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Terrorism and the West’s obsession with oil Ken Perrott Apr 21

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I think most people are pleased the authorities captured the suspects for the Boston Marathon bombing – and got one of them alive. There are a lot of issues raised by the Boston events over the last week, and I think this video about the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Centre is of at least tangential relevance.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and the Imam.

We won’t know for some time what the motives of these bombers were, what international links they had and if they received help. But, in other cases involving acts of terrorism in the West by young men from immigrant families, one scenario appears common:

  1. Genuine problems for immigrant communities offer a breeding ground for discontent.
  2. This can cause radicalisation of some young men in the community.
  3. In some Muslim communities there are militant and fundamentalist Imams in the mosques whose teachings help inflame discontent and feed the radicalisation of the youth.
  4. Many, if not a large majority of Muslim Mosques in western countries, have relied on financial support from Saudi Arabia – particularly for their establishment. This is certainly true for New Zealand.
  5. Sometime support is also provided by importing Imams and teachers from Saudi Arabia – often members of fundamentalist sects themselves.
  6. I suspect that more moderate members of the Mosque may tolerate fundamentalist Imams because they respect older conservative members of the community who see value in criticism of western values, etc.

So we can have a quite inflammatory situation. Genuine discontent, radicalisation of youth and militant religious leaders feeding the radicalisation. In some, yes just a few, cases this can lead to terrorist activity. With the ironic aspect that finance to feed this problem comes from the western obsession with oil which has made Saudi Arabia very rich. It has also made the country immune to criticism for the export of militant Islam.

I realise some commenters might accuse me of “Islamophobia” for the above. But isn’t that part of the problem – the denial of criticism? After all, I am not criticising all Muslims, even all disaffected Muslims. I am not criticising the religion (not in this post anyway – but the ability to do so is part of living in a democratic, pluralist society). I am only criticising a situation which has an effect in only a small number of cases – but a dramatic effect.

Yes, I am also aware we have other disaffected communities in our society. We have fundamentalist, radical, priests and ministers in other religions.  That combination can also sometimes lead to terrorist activity, such as the bombing of clinics or murder of doctors. In the past non-religious groups have also promoted terrorism. Let’s not limit our concern just to Islamic terrorism.

But also, let’s not limit our ability to confront such problems by a naive form of multiculturalism which prevents any criticism and sweeps real problems under the carpet.

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Regarding women as animals Ken Perrott Nov 29

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Credit: http://www.elle.fr/

This little shocker comes from the French magazine Elle   – Arabie Saoudite : les femmes pistées lorsqu’elles quittent le pays. Yes, the original is in French but here’s some extracts from the article translated by Google.

Saudi women are denied even a bit more freedom last week as the “Europe 1″ radio reported that the Saudi authorities have implemented an electronic system that can alert families when these women leave the kingdom. Their “guardian” – in most cases their father, brother or uncle – are now notified by SMS when they go abroad.

This initiative reduces women to the status of slave was criticized on Twitter by Manal al-Sharif, an activist who fights for his country women can drive, they do not currently have the ability do. She was informed by a couple who went on a journey. The husband, who was with his wife received a text message from the immigration informing him that his wife was about to leave the international airport of Riyadh (capital of Saudi Arabia). ” backwardness “” Authorities use the technology to monitor women “, denounced the AFP novelist and columnist Badriya al-Bishr. He added: “This is the technology for a mentality backward. They want to keep prisoners. Government had better take care of those subject to domestic violence,” she concluded.

How does this system work? Are all women implanted with an electronic chip? Or does their passport information automatically initiate the warning?

Whatever the system it just shows how religious extremism (and often the not so extreme) ends up treating women like non-human animals.

This has to stop Ken Perrott Oct 10

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I am currently reading Salman Rushdie’s new book – Joseph Anton: A Memoir
It describes Rushdie’s life since the fatwa against him was declared on February 14 1989 – Valentines Day. This was the day he was “sentenced to death” by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini for his novel The Satanic Verses. This fatwa is still in place – Rushdie says he still receives a “sort of Valentine’s card” from Iran each year on 14 February letting him know the country has not forgotten the vow to kill him. He said, “It’s reached the point where it’s a piece of rhetoric rather than a real threat.” Still, a semi-official religious foundation in Iran recently increased the reward it had offered for the killing of Rushdie from $2.8 million to $3.3 million dollars.

One might have thought after 24 years this would be old news, the book should more a contribution to the historical record and not a best seller. Sadly, this is not so. Other authors have received similar fatwas or had been assassinated -  such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Tahar_Djaout, Farag FoudaAziz Nesin, Ugur Mumcu and Taslima Nasreen. Religious violence erupted again recently over a silly US video about Islam. A 14 year-old Pakistani girl, Malala Yousufzai’, was recently shot for he public stand against extremist Taliban militants who used fear and intimidation to prevent girls attending schools. People are still dying. The issue hasn’t gone away.

It’s worth reading this week’s NZ Listener. It has an interesting interview with Rushdie and its front cover declares:

“Religious fanaticism has to stop.”

I think that is an important message and more and more people are coming to that conclusions.

Irony and gossip

Joseph Anton may be Rushdie’s best book. Mind you it probably depends on genre preferences. But it’s certainly about a very important issue and an important time in history. Rushdie also brings to the book his skill with colourful language obvious in his novels. But he also writes humorously and with much irony. There was certainly a lot to be ironic about. Prince Charles was one of his critics – complaining about the cost to the nation of Rushdie’s security. The author Ian McEwan told Spanish journalists: “Prince Charles costs much more to protect than Rushdie and has never written anything of interest.”

Of course his narrative is “one side” of the story, and this may be relevant when he writes about personal disputes and conflicts, but that is what we must expect of a memoir.

At over 600 pages some readers may hesitate but the important story, the lively writing, the personal and political conflicts, and, above all, the psychological stress the author undergoes makes the length irrelevant. Readers will probably wish it was longer.

So where does the name Joseph Anton come from? Early on Rushdie’s security team asked for a new name. One they could use continually for him and thus prevent mistaken reference to him in public. He chose the first names of the writers Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov. And in keeping with the change of name he writes the book in the third person. A device which, he claims, helped his writing, but which occasionally makes the reader stop and think when they encounter pronouns in situations involving several people.

I highly recommend the book. It’s surprisingly relevant to today’s situation (unfortunately) and will even satisfy those who love to gossip.

See also:
Salman Rushdie’s new book, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s reaction
Rushdie Relives Difficult Years Spent in Hiding
Life During Fatwa: Hiding in a World Newly Broken
Muslim Rage & The Last Gasp of Islamic Hate

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People saying stupid things on the Internet Ken Perrott Sep 20

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I saw this young Muslim women on the TV news last night. She was demonstrating against the US over that silly video. The interview asked her _”but don’t you believe in freedom of expression.

Her answer – “Yes, but not when it comes to religion!”

My response – grow up!

That’s why I like this little skit on the current situation (thanks to YouTube video mocking Atheism greeted with global disinterest by Atheists).-  I think there are some lessons in it:


A YouTube video mocking followers of science and those who discount the probability of omnipotent deity, has resulted in complete indifference throughout the Atheist community.

Theist comments on the video claim that the video will see “atheists burning down churches the world over!” have been met with blank stares by people who consider themselves ‘atheist’.

Non-believer Simon Williams told us, “I’m not sure what reaction they were expecting, but I’m afraid people saying stupid things on the Internet doesn’t really bother me.”

“What with me being a grown adult and everything. Tantrums haven’t really been my thing since puberty.”

“Do I want to kill the people behind it? No, of course not.”

“Though I would like to give them a few science lessons that didn’t end with the conclusion ‘God must have done it’.”

“But I’m not hopeful.”

Youtube video protests

The maker of the video has gone into hiding claiming that Atheist disinterest in his film has infringed his religious freedoms.

The unnamed producer explained, “It says quite clearly in a passage of one of my holy books – a passage that is definitely open to interpretation in the way that I want – that I must take the fight to non-believers – and yet here you all are refusing to fight.”

“You are oppressing my religious freedom to claim religious oppression.”

“What will it take?! Why can’t you at least throw a rock at me or something?”

“It’s almost like you’re suppressing the evil inside each of you in order not to look like dicks.”

“I’m guessing you get the strength from the Devil himself.”

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Approaching a Middle East peace Ken Perrott Sep 14

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Came across this song of Tim Minchen’s Peace Anthem For Palestine.

Actually think he might be on to something

Atheists aren’t shrill — just disgusting? Ken Perrott Sep 14

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Perhaps the common hostile reaction to the so-called “new atheists” (or gnus) is more a matter of the disgust in the eye or brain of the beholder than any “stridency” or “shrillness” on the part of the atheist. Well, that’s what the recently published work of Ritter and Preston suggests (see  Gross gods and icky atheism: Disgust responses to rejected religious beliefs).

They used groups of Christians as subjects in two experiments to test the effect of reading material from their own group (bible) and outgroup (Muslim and atheist) sources on feelings of disgust. This was evaluated by rating  responses to  a drink before and after copying a passage from these sources.

From the paper’s abstract:

“In Experiment 1, Christian participants showed increased disgust after writing a passage from the Qur’an or Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, but not a control text. Experiment 2 replicated this effect, and also showed that contact with an ingroup religious belief (Christians copying from the Bible) did not elicit disgust. Moreover, Experiment 2 showed that disgust to rejected beliefs was eliminated when participants were allowed to wash their hands after copying the passage, symbolically restoring spiritual cleanliness. Together, these results provide evidence that contact with rejected religious beliefs elicits disgust by symbolically violating spiritual purity.”

I guess this explains this strange knee-jerk effect I have observed among Christian apologists. Just the mention of the word “Dawkins” in any discussion sends them off at a tangent. The reactions are clearly emotional, and not rational. So it does seem logical that these emotional responses utilise common intuitions or feelings – and disgust is the obvious one.

Now, I don’t suggest this phenomenon is restricted to only Christians, or even just the religious. (Although i suspect religious believers may be more prone to emotions related to purity and disgust).  I think we are all prone to react emotionally rather than logically when encountering anything conflicting with our beliefs. So I think the authors are right to conclude that disgust plays a role in the protection of beliefs, especially beliefs which hold moral value.

This paper is discussed in more detail by  Tom Rees at Epiphenom (see Is The God Delusion more disgusting than the Koran?). His discussion includes figures from the paper.

Perhaps next time I find a Christian apologists getting distracted by Richard Dawkins and The God Delusion during a discussion I should recognise they are suffering from disgust, rather than producing any logical argument. Maybe I should then suggest they go away and wash their hands before continuing our discussion.

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Evolution and education — advice for teachers Ken Perrott Sep 08

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Creationists have far less influence in New Zealand than they do in the US. Still, quite a large proportion of Christians here do not accept evolutionary science. So, I imagine, their wish to undermine the teaching of evolutionary science sometimes becomes an issue, for some teachers.

Here’s a couple of videos prepared by the US National Center for Science Education (NCSE) which does a great job in the US. They are of a talk given by NCSE programs and policy director Steve Newton to an audience of high school teachers from across the US.

Steve covers questions like:

  • What challenges do biology teachers face from creationists?
  • How do you respond to students asking the “10 questions”?
  • What are the different flavors of creationist belief?
  • And other issues.

Teaching evolution in a climate of science denial, Part 1.

Part 2: Teaching evolution in a climate of science denial, Part 2.

See also: NCSE YouTube Channel

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Breivik’s terrorism and science Ken Perrott Jul 26

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People gather around a makeshift memorial outside the Domkirken church in Oslo on July 25, 2011 where a minute of silence was observed. Photographer: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

OK, the connection between the Norwegian terrorism and science may not be immediately obvious. And I don’t refer here to the chemistry of his bomb manufacture (which he relates at length in his compendium).

No, I refer to his attitude towards science as demonstrated by the little tirade in the compendium about climate change (see Chapter 2.72: Green is the new red – Stop Enviro-communism.)

Here he presents climate science as having an agenda “to contribute to create as world government lead by the UN or in other ways increase the transfer of resources (redistribute resources) from the developed Western world to the third world.” He calls it the “Anthropogenic Global Warming scam.” He recommends a video starring our old friend Christopher Monckton. And presents the classical denier rave about “climategate.”

It’s all stuff we had heard before – and actually local climate change denier Ian Wishart presents this very same conspiracy in his book Air Con (which I reviewed in Alarmist con).

And that is the thing about his compendium. it mostly reads like a cut-and-paste from conservative websites, blogs and forums. Sure, he may have added a little in terms of a programme to assassinate many people throughout Europe, listing organisations and political parties he targets. And the explicit threat or programme of violence is not usually articulated in those conservative sources. But his whole justification is based on that conservatism and the conservative issues like anti-communism, climate change denial, promotion of patriarchy and theocracy and opposition to liberalism and feminism. These conservative issues have fed his hatred, advocacy of violence and assassination programme.

I am actually intrigued that almost all the local blogs who have in the past promoted the ideas covered by this compendium have been strangely silent on the terror in Norway. There hasn’t (so far) been a squeak of condemnation or comment from the usual list of climate change denier and conservative Christian blogs. It must be embarrassing for them to see such an inhuman terrorist advocating for the same issues they have in the past.

Conservative “catalysts”

But there have been commentators who have argued in support of Breivik’s ideas. Usually they start by clarifying that they are opposed to the murder and terrorism, “, but . . . .!.” As a mate of mine used to say you can usually ignore everything that comes before the word “but.”

For example, a commenter here claims “the ’multi-cultural’ issue has provided the catalyst for this act.’  I bet conservatives throughout Europe are doing the same thing – opportunistically using this dreadful event to argue their extreme approach to the cultural problems in Europe. Fortunately the Norwegians have adopted a far more adult and humane response – and most people admire them for it.

This “catalyst” argument can, and probably will, be used on all these issues – feminism, religion, climate change, immigration, religious privilege, etc., – to divert the discussion onto conservative hobby horses. And away from the immense and real problem of hatred and terrorism.

And if we want to look for real catalysts none of these issues really qualify. The real catalyst for Breivik’s terror is the climate of conservative hatred that is so often promoted on these issues. The “them vs us” mentality promoted on issues like feminism, politics, reproductive rights, family, climate change, etc.

It’s not a terrifically big step to go from Christopher Monckton’s advocacy of prosecuting climate scientists and imprisoning the to the final solution – assassination of one’s political foes, even those with the same ethnicity and religion. Even children or teenagers (as in the Labour Party camp on Utøya).

So you don’t have to

Breivik has been very clever in preparing and making his compendium freely available before his acts of terror. He obviously fantasised that these ideas could lead to popular support for a patriotic, conservative, European revolution.

I certainly hope it has the opposite reaction. Once people see these relatively populist conservative issues connected with sich inhumane terror, surely this will help discredit those ideas? (Perhaps that’s why the local conservative bloggers are so quiet). So in a sense I think it is worth becoming familiar with his programme.

Few people will bother reading this tedious 1500 page document but much of it will be repeated on the internet and in newspapers. I recommend anyone interested to follow JeffSharlet (@JeffSharlet) on twitter. he is currently reading, and briefly reporting on, that document. Follow the tag  #ReadingBreivik. Sharlet is a published author – I recommend his books C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy and The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.  Jeff will probably be writing some in-depth articles on Breivik and there is rumour of a Blogging Heads interview.

Breivik has made problems of “multi-culturalism” worse

Finally, Sam Harris makes some valid points in his blog post Christian Terrorism and Islamophobia. He is critical of the presentation of  as a “Christian fundamentalist.” He is clearly a cultural Christian and advocates elements of theocracy and religious discrimination. But his writing don’t across as that of a fundamentalist. Clearly conservative and anti-Islam.

But that introduces another problem. There are religious and cultural problems in Europe. There is a lot of Islamophobia. The later makes proper discussion of these problems difficult. A simple discussion of religious privilege, problems of Sharia law, tax exemptions, faith schools, etc., can cause a naive liberal response involving charges of islamophobia.

So the diversionist tactic promoting the idea that the cause of this terrorism is the “catalyst” of Islam or “multi-culturalism” will only increase the reluctance to sensibly discuss these issues.

As Sam says: “the final irony of Breivik’s despicable life is that he has made that truth even more difficult to speak about.”

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American Imams supporting evolutionary science Ken Perrott May 30

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London Imam Usama Hasan

New Scientist has reported a campaign for Islamic teachers, or Imams, to sign an open letter declaring that there is no clash between their religious faith and evolution (see American Muslim clerics sign up for evolution).

The text of the letter is:

Literalists of various religious traditions who perceive the science of evolution to be in conflict with their personal religious beliefs are seeking to influence public school boards to authorize the teaching of creationism. We, the Imams of the mosques, see this as a breach in the separation of church and state. Those who believe in a literal interpretation of scriptural account of creation are free to teach their perspective in their homes, religious institutions and parochial schools. To teach it in the public schools would be indoctrinating a particular religious point of view in an environment that is supposed to be free of such indoctrination.

We, the undersigned Imams of the mosques, assert that the Qur’an is the primary source of spiritual inspiration and of values for us, though not for everyone, in our country. We believe that the timeless truths of the Qur’an may comfortably coexist with the discoveries of modern science. As Imams we urge public school boards to affirm their commitment to the teaching of the science of evolution. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.

Sign Up Now!

If you are an imam and would like to sign The Clergy Letter Project’s Imam Letter, please fill out the form by clicking here.

The Imam Letter, follows on from the similar Christian  Clergy Letter which was launched in 2006 and now has 12,725 signatures. Three years ago the Jewish Rabbi Letter, which has 476 signatures, was launched.

This letter is topical and I hope it is successful. Back in March a London Imam, Dr Usama Hasan, who is also a physics lecturer at Middlesex University and a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, was threatened after presenting a lecture on ’Islam and the theory of evolution’ at his East London mosque, Masjid al-Tawhid. (see Acceptance of science — dangerous for some and Imam fears ‘nutters’ could kill him for preaching evolution).

 

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Acceptance of science — dangerous for some Ken Perrott Mar 07

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In the UK The Independent is reporting that a Muslim scientist is being threatened for his acceptance of evolutionary science (see Scientist Imam threatened over Darwinist views). The scientist is Dr Dr Usama Hasan, a physics lecturer at Middlesex University and a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. His “crime” – he delivered a a lecture on “Islam and the theory of evolution” at his East London mosque, Masjid al-Tawhid.

Dr Usama Hasan, a physics lecturer, has received death threats from extremists – Credit The Independent

His lecture was disrupted by fanatics who distributed leaflets claiming that “Darwin is blasphemy”. Dr Hasan told The Independent: “One man came up to me during the lecture and said ‘You are an apostate and should be killed’” .

Hasan has now been forced to retract his claim that evolutionary science is compatible with Islam. His father has also issued a statement to the mosque saying: “”I seek Allah’s forgiveness for my mistakes and apologise for any offence caused.” And his family has urged him not to return to the mosque, where he is a prominent imam, because of their concern for his safety.

Memories of Galileo

This reminds me of the Galileo affair, where the Roman Inquisition extracted a retraction from Galileo of his support for a heliocentric solar system – and then placed him under house arrest for the rest of his life.

Dr Hasan’s situation is possibly not so common in democratic societies like the UK. But I imagine that even amongst some of the less extreme Christian communities there could well be more subtle pressure applied to prevent scientists honestly expressing their views on such questions. For example, recent surveys indicate that many science teachers in the USA are pressured not to teach evolutionary science, or to substitute creationism. Even in New Zealand I have heard of clergy who are unwilling to clearly express their acceptance of evolutionary science because of the attitudes of their congregations.

These sort of modern day examples of religion interfering with scientific ideas should not be ignored. Currently there are Christian apologists actively promoting the idea that there is no conflict between science and religion. Even rewriting the history of the Galileo affair. And one of their tactics is to talk about a discredited “conflict hypothesis” or “conflict myth.” Anyone discussing the conflicts between science and religion is accused of claiming  “religion is and always has been at odds with science.” And the inevitable examples of conflicts, like the above, are blamed on “atheist scientists.”

Science – religion conflict

Currently I am reading Elaine Howard Eckland’s book Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think. It basically deals with the situation in the US describing examples of scientists with different religious beliefs, their numbers, experiences and attitudes. My impression is that it is more sympathetic to the  religious scientist than the non-religious (hardly surprising as it is based on research funded by the Templeton Foundation). However I will hold off my judgements for my review in a few weeks time.

But from my own professional experience I am aware that some New Zealand scientists are religious. Not just Christian – I worked with scientists who were Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, agnostic and atheists. And those were only the owns I was aware of. We rarely discussed these beliefs and they usually did not interfere with our work. Discussions were always respectful. (The only clear conflict I saw was the case of a Christian who came to work with us on one of the unemployment relief schemes. He didn’t last long because he couldn’t accept anyone who “took his Lord’s name in vain.” This may have also explained why he was unemployed to begin with).

So clearly our experience in New Zealand is that there is not an inevitable conflict between science and religion. Religion and science are not “always at odds.” In fact many scientists are capable of holding religious views – they just don’t introduce them into their science. This is unsurprising. After all there are scientists who hold all sorts of beliefs inconsistent with science. I knew scientists who believed in astrology or who fancied their chances in Lotto. Maybe there are even scientists who support Ken Ring’s non-scientific ideas. I even knew one scientist who was a member of the ACT Party!

Humans are certainly capable of holding contradictory beliefs in their head at the same time. We just use compartmentalisation. We probably all do it.

But conflict inevitable

However, there is a sense in which there is an inevitable conflict between science and religion. After all they differ in their approach to reality, their epistemology. Science is based on evidence and reason, and testing of ideas against reality. Religion is based on faith and revelation. Ideas may be tested against dogma, but generally not against reality.

Many people are capable of compartmentalisation such different beliefs systems – but obviously not all. Consequently we do get cases like the threats to Dr Hasan and interference with children’s’ education in the US and elsewhere. There is public criticism of scientist who don’t acquiesce to the demands of some religious leaders – the theological attacks on Stephen Hawking over his recent book (with co-author Leonard MlodinowThe Grand Design are an example.

So despite the fact that normally religious views don’t intrude into scientific research there will be areas of conflict from time to time. There will also be times when people can honestly discuss or debate their difference, express this conflict, without being offended or disturbed by it.

The real situation is not a simple-minded as that which the Christian apologists wish to portray. There is a conflict between science and religion. That is inevitable given their different epistemologies. But that conflict is not manifested in every situation and always. People do get along.

The apologists “no conflict thesis” is false. Just as is their portrayal of a mythical “conflict thesis” in which “religion is and always has been at odds with science.”

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