Monday, February 06, 2006

Secular democracy's unequivocal moment?

While the cartoon furore has left some on the left grasping at postmodern apologia I'm with Mr Lefty and Tim Dunlop : disturbed and angered by the mindless violence and thuggery being splayed across the Islamic world and diaspora.

Lefty says:
Do these people even realise that the reason such stereotypical views of them have such resonance IS THAT THEY KEEP DOING THIS STUFF?
Or, well we may ask, do they really care?

He flags the link, which the left cannot ignore, between this issue and the fight against religious bigots like Tony Abbott:
Religious fundamentalism being forced on other people is a thoroughly unpleasant thing no matter who's doing it. We don't want to live in a theocracy of any persuasion.

Tim Dunlop points out that the Pope, while distancing himself from their violent methods, agrees with the fundamentalists' attack on basic democratic values. So a big Golden But in favour of the nutters from the Pontiff.

Given that violence and threats were used to terrorise galleries that displayed Piss Christ, this isn't entirely surprising. Anyone who defended that violence but then attacks the violent protests by Muslims here is a flagrant hypocrite.

Dunlop also reminds us of the hand-wringing approach taken to the outrageous Fatwa against Salman Rushdie:
If western leaders--political, religious and intellectual--had been more willing to defend Salman Rushdie back when The Satanic Verses author became the subject of a fatwa, maybe the recourse to violence by some Muslims when they felt affronted could have been nipped in the bud. Not only did that not happen then, but now with the Danish cartoon thing, we are seeing the same apologetics for violence being trotted out again, just as they were for Rushdie: what did he expect to happen? It's a bad book/cartoon anyway; people are right to be offended; it is always wrong to be mean about things people hold sacred; free speech is not an absolute; I don't approve of the violence, but...
This issue may well prove a high water mark for leftwing tolerance and willingness to excuse the inexcusable.

This screamingly psychotic behaviour is an affront to the civil society project, it is an affront to true-liberalism, and it is an affront to the value of progressing beyond the dark ages at all.

It may also prove a watershed moment for moderate Islam, as the absurdity of the violence provokes those who, while probably being offended by the cartoons themselves, do not want to be dragged into the dark ages and do not want a 'Clash of Civilisations' either.

There have been strong and unequivocal counter-protests by moderates, certainly in the UK, calling for police to arrest those who carried 'death inciting' placards and angrily renouncing the extremists.

They need our support, as we need them to be strong, now more than ever.


Splatterbottom said...

Being a member of the Christian right, apparently, I am firmly on the side of free speech. And I don't think the secular right would be of a different view.

The only thing I would censor is speech that involves the commission of a serious crime such as snuff movies.

I think a lot of Cristians would take that view, certainly all the ones I speak to.

Personally, I wouldn't have published the cartoons as a matter of common decency. If something offends me, like Piss Christ, I write a letter and explain my position. It never occurred to me to boycott Victoria because it was displayed there.

It is the clash of civilisations thing that we have to steer clear of.

Maybe as a first step in your campaign you could get rid of the blasphemy laws in Victoria, which may well prevent the publication of the cartoons there. Although ICV is ostensibly moderate, I don't think they will help you with this.

Anonymous said...

What possible real life solutions do you imagine or see?

Speculation works (it's just the blogosphere) if one risks it.


Ideas, though?

Mike Jericho said...

I think the mistake we make is assuming that we have the option of choosing to avoid the coming conflict. It is, after all, our way of life that is repetitively offending these people.

If we make that decision - to accept peace at any price - how much of ourselves would we have to forfeit?

phil said...

Perhaps demonstrating the complexity of the issue, I find my usually wishy-washy self lining up with all the above. I didn't think Piss Christ was 'art' in any sense, but I supported the artist's (maker's?) freedom to make it. I see more point to a cartoon that seeks to make a satirical point. I think we need our leaders to make very clear statements that the backlash being seen will not be tolerated: understanding that such statements will draw responses and will have political costs (not that these should be a factor).

Ben Ze'ev said...

Confronting Islam should be a left wing issue. Yet the left continues to defend it, and I suspect that Armaniac would still take exception to broader anti-Islamic sentiment, even as he becomes aware just what this culture is capable of.

The question is, how is this a sane left wing position ? The arguement seems to be: 1. It is a religion.
2. There are so many of them
3. It is a culture with a history, traditions, languages etc.
4. There is a diversity within Islam, it is not one culture but many, you cannot tar them all with the same brush.
5. Most Muslims are "moderate".
6. Islam is a misinterpreted Religion of Peace
7. The bad stuff is done by a small, unrepresentive minority of extremists.

Yet no sane leftie today has any issue with confronting Hitler's ideology of Nazism.
What if Hitler had won, and his Reich did indeed reign not 1000 years but closer to 1300 ? German Nazism was mystical in nature, and took on more and more trappings of a fully fledged religion. In time there would well have been a number of different interpretations (as there were 1933-1945), and there would be plenty of "Nazis in name only" (as there were then), but all united under one brand, with an ultimate loyalty to Hitler, Mein Kampf et al.
Pre-WWII Hitler claimed to be for peace, and drawn reluctantly into war. In fact, Germany was "for peace" (while arming rapidly) and France was attacked for its belligirence in arming to keep up.
As for a small minority of extreminsts: Hitler never had as much political support as Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood. And then there are the rather problematic statements constantly made by the people that Muslims choose or tolerate to be their spokesmen in the West.

Take the time to analyse the core beliefs of mainstream Sunni and Shia Islam, the teachings and chronological structure of the Koran (including the abrogation of the earlier, peaceful Meccan suras)
The explicit calls for violence, opporession of women, Jews, Christians and the slaughter of infidels.
Note that in Islam the Koran is the final, perfect, complete and literal word of God. This makes Islam the most inherently literalist, fundamentalist and inflexible religion in the world. ALl well and good if the teachings are abstract and peaceful, but they are not. They are very specific and quite nasty.

Then examine the role played by Muhammad, who is the ultimate role model for all mainstream muslims, and read about his life to discover that he was a thieving, raping, murderous pedophile in his time as Prophet. The current cartoon crisis has precedent in that Muhammed had poets killed merely for making fun of him. What we see today is nothing more than his followers' emulation of his perfection.

The Left must understand Islam, and stop crying "prejudice", or treating every outrage as an isolated action of a small minority of extremists.

Muslims are not a race, and can abandon an insane and dangeorous set of teachings, just as Germans could in the end abandon Nazism. Some help was needed in the latter case, and may be in the former...

Armagnac Esq said...

I think the whole paedophile thing is demonstrative of pure spite. Why? Because so too, by today's standards, were most other adult males.

CHristianity has a peaceful text, but it isn't followed- the bulk of christians defer to the old testament when in doubt. If they didn't they would not cast stones at so-called sinners, they would not pursue riches unless they were adept at fitting camels through the eye of needles, and they would TURN THE OTHER CHEEK.

Judaism explicitly endorses ethnic cleansing (Canaan) and genocide (sodom & G), but that doesn't mean most jews endorse this.

Ultimately as an agnostic moving towards atheism I find it hard to see any religion in a rational light, but don't have an issue with personal belief of just about any sort provided that it is tempered by respect for the beliefs or otherwise of other people.

Failing endorsing some sort of wholesale genocide aka nazi germany, any resolution of issues with the islamic world must involve some tolerance and some effort to deal with genuine gripes. Or else you end up with perpetual war. Which suits some people...

Anonymous said...

Apologies, can't log into Blogger for some reason. This is from Six Days:

Nope, 'gnac, no dice. Same tired, superficial old equivalence arguments. They do not hold water, so lets put them to rest right here.

For the record, I have no interest in perpetual war at all, and only found myself "on the right" in the same way as Hitchens did, ie because the Left became a joke, and no longer stood for what it should. We are under attack, while you seem to be reacting as the left of the world did prior to 1939. Was Orwell on the left or on the right when he saw the madness in this ? Was Orwell in favour of perpetual war when he said that "A pacifist is a fascist by another name ?"

To your points:

The extreme literalism of mainstream Islam is fundamentaly different to the influences of the enlightenment in all but the most retrograde forms of Orthodox Judaism and Christianity.

Most Jews in the world follow Reform/Liberal Judiasm, with an explicitly non-literal theology that owes more to the Enlightenment than the old testament. This influence is also strong in many other strains, including the misnamed Conservative movement. This means that the majority of Rabbis, community leaders and teachers are not medieval maniacs, and explicitly reject such ideology with another, widerspread and accepted one in its place. Can Islam say the same ?
In Islam, the precious few loud moderates like Irshad Manji are playing largely to a Western audience. Meanwhile, all mainstream Islamic clerics are fundamentalists by any useful definition of the word, and Muslim leaders continue to make scary statements. It is only recently that truly moderate laity in Denmark have finally taken issue with this:

If only the ones in Australia had the same kind of courage, or inclination.

As for genocide: yes, it is in the Old testament. The commandments concern races now extinct. In any case, Christianity has moved beyond this on an official, fundamental basis, while most Jews have chosen to define these writings as officially no longer relevant. This is not a lay decision, but a theological revision supported by a multitude of Rabbis, scholars etc.

Islam, on the other hand, is commanded in the non-negoitable, eternally relevant Koran to "slaughter the infidels wherever you may find them", and has some very specific condemnation and prescribed oppression of Jews and Christians, by name.
Further, the moral example of Jesus stands in stark contrast to that of Mohammad. Please read this:

This would not be terribly relevant if mainstream Islam were not inherently literalist about the Koran and Mohammad. But it is. While laity may stray (and be chastised for it) The MAINSTREAM theology and clergy remain fiercely fundamentalist. Try and prove me wrong.

As for "pedophile": very disingeneous argument Armaniac. Yes, Mary was 14 or so when Chrsit was born, and it was possible to marry as young as 12. But Aishya was 6 when she was betrothed to Mohammad, who took a fancy to her, and deflowered her when she was 9. Find me other cases of coitus in one so young in the classics. 11 would have been the absolute, extreme limit.
Further, this is not just a historical issue. The marriagiable age of women in Iran is 9 precisely because of the precedent set by the Prophet.

I am still very interested in your views as to why Islam cannot be criticised and addressed in the same way as Nazism, and what you think are the fundamental differences between the two ideologies, at least in as far as the way they interact with the West.
I urge you to consider that Nazism was a culture, that there were young people in Nazi Germay who had known nothing but, for whom nazism represented their entire formative experience. Had Hitler won, or at least not attacked Russia, there might have been generations of these. Some would, no doubt have been "moderate" or "in name only". What would Leftists have made of them ? More importantly, what impact would they have had on any Leftist criticism of Nazism ?

Of course, I forget that so many pre-WWII leftists supported Hitler...

Anonymous said...

Six Days: the rant continues!

Islam may be a matter of "personal belief" but it is so much more.
You speak of religion as a matter of personal belief, and you do not address the issue of religions that also function as oppressive political and social forces.

As for negotiation, perpetual war etc. Back to Nazi Germany. Negotiation only created more troube. Why must we compormise our freedom, prosperity and influence because of a bunch of maniacs ?

Appeased, Nazi Germany only grew worse. Negotiatated with, it took what it could.
Fought it was defeated. No perpetual war. And if Nazism arises again it must be fought again, would you not agree ?

Confronting an enemy political force hell bent on your destruction does not lead to perpetual war. It leads to victory, a goal that the left seems to have abandoned, along with so many other virtues.

Armagnac Esq said...

Now you are welcome to rant but can't expect me to get down in the nitty gritty of an extended argument, time pending.

Enough to say I disagree that most muslims follow a 'to the letter' fundamentalist form, this has not been my experience, it is not my experience on a day to day basis in a suburb with a notable muslim population, cruising brunswick which is full of muslims, corresponding with muslim friends, or after extensive travels through indonesia, largest muslim country in the world.

R.H. said...

George Orwell was a miserable guilt-ridden sod from the time he left the Burmese police. He then wrote a string of very poor 'social conscience' novels which were nothing more than diatribes against his current society. He wanted to do something for the lower orders, but the closer he looked at them the more they disgusted him. Human physiology itself disgusted him; the sweating, shitting and so on.
He called himself a Socialist but believed that other middle-class Socialists only supported it because they knew it would never happen - just as many so-called radicals do today.
He tells of seeing two men unusually dressed in shorts and sandals getting onto a bus, and hearing the remark,"They look like Socialists."
That's how they were viewed in the 1930's - as Greenies are now.

Orwell was a self-flagellator who never wanted to be rich. Or even well-off. And never was. -Unlike our own self-flagellating loud-mouthed crowd of inner suburban economic invaders who live it up after displacing the poor from their homes, scattering them all over the place. Then they have the bloody cheek to accuse others of doing the same thing.


R.H. said...

I'll say this - and be controversial - only a stupid bastard would poke fun at someone else's religion. Whatever injury they cop for doing it is well-deserved.
I couldn't care a damn.

Ben Ze'ev said...


Come on, do not withdraw now, you have some points to answer, and I address them to you out of respect. They can certianly wait till tomorrow, but I trust that you will not let my questions stand unanswered. You strike me as an intelligent individual who thinks independently and deeply. You must therefore be a little disappointed by the shallow nature of your recent responses. Please try harder.

Indonesia is largely Sufi and to this extent is very much an exception. Further, it appears to be moving towards a mainstream Sunni, Wahhabi style of Islam, as is Malaysia, where seperation of mosque and state is eroding rapidly.

I am not saying that all or even most nominal Muslims are fundamentalists (and they may still surprise you with what they think vs what they present) I am saying that their cultural and theological framework, mainstream Sunni and Shia Islam, and the clerical gatekeepers of that theology, as well as their leaders and spokespeople are inherently fundamentalist, and that this causes a number of unique, deep and ongoing problems. Please challenge this point directly, something more substantial than using poorly practicing members of the laity as conterexamples.

It is exactly this kind of shallow, self-deceptive thinking that got us into the mess that we are in, one that the left is forever finding itself surprised by, and which many (but not, I am pleased to say, you) choose to deny, even when planes flown by Western Muslims-next-door are flown into towers, or nice, assimilated local born Muslims blow themselves up on trains.

I do not deny that laity can be lax, or ignorant of their practices and beliefs. Most Muslims cannot read Arabic, and have never actually read the Koran, Hadith etc. Some memorise the entire book without understanding a word ! In addition, there are somehwat less fundamentalist or destructive sects such as the Sufis, Amadiyya, Ismaili etc. I am not talking about these. I am talking about mainstream Sunni and Shia Islam.
Lots of "nominal Nazis" pre WWII were good people too, and few knew the full truth about the Holocaust even as it was occurring. Nevertheless, they are hardly blameless, and more importantly the ideology iteself can certainly be criticised even when a majority is lax in following it. All that is needed is that a sizeable minority is enacts it to its most dangerous letter.
How small is the "tiny minority of extremists" in Sydney? Why did Muslim leaders themselves call for Wahhabi and Salafi participation in Howard's recent summit with Muslim leaders, when they claimed that extremists (by THEIR reckoning !) represent 10% of the Muslim population! (and that's just Sunni extremists)
Why do they have the likes of Fehmi, Hilali, Trad as their leaders and spokesmen? How small is this minority it in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood won 25% of the seats in an unfair election biased against them ? Why did HAMAS win outright in "Palestine" ? Why do Islamists win power in Pakistan ?

I am very interested in your views as to why I cannot criticise the ideas that comprise Islam the way I can criticise those that comprise Nazism.

"I met some nice ones" is hardly an argument, in light of other, more compelling evidence. I am sure that most WWII Germans were nice, friendly, polite, reasonable people too.

Manny C said...

"I think the whole paedophile thing is demonstrative of pure spite."
No my friend, this is pure fact. The Hadiths make no excuses for the Prophet's marriage to his Uncle's (?) daughter. And six years old at that.

"Why? Because so too, by today's standards, were most other adult males."
Keep in mind that about 30% of 12-13 year olds have had sex. But for a grown man to deflower a girl at the age of 9? That's disgusting.

"CHristianity has a peaceful text, but it isn't followed- the bulk of christians defer to the old testament when in doubt. If they didn't they would not cast stones at so-called sinners, they would not pursue riches unless they were adept at fitting camels through the eye of needles, and they would TURN THE OTHER CHEEK."

The sermon on the mount is the single most misunderstood passage of the New Testament. Jesus's concern in this sermon was not the outward actions of a person (eg. turn the other cheek) but the matters of the heart.

For example, he said, "You have heard that it was said of old, "You shall not murder...". But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement."

Also, if anything Jesus is harking back to the Old Testament in a significant way in the Sermon on the Mount. He is explaining to us that morality is not an outward thing, it was never supposed to be an outward thing. Rather, you should not be like the hypocritical Pharisees whose corrupt reverence for the Law led to its prostitution.

"Judaism explicitly endorses ethnic cleansing (Canaan) and genocide (sodom & G), but that doesn't mean most jews endorse this."
Judaism does no such thing. According to the Scriptures, Sodom and Gommorrah were destroyed by God, not by the Israelites, due its disobedience and rejection of God. The walls of Jericho did not come down by the hand of Joshua, but by the hand of God. In fact, the OT makes plain that God gave the inhabitants time to repent, he was slow to anger and justice.

"Ultimately as an agnostic moving towards atheism I find it hard to see any religion in a rational light, but don't have an issue with personal belief of just about any sort provided that it is tempered by respect for the beliefs or otherwise of other people."
Careful there. Atheism = alpha + theos = no God. You are saying that you can affirm the negative of an absolute. That is prepostorous, short of divine revel.....

"Failing endorsing some sort of wholesale genocide aka nazi germany, any resolution of issues with the islamic world must involve some tolerance and some effort to deal with genuine gripes. Or else you end up with perpetual war. Which suits some people..."
It suits no one. May God prevent it. Much blood will flow on both sides. Any resolution of issues with the islamic world must involve an explicit understanding of our values and traditions. We need to make excuses for noone. The western world, our culture, has flourished to produce the most prosperous and progressive (tech and otherwise) in history. What has the Islamic world given us?

Armagnac Esq said...

You share a preponderance of time for writing longish posts, like the esteemed mr jericho, and like mr jericho you will probably have to accept that on average people with busy lives will not sit down and take the time to address them point by point.

In part because I think I comment too much on my own blog, and that it's for others to engage, if they want, to take the thread forward.

"I met some nice ones" is hardly an accurate summary of what I said though, and writing off Indonesia precisely because they follow a significant movement in Islam that is NOT fundamentalist seems to me both self serving and more than a little contradictory.

You do make some good points.

However yours and jericho's keenness to get in and argue when there was such cross-political potential to agree in relation to the cartoon affair is likely to set off more suspicions among the centre left than it achieves conversions.

Ben Ze'ev said...


I use my time as I will, and perhaps my life is otherwise no less busy than yours, but there are reasons why this is far more than a mere hobby.

People with busy lives can do as they will. I suspect that you are too much a man of intellect and honour to leave important questions unanswered, and further that these questions have become even more important to you in recent weeks.

"I met some nice ones" is an accurate summary when you do not distinguish between laity and leadership, and adherents from ideology, and base your arguments on anecdotal interactions and impressions rather than scholarly study of the subject matter of an ideology and its political implications.

I made the point straight away that I am specifically addressing mainstream Sunni and Shia Islam (about 90% of the Muslim world). Yes, this does exculde Indonesia from much of my argument, but certainly includes the area from Morocco through the Middle East all the way to Bangladesh. Hardly contradictory, just more of that "nuance" that some lefties seem to like so much. The only reason that Indonesia is off the hook is because there are the odd individuals like Abdurrahman Wahid. You do not get mainstream Islamic scholars like that, especially not in the Middle East. Nevertheless, for every Wahid there are multiple Abu Bakr Baysirs...

I have found if more instructive to be more attentive to the argument that to the arguer's keeness to argue. 1 + 1 = 2 is true no matter who says it. So one of us is wrong, and perhaps both. Perhaps one of us is even right. There is a lot riding on the subject matter, and the stakes are raised daily, so I would encourage you to join me in honestly finding out which of us, if either,is right.

R.H. said...


Armagnac Esq said...

What r h said!

Also, what Dale Carnegie said on arguing.

Also, g'night y'all, from my persian kitten who has first dibs on my attention span!

R.H. said...

He's worse than Barry Jones on Pick a Box.