Ayaan Hirsi Ali: abandoned to fanatics

11 10 2007

Sam Harris and Salman Rushdie in the L.A. Times

As you read this, Ayaan Hirsi Ali sits in a safe house with armed men guarding her door. She is one of the most poised, intelligent and compassionate advocates of freedom of speech and conscience alive today, and for this she is despised in Muslim communities throughout the world. The details of her story bear repeating, as they illustrate how poorly equipped we are to deal with the threat of Muslim extremism in the West. . . .

Hirsi Ali may be the first refugee from Western Europe since the Holocaust. As such, she is a unique and indispensable witness to both the strength and weakness of the West: to the splendor of open society and to the boundless energy of its antagonists. She knows the challenges we face in our struggle to contain the misogyny and religious fanaticism of the Muslim world, and she lives with the consequences of our failure each day. There is no one in a better position to remind us that tolerance of intolerance is cowardice.

More here.


Militant atheists are wrong

9 10 2007

Lee Siegel in The L.A. Times

The anti-God books have appeared in the wake of two developments: the rise of Islamic fundamentalism overseas and the religious right’s enormous influence on President Bush’s policies here at home. But as responses, the secular jeremiads don’t make a whole lot of sense.

Who, exactly, are they aimed at? Who is the ideal reader of these attacks on belief in God? Not Muslim or Christian fundamentalists, obviously, because one of the engines driving religious fundamentalism today is, precisely, a hostility toward modern science. If anyone thinks that Dawkins’ book, “The God Delusion” — with its “scientific” attempts to refute the existence of God — is going to persuade today’s religious fanatics, here or abroad, to loosen up and enjoy a little MTV, you have to ask yourself just who is “deluded.” It’s hard to imagine anyone abandoning his faith after reading Harris’ condescending polemic, or the science of Dawkins and Dennett, or Hitchens’ vitriol.

More here.

The New Athiesm: An Interview with Mitchell Cohen

4 10 2007

Mitchell Cohen in Dissent

Question: Is the debate on “the New Atheism” important for leftwing intellectuals in the U.S.?

M.C: I think this debate raises some poignant challenges to the left both in the U.S. and around the world. (The new religious aggressiveness is not just an American phenomenon). The left everywhere ought to be identified with both tolerance (this has not always been so) and with critical intelligence—the latter often means challenging religious precepts, ambitions and institutionalized power. The hard thing is to balance the tolerance and the criticism, to insist on pluralism but not to allow religion to privilege itself in the public realm. The left should always want people to think for themselves, but this cannot mean “you must be secular like me” since it also should not mean “you must be religious like me.”

Religion is a fairly broad category and leftists need to make distinctions among different types of religious behavior and religious commitments just as they would insist that “there are leftists and there are leftists.” After all, there are “leftists” who want a freer, more egalitarian world and there are Stalinists (or people who are still trapped within Stalinist mental structures, even if only implicitly). And there are religious leftists and liberals who are allies and comrades of secular leftists. While I am thoroughly secular, I know many religious people who are fine, thoughtful people—and I know many secularists who have been able to justify in left-wing language either mass murder, terror or religious fanaticism. These things are “objectively” anti-imperialist, you know, especially when they come from the Mideast. I have heard people—Americans and Europeans—throw fits about Bush’s religiosity all while they always “understand” Hezbollah or Hamas.

More here.

Dawkins: Logical Path from Religious Beliefs to Evil Deeds

4 10 2007

Richard Dawkins in The Washington Post

Nobody is suggesting that all religious people are violent, intolerant, racist, bigoted, contemptuous of women and so on. It would be absurd to suggest such a thing: just as absurd as to generalize about all atheists. I am not even concerned with statistical generalizations about the majority of religious people (or atheists). My concern here is over whether there is any general reason why religion might be more or less likely to bias individuals towards all those unpleasant things in Christopher Hitchens’s list: to make them more likely to exhibit them than they would have been without religion. I think the answer is yes.

More here.

Religion as a force for good

1 10 2007

Ian Buruma in The L.A. Times

It has become fashionable in certain smart circles to regard atheism as a sign of superior education, of highly evolved civilization, of enlightenment. Recent bestsellers by Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and others suggest that religious faith is a sign of backwardness, the mark of primitives stuck in the Dark Ages who have not caught up with scientific reason. Religion, we are told, is responsible for violence, oppression, poverty and many other ills.

It is not difficult to find examples to back up this assertion. But what about the opposite? Can religion also be a force for good? Are there cases in which religious faith comes to the rescue even of those who don’t have it?

I have never personally had either the benefits nor misfortunes of adhering to any religion, but watching Burmese monks on television defying the security forces of one of the world’s most oppressive regimes, it is hard not to see some merit in religious belief. Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a deeply religious country, where most men spend some time as Buddhist monks. Even the thuggish Burmese junta hesitated before unleashing lethal force on men dressed in the maroon and saffron robes of their faith.

More here.

Liberalism is not neutral, but this is its very strength

29 09 2007

George Crowder in Reset discusses “the dilemma of the liberal State”. Other views here.

Liberalism is not wholly neutral. But then, no political system is entirely neutral philosophically and ethically. Liberalism, nevertheless, can fairly claim to express an unusually, indeed uniquely accommodating configuration of values, within which it’s possible for many different religious and other conceptions of the good to coexist peacefully. This accommodation is not unlimited – there will be practices that liberalism cannot tolerate – but it’s the best we can do. It’s true that liberals try to prevent the state preaching particular, controversial moralities, especially religiously-based moralities. But that doesn’t mean that liberalism has no moral basis at all. On the contrary, the idea of human rights is an especially rich and inspiring moral doctrine.

More here.

Ireland forced to open immigrant school

26 09 2007

Henry McDonald reports in The Guardian

Under a dank sky and with a statue of Christ, arms outstretched in welcome, it seemed like just another opening day in the life of an ordinary Irish primary school. But the school in Balbriggan, Co Dublin, which finally opened its doors yesterday morning, has been the centre of a national controversy which has highlighted how Ireland is failing to cope with the influx of tens of thousands of immigrants.

Ireland’s newest primary school is overwhelmingly black, the majority of its pupils with parents from Nigeria and some, judging by the number of mothers in head-scarves, from the Islamic faith.

The school was created out of incompetence rather than design. A huge population increase, partly due to immigration from Africa, China and eastern Europe, has put enormous pressure on the school system. The result, according to one local councillor, has been the creation of a “mini-apartheid” in the seaside town, with the new “emergency” school almost exclusively filled with the children of immigrants.

More here.