‘Good’ Blasphemy | The American Conservative

The American Conservative, a publication I usually quite like, has been vocal in its reaction to the Paris shootings with four posts so far by one author, all beating the same drum. I ended up posting a comment on the latest thread.

It starts with a quote from Rod Dreher’s fourth piece (which also encapsulates his argument):

“But when some within that civilization punish blasphemy with violence and murder, then, says Ross, we all had better defend that blasphemy to protect our own right to speak and to worship as our consciences dictate.”

I then continue as follows:

Rousing stuff, but a false syllogism. It’s conflating two separate issues. Worse, doing so is probably reacting exactly as these bastards hope we will.

Instead, why not staunchly defend the legal right to freedom of speech while deploring those who choose to use it in a juvenile, destructive fashion? Equally, unequivocally condemn any use of violence while holding onto enough heart to grasp the anquish such sophomoric “journalism” triggers for many ordinary Muslims.

What you seem to be missing is that this atrocity was probably intended to foment division. Doesn’t the rather doctrinaire, self-righteous response you’ve repeatedly indulged in so far play directly into their hands?

Cui bono? Worth asking before letting rip.

Looking in the mirror

In a recent interview, Karen Armstrong was asked: “So, when we in the West talk about religion as the cause of this violence, how much are we letting ourselves off the hook, and using religion as a way to ignore our role in the roots of this violence?”

We’re in danger of making a scapegoat of things, and not looking at our own part in this. When we look at these states and say, “Why can’t they get their act together? Why can’t they see that secularism is the better way? Why are they so in thrall to this benighted religion of theirs? What savages they are,” and so on, we’ve forgotten to see our implication in their histories.

We came to modernity under our own steam. It was our creation. It had two characteristics. One of these was independence — your Declaration of Independence is a typical modernizing document. And you have thinkers and scientists demanding free thought and independent thinking. This was essential to our modernity. But in the Middle East, in the colonized countries, modernity was a colonial subjection, not independence.

Without a sense of independence and a driving force for innovation, however many skyscrapers and fighter jets you may possess, and computers and technological gadgets, without these qualities you don’t really have the modern spirit. That modern spirit is almost impossible to acquire in countries where modernity has been imposed from outside.

Instead, modernity is seen as a threat, a further humiliation. Continue reading

‘Parliament’s vote underlines Israel’s deepening isolation’ | The Telegraph

The corner into which Israel is painting itself has shrunk again.

On October 3rd, Sweden announced that it intended to recognise Palestine. On the 13th, Britain’s lower house voted 274-12 to do the same thing. Although only about half of British MPs turned up, and the motion itself is non-binding, the symbolism is stark.

If you need proof of just how friendless Israel’s hard-Right government has become, consider the statements last night from MPs who would normally count themselves the country’s natural allies. Arch-Tories such as Nicholas Soames (whose grandfather Winston Churchill is Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political hero) spoke eloquently in favour of Palestinian statehood. And Richard Ottoway, chair of the foreign affairs select committee, said that despite having been “a friend of Israel long before I became a Tory”, its recent policies had “outraged me more than anything else in my political life”, concluding: “If Israel is losing the support of people like me, it is losing a lot of people.”

No one stood up to express support for Israel’s more controversial policies such as the recent war on Gaza or its settlements. And taboos crumbled. Continue reading

ISIS: A Cognitive, Systemic Failure | Alastair Crooke

The essence of the successes enjoyed by the Islamic State to date centres not on any wide-spread embrace of their radical vision, but rather the fact that their movement gives voice to a dream that has long been dampened by the forces of the West and their autocratic regional allies. The Obama administration has stated that the recent strikes against Syria are but the beginning of a more comprehensive campaign to defeat the Islamic State. But bombs and missiles, while adept at blowing up concrete and creating martyrs, have never been successful when it comes to eradicating ideas…

Void of any competing ideology, it is hard to see how this new war on the Islamic State will ever succeed in supplanting the visionary dream of a Sunni Arab Caliphate that resides in the hearts and minds of so many Sunni Arabs living in Syria and Iraq today. On the contrary, it is likely that this campaign will succeed only in fanning the flames of the radical Sunni fringe, empowering them in a way nothing else could.”

That’s Scott Ritter, quoted by Alisdair Crooke in this sobering piece.

Crooke believes the west’s perceptions of the Middle East have been skewed for generations.

No, it [this latess crisis] is not an “intelligence failure.” It is far worse. It is a cognitive and intellectual failure of the system itself. In fact, the signs of this impending “madness” have been out there — “hiding” in the open, as it were — for the last 25 years. You did not need “secret intelligence” to tell us where we were heading; you just needed cognitive openness: the ability to “read” the direction that events were taking.

The current dystopian nightmare is, as he sees it, the logical endpoint of a catastrophic series of events and decisions over the last century. Every Arab attempt to work out a modus vivendi with modernity has failed, Continue reading

Nasrallah: ISIS an ‘existential danger’ to the whole region | Al Akhbar

In a speech on Friday, 15th August, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah described the Islamic State as “an existential threat to Lebanon and the region”.

Nasrallah called for unified regional action to counter ISIS.

“We are able to combat the ISIS threat. It won’t be fought with inaction, but through unity and sacrifice,” he said. “We will not let them invade our countries, destroy our churches and our mosques. We will fight to stay in our countries.”

He cautioned the region against falling into sectarian discourse, saying this would only weaken their fight against ISIS.“

Sectarian incitement from anyone is as dangerous as a car bomb,” he said. “It should be dealt with seriously.”

“Don’t pack your suitcases and leave,” Nasrallah beseeched Lebanese citizens. “Stay and fight for your honor and existence. Lebanon can change the fate of the region.”

The Islamic State seems to him something monstrous, without precedent, as per this recent interview: Continue reading

Understanding Syria | William R. Polk

Tragic as these numbers are – the worst for nearly a century – factored into them is that Syria has lost the most precious assets of poor countries, most of the doctors and other professionals who had been painstakingly and expensively educated during the last century.  However reprehensible the Syrian government may be in terms of democracy, it not only gives the refugees and its minorities protection but has maintained that part of Syria which it controls as a secular and religiously ecumenical state.  [ . . . ]

Even more “costly” are the psychological traumas:  a whole generation of Syrians have been subjected to either or both the loss of their homes, security and hope or their respect for and trust in their fellow human beings.  Others will probably eventually suffer from the memory of what they, themselves, have done during the fighting.  Comparisons are trivial and probably meaningless, but what has been enacted – is being enacted – in Syria resembles the horror of the Japanese butchery of Nanjing in World War II and the massacres in the 1994 Hutu-Tutsi conflict in Rwanda.

In short, millions of lives have been wrenched out from under the thin veneer of civilization to which we all cling and have been thrown into the bestiality that the great observer of the brutal English civil war of his time, Thomas Hobbes, memorably described as the “state of nature.”

From William R. Polk’s “Understanding Syria” (via Sic Semper Tyrannis).

“You have to live on the border and be audacious” | Pope Francis

Pope Francis, it seems, truly is a quiet revolutionary. He was remarkably open and plainspoken in a long interview published last week in Jesuit journals around the world. Although I’m at best an equivocal deist and more often an agnostic, much of what he said moved me, sometimes deeply. Imagine then his impact on believers.

Father Spadaro, who conducted the interview, started by asking the Pope: “What does the church need most at this historic moment?”

I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.

He has no patience for, or interest in, a church that looms over people, superior, distant, all knowing. Continue reading