Friday, December 07, 2007

Sudanese teddy saga lays bare Islamic inferiority complex

By Waleed Aly

That the British teacher Gillian Gibbons required a presidential pardon to avoid 15 days' imprisonment in Sudan for blasphemy over the naming of a teddy bear surely represents the high watermark of absurdity in relations between the Muslim and Western worlds. Even Samuel Huntington, as he theorised of an impending clash of civilisations late last century, could not have foreseen an odyssey so surreal.

The story begins normally enough. Gibbons introduced her seven-year-old students to a teddy bear they would each take home throughout the year, in the manner of a class pet. Asked to name it, the children chose "Muhammad". Gibbons wrote to parents to inform them of the activity. Of course, none objected. Then one day, the police came to call, arresting Gibbons for "insulting religion".

At this point, flabbergasting mysteries abound. Why would the alleged blasphemy be Gibbons's when it was the children who chose the name? And perhaps more fundamentally, what is so offensive about a teddy bear named Muhammad? Certainly, it is the name of the greatest prophet in the Islamic tradition, but it is also the most popular name in the world, and a very common one in Sudan. Indeed, one of Gibbons's students says the bear was named after him.

There is no evidence the children intended the teddy bear to be some prophetic representation, and even in the bizarre event that it was, it is scarcely the most offensive representation one could imagine. This is not remotely akin to the Danish cartoons. Perhaps if the name had been chosen for a pig .

Nonetheless, after Gibbons's imprisonment last week, protesters shrieked that it was not enough. They insisted, with unfathomable idiocy, that she be put to death. Some even specified that it should be by firing squad. "No tolerance - execution," they chanted as they turned the arrest into a matter of geopolitics: "Shame, shame on the UK."

And here, it seems, is the key to this unmitigated farce. Had Gibbons been Sudanese, or just non-Western, there would be no controversy here. Indeed Muslims have not generally been averse to naming their toys (and their children) with the names of prophets. For years, the Islamic Society in Britain sold a soft toy named "Adam the Prayer Bear", while in the US, a Muslim multimedia organisation continues to produce children's videos starring a Muppet-like character also named "Adam" - the name of Islam's first prophet. This saga ultimately has nothing to do with teddy bears, and everything to do with anti-Western sentiment - a fact most nakedly revealed by the collective response of senior Sudanese clerics, who branded Gibbons's conduct "a calculated action and another ring in the circles of plotting against Islam".

This discourse is deeply implausible, especially when you consider Gibbons's love for the Sudanese people and long-term desire to assist with their education. This kind of response discloses a siege mentality; one that must position the Muslim world as the victim in a global - but particularly Western - conspiracy against it. As a corollary, the West must have a singularly oppressive role in the conspiratorial imagination. It exists to repress Muslims, and makes its policy decisions only to undermine Islam, as though the West has no independent interests of its own.

There is arrogance in this assumption that the humiliation of Muslims must be the central goal of others, but more deeply it is the expression of an inferiority complex. Such stifling paranoia is not a trait of the confident, but of the humiliated. The result is a disposition that is avid for scandal, a seemingly incurable desperation to be offended, and to pin the blame on Western civilisation. By responding violently to such offence, the humiliated feel a sense of faux-empowerment. They rehabilitate their status by lashing out.

Accordingly, the evidence on which they do so is usually flimsy. During the Danish cartoons furore, protesters in Pakistan burnt effigies of George Bush and set fire to a KFC as they denounced the "American cartoons". Just over a year ago, we witnessed pseudo-clerics calling for the Pope to be killed for daring to suggest Islam is inherently violent - indicating that they had utterly failed to grasp his meaning.

It is, of course, the tiniest of minorities that engage in this sort of behaviour. Many Muslim groups have condemned each of these outbursts, just as they called for Gibbons's release. Even Muslim Facebook groups formed in her cause. But the problem for the Muslim world is that this splinter faction is so loud it is defining the Muslim public image.

Ultimately, it is Muslims who have the most to lose. Perpetual victimhood, though an emotional balm, is disempowering and self-fulfilling. By clinging to it, and even imagining ourselves victims when we are not, we are ultimately victimising ourselves.


Monkey Business

In a case now pending in a federal court in Brooklyn, Mamie Manneh of Staten Island stands accused of having brought smoked bushmeat - known colloquially as monkey meat - into the United States without proper permits, in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Ms. Manneh's defense is that in her religion the eating of bushmeat has both a cultural and a spiritual significance. In an affidavit, 17 of her co-religionists declared, "We eat bushmeat for our souls." Manneh's lawyer, Jan Rostal, has analogized the African-based practice to the consumption at a Passover seder of foods like bitter herbs "that might have some reference to the Exodus." In a motion to dismiss, Rostal said that the case, while apparently novel, "represents the sort of clash of cultural and religious values inherent in the melting pot that is America."

No, it doesn't. It represents a more fundamental clash: between the imperatives of religion and the rule of law. The question raised by the case is whether the fact of a religious belief is sufficient to exempt the believer from the application of generally applicable laws - laws (like driving on the right-hand side of the road) that apply to every citizen no matter what his or her religious, ethical or moral convictions. Is religious belief a special case, so special that the devout practitioner gets a pass?

John Locke posed that question in "A Letter Concerning Toleration" (1689), and his analysis of it remains relevant today. Locke asks if it is lawful for Meliboeus (a name borrowed from pastoral poetry) to slaughter a calf and offer it as a sacrifice at a religious meeting. It depends, he says, on whether slaughtering a calf in order to put food on his family's table is lawful. If it is, then killing the calf for ritual purposes is perfectly allowable, for "what may be spent on a feast may be spent on a sacrifice."

But the logic also holds in the opposite direction. Suppose, Locke imagines, a disease had destroyed a large number of cattle and the government decreed that no more could be slaughtered. The prohibition would surely extend to religious rituals, not as a specific target of state action, but as a practice swept up in the wake of a general law.

That law, Locke observes, would not be "made about a religious matter, but about a political matter." It would be true that some people would no longer be able to engage in behavior they considered central to their religious life, but because that would not be the result aimed at - the good of the commonwealth would be the concern - the government could not be accused of contriving to harm religion, even if that were an unintended consequence of its action.

Nor would it be wise to exempt persons of certain beliefs from the general prohibition; for that would amount to bending the law to the preferences and desires of particular citizens, and once you begin to do that there is no logical place to stop and the rule of law would be destroyed.

The upshot of Locke's argument is that religious practices flourish only at the sufferance of the state. In theory you have the right to worship in the manner dictated by your faith, but should an aspect of that worship run up against a duly enacted regulation, the regulation, provided it is neutral in intention, trumps the demands of worship. This same line of reasoning can be found in religion clause cases stretching from Reynolds v. United States (1878) to Employment Division v. Smith (1990). (There is an alternative tradition of "accommodating" religion in cases like Sherbert v. Verner and Wisconsin v. Yoder.) ....

Much more here

More crazy "Human Rights"

Britain breached the human rights of a murderer and his wife by refusing them access to IVF treatment, the European Court ruled yesterday. Kirk Dickson, 35, and his wife Lorraine now have the right to start a family even though he is serving a life sentence. The couple, who met via a pen pal network while Mrs Dickson was also in prison, were determined to have a baby but Dickson's earliest release date from a minimum 15-year sentence is 2009, when Mrs Dickson, of Beverley, East Yorkshire, will be 51.

The Dicksons, who married in 2001, argued that artificial insemination was their only chance to have a child of their own and that a Home Office decision to deny them access to treatment breached their human rights. They had launched a legal battle in October 2001, but David Blunkett, then Home Secretary, rejected their claim. The Dicksons took their fight to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, where, in April 2006, they lost again.

However, the court's Grand Chamber overturned that ruling yesterday, voting 12 to 5 in favour of allowing the couple access to the treatment and awarding them 5,000 euros in damages and 21,000 in costs. The couple's lawyer, Elkan Abrahamson, said last night that they were both elated at the decision. However, it would make little difference because Dickson was now in an open prison and allowed home leave.


Baby Boomers owe America's young people an apology

By Dennis Prager

We live in the age of group apologies. I would like to add one. The baby boomer generation needs to apologize to America, especially its young generation, for many sins. Here is a partial list:

First and perhaps foremost, we apologize for robbing many of you of a childhood. We baby boomers were allowed perhaps the most innocent childhoods known to history. We grew up without material want, in one of the most decent places in world history, with media that preserved our sexual and other innocence, in schools that generally taught us well, and we were allowed childhood play from boy-girl play to rough and tumble boy-boy play to monkey bars and ringalievio. Our generation has deprived you of all these things. And while we were aware of the threat of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, few of us believed that we were threatened with death anywhere near the amount we have scared you about death from secondhand smoke, global warming and heterosexual AIDS, to mention just a few of the exaggerated death scares we have inflicted on you.

Our generation came up with two truly foolish slogans that also ended up robbing you of childhood. One was, "Never trust anyone over 30." Our infantile attitude toward adult authority has inflicted great harm on you. Because of it, many baby boomers decided not to become adults, and this has had disastrous consequences in your lives. It deprived you of one of the greatest needs in your life - adults. That in turn deprived you of something as important as love - parental and other adult authority. With little parental authority, you were left with little personal security, few guardrails and a diminished sense of order in life. And we transferred this denial of authority to virtually all authority figures, from teachers to police.

The other slogan whose awful consequences we baby boomers bequeathed to you was, "Make love, not war." Our parents had liberated the world from immeasurably cruel and murderous regimes in Germany and Japan - solely thanks to waging war. But instead of concluding that war could do great moral good, we sang ourselves silly with such inane lyrics as "Give peace a chance," as if that deals in any way with the world's most monstrous evils. So we taught you to make love and not war. And we succeeded. We made you anti-war and almost completely sexualized your lives. We told you that having sex was terrific or at least to be expected, even in early teens, and that your only concerns should be avoiding sexually transmitted diseases and getting pregnant. And if you did get pregnant, we made sure that you could extinguish the life you were carrying as effortlessly and guiltlessly as possible.

We started teaching you about sexuality and homosexuality in early grade school and we taught you how to put condoms on bananas. It is true that we did not grow up learning about these things at such young ages - certainly our schools never taught us about these things - but we chalked that up to the preposterous, if not reactionary, values of the 1950s and early 1960s. We had contempt for our parents believing that "Father Knows Best" and "Leave It to Beaver" and "Superman" - with the show's motto of "truth, justice, and the American way" - were good things for young people to be exposed to. So we replaced these shows with MTV's mind-numbing parade of three-second images and sex-drenched shows for teenagers. Sorry.

We also made you weak. We did everything possible to ensure that you suffered no pain. Sometimes we changed game scores if a team was winning by too large a margin; we abolished dodgeball lest anyone suffer early removal from the game; and we gave trophies to all of you who played on baseball teams, no matter how awfully you or your team played so that none of you missed getting a trophy while members of another team did. Much of this was thanks to the self-esteem-without-having-to-earn-it movement, which in our generation's almost infinite lack of wisdom we inflicted upon you. Sorry for that, too.

We also apologize for coming close to ruining so many of your schools and universities. Despite the unprecedented sums of money we had America spend on education, most of you got an education quite inferior to the one we got at a fraction of the cost. But we thought of our teachers as fools (they were, after all, over 30) who just concentrated on reading, writing and arithmetic (and history, music and art). We were sure we knew better and we therefore concentrated on sexual issues, and teaching you about peace, global warming and the horrors of smoking. The fact that few high school graduates can identify Mozart, let alone were ever exposed to his music, is far less significant to many baby boomers than your knowledge of the alleged perils of secondhand smoke. Most of you cannot identify Stalin either, and we are sorry for that, too. But, hey, we did make sure you saw Al Gore's film.

And a real apology to those of you hooked on drugs. While your choice to do drugs is your responsibility, it was our generation that romanticized them and made them cool. "Mind expanding" we called them. But it turns out that they don't expand minds, they destroy them. Sorry.

And, young women, we apologize especially to you. Many of us baby boomers bought into the feminist idea that getting married and making a family with a man were far less fulfilling than career success and that marriage itself is "sexist" and "patriarchal." So, to those of you women who have career success and didn't get married, we sincerely apologize. Turns out that most careers aren't as fulfilling as we promised.

So we really blew it, and what's really amazing is that few of us have changed our minds. Most people get wiser as they get older. But not those of us baby boomers who still believe these things. Of course, many of us never bought into these awful ideas that have so hurt you and our country, and some of us have grown up. But many of us still talk, think, dress and curse the same as we did in the '60s and '70s. And we're still fighting what we consider the real Axis of Evil: American racism, sexism and imperialism. But for those of us who know the damage baby boomers as a whole did to you, a heartfelt apology.



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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