Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Jeffrey Tayler on "Islamophobia"

In the Salon article "Richard Dawkins is not an Islamophobe" (August 24, 2013), the writer Jeffrey Tayler argues that Nathan Lean's recent "attack on the renowned atheist" Dawkins as an Islamophobe is nothing more than an attempt "to squelch honest conversation about religion" in general and about Islam in particular.

The proximate cause for Lean's ire was Dawkins tweet on August 8th that, "All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though." Lean was not the sole critic, of course. Dawkins was widely criticized. But as Tayler notes, Dawkins has a point:
The fact Dawkins presents -- that so few Muslims have won Nobel Prizes -- does raise legitimate . . . questions that Dawkins himself addresses in a blog post about the controversy he stirred up by his tweet. He points out that in view of the grandiose claims advanced by some Muslims for the "science" contained in the Quran, it's rather depressing to note that not much by way of science has come out of the Muslim world in the past 500 years, and it behooves us, and certainly Muslims, to ask why. Dawkins also wonders why Jewish people, with infinitesimal demographic stature, have won 120 Nobels, whereas the 1.6 billion-strong Muslim world can boast of only 10 (and six of those were Peace Prizes).
The question is legitimate. The general response, however, has been to call anyone raising the question an Islamophobe, and Lean is particularly apt to do so, having written an entire book on The Islamophobia Industry. Tayler dismisses this label as unworthy of being taken seriously:
"Islamophobia" is nothing more than a quack pseudo-diagnosis suggesting pathological prejudice against, and fear of, a supposedly neutral subject, Islam, in the way agoraphobic folk cringe at open places or claustrophobes dread an elevator. Based on the erroneous premise that those who criticize Islam are somehow ill, the term, along with its adjective "Islamophobic," should be banished from our lexicon as pernicious to rational thinking. People, regardless of race or creed, deserve equal rights and respect; religions, which are essentially hallowed ideologies, merit no a priori respect, but, rather, gimlet-eyed scrutiny, the same scrutiny one would apply to, say, communism, conservatism or liberalism. No one has a right to wield religion as a shield -- or as a sword . . . . Surely, Lean imagined that he could mount the podium shouting "Islamophobe!" at Dawkins and hold forth unopposed, or he would not have ventured into print with such a maladroit, bungling critique. But the age of politically correct timidity in the face of religious zealots and their apologist shills has, thankfully, come to an end.
Political correctness in its death throes? Let's hope so. But I would point out that the word "Islamophobia" is only superficially used as designating a pathology. Its deeper use is as a term of moral opprobrium, condemning the supposed Islamophobe as one whose illness rightfully invites disdain, as in "That's sick."

Not diagnosis, but exclusion, banishment to the intellectual equivalent of a lepers' isle . . .

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Sunday, June 09, 2013

Manfred Kleine-Hartlage on 'Islamist' Violence

Manfred Kleine-Hartlage
Google Images

In an article, "London, Gewalt und der Islam" (May 27, 2013; title translated: "London, Violence, and Islam"), which can be found on the website Korrektheiten, the German blogger Manfred Kleine-Hartlage offers his explanation for Islamist violence. He claims that it stems directly from Islam, and he offers an argument, which I summarize in English from the German original:
If a murderer were to cry out "Heil Hitler" and quote Mein Kampf as justification, no one would doubt that the murder would have something to do with right-wing extremism. But if a murderer cries out "Allahu Akbar" during his murderous act and quotes the Qur'an as justification, many people rush forward in their political correctness to claim that the brutal act of course has nothing to do with Islam. In the wake of the London Woolwich murder, however, perhaps we should ask what exactly this kind of terrorism does have to do with Islam. Such a question is necessary even though a mere minority of Muslims carry out such attacks, for the attacks are nevertheless shockingly high in number. Islamic communities produce such minorities with high regularity whenever Muslim are locked together with non-Muslim groups in the same social space, especially in the same state, or whenever the Muslim group is numerically strong enough to raise a claim to power, or whenever Muslim power is not bindingly codified in circumstances of Muslim coexistence with groups not covered by Sharia. Every functioning society is based on a highly complex, implicit system of norms and values, rules and assumptions, through which we are socialized. We are, therefore, as little conscious of these as we are of the grammatical rules of our language, though we nevertheless use our own language correctly. This also holds for Islam, and the Islamic value system is characterized by the following features. Allah created mankind to be a Muslim. Whoever is not Muslim goes against human nature. Not to be Muslim, from an Islamic perspective, is therefore to pervert human nature. Infidels are thus inferior in rights and values, and are therefore obliged to submit to Muslims, and may be compelled to do so. Infidels can only lay claim to "rights" if they have been entitled to these in a submission agreement. By their very infidelity, they are rebels against Allah and have no intrinsic rights. Those groups who decline the invitation to convert to Islam must be fought against and conquered by the Muslim Ummah. Against peoples and states that penetrate Islamic territory, every single Muslim is obligated to jihad. All this, in particular the inferiority of non-Muslims, is not about theory. It has been practiced for 1400 years and has remained the reality for many generations in Islamic countries. Islamic societies, parallel societies in the West included, are not known to be libertarian laissez-faire societies where everyone does what he wants. They have powerful social sanction mechanisms that ensure that no one gets out of line. But these sanctions are not regularly enforced with respect to violence against non-Muslims. Why not? Because non-Muslim inferiority is part of the Islamic value system. Even if such violence against non-Muslims is theoretically disapproved of by the majority of Muslims and endorsed only by a minority, such violence against non-Muslims never sees the level of outrage among Muslims as that which that can be triggered with a Mohammed cartoon: the cartoon is against Islam, the violence only against infidels. The slaughter of London did not come from nowhere. It did not happen by chance. It is the product of a system.
In short, Kleine-Hartlage argues that even though most Muslims are nonviolent, Islam itself produces violence, so there is no real difference between Islam and Islamism. Such is the concise expression of Kleine-Hartlage's more developed opinion. The man seems to be an intelligent individual, but I'm not sure about his qualifications. Of himself, he says: "Ich bin Diplom-Sozialwissenschaftler in der Fachrichtung Politische Wissenschaft (Gerhard-Mercator-Universität Duisburg 1996)," which means, "I have a master's degree in social science with a concentration in political science (from Gerhard Mercator University, Duisburg 1996)." His expertise would thus appear to be self-taught.

Other than these things, I know nothing about the man.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Taboo Query: Islam and Violence?

Piero Gheddo

The Catholic priest Piero Gheddo openly wonders about a mystery. No, not a mystery of the Christian faith, something more mundane than that, a mystery contemplated in an article, "Tunisia in chaos: Why is Islam taboo?" (02/11/2013), published in the Catholic paper Asia News (spelling and punctuation corrected in quote):
The situation today is this: no country with a Muslim majority (and there are more than thirty) has a tolerably democratic government. Many of these are in a state of civil war: Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mali, Nigeria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia. In no country with a Muslim majority is there full religious freedom for Christians and other religions. In some countries where the faithful of the Koran are sizable minority, there are separatist guerrillas and terrorism: Philippines, Thailand, India, China, Burma, Indonesia.
Father Gheddo overstates the case in some of these countries. The expression "civil strife" would describe some of the Muslim majority countries better than "civil war" does. Also, note that Nigeria is not a Muslim majority country -- there are slightly more Christians. And note that Muslims are not a minority in Indonesia! But let's not quibble over details. We know what the man is talking about, and now comes his question:
We all know the latest news, the events of that day-to-day confirm this situation. What is surprising is the fact that the West does not question, does not ask itself where the Islamic world's instability originates and how it propagates, the uprisings, guerrilla warfare, terrorism that breaks out in all or almost all Islamic countries and what can be done to get to the root of this violent extremism, this loose cannon that threatens world peace. When before World War II, Nazism was already an expanding power, the free world discussed it at the popular level, studied the ideology and visited Germany, trying to make deals, it summoned international conferences for world peace. After World War II, when International Communism began to expand, from the 40s to 1989, the danger of contagion was perceptible, measures were discussed to prevent the spread of this ideology-religion, studying the roots of Marxism-Leninism and what to do to counter its spread in the free world. Communism was a threat, it was discussed a lot.

The same does not happen with Islamic extremism, condemned by all but which remains like a mysterious object.
Gheddo doesn't explicitly answer the question, but it's one that a lot of non-Muslims must be asking. Actually, Gheddo asks two questions: 1) what is the source of Islamic 'extremism' and 2) why isn't this question being openly discussed. I have an opinion on both questions. On the latter question, the reason for official silence is political correctness. The mainstream media and governments don't generally address the question for fear of offending multicultural sensitivities, of being accused of Islamophobia, of expressing bias against a 'great' religion, or of some similar offense. Outside of the mainstream, however, the question is being discussed. For instance, in the context of the recent murder of three North Korean doctors working in northern Nigeria, I speculated on what we confront:
This is the sort of civilizational conflict Huntington wrote about, and as he also pointed out, the Islamic world has bloody borders, so we're going to be hearing, seeing, and experiencing the consequences of Islamism for a long time, until the Muslim world discovers the bitter truth that the Protestant-Catholic wars of religion taught the West, namely, that religion should be a private affair of the heart (a lesson we have to keep learning), not a scheme for transforming the world through force, though this lesson might prove harder for the Muslim world to learn since Islam is overtly political, has in its fundamental texts a scheme for ordering the world, and has always been willing to turn to war as an instrument for furthering Islamic aims -- and, yes, I know that all this isn't very politically correct to point out, but I prefer to see the world with open eyes, and I don't think that I'm alone in this attitude.
My point was that Islamism, or political Islam, will be around for a long time fomenting trouble because Islam itself is political, which means that Islamism is radicalism not at the extremes but at the core of Islam, drawing upon core texts and grounding its actions in them.

This should be obvious to everyone by now since the Islamists continually cite core Islamic sources, but as Gheddo notes, the issue is not being openly discussed.

Not yet, anyway. Not quite yet. But I think that it soon will be.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Yonsei University: Taking "the victim's point of view"?

Innocent Child Blowing Bubbles
(Image from Wikipedia)

On Friday, every instructor received a brochure describing Yonsei University's official policy on sexual misconduct, but I didn't look at it carefully until later.

From having now looked at it more closely, I have to wonder who wrote this policy, for it's very poorly worded. Here is the definition of sexual misconduct:
"Sexual misconduct refers to all forms of physical, verbal, and psychological abuse that violate an individual's personal rights and the right to sexual autonomy."
Personal rights? What are those? The term is left undefined, but the scope of personal rights is surely very broad and would include things unrelated to sexual autonomy.

Even worse is the "Principle of Victim-Centrism":
"The procedure of responding to sexual misconduct, including investigation, deliberation, hearing and disciplinary action, will be based on the victim's point of view."
Think about that for a moment. Investigation of the sexual misconduct will be based on the victim's point of view. Shouldn't an investigation ordinarily aim first at determining if there has been any actual sexual misconduct? Without such misconduct, there has been no victim. Or rather, there has been a victim -- the one falsely accused.

The required investigation noted later in the brochure inspires scarcely any greater confidence in the procedure:
"The Committee has the obligation to review and determine whether or not the act of the accused person is a form of sexual misconduct."
At least the "accused person" is not labeled "the perpetrator"! But an "act" is assumed to have taken place. Shouldn't the Committee first attempt to establish whether or not the supposed 'act' has in fact occurred?

But, of course, no 'victim' would ever lie.

Finally, for those readers wondering what the image above of an innocent child blowing bubbles has to do with this post, I say, "Good question." I had the same reaction to the brochure itself, which displays on its cover a cartoon image of an infantilized female student blowing bubbles and standing under a rainbow. This seems wildly inappropriate for an official statement of university policy on sexual misconduct . . . until one realizes that this image perfectly conveys the brochure's depiction of the student as innocent, childlike victim.

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Korea: Old Left Strikes Out Against New Right

Leftist Civic Group Scuffles With New Right Group
Symposium on New History Textbook.
Seoul National University
(Photo from JoongAng Daily [YONHAP])

I've previously mentioned the formation of a Korean conservative movement that has been dubbed the "New Right."

I don't keep up with the New Right's day-to-day developments, but I did once meet one of its founders, Shin Il-Chul, who gave it moral and intellectual heft. Here's a report from my first meeting with Shin, over lunch on March 1, 2005 with Mr. Min Young Bin, founder and chief CEO of YBM Si-sa, who is a childhood friend of my wife's father:

Emeritus Professor Shin Il Chul, formerly of Korea University's Department of Philosophy, spoke passable English and impressed me more and more the longer I listened to him speak. I have too little time to go into details, but I'll share this. According to Mr. Min's autobiography, in the 1970s, Professor Shin was invited by then-dictator President Park to join the government in an important position, but Shin refused. Why? Because, as he privately told Min, "Someday, I will want to have the moral right to criticize this dictatorship, and I can't do that if I join it."
A couple of weeks later, March 15, 2005, I read an an interesting Joong Ang Daily article on the Korean "New Right" and posted a selection:

"The New Right is against the current administration, which possesses such characteristics of the 'Old Left' as being pro-North, anti-market and anti-liberty," Shin Il-chul, a philosophy professor at Korea University, said at a lecture last month. "The New Right has a vision for reform and progress under the flag of liberty."
I then commented on Shin's vision of the New Right:

From my own talk with Shin as well as from an NKHR lecture that he gave in 2001, I know that by "liberty," he means more than merely economic freedoms. At that meeting, he told me that he intends the liberal tradition's grounding in human rights. Neither the left nor the right in Korea have emphasized this, he explained, and he argued that this neglect is the main flaw in the "Sunshine Policy" of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun.

Shin thinks that engagement with the North should have been modeled on the Helsinki Accords, which emphasized human rights and cited the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If this had been an integral part of South Korea's Sunshine Policy, then economic engagement would have been conditional upon the North's commitment to human rights.

According to the Joong Ang article, Shin's emphasis upon human rights is shared by others in the New Right, and they criticize the traditional conservatism of the Grand National Party for its neglect of human rights. The entire article is available online and is worth reading.
Shin's vision of the New Right sounds to me like a good corrective to both the old Right of the Grand National Party and the old Left of parties like Uri (currently in power) and the Democratic Labor Party.

But the Left in South Korea doesn't take kindly to the New Right's critique of its orthodoxies. According to Ser Myo-ja and Kwon Keun-young, "In the halls of ivy, flying fists evoke memories of 1960 uproar," for yesterday's Joong Ang Daily:

Fists swung and desks flew through the air at an academic conference hosted by a conservative civic group to discuss the draft of its new history textbook yesterday. Left-wing activists denounced the book as an attempt to "rewrite Korea's modern history."
Speaking as a historian, I feel that I ought to point out to these left-wing activists that there's nothing inherently wrong with historical revisionism, as the left should well know since it's done its own revising of history in the freedom allowed since the democratization of Korean society in the late 1980s.

Revisionism comes naturally to the field of history as scholars engage in reasonable debate based upon new sources or reinterpretation of old sources. Wednesday's discussion seems to have started that way:
TextForum, a group affiliated with the New Right Union, made the draft [of its new history] text public Wednesday. Yesterday's symposium was to have included presentations on the history, which it said was an effort to combat "left-leaning" textbooks now in use.

The conference at a Seoul National University auditorium was peaceful during an opening presentation by Park Hyo-chong, an ethics education professor at the university and the head of TextForum.
But events then suddenly and rapidly deteriorated:
[A]s Rhee Young-hoon, an economist there, was about to begin his presentation, about 50 members of organizations who supported the 1960 popular uprising that ousted President Syngman Rhee entered the auditorium. One grabbed the economist by the throat, and the fight was on. Protesters threw desks, chairs and other objects around the room.
Grabbing a speaker by the throat as he's giving his speech is about as primitively direct a message as one can send -- and I've no doubt that these leftist brownshirts were sent (by whom, I don't know) -- for it forcefully, physically demonstrates that those speaking out against the left's views should choke on their own words.

Now, I wasn't there, so the Joong Ang report could be exaggerated, for Shin Hae-in, writing "Parties split over rightist textbook" for the Korea Herald, gives a more subdued report and focuses on more reasonable statements criticizing the New Right textbook. These statements, however, appear to have been made elsewhere than at the forum itself, and we do see that photo above, which the Korea Herald also prints, so based on the evidence -- and upon what I've seen of Korean political 'scuffles' -- I'll bet that the Joong Ang report is accurate.

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

"I knew the bottom wasn't there..."

Traditional Japanese Chair
With Zabuton and Separate Armrest
(Bottomless and Legless, but Backful)
(Borrowed from Wikipedia)

In the spirit of yesterday's man, I'm posting another little nonsense poem by William Hughes Mearns:

The Perfect Reactionary

As I was sitting in my chair,
I knew the bottom wasn't there,
Nor legs nor back, but I just sat,
Ignoring little things like that.

I have referred to this as a nonsense poem, but with a title like The Perfect Reactionary, it certainly has a meaning.

Mearns emphasized John Dewey's "progressive education," so the poem is likely related to his views on education theory and perhaps more broadly intended as a critical comment on fixed political ideologies.

A date would be helpful, but none is given anywhere that I've searched online.

At any rate, this poem's more serious meaning, implied by its title, The Perfect Reactionary, suggests that Antigonish, 1899 might have a more serious meaning as well, perhaps linked to the educational and political theories that Mearns held.

Again, any ideas?

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