Sunday 27 May 2012

"To Profile or Not to Profile"? Sam Harris and Bruce Schneier debate

Sam Harris: I share your concern about not alienating the Muslim community. But we desperately need moderate Muslims to stop pretending that Islam is just like every other religion at this moment in history. As bad as Christianity and Judaism have been in the past (and may yet be again), only Muslims reliably work themselves into a killing rage over the mistreatment of a book; only Muslims murder their critics and apostates; only Muslims can be counted upon to riot by the tens of thousands over cartoons; and only Islam, with its doctrines of jihad and martyrdom, is perfectly suited to spawn a global death cult of suicidal terrorists.
We need moderate Muslims to admit that some of their coreligionists currently pose a danger to civil society unlike any other on the religious landscape. One would think this might be easy, as the effects of Muslim barbarism have so far been visited mostly on Muslims themselves. In fact, we need more people like Asra Nomani, whom you singled out for criticism as an otherwise intelligent person who mistakenly favors profiling. It seems to me that you have lost the plot here: Nomani has taken a remarkably courageous stand for honest self-criticism, in a community that tends to be violently opposed to it. This is yet another reason why I don’t think we can discuss the issue of profiling at the airport in isolation from our other efforts to combat the forces of jihad. Admitting that we know what we are looking for—Muslim extremists rather than generic terrorists—could oblige the Muslim community to truly come to terms with the problem.

A robust, civil and very informative discussion of the pros and cons of profiling at airports.

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Indonesia: "No Model for Muslim Democracy"

This is from the New York Times.  But yet again, the mainstream media is behind the game, for the trampling of minority religions by this, the largest Muslim majority nation in the world, has been regularly reported in blogs for years now.  Still, it's good to see some straight reporting from "the newspaper of record"...

While Indonesia has made great strides in consolidating a stable, democratic government after five decades of authoritarian rule, the country is by no means a bastion of tolerance. The rights of religious and ethnic minorities are routinely trampled. 
Read on here.
Related: "Indonesia's Rising Religious Intolerance"

Revisiting Sebastian Faulks, Karen Armstrong and Sam Harris

Faulks: knave or fool?  Or just scared...
An occasional reader emails:
Hey! I've only just read this!!! Very interesting. When i first read your take on it all, I agreed with you, but when i read his apology i didn't find it grovelling or anything like that. I didn't mind his use of the word 'humility' at the end.
I agree absolutely that 'we' -- ie us westerners -- or anyone else for that matter -- should be able to talk openly and/or criticise islam, just as we should be able to with any other religion, without fear of being killed or anything! But i didn't find his apology offensive.
I was a touch surprised that the reader's referring to a post nearly two years old, and had to go back to it for review.
The kerfuffle was all about Sebastian Faulks, author of A Week in December, a book I'd just read and rather enjoyed.  In an interview in the The Telegraph, Faulks made some tart comments about the Koran and Muhammad.  This caused the expected upset amongst Muslims, which led to (i) The Telegraph's taking down the article and (ii) Faulks' apologising.
At first quick re-reading of his apology I kind of agreed with the comments above that it wasn't too bad, you might even say elegantly and cogently expressed.
But then I read it again and compared it with what's left of his original comments. And on re-reading I stand with my own original comments, linked above; rather than "elegant", the apology crafted is more like "cunning".
Consider the key issue: it's a complete volte face. One day he faces this way; next day he faces that way.  On day One he says the Koran is like the "ranting of a schizophrenic".  On day Two, Muhammad is "healthy and lucid".  On one day the Koran is "disappointing", "one dimensional" and "depressing", on the next day it "has lovely passages".
He quotes a Muslim friend who says that the Koran should be compared with the Old Testament, not the New, to which Faulks' comment is "That is a fair point".  It's more than just a "fair point"; it's a complete give away to the real problem with the Koran.  For while the OT is the bloodthirsty part of the Bible, the bigoted homophobic, misogynist and viciously sectarian part of the Bible, it has in the west been abrogated by the NT for the majority of Christians.  And the OT has been the subject of extensive biblical exegesis, to the point that its most egregious parts are seen as allegory, or not relevant to today.
The Koran, by contrast, is, as Faulks notes, "uncreated" in that it's seen by Muslims as the very word of God, and cannot therefore be subject of review or exegesis. (BTW: the contents of the Koran are largely lifted from the OT, hence the similarity is far from coincidental).
Thus what results is: an OT that is no longer relevant to Christianity becomes the unquestionable authority on how Muslims should act in today's society.
And Faulks merely says "That's a fair point"!
Faulks mentions Karen Armstrong in a favourable light.  That's a complete give-away of his lack of research. I read her early in my research on Islam, as she was held out as being a reputable authority explaining Islam in a sympathetic way. But by that stage I'd read the Koran and much of the Hadith as well as the Sirah, the life of Muhammad.  And I found that she flat out misrepresented all key elements of Islam, of its early spread in Arabia and of the Crusades. Either she was ignorant herself, or was duplicitous and I go for the latter, as clearly she's read up on the topics.  Soo.... here we have an author "known for his meticulous research", quoting a woman who -- if one is well-read on the topic -- is clearly duplicitous.  Which in turn makes Faulks either a fool or a knave.
On this point -- his view of Armstrong - - I'm inclined to go for the former, that he's not in fact well-read enough on Islam to see how duplicitous her writings are.
Overall, it seems clear that he's been rattled by the reaction of Muslims -- one of whom talks of "severe consequences", and Faulks has, understandably, back-pedalled to save his skin and that of his three children. After all, co-religionists of the Religion of Peace, have shown just how ready they are to resort to violence in the service of their revered book and their "prophet".
Armstrong is taken on much more elegantly that I can by one of my favourite left-of-centre authors and critics of Islam, Sam Harris.
Here he is in wonderful form: "The God Fraud".
"Losing our spines to save our necks". Sam Harris on May 5 2008

Friday 18 May 2012

"Science or Starvation"

At the end of the month, a group of shrieking protestors are planning to descend upon a field in Hertfordshire and, in their words, ‘decontaminate’ (i.e. destroy) a field of genetically modified wheat. The activists, from an organisation called Take the Flour Back, claim to be saving Britain from a deadly environmental menace. But in reality, these self-appointed guardians of Gaia are threatening not only to undo hundreds of man-years of publicly-funded research but also helping to destroy one of the best hopes we have of avoiding catastrophic famines in the poorest parts of the world in future decades. It is eco-snobbery on a global scale.
Read on here.

Women in Islam

Wandering the Intertubes, came across this article, by an English convert to Islam, an apologia for Islam's treatment of women.
To anyone who follows this issue, her article is full of errors of commission and omission.
Just a few:
There is no right for a woman to be a head of state or a judge (Ai-Attal herself points this out!...). She fails to note that while men can easily divorce a woman ("I divorce thee" said three times), the same is not true for women. That the inheritance of a woman is half that of a male.  That a husband may, according to Koranic teaching, beat his wife if she is disobedient.  That the testimony of a woman in court is worth only a quarter that of a man (four "witnesses" needed to prove rape, for example). That the Umdat al-Salik, the classic manual of Islamic jurisprudence recommends female cliterdectomy (aka FGM).  That her own "choice" to veil herself is either a reflection of her own piety or of male suzerainty over her and in any case reflects on the apparent inability of males to control themselves in the sight of her unveiled face.  That there is a high correlation between the percentage of Muslim population in a country and the percentage of child brides. And so it goes.  All dreary stuff, all part of Islam and all ignored here in this piece of drivel from a "revert" to Islam.
I note it's an ancient article.  But it's of the same cloth as we still see bruited about: that Islam was the originator or women's rights, because Muhammad made them free and equal.  Nonsense.  The Islamic texts and practice prove the opposite.  The status of women in Islam is one of oppression and getting worse.
Update (tx to BCF): Imams in Swedish mosques advise against reporting abusive husbands.  Eight out of ten recommend polygamous marriage.....

Friday 11 May 2012

Cognitive Dissonance in Egypt: they want the Saudi model, but "freedom" too...

From Pew Research "One Year Later, Egyptians Embrace Democracy, Islam in Political Life", there's this:
By a margin of 61% to 17%, Egyptians say Saudi Arabia is a better model than Turkey for the role of religion in government. 
But then there's also this:
However, most also endorse specific democratic rights and institutions that do not exist in Saudi Arabia, such as free speech, a free press, and equal rights for women.

What are these people thinking?  It just doesn't add up.  Saudi doesn't have any free speech, any freedom of the press or equal rights for women.
So what's left of the Saudi "model"?

The promotion of hate ideology in western mosques, as the Saudis do?
The funding of radical Madrassas, as the Saudi's do?
The killing of homosexuals, as the Saudi's do?
The prohibition of any other religion than Sunni Islam, as the Saudis do?
The killing of apostates, as the Saudis do?

Which part of the Saudi model do these 61% of representative Egyptian citizens think they should apply to Egypt? Whatever they are, I can't think of any that would give us comfort....
LATER: related:
"Facing the Islamist Menace", by Christopher Hitchens, January 2007
"Saudi Venom in US Mosques", Daniel Pipes, February 1, 2005

Thursday 10 May 2012

On Pakistani men "grooming" young British girls for sex

To BBC "World Have Your Say":

The BBC World Service interview with a Muhammad and a young woman, managed to discuss all the issues other than religion.  Until the very end, when the interviewer touched on Islam very tentatively.
Of course interviewee Muhammad said Islam had nothing to do with preying on underage girls. As did the young woman.
But consider that Muhammad (the prophet) married Aisha at her age of 6 and consummated the marriage when she was 9, that Muhammad is normative for Muslims (the “perfect man”) and that as a result underage marriage is permitted in many Muslim countries, from Indonesia to Iran.
Recent figures on child brides show that there’s a 70% correlation between the percentage of the population in a country which hews to Islam and the percentage of underage marriage.
The interviewees, like so many, call on us to have a “real conversation” about the issues.  Well, yes, let's.  And that would involve having a “real conversation” about the responsibility of Islam in empowering the grooming of young women, because the Prophet did it.
BTW: I’m a “leftie” from way back, so it’ not just those horrid “far-right” folk who are concerned about this and about the responsibility that Islam has for it: even unto it’s being “inherent” in Islam (for it is...)
Peter F

Hong Kong
PS, UPDATE: while Muhammad (the interviewee) castigated the Pakistani men for "inappropriate" behaviour, (once, at the beginning of the interview) he questioned several times why the young girls were where they were.  This is a variation of "they asked for it" argument, one which the feminist Sisterhood normally excoriates: except when it's Islam: the young lady interviewee gave Muhammad a pass on his version of blaming the victim.

Corruption in China: "No roads are straight here"

Murong Xuecun, pushing limits of free speech in China
Murong Xuecun's article is interesting and spot on: corruption is endemic at all levels in China.  Well, we all knew that, didn't we?  The interesting aspect of "No roads are straight here" is that (1) Xuecun lives in China and wrote the article in Chinese and (2) the snippets of personal experience that bring the essay alive.
China needs what Hong Kong instituted in the 70s: a truly independent ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption).  A few years back I was with my brother-in-law in Wuhan, China.  We were having dinner and he pointed out another table having a jolly old time and he said "that's our ICAC.  China now has an ICAC, just like Hong Kong".  The main guy the table was being royally toasted, much wine, food and laughter.  This was most certainly not like the ICAC in Hong Kong. Here, an ICAC official being wined and dined like that would be sacked.
Xuecun looks a little like my brother-in-law, as it happens: that's Xuecun above.  But they've got very different views on what China needs to root out corruption.  Brother-in-law oblivious to the duchessing of alleged ICAC-style officials the mere fact of having an ICAC is enough, the motions have been gone through ().  
Xuecun is all about implementation of the rule of law, laws that already exist, but are widely flouted. For my view: they really need a proper ICAC, Hong Kong-style.  But I hold no breath.
BTW: Murong Xuecun is a pen name, 慕容 雪村, meaning roughly "admire the snowy village".  Probably some ironic reference to a Chinese saying or literature.  Must ask Mrs Battle.

Moderate Muslims.... Moderate "Islamism"?

Barry Rubin writes, sometimes at length, always cogently, about issues in Islam.
There is no doubt that “moderate Islam,” in the sense of a coherent body of alternative views that are liberal, is very weak, in many places virtually non-existent, and politically of no importance in the Middle East. That’s the reality and it will be so for many decades.

Ref [h/t BCF]

Tuesday 8 May 2012

This is "Islamophobia"?? (aka "Bob Pitt is clueless")

Once again, this dope over at, the "revert" Bob Pitt, shoots himself in the foot.
It's a report of some people who displayed "caricatures" of Muhammad, and Muslims admitted to be Salafists (ie extremist Muslims) riot and are violent in reaction.
But the response to the violence is not to sheet home responsibility on those perpetrating the violence, the Salafists, those whose delicate sensitivities are so wounded by a caricature that they attack others... no, the ones attacked are those showing the cartoon. It is they who have "provoked" the violence.  Or so we are invited to conclude.
Not me, Bob.
What you claim is crazy. It's even crazier given that the caricatures are, as the report itself says, of "a man said to be the prophet", in which case -- if it's not certain who is being caricatured -- the violence is even more irrational.
Go home, Bob.

Sam Harris on profiling and the ethics of torture...

Sent via his site...
Dear Sam (if I may be so bold...),
I have read and enjoyed both your recent posts on profiling and the link back to your arguments on torture.
I agree with you on ALL points!
On the torture issue:
Could I direct you to a post I did myself back on 14 May 2011, in which I say that "I used to be full-square against torture.  It’s wrong, no ifs no buts.  But there are “buts” and there are “ifs”. " and conclude: "In short, I think the absolute prohibition of torture, with no ifs, no buts, is a position one can only hold if that proposition remains unexamined."
I find on re-reading my own post that I make some of the same points you have -- albeit in a much less felicitous way than yourself!
You may also find the little story of my father interesting: in the Second World War, he was a Captain in the Australian Army Intelligence, an interrogator of Japanese prisoners of war in Papua New Guinea.... (he was one of the very few members of the Australian Army who spoke Japanese -- as a result of which, btw, after the War, he joined our Australian Diplomatic Service, was posted to Tokyo in 1946, where I was born....).  I touch on whether the methods they used then, to get useful intelligence, would today be considered torture, by the bien-pensants (which would've included me till a while back...)
With best regards to a (rare) liberal supporter of profiling, clear thinker on the ethics of torture and of matters Islamic!

Peter F
Hong Kong

PS: I still consider myself a bit of a "leftie" ("liberal" in US terms), and I thought you needed some support from the liberal-left after the "torrent" of abuse, etc, you've had from that same side, to a couple of your recent posts!

Monday 7 May 2012

The Fastest Growing Religion in America is Islam

I came across this article which quotes a new exhaustive study of religions in America, by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious bodies.
By 2010 the number of Muslims in the US was 2.6 million.  Note: this figure is much lower than the figure of 6-7 million that is regularly quoted by the Council of American Islamic Relations (eg, here, "... 2% of the [US] population..."). The figures of the US census are even lower 1.4 million in '08, which I extrapolate to 1.6 million now).
There's something wrong with the figures quoted by Snyder.
He says:
"From the year 2000 to 2012 the  census found that the number of Muslims living in the United States increased from 1 million to 2.6 million - a stunning increase of 66.7%". [*]
But clearly that's an increase of 160%.  On an annual basis it's an increase of 10% compound annual growth rate. (trust me: I have the cagr calculator)
And I think he's comparing two sets of figures that may not be compatible, one from the US government here and one from the Association of Religious Archives (ARDA)here.
Looking at the US government figures, the most comprehensive amongst the reports quoted, the figures for compound growth rates, for periods to 2008, are as follows:
Compound Annual Growth Rates (US Census Data):

1990-2001 2001-2008 1990-2008
Christian 1% 1% 1%
Muslim 7% 3% 5%
Jewish -1% -1% -1%
Atheist 7% 2% 5%

Note from this: Atheists growing at the same rate as Muslims (and both have the highest growth rates amongst all major faith systems).  Muslim population growth rates appear to have declined a bit from the 90s (7%) to the most recent 3% (01-08).  The Jewish population is in decline: I don't know why this should be.  Apostasy, maybe? There are fewer Jews than Muslims in the United States either now (ARDA), or in about 10 years (US Census).  Christians are growing a touch above the annual population growth rate of (0.9%, 2012 est), ie, not below, as in the ARDA stats.
None of this will give the believers of non-Islamic faiths much comfort as they will see the split of society into godless secularists and Muslims.  It's for that reason that the Left (which atheists will most often be) needs to be brought on board to critique the most egregious aspects of Islam.  I wrote about in the post just before this one, below.

[*] LATER: I figured it out.  If he'd written "...increased "BY...", instead of increased FROM, then it makes sense.  According to the ARDA figures, Muslim numbers increased by 1,040,788, to 2,600,082 between 2000 and 2010.  There's your 67% growth, overall. And on a CAGR basis it's 5% per year, consistent with the figures from the US census.

Friday 4 May 2012

Why aren't there more liberal (leftist) counter-Jihad blogs?

Well, I know the answer to that question on one level: there are books about it (Glazov, Horowitz, et al).  There's reflexive anti-Americanism, identification with the perceived "underdog" (woops, sorry for the canine reference...); with the "victims" of colonialism/imperialism; with post-modern moral relativism (all religions are the same, all equally good, or evil); with the belief that Jihadis have reasonable grievances at US policies in the middle east, or "occupation" of Muslim countries; and so on.
Many on the right think that there's something congenital about it, and call them all "leftards"...
But still, but still...
There's so much in Islam that's abhorrent to mainstream liberal beliefs and there's such a belief amongst liberals themselves that they have "evidence-based" outlooks, that one wonders still: why aren't there more free thinking liberal-leftists that take to task the clearly egregious aspects of Islam, its supremacist nature, its homophobic and misogynist doctrines?
I looked around by Google search and found little.  Putting "leftist [or liberal] anti-jihad blogs" only returns those (right of centre) blogs that take liberals/leftists to task for not taking Islamic Jihad to task.
I went to the Sydney Morning Herald -- a liberal paper in my home town of Sydney -- and put "Islam" in their Search.  What I found was only pro-Islamic articles, Islam as the "religion of peace" and so on.  The top of the list is "Gentle Path to Islam" (Oh dear..),  an article on the Ibadi sect in Oman, which admittedly appears more moderate than what one might call "flat-earth Muslims".  But another quick Google search reveals that there are, at most, just 2 million Ibadi Muslims -- which makes them about 0.13% of the Muslim population.  And they're even treated as a heretical sect themselves by Sunni Muslims (70-80%  of Muslims).  So, there's not much comfort to be gained there.
Then I remembered: Sam Harris. He's a liberal, for sure.  But has also been very sound and robust on Islam.  I remember a talk to the TED conference in which he said something along the lines of "anyone who believes that Islam is the religion of peace, is deluded".
On his blog he has a recent post "Islam and the future of Liberalism".  It's a great read.
I think this issue of why there aren't more liberal/left critics of Islam is important because if the only ones that are critiquing Islam are on the right of the political spectrum, then we lose half the population that could be, that should be, countering Islamic supremacism. More: the right-of-centre blogs can readily be dismissed -- as they regularly are -- by the MSM as being "far-right blogs", which immediately signals to liberals to stop reading, to take no notice.
I  consider this little blog to be a liberal/leftist one.  My sister says "you've become so conservative". Maybe so. But if I measure my views about social and political issues, there's no doubt I'd be considered "liberal" in the American context.  Yet I'll critique the Jihad and aspects of Islam, as I have here.
We need liberal [and secular] bloggers writing critically about Islam and its most egregious elements. Only then can those rightly concerned about the growing influence of Islamic sharia, of Islamism and all its horrid practices, only then can we make bigger inroads into the broader population.
If we don't, we're only walking with half a leg. Like a punished thief in Islam.

Thursday 3 May 2012

No dating, no dancing, sexual segregation: this is "victorious diversity" according to the NY Times!

Letter to the New York Times/International Herald Tribune, today. Regarding "This Prom Has Everything, Except for Boys", by Patricia Leigh Brown.

Old geezers like me will remember when they first heard of "women's liberation" and perhaps thought, as I did, "good heavens, what next!"

But gradually most of us realized the force of the argument to do away with gender discrimination in law and in society.

How sad, then, to see Patricia Leigh Brown celebrate "diversity" in the shape of an all-female prom night without even a backward glance at the battles won by her sisterhood, but now threatened by these new gender discrimination trends.

How much more laudable if these young women had defied their parents -- as have teenagers through the ages -- and stood up against a strict and misogynist belief system that would make them second-class citizens: Islamic Sharia, to be precise. It is this that forbids these young women to date, to dance with boys, to be seen in male company without a veil.  Why is the Sisterhood not up in arms about this, rather than grotesquely celebrating the alleged "victorious diversity" of what is simply sharia sexual segregation.

Shame on you, Ms Leigh Brown!

Yours, etc,
Peter F.

Sent from my iPad