Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Celebrating Diversity

Why not finish off the year with another pleasurable rant by Pat Condell, "Celebrating Diversity"?
I agree with pretty much everything he says here, including his take on the Chinese. They set up Chinatowns in all major cities to which they emigrate, and while they are quite separate and distinct, they are still open and welcoming.  Moreover, they don't attempt to impose their culture on the host culture, unlike some others of a certain religious persuasion...
Enjoy, with wishes for a Happy -- and Diverse -- New Year!

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Escape from Camp 14: the true North Korea and the grotesqueries of Rodman's visits

I've just read a fabulous book, "Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West".  It's a quick read -- one night for me on the Kindle -- and I wish I'd had it before I went to the North: four visits in the middle 1980s to do trade in coking coal (ironically, the trade that is said to have done for Kim Jong Un's uncle).  We also bought some product into Australia from the North, to try to generate foreign currency for them, so they could buy more coking coal -- we developed new products for them, electric fencing insulators and metal fencing posts, both of which are consumed in vast quantities in Australia, much more than our modest population would indicate, for we are a vast country that needs a lot of fencing.
We did that business, very successfully, until we tweaked the tail of the "Big Aussie", BHP, which had distribution around Australia, principally through the Elders Group.
BHP was worried enough about our inroads to their monopoly that they told their distributors to stop buying from us, or else....
In our dealings with officials from the North, in Pyongyang and the port city of Chongjin, we came to various conclusions about our business partners, a principal insight being that they all lied, to a man and woman.  We concluded they lied for they -- the lucky elite -- did indeed know that they were not living in a "Workers' Paradise", that the whole concept of "Juche" was a pile of crock that had been fed to them since childhood, so what was lying to foreigners?  Nothing, just a means of getting the upper hand.  At least for a while.
For while we, a small outfit, selling them coking coal, demanded that we be paid with so-called "Confirmed Letters of Credit" (that is, confirmed payment by a reputable international bank), later entrants to the business including a large outfit called Kembla Coking Coal Ltd, bought into the assurances of North Koran traders that they could count on simple Letters of Credit (not confirmed: so that you're counting on a North Korean Bank to make good on the payment).
The KCC people took our business away -- profitable and fun business it was, too -- by shipping coking coal under simple Letters of Credit.  We took some grim satisfaction -- schadenfreude, surely -- in the fact that KCC never got paid for about 8 shipments before they wised up that the wouldn't ever get paid.  So the North's tricks and lies only worked short time.
Back to the book: there's a lot of insider knowledge of how the country works and how its elite live and work.  I wish I'd had it when we were there in those 1980s days.
Five stars from me.  Kindle it now.
Meantime, Dennis Rodman is pimping it up in North Korea, calling the place -- and its portly tyrant --  "Cool, really cool".  No it's not; it's grotesque, Dennis.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

"Taxpayers will foot bill for sharia banking"

The South China Morning Post ran my letter on the 17th:
Taxpayers will foot bill for sharia banking
Vikas Mohammed Khan ("Global financial centre can't afford to ignore Islamic banking", December 7), replying to my letter ("No place for 'sukuk' bonds in HK market", November 22) claims that my saying sharia banking is inefficient is "hardly credible, especially in the light of the 'efficiencies' of Wall-Street-type banking".
But whether or not Western banking is inefficient is irrelevant to the contention that sharia banking is inefficient. Many experts in sharia banking, including professors Timur Kuran and Mahmoud El-Gamal, attest to its inefficiencies.
None of this would matter if it did not affect those who don't wish to avail themselves of sharia banking, but it does. Hong Kong taxpayers will end up paying for that inefficiency. The government plans to give tax breaks to sharia banking, since it can't stand on its own without such exemptions. This affects all Hong Kong residents, as the foregone taxes are money that could be spent elsewhere.
Surely this deserves our attention. Or should we simply accept that tax exemptions are to be given to religiously mandated financing without examination? We should ask if it's right for our government to encourage inefficiencies by providing tax breaks at our cost.
Western banking has come under close scrutiny and regulation, especially since 2008. Sharia banking ought to be subject to similar scrutiny and debate, without it being characterised as "Western hype regarding Islam".
Mr Khan says I'm "fatuous" in connecting Islamic financing with a "global religious conspiracy". I did not say there was a "conspiracy". I said it was openly an "Islamist programme", not by my judgment, but by the clear statements of Islamic leaders including Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who calls it "jihad with money". If Mr Khan denies that, he ought to direct his remarks to such gentlemen, rather than to me, I am simply reporting them.
Peter Forsythe, Discovery Bay

Friday, 20 December 2013

Islam vs. Islamism: A PBS documentary that almost got killed

This documentary was posted by Tarek Fatah, who is a well-known critic of Islam and Islamism, a talk-show host based in Canada.  For those not following Islamic issues closely, there is a big and ongoing debate in the community critical of aspects of Islam, as to whether it is right to differentiate between "Islam" and "Islamism": on the one side those who say that "Islam is Islam" (which includes -- ironically, along with many others in the counter-jihad community -- Erdogan, the PM of Turkey); and on the other side those who say that there's the Islam of the majority of peaceful Muslims, and then there's the Islam of extremists, who they call "Islamists".  In its most extreme form the split is: (a) all Muslims are to be suspect because they adhere to an inherently violent religion and (b) Islam is a "Religion of Peace", while Islamists are "hijacking", "twisting", "misunderstanding" or "misrepresenting" it.
I'm rather of the former category, though not at the extreme end of it. That is, the doctrines of Islam -- the Islamic trinity -- are clear and unambiguous, as are the actions of millions of its adherents over its history.  Yet clearly there are many Muslims who don't act in accordance with those tenets. I recall being in northern Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt in 2011, where most people are Muslim. Yet when the call to prayer went out, five times a day, no-one budged: they kept on with whatever they were up to.  In any case, it seems to me that even if there is only "Islam is Islam", nevertheless we ought to act as if there is the split, for that is the only way to counter it, at least so it seems to me.  Quite simply: We can't take on the whole of Islam.  Or, at least, politicians will not do so, and to expect that is simply unrealistic.
That's what led Prince Charles to make his recent statements about Islamism. And the comments on that post illustrate the tensions between the two views, where there are those in camp (a) and those in camp (b) and shades between.
We need, in short, to ally the counter-jihad efforts with those of Muslims such as Fatah, Dr Zuhdi Jassar quoted in the film, who seek to fight the supremacism of Islam, to counter their violent co-relegionists and seek to find within Islam reasons for a more peaceable religion.  For even if their task is Sisyphian, it seems to me it's the only hope to counter the resurgence of an Islam bent on bringing Sharia to the world.
The documentary titled “Islam vs. Islamists,” was produced by ABG Films with $675,000 in public funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It was originally slated to run as part of PBS’ “America at a Crossroads” series. However, after viewing the film PBS executives told the filmmakers that it was “alarmist” and “overreaching” and that PBS would not run it.
The film follows moderate Muslims who have challenged the “Islamists” who espouse a more radical view of their religion. The film shows the Islamists advocating, among other things, the imposition of Sharia law on Muslims in the West, the stoning of women who commit adultery, and even violence and terrorism.
Read the rest..

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

"The Real Problem With the American Studies Association's Boycott of Israel"

Interesting take by Peter Beinart in the Daily Beast, on the recent decision by the American Studies Association to boycott Israel...
It’s OK for the American Studies Association to judge the country with a double standard. Denying the legitimacy of a democratic Jewish state is another story.
The money shot:
The best argument against the ASA’s boycott isn’t about double standards or academic freedom. It’s about the outcome the boycott seeks to produce. The Association’s boycott resolution doesn’t denounce “the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.” It denounces “the Israeli occupation of Palestine” and “the systematic discrimination against Palestinians,” while making no distinction whatsoever between Israeli control of the West Bank, where Palestinians lack citizenship, the right to vote and the right to due process, and Israel proper, where Palestinians, although discriminated against, enjoy all three. That’s in keeping with the “boycotts, divestments, and sanctions” movement more generally. BDS proponents note that the movement takes no position on whether there should be one state or two between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. But it clearly opposes the existence of a Jewish state within any borders. The BDS movement’s call for “respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties” denies Israel’s right to set its own immigration policy. So does the movement’s call for “recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality”, which presumably denies Israel’s right to maintain the preferential immigration policy that makes it a refuge for Jews. Indeed, because the BDS movement’s statement of principles makes no reference to Jewish rights and Jewish connection to the land, it’s entirely possible to read it as giving Palestinians’ rights to national symbols and a preferential immigration policy while denying the same to Jews.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

How sweet!.... Airline staff's airport flash mob springs a seasonal surprise

After two weeks of rehearsals, Cathay Pacific crew members give an impromptu
dance performance at the arrivals hall of Chek Lap Kok airport. Photo K.Y. Cheng
As the tune of All I Want for Christmas is You rang out across the arrivals hall of Chek Lap Kok airport, several flight attendants suddenly broke into dance, springing a surprise on travellers and passers-by.
About 300 other Cathay Pacific Airways pilots, cabin crew and ground staff suddenly joined in, forming a sea of red, twisting and twirling in unison to several Christmas songs.
The festive entertainment yesterday marked the culmination of seven rehearsals in the past two weeks - including one in the middle of the night at the airport - which the dancers had managed despite their busy flying schedules.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Moderate Malaysia: slouching towards Medina

Not a good time to be one of the 1/3rd of Malaysians who are not Muslim Malay:
From The Malay Mail Online:
"The next general election [in Malaysia] will be all about Islam".

From which, /snip:
It is a relatively good time to be an Islamist in this country.
If signs are to be believed, it is only a matter of time until Malaysia becomes a full-fledged Islamic country, just like how it was meant to be.
"Which version of Islam will dominate Malaysia".

The moderates are worried, but seem incapable of a counter to the Islamisation of Malaysia.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

The UK confronts Islam

With thanks to RuthfullyYours blog (a new one to me), comes this rather good article by Daniel Greenberg, which I'm posting in full below, in case the link goes dead.  Related is a court side report: "Muslim London beheader Loves Al Qaeda...", also by Daniel Greenberg.

Article begins:
A century ago the murder of a British soldier in broad daylight in London would have been an act of war. In this post-imperial and post-everything age, an atrocity leads to a task force which produces a report which is then filed in a desk drawer by the undersecretary for something or other.
Like clockwork, the murder of Lee Rigby led to a task force and to a report. The report is 7 pages long. It’s possible to read it in much less than the twenty minutes that it took London police to respond to the murder in progress. You could even get through it a few times in real time while a Muslim convert who describes himself as a soldier of Allah saws away at a fallen Englishman’s head with no one to stop him.
There is a thing that organizations say when they know that they are hip deep in a crisis. They say that “we are taking this seriously.”
The report, “Tackling Extremism in the UK” certainly takes matters seriously. The evidence of that is not so much in the report, as in the task force which included the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, four Secretaries of State, three Ministers, one Chancellor, one Lord Chancellor and a partridge in a pear tree.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Sharia finance: Letters tussle

Cloudy with a chance of Sharia
As I expected, my letter of 22nd November on Sharia finance has elicited reaction.
First, the letter [PDF] from Vikas Mohammed Khan, followed by my rebuttal letter sent to the South China Morning Post this morning.

Peter Forsythe denounces Islamic banking practices as being "the work of global Islamists" ("No place for 'sukuk' bonds in HK market ", November 22).
The adjective "Islamic" refers to rules of procedure (as "kosher" refers to Judaic procedures for food and is commonly patronised by Muslims overseas, not only by Jewish people). It is simply advertising to buyers that here is a product which is of a certain nature. The word "halal" would do just as well. The fundamental premise is that money not be allowed to grow by time alone, i.e., by interest. The lender must accept some risk in the venture being financed.
It also makes foreclosure on "pledged" assets somewhat difficult, and is in general more lenient towards the borrower than conventional debt.
Islamic financing tries to, or is at least designed to, link social benefits to purely monetary ambitions, which is hardly a bad thing in the "me-my" culture of today. Let us not denounce it just because it is associated with the current Western hype regarding Islam.
The ethos of Islamic financing is related to the concept of social justice, and is not limited to Islam: the Old Testament categorically forbids interest. Several Catholic popes have historically condemned the practice, as have Plato, Gautama Buddha, Moses, and Thomas Aquinas, among others.
Philosophy aside, on a fully practical note there is obviously a large population of Muslims worldwide, and therefore Islamic financing is seen by some banks and financial institutions as a good market (US$1.3 trillion by some estimates). Hong Kong is now trying to actively tap into this market, and very rightly so, in my opinion.
At 1.62 billion, Muslims are 23 per cent of the world's population, and more than 40 per cent of Southeast Asia's. As a global financial centre, without any doubt Hong Kong must try to attract this large and growing market. You can hardly be a global centre while ignoring a quarter of the world and almost half your largest neighbouring region.
Mr Forsythe is plainly fatuous in connecting Islamic financing to some global religious conspiracy. His labelling of Islamic financing as "inefficient" is hardly credible, especially in light of the "efficiencies" of Wall-Street-type banking practices as seen over the last few years.
Vikas Mohammed Khan, Mid-Levels
My rebuttal, with a preface to John Lee, the Letters Editor of the South China Morning Post:
Dear John,
I expect that your readers are not much interested in the arcane pros and cons of Islamic finance.  
Still, there is at least one issue that deserves our attention: the fact that HK tax payers will end up paying for the tax exemptions that the government proposes for Sharia banking: for its inefficiencies means it cannot stand on its own feet without such tax breaks.  So, this is a “pocketbook” issue for all of us.
By the way, a friend of mine thought he noticed that in Letters discussions on matters Islamic, the final word seemed to go to those folk on “the other side” of the argument, as it were.  This does seem to have been the case, at least in relation to discussions on the meaning of “Jihad” (with Elsie Tu) and on the Burka recently.
I’m not suggesting this is policy, of course.  And I do understand that you have to bring debates to an end sometime, particularly when it’s on what might be considered non-mainstream issues.  
But if there is to be a “final word” on this issue of Sharia finance, perhaps it could be on this side of the debate?...
In any case, over to you.
The letter below focusses on the issue of inefficiency of Islamic finance, and the potential cost to the Hong Kong Taxpayer
Peter F... etc

Letter Follows (333 words):
Mr Khan claims that my saying Sharia banking is inefficient is “hardly credible, especially in the light of the ‘efficiencies’ of Wall-Street-type banking…”.  (“Global financial centre can’t afford to ignore Islamic banking”, December 7).  
But whether or not Western banking is inefficient is irrelevant to the contention that Sharia banking is itself inefficient. (Khan’s is a classic tu quoque argument). Many experts in Sharia banking, including professors Timur Kuran and Mahmoud El-Gamal, attest to its inefficiencies.
None of this would matter if it did not affect people who don’t wish to avail themselves of Sharia banking. But it does.
For the very inefficiency of Sharia banking is the reason that Hong Kong taxpayers will end up paying for it.
The Hong Kong government plans to give tax breaks to Sharia banking, since it can’t stand on its own without such exemptions.  This affects all Hong Kong residents, as the foregone taxes are money that could be spent elsewhere.
In short, it is a “pocketbook issue” for all of us.
Surely this deservers our attention and debate.  Or should we simply accept that tax exemptions are to be given to religiously mandated financing without question or examination?  Rather, we should be asking ourselves whether it’s right for our government to encourage inefficiencies by providing tax breaks at our cost.
Western banking has come under very close scrutiny, debate and regulation, especially since 2008. Sharia banking ought to be subject to similar scrutiny and debate, without that attention being characterised as “Western hype regarding Islam”.
Finally, Mr Khan says I’m “fatuous” in connecting Islamic financing with a “global religious conspiracy”.  I nowhere said that there was a “conspiracy”.  I said that it was quite openly an “Islamist program”, not by my judgment, but by the clear statements of Islamic leaders including influential Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi who calls it "jihad with money”. If Mr Khan denies that, perhaps he ought direct his remarks to such gentlemen, rather than to me, who is simply reporting them.
Peter F... etc.
There are many other reasons to be concerned about Sharia finance.  I decided in the letter to focus on the inefficiencies and potential cost to Hong Kong taxpayers, as "money talks".  
I have written often about Sharia finance, some of it informed by very useful exchanges with an Australian banker working in the Middle East, doing Sharia financing, and who himself attested to its inefficiencies, and to the largely bogus nature of so-called "interest free" banking (it is, of course, no such thing, as deals must be structured with artificial sale and buy-back arrangements to provide the equivalent to interest, as no bank can operate for long without profit).  
For a bit more on those concerns with Sharia finance, if you can bear it, see my post of 11 November 2010, "Sharia finance is more than a 'moral hazard'".

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

"Egypt's Trouble With Women"

Snip  from this article, in the International New York Times:
Until the end of the 1970s, many Egyptian women still went without head scarves, wearing modern Western-style dress, yet incidents of sexual harassment were rare. Now, with the spread of the hijab, harassment has taken on epidemic proportions. A 2008 study from the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights revealed that 83 percent of women interviewed had been subjected to sexual harassment at least once, and that 50 percent experienced it on a daily basis.
Why is it that men did not harass Egyptian women when they wore short skirts but that sexual harassment has increased against women in head scarves? When ultraconservative doctrine dehumanizes women, reducing them to objects, it legitimizes acts of sexual aggression against them.
So much for the arguments that Veiling/burka is a matter of "modesty" and "protecting women's virtue"....
And, an arresting couple of pictures on the spread of the veil in Egypt, from here:
Cairo University 1974. 

Cairo University 2004.  
From zero to 90% veils in 30 years.
 (Courtesy: Noni Darwish)

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Shanghai and Hong Kong teens "best students" in the world...

Asian nations cemented their top positions in an eagerly awaited
report on global education on Tuesday, with students from Shanghai again
ranking first in maths, science and reading. Photo: AFP
From the well-regarded Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa).  Article here (reg needed) and pdf here.
Shanghai's 15-year-olds are still the best in the world at reading, maths and science, according to the latest global survey.
Hong Kong's youngsters ranked second in science and reading - up from third and fourth in 2009 - and held their third place for maths.

Men really are from Mars and Women from Venus...

Men generally have more connections within each hemisphere of the brain (upper),
while in women (lower) the two halves of the brain are much more interlinked.
Photograph: National Academy Of Sciences/PA
Many reports of this story, this one from The Guardian.
Explanations of why men can read a map better than women and women are better at asking directions....

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Attitudes to Islam in the West

An interesting recent article from Prof Daniel Pipes:
As non-Muslims come to understand the Islamist challenge, anti-Islamic sentiments in the West are increasing, probably at a faster rate than Islamic practices. As anti-Islam trumps Islam, (I have concluded) opinions "will grow yet more hostile to Islamism over time. In this way, Islamist aggression assures that anti-Islamism in the West is winning its race with Islamism."
Correct prediction? To keep track, this weblog entry documents the course of Western public opinion on a bundle of topics connected to Islam, including democracy, immigration, jihad, Shari'a, and women. To start with, two polls:
Germany, as reported by the Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach in November 2012:
  • 56 percent: striving for political influence
  • 60 percent: revenge and retaliation
  • 64 percent: violence
  • 68 percent: intolerance toward other faiths
  • 70 percent: fanaticism and radicalism
  • 83 percent: discrimination against women
In contrast, only 7 percent of Germans associate Islam with openness, tolerance, or respect for human rights.
France, mostly from early 2013:
Australia, from the Roy Morgan Research Ltd in October 2013 and reported today:
  • 38 percent: a growing Islamic population and Islamic immigration are bad for Australia
  • 44 percent: strong, clear link between Islam and terrorism
  • 50 per cent want the Shari'a banned
  • 53 percent: ban the burqa from public spaces
  • 57 percent: Concerned about Islam in the world today
  • 70 percent: Australia is not becoming a better place because of Islam.
Daniel Pipes Comment: Negativity toward Islam is much less pronounced in Australia than France and Germany. Will it stay low or increase over time? I expect the latter. (November 24, 2013)

"God and his prophets should be protected from insult"

That was the title of a recent Intelligence Squared debate at the City Recital Hall in Sydney, replayed several times by the BBC here in Hong Kong: "God and his prophets should be protected from insult".
Debating for the proposition were: Julian Burnside, a "Human Rights Lawyer", and Uthman Badar, press officer for Hizb Ut-Tahrir, an organisation described by the moderator as "extremist".
Debating against the proposition were: Yassmin Abdel-Magied, head of Youth Without Borders and the famous Australian writer Tom Kenneally, author, inter alia, of "Shindler's Ark" made into a famous movie by Spielberg as "Schindler's List".

First the good news. Yassmin and Tom won the debate:


LATER: These figures of those Against the proposition (65%) are rather less than those in an earlier survey by the Institute of Public Affairs, which in 2011 found 82% of Australians thought freedom of speech more important than the right not to be offended. I wonder if things have changed, or if (one-fifth of) the audience in Sydney was thinking that it's OK for freedom of speech to trump someone's being offended, except for "God and his prophets".
The large audience appeared to be mostly middle-class, middle aged, white, if I can put it that way. Very few veils to be seen, unlike similar debates I've seen in New York or London.  They appeared to be well-eructed, asked probing questions and mostly seemed to be very much in favour of supporting free speech rights against any taking of insults, as indeed the results showed. Several made the point: how does one decide between valid criticism, opinion and insult?
They did miss opportunities, though.  For example, a question to Badar could have been: "do you support the death penalty (or indeed any penalty) for apostasy from Islam?" apostasy being a form of insult to the religion.  He would have been in a spot, for his organisation, Hizb Ut-Tahrir certainly supports it.
In a video that not many have seen (thank goodness: just 543 at last count), Badar says (at 30'15") the following:
"... secularism, democracy and liberal values are against Islam".  

Read that again: According to Badar -- in which he would find much agreement from Islamic scholars around the world -- Islam is against all that Australians hold dear; we, one of the oldest democracies in the world treasure our "liberal values". (Bandar makes this statement, by the way, at the end of a long diatribe contemptuous of the Australian government's attempts to bring Muslims into a more inclusive relationship with their country of adoption. How dare they try to be so nice?!)
So, could a question have been to Badar: "Given that you have stated secularism, democracy and liberal values are against Islam, is your stance on insult to God and his Prophets, not a step to negate all these values?".
Or, to Burnside: "how do you feel about sharing a platform with someone who has clearly stated his opposition to secularism, democracy and liberal values?".  Or, "don't you think that supporting the suppression of 'insult' to Islam, you are in effect supporting another step in the imposition of Sharia laws on free speech?".  I recall here that the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference" (OIC) is seeking to outlaw "insult" to religion and to enshrine it in the U.N. Charter.
Kenneally spoke robustly in favour of free speech (as did his co-speaker, Yassmin), even if it gave insult.  He did slip a bit though when he claimed that Catholics too, in the past, had suffered as did Muslims today (from alleged "Islamophobia").  It's a common trope: that all immigrant groups have suffered some discrimination on first arrival, but that "this too shall pass".
However Catholics never went around bombing or planning to bomb people -- at least not in Australia.  And they never kitted their kids out with signs saying "Behead those who insult Islam" as did parents at a demonstration against the film "The Innnocence of the Muslims", in Sydney last year.  They didn't demand their own religious law courts, as Muslims have demanded Sharia courts as they have in every country to which they emigrate. Catholics didn't demand women-only swimming pools, as have Muslims in Australia.
Moreover, when Catholics and Catholicism is criticised, whether its dogma or the pedophilia of its priests, it doesn't object that this is "Cathophobia".
In short, the comparison with the previous experience of Catholics in Australia is bogus.
So, no Tom, I don't think that "this too shall pass". Islam is in a revival and becoming increasingly assertive.  Amongst that is Bandar's own organisation, Hizb Ut Tahrir, which says on its website that it wants to re-establish the global caliphate with Sharia at its core.  It plays a long game, like the Muslim Brotherhood: bit by bleeding bit: just a part of which would be criminilation of "insults" to its very testy and over-sensitive beliefs.
In all, thank goodness the good guys won and congratulations to Yassmin and Tom....  You struck a small blow to counter the push by the likes of OIC, Bandar's Hizb Ut Tahrir, and (sadly) his honour Julian Burnside QC, to install another bit of Sharia in our country.
Bandar discusses "Belief in God: Prohibitive or Liberating?", with the great Larry Krauss, at my old alma mater, the Australian National University in Canberra. April 2012.
Bandar dilates on "Rationality, religion and atheism" and gets hammered in the 1400 comments.  January 2011.
Hizb Ut Tahrir on Jihad: "Jihad is exhausting the effort in fighting for the sake of Allah either directly, or by way of financial assistance, or by giving opinion or bolstering the number of troops and the like. Hence, fighting to make the word of Allah reign supreme is Jihad." (p7)

Monday, 2 December 2013

Li Ka-shing warns of threat to Hong Kong's core values

It's good to see Hong Kong's richest man (and Asia's), speak up for the core values of Hong Kong, those that continue to differentiate us from any mainland city, including Shanghai's new so-called "Free Trade Zone".
Li is too often seen as being very "Beijing friendly", so his warnings of not having "rule of man", that is arbitrary ruling by The Party, are particularly important.
Here's the money shot:
Li Ka-shing has dismissed rumours he is cashing out of Hong Kong, while also offering his thoughts - and a warning - on the city's political future.
Asia's richest man said suggestions he was pulling out of the city were a "big joke".
But while defending the city's core values, he said: "Hong Kong cannot go down the path of rule of men. Hong Kong has many core values, such as an open and free market and the rule of law, which are not come by easily.
"If there is any mishandling in governance, these [values] would all be gone.
"My relationship with the Hong Kong government and other countries is built on this understanding. It should not be changed when there is reshuffle of individual leaders or officials."
Li, 85, made his comments in an interview with Guangzhou-based Nanfang Media Group that lasted for 21/2 hours.
Li rarely gives media interviews - he hasn't given any one-to-one interviews with the Hong Kong media since the late 1990s.

University Rankings by employability of graduates

A survey ranks universities by employability of graduates
The article is here.  Interested to see my old alma mater, the Australian National University is right up there, at number 20.  Also, Peking U, that I attended for a short time in the 70s, is in 26th spot.  A couple of other Oz unis make the top 50.  Click to enlarge the list.

Friday, 29 November 2013

The Muslim Brotherhood aims in the west

I've read rather a lot on the Muslim Brotherhood over recent years.
I've read the writings of its founder, Hassan al Banna (the grandfather of Tariq Ramadan), of Sayiid Qutb, the Islamist theoretician and head of propaganda for the Brotherhood in the 1950s and 60s, "The Muslim Brotherhood" by Barry Rubin , "The Muslim Brotherhood" by Erik Stakelbeck and most recently I'm reading "Brother Tariq; the doublespeak of Tariq Ramadan" by Caroline Fourest, which I recommend. (Ramadan continues the task of his grandfather, the pursuit of Brotherhood aims in the west, but in the guise of a "Muslim reformer").
In addition I've followed the Brotherhood's own website, IkhwanWeb.
On this basis, I judge the article "How the Muslim Brotherhood Dupes the West", to be an eminently fair and balanced account of what the Brotherhood is doing in the west to promote its ultimate goal of world-wide adherence to strict Sharia law.
Moreover the author of the post above is a man who knows whereof he speaks:
Dr. Tawfik Hamid is an Islamic thinker and reformer, and one-time Islamic extremist from Egypt. He was a member of a terrorist Islamic organization JI with Dr. Ayman Al-Zawaherri who became later on the second in command of Al-Qaeda. Hamid recognized the threat of radical Islam and the need for a reformation based upon modern peaceful interpretations of classical Islamic core texts. Dr. Hamid is currently a Senior Fellow and Chair of the study of Islamic Radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.
Some may think the Brotherhood's aims to be a ridiculous stretch, unachievable in a strong, secular west. I hope so.
But to ignore the threat on that basis would be dangerous indeed. For the Brotherhood plays the very long game.  It is chipping away in west: the increasing veiling of Muslima in the west is largely down to the work of Tariq Ramadan and his brother Hani.  The increasing number of Sharia courts in Britain (87 at last count), the increasing use of "hate crime" legislation to shut down criticisms of Islam (e.g. and also and here), the segregation of audiences at UK Universities (yes!), all are Brotherhood or Brotherhood-linked achievements. Even the term "Islamophobia", again to shut down critical discussion of Islam --in much the same way as "racist" is used by the left to shut down debate -- was a Muslim Brotherhood invention.
Therefore it's really important that the west -- the public, politicians and the media, all -- are aware of what they're up to and to resist it.
Unfortunately the opposite is too often the case.  In a shocking case of almost criminal misunderstanding -- by James Clapper the Drector of National Intelligence no less -- the Brotherhood was described as being "largely secular".  It is nothing of the sort.  Let's not forget the Mission Statement of the Brotherhood:
Allah is our objective
The Prophet is our leader
The Koran is our law
Jihad is our way
Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.
Not much to comfort secular humanists there.
And finally, let's also not forget that the Brotherhood was the spiritual parent of Al-Qaeda and is mentioned in the Charter of Hamas as being its parent.  They've a lot to answer for, the Brotherhood, but just too often get a free pass, a case of the camel putting its nose in the tent.  It's just about got its whole body in, the way it's going.

What is ageing?

As I enter my seventh decade, the question becomes of increasing interest...
H/t to PhD comics.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

China's limited influence

Many people around the world believe that China’s rise to the role of dominant global player is inevitable. A Pew Research Center survey released earlier this year found that in 23 of 39 countries surveyed, a majority of respondents said China is already, or will soon become, the “world’s leading superpower.”
Even in America, just 47 percent told Pew they believe the United States will remain in that role, and the survey was conducted before Washington’s recent shutdown hardened opinions about America’s political dysfunction.
But although China’s economic influence is growing — it is now the lead trade partner for 124 countries, compared to just 76 for the United States — its power to influence other nations is slight. It has achieved little of what policymakers call “capture,” a condition in which economic or security dependence of one country on another allows the more powerful to drive the other’s policy making.
I agree with this assessment, by Ian Bremmer in today's New York Times.  Some time ago I came across the notion that China doesn't have a "Big Idea".  The Big Idea of the US is simple: Freedom. What's the Big Idea for China: Stability? One-party rule? Make money?  There isn't one.
President Xi Jinping talks of the "China Dream", but no-one seems to know what it is.

Bremmer concludes: "But for better and for worse, neither China nor anyone else appears ready and able to fill America's superpower shoes."   I think that's largely for the better, as much as that might infuriate the Left and Islamists.

What the hell is the Higgs Boson?

I've been a fan of Sean Caroll's for some years now.  By no means do I understand all of his writings and lectures, but the one above, from about 10 months ago, at the Royal Society in London, is about as good as it gets for us common folk, in explaining the significance of the Higgs Boson, discovered at the Large Hadron Collider on July 4th this year. In a single sentence: if we didn't have the Higgs Boson, the universe wouldn't exist.  It's that important...
And his name comes to mind again today, as I see that his book, "The Particle at the End of the Universe" has won the Royal Society's Winton Prize for Science books.  Now on my WishList.
Congratulations, Sean!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Jim Crow Redux: Gender Segregation at UK Universities

Letter to a mate.  Please also pass on and sign, wherever you are.

G'day mate!

Have you come across news about the latest Guidelines by Universities UK (“The voice of UK universities”) on gender segregation on UK campuses? 

Basically they allow gender segregation — extraordinarily, on “separate but equal” grounds — if a certain speaker has “strong religions beliefs” that the audience should be segregated (and guess just which religion might have just such "strong beliefs"?… hint: it’s a “religion of peace”™).

I’m rather horrified at this — Jim Crow redux -- as are many in the UK.  There’s an open letter signed by, inter alia, Richard Dawkins, A.C. Graylling, Gita Sahgal and Polly Toynbee (link in the post linked below).

My reason for emailing you is to ask — if you agree that it’s an egregious, perhaps even dangerous, move — if you might send out the link to the petition to your addressee list. I see you have a long addressee list which would include many or most who have (had) or will have kids at UK Universities — as we expect our son to go to as well.  This is definitely a case of “letting the nose of the camel in the tent”….

There’s a post on the issue at Harry’s Place — a kind of lefty site, but with a mix of commenters who are probably 50-50 left/right, with those on the left describing themselves as “of the Left, but pissed off with Islamism”, which I guess would pretty well describe me as well. It’s an interesting site, in any case.

Have a look at the comments on the post, if you have a half-hour or so to spare.  Some of them rather good, especially Aloevera, who describes herself as a non-Anglo Saxon American woman (somewhere in her 60s, it seems), with an interest in the UK as she’s married to a Brit and planning to move to the UK — and with an interest of the history of British (English?) Liberalism.  You have to read the comments in the next few days, as they’re deleted after 2 weeks, something to do with UK Libel Laws (something else that needs fixing!).

I trust this finds you well...


Monday, 25 November 2013

Music is Haram....

None of that, thank you very much; so saith the Prophet (PBUH)
Haram... that is, forbidden in Islam.  In strictly doctrinal terms there should be no music in Islam.  As the Ahyatollah Khomeini said "there is no fun in Islam".
The lady below is a convert to Islam, and she's explaining to a letter writer why it is that music is haram, forbidden in Islam.  She takes rather a long time to do this.  You don't really need to watch it all: the message is simple: Music is no-no for the pious Muslim.
She's on strong doctrinal ground:
The authoritative manual of Islamic jurisprudence, the Umdat Al-Salik ("The Reliance of the Traveller", linked at left) says:
"On the Day of Resurrection, Allah will put molten lead into the ears of whoever sits listening to a songstress.
"Song makes hypocrisy grow in the heart as water does herbage." [r40 (2) (3)]

Aussies concerned about Islam...

.... and with good reason:

24 November 2013, Melbourne – According to a recent Morgan poll conducted on behalf of Q Society of Australia Inc., the majority of Australians are clearly concerned about Islam and 70% believe Australia is not a better place because of Islam. The survey, completed in late October, found a majority (53 per cent) of Australians want full face coverings banned from public spaces and 50.2 per cent want Islamic sharia law banned all together.
Australians over 65 are most concerned with 59 per cent in this age group stating that a growing Islamic population and Islamic immigration would be bad for Australia. Mature Australians and Liberal/National voters have a significantly negative view of Islam. Notably only 15 per cent of Australians think Islam and terrorism are not related. Multicultural advocates seeking to cancel Christmas, Easter or ANZAC Day celebrations in their quest to not offend other cultures should take note that 96.5 per cent of the population disagree.
The omnibus poll conducted by Roy Morgan Research Ltd has an error margin of 4 per cent.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Hong Kong philanthropists donate more than 6 Middle East states

I've always thought Hong Kong, my home for 30+ years, is a very generous place.
A recent article in the South China Morning Post, proves the point [PDF]: the $US 877 million donated by 47 Hong Kong philanthropists beats that of the total for six oil-rich states.  Of course, most of it stayed at home, or nearby, going to charities in Hong Kong and China. But that's also the case for most charity world wide.
Overall, Hong Kong is 18th in the world, according to the World Giving Index. I'm proud to see that top of the list is Australia.  New Zealand is next.  Go Oceania, You Give!

Bank of China helping fund terrorists?...

Should a country ever sacrifice fundamental principles for the sake of its national economic interest?
This question has been raised in Israel over a landmark court case brought by families of suicide bomb victims against the Bank of China. The families accuse it of serving as a key conduit for money transfers to Hamas and Islamic Jihad through its branches in the US.
Although the Israel government initially aided the case against the bank, it has now blocked a key witness, ex-counter-terrorism agent Uzi Shaya, from testifying.
Read the rest here.

Friday, 22 November 2013

No place for 'sukuk' bonds in HK market

This morning's South China Morning Post ran my letter about sharia finance, in full:

No place for 'sukuk' bonds in HK market
I refer to the article ("Bonds of faith", November 15), on Hong Kong's issue of its first sharia-compliant bonds (or sukuk).
It paints these sukuk in a completely positive light, but that is not the whole story.
Sukuk are inefficient. Many Islamic banks promote a ban on usury as it accrues interest. But no bank can work for free, so deals are structured with sale and buy-back of artificial "assets" with profit margins at levels equivalent to prevailing interest rates.
The pre-eminent Muslim scholar of sharia finance, Timur Kuran, notes that all Islamic banks actually give and take interest routinely, using "ruses" to make interest appear as a return for risk.
In short, they are an elaborate ploy of form over substance, and inefficient because of that structure: sukuk have fees up to 20 per cent higher than standard.
Is it right that we, the taxpayers, should be expected to pay for this inefficiency by exempting taxation on the transfer of underlying assets, an exemption not granted to any other financial instrument?
Sukuk are discriminatory. Banned investments include not only alcohol and gambling. They are also not permitted to invest in companies that benefit non-Islamic religions; companies that promote equal rights for women and gays; companies involved with Western books, films or media; and companies linked to Israel.
Is it right for Hong Kong to promote manifestly anti-Semitic, homophobic and misogynist financial instruments?
Sukuk are an Islamist programme. Sharia finance was first promoted by the Pakistani Islamist Sayyid Al-Mawdudi, founder of the radical Jamaat-e-Islami, in the 1960s. It is promoted today by Islamists like influential Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi as being "jihad with money".
According to Professor Kuran, "Mawdudi's aim … was to reassert Islam's importance … [to] defy the common separation between economics and religion… to invoke Islamic authority." Sharia banking, he says, boosts the global movement of Islamism. Is it right for Hong Kong to support the work of global Islamists?
Sukuk perform badly. As for sharia finance's alleged success, that is moot: In the UK, sharia-compliant banking has been a huge flop.
Our government should reconsider its support for an innately inefficient, discriminatory and poorly performing religious financial product.
Peter F... etc..

Thursday, 21 November 2013

"Unavoidable Answer for the Problem of Climate Change"

Workers removing fuel rods from one of the reactors at the Daiichi plant
in Fukushima, Japan, site of a nuclear accident in 2011.
I've been banging on for a while about Nuclear energy needing to be part of any carbon mitigation measures.
And now Eduardo Porter, writing in the International New York Times, has set out the case for it.  The best summary I've seen for a while.
BTW: the online headline (above), is different from the paper copy, which is "Nuclear could be the only answer", and has a caption noting that "... The perceived danger of radiation is far greater than the reality, one study shows."
Both Japan and Germany are now emitting more carbon dioxide than before they closed their nuclear power stations.
What did they think would happen?
The cost of nuclear is the same or lower that of wind (especially offshore) and solar, and is safer than all  the traditional energy sources.
But Japan’s about-face on its climate promises — which followed the government’s decision to shut down its nuclear power generators after the meltdown at the Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima — is also an opportunity for a reality check in the debate over how to slow the accumulation of greenhouse gases warming the atmosphere.
It brings into sharp focus the most urgent challenge: How will the world replace fossil fuels? Can it be done fast enough, cheaply enough and on a sufficient scale without nuclear energy? For all the optimism about the prospects of wind, sun and tides to power our future, the evidence suggests the answer is no.
Read it all...

"Why can't we admit we're scared of Islamism?"

Tracey Emin's work (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty)
Let's face it — we only challenge religions that won't hurt us, 
and governments that won't arrest us. 
-- Nick Cohen
From the Speccie a last week.
The money shot:
.... it [the Danish Court] acted as if criticism of religion — a system of beliefs which individuals should be free to choose and others should be free to criticise — was identical to racial prejudice, which all thinking people condemn because no one can choose his or her ethnicity. The white ‘liberal’ judges therefore ruled that the Iranian-born artist was a ‘racist’ and gave her a criminal record for condemning honour killings and clerical misogyny — proving yet again that the interests of women always come last.
When I asked what she thought of the Danish legal system, I did not receive a long lecture on freedom of expression.
‘I think it’s fucked,’ she said.  

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Wanted! Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed

A cutie, from The Spectator:
Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed, 27, whose movements are restricted under a Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measure (known as a T-Pim) went missing after changing into a burka at a mosque in Acton, west London.

"The man who broke the silence"

A fascinating article, an interview with Prof Paul Collier about his latest book on immigration and diversity, Exodus. (I wrote about Prof Collier earlier)
Collier's key findings: That immigration is great for the individual immigrant, probably neutral for the host country and very bad for the source country.  And as for "diversity", too much of it and trust in the community breaks down.  Of course, many have been saying that for a long time, and been shouted down as racists and xenophobes. The big thing Davies has done, as hinted in the headline, is to make it possible to discuss this, until now, almost taboo issue.
Another interesting snippet: a recent study [not linked] that showed non-EU immigrants to the UK since 1997 had taken more in welfare payments than they'd contributed. Hmmm, I wonder what faith they were?...

Article below, thanks to The Speccie:

It takes a lot to make the subject of immigration respectable for liberals, at least if you’re pointing out its problematic aspects. But Paul Collier, an Oxford economist specialising in the world’s bottom billion, has, in the 270-odd pages of his new bookExodus, opened up the issue for the left — well, for all comers, actually. Which, for a book suggesting among other things that, left to itself, there is no natural limit to immigration, is quite something.
‘The overwhelming reaction I’ve had,’ he told me, from his Oxford berth at the Centre for the Study of African Economies, ‘is that people thank me for making the subject discussable. I had an email from one man who had been a senior economist at two government departments… and he said that, to his shame, he had been unable to analyse this issue even when he was chairing two committees about it.’
Discussion of immigration has long been taboo among liberals. The subject is conflated with racism and associated fears of inter-ethnic violence. ‘I am concerned to raise the quality of public debate,’ Collier says. ‘There’s been a lot of sloppy and ideological thinking.’