Sugary excerpt from Justin Gest:
Islamophobia is inherently wrong. But if that is not persuasive enough, it is also an enormous strategic mistake in the struggle against Islamic extremism.
Sugary excerpt from Justin Gest:
Islamophobia is inherently wrong. But if that is not persuasive enough, it is also an enormous strategic mistake in the struggle against Islamic extremism.
Mocking Jordan's monarch is a criminal offence liable to prosecution in a military court, but when King Abdullah of Jordan (pictured above with the French president, François Hollande) attended the demonstration on January 11th in Paris to express support for free speech in the wake of the Paris attack, some found ridicule hard to suppress. How could he march in defence of freedom of expression abroad, they asked, when he is such a serial abuser of that freedom at home? Last June he expanded the remit of an anti-terrorism law to include public criticism of the king or his allies. His spooks trawl social media for dissenting Jordanians to arrest. On December 18th the deputy leader of Jordan's branch of the Muslim Brotherhood was tried before military judges for a colourful posting denouncing Jordan's allies in the Emirates on his Facebook page. Salafi preachers declining to opine in favour of coalition attacks on Islamic State are sent back to jail. "Everyone in Jordan is assumed to be a terrorist until proven innocent," says an embittered Islamist.
I agree with Juan Cole on this:
Criminals and gangsters should not be fetishized as “terrorists.” It is just a way for them to inflate their egos. People are violent and sadistic because they are violent and sadistic, not because they have any particular ideology.
From James Meek:
The Taliban’s credibility had been low when they were driven out in 2001: they’d failed to deal with a drought, they’d mysteriously banned the cultivation of opium but not its sale, they’d built nothing for the people except madrasas, and they were operating an obnoxious system of conscription. It took the coming of the Americans and the return of the mujahedin commanders to make the Taliban look good by comparison.
Sugary excerpt of Monday from Eduardo Sabrovsky:
The exploration of the idea—of the sole legitimate Kantian idea, the idea of Europe—has led us to this conclusion: albeit peculiar, this idea is a religion. We often react with scandal at the Islamic notion of Sharia, Islamic law. This is because we are blind to our own Sharia. In the best of possible worlds, we should be able to understand that our ways and mores may be, for the Islamic world, as scandalous an unacceptable as theirs usually are to us. They have their strict prohibitions, their strange bodily practices; though we may not perceive them, we surely do have ours; when we look at our bodies in the mirror, we see a human body as such; we do not perceive it as formed—and thus, de-formed—by our particular culture. So, in the best of possible worlds, we would live in our particularity and let live others live in theirs. Why don’t we?
Because 'we' disagree...
A good question from Marco d'Eramo:
The question is, how has it come about that young Europeans are no longer prepared to sacrifice themselves for humanitarian, patriotic or socialist reasons, but are for religious ones? What have we done to them to bring them to this point? What’s infuriating about the dominant discourse on Islamic fundamentalism, especially in Europe, is that it glides over structural causes and social alienation, and reduces everything to the implausible and useless category of ‘insanity and fanaticism’.
That Isis are far from insane is demonstrated by the fact that, with two public beheadings, this motley crew managed to get itself recognised as the main enemy of the world’s biggest superpower.
(...) it is somehow odd for a Western politician to be telling anybody, however horrible and unworthy of respect: "You don't understand your own religion, but I do..."
I agree partly with Juan Cole on this:
The US was very good in the Cold War at containing Stalinism but very bad at defeating a guerrilla group like the Vietcong. It was the former that mattered in the end.
Unfortunately, the logic in Washington usually ratchets toward the macho and the simplistic. Obama at first admitted that the US could only degrade ISIL, not destroy it. But then on Wednesday the chorus of critics pushed him to say that his goal is eradication of the organization. But the tools he announced for his effort, including Yemen-style drone and fighter-jet attacks, were not sufficient to the task of eradication. Containment is doable. It isn’t clear that an air war is.
Obama wasn't pushed, he jumped!
The sentence of the week is from Steve Negus:
It may be that the Islamic State's onslaught is the shock that transforms Iraq's political culture.
From Ayaan Hirsi Ali :
I am often told that the average Muslim wholeheartedly rejects the use of violence and terror, does not share the radicals' belief that a degenerate and corrupt Western culture needs to be replaced with an Islamic one, and abhors the denigration of women's most basic rights. Well, it is time for those peace-loving Muslims to do more, much more, to resist those in their midst who engage in this type of proselytizing before they proceed to the phase of holy war.
It is also time for Western liberals to wake up. If they choose to regard Boko Haram as an aberration, they do so at their peril. The kidnapping of these schoolgirls is not an isolated tragedy; their fate reflects a new wave of jihadism that extends far beyond Nigeria and poses a mortal threat to the rights of women and girls. If my pointing this out offends some people more than the odious acts of Boko Haram, then so be it.
I find Ali's predictability scary for it shows that she has stopped growing and thinking. Oh well, she is adapting very well to the American Western modern contemporary intellectual terrain.
I agree with Nancy McDermott on this :
Paternalism has emerged as the dominant form of authoritarianism in our society. Across the world, policymakers are quietly working behind the scenes to save us from ourselves, nudging us towards Jerusalem with smaller fast-food cups, architecture intended to make us climb more stairs, and maternity wards that encourage bonding and breastfeeding.
From Slavoj Žižek:
The art of politics lies in making particular demands which, while thoroughly realistic, strike at the core of hegemonic ideology and imply much more radical change. Such demands, while feasible and legitimate, are de facto impossible. Obama’s proposal for universal healthcare was such a case, which is why reactions to it were so violent.
(...) Only a politics that fully takes into account the complexity of overdetermination deserves to be called a strategy. When we join a specific struggle, the key question is: how will our engagement in it or disengagement from it affect other struggles? The general rule is that when a revolt against an oppressive half-democratic regime begins, as with the Middle East in 2011, it is easy to mobilise large crowds with slogans – for democracy, against corruption etc. But we are soon faced with more difficult choices. When the revolt succeeds in its initial goal, we come to realise that what is really bothering us (our lack of freedom, our humiliation, corruption, poor prospects) persists in a new guise, so that we are forced to recognise that there was a flaw in the goal itself. This may mean coming to see that democracy can itself be a form of un-freedom, or that we must demand more than merely political democracy: social and economic life must be democratised too. In short, what we first took as a failure fully to apply a noble principle (democratic freedom) is in fact a failure inherent in the principle itself. This realisation – that failure may be inherent in the principle we’re fighting for – is a big step in a political education.
(...) In a more directly political sense, the US has consistently pursued a strategy of damage control in its foreign policy by re-channelling popular uprisings into acceptable parliamentary-capitalist forms: in South Africa after apartheid, in the Philippines after the fall of Marcos, in Indonesia after Suharto etc. This is where politics proper begins: the question is how to push further once the first, exciting wave of change is over, how to take the next step without succumbing to the ‘totalitarian’ temptation, how to move beyond Mandela without becoming Mugabe.
It's sad to say (ok not really) but Žižek is becoming what he has always despised the most: a less fashionable version of Bernard-Henri Lévy.
Just the facrs from Chris Dillow:
The fact that a terrorist is likely to be a Muslim does not mean a Muslim is likely to be a terrorist. Even if we assume that there are ten terrorists walking the streets for every one inside, then 99.988% of Muslims are not terrorists. To put this another way, there's only around a one in 8000 chance of a Muslim being a terrorist; it's 16 times more likely that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will name their child Wayne. Given all this, why does anyone think terrorism is a Muslim problem?
Sugary excerpt of the day from Kathryn Joyce:
Even among nonhysterics, John Kerry’s 2004 defeat was attributed by liberal writers in part to his outspoken wife, and the excesses of the Tea Party are denounced most vigorously by Republican moderates who ridicule the movement’s female politicians as unserious.
Even in the Democrats’ 2012 convention, lauded for women’s central role, First Lady Michelle Obama’s otherwise powerful speech discounted her entire professional life in favor of her role as “mom in chief.” Listening to that speech, I don’t hear hysteria but rather calculation, which is sadly realistic at that. Understanding why it’s still necessary means understanding what continues to drive the backlash. And it demonstrates that, if the sexual counterrevolution is ever over, the unfinished work of the original revolution is still waiting.
Sugary excerpt of the day from Tim Black:
(...) if many of those passing through higher education are not only taught to believe that there are certain things you must not say, but are also actively discouraged from engaging in vigorous intellectual debate, is it any wonder that national debate is so often intellectually flaccid, and divided by sides that seem incapable of hearing the other’s argument. While the incredible political and cultural polarisation evident in the US, with people seeming to live in almost entirely separate moral communities, as [Charles] Murray put it, might not have been caused by campus censorship, it has certainly not been helped by it. The uncritical self-certainty of campus life has at least served to reinforce the hyperpolarisation of public debate. (...) It is as if higher education helps to draw the battlelines in the Culture Wars, with the disputatious but prejudiced mass on one side, and the enlightened illiberal elite on the other.
I wish this were true:
Though it may be painful, though it may be costly at the polls in the short run, Republicans don't have a future unless they break up with the religious right and the gay-bashing, Bible-thumping fringe that gives the party such a bad rap with every young voter. By fighting to legally ban abortion, the party undercuts the potential to paint itself as a rebel against the governmental-control machine.
It is impossible for the Republicans to break up with the religious right, the best thing to hope for is an open relationship.
I take issue with this from Amy Davidson via the New Yorker:
Romney has said that he does support exceptions to an abortion ban for victims of rape and incest, but, as I’ve written before, that does not make him a moderate. Who would a woman have to appeal to to prove that she had been raped in order to be allowed to end her pregnancy? How long would that take, how vulnerable would she have to make herself to legal machinations, further exposure to her rapist, or the condescending disdain of men like Mourdock? Or is that what he supposes he is sparing survivors of rape by taking the whole question of access for them off the table? How, for that matter, would Richard Mourdock and his cohort want her to prove that she might die if she saw the pregnancy through? Would a small but significant risk be enough? If she was denied access and did die, or was left disabled, where would God’s intention be?
There isn't such a thing as a moderate position on Abortion and people who argue that there is are usually trying to make another point and in this case, Davidson's point is that Romney is an extremist. She should just say it instead of using abortion to prove what is for her, obviously, a res ipsa loquitur literally.
It is alarming to assert but in America and elsewhere, there is only a right and a wrong position on Abortion, which means that there is no middle ground for it is impossible to be a little pregnant. For that reason, Abortion is no longer in my opinion a political issue, but solely one of human rights.
Best line from The Economist 's Democracy in America blog post on the passing of Arlen Specter:
(...)who serves the national common good best: Arlen Specter or Michele Bachmann?
The very right that laid the foundation for Western civilization is increasingly viewed as a nuisance, if not a threat. Whether speech is deemed imflammatory or hateful or discriminatory or simply false, society is denying speech rights in the name of tolerance, enforcing mutual respect through categorical censorship.
As in a troubled marriage, the West seems to be falling out of love with free speech. Unable to divorce ourselves from this defining right, we take refuge instead in an awkward and forced silence.
One caveat, free speech isn't a western right or value. That said, I think the problem is that free speech has just become expensive for citizens who value security and comfort over pretty much everything else. It is for that reason that a knowledge citizenry is key to a liberal democracy to realize that there are certain things that can never be too costly!
A dumb, inaffective and dangerous suggestion from SA Hoseini:
It’s high time a law was passed around the world prohibiting any kind of defamation or insult to religion — otherwise we are going to witness a repeat of this kind of grim news — again and again and again.
Christopher Hitchens wasn't always right, but he was absolutely necessary.
It is hard to disagree with the assertion that consensus and God are, for lack of a more elegant word, suckers!
Sugary excerpt from Pankaj Mishra's review of Joseph Anton, Salman Rushdie's memoir:
Rushdie's neat oppositions between the secular and the religious, the light and the dark, and rational literary elites and irrational masses do not clarify the great disorder of the contemporary world. They belong to an intellectually simpler time, when non-western societies, politically insignificant and little-known, could be judged solely by their success or failure in following the great example of the secular-humanist west; and writing literary fiction could seem enough to make one feel, as Tim Parks wrote in a review of Rushdie's novel The Ground Beneath Her Feet, "engaged on the right side of some global moral and political battle".
Indeed, such complacencies of imperial intellectual cultures were what Rushdie had bravely attacked in his brilliant early phase. "Works of art, even works of entertainment," he had pointed out in 1984, "do not come into being in a social and political vacuum; and … the way they operate in a society cannot be separated from politics, from history. For every text, a context." No text in our time has had contexts more various and illuminating than The Satanic Verses, or mixed politics and literature more inextricably, and with deeper consequences for so many. In Joseph Anton, however, Rushdie continues to reveal an unwillingness or inability to grasp them, or to abandon the conceit, useful in fiction but misleading outside it, that the personal is the geopolitical.
I am left wondering how much the personal even when it is geopolitical should matter in literature even when it is not fiction. Another way to phrase my discomfort would be to wonder how much who Rushdie is or isn't should affect not only how he is read, the value of his writings.
In short, I am butting heads with Mishra because although I am conceding to him that the personal is the geopolitical, I question the essential nature and even the meaning of that assertion...
Quotes of the day, the first from A. Barton Hinkle:
The trouble with protecting feelings is that advocates of free expression have them, too: Many of them are genuinely pained by the prospect of government silencing people by threat of force. Flag-burners and bigots also have feelings – rather strong ones, judging by their willingness to suffer the hostility of their fellow citizens. Likewise, gays and lesbians have feelings that are hurt when religious conservatives call them sinful, and religious conservatives have feelings that are hurt when gay-rights activists call them haters. If we go around silencing any speech that might hurt someone’s tender ego, then before you know it nobody will be able to say much of anything. Defending free speech requires defending it when the speech makes you mad, not just the other guy. That’s a lesson that seems to need repeating – over and over.
The second from Gleen Greenwald:
My real question for those who insist that advocacy of violence should be suppressed is this: do you apply this view consistently? Do you want those who advocated the attack on Iraq - i.e., who advocated violence - to be arrested? How about those who cheer for the war in Afghanistan, or drone attacks on Pakistanis and Yemenis? The next time someone in the US or UK stands up and advocates a new war - say, attacking Iran - should they be arrested on the ground that they are advocating violence?
Or is it the case, as it certainly appears, that when people say that "advocating violence" should be suppressed, what they really mean is: it should be prohibited for those people over there to advocate violence against my society, but my society is of course free to advocate violence against them?
I agree wholeheartedly with Alex Massie on this:
Perhaps it wasn’t sufficiently appreciated at the time but Rushdie was the victim of a terrorist campaign. Not just Rushdie either. Anyone associated with The Satanic Verses was a target too. That meant publishers, translators, even bookshops and libraries. All these were targeted and people were murdered.
Rushdie was a test. In the west, your claim to be a decent liberal in a decent liberal society was at stake. In the east, the stakes were very much higher. Those people who pusillanimously suggested Rushdie must carry some responsibility for violence for which he bore no responsibility at all betrayed would-be modernisers in the Arab world and those Imams and other muslim “community leaders” who had the courage to say Iranian politics should reach no further than the Straits of Hormuz. Some of those people were murdered too.
All this, however, was the beginning of a time in which taking offence would be elevated to an art form. Not all such faux-outraged, manipulated, foolishness would be as consequential or as violent as the Rushdie affair but, viewed retrospectively, I think you can see The Satanic Verses as the unhappy opening to The Age of Hurt Feelings.
I am amazed that I live in an age when people can do whatever they want and can get away with unreason, stupidity and violence by asserting that their feelings are hurt as if being hurt means being right.
I disagree strongly with Peter Spiro on this:
(...) the Benghazi protests were prompted by this film depicting the prophet Mohammed in not very flattering terms. The equation from the protesters at the US consulate in Benghazi: this film was produced by an American; we will hold America responsible for it.
The result: national foreign relations are seriously compromised by the irresponsible act of an individual. For structural and functional reasons, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. (....) our European friends would argue that democracy is better served by banning such material. Either way, our exceptionalism on this score doesn’t serve us very well.
There are two main reasons for my disagreement. The first has to with the definition of hate speech and who/what decides what it is. The second is that I believe that the 'European model' isn't democratic at all, but paternalistic (mainly because of recent history) for at its core is the presumption that a society can never be mature enough to handle filth and thus the state must intervene to avoid that the kids do harm to each other.
Ethel Waters, for example, was the result of a forcible rape. (...)I used to work for James Robison back in the 1970s, he leads a large Christian organisation. He, himself, was the result of a forcible rape…(...) Even from those horrible, horrible tragedies of rape, which are inexcusable and indefensible, life has come and sometimes, you know, those people are able to do extraordinary things.
I am having a hard time swallowing (no pun intended) the expression 'forcible rape...' In any case, I think that people who don't believe that marriage is a requirement for women who shouldn't be able to et a divorce when they want one and cannot say no to their husbands because their body is his and giving is is their divine obligation shouldn't comment on rape.
To get back to the core of the issue, I think that 'qualifying' rape is always dumb and abominable for Huckabee could have as well said that great things come from any 'evil." He may have as well said that 'Blacks' and 'Jews' in America should be grateful for slavery and the Shoah because those tragedies enable them to become Americans and to have a shot at the American dream. That would have been as dumb, cruel, inculture and mean as what he said simply to defend his conviction that sex is rarely about violence for after all there is one that takes what is naturally his to take and one that should always feel fulfilled and grateful for the possession/penetration/insertion/abuse.
Sugary excerpt from Garry Wills on the Vatican's slap of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious:
Last week, following an assessment by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican stripped the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, representing most American nuns, of its powers of self-government, maintaining that its members have made statements that “disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.” Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle has taken control of the Conference, writing new laws for it, supplanting its leadership, and banning “political” activity (which is what Rome calls social work). Women are not capable, in the Vatican’s mind, of governing others or even themselves. Is it any wonder so many nuns have left the orders or avoided joining them? Who wants to be bullied?
It is typical of the pope’s sense of priorities that, at the very time when he is quashing an independent spirit in the church’s women, he is negotiating a welcome back to priests who left the church in protest at the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. These men, with their own dissident bishop, Marcel Lefebvre, formed the Society of Saint Pius X—the Pius whose Secretariat of State had a monsignor (Umberto Benigni) who promoted the Protocols of the Elder of Zion. Pope Benedict has already lifted the excommunication of four bishops in the Society of Saint Pius X, including that of Richard Williamson, who is a holocaust denier. Now a return of the whole body is being negotiated.
Just another proof that Sarah Silverman is right when she proposes to sell the Vatican to sell the world.
The Economist's Élysée blog asks and answers the question of whether 18% of the French are racist because they voted for the extremist right candidate Marine Le Pen for president:
All this to say that it is too simplistic to see Ms Le Pen’s score as a mere manifestation of French racism. Nor is it simply a protest against the system. People like her, and are not afraid to say so, in a way that few were about her father. Her electoral success reflects, rather, a mix of disappointment with Mr Sarkozy, despair at the level of joblessness, bewilderment in the face of globalisation, frustration at the impotence of Europe, and disillusion with the political class.
I concur, but I wonder if the same point could be easily made about American Tea Partiers. Somehow I doubt it, which is sad because asserting that people are racist solely because of their politics pollutes all conversation and of course infects the political debate.
That said, ignorance isn't a political opinion.
Because I'm so thankful that it's Friday, just a sentence from Michael Walzer to make a potent point:
[...] when God is king, what need is there for human politics?
God is omnipresent in American politics and that it explains in part why it is so inhumane.
I'm going to be munching on this sugary excerpt from Rob Marchant this week-end:
[...]something lies deep in the psyche of the European left, which still, despite all logical evidence to the contrary, wants to see these jihadists in Iraq, the Arabian peninsula or Palestine in some degree as freedom fighters. Sticking it to the man: the man in question being the West, the Establishment, the US.
It is a dangerous fantasy, and one which ultimately puts in jeopardy everything we believe in, because those outside our narrow political club do not see things the same way. The disturbing thing is that we can’t see that this kind of coincidence, of a bunch of Jewish-related news stories since the start of the year in the national press, in a country where we’re talking about a tiny proportion of the population. It wasn’t happening ten years ago, or even five. We can’t see that anti-Semitism is back on the agenda in a big way, as I wrote in the New Statesman back in October, and the left is ignoring it.
Marchant isn't wrong but I think it is necessary to enlarge the picture to view all the trees.
Most times in today’s Europe, the guys beating, burning and killing Jews will be Muslims. Once in a while, it will be somebody else killing the schoolkids. But is it so hard to acknowledge that rapid, transformative, mass Muslim immigration might not be the most obvious aid to social tranquility? That it might possibly pose challenges that would otherwise not have existed — for uncovered women in Oslo, for gays in Amsterdam, for Jews everywhere? Is it so difficult to wonder if, for these and other groups living in a long-shot social experiment devised by their rulers, the price of putting an Islamic crescent in the diversity quilt might be too high? What’s left of Jewish life in Europe is being extinguished remorselessly, one vandalized cemetery, one subway attack at a time. How many Jewish children will be at that school in Toulouse a decade hence? A society that becomes more Muslim eventually becomes less everything else. What is happening on the Continent is tragic, in part because it was entirely unnecessary.
To quote André Breton, l'homme fait un état risible de ce qu'il croit savoir.
Steyn seems not to know(he probably doesn't for reality is meaningless to him) that France has had a president, Sarkozy, for the last five years, who would agree with him and has been ruled by the right since 2002. Of course, as with all fear-mongers and fanatics, the goal is to keep the fear alive because it enables them to remain irrational and hateful.
Sugary except of the day from Norm Geras:
There are believers who, in the name of religion, act to silence, harm and sometimes indeed kill others, and there is, unfortunately, a lot of this sort of thing about. No secularist is obliged to adopt a relaxed attitude towards it. On the contrary, in defence of freedom of belief, they should be intolerant of it. Secularism, just like genuine liberalism, does not entail tolerance of the appeal to religion to justify intolerant, cruel or murderous ends.
The conclusion of Christopher Hitchens's article on the upcoming anniversary of 9/11:
The battle against casuistry and bad faith has also been worth fighting. So have many other struggles to assert the obvious. Contrary to the peddlers of shallow anti-Western self-hatred, the Muslim world did not adopt Bin-Ladenism as its shield against reality. Very much to the contrary, there turned out to be many millions of Arabs who have heretically and robustly preferred life over death. In many societies, al-Qaida defeated itself as well as underwent defeat.
In these cases, then, the problems did turn out to be more complicated than any "simple" solution the theocratic fanatics could propose. But, and against the tendencies of euphemism and evasion, some stout simplicities deservedly remain. Among them: Holocaust denial is in fact a surreptitious form of Holocaust affirmation. The fatwa against Salman Rushdie was a direct and lethal challenge to free expression, not a clash between traditional faith and "free speech fundamentalism." The mass murder in Bosnia-Herzegovina was not the random product of "ancient hatreds" but a deliberate plan to erase the Muslim population. The regimes of Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fully deserve to be called "evil." And, 10 years ago in Manhattan and Washington and Shanksville, Pa., there was a direct confrontation with the totalitarian idea, expressed in its most vicious and unvarnished form. Let this and other struggles temper and strengthen us for future battles where it will be necessary to repudiate the big lie.
Hitchens states the obvious (which may be virtuous, but more often than not unproductive when the goal is to refuse that even stout simplicities lead to uneasy complexities) in an ideological manner. He does it to avoid posing the tough questions, and be on his high horse when he refuses to acknowledge that in life, politics or in any aspect of life being on the right side, fighting 'evil' doesn't make things simpler, but more complicated because it means that there is a duty to act as if only the final result matters for the other side is evil.
Hitchens fails to understand the question is never in the characterization of evil as evil, but in the uncomfortable notion that stating it doesn't solve anything and does make things simple.
In short, 9/11 did make life, the world easier, it make it more complex because the 'evil' of the act was so obvious that reflexion and the morality of political acts mattered more tha ever before.
Sugary excerpt of the day or rather of the night from Juan Cole:
Note to Muslim-hater Bill Maher, who should know better: It is not true that women cannot vote in 20 Muslim countries, and please stop generalizing about 1.5 billion Muslims based on the 22 million people in Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, the only place where women cannot drive and where men can vote (in municipal elections) but women cannot. It would be like generalizing from the Amish in Pennsylvania to all people of Christian heritage and wondering what is with Christianity and its fascination with horses and buggies.
I have to admit that I have stopped watching Bill Maher years ago because I couldn't take him seriously. He is exactly like the people he criticized, arrogant and fanatically persuaded to be on the right side except that his views are seen more fashionable and more 'cultured' (some forms of inculture in America and elsewhere are tolerable/fashionable than others when they lead to more palatable conclusions).
Bill Maher doesn't care about the status of women in the "Muslin world," to use an expression that I hate. He is using it to make a cheap point to win an argument that isn't about women, but about a group of people he considers as savages. My own point here isn't that there is no there there, but to make the assertion that consistency matters when being self-righteous.
I will not foolishly assert that women in America are not privileged compared to others or that foreign countries especially those in certain parts of the world have a 'woman problem.' I will just argue that saying that isn't saying much for the question remains what is the ideal, what are absolute and universal values, and to stop using women as human shield, as props to win ideological wars.
Richard Cohen doesn't get it and is stuck in a place where people are too different too immature, too barbaric to know what to do with the good things in life, which to him are 'western values':
Egypt's problems are immense. It has a population it cannot support, a standard of living that is stagnant and a self-image as leader of the (Sunni) Arab world that does not, really, correspond to reality. It also lacks the civic and political institutions that are necessary for democracy. The next Egyptian government - or the one after - might well be composed of Islamists. In that case, the peace with Israel will be abrogated and the mob currently in the streets will roar its approval.
My take on all this is relentlessly gloomy. I care about Israel. I care about Egypt, too, but its survival is hardly at stake. I care about democratic values, but they are worse than useless in societies that have no tradition of tolerance or respect for minority rights. What we want for Egypt is what we have ourselves. This, though, is an identity crisis. We are not them.
I'm not buying into that ideological distinction between 'us' and 'them' and into the racialist notion that traditions are everything and that identity is a non-evolving state in all societies meaning that people are their history and their traditions. The lesson of our post-globalized world is precisely that 'we' are all westerners now in the sense that 'we' all choose who want to be and thus decide the future, which doesn't have to be like the past. It comes to Hannah Arendt and to her favorite quote of René Char, which I never get tired of using: notre héritage n'est précédé d'aucun testament.
People are not chained to their past. Egyptians are not the slaves of history, of what they may have been.
I agree with Paul Krugman on this:
(...) the truth is that we are a deeply divided nation and are likely to remain one for a long time. By all means, let’s listen to each other more carefully; but what we’ll discover, I fear, is how far apart we are. For the great divide in our politics isn’t really about pragmatic issues, about which policies work best; it’s about differences in those very moral imaginations Mr. Obama urges us to expand, about divergent beliefs over what constitutes justice.
And the real challenge we face is not how to resolve our differences — something that won’t happen any time soon — but how to keep the expression of those differences within bounds.
The problem in America and elsewhere is that people no longer know how to debate and to discuss issues because everything has been religionized. When everything is sacred, there can only be blasphemy and blasphemers, true believers and faith looking to obliterate people who disagree. Will things change? No or at least not yet for the simple fact that change when it is more than Obamastic (symbolic) takes time and having a civilized society requires a committed belief in education and in intelligence rather than in faith and churches.
Alex Massie affirms with too much satisfaction and guile for his statement to be true that Sarah Palin is done:
Palin is tarnished goods at the moment. More than any other would-be candidate in the prospective field she needs to build an inevitability strategy. She lacks the chops to win a policy battle (or even the appearance of one) and needs instead the kind of whirlwind operation that whips up a storm in state after state. That requires massive enthusiasm and persuading people to ignore their suspicion that she cannot win a general election. Unfortunately that also creates a collective action problem for Palin: people might vote for her if they think other people will too. But they don't think other people will and so they won't either.
I have to admit that I don't understand the rationale of Massie's assertions for Sarah Palin never begun. She has always only been the witch that liberals needed to convince themselves that they were good and that Obama was the best s*it !
To the contrary of many, I have never thought that Palin was stupid or that she was an abomination, I thought that she was likable enough as Obama once said arrogantly and with spite of Hillary Clinton, but that the problem was that she was never as good as her defenders thought that she was and more importantly as bad and evil her detractors believed. Palin is a legitimate political figure, but saying that doesn't mean much for she has yet too become real rather than a fantasy in the mind of her friends and her foes.
Is Sarah Palin done ? Of course, she isn't. She just isn't real, that's the problem. Sarah Palin doesn't exist. Elle n'existe pas !
The first sugary excerpt of the day of the year is from the great Norm Geras:
It is indeed paradoxical, as a liberal, to think that other people should have to dress as you prefer or dictate; but it is not at all paradoxical to think - as a liberal - that people are most likely to be able to 'grow and thrive' best in societies in which they are guaranteed a wide space of personal freedom. I'd say that the liberal was a strange one who thought that growing and thriving could take place equally well anywhere - under tyranny just as well as not, oppressed within the home as well as not, with not enough to eat, etc.
It is those kinds of paradoxes who make me wonder whether liberalism can remain true to itself if it becomes solely political (in the Obamanian sense of the word) and thus a form of devotion.
Sugary excerpt from Christopher Hitchens in his debate against Blair on Religion
Religion forces nice people to do unkind things, and also makes intelligent people say stupid things. Handed a small baby for the first time, is it your first reaction to think, beautiful, almost perfect, now please hand me the sharp stone for its genitalia that I may do the work of the Lord. No, it is -- as the great physicist Stephen Weinberg has aptly put it, in the ordinary moral universe, the good will do the best they can, the worst will do the worst they can, but if you want to make good people do wicked things, you'll need religion.
Sugary excerpt from Lionel Barber's review of George W. Bush's memoirs Decision Points:
Like Tony Blair, painted in the book as a fervent supporter of the invasion of Iraq, Bush is a moralist. Like Blair, Bush insists all the major intelligence agencies thought Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and the threat of WMD falling into terrorist hands was too great to bear. Like Blair, he cannot understand why more people still do not accept the moral argument for removing Saddam. “I didn’t see how anyone could deny that liberating Iraq advanced human rights,” he writes.
I'm tempted to accept this excerpt with a quote from John Steinbeck: only fools do not learn fro experience. However, neither Blair no Bush are fools, they are just complaisant moralists who believe that God made them kings because it/s/he knew they could make the right decision based on faith, on what it/s/he wanted them to do. What is the difference between Bush, Blair, other political leaders who believe religiously that God is on their side and Ahmadinejad?
Sugary excerpt from the New York Times' portrait of Priscilla Shirer, a female woman evangelist in Baton Rouge:
Shirer and many conservative Christians believe that the Bible defines gender as a divinely ordained set of desires and duties inherent in each man and woman since the Garden of Eden. Gender is not an act or a choice, but a nonnegotiable gift. To these Christians, the story of Adam and Eve’s creation granted man authority over woman, and they understand the New Testament teachings of Paul and his comrades — in particular, that wives should submit to their husbands — not as cultural relics of the first century but as universal teachings that Christians apply today.
In an era when sexual liberation has saturated American culture, when women are climbing the corporate ladder and bearing fewer children, and mainline churches are ordaining women and homosexuals, conservative evangelicals are escalating their counteroffensive. Many call themselves complementarians, signaling their belief that God ordained complementary — not identical or flexible — roles for men and women.
Well, my reaction is only in America ! That isn't quite accurate only in America, Afghanistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. I know that many Americans don't like to believe their fundamentalists can be identical or as disturbing and dangerous to the ones of other countries as if they were more sophisticated and superior because they were Americans and America is after all a great nation (an opinion that I share), but that reluctance is solely based on foolish pride and snobbish chauvinism. In fact, one could make the argument that because America is as great as it is, its fundamentalists are worst, scarier than those of say a nation like Afghanistan (I'm not yet willing to go that far). What will happen to the US when/if its government and more importantly, its judiciary cannot ensure that there is an unconditional separation between church and state? The future doesn't look good.
Suary excerpt of the early morning from Roger Ebert:
America has a historical Puritan streak, and is currently in the midst of another upheaval of zeal from radical religionists. They know what is bad for us. They would prefer to burn us at a metaphorical stake, but make do with bizarre imprecations about the dire consequences of our sin. Let me be clear: I am not speaking of sexual behavior that is obviously evil and deserves legal attention. But definitions differ. Much of their wrath is aimed at gays. I consider homosexuality an ancient, universal and irrefutable fact of human nature. Some radicals actually blamed it for 9/11. For them the ideal society must be Saudi Arabia's, which I consider pathologically sick.
I don't disagree with Ebert, I just believe that people like him (I am more like him than not) also want to tell peope whom they disagree with what kind of persons they ought to be (good people thinking good thoughts) and what what they ought to believe. It seems to me that the more you moralize your politics and your beliefs, the more likely you are to believe that they have to be absolute and that people have to believe what you believe to be acceptable. That's my reason for loving Eluard's quote Le bien et le mal doivent leur existence à l'abus de quelques erreurs.
I agree with Brendan O'Neill on this:
(...)The great irony of the French government’s restrictions on the burqa in public places, and to a certain extent the Belgian government’s restrictions, is that they have been presented as being in the tradition of the Enlightenment. This is about liberating women from oppression, they say, and therefore it is a good, Enlightened, Voltairish thing to do.
In fact, banning a religious garment is counter to the spirit of the Enlightenment. What these authoritarians forget is that the Enlightenment sprang from a defence of religious liberty. The Enlightenment has its origins, not in any attempt to censor certain minority religious symbols, but in a belief that minority religions, even ones we consider ‘heretical’, should be protected from state intervention, censorship and oppression.
So in calling for the state to restrict a certain form of religious expression, these pseudo-Enlightened censors are doing something that the original men of the Enlightenment would have considered pretty outrageous.
We do not vote about who owns what, or about worker–management relations in a factory; all this is left to processes outside the sphere of the political. It is illusory to expect that one can effectively change things by ‘extending’ democracy into this sphere, say, by organizing ‘democratic’ banks under people’s control. Radical changes in this domain lie outside the sphere of legal rights. Such democratic procedures can, of course, have a positive role to play. But they remain part of the state apparatus of the bourgeoisie, whose purpose is to guarantee the undisturbed functioning of capitalist reproduction. In this precise sense, Badiou was right in his claim that the name of the ultimate enemy today is not capitalism, empire or exploitation, but democracy. It is the acceptance of ‘democratic mechanisms’ as the ultimate frame that prevents a radical transformation of capitalist relations…
Sugary excerpt from a Guardian article on Christopher Hitchens:
To say that Hitchens is stirred – even obsessed – by the question of courage would be to state the obvious. It seems therefore highly likely that his longing for the great Orwellian test – the momentous moral challenge to match the 1930s – might tempt him to overstate the threat of Islamic fundamentalism. "Do I ask myself," he replies, "do I think our civilisation is superior to theirs? Yes, I do. Do I think it's worth fighting for? Most certainly."
That wasn't really the question.
"Well, I know how to correct atavism in myself, yes, I do," he retorts. As evidence, he offers the fact that after 9/11 he voted against his Washington apartment block flying the American flag. "So I was pleased to find out I wasn't in the mob majority in that way." But then he adds, bizarrely, "The other thing is, what happens when this ebbs, and the flag gets tatty? And you start seeing cabs with flags worn to rags, making the flag look crappy."
I 'm convinced that Christopher Hitchens is going to end up becoming one of the type of people that he hates the most, that is a man who is so religious about everything that he likes that he stops thinking to descent to believe in his own grandeur just as any evangelical preacher who is convinced that he is a prophet who is always right.
I think when you know people have died in violence over some piece of thoughtlessness, it is the height of irresponsibility to repeat it for no good reason.
I agree with Cole's sentiment, but disagrees with his conclusion. It's always better to live i a society where thoughtlessness, even when it is bigoted and can produce violence, can be expressed because it reminds us that the civility and the education necessary to maintain a liberal and open society are never a given
Once in a while Nick Kristof gets things right:
In rural parts of Congo Republic, the other Congo to the north, we found that even when people had heard of contraception, they often regarded it as unaffordable.
Most appalling, all the clinics and hospitals we visited in Congo Republic said that they would sell contraceptives only to women who brought their husbands in with them to prove that the husband accepted birth control.
Condoms are somewhat easier to obtain, but many men resist them. More broadly, many men seem to feel that more children are a proud sign of more virility.
So the pill, 50 years old this month in the United States, has yet to reach parts of Africa. And condoms and other forms of birth control and AIDS prevention are still far too difficult to obtain in some areas.
One of the most appalling facts about the limited use of contraception isn't used in Congo and other African countries is the role that American evangelism plays in strengthening old beliefs that women are breeders and not contraception isn't just bad, but evil. The point isn't here that the problem has been imported or is being created by American evangelists, thus making the issue one of identity or one of eternal victimization but rather that that imported fanaticism is making an already catastrophic situation worst by convincing well intentioned, but limited people that ignorance, poverty, and anti-intellectualism are not just bliss, but also close to Godliness.
Another example of the dangers and absurdities of culturalism:
At the end of last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a revised policy statement on female genital mutilation (FGM) called "ritual genital cutting of female minors," suggesting that the federal and state law in the US should permit paediatricians to offer a ritual "nick" of girls' genitalia as a compromise to appease the cultural needs of their immigrant clients.
Soon, in the name of the divinity of culture, honor killings will be allowed. May be it is time to assert that there isn't such a thing as culture.In my view, no 'cultural compromise' is palatable if it comes at the costs of Lockean Liberalism