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Archive for February 2011



Familiarity in Europe

Swedes Begin to Question Liberal Migration Tenets:

But increasingly, Swedes are questioning these policies. Last fall, the far-right party — campaigning largely on an anti-immigration theme — won 6 percent of the vote and, for the first time, enough support to be seated in the Swedish Parliament.

But researchers have found that immigrants do face discrimination in jobs and housing. Malmo’s mayor, Mr. Reepalu, believes jobs and schooling are critical, though he notes with disappointment that as soon as a school has more than about 20 percent immigrants, Swedish parents take their children out.

I doubt the parents pulling their kids out of school can be attributed just to the 6 percent who voted for the right-wing party. Revealed preferences versus avowed I suppose….



Not A Good Sign

Cross-posted over at the Corner.

Via AFP:

Google executive Wael Ghonim, who emerged as a leading voice in Egypt’s uprising, was barred from the stage in Tahrir Square on Friday by security guards, an AFP photographer said. Ghonim tried to take the stage in Tahrir, the epicentre of anti-regime protests that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, but men who appeared to be guarding influential Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi barred him from doing so.

Ghonim, who was angered by the episode, then left the square with his face hidden by an Egyptian flag.

One incident, one report, nevertheless…

H/t: legal insurrection



Prince & bishop

One of the major back stories about Bahrain is the disjunction between the religious confession of the ruling family, and the populace. The elite and the monarchy are Sunni, while the masses are Shia. This is of a piece with the nearly 1,000 years of rule of the Arab Shia by Sunni monarchs since the fall of the Fatimid dynasty of Egypt (who were Shia sectarians). Yes, there were pockets of Shia Arab rule such as the highlands of Yemen, but by and large the Shia Arabs had to look to outsiders, such as the Shia of Iran from the 16th century on, to protect their interests. Even where they were a majority, as in much of the Persian Gulf and in Iraq, it was the assumption that Sunnis would rule. That order seems to be collapsing. Syria has long between dominated by a quasi-Shia Alawite minority, and has been Iran’s ally in the Arab world, both due to geopolitics (similar to the alliance of Scotland and France against England), as well as the common distrust of Sunni radicalism. Iraq in 2003 shifted from Sunni domination to mass rule of the Shia. Finally, Lebanon seems to have switched from a de facto Maronite-Sunni condominium to a polity directed by the cohesive collective action by the Shia (possibly a plural majority). This is the “Shia Crescent,” stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean. The main exception to this is the Persian Gulf proper, where large Shia populations are dominated culturally, politically, and socially, by Sunni elites in eastern Arabia, as they have been from time immemorial. How sustainable is this?

Does it matter? All I can say is that the Al Khalifa should remember that Paris was worth a  mass.



A Reasonable Compromise

Via the Washington Post:

After two years of struggling to balance the rights of patients against the beliefs of health-care workers, the Obama administration on Friday finally rescinded most of a federal regulation designed to protect those who refuse to provide care they find objectionable on moral or religious grounds.

The decision guts one of President George W. Bush’s most controversial legacies: a rule that was widely interpreted as shielding workers who refuse to participate in a range of medical services, such as providing birth control pills, caring for gay men with AIDS and performing in-vitro fertilization for lesbians or single women…The new rule leaves intact only long-standing “conscience” protections for doctors and nurses who do not want to perform abortions or sterilizations. It also retains the process for allowing health workers whose rights are violated to file complaints.

This strikes me as an entirely reasonable compromise. There must be some limit on the extent to which people can use their religious (or, for that matter, other philosophical) beliefs to force their employer to allow them to opt out of some of their job. It’s not always easy to say where that line should be drawn, but the Obama administration seems to have got it right on this occasion.

I touched on a related issue a few years back in course of a discussion on the Corner:

David, your post raises some extremely intriguing issues. When should reasons of conscience allow people to opt out of aspects of their job? Would you, for example, allow the owner of a drug store to fire a pharmacist he employed if, contrary to his instructions, that pharmacist declined to dispense the ‘morning-after’ pill? The drug store is, after all, his property.

As to the related issue of professionals being forced by the state to do things that they find morally abhorrent as a condition of receiving the license that they need to practice their trade, I wonder what you think about this story from the London Times:

“Some Muslim medical students are refusing to attend lectures or answer exam questions on alcohol-related or sexually transmitted diseases because they claim it offends their religious beliefs. Some trainee doctors say learning to treat the diseases conflicts with their faith, which states that Muslims should not drink alcohol and rejects sexual promiscuity. The religious objections by students have been confirmed by the British Medical Association (BMA) and General Medical Council (GMC), which both stressed that they did not approve of such actions.”

Of course there is a big difference between being trained to carry out a procedure, and being compelled actually to do it, but the whole piece is well worth reading: it covers some of the issues, and some of the conundrums, that you raise.



An Exorcist in Trouble

Via Politics Daily:

A Catholic priest who traveled the country performing exorcisms and launching fierce attacks against anyone he viewed as insufficiently tough on abortion — he once suggested Fox News host Sean Hannity was a “heretic” for saying birth control could be a better option than abortion — has been removed from ministry for sexually exploiting at least one woman he was treating for demonic possession.

The surprising revelations about Father Thomas Euteneuer, who was for a decade the charismatic leader of Human Life International (HLI), a Catholic anti-abortion lobby, have not only stunned his many fans among church conservatives but have also left them sharply divided.

Some of Euteneuer’s avid disciples continue to praise him as a prophet who confessed to a single and very human failing, while others feel betrayed and say the priest and his organization are so hypocritical they have hurt the sacred cause of protecting the unborn. Critics also say that the full story of Euteneuer’s misdeeds has still not been told, and that policies on exorcism must be tightened to prevent further abuses…Exorcism is enjoying something of a renaissance both in popular culture and in the Catholic Church…[J]ust last November, 66 priests and 56 bishops turned out for a two-day seminar sponsored by the American hierarchy to teach clerics about exorcisms and hopefully ease the shortage of priests authorized to formally cast out demons; reports of demonic possession are overwhelming the handful of exorcists in the United States, church officials say.

Euteneuer was one of those few priests with a mandate to conduct exorcisms, and that job, along with his campaign against abortion for HLI (based in Front Royal, Va.), kept him traveling around the country and in demand in conservative Catholic circles…Questions about Euteneuer, a handsome, square-jawed 48-year-old, first arose last August when he abruptly resigned as president of HLI. He had been living in Virginia while heading up the organization, but as a priest of the Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., he was subject to the authority of Bishop Gerald Barbarito, who ordered him back to Florida.

Euteneuer portrayed the move as a return to the life of a parish priest that he had always wanted, and as a much-needed respite from his labors…Fellow conservatives like Deacon Keith Fournier praised him as a “heroic priest” and the board of directors of Human Life International released a statement on Aug. 27 effusively praising Euteneuer for 10 years “of meritorious service to HLI” and for “his leadership, hard work and dedication.”

In reality, however, Euteneuer had been forced to resign after being accused of inappropriate relations with a “young adult woman” on whom he was performing an exorcism.

An interesting story, at many levels. Read the whole thing.

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Tunisia: Some Portents

Cross-posted over at the Corner:

This demonstration in Tunis (report from AFP; extract follows) obviously reflects growing unease:

TUNIS — Hundreds of Tunisians demonstrated Saturday for a secular state following the murder of a Polish priest, verbal attacks on Jews and an attempt by Islamists to set light to a brothel. Rallied by a call on social network Facebook, they gathered in the main Avenue Bourguiba in Tunis waving placards reading, “Secularism = Freedom and Tolerance” and “Stop Extremist Acts”.

“We’ve called this demonstration to show that Tunisia is a tolerant country which rejects fanaticism and to strengthen secularism in practice and in law,” blogger Sofiane Chourabi, 29, said.

Police stood by as military helicopters circled overhead.

Earlier Saturday the Tunisian authorities and the country’s main Islamist movement denounced the murder of the priest who was found dead in the country with his throat slit. Marek Rybinski, 34, was found dead Friday in the garage of the private religious school in the Manouba region near the capital where he was responsible for the accounting.

“The ministry of religious affairs condemns this criminal act and calls on all men of religion and civil society to act with determination to prevent such acts happening again,” the ministry said in a statement carried by news agency TAP…

And then there’s this:

Nearly 100 Egyptians have arrived in Italy in two boats, international migration officials said Wednesday, as fears rose about a wave of people trying to reach Europe because of turmoil in the Arab world…More than 5,330 Tunisians have already arrived the Italian island of Lampedusa, off the coast of Africa.

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The New York Times profiled this website today. Dan Riehl responds:

This article is a lot of hogwash and it causes me to wonder if these specific views of Heather Mac Donald and Razib Khan aren’t driven more by a reactionary response to organized religion, or a God concept, than by a clear understanding of conservatism.

As a child, Razib Khan spent several weeks studying in a Bangladeshi madrasa. Heather Mac Donald once studied literary deconstructionism and clerked for a left-wing judge. In neither case did the education take. They are atheist conservatives — Mr. Khan an apostate to his family’s Islamic faith, Ms. Mac Donald to her left-wing education.

“A lot of religious conservatives say, ‘You can’t be conservative because you don’t believe in God,’ ” said Mr. Khan, 34, who was raised in New York and Oregon but whose grandfather was an imam in Bangladesh. “They say I am logically impossible, and I say, ‘Well I am possible because I am.’ “They assert your nonexistence, and you have to assert your existence.”

Saying one has to be a social conservative to be conservative is not the same thing as saying one must believe in God. Social conservatism is an appreciation of what will happen to the civil society in the face of a collapse of traditional institutions and values. Invariably, the society declines. We see it in single-mothers, otherwise broken families, crime and individuals unwilling to take responsibility for themselves and elsewhere.”

Dan Riehl just assumes that religious conservatism and social conservatism are identical. I said religious conservative for a reason. As I told the reporter for The New York Times, the reason that Secular Right exists in part is because too often right-wingers who are not religious are assumed to be libertarian. We are not necessarily libertarian. I have broad sympathy with many aspects of social conservatism personally, and daresay some of us here at Secular Right are more vigorous in our skepticism of diversity, multiculturalism, and mass immigration than  many religious conservatives.

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Way To Go

[Cross-posted to The Corner]

Taoism (which we are nowadays supposed to write as “Daoism,” though neither spelling is more correct than the other) is the country cousin of major world religions: generally thought to be long on gaudy superstition and short on intellectual content.

There is more to be said about that:  I’ve reported a sympathetic encounter with Taoism here, and Joseph Needham considered Taoism to be the “source of intuitive scientific philosophy” in China. The country-cousin gaudy-superstition side is certainly on display in this Wall Street Journal piece, though:

In December 2008 … Wong Tai Sin introduced its groundbreaking digital initiative: e-praying. Worshipers too busy to visit the temple can send a free e-mail prayer to the temple’s monks via the Sik Sik Yuen website. Monks receive the prayers, filter out hoaxes and print the rest on prayer paper before burning them in the traditional Taoist ritual. Wong Tai Sin says it receives about 30,000 electronic prayers annually, roughly half from Hong Kong and half from abroad.

That iPhone Confession app the Vatican is in a tither about must look positively quaint to the folks at Wong Tai Sin.

[Note please that the subject here is religious Taoism, a different thing from philosophical Taoism, though the two phenomena have considerably interacted. They are denoted by two different words in Chinese: Dao-jiao for the religion, Dao-jia for the school of philosophy. Religious Taoism is a real polytheistic religion, with scriptures, priests, and temples.  It even has a Pope, though there are persistent schismatic tendencies. Nor is it the case that religious Taoism was founded by Lao Tsŭ; it is an autochthonous folk religion, like Hinduism, with no one founder, although, again like Hinduism, it took in much metaphysics from the philosophers.]

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A long post at Discover Blogs where I outline what I perceive to be the fallacies and misrepresentations in the media today about the Egyptian democratic revolution. In particular, I think terms like “secular” and “Islamist” are being used in a very irresponsible fashion.



The 2012 budget: A BS-detector

Why doesn’t President Obama call the Republicans’ bluff?  His 2012 budget ducks any significant entitlement cuts, and ignores the recommendations of his bipartisan deficit commission.  Obama’s budget director explains that the administration is not willing to make the first move into politically risky terrain.  But why not propose meaningful entitlement reform and force the Republicans to take a stand?  If Republican-Tea Party rhetoric of fiscal responsibility is mere posturing, a fiscally responsible Democratic plan would force Republicans into the awkward position of arguing against reform that they have paid constant lip service to.  But if they truly do mean to rein in entitlement spending, they would (in theory) go along with an Obama proposal to make cuts and would share the political heat.   (Of course, Obama himself may not have the slightest interest in cutting the entitlement juggernaut, but still, he has before him a wonderful opportunity to put Republican political rhetoric to the test.)

The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib notes a Pew Research Center poll that suggests that the public ranting over big government is all a show.  Only 12% of those polled this month want to cut Medicare or Social Security spending.   Looks like the Tea Party has its work cut out for it, assuming that its members are not part of that 12%.


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