CAT | culture
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Students at Carnegie Mellon say it’s freedom of expression, but the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh calls it inappropriate and disrespectful. At an annual art school parade, a female student dressed up as the pope, and was naked from the waist down while she passed out condoms. Even more, witnesses say the woman had shaved her pubic hair in the shape of a cross….
“I think we all know that when we’re growing up we do stupid things but to cross over the line in this instance shouldn’t happen with anybody,” Bishop David Zubik said.
Bishop Zubik says the incident must be addressed. “What I do want to have happen is for this person to learn an important lesson,” Zubik said. The University encourages individual thought and artistic expression but the Diocese believes this student not only crossed the line, but trampled all over it.
They are demanding some action…..
I don’t know whether such a childish display is of a nature to warrant First Amendment protection, but it is somewhat tactless of a Bishop who has recently been doing plenty of complaining about what he sees as a threat to his First Amendment rights, to be quite so insistent that this student be punished for exercising what might be hers.
The decision over what (if anything) should be done about this incident is for the university and—if it came to it—the courts. The bishop was well within his rights to criticize what this lady did—and I don’t blame him for doing just that—but when he calls for disciplinary action he—how shall I put it—not only crossed a line, but trampled all over it.
The Wall Street Journal reports:
CARACAS—Nicolás Maduro, the one-time bus driver widely expected to become Venezuela’s next president in Sunday’s elections, has resorted to an unusual campaign gimmick in the past week: At nearly every stop, he has suddenly broken out into birdsong.
The whistling started some 10 days ago, after the candidate says his mentor, the late President Hugo Chávez, visited him in a chapel in the form of a bird to bless the official launch of his presidential bid.
“I felt the spirit of my commander Chavez,” Mr. Maduro explained to a crowd after telling them how the bird circled over his head three times.
The birdsong, typically responded to by ecstatic crowds with whistling of their own, underscores the candidate’s reliance on the memory of Mr. Chavez…
In an earlier post here, Mr. Hume and Jackson Doughart, reacting to an exchange between Glenn Greenwald and Sam Harris, discuss (amongst many things) the way that the notion of ‘Islamophobia’ has been used to try to stifle those who have shall, we say, problems with hardline Islam.
The whole debate between Harris and Greenwald is in fact well worth reading in full (Harris easily has the best of it). I’d highlight this from Harris:
There is no such thing as “Islamophobia.” This is a term of propaganda designed to protect Islam from the forces of secularism by conflating all criticism of it with racism and xenophobia. And it is doing its job, because people like you have been taken in by it.
Did you happen to see The Book of Mormon? Do you know how the Mormons protested this attack upon their faith? They placed ads for Mormonism in the Playbill. Imagine staging a similar production about Islam: Would it be “bizarre and wholly irrational” for Trey Parker and Matt Stone to worry that the Muslim community might have a different response?
And this (Harris is quoting himself from 2006):
Increasingly, Americans will come to believe that the only people hard-headed enough to fight the religious lunatics of the Muslim world are the religious lunatics of the West. Indeed, it is telling that the people who speak with the greatest moral clarity about the current wars in the Middle East are members of the Christian right, whose infatuation with biblical prophecy is nearly as troubling as the ideology of our enemies. Religious dogmatism is now playing both sides of the board in a very dangerous game.
While liberals should be the ones pointing the way beyond this Iron Age madness, they are rendering themselves increasingly irrelevant. Being generally reasonable and tolerant of diversity, liberals should be especially sensitive to the dangers of religious literalism. But they aren’t.
The same failure of liberalism is evident in Western Europe, where the dogma of multiculturalism has left a secular Europe very slow to address the looming problem of religious extremism among its immigrants. The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.
To say that this does not bode well for liberalism is an understatement: It does not bode well for the future of civilization.
That analysis was (and is) an overstatement, and in the seven years since Harris wrote that passage, awareness of the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism has broadened further, as has, in some-still too rare-instances, the willingness to push back. Nevertheless, the situation is still such that, for all their overreach and occasional nuttiness, we should still be grateful for the efforts of the made-in-Ukraine feminists of Femen. Writing in the Guardian here’s Jonathan Jones on their latest :
She’s topless. She’s angry. And she is, literally, taking liberties. The activist in this picture [link here] took part in a protest in Paris in support of Amina Tyler, a young Tunisian woman who has been targeted by Islamists after she put a bare-breasted picture of herself on her Facebook page in March with the words “Fuck Your Morals” and “My Body Belongs To Me, And Is Not The Source Of Anyone’s Honour” painted across her chest.
Both Tyler and this activist are members of Femen, the radical feminist group that originated in the Ukraine and specialises in topless politics. Hackers attacked Femen’s Tunisian Facebook page replacing pictures with texts from the Qur’an, while a prominent cleric has suggested Tyler might be stoned.
So here is a picture of Femen’s response – it declared 4 April to be International Topless Jihad Day, and protesters duly took their clothes off in Paris.
And you thought this stuff was complicated. Religious traditions, respect for cultural difference, fear of legitimating Islamophobia … You’d think twice about declaring a jihad on Islamic attitudes to women and their bodies, right?
Not Femen. This picture is gloriously crude. At a time of tight-lipped liberal relativism when even the president of the United States is damned careful what he says about Islam, here is a woman bearing her body, quoting Tyler’s anti-religious slogan, wearing a pseudo-jihadist black scarf over her face. Clearly, the protest is provocative – even in Paris, where this man who may be religiously offended, or just offended by women in general, appears to be kicking her.
Already, the New Statesman has weighed in with a critique of Femen’s “jihad”, arguing that it is naive to defend the rights of women in north Africa in this cheerfully secular way. But what is so wrong with stating a clear principle?
Tyler has asserted in her own words, on her own body, that she belongs to herself and is not an object of moral scrutiny or male honour. This is fair enough, no? She is claiming freedoms and rights taken for granted in most democratic countries – but which are frowned on and suppressed and violently denied by religious conservatives. If Christian conservatives ran things here, our society would be hobbled and distorted and modern freedoms denied. Femen has indeed attacked Christianity as well as Islam. But in western Europe the church has very little real power over public morals. Islam does exert such power in north Africa. Tyler objects to this moral control. Is she wrong to do so? Why does this activist for freedom not deserve the same support the Arab spring got? Or is freedom only worth supporting when there is no possible conflict with Islam implied by all the romantic Arabist rhetoric?
Does this picture look to you like a foolish and ignorant attempt to intervene in Islam’s private concerns? Please explain why. Because to me it looks like a blast of honesty in a dishonest age…
Indeed it does.
Here’s the Guardian in full “wacky Americans” mode:
About one in four Americans suspect that President Barack Obama might be the antichrist, more than a third believe that global warming is a hoax and more than half suspect that a secretive global elite is trying to set up a New World Order, according to a poll released on Tuesday.
The survey, which was conducted by Public Policy Polling, asked a sample of American voters about a number of conspiracy theories, phrasing the questions in eye-catching language that will have the country’s educators banging their heads on their desks. The study revealed that 13% of respondents thought Obama was “the antichrist”, while another 13% were “not sure” – and so were at least appeared to be open to the possibility that he might be. Some 73% of people were able to say outright that they did not think Obama was “the antichrist”.
The survey also showed that 37% of Americans thought that global warming was a hoax, while 12% were not sure and a slim majority – 51% – agreed with the overwhelming majority view of the scientific establishment and thought that it was not. The survey also revealed that 28% of people believed in a sinister global New World Order conspiracy, aimed at ruling the whole world through authoritarian government. Another 25% were “not sure” and only a minority of American voters – 46% – thought such a conspiracy theory was not true…
The Guardian being the Guardian, the questions the paper highlights are those that make the (presumed) right look nuts. It goes unmentioned that 14 percent of Americans apparently believe that believe the CIA was instrumental in distributing crack cocaine into America’s inner cities in the 1980s – and that another 30 percent are “not sure” about this dastardly plot.
More broadly, however, I always wonder whether people truly believe what they say they do in response to questions in surveys such as this. If as many as a quarter of all Americans really think that Obama is (or could be) the antichrist, wouldn’t they make a little more noise about it?
As for global warming, it’s impossible not to note the way that the writer goes to such pains to assert his own orthodoxy with additional commentary (“the overwhelming majority view of the scientific establishment”) that has no equivalent elsewhere in the piece, suggesting just a little defensiveness, something that might not be entirely inappropriate at a time when even the AGW true believers at the Economist can write this:
It is not clear why climate change has “plateaued” (see article). It could be because of greater natural variability in the climate, because clouds dampen warming or because of some other little-understood mechanism in the almost infinitely complex climate system.
Now, as I have written before, I am, to use that loaded term, no ‘denier’ (as conventionally understood, at least: I just believe that some of the AGW faithful need to ponder the implications of those words “infinitely complex” with a little more care). I certainly don’t think that AGW is a “hoax”, as that word is conventionally understood. That said, my guess would be that many of those who used that term were merely using it as a way to express their all too understandable suspicion that “global warming” has, for some, become something of a racket, based on a “consensus” that is not quite so soundly based as the public is usually told.
And then we come to the ”sinister” global conspiracy. The Guardian’s writer spiced up the actual question (adding that adjective, and removing the qualifier that the plan was to take over the planet “eventually”) which was as follows:
Do you believe that a secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or New World Order, or not?
That’s something of a stretch, to put it mildly, but read another way, there is plenty of truth to the idea that a supra-nationalist class is moving away from the idea of sovereign national democracy, and replacing it with regimes and treaties that are, if not authoritarian, certainly post-democratic. The EU is the most notorious example, but some of what the UN has been aiming at, whether it be with regard to climate change, the control of narcotics and, recently, firearms could be seen that way too. It’s melodramatic to describe this as a conspiracy (and much of it is being done in plain sight), but it is a reality, and it’s not too hard to imagine those who disapprove of it, wishing to register their discontent by labeling it with language more normally used for dark intrigue and shadowy cabal.
Then again, some people are just nuts. Take a look at the full survey. It’s a good read…
A hideous story from NBC:
Assailants stripped, tortured and bound a woman accused of witchcraft, then burned her alive in front of hundreds of witnesses in a Papua New Guinea town, police said Friday after one of the highest profile sorcery-related murders in this South Pacific island nation.
Some of the hundreds of bystanders took photographs of Wednesday’s brutal slaying. Grisly pictures were published on the front pages of the country’s biggest circulating newspapers, The National and Post-Courier. The prime minister, police and diplomats condemned the killing.
Kepari Leniata, a 20-year-old who had a child, had been accused of sorcery by relatives of a 6-year-old boy who died in the hospital the day before, police spokesman Dominic Kakas said.
Note the coexistence of modernity (the taking of photographs) with ancient superstition. Belief in the supernatural is not going away any time soon; the only question is the form that it will take.
How to mark Christmas, grandest and jolliest and most syncretic of festivals, this year?
With this brief extract, I think, from The Exiles by Ray Bradbury, who, of course, died just a few months ago:
A door banged wide in a little hut by the shore. A thin short man, with flesh hanging from him in folds, stepped out and, paying no attention to the others, sat down and stared into his clenched fists.
“There’s the one I’m sorry for,” whispered Blackwood. “Look at him, dying away. He was once more real than we, who were men. They took him, a skeleton thought, and clothed him in centuries of pink flesh and snow beard and red velvet suit and black boot; made him reindeers, tinsel, holly. And after centuries of manufacturing him they drowned him in a vat of Lysol, you might say.”
The men were silent.
“What must it be on Earth?” wondered Poe. “Without Christmas? No hot chestnuts, no tree, no ornaments or drums or candles-nothing; nothing but the snow and wind and the lonely, factual people….”
They all looked at the thin little old man with the scraggly beard and faded red velvet suit.
“Have you heard his story?”
“I can imagine it. The glitter-eyed psychiatrist, the clever sociologist,the resentful, froth-mouthed educationalist, the antiseptic parents-”
His Daily Telegraph obituary can be found here. Some key extracts:
A genuine eccentric who never took himself too seriously, Moore played up to his image as a “mad professor”, and wrote more than 100 books — most of them about astronomy for a popular audience. Meanwhile, his monthly Sky at Night programme — launched on BBC Television in April 1957 — attracted millions of viewers.
On television Moore became celebrated for the thunderous fervour with which he would utter the words: “We just don’t know!” to emphasise that our comprehension of the universe is incomplete…
The Sky at Night started almost by accident. One day in 1957 the BBC broadcast a somewhat sensationalist programme about flying saucers. Producers wanted a counterview by a “thoroughly reactionary and sceptical astronomer who knew some science and could talk”. This turned out to be Moore. He little guessed that he was starting a series that would last for half a century….
He had as little sympathy either for the peddlers of what he considered pseudoscience. Astrology he declared “rubbish”. And he was deeply angered in the 1970s by a book co-written by the journalist John Gribbin called The Jupiter Effect, which predicted that in 1982 the planets would be so closely aligned that their combined gravitational fields would cause earthquakes all over the world… Both the data and the conclusion, Moore said, were nonsense. The planets were not in alignment, and even if they had been, they were much too small and too far away to cause the predicted earthquakes. Despite his efforts, Gribbin’s book became a bestseller and was the subject of a solemn presentation at the London Planetarium.
Moore was furious. A show at the Planetarium gives an idea scientific authority, and people who saw its treatment of the “Gribbin effect” were seriously alarmed. Moore campaigned successfully to have the Planetarium show taken off and afterwards presented a humorous Sky at Night programme showing the idea up as the nonsense he considered it to be.
Meanwhile, when some of the Moon astronauts apparently claimed that in space they had had visions of God, he was asked: “What do you think they really saw?”
“I think they saw the Moon…”
He was also a euroskeptic.
Cross-posted on the Corner:
Here we go again.
The Daily Telegraph reports on the approach of the latest doomsday:
Ahead of December 21, which marks the conclusion of the 5,125-year “Long Count” Mayan calendar, panic buying of candles and essentials has been reported in China and Russia, along with an explosion in sales of survival shelters in America. In France believers were preparing to converge on a mountain where they believe aliens will rescue them.
The precise manner of Armageddon remains vague, ranging from a catastrophic celestial collision between Earth and the mythical planet Nibiru, also known as Planet X, a disastrous crash with a comet, or the annihilation of civilisation by a giant solar storm.
In America Ron Hubbard, a manufacturer of hi-tech underground survival shelters, has seen his business explode.
“We’ve gone from one a month to one a day,” he said. “I don’t have an opinion on the Mayan calendar but, when astrophysicists come to me, buy my shelters and tell me to be prepared for solar flares, radiation, EMPs (electromagnetic pulses) … I’m going underground on the 19th and coming out on the 23rd. It’s just in case anybody’s right.”
I’m going out to dinner that night. Hoping that it’ll be easier to get a reservation.
The Daily Telegraph’s Damian Thompson reports:
…The long-cherished ambition of Saudi Arabia’s ruling Wahhabi sect to smash up the ancient buildings of Mecca and Medina is nearing fruition.
In Mecca, the house of one of Mohammed’s wives has been demolished to make space for public lavatories. His birthplace may disappear, too, as part of King Abdullah’s scheme to complement the skyscrapers and shopping malls with a Grand Mosque fashioned from the same materials as a multi-storey car park in Wolverhampton.
As for Islam’s second holiest place, the city of Medina, a recent article by Jerome Taylor in the Independent revealed a megalomaniac plan to pull down three 7th-century mosques. Taylor added: “Ten years ago, a mosque which belonged to the Prophet’s grandson was dynamited. Pictures of the demolition that were secretly taken and smuggled out of the kingdom showed the religious police celebrating.”
Only a small minority of the world’s billion Muslims are Wahhabis, despite the tens of billions of petrodollars spent by the Saudis propagating their creed. (Bosnia, for example, is now littered with Saudi-style mosques, replacing the graceful Ottoman architecture that Wahhabis detest.) Many pilgrims to Mecca are revolted by the marriage of Puritanism and greed they find there. Yet protests are scattered and muted. Why?
One answer is that the House of Saud, though widely hated, is also feared: its wealth and terrorist connections make it unlikely that, say, a Pakistani politician would speak openly about the desecration of the Hajj.
The West can hardly complain about such gutlessness: this year’s Hajj exhibition at the British Museum was creepily sanitised – no mention of bulldozers or the 2,000ft clock tower built right next to the Kaaba, the black cube-shaped building that is the centrepiece of Islamic devotions.
But what sticks in the craw is the hypocrisy of Muslims who throw a fit if Israeli archaeologists carry out non-intrusive work underneath the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, “Islam’s third holiest place”, as we’re constantly reminded. Such anger would be more convincing if the first and second holy sites weren’t being ploughed up by a police state. Likewise, are cartoons of Mohammed really more offensive than reducing the remains of his life to rubble?
As one Middle East expert put it to me: “Jews disturbing the Dome of the Rock fits into an anti-Western narrative, so Muslims can cope with that. The Saudi destruction of Mecca doesn’t fit into that narrative, and so there’s virtual silence.” Something worth bearing in mind, perhaps, when you wonder why the murder of Muslims by Muslims in Darfur or Syria provokes only limited outrage in the Islamic world….
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.