Monday, December 05, 2005

Australia: Jewish-Muslim alliance against Christmas!

A leading Islamic body says the use of the term "Christmas" is politically incorrect because it excludes too many people in multicultural Australia. The Forum on Australia's Islamic Relations wants a community debate to find an alternative - suggesting the word "festive" as a possible replacement.

And a Queensland Jewish leader has called for an end to the "automatic imposition" of Christmas on the community, saying the season has been reduced to a "shopping festival".

The attacks have outraged Christian churches, family groups and civic leaders. Even other Muslim groups have slammed the call. Islamic Council of Queensland president Abdul Jalal said Muslims have "no right" to question what Christians called their religious festival. Premier Peter Beattie said Christmas was an important celebration that should "stay put". He said: "Christians should be able to celebrate the festivities as Christmas." Brisbane Anglican Archbishop Phillip Aspinall said Christmas should continue to be celebrated as a "very important" date on the Christian calendar. Queensland Churches Together - representing 11 denominations including Catholic, Anglican and Uniting churches - described the name-change proposal as "absurd". And Family Council of Queensland president Alan Baker described the plans as "impertinent and intolerant". He said: "No one is suggesting that other religions change the name of their celebrations, such as Ramadan for Muslims or Hanukkah for Jews."

Queensland local councils scoffed at suggestions they shun Christmas. Townsville Mayor Tony Mooney said: "Christmas is not politically incorrect and there is only a small group in the population that believe it is - and they're nuts." Caboolture Shire Council Mayor Joy Leishman said the call to rename Christmas was ridiculous.

But the Islamic-relations forum director, Kuranda Seyit, told The Sunday Mail it was time for Australia to fall in line with places such as the UK, where councils have renamed Christmas "Winterval" and replaced references to Christmas on signage with the words "Festive" and "Winter". "Australia is now so diverse and there are so many cultures and festivities, we need to acknowledge the need to be inclusive of our identity." He expected his plan would insult some people, but urged a "step-by-step" approach. "A word like Festive is a good word but the community should make an effort to come up with an alternative to Christmas. Schools will take a leading role in terms of political correctness. The younger generation will grow up and say 'it's not fair'."

Queensland's Jewish Board of Deputies president David Paratz said the extent of Christmas celebrations and partying had got out of hand - as had the commercialism surrounding the festival. Christmas was considered just a "shopping festival" by many people, he said. "It can't be assumed everyone is a Christian. People should not be faced with the automatic imposition of Christmas."



The Sun today slaps a CRIMBO on an infants’ school for banning Christmas cards. Kids have been in tears after being told the festive greetings are a waste of paper. And irate parents say staff are acting like Scrooges. So our latest asbo-style Crimbo, which stands for Christmas Must Be Observed and is issued to festive killjoys, goes to Bournville Community Infants School in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset.

Staff removed the pupils’ post box and got each class to make one bigcard to sign. Kids can only exchange cards in their own time as the school believes the practice clashes with its recycling drive.

Joanna Price, 35, whose son, Jake, five, is a pupil, said: “The school is behaving like Scrooge. It’s all very bah humbug.” Another parent said: “My child came home in tears.”

Acting head Janice Taylor, said: “Staff decided to support the recycling consortium in protecting the environment. It is important to instill recycling principles in children so they grow up to be environmentally aware.”



A spate of recent books and articles have concluded that modern societies are not getting any happier, and have offered public policy pronouncements to make us happier. Added to the weight of self-help books promising personal fulfilment, and the popular demand for therapeutic and pharmaceutical cures for misery, it is clear that concern for happiness is at the heart of contemporary culture.

This has been picked up in the political arena. Richard Layard, author of Happiness: Lessons from a New Science is said to be UK prime minister Tony Blair's new favourite guru. He argues that a society's success should be measured not by conventional indicators such as economic growth and employment, but according to the degree of happiness that is promoted, or unhappiness that is alleviated.

On the face of it the pursuit of happiness is reasonable and sensible. Happiness is, after all, better than its alternative. But hedonism - the single-minded pursuit of happiness - has generally been despised; and the simplest way to ensure a 'happy' state of mind is to keep everyone on mind-altering drugs, which is not being advocated by anyone. However, the free pursuit of happiness as we see fit isn't being advocated either. Rather, the writers on happiness think that they have particular insights into what makes people happy, and they tell us that the things that make us happy are not necessarily the things that we pursue.

In other words, they want us to like different things, because the ends that we choose for ourselves apparently do not make us happy.

Usually people have tried to shape other people's preferences directly. Religious, ethical and political systems have all made demands on their members to restrain or re-direct their desires in specific ways. But the pursuit of happiness for its own sake means re-directing people's desires simply because people are held to be unable to choose for themselves the ends that will make them happiest. There is something tyrannical in this desire to lighten the load of life by trying to shape the end goals that we might want to pursue.

Bruno Frey and Alois Stutzer give a clue to the attention paid to happiness: 'Everybody wants to be happy. There is probably no other goal in life that commands such a high degree of consensus.' And Richard Layard echoes this: 'We desperately need a concept of the common good. I can think of no nobler goal than to pursue the greatest happiness of all - each person counting.'

These quotations reveal that it is the universality that appeals - we all want to be happy, so ideas for achieving happiness are bound to have a wide audience. But it is a universality of the lowest possible denominator, and it requires wrenching the idea of happiness from its historical and cultural context, and reducing it to a generic 'feel-good' factor.

The interest in happiness is in marked contrast to the more censorious vein that also flourishes today. Our culture is marked by an odd coalition of puritanical censoriousness and ideological hedonism. On one hand, puritans demand that we live healthily and forego guilty pleasures. Air travel is castigated for its environmental impact. Drugs, which directly trigger happiness in users, provoke ire. On the other hand, prophets of happiness espouse self-indulgence with an abandon that would have embarrassed earlier generations. Self-esteem is promoted in schools. Businesses have policies to alleviate the stresses and pressures once accepted as normal.

Much more here

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