Archive for June 2013
Cross-posted on the Corner:
So what have those scamps from Turkey’s “mildly Islamist” AK (the Economist) been talking about lately?
Here (reported in Hurriyet) is President Abdullah Gül, an individual generally seen as more emollient than thuggish Prime Minister Erdogan:
Islam and migrants have been a reality in Europe for centuries. As long as the continent of Europe doesn’t approach segments which are different from the majority with tolerance, particularly in regards to religion, an occurrence of new inquisitions and Holocausts, as well as incidents evoking Srebrenica, are probable.
Perfection it’s not, but Europe has, of course, handled its growing Muslim minority with a great deal of tolerance. Talk of new Holocausts is ludicrous. What Gül wants is deference, something else altogether.
And then there’s this (via Bloomberg):
The head of Turkey’s Capital Markets Board confirmed June 26 that his staff had begun an investigation into stock-market volatility during the protests. According to traders in Istanbul, the demands to hand over all e-mail traffic with foreigners, among other records, are unprecedented.
The board’s assurances that such investigations are routine might be easier to accept if Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan hadn’t promised to “choke” those he believes to have engineered the protests in order to cause a stock-market collapse. He has accused some companies of abetting “terrorism” and claimed that an ill-defined “interest-rate lobby,” committed to raising Turkish borrowing costs for profit, is part of the conspiracy.
Ah, “the interest-rate lobby”…
In recent days, Erdogan has threatened retribution against some of the country’s biggest banks and industrial conglomerates, leading to a steep fall in their share prices. He repeatedly said that Koc Holding AS, an industrial empire owned by a secularist family against which Erdogan bears deep grudges, “cooperated with terror” and “will have to account for it.” The alleged crime was opening the doors of one of the company’s hotels to protesters as they fled police.
Ugly though all this is, the fact remains that, despite a dip from previous highs, Erdogan is enjoying approval ratings of over 50 percent and his AK party is still the country’s most popular. That’s a matter for Turks to decide for themselves, of course, but, if, as Barack Obama, David Cameron and others would like, Turkey is admitted to the EU, the same electorate that so appreciates Erdogan will, thanks to its numbers, have a not insignificant influence on decisions that affect all EU citizens.
That does not strike me as a good idea.
The Guardian (2008):
The Roman Catholic Church is calling for the effective closure of secretive tax havens as a ‘necessary first step’ to restore the global economy to health.
In a policy paper from the Holy See, Pope Benedict pins the blame for the international financial crisis largely on ‘offshore centres’, many of which, such as the Channel Islands, are British dependencies.
‘They have given support to imprudent economic and financial practices and have also played a significant role in the imbalances of development, allowing a gigantic flight of capital linked to tax evasion,’ says the report. ‘Offshore markets could also be linked to the recycling of profits from illegal activities.’
The BBC (2013):
A senior Italian cleric has been arrested in connection with an inquiry into a Vatican bank scandal over allegations of corruption and fraud. Monsignor Nunzio Scarano works in the Vatican’s financial administration. A secret service agent and a financial broker have also been arrested. They are suspected of trying to move 20m euros ($26m; £17m) illegally. Pope Francis ordered an unprecedented internal investigation into the bank’s affairs in the wake of recent scandals. Monsignor Scarano, 61, worked for years as a senior accountant for a Vatican department known as Apsa (the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See).
He was suspended from that position “about a month ago, after his superiors learnt about an investigation into his activities”, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said…
Traditionally, the Vatican Bank has refused to co-operate with Italian authorities investigating financial crime on the grounds of the sovereign independence of the Vatican city state, the BBC’s David Willey reports from Rome. But Pope Francis has shown that he is now determined to get to the bottom of long-standing allegations of corruption and money laundering involving the bank, our correspondent adds.
Barbara Ward (1914-81), a former foreign editor of the Economist and much more besides, plays an important part in Rupert Darwall’s The Age of Global Warming, a new book that is, among other things, a fascinating intellectual and political history of the evolution of the climate change movement.
Ward believed in a form of mid-century command-and-control that was reinforced by her take on the Christian ethic (she was a fairly devout Roman Catholic). This passage in Darwall’s book caught my attention:
She lobbied the Second Vatican Council on Third World Development. In 1967, Pope Paul VI established the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace, with Ward as one of its members. The encyclical, Populorum Progressio, ‘The Development of the Peoples’, with its criticism of ‘unbridled liberalism’, its call for ‘concerted planning’ and the creation of a ‘World Fund’ are all evidence of Ward’s imprint.
Interesting to see that the Vatican was moaning on about ‘unbridled liberalism’ at a time when it existed, well, nowhere. It’s a handy reminder that Benedict XVI’s disingenuous attacks on ‘financial capitalism’ and similar-sounding comments from the likable sort-of-Peronist who has succeeded him, represent just the latest manifestations of a long strand in Roman Catholic thinking.
Cross-posted on the Corner:
The New York Times ran this oddly revealing story a day or so back:
[L]ate last year, the National Bank of Slovakia announced that the European Commission, the union’s executive arm, had ordered it to remove halos and crosses from special commemorative euro coins due to be minted this summer. The coins, designed by a local artist, were intended to celebrate the 1,150th anniversary of Christianity’s arrival in Slovak lands but have instead become tokens of the faith’s retreat from contemporary Europe. They featured two evangelizing Byzantine monks, Cyril and Methodius, their heads crowned by halos and one’s robe decorated with crosses, which fell foul of European diversity rules that ban any tilt toward a single faith….
The commission’s monetary and economic affairs department that ordered Slovakia to redesign its commemorative euro coins says it had no real problem itself with halos and crosses and demanded that they be deleted in the interest of “religious diversity” because of complaints from countries that also use the euro. Leading the charge was France, which enforces a rigid division of church and state at home, and objected to Christian symbols appearing on Slovak money that would also be legal tender in France. Greece, where church and state are closely intertwined, also protested, apparently because it considers the Greek-born monks Cyril and Methodius as part of its own heritage.
One size fits all, working well as usual, I see.
The fact that the arrival of these two monks (if not, I suspect, their halos) in Greater Moravia undoubtedly made them a part of Slovak history didn’t seem to count for too much. George Orwell might have had something to say about this. In fact he did:
“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
The EU knows a thing or two about that. Happily, the Slovaks are sticking with the original designs—good for them. If the Greeks and the French don’t like it , they can always withdraw from the currency union. In fact….
Meanwhile Europhiles will also have to contend with this admission of failure (read the whole piece for the context):
Katharina von Schnurbein, the commission official responsible for outreach to both religious and secular groups, smiled and said, “I can assure you that the European Commission is not the Antichrist.”
AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday signed a law protecting Christmas and other holiday celebrations in Texas public schools from legal challenges — but also stressed that freedom of religion is not the same thing as freedom from religion…Dubbed the “Merry Christmas” bill, the bipartisan measure sailed through the state House and Senate to reach Perry’s desk.
It removes legal risks of saying “Merry Christmas” in schools while also protecting traditional holiday symbols, such as a menorah or nativity scene, as long as more than one religion and a secular symbol are also reflected.
It is, of course, sad and stupid that there can be “legal risks” associated with exchanging Christmas greetings in schools. If the new law fixes that, it’ll be all to the good, but quite what makes a “secular symbol” eludes me. I’m with the atheist shoemakers in Berlin who said this:
There are already hundreds of symbols for atheism and none of them tickle us in quite the right place… either they’re too sciency, or too literal, or just plain ugly… Well, our solution is inspired by a Christian friend (thanks Matt) who accused us of having god-shaped-holes. And we think a gaping, BLACK HOLE is absolutely perfect… And what says “I believe in nothing” better than nothing?
Quite. But it’s difficult to imagine a black hole nestling between the manger and the menorah. There is, however, another candidate, jovial, genially syncretic and refreshingly appreciative of the joys of consumerism.
Yup, Santa would do very well indeed.
Vladimir Putin’s attempt to blend social conservatism and Russian Orthodoxy into the mix that is (nominally: the reality is rather grubbier) the ideology of his regime continues. The Guardian has the details.
First, we have an unpleasant piece of anti-homosexual legislation (in wording, context and intent far broader—and far nastier than the “Section 28” that was, to say the least, one of the Thatcher era’s less glorious achievements):
The law in effect makes it illegal to equate straight and gay relationships, as well as the distribution of material on gay rights. It introduces fines for individuals and media groups found guilty of breaking the law, as well as special fines for foreigners.
And then we have this:
Minutes after passing the anti-gay legislation, the Duma also approved a new law allowing jail sentences of up to three years for “offending religious feelings”, an initiative launched in the wake of the trial against the anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot.
There ought, of course, to be no ‘right’ not to be offended. What’s particularly interesting about the latter law, however, is the way that it borrows from western neo-blasphemy legislation. Back at the time of the Pussy Riot trial, I noted this:
An interesting angle to this whole case is that the women have been charged under Article 213 (2) of the Russian criminal code: “hooliganism” motivated by religious hatred or hostility. The language of western political correctness, not to speak of Islamic efforts to suppress free speech, have, it seems, found an echo in Moscow, the Third Rome.
The echo is even louder now.
And while I am on this topic, I ought to mention that there was a spot of bother over at the Corner over the unfortunate (let’s be kind) intervention of a GOP congressman into the Pussy Riot controversy. My contributions to the fracas are here and here.
There’s quite a bit of vitriol splashed around in this new post by Sam Harris, and, as so often with his work, there’s also much that’s worth discussing at length, but for now let’s just note that the point that he makes in the following two sentences is hugely important, well worth saying and largely true:
I have long struggled to understand how smart, well-educated liberals can fail to perceive the unique dangers of Islam. In The End of Faith, I argued that such people don’t know what it’s like to really believe in God or Paradise—and hence imagine that no one else actually does.
I use the word “largely”, because there is at least one major exception to what Mr. Harris is arguing. Like it or not, the religious impulse is a very common human characteristic and it is one that many of those “smart, well-educated liberals” themselves share except that it has—for them—to manifest itself in a nominally secular guise. This might once have taken the form, say, of a fierce commitment to ‘political religions’ such as the communism of nearly a century ago (a millennial cult if ever there was one) and today, might more commonly find expression in, perhaps, various types of environmentalist faith.
I should add that I am assuming, perhaps wrongly (I note that he carefully refers to “really” believing in God, a qualification that may mean that his criticism may also be directed at certain only mildly religious people) that the clever folk to whom Mr. Harris is referring are atheists or agnostics. The question of why genuinely religious liberal intellectuals refuse to confront the spiritual reality of what drives some jihadists to atrocity is yet another topic for another time.
But back to Sam Harris:
I also have no problem with spiritual devotion, ecstasy, and awe—in fact, I think they are among the most important experiences a human being can have. I just object to the incredible ideas that surround such experiences in every church, synagogue, and mosque. I also worry that certain religious beliefs make devotion, ecstasy, and awe both divisive and dangerous. Again, my tolerance for difference is much higher than my critics understand. I’m not a scared white guy who is put off by the howls of the natives. In fact, I’ve done a fair amount of howling with the natives myself. I know what these people are experiencing, and I value many of the same experiences.
The post is illustrated with well-chosen videos of ecstatic spiritual devotion. They are fascinating, at times (briefly) beautiful, at times disturbing, at times dull, and, more often than not, depressing, glimpses of intellectual and psychological places where I would rather not go for too long, not out of fear, Mr. Harris, but because, at best, they do nothing for me, and at worst, well…
Devotion, ecstasy and awe: on the whole, no thanks.
Mr. Harris may well have different tastes. He writes:
Unlike many of my critics, I recognize that these practices profoundly affect people. In fact, I’ve spent thousands of hours doing practices of this kind.
And that’s fine (chacun à son goût, and all that), but to say this is not:
Unless you have tasted religious ecstasy, you cannot understand the danger of its being pointed in the wrong direction.
Not so: All it takes is some knowledge of history and a willingness to recognize—as Mr. Harris clearly does— some very uncomfortable truths about the nature of our species.
Here’s Melvyn Bragg writing in the Daily Telegraph on the topic of William Tyndale (and Thomas More):
After almost 500 years, Tyndale continues to command our language and when we reach for the clinching phrase, we still reach out for him.
Tyndale was burned alive in a small town in Belgium in 1536. His crime was to have translated the Bible into English. He was effectively martyred after fighting against cruel and eventually overwhelming forces, which tried for more than a dozen years to prevent him from putting the Word of God into his native language. He succeeded but he was murdered before he could complete his self-set task of translating the whole of the Old Testament as he had translated the whole of the New Testament.
More than any other man he laid the foundation of our modern language which became by degrees a world language. “He was very frugal and spare of body”, according to a messenger of Thomas Cromwell, but with an unbreakable will. Tyndale, one of the greatest scholars of his age, had a gift for mastering languages, ancient and modern, and a genius for translation. His legacy matches that other pillar of our language – Shakespeare, whose genius was in imagination….
[Tyndale’s] story embraces an alliance with Anne Boleyn, an argument covering three quarters of a million words with Thomas More, who was so vile and excrementally vivid that it is difficult to read him even today. Tyndale was widely regarded as a man of great piety and equal courage and above all dedicated to, even obsessed with, the idea that the Bible, which for more than 1,000 years had reigned in Latin, should be accessible to the eyes and ears of his fellow countrymen in their own tongue. English was his holy grail….
And, almost as an accidental by-product, he loaded our speech with more everyday phrases than any other writer before or since. We still use them, or varieties of them, every day, 500 years on. …
As a young man he was told by a cleric that it would be better “to be without God’s laws than the Pope’s”.
Tyndale, outraged, replied that he defied the Pope and all his laws and added “If God spares me… I will cause the boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Bible than thou doest”.
The image of the ploughboy was brilliant – because the ploughboy was illiterate. Tyndale deliberately set out to write a Bible which would be accessible to everyone. To make this completely clear, he used monosyllables, frequently, and in such a dynamic way that they became the drumbeat of English prose. “The Word was with God and the Word was God”….
And when his English-language New Testament came out….
The Bishop of London bought up an entire edition of 6,000 copies and burned them on the steps of the old St Paul’s Cathedral. More went after Tyndale’s old friends and tortured them. Richard Byfield, a monk accused of reading Tyndale, was one who died a graphically horrible death as described in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. More stamped on his ashes and cursed him. And among others there was John Firth, a friend of Tyndale, who was burned so slowly that he was more roasted.
Fast forward half a millennium to a report in the New York Times lat year:
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan on Friday helped kick off a national campaign opposing President Obama’s health care mandates and other government policies that Roman Catholic leaders say threaten their religious freedom…. The bishops timed the two-week campaign of prayer, fasting and letter-writing to begin on a feast day commemorating two 16th-century Catholic saints executed for their religious beliefs — SS. John Fisher and Thomas More. The campaign will conclude on the Fourth of July.
The problem, however (as I discussed here last August) is that More died not in the name of “religious freedom”, but in defense of the supremacy of his religious faith over those of others.
We should be careful before we judge a man of the sixteenth century by the standards of the twenty-first (or even the twentieth). More was no Dzerzhinsky, but he was a clear step down the road that led to men like that.
That ought to be food for more thought than is currently the case.
The polio disease was on the verge of eradication when Ibrahim Datti Ahmed, president of the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria and a physician, suggested at about this time in 2003 that the vaccination program in his country was part of a Western conspiracy to render Muslim children infertile. His call for an end to the polio immunization campaign touched a nerve and spread to other Muslim religious leaders in Nigeria, causing the vaccination process to slow down and incidences of the disease to pick up.
From Nigeria, this dual phenomenon of conspiracy theory and re-appearance of the disease then expanded to Muslims internationally. (For an outline of its progress over the past ten years, see my long weblog entry.) So closely connected have Islam and polio become that the Muslim-only pilgrimage to Mecca became a major mechanism of transmitting the disease to faraway places like Indonesia.
By now, Ahmed’s paranoia has sent the new wave of polio from Nigeria to Muslim populations in at least 17 other African countries and 6 Asian countries…
The Welsh poet R.S. Thomas was an Anglophobic Anglican vicar with a hatred of modernity, but he can be forgiven a lot for the first four lines of his poem, The Empty Church, singled out in this recent article in the Spectator by Peter Conradi:
They laid this stone trap
for him, enticing him with candles,
as though he would come like some huge moth
out of the darkness to beat there.