Free Speech

Bob Geldof was fourteen at the time of the fiftieth anniversary commemoration of the Easter Rising. It revolted him. And I think, how wonderful at that age to see through the militarism and the infantilism of Irish Catholicism- Oh, Father! Yes, Father!

I wish I could say to you that in middle age I have my own opinions, because of my own experiences, but that is not the case; I am far more tolerant of the TERFs because of that peculiar relationship; we pick up our opinions, mostly, from those around us, which is a way of building community and bonding. You are more forgiving and tolerant of those close to you.

Rebellion can be as constricting as conformity, but I hope Sir Bob transcended that.

And it is because of my own experiences: hated and despised, at times, I am conscious of other hated groups. And I want to think the best of people, because I need hope.

In 1966, there were people alive who had fought in the war of independence and the civil war.

I started on this thinking of the question, why make holocaust denial illegal, but not insulting the Prophet Mohammed? I would say, because holocaust denial is linked to holocaust apologia. Because it is false. Lies have to be tolerated in free speech- who would get to say what are the lies?- but not this one.

As for Mohammed-

The tension, for me, is around the harm Islam does, and the way to mitigate that harm. Around the world, a large minority of Muslims believe that human beings have always existed in our present form since the beginning of time, rather than evolved. That is, they have defective means of assessing fact. Though for ordinary living it hardly matters that there are 1011 galaxies and the Earth is four billion years old. More serious is the moral belief. Overwhelming majorities believe homosexuality is wrong, and far too many believe “honour killings” may be justified.

Nothing is sacred, in liberal democracy, above human flourishing. We decide for ourselves what will fulfil us, and pursue it as best we may. Those who have found good ways, flourish, and others follow them. So society progresses.

And to this minority, Mohammed is the foundation and symbol of their way of life. Attack him, and you attack them. It may make them distrust Liberal Democracy more and drive them into greater extremism. This treats them as less than others? No, it treats them as having different and perhaps greater problems than the rest of us. Everyone needs looked after.

I disapprove of images of the Prophet. I am not Charlie. I would not make them illegal. I may change my mind on either of these things.

Right-wing fear

To the library to read the Spectator. It is good to know how weak the arguments of the enemy are, frightening to see it fomenting hatred of immigrants. Roger Scruton, whose column “bad philosophy” is better named than he knows, claims the majority of sexual assaults in Sweden are carried out by Muslims, and claims there is a left-wing cover-up of this.

If you step out of line, and suggest that the culture of an immigrant community might in fact contribute to criminal behaviour, you will be branded a racist — a fault for which accusation is proof of guilt. And if you express outrage at crimes committed by Muslims against women, and hint that Islam might have something to do with it, you will be accused of ‘Islamophobia’.

What is the truth?

If someone commits a crime, it may be reported if it is particularly shocking, but personal characteristics are rarely relevant. That Harold Shipman, a GP, murdered hundreds of his patients should not increase our fear of doctors; if a man is cross-dressed when he sexually assaults a woman I dare to hope that will not increase your fear of me, and one Muslim rapist does not make all Muslim men rapists. In 2014, 6,700 rapes were reported to Swedish police, and there were around 190 convictions. This is shocking, but should not result in a pogrom. There are about 250-350,000 Muslims in Sweden; even if all the rapes were by Muslims, for every rapist there would be about twenty innocent men.

Reporting that Muslims are responsible for the rapes foments hatred for immigrants, including those innocent of any crime. Should anyone need to spell this out?

I googled, and got the predictable far-right fear-mongering. While the rest of Europe struggles to absorb the flood of young male immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, countries may be well advised to look at Sweden for a terrifying glimpse of the future.

Scrotum argues, ordinary people oppose the immigration of other communities when those communities arrive with strange customs and strange gods… This fear is felt by people on the left just as much as by those on the right. ..The left turns against us, whereas the right believes that… we are not to blame for wanting to hold on to our way of life.

We saw this in the days when everyone was afraid of nuclear war. The left insisted that we were to blame by arming ourselves against the threat and that the Soviet Union was simply responding to our aggressive gestures… The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was an expression of fear — fear of the unknown, translated into aggression against the known. 

Perhaps he does not understand, or perhaps he wants his readers not to. Fear leads to violence. Misdirected fear leads to random violence at scapegoats. On the left, when we feel fear we practise calm, rational responses to reduce tension and mitigate violence. The US’s 7000 nuclear weapons are terrifying. We could not directly reduce the USSR’s stockpile; the only way to influence it was to reduce our own.

Hammershoi, moonlight

Safe Spaces II

Transphobic opinions are incitement to violence.

Here is Maryam Namazie’s talk at Goldsmiths. She claims that there is a clear distinction between criticism of Islam, an idea, or Islamism, a political movement, and bigotry against Muslims. However, there is no clear line between fair criticism and dehumanising of  enemies: calling us men is a threat to us.

And she has an essential task, mocking Islam by drawing attention to insane fatwas that the Earth is stationary or that a starving man may eat his wife (no fatwa has been issued that wives may eat husbands); but also speaking out about the execution of rape victims for fornication, or of those who leave Islam. Thirteen countries impose the death penalty for apostasy, she says, though the Library of Congress puts it at eight. Here, Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid argues that death is no less than the apostate deserves. Here, Kashif N. Chaudhry argues that the Koran does not support apostasy laws, but gives freedom of conscience for belief.

Maryam Namazie speaks out for apostates, through the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. I want to support her in this, to encourage people to choose freely whether to believe.

So opinions matter. Opinions can kill. Belief systems include moral beliefs condemning other people.

Waiting around in Accident and Emergency, I saw a white woman enter wearing an Islamic head-scarf, though not a niqab. Others noticed too. “Bin-laden,” sniggered a woman (it was before his murder). Such words might put the apparently Muslim woman in fear and alarm, though there are still taboos against physical assault. A woman who would pull a niqab from another’s face- an assault- might be encouraged by such giggling dehumanising. Or by the expression of opinion one might psyche oneself up to assault.

Here are my own, entirely reasonable opinions on the veil. A woman might freely choose the veil. Anonymity in crowds, or when on business, is desirable. We communicate with our faces, and a poker face is an advantage. A woman might choose the veil out of loyalty to family, or because of the express disapproval of others, and that is the moment where the choice is constrained rather than free. Though human beings are interdependent, and loyalty or the desire to please others are legitimate motivations. The veil is also a clear indication of adherence to Islam.

I agree that much of the belief of Islam- including the belief of many Muslims that apostasy should be punished, even if that belief is not supported by the Koran- is poisonous and harmful. I want to defend the apostates against those who would harm them. That opinion may make a Muslim feel defensive, or encourage someone who would use violence against them.

People form tribes, with loyalty to the group and rejection of the outsider. As we mature, we recognise that no-one should be excluded from the tribe, that everyone is my neighbour. However to reach such a position we need to feel safe.

So gay people and trans people must speak out for the Muslims, even those who would throw us from high buildings. We need them to feel safe too.

As for the Muslim, so for the trans woman. The opinion that I am a man, or that I oppress women, is an excuse for excluding or erasing me. Violet and friends are also discussing Maryam.

Blake, The Blasphemer

Welcome in

The Adoration of the Shepherds, El GrecoChurches have all sorts of ways of ring-fencing ourselves, locking people out, comfortably defining evil as Not-us, Them Over There; but at the heart of Christianity is inclusiveness. Jesus says “Go out and make disciples of all nations” which is impossible if you will not talk to them. All nations are the mission field. As the Jesuits recognised, they listen to you more if you make an effort to listen to them, to see what they value, to speak their language.

Then, there is salvation by grace. Between the saddle and the ground, the man realises that he has done wrong, and he accepts the offer of Christ. He calls on Christ as his saviour. He is in, immediately. However we might disapprove of him, he is one of us now, part of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Muslims have the same idea. The Shahada (testimony) pronounced sincerely to a Muslim is sufficient to make you a Muslim. Say “La ilah illa Allah, Muhammad rasoolu Allah”, meaning “There is no true god (deity) but God (Allah), and Muhammad is the Messenger (Prophet) of God.” Anyone may be included.

Some Christians talk of The Fundamentals- originally the verbal inerrancy of the Bible, the divinity of Jesus, the Virgin Birth, salvation by Penal Substitution (Jesus bears the punishment for our sin) and the physical resurrection of Jesus- but these are inessential. How could it be otherwise? One Christian might see that another’s belief is insufficient, and attempt to educate him, but Jesus admonishes her to first take the log out of her own eye.

A Christian is anyone who follows Jesus, in however idiosyncratic a way.

Christians cannot merely associate with Christians, or with people of whom we approve. Again we have Jesus’ example, associating with foreigners, colonial oppressors, prostitutes, pharisees- anyone willing to talk to him.

Let the one without sin cast the first stone. Inspired by Linuxgal.

British Values

Frederick_Leighton_-_SolitudeIslamic Extremism is a British value: most of the European fighters in Syria are British. There are two kinds of Islamic extremism- those who want armed struggle for the umma, and those who think the world was created less than 10,000 years ago and all unbelievers are going to Jahannam. They overlap but are not the same. Theresa May fails to understand the difference, writing We do, however, need to recognise that many moderate Muslims, as well as people of other religions, believe that covering one’s hair is a religious requirement and some parents will therefore want their children to do so. The text on dress requirements should therefore not be part of the extremism definition.

Michael Gove will require England’s 20,000 primary and secondary schools to actively promote tolerance, fairness, respect for other faiths, and the rule of law and democracy, says the Daily Mail, whose readers imagine that it epitomises Britishness, in its casual racism and loathing for LGBT and benefit claimants. Prejudice, drunkenness and spontaneous violence are British values since before Great Britain was. Any lesson on English culture should include the many uses of the word “fuck”.

“Respect for other faiths” is incompatible with preventing them teaching that Noah is a historical figure, if they want. There is a tension here. Sweeping the difficulties under the carpet is a British value.

Tolerance, a sense of fair play and the stiff upper lip are British values, and so is the hypocritical assertion that these are more British than foreign, or that they are more British than the eye for the main chance. Consider the War of Jenkins’ Ear, fought from 1739-1748 to ensure the lucrative right to sell slaves in Spain’s American colonies. We talked of the White Man’s Burden to civilise India, and indeed we managed to abolish suttee, which I read is the manifestation of the moral goodness (sat) in women.

Pretence is the core British value: we are the good people, shocked and amazed when our bad side comes out. So we have no way of channelling it. Cynical denial of such Good is a reaction to our pretence, necessary to purge it, but leaving us without a moral centre. Though our poets tell us the answer:

Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.

Ah, love, let us be true to one another!

By all means teach tolerance, fairness, respect for others and the myths and metaphors which speak to them, commitment to truth, grace in movement and repose. Children should be taught to come to their own understanding of what is the Good Life, by criticising different views of how to live well. Teach the best virtues of humanity, but not as British rather than Islamic. Fear of the Bogeyman is very British, but never ends well.


pussyWhy have only two scientists from Muslim countries won the Nobel Prize? Is it because Al-Ghazali killed science for Muslims?

I first heard that idea from the Pakistani physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy, in Prospect magazine. As I recalled it, Ghazali had said it was more important to study the Koran than to study the natural world, and scientific endeavour died. So I was pleased to discover The New Atlantis, with its in-depth article accessible to the educated layman. It pits Mu’tazilism against Ash’arism. The former is the creation of al-Mamun, the seventh Abbasid caliph, who died in 833. He opposed a flourishing Byzantine empire, and sought advantage by translating ancient Greek learning for practical use. He also sought power over the religious scholars by contending that the Koran was created, so must be interpreted by human reason, but the Ash’arites believed the Koran was co-eternal with God, and unchallengeable.

By 880, holding Mu’tazilist beliefs was criminal, and Occasionalism was official teaching. It states that God’s will is completely free. That a fire is hot, say, is not because of natural laws but because God wills it, and God could change his mind, making it cold. That it is always hot is a matter of habit, not necessity. Maimonides explained it thus: just as the king generally rides on horseback through the streets of the city, and is never found departing from this habit; but reason does not find it impossible that he should walk on foot through the place.

Some Christians might agree: God is all-powerful. A generally predictable world- nights start getting longer after the winter solstice, for example- is part of God’s good gifts to us, for if things dropped stopped falling we would stop functioning. Though we leave space for miracles. Sustained rationalist attempts even make our chaotic weather patterns more predictable.

Fountain logoAl-Ghazali wrote The Incoherence of the Philosophers, arguing (according to Hillel Ofek in The New Atlantis) that reason, which leads us to discover, question and innovate, was the enemy of piety. Law was similarly ossified: Islam had been a system of government as well as a religion, unlike Christianity which had developed among the poor and excluded. For four centuries, Koran and Hadiths were applied to new situations through argument, or ijtihad; then all important legal questions were regarded as already answered, and new thinking was a crime.

Fortunately,  I googled, and found this defence of Al-Ghazali in The Fountain. The sharp conflict between religion and science is a modern phenomenon, and unnecessary (I am happy as a Christian to accept the theory of evolution). There were scientific achievements in Islamic countries well after Al-Ghazali. Nuh Aydin writes that Ghazali used philosophic techniques to refute philosophic assertions contrary to Islamic doctrine, but accepted the Greeks’ mathematics, astronomical sciences, and logic.

Then I see that The New Atlantis is published by the “Ethics and Public Policy Centre”. I heard of them: ah, yes, a conservative group opposing Roe v Wade and stem-cell research. However attractively presented (I considered a subscription) their articles on gene sequencing or Islam are untrustworthy.

God was not a fun one

ProspectI had this comment:
قل هوالله احد الله الصمد لم يلد ولم يولد ولم يكن لهو كفوان احد

Well. There is always Google translate: Say Hoallah one God Samad begets not and was not a fun one Kovan. From the context, I thought Samad meant LGBT, but in fact it is The Eternal, a name for God. Instead of cursing the gays, he is denying the divinity of Jesus, a doctrine about which I am agnostic. Kovan is more difficult. It is unlikely to mean the suburb and Underground station in Singapore; Google gives me no likely meaning.

I understand that some Muslims believe that the Koran should not be translated: the revelation was in Arabic, and translating it changes the words. Revelation says, If anyone adds anything to [the words of prophecy], God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. In Oldham, the Asian children go to Koran classes after school, and learn the alphabet and how to read it by rote, with little understanding. The trouble is that I do not understand it. If you speak to me, please make some effort to help me understand. I am doing all the work here.

I replied that Jesus is God’s son, and we are God’s children. He said,
السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاتة يا اهل الكتاب تعالو الي كلمة سواء بيننا وبينكم الا نعبد الاالله والانشرك بة شيء فان توليتو فشهدو بانا مسلمون المسيح علية السلام رسول عظيم من رسل الله وفقك الله الخالق لم يحب ويرضا

Google translate gives “Peace, mercy and blessings of God, O People of the Book ĘÚÇáć word to both you and us, but we worship and Alllah Alanscherk expe something the Tlito Vhhdo PANA DurgaMuslims Christ peace be upon him a great messenger of God’s messengers of God the Creator and enabled you did not like and Aarza”. Unhelpful.

They deny that I am a follower of Jesus. Oh. OK. Well, the Koran has Jesus deny his divinity: God will say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, “Worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of God”? He will say: “Glory to thee! Never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, though I have not known what is in thine. For thou knowest in full all that is hidden.

More googling. I found a page which says how Muslims should address Christians: dispute ye not with the People of the Book except with means better (than mere disputation) unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say “We believe in the Revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow. So, perhaps this commenter only wanted to say what he was commanded to say, in the way he was commanded to say it- “I’m right, and you are wrong”. And, having said it, he is absolved from any responsibility for my descent to Jahannam. Oh well. At least he wanted to say something.

Insulting a prophet

File:Gloucester old spots.jpgI found the Innocence of Muslims trailer so disgusting that I do not want to repeat what it said of Mohammed, even as a description of it. A Hizb-ut-Tahrir spokesman said that rules on curtailment of free speech were merely cultural: in Germany, Holocaust denial is a crime. Can we say that the rules are rational, rather than cultural? Should we permit even the most extreme insults of Mohammed?

If Muslims show that such insults will lead to violence, by rioting and murdering an ambassador- even a tiny minority of non-representative Muslims- then arguably the speaker of the insults bears some responsibility for the response. But that is to treat the rioters as less than responsible moral agents, as less than adult; and if the rioters succeeded in preventing such grotesque insults now, they might object to reasoned criticism of the Koran later.

File:Porcs ibériques et chênes.jpgPerhaps not only restrictions on free speech, but also resort to physical violence, is a cultural thing. Indeed the koran exhorts a man to beat his wife if she displeases him and “leaving her alone in the sleeping-places” does not correct her. (It does not exhort a woman to beat her husband in any circumstances.) But use of destructive physical violence where other means can help is a sign of lack of civilisation, and inability to cooperate properly. It is backward. Perhaps this is why Muslims are unable to resist when more advanced cultures invade their lands. God is clearly not on their side. I do not think the invasions are a good thing.

Free speech is how we advance in understanding. It is how the learnings of all can be diffused to all, because if speech is controlled and the controller is stupider than the speaker, we all lose. The price we pay for the greater understanding is tolerating lies and vileness, File:Pigs near Wychwood Farm Cottages.jpgwhich can be limited in their effect by persuasion and derision.

So, telling someone that his concept of “Allah” is worthless, not useful or truthful or even interesting, should not be forbidden but encouraged. Possibly there are useful understandings of God somewhere in Islamic tradition, but they are not to be found in wahhabism or salafism. Also, if God is a useful concept- I believe it is- then human beings increase in our understanding of what God is, and what right conduct is. The thought that there should be one final, all-sufficient revelation in the seventh century is merely ridiculous, and the thought that studying that alleged revelation is more important than gaining knowledge of God’s good creation is what has made Muslim countries so weak and backward. Most of the victims of Muslim violence are Muslim.

Free speech should be limited where it is an immediate call to violence- “That man is a blasphemer, Kill him!” for example. Not File:Tamworth10010.jpgeven all calls to violence should be prevented: we refute Tony Blair’s gung-ho calls for invasion by reason, not by the restriction of his speech. Rabble-rousing is immoral, but calling for the death penalty for the murderers of ambassadors is not, though I happen to disapprove of the death penalty.

I have illustrated this post with some particularly pretty pictures of pigs because I find them beautiful animals. If a Muslim finds my post provoking, it is a sign of his weakness. Look at those piglets! Are they not utterly sweet? And while it might have been sensible not to eat pork in the seventh century, refrigeration and modern, humane (as opposed to antiquated and cruel) forms of slaughter deal with all such problems.

And- Holocaust denial is a wicked lie. There is far more evidence for, say, the Wansee conference than that Mohammed had anything to do with the Arab conquest of Jerusalem. No German born after 1925 has any moral responsibility for it, but all of Europe has a duty to remember the Holocaust.