Saturday, January 06, 2007

Tobias Jones and 'Militant Fundamentalism'

Believe it or not, Tobias Jones is not the name of an ancient Welsh hero (thought it easily could be, rousing up the choir to go and fight the English….), but a writer on Guardian Unlimited who today had an article published upon the subject of ‘Militant Fundamentalists.' The article, along with the 300+ comments it has received, can be viewed here.

Apparently ‘secular fundamentalists’ wish for the ‘total eradication of religion’, and they do this by instilling upon the unsuspecting public a belief that open expression of faith is offensive to other religions. But this wasn’t so successful, so instead the violent reactions to the Danish Cartoons (which have been dealt with here previously) and the Jerry Springer Opera ‘were wheeled out as examples of why religious groups are unable to live with our cherished freedom and tolerance’.

Subsequently, atheists develop a superiority complex over believers and preach that 9/11 and subsequent conflicts are due to religion. However, Jesus, Tobias claims, invented secularism. I’d agree with the author on this, if he can please openly advocate the disestablishment of the Church of England and the end to all state-funded faith schools.

Lets have a look at this. First of all, Tobias is using the words ‘secularism’ and ‘atheism’ as interchangeable. They are clearly not- the former denotes a political belief in the separation of Church and State, the latter a non-belief in God or a religious deity. It is possible to be religious and believe in the separation of Church and State, and for religion to be more private than public- just ask the Reverend Barry W. Lynn, leader of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Though the National Secular Society, or certainly its members, can be guilty of using the two words interchangeably as well.

Tobias also speaks of ‘our cherished freedom and tolerance’. Your damn sure it’s cherished Jones, and one process by which Britain and the West has reached this point, where these values are held so highly by governments and citizens, is by throwing off the shackles which organised religion held down for so long. The cartoons will be published, the plays performed and not because we want you to be offended- though if you are, live with it- but because we have the right to do so.

However, my largest picked bone with Tobias is his comments on postmodernism. ‘It tries to rescue the marginalised’ ‘The tyranny of orthodoxy has been replaced by the tyranny of relativism’. Well of course he isn’t a fan of postmodernism, Tobias is religious. What’s the alternative? To state, in a globalised and fragmented world, where I can eat fruit from South America, drive a car made in the U.S.A, read news stories about Africa and have my blog read from China all in one day, that there exists an absolute truth, a universalising concept which can override all opposition? The age of reason had to be going somewhere. It tries to rescue the marginalised? Good, I’m pretty sure that’s what the world needs- how about the Vatican giving some of its money to AIDS research rather than promoting abstinence as a cure and condoms as evil?

‘They will dictate what you can wear and what you can say. That, after all, is what totalitarians do’. Quite frankly, that phrase is simply wrong and hypocritical. Is self-censorship in the face of religious anger not preventing what you can say? Is stating that women must dress’ modestly’ not telling you what you can wear?

I’ll be raising my glass to Theo Van Gogh tonight.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

News of the World and Justice

Is it not hypocritical to proclaim a reward to find a murderer while actively encouraging mob rule against paedophiles?

In the ongoing police investigation into the murders in Ipswich, they have had considerable help from the public offering information in the hope of catching the perpetrator/s. However, the News of the World has decided to offer a £250,000 reward for any information leading to the capture and conviction of the 'Suffolk strangler'.

On the face of it, this does indeed seem a worthy act; the News of the World offers this money under its normal conditions, in the hope of ending the current spate of murders. However, this should be looked at more closely, for one thing, being able to splash such a large amount of money across your front page along with the pictures of those who have been killed is sure to sell more papers.

In addition, the reward in this case may seem a little odd. It is likely, thoughadmittedlyy not impossible, that their is only one individual carrying out these crimes. Therefore there will probably be few people who can 'betray' him- and for who the money would be an incentive against any loyalty. This individual does not appear to be a boss of organised crime, somewhat with many associates for whom rewards are more often offered. Surely if any members of the public had seen anything take place, they would have called the police already. Aside from laziness, what incentive would they have not to? Its difficult to see how, in this case, the offer of a reward is going to be much help.

Finally, I would challenge the extent to which the News of the World, and their sister paper, the Sun, are treating the victims of these crimes with respect. In the article linked to, the paper is happy to refer to those killed as 'hookers', while the Sun earlier in the week found it necessary to state the victims hair colour before their name. The following is controversial thesis: if those murdered had all been illegal immigrants, disappearing and being murdered after years of drug addiction and the sex industry, would the Sun and the News of the World be reporting them to the same extent? The murders of the victims are indeed horrific, and its good to see that the press is as concerned as the police. But its always wise to be wary of the tabloids.

How strong is the commitment of the News of the World to the law? Last week, they published the whereabouts of Robert Oliver, a paedophileconvictedd of part of a joint-murder in the 1980's.Unsurprisinglyy, an angry mob surrounded his house, demanding that he leave. The police came into Bishop's Lydeard and did just that, but also pointed out that if this continued to be the reaction, Oliver along with other padeophile's could be driven underground. The paper knew this would be the reaction, and it is all part of its ongoing 'Sarah's Law' campaign to give parents and carers the right to know if a registered sex offender is living in their area. The News of the World, on its website, hopes to state that the police would punish those who took the law into their own hands; but something tells me the paper would make them heros.

When individuals get hold of this information, what exactly are they going to do with it? The above, if not more violently, would be replicated across the country; mob rule inspired by tabloidirresponsibilityy. These continued actions would drive paedeohpile's off the radar of the police, where at least they can be watched and tabs kept on them. They are often dangerous and the police have to know where they are, but if the public do their reaction will be similar to a planning application to build a nuclear power station- Not In My Back Yard. Rather than registered sex offenders reporting to the police and being kept an eye on, they will be gone, their whereabouts as unknown as their frame of mind.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Blair, Multiculturalism and Faith Schools

The need to integrate while preserving cultural diversity is considerable, but can the PM expect this to happen while faith schools are still supported by the state?

The prime ministers words on multiculturalism today seem to make a remarkable amount of sense. It seems odd that only recently has the term exposed itself to widespread use in the media, yet this has taken place under a government which seems to have a remarkably vague policy on the whole thing. To have a look at some of the finer points: (full speech here)

Blair is right to point out the raft of anti-discrimination laws now in place as an example of how Britain has changed. These rules need to stay in place to ensure that eventually, they are not needed- whether this is possible in Britain, or indeed in any country, is hard to say.

'We like our diversity'- Largely, but some sections of both the white community and of ethnic minority communities do not wish to mix or integrate, and seem to find fear in those that are different. The perception that the 'other' holds these views only increases these feelings of isolationism, deliberate or otherwise.

Blair also stated that 'Those whites who support the BNP's policy of separate races and those Muslims who shun integration into British society both contradict the fundamental values that define Britain today'. This is indeed a brave move; comparing Muslims who do not wish to integrate with the BNP is challenging those at the extreme ends of the argument, and grouping them together as extremists- not one as the victim and the other as the perpetrator (for both wish to portray themselves as the former).

'Failure to talk about it is not politically correct; it's just stupid'. Blair makes a good point here, and this almost seems to be a nod to Jack Straw that speaking about Muslim veils and Christmas decorations is not something which should be muffled by either The Independent feeling that he is attacking minorities, or by the Muslim Council of Britain. Talking of which, they seemed to point out that Blair should spend money on the UK rather than on the Iraq war. Who would have thought they'd have responded by bringing in the war!

Setting the use of English as a condition for citizenship- This is indeed a very bold move, and no doubt there will be much opposition to this.

Now, onto faith schools. Blair states that faith schools need to link with each other in order to strengthen ties with those of other religions, and that they should teach respect for other faiths. He then goes on to talk about a voluntary agreement that faith schools should teach about other religions.
Why does the PM not realise that his support of faith schools is totally incompatible with almost all his other statements in this speech? Its good that he intends to put more pressure on Madrassahs, but how can schools whose aim is to teach children one religion, to defy science in some cases and to select students on the basis of their parents faith. If the PM wants a society which is not divided along religious lines, then perhaps its best not to bring up children in that very environment.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Alexander Litvinenko and Pierre Gemayel.

Targeting individuals in foreign nations is unacceptable.

Just got the BBC news alert of Alexander Litvinenko

The funeral of Pierre Gemayel took place today.

Perhaps it seems a little heartless to focus on the deaths of two individuals on a day when Baghdad has undergone its bloodiest day since the war. Yet I can't help but see some similarities in the deaths of two men who lived much of their lives under threat of assassination.

In each case, there has been no claim of responsibility.

In each case, the prime suspect is a country (Russia and Syria)

In each case, the individual was attempting to challenge a tyrannical force (Putin's government and Basser Assad's regime).

In each case, the killing has been met with widespread international condemnation.

There is, of course no direct evidence to link the deaths of Litvinenko and Gemayel with the governments of Russia or Syria. Assumptions often are, as they say, the mother of all fuckups, and should therefore be avoided. But does anyone really think the Putin and Assad would not be capable, both in willingness and capacity to do so, of sanctioning the deaths of these two men?

During the Cold War, the West targeted individuals in foreign countries numerous times- be it rebel leaders in Africa or Castro's exploding cigar. Those days appeared to be over, yet there is little willingness to stand up to those countries which may-or may not- continue to undertake such actions. This is especially true in the case for Russia; a decent reason (as if there wasn't a good enough one already) for investing in renewable energy if I ever heard one.

Found this video on Youtube. Contrasts with the picture of him in the hospital bed just a little. Poisoning with suspected Russian involvement. Remember Yushchenko?

I hope this can be viewed in Russia.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Looking back, as I do on occasion, to the past 58 posts, I reflect on how politics can dominate ones life.

No doubt this is true for many- by reading this blog, by watching the news and discussing what you see with friends of family, by engaging in actions as diverse as buying a fair trade kiwi fruit or voting, we are all taking part in civic society. Interdependence and up-to-date news has created a small but committed band of news junkies, committed to savoring one of the greeted sources of power through human history- knowledge. I count myself as one of these individuals.

Let me elaborate. This blog, is for all intents and purposes, anonymous as I can make it (some reading this will know who I am). The reason for this entire blog is as much to clarify my own views as to encourage debate and put across my equally invalid view of the world, its past, and its future. Instantaneus reaction to world events are common in my experience, and if I reflect a little but still let those initial feelings dominate, perhaps I might be able to realise exactly what viewpoint am I coming from. Thought why that is advantageous to know is a question I'm unable to give a clear answer to.

Studying what I do and have seemingly experienced these past years, I've seen (through the media) many events which have shaped the lives of many individuals I have ever met. In a way, it is possible now to sit at a computer or in front of a TV and seeing the real effects of the policy which, as citizens, we allow to continue. Those effects can of course, be positive or negative. It seems that power is quite literally at the fingertips, be they pressing a remote control or tapping on a keyboard.

News alerts crop up on the laptop top screen, beep across my phone, on the TV screen and then more detailed viewpoints are given in the newspapers the day after. Bombardment, voluntarily.

Anyone noticed how many adverts now start with the lines "In today's fast paced world..."

The editors of the news channels make decisions as to what matters. Does that mean that we have to as well?

The things that matter- these are in no order, and just from the top of my head- a bit James Joyce-esque....

My family
My friends
Reversing global warming and convincing others of its seriousness
Whether or not postmodernism is a legitimate tool, and if so, whether there is consequentially any point in the search for 'truth'
God, in whatever form
Preversing political neutrality in the places where it belongs
Challenging your own beliefs, and the beliefs of others
Opposing dictatorship and encouraging democracy
Being honest
Understanding history
Advancing our understanding of the world

The above vague, overarching and egotistic statements cannot be put in some kind of fanciful order. Different things matter to different people. Is it legitimate to tell an individual that they should not care about a film premiere but about the ice on Greenland melting? Once again, this is not a question I can answer.

What seems to be matter, however, is being there for people. When your friends, when your family, when a stranger has need of company in whatever form then it is important to be there for them. Politics, global warming and the future of the world matters, to such a great extent and I cannot emphasis this more strongly- encourage others to care about them. But personally, and I say this to my family, my friends, my fellow students, fellow bloggers, web browsers, people of all religions, tribes and nations- remember to be there for those who ask for your help. It is, indeed, a humbling experience. Glaciers are melting, the world is on the edge of a catastrophe almost everyday- but do not forget those around you.

It is my birthday tomorrow you see- one can get a little reflective ;-).

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A look into the future of US Politics

This generation is going to dominate the American government in 20 years

Recall my previous post about extremists in the UK? Perhaps its the folks on the other side of the pond we should be worried about.

Scary. There isn't really another word for it. These kids- and many others, and many teenagers- are being indoctrinated into what can only be described as a holy war. Preached at by zealous individuals, touching symbols of their political leaders with a religious fever which is thankfully rarely seen in the UK (though appears to be growing more popular). One mindset, one way of life, one God. No other ideas are acceptable.

The above paragraph describes both the trailer, and the attempts by Islamic extremists to recruit young men to blow themselves up.

The problem is not Christianity. The problem is not Islam. The problem is the fusion of fundamentalist religion and politics.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Growth of UK Extremism

In recent days, the UK has been reminded once again of the more extreme fringes of its varied political spectrum.

There are videos on Youtube to BNP political broadcasts ('BNP TV- News you can trust'). They are set across a backdrop of ambulances, the image of the destroyed bus in Tavistock Square on 7/7. Nick Griffin wore a poppy when on TV yesterday. His 2005 political broadcast featured him standing next to a model of a Spitfire. It is fascinating how fascists feel that they can parade themselves next to an iconic image of a war, in which people with similar views to their own were the ones we fought against. Had Griffin been alive then, he would have been in prison just like Oswald Mosley.

There are videos on Youtube to footage of US soldiers being shot in the head by snipers. They are set across a backdrop of Islamic songs and crude graphics, and images of Bush and Blair. The sniper adds his kill to a list of dozens. In the last couple of years this films have been widely available online, and with English narratives. It is fascinating how a religion whose name means 'peace' can be abused in this manner. Many would argue that this is not Islam.

The steady but sure growth of extremism worldwide is obvious, but the increase here is immediate, frightening and seemingly more real. Mohammad Sidique Khan's word 'Now you too will taste the reality of this situation' resonate just as much as 'lets show the ethnics the door in 2004'.

Each are products of globalisation, the BNP being a reaction to multiculturalism and immigration, whilst Islamic extremism a reaction to a pluralistic society and secular values. There will always be those who oppose a change and what they percieve to be a threat to their religion or nation, and with an interdependent world this is inevitable. Their should be discussion and debate. But neither of the above groups wish for that.

Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller is right to warn of the sheer number of terrorist plots currently underway in this country. To think otherwise is to be naive: public reaction to the Iraq war and anti-terror tactics has been so widespread in certain communities that to think that those who committed 7/7 were unusual is simply absurd. It only takes a few people to slip through the net, and before anyone suggests a conspiracy theory on the part of the government, feel free but I'd rather you didn't. 7/7 happened, and the UK is still under threat- accept it.

In addition, Gordon Brown (who I must say I am slowly warming to...oddly) was right to speak out over the verdict in Nick Griffin's trial. I noticed another statistic this week, from France, which showed that twice the number of voters now support LePen for the 2007 Presidential election as they did this time before the last one- up from 9% to 17% I believe. Neo-Nazis marched through Berlin this week. The BNP must not be ignored. Ridiculed, argued against, put down, discouraged, shown for what they are, but not ignored.

Perhaps the most ironic analysis of these two groups is that they are a reaction against each other. When 7/7 happened, the BNP were quickly able to produce a leaflet saying 'we told you so'. Everytime the BNP campaign or win an election, it makes British Muslims feel threatened and frightened for their way of life.

I stood for 2 minutes in silence today, as did millions. I did it to remember those who died so that Griffin and Khan could have a voice and speak out. They did not die for those who believe in only one way of life could triumph in this country through fear, misdirection and violence.