Secular Right | Reality & Reason

TAG | Islamism

Sep/13

29

Science and Economics

NooooCross-posted on Ricochet:

The Guardian:

One of Saudi Arabia’s leading conservative clerics has said women who drive risk damaging their ovaries and bearing children with clinical problems, countering activists who are trying to end the Islamic kingdom’s male-only driving rules.

A campaign calling for women to defy the ban in a protest drive on 26 October has spread rapidly online over the past week and gained support from prominent women activists. On Sunday, the campaign’s website was blocked inside the kingdom.

As one of the 21 members of the senior council of scholars, Sheikh Saleh al-Lohaidan can write fatwas, or religious edicts, advise the government and has a large following among other influential conservatives.

His comments have in the past played into debates in Saudi society and he has been a vocal opponent of tentative reforms to increase freedoms for women by King Abdullah, who sacked him as head of a top judiciary council in 2009.

In an interview published on Friday on the website sabq.org, he said women aiming to overturn the ban on driving should put “reason ahead of their hearts, emotions and passions”.

Meanwhile, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s prime minister and a figure that The Economist persists in describing as “mildly Islamist”, reminds an audience that Turkish women are not, in his view, having nearly enough children (the birth rate in Turkey is a little over 2, a tally that has, mercifully, fallen by more than a half since the late 1970s);

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has urged a group of women in Mediterranean Turkish province of Denizli to have at least four children rather than his previously advised three…Erdoğan has noted in the past that Turkey’s annual population growth rate should be at least 2.5 percent and if Turkey continued with its existing trend, its population would rapidly become an aging one after the 2030s. Erdoğan has also linked aging populations and low birth rates in European countries to economic recession.

And that last sentence tells you all that you need to know about Erdoğan’s grasp of economics. The European recession has many causes, most notably a dysfunctional single currency, but the continent’s low birth rate is not one of them.

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Jul/13

27

Trampled in Trebizond

Pisanello_-_St_George_and_the_Princess_of_Trebizond_(right_side)_-_WGA17874Cross-posted on the Corner:

The Economist reports:

On July 5 the mufti of Trabzon gathered with other citizens for the first Friday prayers of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, not at a mosque but at an ancient Byzantine church. The gathering was a symbolic re-enactment of the conquest in 1462 of this ancient Greek Black Sea port by Mehmet II, the Ottoman sultan who had wrested Constantinople from the Byzantines in 1453. He marked his victory by converting the Haghia Sophia cathedral of today’s Istanbul into a mosque.

Haghia Sophia’s sister of the same name in Trabzon is less grand. Yet with its dazzling frescoes and magnificent setting overlooking the sea, the 13th-century building is regarded as one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture. As with other Christian monuments, the Haghia Sophia in Trabzon has become a symbol in the battle between secularists and Islamists. It was converted into a mosque around the 16th century and, after other incarnations, became a museum in 1964. But the Islamists won the last round in 2012 when a local court accepted the claim by the General Directorate of the Pious Foundations, the government body responsible for Turkey’s historic mosques, that the Haghia Sophia belonged to the foundation of Mehmet II and was being “illegally occupied” by the culture ministry.

The decision provoked surprising anger in a city notorious for its ultra-nationalist views. “It’s about erasing the Christian past, reviving Ottomanism,” says a local historian. “There are enough mosques in Trabzon, half of them empty, what was the need?” chimes in Zeki Bakar, a neighbourhood councillor. A lawsuit has been brought to undo the conversion.

Even so, the mildly Islamist Justice and Development (AK) government carried out the conversion in time for Ramadan. A red carpet now obscures exquisite floor mosaics. Shutters and tents beneath the central dome shield Muslim worshippers from “sinful” paintings of the Holy Trinity. Shiny steel taps with plastic stools for ablutions clutter a once-verdant garden filled with ancient sculptures….

“Mildly”.

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ErdoganCross-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.

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Jun/13

11

Awe Shucks

red_guardsThere’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.

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Jun/13

3

Science & Conspiracy

polio_vaccineDaniel Pipes:

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…

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Jan/13

29

More on Morsi

Muslim BrotherhoodCross-posted on the Corner:

Der Spiegel:

To comprehend the Egyptian president and grasp how the Muslim Brotherhood shapes its members, it helps to speak with men who knew Morsi during his time with the Islamist organization — and who also have the courage to speak openly about the group. Abdel-Jalil el-Sharnoubi, 38, talks about how dangerous this can be. Last October, after he had spoken about quitting the Brotherhood to Egyptian newspapers and in TV appearances, masked men opened fire on Sharnoubi’s car with submachine guns…

Sharnoubi assumes that cordial moves like the letter to Peres have only one goal: “To secure and expand the dominance of the Brotherhood.” Only recently, the president issued a decree that gave him absolute powers, and Morsi currently controls all three branches of government. “He has secured more power than his predecessor Mubarak ever had.”

Sharnoubi’s vision of a future Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood is horrifying. “They will infiltrate all areas of our society: government offices and ministries, schools and universities, as well as the police and the military. They will eliminate their enemies.”

Isn’t he exaggerating?

“Not in the least,” says Sharnoubi, noting that the Brotherhood is already infiltrating the security apparatus. “The Brotherhood will never give up its power without a fight.”

Not exactly surprising. Not exactly reassuring.

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Dec/12

8

Learning the Lessons of Kerensky

Cross-posted on the Corner:

Jihad Al-Khazen writes in Al Arabiya:

I expected the worst as I watched on television one day the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Mohammed Badie, who was not elected by anyone, walking in front of President Mohammed Mursi.

The president is the first Egyptian, and must walk in front of everyone. But it is clear that Dr. Mursi continues to consider himself a member of the Guidance Bureau of the group, before being the president of Egypt. Therefore, he is attempting to impose on half of the Egyptians who did not vote for him his religious convictions, rather than a national policy that would accommodate all Egyptians.

I also expected the worst as I saw the draft constitution in the hands of religious groups, without there being a single woman in the drafting committee, as though women, half of the Egyptian people, are minors who need chaperons to hold their hands. In truth, I would have also expected the worst if the liberals, secularists and leftists had drafted the constitution without participation by the Islamists…

Half of the Egyptians took to the streets to protest the power grab, and I followed three major protests where no one was killed. Then when the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters came to confront the protesters, many people were killed or injured…

All of Egypt is paying the price for the Brotherhood’s tenacity, and I do not say the president. Indeed, Dr. Mursi could be just following orders from above, that is to say, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood who walks ahead of him….

The Muslim Brotherhood waited 80 years to reach power, and when they did, they could not believe it. Thus, the lust for power defeated prudence, and the Muslim Brotherhood sought from day one to mold Egypt in their image and their example, despite the abundance of evidence that half of Egyptians do not want that.

Democracy should be pluralistic, but the religious parties cannot accommodate others…

This should not be a surprise.

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Oct/12

26

Silencing Timbuktu

Cross-posted on the Corner.

I cannot say that I know that much about Mali, but my ipod knows its music.

Enter the Islamists.

The Guardian reports:

The pickup halted in Kidal, the far-flung Malian desert town that is home to members of the Grammy award-winning band Tinariwen. Seven AK47-toting militiamen got out and marched to the family home of a local musician. He wasn’t home, but the message delivered to his sister was chilling: “If you speak to him, tell him that if he ever shows his face in this town again, we’ll cut off all the fingers he uses to play his guitar with.”

The gang then removed guitars, amplifiers, speakers, microphones and a drum kit from the house, doused them with petrol, and set them ablaze. In northern Mali, religious war has been declared on music.

The savagery is shocking, as is the peculiarly grotesque vandalism of an ancient cultural heritage. But there is also crushing inhumanity of it, the merciless expression of an arid religious monomania with no room, it seems, for so many of the pleasures of this world. It’s not so much an assertion of the idea that there is no God but Allah, but the insistence that there is nothing but Allah…

Naturally, xenophobia is thrown into the mix:

An official decree banning all western music was issued on 22 August by a heavily bearded Islamist spokesman in the city of Gao. “We don’t want the music of Satan. Qur’anic verses must take its place. Sharia demands it,” the decree says.

No sympathy for the devil then.

The Guardian continues:

The ban comes in the context of a horrifically literal and gratuitous application of Sharia law in all aspects of daily life. Militiamen are cutting off the hands and feet of thieves or stoning adulterers. Smokers, alcohol drinkers and women who are not properly attired are being publicly whipped. As one well-known Touareg musician from Kidal says: “There’s a lack of joy. No one is dancing. There are no parties. Everybody’s under this kind of spell. It’s strange.”

Ansar adds: “People think that the problem is new. But the menace of al-Qaida started to have an effect on us in 2007. That’s when al-Qaida people started to appear in the desert. They came to the nomad camps near Essakane [the beautiful dunes to the west of Timbuktu where the Festival in the Desert used to be held] and at first they were pleasant and said, ‘Don’t worry, we’re Muslims like you.’ Then they began to say, ‘We have a common enemy, which is the west.’ That’s when I understood that things were going to get difficult.”

Read the whole—terrible—thing.

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Oct/12

20

Britons Abroad

Cross-posted on The Corner

Via The Daily Telegraph:

An influential British-based preacher is leading an armed gang of more than a hundred Islamist fighters in Syria, it can be disclosed. In a video posted on the internet in the last few days, Abu Basir al-Tartusi can be seen on a balcony surrounded by Kalashnikov waving rebels after apparently capturing a hilltop village in the war-torn country.

Security sources believe that dozens of British extremists, possibly as many as 50, have travelled to Syria to join the fighting and some may have been recruited by Basir. This week a junior doctor of Bangladeshi origin from, East London was charged with kidnapping two photographers in Syria, where he was said to be part of a 15-strong group of Britons.

The security services are concerned that the brutal conflict in Syria could become a “new Afghanistan” drawing in young men who return to Britain radicalised and keen to continue a fight to spread Islam.A source said the numbers were “small but increasing” and there were concerns about “who they meet and the knowledge they could gain.”

Basir, whose real name is Abdal Munem Mustafa Halima, was running classes at the al-Ansar Institute in Poplar, East London just months ago. He has his own website and his sermons are readily available on the internet. The preacher has been based in Britain since fleeing the Assad regime following an uprising in the early 1980s.

He has been compared with fellow preacher Abu Qatada and was described by one academic as one of the “most influential and most prolific radical scholars in the world right now” and by another as one of the “primary Salafi [fundamentalist] opinion-makers guiding the jihadi movement…”

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Oct/12

14

The Line Still Holds (Just)

Cross-posted on the Corner:

The Daily Telegraph reports:

A key proposal by Tunisia’s ruling Islamist party to outlaw blasphemy in the new constitution, stoking fears of creeping Islamisation, is to be dropped from the final text. The agreement to drop the clause follows negotiations between the three parties in the ruling coalition and must still be approved by the committees drafting the constitution, due to be debated by parliament next month.

It comes after President Moncef Marzouki warned that radical Islamist militants pose a “great danger” to the Maghreb region, and following a wave of violent attacks – blamed on Salafists – on targets ranging from works of art to the US embassy.

“There will certainly be no criminalisation,” said speaker Mustapha Ben Jafaar, the 72-year-old speaker of the National Constituent Assembly, said to AFP.

“That is not because we have agreed to (allow) attacks on the sacred, but because the sacred is something very, very difficult to define. Its boundaries are blurred and one could interpret it in one way or another, in an exaggerated way,” he added.

The plan to criminalise attacks on religious values sparked an outcry when it was first announced by the Islamists in July, with the media and civil society groups warning that it would result in new restrictions on freedom of expression.

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