Friday, December 28, 2007

Anger over plan to broadcast Muslim call to prayer on loudspeaker in Oxford

Muslim plans to broadcast a loudspeaker call to prayer from a city centre mosque have been attacked by local residents who say it would turn the area into a "Muslim ghetto". Dozens of people packed out a council meeting to express their concerns over the plans for a two-minute long call to prayer to be issued three times a day, saying that it could drown out the traditional sound of church bells. But a spokesman for the Central Mosque said that Muslim's also have the right to summon worshippers.

Dr Mark Huckster, who lives in Stanton Road and works at East Oxford hospice Helen House, told the Oxford Mail: "The proposal to issue a prayer call is very un-neighbourly, especially in a crowded urban space such as Oxford. "I have lived in the Middle East and a prayer call has a very different feel to church bells and I personally found the noise extremely unpleasant, rather disturbing and very alien to the western mindset." He added: "If an evangelical Christian preacher proposed issuing sermons three times a day at full volume there would be an outcry. "There could be a sense of ghettoisation of East Oxford. Cowley Road would have a Muslim flavour and could become a Muslim ghetto which is contrary to what we want in a multicultural society."


Deaf demand right to designer deaf children

This is the logical outcome of "All cultures are equal"

DEAF parents should be allowed to screen their embryos so they can pick a deaf child over one that has all its senses intact, according to the chief executive of the Royal National Institute for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People (RNID). Jackie Ballard, a former Liberal Democrat MP, says that although the vast majority of deaf parents would want a child who has normal hearing, a small minority of couples would prefer to create a child who is effectively disabled, to fit in better with the family lifestyle. Ballard's stance is likely to be welcomed by other deaf organisations, including the British Deaf Association (BDA), which is campaigning to amend government legislation to allow the creation of babies with disabilities.

A clause in the Human Tissue and Embryos Bill, which is passing through the House of Lords, would make it illegal for parents undergoing embryo screening to choose an embryo with an abnormality if healthy embryos exist. In America a deaf couple deliberately created a baby with hearing difficulties by choosing a sperm donor with generations of deafness in his family. This would be impossible under the bill in its present form in the UK. Disability charities say this makes the proposed legislation discriminatory, because it gives parents the right to create "designer babies" free from genetic conditions while banning couples from deliberately creating a baby with a disability.

The prospect of selecting "deaf embryos" is likely to be seized on by campaigners against genetic screening who will argue that this is an inevitable outcome of allowing "designer babies". Doctors are opposed to creating deaf babies. Professor Gedis Grudzinskas, medical director of the Bridge Centre, a clinic in London that screens embyros, said: "This would be an abuse of medical technology. Deafness is not the normal state, it is a disability. To deliberately create a deaf embryo would be contrary to the ethos of our society."

Ballard, who previously ran into controversy as director-general of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) where she pushed through extensive job cuts, said in an interview with The Sunday Times: "Most parents would choose to have a hearing embryo, but for those few parents who do not, we think they should be allowed to exercise that choice and we would support them in that decision. "There are a number of deaf forums where there are discussions about this. There are a small minority of activists who say that there is a cultural identity in being born deaf and that we should not destroy that cultural identity by preventing children from being born deaf." Ballard added: "We would like to retain, as far as possible, parental choice, but it has to be in conjunction with a clinician so that people know exactly what they are choosing."

Next month a coalition of disability organisations will launch a campaign to amend the bill to make it possible for parents to choose the embryos that carry a genetic abnormality. Francis Murphy, chairman of the BDA, said: "If choice of embryos for implantation is to be given to citizens in general, and if hearing and other people are allowed to choose embryos that will be `like them', sharing the same characteristics, language and culture, then we believe that deaf people should have the same right." Murphy added that the BDA believes it is very unlikely that it would become common for deaf parents to deliberately create deaf children.

To create a "designer baby" using preimplantation genetic diagnosis, couples need to go through in vitro fertilisation (IVF) even if they could conceive naturally. The embryos created are then genetically screened and normally only the healthy ones are implanted in the mother's womb. This weekend the RNID played down Ballard's comments by pointing out that the charity does not advocate deliberately creating deaf babies. A spokesman said: "While the RNID believes in the individual's right to choose, we would not actively encourage the selection of deaf embryos over hearing ones for implantation when both are available."


More on the Canadian attack on Mark Steyn

Conservative Canadian pundit Mark Steyn has made a name for himself in recent years as a Cassandra about the supposed threat posed by Islam to the liberal democracies of the West. Making the case most clearly in his witty, if doom-mongering, book America Alone, Steyn argues that Europeans are slipping into irrelevance courtesy of their doddering welfare states and their anemic birthrates -- that Belgium, France and Holland are poised to join the Muslim world courtesy of fast-breeding immigrants who retain a closer kinship to the cultures of the countries they left than to the values of their new homes. In response, Steyn has drawn charges of sloppy argument and even overt racism.

But, until now, the broadsides fired at the controversial writer have been rhetorical in nature -- they haven't actually carried legal consequences. That's changed now that Canadian authorities are investigating Steyn for supposed "hate speech" -- a forbidden form of expression in the frozen North -- over an excerpt from his book published in Macleans magazine.

Yep, that's right -- a writer may be penalized by the government for penning officially disfavored ideas. In Canada.

Many Americans have the idea that Canada is a lot like the U.S., but a tad more nanny-statish. In a lot of ways that's true, but it understates some important differences. In particular, Canadians are much more vulnerable than Americans to the whims of government officials when it comes to protections for individual rights. As eroded as the U.S. Bill of Rights may be, it starts from the premise that individual rights precede government, and that government may not legitimately violate or change those rights. Practical application is another matter, but the original premise still has some force.

By contrast, Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms is written as a model of slippery legalese, and seems rooted in the idea that the rights and freedoms it protects are gifts from the government. Notoriously, it includes a clause that allows federal or provincial legislators to ignore the charter by simply stating their intent to do so.

33. (1) Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter.

In usual practice, this difference may mean little. Canadians sometimes exercise a little more liberty than Americans on issues like marijuana use, for instance. But the idea that liberty is something that's parceled out by politicians tends to result in predictable results when those politicians come under pressure by people upset by somebody else's exercise of their rights. Specifically, that means that voicing politically incorrect opinions can trigger complaints that send bureaucrats chasing after politically incorrect opinions with hefty legal flyswatters.

Not too long ago, the Canadian Human Rights Commission actually issued a cease-and-desist order against a Canadian woman for posting homophobic Bible verses on American Websites. So Mark Steyn faces real potential consequences over the opinions he voiced in a book that hit the New York Times bestseller list.

Steyn may be right about the demise of liberal democracies in the West. But the killing may be suicide rather than murder.


A freedom to shout about

YOU get a better class of political protester at Oxford University. Last week, when students broke into an Oxford Union debate to protest at the presence of the British National Party leader and a notorious Holocaust denier, one of the intruders commandeered a piano and shouted a question to the packed hall: "Wagner, perhaps?"

Free speech. A noble idea. But the debate about it in Britain today isn't really about free speech at all. It has become a Trojan Horse for a different debate entirely - one about religion and race. By deciding what's permissible to say in public, we are defining how tolerant a society we are prepared to be. In practical terms, this means how tolerant we are of religious and racial intolerance.

For the majority of us, liberal by instinct and live-and-let-live by inclination, this throws up some uncomfortable conflicts. On one hand we have to decide what leeway to allow extremists to spout race hate. On the other we have to judge when to curb the hateful preachings of religious fundamentalists, both Christian and Muslim.

Last week in Oxford, Nick Griffin of the BNP and the disgraced historian David Irving were faced with protesters who seemed to be split into three camps, each with its own distinctive take on the right of free speech.

The first, echoed by a number of eminent commentators in the past week, goes something like this: Yes, these men have the right to free speech; but they are not entitled to make their loathsome case on such hallowed ground as the Oxford Union, which has played host to great historical figures including Mahatma Gandhi, Bobby Kennedy and Mother Teresa.

What tosh. If the Oxford University is indeed the apex of intellect it professes to be, then where better to forensically dismantle some bampot fascist ideas and show them up as historically illiterate, morally indefensible and politically naive?

The second group's viewpoint is slightly different: yes, we have a right to free speech in this country, but that only applies if your views are nice and cuddly and liberal, like ours. Otherwise, we will shut you up. If you want to preach racial intolerance then we will deny you a platform, we will deny you a debate and we will try to drown you out by shouting very loudly.

More tosh. By refusing to engage in debate with the extreme right - or any group that plays to base fears - all we do is nurture and sustain them. It's not good enough to say we're not going to dignify their views by responding to them. We must meet them head-on, always giving trust to reason and the power of argument. Anything else is a counsel of despair.

Of course, the right to free speech is never an absolute. There are laws in place to ensure that if BNP statements stray into incitement to racial hatred they become a criminal offence. But within the bounds of what is legal, free speech should mean exactly that. Even if it means the freedom to be racist, misogynistic, homophobic or any other intolerant social trait.

There was a third group at Oxford too, and their reasoning could be summed up like this: whether or not you have the right to free speech is irrelevant - you're a fascist bastard and I'm going to try my best to give you a good kicking. I admit in my student days in the early 1980s - the era of Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League - I may have had some sympathy with this view. These days I hope I'm more reasonable.

A useful rule of thumb is this: your fundamental right to free speech will only be curbed when it infringes on the fundamental rights of others. And there's an important distinction to be made here. There is no fundamental right to have your religious beliefs protected from criticism. Just because you claim your views are sanctioned by God does not provide you with any additional protection, or justification for that matter. This is what psychologists call a 'category error'.

At the moment, the novelist Martin Amis is being accused of being a racist because of his sustained criticism of extremist Islamism. His critics' reasoning appears to be that because most followers of Islam are non-white, Amis's views are therefore racist. At the risk of repeating myself: utter tosh.

Amis is exercising his right to free speech in the precise area where it is most needed - in seeking clarity in a debate about religion and race that is too often a fug of lazy assumptions and unexamined prejudices. His criticism is not of a race or a religion but of an ideology. He refuses to take the craven and cowardly position that we must accept other cultures and other traditions entirely on their own terms, without any reference to our own morality and values.

There's a phrase we're all familiar with, for which we can thank Voltaire: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Here and now, in Britain in 2007, this notion feels a bit antique. Today we are far more likely to say: "I disapprove of what you say, so I will accuse you of racism/religious intolerance/political incorrectness until you shut up."

It's time we rediscovered the spirit of Voltaire's original sentiment and applied it anew to the troubled age in which we live. Free speech, after all, has a price.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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