Responding to terrorism

Andrew Sullivan and I both experienced the IRA terrorism in the UK during the 1970s, and the way the British government responded. Reflecting on the news from Gaza, Andrew writes:

For years, IRA terrorists bombed Britain’s pubs and shops and eventually nearly killed the entire cabinet in the Brighton hotel bombing. Those terrorists lived among the population in both the republic and Ulster? Did Britain bomb Ireland in response? Were republican areas in the north sealed off and pulverized as happened in Gaza? Were British casualties one hundredth of Irish casualties in response?
None of this happened. Margaret Thatcher no less accepted what became known as an “acceptable level of violence” because the alternative would a) have caused domestic outrage and b) made the situation far, far worse and recruited a new army of terror. Again, one has to ask: why is Israel different?

The answer is obvious. The people of Britain knew, intellectually and emotionally, that the Irish were people like themselves. The Irish were not alien, they were not other. Ideas like religion and race inherently divide the world into “us” and “them”, and sustain this lie by defining “them” as intrinsically inferior to “us”. That’s what leads to apartheid, and to what Israel has become.
I know I’ll get into trouble here for including religion in this argument. The problem is, even a gentle, non-violent form of religion has to stand behind the idea that there is a difference between adherence and non-adherence, between those who are “in” and those who are “out”. Otherwise why would membership matter? As a non-religious person, I believe that what’s important is what we do, not which groups we belong to, what passports we carry, or which religions our parents subscribed to.

YouTube blocks Pat Condell's attack on sharia in Britain

Via PZ, Barry Duke at Freethinker reports that:

The poison of shariah law which has begun infecting Britain is of considerable concern to many, not least British comedian Pat Condell, who posted an attack on this creeping Islamic threat on our legal system on YouTube.
Condell, of course, does not mince his words, and his video predictably got up certain noses. So YouTube, to its shame, blocked it.

However as John Gilmore famously said, “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” So here is the Condell video. Watch it, and pass the word along.

If you’re a Brit (resident or expat), please sign the petition that Pat mentions. And as for YouTube, it’s ironic (not to mention dumb) that their Abuse and Policy Center page doesn’t provide any way of complaining about any abuse of their policies….

"if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture"

Christopher Hitchens sees for himself.

I am somewhat proud of my ability to “keep my head,” as the saying goes, and to maintain presence of mind under trying circumstances. I was completely convinced that, when the water pressure had become intolerable, I had firmly uttered the pre-determined code word that would cause it to cease. But my interrogator told me that, rather to his surprise, I had not spoken a word. I had activated the “dead man’s handle” that signaled the onset of unconsciousness. So now I have to wonder about the role of false memory and delusion. What I do recall clearly, though, is a hard finger feeling for my solar plexus as the water was being poured. What was that for? “That’s to find out if you are trying to cheat, and timing your breathing to the doses. If you try that, we can outsmart you. We have all kinds of enhancements.” I was briefly embarrassed that I hadn’t earned or warranted these refinements, but it hit me yet again that this is certainly the language of torture.

"Friends don’t let friends commit, or condone, evil."

Over at Secular Philosophy, Dan Dennett points out the opportunity for clarity which the death sentence of the Afghan student, Sayed Parwiz Kambakhsh provides.

The time has come for Muslims to step up to the plate and demonstrate that Islam is a great faith that has no need for violence or intimidation to maintain the loyalty of its congregation. And we outside Islam must make it crystal clear that we cannot respect or honor a religion that would consider blasphemy a capital crime, no matter how ancient the tradition from which this decision flowed. Muslims who support – or refrain from condemning – the conviction and sentence of Kambakhsh must be made to realize that they share responsibility for bringing dishonor to their cherished heritage, and if we non-Muslims do not speak out, we too must share in the blame. Friends don’t let friends commit, or condone, evil.

There are plenty of people in the west who have written off all Muslims as evil enemies. Ed Brayton blogged about a particularly egregious example of this today. A “breathtakingly stupid woman named Dorris Woods” who is a trustee at the College of the Siskiyous in California, is objecting to the creation of a course in Arabic and Middle East history, saying

“We know all we need to know about Arabs and Islam. They are our enemies pure and simple. There is no getting away from that. They have declared war on the United States and they are committed to our destruction.”

Obviously this blanket categorization is absurd. ((It’s also illogical: if “Arabs and Islam” are at war against us, it would seem prudent to learn about them in order to be prepared.)) Yet it provokes a momentary pause, a hesitation, because there is a widespread feeling that there is something “other” about Islamic values: a subjugation of the individual to social orthodoxy from which we have only recently freed ourselves.
The Kambakhsh affair ((In the interests of full disclosure, it’s worth mentioning that, according to the Guardian, the charge against Kambakhsh is actually a tactic to get at his brother, a journalist who has exposed the unsavory activities of certain Afghan warlords. This should not distract us from the legal and moral issue involved; I have a sinking feeling that some Muslim “spokesmen” will try to do so, however.)) throws this into sharp focus in a way that even the Salman Rushdie fatwa did not. This is not a matter of a distant, raving ayatollah posturing for domestic consumption: we’re dealing with the power of a (supposedly friendly) state being exercised in support of clerical rules. The charge is the purest of thought-crimes: the accused simply read material which was deemed blasphemous. Any Muslim who fails to condemn this is simply confirming the fear which underlies the bigotry of Dorris Woods and her ilk.
There is a minor issue of language to be considered. Apart from the ancient split between Shia and Sunni, Islam has resisted the proliferation of labels to indicate which branch of a particular religious tradition a believer identifies with. Logically, I’d hope that Muslims who oppose the criminalization of freethought (including apostasy) would identify themselves as “Reform Muslims”, in contrast to their “Conservative” or “Orthodox” counterparts. However there are some obvious problems with this terminology….

American exceptionalism?

From: Human Rights Watch:

[A]t at the end of 2006, more than 2.25 million persons were incarcerated in US prisons and jails, an all-time high. This number represents an incarceration rate of 751 per 100,000 US residents, the highest such rate in the world. By contrast, the United Kingdom’s incarceration rate is 148 per 100,000 residents; the rate in Canada is 107; and in France it is 85. The US rate is also substantially higher than that of Libya (217 per 100,000), Iran (212), and China (119)….
The new BJS figures also show sharp racial disparities in US incarceration rates, with black men incarcerated at a rate 6.2 times higher than white men.

Exceptionally criminal? Exceptionally vengeful? Exceptionally racist? Whatever the explanation ((Yes, yes: I know.)), it certainly makes a mockery of US claims to be the “land of the free”.

When principles collide

Could a Muslim doctor refuse to treat a gay patient? Yes – because of his conscientious objection. No – because that would be discrimination. Enter the virtual philosopher:

Surely there are role responsibilities that go with taking on the job of being a doctor that include a certain distancing from personal religious and moral stances. If doctors aren’t prepared to take on that kind of responsibility, painful as it may be for them on occasion, then they probably should change profession (or possibly go private).

Unfortunately, this may be about to change back in England…

The abhorrent misogyny of Saudi Arabia

Megan Stack looks back on being a woman reporter in Saudi Arabia:

One afternoon, a candidate invited me to meet his daughter. She spoke fluent English and was not much younger than me. I cannot remember whether she was wearing hijab, the Islamic head scarf, inside her home, but I have a memory of pink. I asked her about the elections.
“Very good,” she said.
So you really think so, I said gently, even though you can’t vote?
“Of course,” she said. “Why do I need to vote?”
Her father chimed in. He urged her, speaking English for my benefit, to speak candidly. But she insisted: What good was voting? She looked at me as if she felt sorry for me, a woman cast adrift on the rough seas of the world, no male protector in sight.
“Maybe you don’t want to vote,” I said. “But wouldn’t you like to make that choice yourself?”
“I don’t need to,” she said calmly, blinking slowly and deliberately. “If I have a father or a husband, why do I need to vote? Why should I need to work? They will take care of everything.”

When people like Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens cite this kind of thing as an example of the evils of religion, a common response ((can’t find a good cite now – sorry)) is that it’s not religion, it’s just culture; the Saudi tribespeople were patriarchal long before Islam, and women have always been treated as chattels in that part of he world. But religion is the main reason why cultures fail to adapt, to evolve. Religions tend to divide the world into black and white, good and evil, “sacred” and “profane”, “kosher” and “non-kosher”, “halal” and “haram”. It also treats the “sacred” stuff as an inseparable whole: to challenge any part is to attack the whole. (Thus the wish of two lesbians in Vermont to celebrate their relationship becomes an attack on all families, undermines the moral fabric of the nation, and – Falwell, Robertson et al – is a root cause of the 9/11 attacks.)
This is why religion is so poisonous to the civic order: it stands foursquare against compromise, adaption, and personal choice. Saudi Arabia is just the most outrageous example.

"Oh God, doctor, I was hoping it was cancer."


I was assigned a 40 plus year old, poverty stricken mother of several children… This care worn mother-of-several had a large abdominal mass that I rapidly determined to be a well advanced pregnancy. I asked my resident to come and break the news to this woman; it was very obvious to me that she was not going to be happy about the news of another pregnancy. When told that she – already unable to adequately feed and clothe her family – was again pregnant, she looked up at me and the resident. There we stood, two white males, well clothed, well feed young men with superior educations. We were, in her eyes, stunningly blessed and obviously going places in the world. She began to weep silently. She must have assumed, for good reason, that there was no way that we would understand her problems; she knew also that there was nothing that we could or would do to relieve her lacerating misery.
“Oh God, doctor,” she said quietly, “I was hoping it was cancer.”

Thought-provoking piece on reframing the gay rights question

How many of you, in supporting gay rights, have used the argument that discrimination is unfair because being gay, like being black, isn’t a question of choice? And yet, an it harm none, why shouldn’t we be defending the right to a freely-chosen life? Excellent piece over at Shakespeare’s Sister: Reframing Gay Rights: “A wise start to reframing this argument is to leave behind the repeated invocations of the standard and tiresome fare, ‘It’s not a choice.’ If Liberals are to be true to their words that my rights end where yours begin, then we must acknowledge that whether homosexuality is a choice or not has no bearing on whether we defend the rights of gays and lesbians. The whole point of a free country is allowing people the freedom to make decisions for themselves as they best see fit, including whether to choose a partner of the same sex. A same-sex relationship does not infringe upon anyone else’s rights, so whether it’s by design or choice shouldn’t make a dime’s worth of difference to any Liberal intent on protecting the freedom and rights of all Americans.”

(Via Terry – get well soon.)