Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Sep/14

8

ISIS: Making the Trains Run on Time (Apparently)

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ISISThe Independent

In the cities and towns across the desert plains of north-east Syria, the ultra-hardline al-Qa’ida offshoot Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) has insinuated itself into nearly every aspect of daily life.

The ‘Islamic State’ group, infamous for its beheadings, crucifixions and mass executions, provides electricity and water, pays salaries, controls traffic, and runs nearly everything from bakeries and banks to schools, courts and mosques. While its merciless battlefield tactics and the imposition of its austere vision of Islamic law made headlines, residents say much of its power lies in its efficient and often deeply pragmatic ability to govern…

The Independent’s jokey headline: Life under Isis: For residents of Raqqa is this really a caliphate worse than death?

The idea that fanatacism and a certain degree of efficiency are incompatible is nonsene, and this report is not a bad reminder of that, but there’s something about the language in which it is written…

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Aug/14

31

Marx and the Millennium

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VDNKh, Moscow, Feb 91 (AS)Over at Mises, they have posted a long (very long) examination by the late (and, in my view, often profoundly misguided) Murray Rothbard demonstrating how Marxism fits into a much older millennialist tradition. The piece is something of a struggle to work through, but it yielded a good number of gems (including the quote from Alexander Gray that I posted yesterday) as well as some highly perceptive insights into what remains an important and (at least in the popular understanding of what Marxism is) overlooked topic.

A part of what attracts people to the apocalyptic is the whole drama of it—the exciting thought that they are living in the End Times—and the egotism too: they are a key part of it.

Rothbard:

In this allegedly inevitable process of arriving at the proletarian communist utopia after the proletarian class becomes conscious of its true nature, what is supposed to be Karl Marx’s own role? In Hegelian theory, Hegel himself is the final and greatest world-historical figure, the Man-God of man-gods. Similarly, Marx in his own view stands at a focal point of history as the man who brought to the world the crucial knowledge of man’s true nature and of the laws of history, thereby serving as the “midwife” of the process that would put an end to history. Thus Molnar wrote,

“Like other utopian and gnostic writers, Marx is much less interested in the stages of history up to the present (the egotistic now of all utopian writers) than the final stages when the stuff of time becomes more concentrated, when the drama approaches its denouement. In fact, the utopian writer conceives of history as a process leading to himself since he, the ultimate comprehensor, stands in the center of history. It is natural that things accelerate during his own lifetime and come to a watershed: he looms large between the Before and the After.”

Towards the end, Rothbard introduces us (or me anyway) to the remarkable figure of Ernst Bloch:

A blend of Christian messianist and devoted Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist, the 20th-century German Marxist Ernst Bloch set forth his vision in his recently translated three-volume phantasmagoria The Principle of Hope (Daz Prinzip Hoffung).

Early in his career, Bloch wrote a laudatory study of the views and life of the coercive, Anabaptist communist, Thomas Müntzer, whom he hailed as magical, or “theurgic.” The inner “truth” of things, wrote Bloch, will only be discovered after “a complete transformation of the universe, a grand apocalypse, the descent of the Messiah, a new heaven and a new earth.”

There is more than a hint in Bloch that disease, nay death itself, will be abolished upon the advent of communism. God is developing; “God himself is part of the Utopia, a finality that is still unrealized.” For Bloch, mystical ecstasies and the worship of Lenin and Stalin went hand in hand. As J. P. Stern writes, Bloch’s Principle of Hope contains such remarkable declarations as “Ubi Lenin, ibi Jerusalem” [Where Lenin is, there is Jerusalem], and that “the Bolshevist fulfillment of Communism” is part of “the age-old fight for God.”

I note that this truest of believers eventually left East Germany to settle in the West. Socialism was evidently too much to take.

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Aug/14

30

Marx as Prophet

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Sverdlov Sq, Moscow, Feb 91 (AS)From Alexander Gray’s The Socialist Tradition (1946):

“Marx, it has been said, was a prophet … and perhaps this suggestion provides the best approach. One does not apply to Jeremiah or Ezekiel the tests to which less-inspired men are subjected. Perhaps the mistake the world and most of the critics have made is just that they have not sufficiently regarded Marx as a prophet — a man above logic, uttering cryptic and incomprehensible words, which every man may interpret as he chooses.”

H/t: Mises.org

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Aug/14

24

Saudi Arabia, a Reminder

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Execution by beheading in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 1985Writing in the New York Times, Ed Husain:

Let’s be clear: Al Qaeda, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram, the Shabab and others are all violent Sunni Salafi groupings. For five decades, Saudi Arabia has been the official sponsor of Sunni Salafism across the globe….

Unlike a majority of Sunnis, Salafis are evangelicals who wish to convert Muslims and others to their “purer” form of Islam — unpolluted, as they see it, by modernity. In this effort, they have been lavishly supported by the Saudi government, which has appointed emissaries to its embassies in Muslim countries who proselytize for Salafism. The kingdom also grants compliant imams V.I.P. access for the annual hajj, and bankrolls ultraconservative Islamic organizations like the Muslim World League and World Assembly of Muslim Youth.

After 9/11, under American pressure, much of this global financial support dried up, but the bastion of Salafism remains strong in the kingdom, enforcing the hard-line application of outdated Shariah punishments long abandoned by a majority of Muslims. Just since Aug. 4, 19 people have been beheaded in Saudi Arabia, nearly half for nonviolent crimes.

We are rightly outraged at the beheading of James Foley by Islamist militants, and by ISIS’ other atrocities, but we overlook the public executions by beheading permitted by Saudi Arabia. By licensing such barbarity, the kingdom normalizes and indirectly encourages such punishments elsewhere. When the country that does so is the birthplace of Islam, that message resonates…

Salafi intolerance has led to the destruction of Islamic heritage in Mecca and Medina. If ISIS is detonating shrines, it learned to do so from the precedent set in 1925 by the House of Saud with the Wahhabi-inspired demolition of 1,400-year-old tombs in the Jannat Al Baqi cemetery in Medina. In the last two years, violent Salafis have carried out similar sectarian vandalism, blowing up shrines from Libya to Pakistan, from Mali to Iraq. Fighters from Hezbollah have even entered Syria to protect holy sites.

Textbooks in Saudi Arabia’s schools and universities teach this brand of Islam. The University of Medina recruits students from around the world, trains them in the bigotry of Salafism and sends them to Muslim communities in places like the Balkans, Africa, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Egypt, where these Saudi-trained hard-liners work to eradicate the local, harmonious forms of Islam.

What is religious extremism but this aim to apply Shariah as state law? This is exactly what ISIS (Islamic State) is attempting do with its caliphate…

Saudi Arabia an ally? No.

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Aug/14

24

Bacon: “Offensive” Apparently

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baconFrom WPTZ, Vermont:

WINOOSKI, Vt. —A sign on a lamp post at the bottom of the Winooski Circle displayed the words “Yield Sneakers Bacon” until Friday morning. The bistro owners took it down.

A city program put it in place to keep its flower beds beautiful. If businesses do some gardening they can post an advertisement where they do it, but the word “bacon” on the Sneakers Bistro sign started a discussion about diversity on the Winooski Front Porch Forum.

It started with a post from one woman who wrote that the sign was insensitive to those who do not consume pork. She said as a Muslim she is personally offended by it.

The owners of Sneakers spoke to WPTZ. They say they’ve reached out to the individual who made the post and proactively took the sign down. They also say they regret any harm caused by the sign, and that their goal was never to cause stress or bad feelings.

“It’s nice that they were respectful enough to take it down,” said Caleb Wiley an area resident, “but I also think they shouldn’t have, or had to at any right.”

Other Winooski residents joined the conversation, and online too. One post reads the word “bacon” is not offensive. It’s something that describes food.

Winooski’s city manager spoke on behalf of the city. She said:

“The cool part of living in a diverse community is that it’s not always comfortable. It’s a fascinating place with lots of opportunities for conversation. The City has to pay attention to a lot of factors while acting within what we can regulate,” said Katherine “Deac” Decarreau.

Others recognize it’s a complicated issue, too.

“I respect her religion and her right to believe what she wants but I’m pretty sure the first amendment extends to bacon and the selling of it.”

Sneakers’ owners say their goal is to provide a joyful place for the entire community.

The Winooski Islamic Community Center was not available for comment.

There is so much that’s sad about this squalid little story. There’s the importance that the Muslim woman puts on not being “personally” offended (a hypersensitivity that may be as American as it is genuinely Islamic). There is the cringing desperation to please on the part of Sneakers (“they regret any harm caused by the sign, and that their goal was never to cause stress or bad feelings”) and the refusal to treat this complaint with the contempt that it deserved.

And then there is the simpering PC babble from the city manager (“The cool part of living in a diverse community is that it’s not always comfortable. It’s a fascinating place with lots of opportunities for conversation”) complete with the absence of any recognition that this was not a “conversation” that anyone outside a madhouse should have been having, an absence of recognition shared with those at WPTZ who believe that this is a “complicated” issue.

“Complicated”? Uh, no.

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Aug/14

17

The Pope and the Sandinista

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castron-n-desctoFox News from 2009:

UNITED NATIONS – The outspoken U.N. General Assembly president on Tuesday accused the United States of demonizing Iran’s president and criticized the International Criminal Court for issuing an arrest warrant for Sudan’s leader on war crimes charges in Darfur.

Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann… also reiterated that the more he thinks about the conditions that Israel imposes on the Palestinians, the more he tends “to think about apartheid.”

During a wide-ranging press conference, d’Escoto insisted he wasn’t being divisive or promoting his own agenda — but was just fulfilling his duty as president of the 192-member General Assembly to uphold the U.N. Charter and promote peace and nonviolence. Briefing reporters on his recent three-week trip that included a stop in Tehran, d’Escoto said he was struck by the great support and respect for Iran from its neighbors at a summit meeting of the Economic Cooperation Organization — a regional body founded in 1985 by Iran, Turkey and Pakistan — especially for helping “to alleviate the plight” of Afghan refugees in Iran.

“That was a very wonderful experience to see that, in contrast to the attitude that we find, sadly, here where we are,” d’Escoto said.

“I don’t think anyone can doubt that in our part of the world … (President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad has been demonized…”

The Huffington Post:

D’Escoto served as the Republic of Nicaragua’s Minister for Foreign Affairs for more than a decade and currently acts as Senior Adviser on Foreign Affairs to President Daniel Ortega Saavedra. He is still a member of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN)…

America magazine(with an extract from a 1985 interview with D’Escoto):

Nicaragua will always have freedom of conscience, freedom of religion. Nicaragua is truly committed, not hypocritically committed, like Mr. Reagan, to democracy. We fought to overthrow a regime that was sponsored by the United States, because we could never have democracy under that regime. We are building our democracy. But even the most important of all human rights, which is the right to life, can have exceptions. Catholic morality accepts the principle that one can kill in self-defense, and talks about “just war.” The U.S. Government throws its arms up to the skies in horror because of the limitation of rights in Nicaragua. But this is done precisely to defend our most basic right, which is to sovereignty and the life of our people. We will not allow the use of liberties that never existed in Nicaragua before, but that now exist because of the revolution, to reverse the revolutionary process-in the way, for example, that freedom of the press in Chile was used in EI Mercurio to do in President Allende…

From the press kit issued at the time of D’Escoto’s presidency of the UN’s General Assembly:

Father d’Escoto is the recipient of numerous awards, such as: the Order of Cardinal Miguel Obando Bravo (2007), the highest honour awarded by the Catholic University Redemptoris Mater (UNICA), for his work for peace; the Thomas Merton Award (1987), for his commitment to world peace; the Order of Carlos Fonseca Amador (1986), the FSLN’s highest honour, for his contributions to international law; the International Lenin Peace Prize (1985/86) awarded by the Soviet Union…..

Father D’Escoto?

Ah yes.

BBC:

The Vatican says Pope Francis has reinstated a Nicaraguan priest who was suspended thirty years ago for taking up office in Nicaragua’s left-wing Sandinista government. Father Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann had been banned from celebrating mass by Pope John Paul II for defying a church ban on priests holding government jobs.

Fr D’Escoto served as Nicaragua’s foreign minister from 1979-1990. He welcomed the news and said his punishment had been unfair. Fr D’Escoto, 81, had written to Pope Francis asking to be allowed to celebrate mass before he dies.

On Monday, the Vatican announced that the Pope had agreed to the request and asked Fr D’Escoto’s superior in the missionary Maryknoll order to help reintroduce him into the priestly ministry….

Draw your own conclusions

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Aug/14

16

Gideons, Trumped

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gideon-bibleWell, this is a piece of stupidity. The Daily Mail (of course!) has the details (my emphasis added):

One of Britain’s biggest hotel chains has removed Bibles from its rooms to avoid upsetting non-Christians. The decision by Travelodge has been condemned as ‘tragic and bizarre’ by the Church of England, which says Bibles in hotel rooms are important to provide hope, comfort and inspiration to travellers. But the chain, which runs 500 hotels, said the country was becoming increasingly multicultural and it had taken the action for ‘diversity reasons’.

It said the policy was implemented ‘in order not to discriminate against any religion’ – despite having had no complaints from guests. Bibles were taken away at the same time as a refurbishment of its rooms, removing drawers where they were kept. The Bibles, which were provided free by the Gideon Society, have been retained and are stored behind reception for guests to borrow on request, the company says.

A Church of England spokesman said: ‘It seems both tragic and bizarre that hotels would remove the word of God for the sake of ergonomic design, economic incentive or a spurious definition of the word “diversity”.’

It seems not all Travelodges even have Bibles available on request. At the branch in Battersea, south London, there was no Bible in the room or behind reception.

When requested, the receptionist could not find a copy and said no one had ever asked him for one in his four months of working there.Instead, he suggested using the hotel’s free wifi to ‘Google it and read it online’.

When pushed for a hard copy, he rang his manager who told him they used to have them in rooms, but hadn’t had any at the hotel since refurbishment last year….

Oh good grief.

Travelodge is a private company, it has the right to put whatever books it wants within its guests’ rooms, but the decision it has taken shows the barrenness at the heart of so much of modern multiculturalism. Lest anyone take ‘offense’, more must mean less. So out goes the Gideon Bible, another small scrap of what makes up Britain’s common culture torn away leaving, well, what behind.

The irony of this is that, by taking this step, Travelodge is sacralizing the Bible. To those of different faiths or none, the Bible is just another book, its presence neither offensive nor inconvenient or, usually, even noticed.

And yet Travelodge has chosen to make an idol of it. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

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Aug/14

6

Conservatives respect atheists less

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This clip by S. E. Cupp is making the rounds. I often find Cupp to be glib, so it’s no surprise that I disagree with many of the details of what she is saying. In particular it struck me as strange to listen to her talk about how conservatives respect atheists. Atheists are held in low esteem by the American public as a whole, let alone by conservatives. The general social survey has a question, SPKATH, which states:

There are always some people whose ideas are considered bad or dangerous by other people. For instance, somebody who is against churches and religion… a. If such a person wanted to make a speech in your (city/town/community) against churches and religion, should he be allowed to speak, or not?

Here are fractions who would allow this person to speak or not not in 1972-1990:

charts

Here are fractions who would allow this person to speak or not not in 2000-2012:

charts2

Liberals tend to be more accepting of atheists making a speech than conservatives. Interestingly even in the 2000s ~20 percent of self-identified extreme liberals would still not allow an atheist speak. As opposed to ~40 percent of self-identified extreme conservatives.

Addendum: To be clear about the intent behind this post, I’m all about keeping it real. I think it is acceptable to be an atheist on the Right. A substantial proportion of libertarians are atheists. Even among non-libertarian conservatives it’s an acceptable position. But this is really mostly relevant at the elite levels pundits and policy professionals. Atheists just aren’t popular at the grass roots. There aren’t that many conservative atheists or atheist conservatives.

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Robert Tracinski, in What Atheists Have To Offer The Right‘s, kindly points to this website. He also goes on to assert:

That leads me to what atheists have to offer to this agenda. One of the problems with citing a religious foundation for freedom and Americanism is that these arguments tend not to appeal to those who don’t share your faith. People will naturally assume that, in order to agree with you, they have to believe in the same particular religious creed you have adopted. And given the vast range of religious belief, that’s a lot to ask for.

I’ve made this argument before. Modern American conservatism has become so culturally captured by the Religious Right that there’s a lot of talk about “Biblically based values” without much reflection that it might turn some people off who don’t share the basis of those values. I do think it is notable that conservatives with broad cultural influence such as George F. Will and David Brooks tend to have a secular affect (Will is personally an agnostic).

Trancinski goes on to talk about the relationship between conservatism and science at some length. I can speak here personally, as I am a scientist and a conservative. One issue is while most liberals may not be scientists, most scientists are liberals. Those who are not are invariably libertarians. I would cop to being conservative, albeit with a strong libertarian streak. And that makes me exceptional. The culture of scientists and culture of religious conservatives are so opposed to each other that a Christian evangelical friend who is an evolutionary biologist once told me he was asked literally every day how he could be a scientist and a Christian. I have been in the room several times where scientists talk about how they can outreach to the broader public, like conservatives, assuming of course that there were no conservatives in the room.

I don’t think this correlation is a logical necessity. It’s just an empirical sociological fact. And we have to deal with it in our political and policy culture. Most scientists exhibit strong domain specific in their cognitive competence, so there’s no reason to think that someone who has a strong command of molecular genetic mechanisms can therefore think cogently about global trade. But many scientists mislead themselves, assuming their powers of ratiocination are generally robust in all areas to which they put their minds. Scientists often are in fact ideally situated to be what F. A. Hayek would term Constructivists.

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In SlateEurope Has a Serious Anti-Semitism Problem, and It’s Not All About Israel:

recent Anti-Defamation League survey found that 24 percent of the French population and 21 percent of the German population harbor some anti-Semitic attitudes. A recent study of anti-Semitic letters received by Germany’s main Jewish organization found that 60 percent of the hate mail came from well-educated Germans. So this isn’t just a problem with young, disaffected Muslim men.

After all, the two worst recent incidents of violence against Jews in Europe—the killing of three children and a teacher in a 2012 attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse and the shooting of three people at a Jewish museum in Brussels in May—took place during times when there wasn’t much news coming out of Israel. Continentwide statistics on anti-Semitic incidents leading up to the most recent uptick don’t show much of an overall trendin Britain, anti-Semitic violence is becoming less common while online abuse is becoming more frequent—or a correlation with events in Israel and Palestine.

antisemitismThe perpetrators of the two incidents in question? 29 year old Mehdi Nemmouche and 24 year old Mohammed Merah. That’s what I call chutzpah. Or, the author of the piece is flying under the radar of the implicit red-lines of what is permissible in Slate by inserting those links which actually support the idea that anti-Semitism is a problem of disaffected young Muslim men. Mind you, I grant that anti-Semitism has broad, but shallow, roots across much of Europe. The key is whether mild antipathy flips into politicized violence. Because of the Arab-Israeli conflict people of a Muslim background often have casually anti-Semitic views above and beyond what you might expect. Some individuals take the political dimensions very seriously, and the drum beat of vociferous coverage of the actions of the Israeli state bleeds into perceptions about Jews as a whole.*

Though the American media seems to be taking an antiseptic attidue toward the demographic composition of anti-Israeli rallies which have become anti-Semitic in a cartoonish sense, they haven’t censored the photographs. It’s rather obvious that young men of Middle Eastern heritage are prominent at these rallies. They aren’t a representative slice of the populations of France and Germany, to name two countries.

* To be even-handed, some Jews elide and erase the distinction between being Jewish and being Israeli.

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