stands by the gay lobby, he risks alienating hundreds of thousands of Catholic Labour voters.
It is thought that Mr Blair, an Anglican whose wife is a Catholic and who has long been known to be sympathetic to the Church himself, favours a compromise. However, most other Cabinet ministers are taking a much harder line and believe that compromise is impossible. If the Church is allowed to opt out, they argue, it would undermine the fundemental position of law.
In their letter, Dr Williams and Dr Sentamu highlight the danger of the row escalating to the point where some might question the ability of people with a strong faith to be in government. They say: "It would be deeply regrettable if in seeking, quite properly, better to defend the rights of a particular group not to be discriminated against, a climate were to be created in which, for example, some feel free to argue that members of the Government are not fit to hold public office on the grounds of their faith affiliation."
They give warning that the argument over the Sexual Orientation Regulations has reached damaging proportions and that "much could be lost". They say: "Many in the voluntary sector are dedicated to public service because of the dictates of their conscience. In legislating to protect and promote the rights of particular groups the Government is faced with the delicate but important challenge of not thereby creating the conditions within which others feel their rights to have been ignored or sacrificed, or in which the dictates of personal conscience are put at risk. "The rights of conscience cannot be made subject to legislation, however well meaning." They draw a comparison with doctors working for the NHS, who are entitled to opt out of performing abortions if it goes against their conscience. They said: "It is vitally important that the interests of vulnerable children are not relegated to suit any political interest. And that conditions are not inadvertently created which make the claims of conscience an obstacle to, rather than the inspiration for, the invaluable public service rendered by parts of the voluntary sector."
Their letter came as Mr Blair signalled his support for Catholic adoption agencies to opt out of gay rights laws despite accusations of blackmail by bishops threatening their closure. Downing Street said Mr Blair had taken charge of the search for a compromise amid a stand-off between the Catholic Church and supporters of gay rights over a new law to curb discrimination. But supporters of the new regulations insisted there was no scope for a middle way without breaching the principles of equality law.
Children used as experiment, says British magistrate
A magistrate who says that he was forced to resign because he did not feel able to place children in care with same-sex couples said yesterday that the children were being used as guinea-pigs in a social experiment. Andrew McClintock, 62, a member of the Christian People's Alliance council, has served as a magistrate in the family courts in Sheffield for 15 years, ruling on whether children in troubled families needed to be placed in care.
But he has argued that the new civil partnership law could mean him sanctioning the removal of a child from its natural family to be placed in the care of a gay couple. Mr McClintock, a father of four, resigned from his position because he said that this would contravene both his personal religious beliefs and his duty as a magistrate to put the child's welfare first.
He is taking action against the Department for Constitutional Affairs, which runs the country's magistrates' courts, under the Employment Equality Regulations 2003, arguing that he is being discriminated against on religious grounds. He wants reinstatement. Mr McClintock was supported by protesters handing out leaflets on the first of what is expected to be a three-day employment tribunal.
He told the tribunal in Sheffield that children assigned to same-sex couples risked being teased in the playground about having two daddies or mummies. He said: "It is incompatible with the welfare of the child, who is becoming a guinea-pig in a social science experiment." He is claiming that his dignity had been violated after being told that he must sit on such cases despite his conviction that children should be brought up by heterosexual couples. There were precedents for his position of conscience and he should be accommodated, he argued.
Nation at risk from tyranny of tolerance
AUSTRALIA'S long-term difficulty in dealing with the now politically defunct noun "multiculturalism" is not unique to this country. It is not even unique to this time. In London earlier this week a newspaper columnist dug out some old quotes from Winston Churchill in 1938, then merely another politician but a man whose time was about to come. They were dark days as Churchill watched the tyranny of Nazi Germany spread across Europe and, as the Nazis pushed their violent, intolerant ideology on the world, the British Government simply looked on. Stunned mullets.
They were seemingly unwilling - or unable - to deal with the problem. "I have watched this famous island descending incontinently, fecklessly, the stairway which leads to a dark gulf," Churchill observed. He was never short of a quotable line, was ol' Winston. But he also warned that "if a moral catastrophe should overtake" Britain, future historians would sit back and be baffled as to how a great nation allowed itself to be destroyed so easily. Well, folks, who's to say it isn't happening again?
How many of you noticed that those Christmas cards you have no doubt recycled by now actually said Happy Holidays, and not the religiously correct Merry Christmas? Were the Christmas lights down in your neighbourhood this year? It wasn't so long ago that Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore thought it was a good idea to cancel Christmas decorations in the city so - and how many times are we hearing this? - as not to offend Muslims. Just this week concert promoter Ken West tried to ban the Australian flag because he believed it would invoke racial violence. Aside from showing common sense was officially dead and buried, West did a pretty good job of indicating the spirit of rock 'n' roll is in the early stages of rigor mortis as well.
Australia is not unique in its troubles, though. In England last week a woman graduating with her Metropolitan Police class refused to shake the Police Commissioner's hand because it was against her Muslim faith to shake hands with any man not her husband or a close relative. What did the commissioner do? Privately, they say, he was outraged at the lack of what we Westerners call manners. But he agreed, so as "not to cause a scene". For any right-minded person, though, shouldn't the immediate thought have been: If she cannot touch men, then how is she supposed to arrest them? The commissioner should have stripped her of her badge there and then. These are all examples of this politically correct pandering to other religions gone completely wrong. They are occurring at the disintegration of our own culture. Sure, this woman was entitled to her religious beliefs but when it comes to policing, the greater welfare of the community should have been put before her interests.
Sadly it wasn't, which is symptomatic of the problem in England, in Australia, and throughout the Western world. In a bid to stay modern, be fair and accept every man as equal, countries opened their borders to differing religions, races and persuasions when, according to the rhetoric, we should all have then joined in a group hug. It hasn't quite worked out that way. Hardline fundamental Muslims have moved in, happy to accept the freedoms and benefits of our culture - whenever it suited - while around the world their kill tally continues to rise. They sell their hate-mongering DVDs in western Sydney and then we excuse them because we are a "tolerant" society.
Well, it says here that tolerance these days is just cowardice dressed in a palatable mask. The true meaning has been lost in this dog's breakfast of political correctness. By pandering to religious sensibilities in such a manner Australia is just weakening its own culture and going down the path of ruin. Australia is a wonderful country and deserves protecting. It should not be allowed to be overrun by fundamentalists preying on our weakness to show "tolerance".
The small light of hope this week was Prime Minister John Howard's decision to reflect the feelings of the majority of this country by changing the multiculturalism portfolio to a citizenship portfolio. While it is hard to ignore the change could simply be an election stunt from Honest John cashing in on the wider feelings of the electorate, the hope is it is more a case of astute politics. With no more astute politician in Canberra, he gets the early benefit of the doubt.
Australia needs to be protected not just from the fundamentalists but from ourselves - from the dimwits all too willing to give this country away in the name of tolerance. For a long while Churchill was a lone voice in his opposition to Hitler, even becoming virtually banned from the BBC for being too anti-German. He was proven right only when it was almost too late.