Archive for September, 2012

Something To Declare

Posted: September 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

There’s a story doing the rounds this week about President Mohammed Morsi of Egypt standing before the UN and calling for ‘cultural limits’ on freedom of speech.

Reportedly answering Obama’s earlier spiel in defence of the first amendment, Morsi said: “We expect from others, as they expect from us, that they respect our cultural specifics and religious references, and not to seek to impose concepts or cultures that are unacceptable to us.”

The Egyptian premier is of course not the first person to endorse, for cultural reasons, a nuanced approach to basic human rights. Many educated people opposed toppling Saddam’s atrocious regime because (as they would sagely argue) it’s not for us to impose our culture on them.

Yet isn’t it rather presumptuous to declare a culture incompatible with freedom of speech? Doesn’t it sound a tinge bigoted to say that a nation’s culture is innately one of repression? In truth, the absence of free expression is the absence of culture. What are the artistic fruits of authoritarian government? The Zhdanov Doctrine, Mein Kampf and the stern, moustachioed posters of Ba’athism?

But still, this chauvinistic assumption that freedom is culturally western lingers. Freedom is considered an import and, like any mass-produced import, is found to be toxic to its quaint, domestic counterparts: demagoguery and tribalism. The assertion that feudal culture is natural to a group, and that it should therefore be preserved, is inherently racist.

So, when arguing against intervention, it’s tenuous at best to accuse those asserting basic human rights of cultural crusading. The logic is tantamount to watching someone getting roughed up in the street and refusing to interpose because ‘that’s their lifestyle choice.’

However, in Mr Morsi’s case, there is no intervention to even speak of. In Egypt, the demand for freedom is home-grown and was at the centre of the revolution that swept him to power; the ‘culture’ of silence he claims for Egypt is self-discrediting. Nor are his claims legitimised by his election victory, given that the choice for Egyptians was between an Islamist promising moderation and the security state that had just been deposed.

This isn’t, though, just a matter of free speech in Egypt. The reason for this debate is the trailer for the movie, Innocence Of Muslims; a 14 minute clip so appallingly crap that even if it wasn’t offensive to Muslims, it would still be offensive to cinematography.  The United States has been asked, in clear violation of the first amendment, to ban it.

Thus what we have is an Egyptian president declaring uninhibited free speech to be culturally western. Then, having argued that other cultures should be respected, asking western culture to self-abnegate.

President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan – appealing to the most reactionary members of his populace – has made similar demands, calling for a worldwide blasphemy law. In effect, he is demanding the right for the religious to be protected from offence. So, if an author publishes a sacrilegious book, there would be legal recourse, but if I get offended by, for example, female circumcision, then it’s a matter of respecting cultural institutions. What happened to legal equality?

In the meantime, the long walk to representation continues for Egypt’s secular community. It’s sad that sometimes those who shout loudest, shout longest.

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A friend once told me, “if you play chess with a chicken, it doesn’t matter what you do, it’ll still flap its wings and crap on the board like it’s won.” Well I’m no Garry Kasparov, but I think I recognise someone crapping all over this debate:

 

A man of distinction, George Galloway is not only my least favourite Scotsman (sorry Mel Gibson) but also the only person I know who arrived at their stance on Syrian intervention simply because it wasn’t America’s. “So what you are asking us to believe” he crows, “is that a revolution supported by McCain, by Lieberman, by Britain, France, America, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar is a revolution for good, for truth?” Well yes, actually. Whatever one may think of the latter nations, the ethical record of Britain, France and America certainly bests that of Assad’s allies: China, Russia and Iran. But even if it didn’t, this would be no defence for the Syrian government. The massacre of protestors is wrong whoever opposes it.

Galloway though, fails to recognise that two parties can share an opinion without supporting each other’s every indiscretion. When a member of the audience protests, “I don’t care what they think in the United States,” Galloway replies, “You say you don’t care about them, but they own you. They’ve already bought you. They already have you in their pocket. They bought you with their money, they bought you with their weapons, they bought you with their international political alignment!”

Now, I can’t speak for the presumably anonymous audience member (though he didn’t seem to be sat on a mountain of Saudi gold) but I know I wasn’t paid to support intervention; there have been no cheques from the US treasury, nor shipments from Lockheed Martin at my door. So how does George address me? Also, how can someone be bought by an international political alignment? “I’d love to support intervention, but I think the coordinated strike force needs more Costa-Ricans. Sorry.”

Having reprimanded the audience member’s vague Faustian pact with the United States, he proceeds to defend his own with Iran: “When did Iran kill the Palestinian people? What did Iran do to kill the Palestinian people? Iran are not even Arabs, but they are feeding the Palestinian people. Whether they have their own project or not, there is food in the bellies of the Palestinian people, coming from Iran.”[1]

It’s unfortunate that George’s solidarity with the Iranian authorities doesn’t seem to extend to the Iranian people themselves. Otherwise, he might have something to say about the forced marriage and rape of condemned female virgins, “lest they go to Paradise” after their executions. A service for which, by the way, the family of the departed are expected to pay the authorities. Then again, I’m not sure how Galloway defines rape, so perhaps this practice is only revolting to “useful idiots the empire can count on.”

Nor does his compassion seem to extend to the British troops fighting Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, whose murderers he refuses to condemn. This is despite his own belief that “it is entirely legitimate to take military measures against Al-Qaeda, which is an obscurantist, fundamentalist, hostile and aggressive, pan-Islamic international terror organisation.”[2] How does he reconcile this contradiction? Laughably, he claims: “We’re not fighting the Taliban; we’re fighting the Afghan people.”[3]

Yet this man supported the Soviet Union, which killed forty times more Afghan civilians than all NATO forces combined. Their legacy in Afghanistan was, he says, “distributing lands to the peasants, building schools and a health service.”[4] They were also, he neglects to mention, laying minefields so innumerable that even today 40 people a month are killed by them.[5] In 2002, Galloway said: “Yes, I did support the Soviet Union, and I think the disappearance of the Soviet Union is the biggest catastrophe of my life.” It seems old habits die hard; even now George endorses the sinister Soviet relic, Vladimir Putin, whose opposition to Syrian intervention he parrots.

Galloway is perpetually on the side of tyranny and the reason why is in the video above. He says: “I am not with the Syrian regime. I am against their enemies because their enemies are worse than them.” Indeed, there is scarcely a crime which Galloway will not attribute to America and its allies. He actually stood before an assembly in New York and said: “You may think that those aeroplanes in this city on 9/11 came out of a clear blue sky. I believe they emerged out of a swamp of hatred created by us.”[6] This man is a member of the British Parliament, ladies and gentlemen.

But even if you do subscribe to this masochistic hogwash, it’s still obvious that Galloway takes the old adage of the enemy of my enemy is my friend a little too far. After all, one can support Syria’s stance on Israel without standing beside its dictator and declaring: “Syria is lucky to have Bashar Al-Assad as her president.”[7] Yet George did this and at a time when Assad’s mercenaries were trying to stamp out the spark of democracy in Lebanon. Likewise, one can oppose American foreign policy without standing before Saddam Hussein and saying: “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.” This Galloway did after supposedly criticising Saddam for human rights abuses in the eighties. Tell me, what context or misunderstanding can nullify these statements?

Galloway strikes the pose of a radical, but history has shown him time and time again to be a reactionary. In the video above, he drowns dissent with his yelling and says, “You make me sick you people, I must tell you.” When people leave, he thanks Allah and announces, “Good, we had our first walk out on our show.” Does this sound like a champion of free speech?

Before he was elected in Bradford, George sent a letter to Muslim locals saying: “God KNOWS who is a Muslim. And he KNOWS who is not… I, George Galloway, do not drink alcohol and never have… I, George Galloway, hold Pakistan’s highest civil awards.”[8] He even had the cheek to say, as a man who once spent Christmas with Saddam Hussein’s deputy, “I tried to save the people of Iraq.” And now he hijacks the name of the Arab Spring, the largest democratic uprising since the lifting of the Iron Curtain, for his election victory!?

If you want to see a real Bradford spring, educate the electorate about George Galloway.


[1] George actually has a show on Iranian state TV, check it out.

[2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUmCkNIiKi0&feature=player_detailpage#t=155s

[3] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUmCkNIiKi0&feature=player_detailpage#t=90s

[4] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUmCkNIiKi0&feature=player_detailpage#t=239s

[5] http://pulitzercenter.org/articles/afghanistan-land-mines-marmul-balkh-province

[6] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLKQGwVkczg&feature=player_detailpage#t=2715s

[7] http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2005/770/re104.htm

[8] http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-q47q0Pwgsn0/T3QZfonHdPI/AAAAAAAAH_M/iA8ub8WX2HY/s1600/Galloway%2BMuslim%2Bletter.jpg

A few nights ago, I watched a debate (yes, this is how I spend my time) on the topic of which better explains reality, theism or atheism? As the latter doesn’t purport to explain anything beyond rejecting the former, one might as well have asked, ‘which tastes better on toast, jam or not jam?’

Still, despite not having a worldview to argue against, religious apologist Frank Turek came out declaring the nebulous atheistic one to be incorrect. How exactly you can prove nothing wrong is beyond me, but Turek’s strategy was apparently to first court the New Jersey audience with provincial in-jokes. Having done that, he argued thusly:  there was a big bang, this was caused by a creator and therefore virgin birth, resurrection, homophobia etc. I wonder if anybody else noticed a missing carriage in that train of thought.

Anyway, having used cosmology to prove the divinity of a two-millennia-old undead Jew, he farts out a charming, New Jersey spin on the Watchmaker argument. The original, William Paley version is this: if you stumble across something like a watch in the middle of a field, you’re not going to assume it just grew naturally – it must have had a creator. In much the same way, could the earth in all its complexity have come into being without a designer? What are the chances?

But then the earth isn’t a watch in the middle of a field. Yes, the earth does (and against remarkable odds) fulfil all the prerequisite conditions for life, but given the sheer number of planets that don’t it’s hardly surprising one got lucky. Richard Dawkins phrases it rather more eloquently than I:

“It has been estimated that there are between 1 billion and 30 billion planets in our galaxy, and about 100 billion galaxies in the universe. Knocking a few noughts off for reasons of ordinary prudence, a billion billion is a conservative estimate of the number of planets available in the universe. Now, suppose the origin of life, the spontaneous arising of something equivalent to DNA, really was quite a staggeringly improbable event. Suppose it was so improbable as to occur on only one in a billion planets. Even with such absurdly long odds, life will still have arisen on a billion planets – of which Earth, of course, is one.”

Of these innumerable dead planets that surround us, it is worth adding that many are not just unfit for life, but fiercely hostile to it. On the moon, for example, the temperature during the day is hot enough to boil water. Christopher Hitchens points out that even on our own planet, which by any measure is unusually friendly to life, 99% of all the species that ever existed are now extinct. Indeed, humanity itself was nearly snuffed out like a soggy birthday candle just 70,000 years ago by a single volcanic eruption.

Crappy designer, if you ask me.

For the Watchmaker analogy to work, our roving theologian would have to be traversing the face of a Daliesque planet made of broken watches, each in a state of such miserable disrepair that it’s unlikely it ever worked. On they would wander, oblivious to the very concept of a watchmaker until, on the furthest island of the remotest archipelago, they find a quietly ticking timepiece unceremoniously dumped amongst the others. Only at the sight of this could they then declare, “yes, there is a watchmaker!”

Yet bear in mind that our celestial watchmaker doesn’t claim credit for just his working design – the earth – but for every silent world around it. This leaves our pious rambler with the uncomfortable question of why a perfect designer needed so much practice before he got it right. Perhaps for the sake of consistency, they could stand in a barren crater on Mars then, struck with awe, say, “…and a rock has a rockmaker!”

This watchmaker argument is a silly one. Why do people still use it?