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Archive for September 2012

Sep/12

29

Turkey & the EU

Cross-posted on the Corner

Andrew McCarthy has a piece on possible Turkish membership of the EU up on the home page, very well worth reading in many respects, but not least for this observation:

In Turkey, the administrators of the Kemalist governmental model — comprising Muslims who understood Islam intimately — suppressed Islam not to deny freedom of conscience but to enable it. They were trying to forge exactly the sort of secular civil society Europeans revere. They knew it could not coexist with sharia. Thus, the government assumed supervision of the country’s 80,000 mosques, vetted the imams, controlled the content of sermons and literature, and aggressively monitored the Islamic charities. The Muslims running the state realized that Islam would inevitably work against secular civil society if left to its own devices.

If you want to understand why Mubarak’s approach in Egypt (political repression combined with the cession of large amounts of religio-social space to the imams) was, in the end, doomed to failure, that’s not a bad place to start.

Andy explains how the incentive of eventual EU membership (forever being proffered, just out of reach, to the Turks) is being used to take distort the (admittedly very far from perfect) Kemalist model in ways that could have very dangerous consequences.

But at least we can for be sure (at least for now) that the French and German political elites are enough in tune with their electorates (for now) to stop—as they should— Turkish accession.

With others the case is not so clear.

Here’s what Britain’s David Cameron had to say two years ago:

ANKARA – Prime Minister David Cameron said Tuesday he was angered by the slow pace of Turkey’s European Union accession talks and warned against shutting Ankara out because of anti-Muslim prejudice.

Cameron’s strong support for Turkey’s limping EU bid puts him in stark contrast to fellow EU heavyweights France and Germany who argue against letting the mainly-Muslim country of over 70 million people to become a full member.

Here’s part of what I wrote back at the time:

That Cameron blames the Franco-German stance on “anti-Muslim prejudice” is an argument of the intellectually desperate. Then again, what else does Cameron have? As so often, he has failed to grasp just how deep the EU’s federalizing project has already gone. Even if we ignore the phenomenal cost (of which cash-strapped British taxpayers would pay a disproportionate share) of such a scheme, admitting Turkey to the EU would give a country now led by genuinely popular Islamist thug a real say in the everyday lives of the British people. And then there are all those other things that would go with Turkish membership in the EU, such as, oh, the ability of a Turkish court to order the arrest and extradition of a British citizen from the UK to a Turkish jail with little or no judicial review. So much for Cameron, protector of civil liberties.

Oh, there’s also this (reported by the BBC in 2009):

Mr Obama also said Washington supported Turkey’s efforts to join the EU.

Smart diplomacy!

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Cross-posted on the Corner

The New York Times reports:

[New York’s] Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved new guidelines for advertisements on Thursday, prohibiting those that it “reasonably foresees would imminently incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace.

The 8-to-0 vote by the authority’s board came three days after pro-Israel ads characterizing Islamist opponents of the Jewish state as being “savage” began appearing in subway stations, setting off vandalism, denunciations of the authority and calls for the ads’ removal.

The authority had initially rejected the ads, citing their “demeaning” language. The group responsible for the ads, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, sued, and in July won a federal court ruling on First Amendment grounds.

“We’ve gotten to a point where we needed to take action today,” Joseph J. Lhota, the authority’s chairman, said at a news conference on Thursday.

If this power is abused (not, of course that such a thing could ever, ever happen), it enshrines the heckler’s veto.

The authority said it believed the new guidelines adhered to the court’s ruling and would withstand any potential First Amendment challenge. Under the new policy, the authority will continue to allow so-called viewpoint ads, but each will be required to include a disclaimer noting that the ad does not imply the authority’s endorsement of its views.

The disclaimer is, of course, fine. Mind you, I’m not sure that I want that MTA have “views” about anything other than the operation of a transportation system.

“You deal with a free-speech issue with more free speech,” Mr. Lhota said.

During the public comment portion of the authority’s meeting on Thursday, several speakers assailed the placement of the ads….Many at the meeting held signs echoing the Occupy Wall Street movement’s message. “The subway belongs to the 99 percent,” they read. “Take the racist ads down.”

Pamela Geller, the executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, also spoke, though she was repeatedly shouted down.

Whatever you may think about Pam Geller (or the ads) that doesn’t sound a lot like what “dealing[ing] with a free-speech issue with more speech” was meant to mean.

Oh well.

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Sep/12

29

For Misery in Massachusetts

Cardinal O’Malley (The National Catholic Register reports):

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston is leading a statewide fight to defeat the Death With Dignity Act, a November 2012 ballot measure that would legalize assisted suicide in Massachusetts.

He has outlined the Church’s underlying moral concerns regarding the threat to human dignity and patients’ rights posed by assisted suicide in a video homily broadcast at Boston-area Catholic churches. He’s also writing a series of columns critiquing the measure, and he has worked with the Massachusetts Catholic Conference to form the Committee Against Physician-Assisted Suicide, a coalition that includes religious, medical and disability groups across the state.

A Kennedy (Joseph Kennedy III) and The Republican (Sien Bielat) contesting Massachusetts’s Fourth Congressional District:

They found common ground on a couple of issues.

Both opposed the so-called “right to die” ballot question that would allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill patients…

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Sep/12

29

God and Mammon

How the Roman Catholic Church chooses to decide who is—and who is not a Roman Catholic—is up to that church. Even so, this is quite a story (from Reuters):

Liberal and conservative Roman Catholic activists in Germany criticised a decree that came into effect on Monday to deny sacraments and religious burials to people who opt out of a “church tax”.

The German bishops issued the decree last week warning Catholics who stop paying the tax they would be excluded from all religious activities, also including working in a church job, becoming a godparent or taking part in parish activities.

“‘Pay and pray’ is a completely wrong signal at the wrong time,” the reformist movement We Are Church said on Monday. The decree “shows the great fear of the German bishops and the Vatican about further serious losses in church tax revenue.”

A conservative group called the Union of Associations Loyal to the Pope asked why Catholics who stop paying the tax would be punished but those it called heretics could stay in its ranks.

“So sacraments are for sale – whoever pays the church tax can receive the sacraments,” it said in a statement, saying the link the decree created “goes beyond the sale of indulgences that (Martin) Luther denounced” at the start of the Reformation.

German tax offices collect a religious tax worth 8 or 9 percent of the annual regular tax bill of registered Catholics, Protestants and Jews and channel it to those faiths. An official declaration that one is leaving the faith frees the citizen from this tax….

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Sep/12

27

So Unsophisticated, That First Amendment

Cross-posted on the Corner:

Eric Posner, a professor at the University of Chicago law school frets in Slate:

The universal response in the United States to the uproar over the anti-Muslim video is that the Muslim world will just have to get used to freedom of expression. President Obama said so himself in a speech at the United Nations today, which included both a strong defense of the First Amendment and (“in the alternative,” as lawyers say) and a plea that the United States is helpless anyway when it comes to controlling information. In a world linked by YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, countless videos attacking people’s religions, produced by provocateurs, rabble-rousers, and lunatics, will spread to every corner of the world, as fast as the Internet can blast them, and beyond the power of governments to stop them. Muslims need to grow a thick skin, the thinking goes, as believers in the West have done over the centuries. Perhaps they will even learn what it means to live in a free society, and adopt something like the First Amendment in their own countries.

But there is another possible response. This is that Americans need to learn that the rest of the world—and not just Muslims—see no sense in the First Amendment. Even other Western nations take a more circumspect position on freedom of expression than we do, realizing that often free speech must yield to other values and the need for order.

Where to start?

Well, the piece is worth reading as an interesting justification for a more, uh, flexible approach to free speech. It’s not the first, and it will not be the last.

But it misses a key point: the best (perhaps the only) way that two starkly opposed belief systems can coexist (more or less) peacefully is by mutual acceptance of the fact that neither is likely to be susceptible to change. Recognize that, and, however unwillingly, live and let live has a chance.

In the meantime, Professor Posner should understand that any concessions by the US over free speech will just feed the Islamists’ demand for more (check out how those “circumspect” Europeans have fared). There is no middle ground. And there can be none.

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Sep/12

26

Erdogan, Again

Cross-posted on the Corner:

Turkey’s thuggish (“mildly Islamist”, if you are The Economist) prime minister Erdogan is doing his bit to restrict free speech. The Seattle Times reports:

Prompted by the anti-Muslim video produced in California that has stirred deadly riots around the world, delegations from major Muslim nations have arrived at the United Nations prepared to demand international curbs on speech or media that they believe defame their religion or the Prophet Muhammad…. The demand for limits on anti-Islamic expression is coming from leading Islamic groups such as the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, and leaders as diverse as Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Erdogan, who Obama views as a key ally, has declared that all 57 Islamic nations “should speak forcefully with one voice,” and has called for “international legal regulations against attacks on what people deem sacred.”

These leaders consider anti-Islamic material a kind of “hate speech” that should be banned around the world. They are expected to demand those regulations when debate begins Tuesday in the General Assembly.

“This has exposed a huge fault line in political philosophies,” said Stewart Patrick, of the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations. “It may be irreconcilable.”

May be irreconcilable. Good grief. Suggesting that it is not — maybe with some “dialog” here, or a bit of “inter-faith” there — will only encourage those who believe that there does indeed exist some middle ground where debate can be politely and oh so sensitively stifled. Just look at the U.K. if you want to see how that works.

To quote yet again what was written in Jyllands-Posten at the time of the Mohammed cartoons:

“Ytringsfrihed er ytringsfrihed er ytringsfrihed. Der er intet men.” The translation? “Free speech is free speech is free speech. There is no but.”

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Sep/12

22

Glimpses of Barbarism

From the Economist:

In July a mentally disturbed Muslim man, arrested for blasphemy in the Punjab city of Bahawalpur, was dragged out of the police station by a crowd of 2,000 and set on fire. In 2009 accusations of blasphemy led a mob to attack Christians in Gojra in Punjab province. At least eight were burned to death.

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Sep/12

19

Rebuke of the robotic candidate

I’ve been heard to say that perhaps we need a robot president, and Mitt Romney might be just the right robot. But I have to admit that robots just don’t make good candidates. The robot could still win because of a “Black Swan” or the grinding of the negative fundamentals, but he’s not helping himself. Disappointing. I guess I’ll have to look to the human race in the future when it comes to be appealing to an electorate of humans.

Addendum: I want to be clear on one issue: people are overreacting right now. Romney still has a realistic shot to win. But it is a longer shot than he had one week ago. The right direction/wrong direction measure is not looking good.

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Sep/12

17

What Is It Like To Be A Theist?

For those who like this kind of thing ─ I confess to a mild and occasional weakness for it myself ─ here is atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel (What Is It Like To Be A BatThe View From Nowhere) reviewing a book by theist Alvin Plantinga, not altogether unsympathetically.  Sample:

The interest of this book, especially for secular readers, is its presentation from the inside of the point of view of a philosophically subtle and scientifically informed theist — an outlook with which many of them will not be familiar. Plantinga writes clearly and accessibly, and sometimes acidly — in response to aggressive critics of religion like Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. His comprehensive stand is a valuable contribution to this debate.

I say this as someone who cannot imagine believing what he believes. But even those who cannot accept the theist alternative should admit that Plantinga’s criticisms of naturalism are directed at the deepest problem with that view — how it can account for the appearance, through the operation of the laws of physics and chemistry, of conscious beings like ourselves, capable of discovering those laws and understanding the universe that they govern. Defenders of naturalism have not ignored this problem, but I believe that so far, even with the aid of evolutionary theory, they have not proposed a credible solution. Perhaps theism and materialist naturalism are not the only alternatives.

Best sentence:

My instinctively atheistic perspective implies that if I ever found myself flooded with the conviction that what the Nicene Creed says is true, the most likely explanation would be that I was losing my mind, not that I was being granted the gift of faith.

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Sep/12

14

First Amendment Watch

Cross-posted in the Corner:

Writing in USA Today, Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania, reveals that she hasn’t quite got to grips with this whole First Amendment thing:

[W] hy did I tweet that Bacile should be in jail? The “free speech” in Bacile’s film is not about expressing a personal opinion about Islam. It denigrates the religion by depicting the faith’s founder in several ludicrous and historically inaccurate scenes to incite and inflame viewers.

Completely wrong. The film is ludicrous, quite remarkably so, but if it does one thing it makes Bacile’s personal opinion of Islam all too obvious.

And then there’s this:

While the First Amendment right to free expression is important, it is also important to remember that other countries and cultures do not have to understand or respect our right.

The heckler’s veto. Endorsed.

Good to know that ideas of American freedom are alive and well at the University of Pennsylvania.

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