faith &amp; ideas cached version 19/11/2018 21:42:31 en Heartfelt rationality <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The side effects of good intentions and tolerance can be more suffering. We must let our hearts set our goals, but use the mind to pursue them. Our former Editor-in-Chief, reflecting on rationality and the fallout of a TV-series. <em>Archive: This article was first published on October 1, 2012.</em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong>The alternative industry: it doesn’t work and why it does</strong></p> <p>My last major project before leaving Oslo for openDemocracy was a six-part edutainment/documentary series on the ‘alternative industry’, its science and irrationality. It was produced by Teddy TV and broadcast on NRK1 (Norway’s &nbsp;equivalent of BBC1, ie the country’s main television channel). We cheekily named ourselves <em>Folkeopplysningen</em>, “The Public Enlightenment”.</p> <p>The various branches of the alternative industry make a lot of claims, and a lot of money off these claims. We looked into homeopathy, healing, detox, acupuncture and strange panacea machines supposedly utilizing bio-resonance or quantum mechanics. (Astrologists, psychics and mediums got a showing too, but let’s leave them alone to lick their wounds for now.)</p> <p>We decided it was time for some critical scrutiny of this business, and based on reception and ratings, we are not alone in thinking this.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="400" height="224" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p> <p align="center"><em><small>Public Enlightenment. (c) NRK/Teddy TV</small></em></p> <p>With a physicist, a psychologist and researchers, we asked three main questions: Are the claims made by the various alternative offerings possible from a scientific point of view? What does the available research say? Why is it so popular?</p> <p>And yes, we found it is pretty much all hokum. Anyone spending a good amount of time honestly and objectively surveying the available scientific material will agree. The UK Parliament Science and Technology Committee <a href="">did so on homeopathy</a>.</p> <p>Dear Jeremy Hunt, Beckhams, Orlando Bloom, Thorbjørn Jagland, Jennifer Aniston, Prince Charles and King Harald of Norway: there’s nothing in those pills besides the sugar and the faith. &nbsp;</p> <p>Only acupuncture has some credible documentation to show for itself. But it’s rather thinner than its standing suggests. Here too the placebo effect is due most of the credit, most of the time likely all of it. &nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, <em>it works</em> - raking in money, but more importantly: producing many genuinely satisfied patients.</p> <p>While some of the popularity can be explained by our brain’s tendency to look for <a href="">patterns where they don’t exist</a>, ignore <a href="">regression toward the mean</a>, emphasise <a href="">anecdote</a> over data, <a href="">justify its own choices</a> and <a href="">confirm the beliefs</a> we already hold, many patients do feel better in a very real way.</p> <p>This has been proven to stem from the bouquet of psychological and biochemical mechanisms that we lump together as the placebo effect. The placebo effect has clear limitations (rather than cure, it mostly alters our experience of symptoms), but we should all be happy that it exists. It means that visiting a homeopath can make people feel better. This does not mean that homeopathy works. But it does mean they feel better - and that is a good thing.</p> <p>For many, what is needed to improve their well-being and outlook is attention and care. For someone to see them, touch them, discuss their life situation, unhurried and with empathy, to tell them that it’s all going to improve from now on, and that they’ve got a plan – this is what makes the difference. Some get this experience from their doctor, but many do not. Many people get nothing like this assurance from anywhere in their societies. In this regard, alternative therapists can perform an important service for people.</p> <p><strong>Let’s talk<br /></strong>But the alternative industry is more than this, and much of it is problematic. So, as well as to educate and entertain, we set out in the hope of sparking debate on questions such as the following:</p> <ul><li>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Why is alternative medicine so popular?</li><li>&nbsp;</li><li>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Is it right that a large and diverse sector dealing with health is almost completely unregulated?</li><li>&nbsp;</li><li>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Can society harness the placebo effect as a harmless way of improving well-being in the population, taking some pressure off the health system?</li><li>&nbsp;</li><li>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Can medical doctors learn from the way alternative therapists interact with their patients?</li><li>&nbsp;</li><li>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Should we demand proof from those who sell a service or product claiming it cures disease or improves health, or let the market offer the widest possible array of choice?</li><li>&nbsp;</li><li>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; If we let the market decide – should the public health service pay for any such services without evidence of effect other than placebo?</li><li>&nbsp;</li><li>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Should we accept that some, based on mythological expertise or conspiracy theories, discourage the use of proven, life-saving methods such as vaccination and chemotherapy?</li><li>&nbsp;</li><li>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; What can be done with those few who contact people on their death bed with expensive miracle cures, making the dying spend their last time on earth, and often money they don’t have, chasing false hopes, instead of spending it in the mutual comfort with their loved ones?</li></ul> <p>Reasoned debates on these issues with those in the alternative industry was perhaps too much to hope for. But at the very least we expected the more responsible parts of the industry to demand a clean-up of the murkiest.</p> <p>In one of the programmes we sent a perfectly healthy, young woman to three different alternative practitioners. They gave her a variety of different, very serious diagnoses for which they offered expensive treatments.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="400" height="267" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p> <p align="center"><em><small>Physicist and host Andreas Wahl with Grete Strøm, healthy undercover reporter with a long list of serious diagnosis. (c) NRK/Teddy TV</small></em></p> <p>One identified fungi growing in her blood due to excessive consumption of carbohydrates, another found a throat problem and several allergies (but OK’d smoking), while the third claimed she was poisoned by the vaccines she was given as a child, had narrow veins and that despite feeling fine now, could expect to succomb to powerful headaches <a href="">imminently</a>.</p> <p>And while most practitioners are nice people with some ethical standards, we found that implying that one could cure anything from cancer to dyslexia wasn’t all that uncommon.</p> <p><strong>Into the trenches!<br /></strong>The alternative minded did not like what they saw in our series. They took to their keyboards. It is clear who the enemy is. Not those preying on the dying. Not obvious charlatans who give random diagnoses, or those who cause preventable deaths by convincing their patients to forego vaccines or chemo. No, the enemy is those who dare to question their faith on TV. Oh, and Big Pharma. But in all likelihood, these were one and the same.</p> <p class="Body1">The alternative practitioners appeared to loathe breaking rank and criticizing each other, except in the most careful and general terms. Wouldn’t the &nbsp;mainstream ones benefit from distancing themselves from the wingnuts? Maybe there is too much overlap? Could this explain their unwillingness to offend the “most alternative” ones in their ranks?</p> <p>There also seems to be a siege mentality. Us against the world. Combined with a culture for “my truth is as valid as your truth”, where extreme relativism functions to make questioning even the weirdest of beliefs taboo. The outcome: little willingness to question even the strangest of bedfellows.</p> <p>Our programmes were quite assertive, more so than unconfrontational Scandinavians are used to. Unlike many previous ‘balanced’ looks at alternative medicine, we researched in depth and actually <em>concluded where there was enough evidence available to conclude</em>.</p> <p>This, to our minds, is what journalists do. Approaching an issue with an open mind does not mean refusing to draw conclusions when there is every basis to do so. (Clare Sambrook calls it <a href="">“Investigative Comment”.</a>)</p> <p>But to the practitioners, used to being interviewed as “alternative experts” alongside actual doctors, with their perspectives presented as equally valid, our conclusions came as a shock.</p> <p>Instead of a fruitful debate, trenches were soon filled with unrepentant and offended alternativists raging on one side, and pretty smug skeptics snidely sniping from the other.</p> <p>We’ve sometimes wondered if our critics have seen the same programmes as the ones we have made. We have never questioned the motives of the therapists, called for a ban, uttered a rude word, derided the placebo effect or claimed they were all of the same cloth. Nor did we edit anyone for the purpose of ridicule. Viewers were indeed afforded a few laughs, but some of these theories and practices can easily have that effect when explained in all seriousness.</p> <p>Soon enough we were dismissed as hateful, propagandistic, dishonest, falsifiers, ignorant, closed-minded, fanatics, arrogant, satirical, populists, speculative, unethical, lying, proselytizing, pathetic, angry atheists, ridiculing and factually wrong. That’s what politely pointing to the prevailing scientific consensus gets you from the “open minded”.</p> <p>The allegations of wrongdoing weren’t specified concretely of course. They remain as general and un-sourced as the assertion that “the <em>good</em> science says it works.”</p> <p>Thankfully we’re a thick-skinned bunch and appreciate the extra publicity. Last Monday 621,000 people, more than a third of the Norwegian TV audience, watched the program, and its hashtag, #Folkeopplysningen, crowds the nation’s twitter streams.</p><p><span style="font-weight: bold;"><strong>The party line<br /></strong></span>While we expected a bucket of bile from believers, we had imagined that the official organisations would voice their disagreement in reasoned ways, and with some adherence to reality.</p> <p>This hope was dashed. NHL, Norway’s largest organisation for homeopaths, attempted to <a href="">sabotage</a> the programme even before the first day of shooting. Early on in the project we contacted them and openly described our intentions. Perhaps naïvely, we believe in playing fair. It was all smiles at the meeting, but soon thereafter all homeopaths, as well as the other organisations for alternative therapies, received a letter from them – a “Warning”, no less – imploring everyone not to talk to us, as we might “be detrimental to all of the alternative industry”, and encouraging them to report back to them should they hear from us.</p> <p>NHL also asserted that the series was instigated by the small organisation Norwegian Skeptics (which they amusingly branded “unscientific”), an untrue allegation they have refused to retract. Other alternative organisations have since actively propagated this idea in the social media, spinning a conspiracy theory involving the inevitable payments from Big Pharma. This fits perfectly into the underdog narrative so popular in the alternative sphere. The reality was and is a smallish, independent production company looking into a large industry. And I’m still waiting for my Big Pharma check.</p> <p>The Norwegian Acupuncture Association’s broadside against the programme came last week, signed by their leader. In it she repeatedly misquoted the programme, scornfully dismissed the “science” (sic) presented, unashamedly citing as proof of effect a study that in fact concluded the opposite, giving misleading statistics on the popularity of acupuncture, and presenting as her trump card the fact that doctors and nurses are legally permitted to use acupuncture: therefore it must work.</p> <p>She contended, “the most important thing is freedom of choice and the ability to individually find out what works best.”</p> <p>No.</p> <p><a href="">Bloodletting</a> was a successful and widely used medical treatment for centuries. Its effectiveness was a given. When statistics entered the scene, it was discovered to have been mass murderer all along. Many of those killed by the practice certainly believed it the right thing for them; after all that’s what their trusted doctor said, and their neighbour did eventually rally after one such treatment.&nbsp;Today’s alternative medicine isn’t nearly as dangerous of course; most of it is just ineffective, plus placebo, which is why it’s still around.</p> <p>The author of the critique is a nice person. But to paraphrase Upton Sinclair:&nbsp;it is difficult to get someone to understand something, when their salary depends upon their not understanding it.</p> <p>Those who call themselves a healer or psychic are in essence saying, “I have magical abilities”. Fair enough. If they charge money for these magical services, we might suggest testing it on TV, but hey, what’s the world without some wizardry?</p> <p>It’s different for those who clad themselves in the garbs of science. If you want to give your treatment an air of authority by using scientific terminology and insisting on being backed up by evidence and trials, you have to play by the rules of science, and accept criticism if you disregard those rules.</p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="400" height="225" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p> <p align="center"><em><small>Testing the placebo effect with ice water. (c) NRK/Teddy TV</small></em></p> <p><strong>Being human<br /></strong>As well as investigating the validity of certain commercial offerings, we wanted to highlight our inherent irrationality. Not theirs – <em>ours. </em>Perhaps our first mission sabotaged the second somewhat, because some have asked why we label the users of these treatments stupid. That was far from our intention.</p><p>Those who believe in alternative medicine aren’t stupid. They’re human. <em>We are human</em>.</p> <p>Every bias and fallacy we discussed can apply across the board. People with no belief in alternative medicine can make utterly irrational choices in other areas. The placebo effect exists in evidence-based medicine too. All of us experience cognitive dissonance and illusory correlations on a regular basis. Much advertising and rhetoric is geared towards exploiting these quirks of the mind.</p> <p>Our programme’s psychologist, who is extremely well read on (ir)rationality, recently caught himself googling the brand name of a car he was inclined to buy, plus the phrase “best in test”. He found exactly what he wanted to find; a prime example of confirmation bias.</p> <p>With lack of quality-controlled information, inherent trust in our fellow beings and a brain prone to biases and logical fallacies, the popularity of alternative medicine isn’t very surprising. We’ve tried to assist the information part, while highlighting the fact that our brains play tricks on us all.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Science = tools<br /></strong>Scientists are fallible humans too, which is why they use the scientific method,<em> </em>developed in large part to cancel out the effects of the mechanisms that make us so prone to drawing wrong conclusions.</p><p>Modern, evidence-based medicine is a young discipline, but its impact have been massive. Most of us would not exist without it. In developed countries, we now expect to live into our eighties, a century ago you would have been lucky to reach fifty.</p> <p>It is imperfect of course, and so is the pharmaceutical industry, with extremely serious <a href="">flaws</a> that urgently needs to be addressed. But its underlying principles are sound. A casual stroll in a cemetery, noting the lifespan improvement in recent times, confirms that.</p> <p class="Body1">&nbsp;“There is so much we don't understand yet”, we’ve been told repeatedly. And while that’s quite correct, unfortunately it’s often paired with an unwillingness to learn about what we in fact <em>do</em> know, and why it seems to be incompatible with their pet theory.</p><p class="Body1">“Science can't be used for everything,” they say. And indeed, science is a terrible method for creating works of art, lovemaking, comforting the grieving, comedy or finding out the meaning of life.</p> <p class="Body1">But it’s a fantastic one for going to the moon, creating the technology you read this on – <em>and</em> <em>concluding</em> <em>which medical treatments work and which not. </em>Ancient Chinese wisdom, spirituality, good intentions and even empathy are all rubbish at those.</p> <p class="Body1">And make no mistake: despite loud claims, had healing or homeopathy had real effects other than placebo, these would be easy to measure. The trials have been done. They don’t<em>.</em></p> <p>Using the imperfections of evidence-based medicine, or the fact that treatments with effects may also have side effects, as a fig leaf to cover up the truth about alternative treatments is a cheap trick.</p> <p class="Body1">In fact, <a href="">randomized controlled trials</a> are so good at finding answers to certain types of questions (<em>if </em>something quantifiable works and<em> how well, </em>but not <em>how</em>), they should be applied more often to areas other than medicine. In a recent UK Cabinet Office <a href="">white paper</a>, Ben Goldacre and David Torgerson make a good case for using RCTs to test the effectiveness of certain kinds of policies, making for better results and less waste.</p> <p class="Body1"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="400" height="267" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p> <p align="center"><em><small>Science - bad a jokes, good at space travel and medicine. (c) NRK/Teddy TV</small></em></p> <p class="Body1"><strong>Cake, and the eating of it<br /></strong>Saying “we should do more research into alternative medicine” is at best a crowd pleaser, after all who can be against more research? But this ignores the fact that resources are limited. When there is reason to believe an alternative treatment has real and useful effects, trials are naturally warranted. Unfortunately, there is much to suggest most or all of the good bits of alternative medicine have already been adopted and enhanced by actual medicine by now. <a href="">Willow bark</a> was an effective alternative treatment, which is why it is no more – today we know it as aspirin.</p> <p>We must spend our efforts on what is most likely to benefit humanity. Instead of trying to prove or disprove faith-based theories, we should focus on reasonable goals, such as cancer research, combating the diseases that ravage the developing world, or investigating the <a href="">promising</a> <a href="">potential</a> of <a href=",8599,2004887,00.html">drugs</a> that have been off-limits to scientists for far too long, due to the taboo of the irrational “war on drugs”.</p> <p><strong>Hearts and minds<br /></strong>We’re emotional beings, but when we are to make decisions on our health and safety, we need facts. When we’re trying to solve the climate crisis, counter xenophobes wielding pseudo-demographics, or decide whether we should get vaccinated - we need solid data, not wishful thinking.</p> <p>We must dismiss gut feeling and taboos and embrace honest, open, fact-based debate, so that we can use our resources for research in ways that give the most benefit to the most people.</p> <p>Each of us possesses an exquisite brain. But it is capable of deeply irrational judgements. Despite it being fantastically adaptable, evolution prepared it for a very different life than the one we’re living; anecdote used to be key to survival on the savannah, data is a new concept.</p> <p>The vast majority of alternative practitioners aren’t frauds, they’re believers, motivated by the desire to help others. There is no nobler motive. But without the tools developed to circumvent the biases and fallacies that are hardcoded into our brain, helping is a lot harder than it seems.</p> <p>Isn’t acknowledging our human shortcomings and taking steps to reveal them the most open of all approaches?</p> <p>We must set our goals with our hearts, but use our minds to figure out how to reach them.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="">The programmes</a> (at - in Norwegian &nbsp;- available untill November 6)</p><p>Ben Goldacre's <a href="">Bad Science</a>&nbsp;(blog)</p><p>Daniel Kahneman's <a href="">Thinking, fast and slow</a> (book)</p><p>Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst's <a href="">Trick or Treatment?</a>&nbsp;(book)</p><p>Dan Ariely's <a href="">Predictably Irrational </a>(book)</p><p><a href="">Warning letter</a>&nbsp;from NHL&nbsp;(in Norwegian)</p><p><a href="">Critique from acupuncturists</a> (in Norwegian)</p><p><a href="">Folkeopplysningen on Facebook</a>&nbsp;(in Norwegian)</p><p>Psychologist Jan-Ole Hesselberg's&nbsp;<a href="">Tankesmed</a>&nbsp;(blog, in Norwegian)</p><p><a href="">Imagining conspiracies</a></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/robert-sharp/libel-reform-perils-of-inadequate-response">Libel reform - the perils of an inadequate response</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/magnus-nome/death-of-controversy">The death of a controversy?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/thomas-ash/im-overdosing-tomorrow-care-to-join">I&#039;m overdosing tomorrow - care to join?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/Exile-Nation_JulieHolland">The Exile Nation Project - Interview with Julie Holland, M.D.</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openusa/thomas-rodham/on-bullshit-and-truthiness-harry-frankfurt-stephen-colbert-and-paul-ryans-conv">On bullshit and truthiness: Harry Frankfurt, Stephen Colbert, and Paul Ryan&#039;s Convention speech</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Norway </div> </div> </div> Norway Science, development & faith science & technology faith & ideas television Notes from the Editor-in-Chief health Magnus Nome Thu, 31 Dec 2015 11:47:39 +0000 Magnus Nome 68344 at Our fallible prophet <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Rational reflection and reasoning should not be a threat to religion. Drawing on religious texts, the author argues Muslims should embrace the fallibility of the prophet, and so free themselves of the shackles of history and paralyzing dogmas.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>To read this article in Arabic click <a href="">here</a>.</p><p>In a brief interlude between two debates at a culture festival, I encountered the film ”Innocence of Muslims”. Fast-forwarding through the trailer, three minutes was sufficient to make up my mind: an amateurish mishmash of overplayed, parodic scenes unworthy of notice.</p> <p>But notice it got. Anger is boiling in the Muslim world, with mass mobilisation to restore the honour of the prophet in East and West. In a few days an intricate picture emerged, too complicated for anyone to pretend they have grasped its complexities. Suicide bombings and attacks on embassies have led to the loss of many lives. Large demonstrations are held daily. We’re flooded with news and analysis. We see, hear and are tormented by the riddle of how a low budget flick of this calibre can trigger an international crisis. After all our efforts at drawing acceptable borders between freedom of religion and freedom of speech, we should have progressed further than this. But here we are again: conflict and strife.</p> <p>Some attempt to explain the new wave of protest by pointing to the post-revolutionary chaos in the Arab world, the rampant unemployment and widespread anti-American attitudes. One notes the growth of right wing extremist groups and increasing scepticism, or outright hostility, towards Muslims in the west. Experts have covered all these economic and political aspects. But where did the religious perspective go, in a conflict triggered by criticism of religion and festering because of the defence of it? It seems the analysts’ judgement is coloured by their local atmosphere, where the liberal version of religions has long since buried all memory of religious wars. As someone whose background is in Muslim culture and faith, I find these analyses good, but inadequate. </p> <p>The enraged demonstrators inside and outside the Muslim world, valuing the honour of the Muslim prophet over not only freedom of speech, but human rights and other man made laws, have different motives as well as varying political, social and moral values. But they all emphasize the status of the prophet in Islam. Exalted and unassailable. Infallible and untouchable. I argue that the questions arising from the current, tense situation cannot be formulated – far less answered – without taking the religious aspect into consideration.</p> <p><strong>The history of religion</strong></p> <p>So let me write a few words on religion, not as a static artefact, but as an historic process. The tradition and collective experience of Islam has been shaped by a multitude of influences – and I believe that is grounds for cautious optimism. The explosive rage on behalf of the prophet is inextricably connected to dogma and doctrine developed in a phase of Islam long after the death of the prophet himself. The orthodox dogma of the Quran an eternally existing, rather than created, message, and the doctrine of the infallibility of the messenger of God, is a theological-philosophical pairing constructed in a time when civil war raged under the caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib. In the year 827 the dogma was consolidated by the caliph al-Ma´mun, after one of two rival factions, the Umayyads (today’s Sunnis), had marginalised Ali’s followers (the Shias). In other words, centralizing political power in the newly established Islamic empire went hand in hand with the cementing of the holy texts and elimination of all theological challenges. A significant school at the time, Mu´tazila, distanced itself from these irrational doctrines, and for that reason had to go into hiding.</p> <p>But what has history from eight and ninth century Arabia to do with the attacks on embassies and widespread violence in response to a film critical of Islam produced in 21st century USA? Everything! To attack the ”sacredness” of the prophet was, logically, interpreted as an attack on the fundaments of the classical faith. In this rigid theological context, a caricature that humanises and reduces the prophet is an outright attack on the very underpinnings of thefaith. </p> <p>I’ve spent a lot of time pondering this in recent years. It has become apparent to me that this dogma must be challenged, not only to resolve the current conflict between speech versus faith, but to free the Islamic tradition from the cage that has led to intellectual and philosophical stagnation for centuries. This is the most significant barrier to a reform theology, and to the introduction of liberal ideas into Muslim culture and society. </p> <p><strong>Reading with new eyes</strong></p> <p>A simple feat of logic should be what is needed to break this wall of dogma, on which such a large volume of classical theological literature is based. But as we know, logic isn’t the optimal way to counter what resides in the spiritual and religious sphere. Nevertheless, it is my moral duty to present this challenge to my own. I keep within the Islamic tradition, and will not support my argument with a single non-Muslim source. I adamantly believe we Muslims have the knowledge and tools we need for analysis within our own tradition. All we need is to read with new eyes. </p> <p>The following story is found in classical Islamic history books and is known to most Muslims: shortly before the battle at Badr in the western park of the Arabian peninsula (624), and after the prophet Muhammad had placed his troops in formation, a disciple, Hubab, asks if this choice of military position is revealed by God, or is a tactical choice by the prophet himself. The prophet replies it was his own choice, to which Hubab replies: ”Prophet, this isn’t the right position.” In the story, the prophet follows the advice of Hubab and orders the troops to march to the nearest source of water and block the enemy from accessing it. Only due to this new tactic do the Muslims win the battle, considered the turning point in the Muslim fight against the heathen tribes. </p> <p>The prophet made a serious miscalculation in a critical war situation, in a crucial phase of Islamic history. The guidance that corrected it came from an individual in the Muslim community, not directly from God. What should this tell us about the prophet and the creation of the Quran? An infallible and holy figure can give us a heavenly book where not a character shall change. But a regular, chosen human being can convey the message of God that is needed for the times. </p> <p>Reforming Islamic theology does not involve throwing all our tradition overboard. It is about establishing methods for rational reflection and reasoning. To discard imitation and repetition. We need to stop branding the rationalists amongst us as heretics, and rather look upon them as creative challengers and renewers. Only by freeing our religion from the shackles of history, the paralyzing dogmas, can we deny amateur films and simple caricatures the destructive powers capable of inducing the apocalyptic scenes we see today.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>To read this article in Arabic click <a href="">here.</a> </p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/shirin-ebadi/shirin-ebadi-who-defines-islam">Shirin Ebadi: who defines Islam?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/zainah-anwar-ziba-mir-hosseini/decoding-%E2%80%9Cdna-of-patriarchy%E2%80%9D-in-muslim-family-laws">Decoding the “DNA of Patriarchy” in Muslim family laws </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/email/musawah-there-cannot-be-justice-without-equality">Musawah: there cannot be justice without equality </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/musawah-solidarity-in-diversity">Musawah: solidarity in diversity</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> 50.50 middle east Culture & society europe & islam faith & ideas global security human rights history reform Religion Sara Azmeh Rasmussen Mon, 24 Sep 2012 08:30:06 +0000 Sara Azmeh Rasmussen 68225 at Manchurian mormon? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Mitt Romney needs to answers basic questions about potential conflicts between his&nbsp;religious vows and his prospective presidential vows.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>We would never elect a rabbi, priest or ayatollah President. It would be a&nbsp;violation of the separation between church and state, and it would be&nbsp;un-American. Yet, Romney, who has served in leadership positions in his&nbsp;church as a bishop, priest and deacon, may be sworn to uphold church&nbsp;doctrine.</p> <p class="p1">There is, of course, nothing wrong with being religious; the problem is that&nbsp;religious perfectionists cannot simultaneously function as secular&nbsp;perfectionists.</p> <p class="p1">Facts seem to support Romney's consistent elevation of church needs over&nbsp;national or mainstream ones. Here are some of the matchups:&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1"><strong>Wartime Matchup: Church vs. U.S. Army (1965 - 1969) </strong>In 1965, Romney sought&nbsp;to avoid going to Vietnam and applied for an exemption from military service&nbsp;on the basis that he was a "Minister of Religion". He received this and&nbsp;multiple additional deferments. Instead of fighting for his country, he&nbsp;chose to evangelize for his church in France. Why? If his church denounces a&nbsp;future war, will Romney act against his church's position?</p> <p class="p1"><strong>Racial Matchup: Church vs. African Americans (1947 - 1978)</strong> From his birth&nbsp;until 1978 (when Romney was 31 and had lived through the civil rights&nbsp;movement), blacks were ranked lower than whites in his church (and, related&nbsp;to the above issue, were more likely to be drafted). They had to give a&nbsp;chunk of annual income to the church but were not allowed to be priests. Did&nbsp;Romney ever protest this apartheid?&nbsp;</p> <p align="center"><img src="" width="400" alt="Jordan River Utah Temple" /></p><p align="center"><small><em>Mormon Temple in Utah. <a href="">Flickr/Altus Photo Design</a>. Some rights reserved.</em></small></p> <p class="p1"><strong>Family Matchup: Church vs. Ann Romney's Father (1993) </strong>Edward Davies, Ann&nbsp;Romney's father, shunned organized religion and refused to join Romney's&nbsp;church. Just a year after Mr. Davies' death in 1992, the Romney family&nbsp;posthumously converted Mr. Davies through a proxy baptism. Besides being a&nbsp;highly inventive way to get back at your in-laws, what message does this&nbsp;send about respect for the dead and for other religions?</p> <p class="p1"><strong>Religious Matchup: Church vs. Judaism (1947 - Present)</strong> Romney's church has&nbsp;baptized millions of dead people into their faith, including Holocaust&nbsp;victims such as <a href="">Anne Frank</a>.&nbsp;Romney has admitted to participating&nbsp;in these ceremonies and won't disown the practice. Does the economic benefit&nbsp;of swelling the church's vast genealogical database, a Facebook to the Dead,&nbsp;outweigh the negative associations of manipulating the personal information&nbsp;of millions of families?</p> <p class="p1"><strong>2012 Election Matchup: Church vs. Tax Returns (2012 - Present) </strong>In Parade&nbsp;magazine's August 26th issue, Romney based his refusal to disclose tax&nbsp;returns on his church's policy of not disclosing its finances. Again,&nbsp;loyalty to church trumps precedent of full disclosure set by three decades&nbsp;of candidates (including his own father) to fully disclose. His church is&nbsp;very <a href="">economically ambitious</a>.&nbsp;Shouldn't a President go out of his way to assure voters that Oval Office&nbsp;decisions are appropriately delinked from his church's finances?</p> <p class="p1">Given Romney's lifelong religious and financial twinning with his church,&nbsp;it's fair for voters to expect some transparency as to the potential&nbsp;conflicts between a President's obligations to his country and church.</p> <fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/david-alpher/with-friends-like-these-on-romneys-comments-about-israeli-and-palestinian-culture">&quot;With friends like these...&quot; on Romney&#039;s comments about Israeli and Palestinian culture</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/seth-redniss/bain-co-solves-middle-east-crisis">Bain &amp; Co. solves Middle East crisis</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/seth-redniss/nra-proves-that-guns-actually-save-lives">NRA proves that guns actually save lives</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/magnus-nome/sports-for-people-who-dont-like-sports">Sports for people who don&#039;t like sports</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> United States </div> </div> </div> United States faith & ideas north america presidential elections Mitt Romney Religion Secularism constitution Seth Redniss Tue, 11 Sep 2012 18:57:57 +0000 Seth Redniss 68014 at India is ready for change, but censorship, taxation and corruption plagued the Art Fair <p><span><span><span><span><span>The fourth annual <a href="">India Art Fair</a> (IAF), held earlier this year, was hailed by Indian and international media as proof of an art culture come of age. The private opening was packed with the art-hungry moneyed class from all over the world, not least among them Indian buyers with an eye on potential investments. In the last few years, Indian modern art has taken its place on the international stage, and buyers in India have benefited; but there is also a hunger to experience work by international artists. The public days saw schoolchildren, students, aspiring artists and other keen spectators bypassing work by Indian mega-artists Subodh Gupta and Bharti Kher to take pictures of each other by Tracey Emin’s 2011 neon, </span><span><em>Love is what you want</em></span><span>. A group of young Indian women at the White Cube stand were struck by Damien Hurst’s 2008 </span><span><em>White Lies</em></span><span>: a bright gold cabinet displaying row upon row of glittering zirconias. “I take the piece to signify something about the lies all men tell women,” said one visitor, and her girlfriends all agreed.</span></span></span></span></span></p> <p lang="en-US"><span><span><span><span>Behind the scenes though, the IAF was showing symptoms of three maladies that are depressingly common in India. First, the curtailment of freedom of expression; second, prohibitive taxation; and finally a certain kind of black-market money-churning that makes it difficult for international gallerists to take part.</span></span></span></span></p> <p lang="en-US"><span><span><span><span>Censorship casts a long shadow over Indian cultural life. The IAF took place in the wake of the Jaipur Literary Festival, which saw <a href="">Salman Rushdie prohibited</a> from attending through a combination of right-wing Muslim outrage and the capitulation of Indian politicians. A more insidious form of this censorship affects Indian cultural life everyday: the exercising of an unwritten moral code that encourages the banning of all manner of artistic expression from the public’s delicate gaze.</span></span></span></span></p> <p lang="en-US"><span><span><span><span>At the Everard Read Gallery, visitors were able to enjoy astonishing work by South African artist <a href="">Leigh Voigt</a>, including a painting of two cockerels poised on a crumbling, whitewashed wall and facing off against each other like soldiers from opposite sides at the India-Pakistan border in Wagah. Given the political history between India and South Africa, a sculpture of Gandhi in his dhoti also attracted attention. But the crowd didn’t know what they weren’t shown: sculptures by internationally recognised artists Bryn Werth and <a href="">Angus Taylor</a> that were confiscated at the airport by Indian customs officials on the grounds that they were too ‘lewd.’ In the world’s largest democracy, cultural and moral policing comes as part of the job at customs.</span></span></span></span></p> <p lang="en-US"><span><span><span><span>A spokesperson for the gallery who did not wish to be named said, “We had a few problems as a few works were confiscated at the airport. We have been told they will be sent back with the rest when we leave.” She added, “They were not suggestive. There are plenty of other nudes at the show.” A flick through the catalogue reveals she is right. Visitors to the stand of New Delhi-based gallery, Wonderwall, could see a photograph by an Indian artist of four (headless) female nudes, made in clay; countless other pieces celebrating and questioning our relationship with our own bodies were in evidence at other stands.</span></span></span><span>&nbsp;</span></span></p> <p lang="en-US"><span><span>‘<span><span>Lewdness’ is in the eye of the beholder, and is a favourite charge of the Indian censor. That the censor is so arbitrary makes its prurient attitude all the more difficult to swallow. When I asked the spokesperson if the Everard Read Gallery would be coming back next year she simply said, “We thought coming this year would be a great idea. About coming back – we haven’t thought that far ahead.” It would be a great shame if they didn’t.</span></span></span><span><span><span>&nbsp;</span></span></span></span></p><p> Laura Williams, of the Norwich based <a href="">Art 18/21 gallery</a>, highlighted the unique challenges presented by this particular event. “The first year was a massive eye-opener for me,” she said. “If you have no experience as an international gallery coming to India, it can be a steep learning curve. International galleries need to research the market and know how it works in that region. It’s not like showing in areas which have strong institutional support for art.”</p><p>&nbsp;</p> <p lang="en-US"><span><span><span><span>She was full of praise for the IAF itself. “The organization of the fair and the enthusiasm of the visiting public is impressive,” she said, “but the bureaucracy is a nightmare.” This includes the heavy customs duty, which is levied based on the value of work being brought into the country. If the work is not sold, that money is returned. Needless to say, this process doesn’t always work in a smooth or timely manner. Williams said, “If you’re showing £3 million worth of work, it’s not feasible to pay that money up front.”</span></span></span></span></p> <p lang="en-US"><span><span><span><span>That the rules don’t seem to be fixed also causes problems. The morning before the show opened, Williams and other international galleries received emails from the government demanding more duty be paid. For smaller galleries such costs can be prohibitive and, again, limit what they can show. One Spanish gallery brought work to the fair on an ATA Carnet, an international customs bond that allows temporary imports without taxation. But if the Carnet holder sells any work it must be taken back to the original country and then reshipped, with all duties paid, to its final destination, which could be back in India. A spokesperson from a leading Indian gallery with links in London admitted, “If someone was undecided about buying a piece, the extra cost and wait might be a deterrent, particularly if you are used to buying large art works and having them delivered straight away.”<span>&nbsp;</span></span></span></span></span></p> <p lang="en-US"><span><span><span><span><span>Finally, what about the healthy black-market that India has always run on? When wealthy Indians need to avoid tax, they spend big, with a suitcase full of cash handed over in a private residence to a waiting dealer in exchange for the work. Receipts are not accepted. For a first-time international gallerist showing in India, this might come as a shock: rupees can’t be taken out of the country. A quick visit to a money launderer in a central Delhi location, currency stuffed down the underwear and in pockets of suitcases: the stuff of a Bollywood remake of the </span><span><em>Thomas Crown Affair</em></span><span>, surely? Not so. According to my sources, that’s pretty close to what happens.</span></span></span></span></span></p> <p lang="en-US"><span><span><span><span>Why is the paperwork so prohibitive? Of course art is a niche interest at the best of times. In India, it has not historically been given much emphasis in the school system, forget at undergraduate or postgraduate level. Indian secondary-school students in the 1970s, 80s and 90s were streamed into science or commerce strands and then encouraged into the family business or corporate jobs. But more insidious than this marginalisation is the attitude that art is subversive, a corrupting influence that must be circumscribed to avoid the erosion of society’s perceived moral and national values.</span></span></span></span></p> <p lang="en-US"><span><span><span><span>Perhaps the only thing that will change this attitude is the increasing financial value of modern art in India. Depressing though this is, the opening up of the market has seen the growth of the private gallery sector all over the country. This means people can now see work by a wide range of artists from the Modern Masters to contemporary international superstars. There is a burgeoning scene promoting the new generation – postmodernists with a sense of irony, a significant move away from the politically earnest nostalgia seen in Indian artists born in the 1970s. Last year, for the first time in history, India had a pavilion at the Venice Biennale.</span></span></span></span></p> <p lang="en-US"><span><span><span><span>Within the country, the taste is for more than purely ‘Indian’ however, and not just among the elite. International artists show regularly at the private galleries in the metropolitan cities Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. To make the most of the international nature of the fair, and perhaps for lack of opportunity to visit such spaces, young people rub shoulders with megabucks collectors at the IAF. Tickets were reasonably priced. Williams underlines that it’s the presence of school visits and interested non-buyers which makes this fair so different from other international shows such as Basel, where it’s all about buying and selling. “The IAF has a unique energy,” she said. “The question I get asked the most is not ‘How much is it?’ but, ‘Can you tell me what this work is about?’” It’s a place where school girls in grey kilts, knee socks and maroon jumpers could be seen standing next to dealers, in front of a sculpture of a naked baby curled over next to a frog. All of them perhaps reflecting on their own origins, or perhaps just wondering whether they liked the work or not. Thank goodness the customs officials can’t censor that.</span></span></span></span></p><p lang="en-US"><span><span><span><span>This year, around 128,000 visitors saw work at 84 galleries from across the globe, proving how much enthusiasm there is when work is made accessible to public viewing. These are impressive numbers that bode well for the future of the IAF. But behind the scenes, it is clear that the government needs to do more to support the event and others like it. Cultural life thrives on access to art from all parts of the globe, which in turn relies on freedom of expression. Without such exchange in an atmosphere free of corruption, the art-hungry public, the galleries coming with great excitement to India, dealers, buyers and the fair itself will continue to be sadly shortchanged. </span></span></span></span> </p> openIndia openIndia India Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics faith & ideas Culture & society arts & cultures arts & culture freedom of expression Preti Taneja Creative Commons normal lewdness free speech culture art Wed, 14 Mar 2012 13:21:05 +0000 Preti Taneja 64704 at The Great Partnership: multiculturalism, faith and citizenship <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href=";tag=opendemocra0e-21&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1634&amp;creative=19450&amp;creativeASIN=0340995246"><img src=" Partnership.jpg" align="right" width="80" /></a>Do the supposedly civilised values of human rights and responsible citizenry become exclusionary, used to divide rather than unite? Is religion a partner of liberty? On the day the British parliament considers a bill proposing the banning of headscarves in public places, Robin Llewellyn reviews Jonathan Sacks' ‘The Great Partnership: God, Science, and the Search for Meaning’ </div> </div> </div> <p>With head scarves and minarets banned in the name of freedom, some argue that faith and human rights are locked in a desperate conflict. But Jonathan Sacks’ work: <a href=";tag=opendemocra0e-21&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1634&amp;creative=19450&amp;creativeASIN=0340995246"><em>The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning</em></a> (Hodder &amp; Stoughton, 370pp, paperback released 21 June 2012) counters this claim, strongly arguing that religion preserves liberty in contemporary states.</p> <p class="image-right">&nbsp;</p><p> “The story I am about to tell” he begins, “concerns the human mind’s ability to do two separate things. One is to break things down into their constituent parts and see how they mesh and interact. The other is to join things together so that they tell a story, and to join people together so that they form relationships.” </p> <p>He sees science as the best example of the first ability, religion of the second, and the book itself reads like a long story taking the reader on a journey through teachings of Nietzsche, Marx, de Tocqueville, and Maimonides among many others, as well as those of the various atheistic and religious people whose influences and company he has cherished.</p><p>We seem him in 1968 crossing America in a Greyhound bus, “meeting rabbis and asking them the big questions”, and his story is an often exhilarating discussion of topics such as improbability and the formation of the universe, the parallel impacts of the Bar Kochba Rebellion and the Thirty Years War, and the futility of trying to prove the existence of God. Such breadth is almost impossible to summarise, but its discussion of politics resonates with what I experienced in Switzerland while researching the ban on minarets a year ago, and I merely introduce the work in its relation to religious freedom.</p> <p>Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, Sacks claims that liberty of conscience “was born in the most intensely religious of ages, based on religious texts and driven by a religious vision.”&nbsp; Drawing on Eric Nelson’s <a href=";tag=opendemocra0e-21&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1634&amp;creative=19450&amp;creativeASIN=0674050584">The Hebrew Republic</a><em>,</em> he argues that thinkers such as Hugo Grotius, Thomas Erastus, Peter Cunaeus, and later Thomas Hobbes, John Milton, and John Locke developed three principles that framed the secular approach to politics: namely that legitimate constitutions be based on the consent of the governed, that the state should fight poverty, and that government should abstain from legislating in matters of religious belief. Sacks claims all three of these propositions were based “not on Plato or Aristotle, but on Leviticus and Deuteronomy and the books of Samuel and Kings.&nbsp; Even Hobbes, an atheist, based his political philosophy on the Bible, which he quotes 657 times in The Leviathan.”<a href="#1">[1]</a></p> <p>This new emphasis on freedom of conscience followed the damage wrought by the religious wars following the reformation, for whereas in some areas such conflict had been won outright, in others victory was partial or elusive, a situation that engendered a variety of compromises. One response was to decide that: “Since religion is a source of conflict, let us ban it altogether, at least in public. If people must worship, let them do it in the privacy of their homes or places of worship but nowhere else. That was the view of Voltaire and the French revolutionaries: <em>Écrasez l’infâme</em>, ‘Crush the infamy’.”</p> <p>Another possibility, Sacks argues, emerged in an English society undergoing an era of unpredictability, when the day’s victor could be the morrow’s victim. The victors took the opportunity to instead grant religious liberty to all those who were willing “to keep the civic peace”.&nbsp; Liberty of conscience was therefore born at a time of religious conflict to safeguard a space for freedom irrespective of which side held power: “In England, and eventually in a different way in the United States, religious liberty came to be created by people for whom religion mattered a great deal, in a way that surprised and intrigued French observers.”</p> <p>The differing nature of these settlements has continued to shape the extent of religious freedom today, visible in the debate over the Swiss ban on the construction of minarets.&nbsp; Patrick Freudinger is a <a href="">Swiss Peoples’ Party</a>&nbsp; councillor and was part of the three person committee that drew up the proposition banning minarets that now forms part of the Swiss constitution.</p> <p>“You can be a Muslim without having a minaret” he told me, “It's not necessary for religious liberty, so the minaret is only a symbol for power, a symbol for political Islam.”&nbsp; </p> <p>I asked Mutalip Karaademi - president of the Islamic Centre in Langenthal whose application sparked the initiative – whether this was true:</p> <p>“The decision to build a minaret is of a symbolic character: to be present, to be open. Everyone in the town knows that we don’t cause problems; they say ‘you are quiet, you are innocent.’ So what’s the problem? A democracy should be free for all who don’t cause trouble.”</p> <p>The controversy also illustrates how debates concerning religion now often involve contradicting claims of liberty and persecution.&nbsp; If the Bible significantly shaped our understanding of liberty, its writing has also affected the ways in which human rights are currently understood - or, depending on one’s perspective - misunderstood. Sacks writes: “The curious detail is that all the early Christian texts were written in Greek, whereas the religion of Christianity came from ancient Israel and its key concepts could not be translated into Greek.&nbsp; The result was a prolonged confusion, which still exists, between the God of Aristotle and the God of Abraham.”</p> <p>Contrasting the worlds of Athens and Jerusalem is a recurring theme of <em>The Great Partnership</em>, one that Sacks uses to throw light on our conception of political progress, since the philosophy of Greece and the religion of the Jews display divergent understandings of time. Whereas Plato would see truths as timeless, the Hebrew Bible sees truth as stories about people, human nature, and the experiences through which that nature develops. “The message of Exodus to Deuteronomy can be summed up simply: it took a few days for Moses to take the Israelites out of Egypt. It took forty years to take Egypt out of the Israelites. The road to freedom is long and hard, and you cannot force the pace.”</p> <p>Sacks argues that the danger of political revolutions shaped purely by philosophy - by “systems of theoretical constructs” - is they attempt precisely that; the immediate construction of a new social order.&nbsp; Human rights espoused by purely political revolutionaries become liberties to be imposed <em>by</em> the state, whereas ‘English liberty’ was developed through imposing limits <em>to</em> the state. Sacks argues that the French approach “was to see rights as an ideal description of humanity which it is the task of politics to enforce”, and quotes <a href="">J. L. Talmon</a> to warn that when “a regime is by definition regarded as realizing rights and freedoms, the citizen becomes deprived of any right to complain that he is being deprived of his rights and liberties.”</p> <p>A telling illustration could be Nicolas Sarkozy, pronouncing in 2009 that "The problem of the burqa is not a religious problem, it's a problem of liberty and women's dignity. It's not a religious symbol but a sign of subservience and debasement. I want to say solemnly: the burqa is not welcome in France. In our country, we can't accept women prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity. That's not our idea of freedom."</p> <p>According to Sacks, the English conception of liberty is steadily being displaced by the French, evident in airport worker Nadia Eweida being forbidden from wearing her crucifix.&nbsp; The <a href="">Face Coverings (Regulation) Bill 2010-2011</a> has its second reading in the House of Commons today, and if enacted would make it an offence to cover one's face in a public place except, (among such limitations as health and safety reasons) “in a place of worship”.</p> <p>The imposition of such a dress-code in the name of liberty and dignity goes beyond the legitimate limits that are set in Sacks’ reading of the Abrahamic tradition, where politics is always of a lesser importance to the web of relationships we form in our communities, our families, and through cultural activities.&nbsp; Politics “is not where we meet God, not where we construct our deepest relationships, not where we exercise our highest virtues, not where we achieve individual and national glory. It is a means to an end, no more, no less…. It is the secondary nature of politics in the Judeo-Christian vision that is the surest guarantor against an intrusive state. Where politics is primary, politicians rule supreme; and where politicians rule, freedom is in danger.” </p> <p>Civil society therefore creates a buffer between the individual and the state that preserves liberty, reducing the vulnerability of individuals and communities. Without this secondary nature, when politics becomes the highest virtue, “it becomes a way in which the people worship the collective embodiment of themselves, and they can sacrifice many essential liberties to it, including the liberty of the minority.”</p> <p>Sacks describes the danger of 'single vision' to both believer and atheist; the belief that there is only one answer to the central questions of society and politics. The ability to compromise with those we don't altogether understand is essential to a decent society, he argues, and criticises the 'new atheist' Sam Harris's assertion that the ideal of religious tolerance is driving society toward an abyss.</p> <p>Sacks doesn’t spare religion from a listing of its crimes through history, but argues that when engaged in a vigorous dialogue with science, religion is essential if we are to deal with the challenges of the twenty-first century.&nbsp; “Religions work best when they are open and accountable to the world” he says.&nbsp; “When they develop into closed, totalising systems and sectarian modes of community, when they place great weight on the afterlife or divine intervention into history, expecting the end of time in the midst of time, then they can become profoundly dangerous, for there is nothing to check their descent into fantasy, paranoia and violence.”</p> <p>Hostility and unease towards religion, whether made evident in bans to a particular head dress, to minarets or crucifixes, can be seen as a narrowing of our understanding of liberty, not just in its scope but also of its history.&nbsp; The answer is arguably not to tolerate other faiths and belief systems, but to celebrate them.&nbsp; Rabbi Jackie Tabick is Chair of the World Council of Faiths, and speaking at the latest <a href="">Interdependence Day</a> event, she said it was vital to: “treasure both cultural and religious diversity, because after all, one of the major facets of multiculturalism is the bonus of having religious diversity in our country. We believe that each religion brings its own טעםטעם, the Hebrew word for ‘taste’. We encourage the delving into the philosophy, the teachings of our own faiths, to a deeper and deeper level, so we can bring what is important to our different faiths to our discussions.”</p> <p>The same lesson could be applied to cultures: At the Islamic Centre in Langenthal Mutalip Karaademi reminisced about an Albania where tables would be shared in brotherhood between those of different faiths: “We are Albanian, we are born, live, and die with three religions: Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim. We celebrate their Christmas and our Islamic days… I want a synagogue here, every religion. I want Langenthal to be an example for the world, although it’s a small place.”</p> <p>Chair of the Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony Dr Abduljalil Saji, also speaking at Interdependence Day meeting had a similar message: “We have to not only accept each other but respect each other and make sure that we work together because that’s what the purpose of religion is all about: that we human beings should love each other, care for each other, irrespective of our faith, colour, creed, or whatever we are, because we need to look after each other.”</p> <p>These assertions bring us back to Sacks' premise, that religion joins people together to form relationships, and this multitude of voices speak from a place where faith and liberty enjoy a synergistic relationship.</p> <p>Such a scholarly and important book as this deserves similarly weighty critiques, particularly to further explore the degree to which the Abrahamic tradition developed liberal and democratic government. Classicists might disagree with his depiction of Athenian society in which there was “no higher law, no transcendental ethic, no divine norm, to which the state is answerable and in the light of which it can be criticized and if need be opposed.”&nbsp; </p> <p>His thesis that it was the religious nature of the English and American political revolutions that engendered regimes where human rights developed, whereas the philosophical revolutions of France and Russia were quickly tyrannical, deserves scrutiny given the abuses under the new ‘Abrahamic’ regimes in Ireland and towards indigenous Americans.</p> <p>But such challenges are a testament to the scope and endeavour of <em>The Great Partnership,</em> a book that leaves both atheists and believers newly aware of dissonances in the meaning of once familiar concepts.&nbsp; Sacks has produced a riveting and rewarding work that raises awareness of past calamities and present dangers, at the same time as displaying optimism that faith and philosophy, science and religion can - through greater knowledge and open debate - together overcome the challenges facing us. </p> <p>Jonathan Sacks: <a href=";tag=opendemocra0e-21&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1634&amp;creative=19450&amp;creativeASIN=0340995246"><em>The Great Partnership: God, Science, and the Search for Meaning</em></a><em>.</em> Hodder &amp; Stoughton. 370pp. ISBN 978-0-340-99524-2, Paperback release date: 21 June 2012</p> <p>Footnotes</p> <p><a name=1></a>1. <a href=" Congress of Faiths -Rabbi Jackie Tabick.pdf"> Text of the speech to Interdependence Day talk at the House of Lords, September 12, 2011, by Rabbi Jackie Tabick, Chair of World Congress of Faiths (notes taken by Robin Llewellyn).</a></p> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> Science </div> </div> </div> uk Civil society Culture Ideas Science human rights faith & ideas IDEA 50.50 Gender Politics Religion secularism bodily autonomy Robin Llewellyn Fri, 20 Jan 2012 15:57:49 +0000 Robin Llewellyn 63763 at 2011, a year of wonder <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> A great scientific breakthrough is also a path to appreciating the core ingredient of our humanity, says Tina Beattie. </div> </div> </div> <p>Maybe every generation believes that it lives in uniquely interesting and challenging times.&nbsp;The last year seems too to fit&nbsp;the description. European nations that have struggled for centuries to realise their visions of freedom are seeing them disappearing into the rubble of failed neo-liberalism, while nations in the middle east are just beginning that same epic struggle. </p> <p>But while the political and economic rhetoric might change, there is nothing new about any of this. War and revolution, natural disasters, the rising and falling of nations, the inhumanity of the richest and the desperation of the poorest, do not mark us out as any different from the rest. However, there is one area in which we really are outstripping all previous generations, and that is in science and technology. </p> <p>On 13 December 2011, the BBC2 television programme <em>Newsnight</em> devoted considerable time to a story about the Higgs Boson particle, which scientists think may have made an elusive appearance in experiments at the Hadron Collider at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (<a href="">Cern</a>) in Geneva. It was impossible not to feel a sense of amazement as images that could have been lifted from Terence Malick’s film <em>The Tree of Life</em> floated across the screen, with a voice-over by the programme's science editor, Susan Watts: "We don't really know why everything around us exists, why the universe has form, why objects have mass. The fundamental question about why we're here remains unanswered. But today's announcement could change all of that." </p> <p>When scientists talk about multiverses, a new cosmology and the meaning of life, they tap into an insatiable source of wonder which is the very essence of our humanity, and we do not have to understand the science to experience a sense of awe about the cosmos of which we are a part. Indeed, today at the furthest frontiers of modern physics, scientists still resort to the same terminology which inspired the earliest Greek philosophers in their reflections on the universe. When Susan Watts talks about existence, form and mass, she could as easily be reading from a pre-Socratic fragment as from a 21st-century science script. </p> <p>But there is a fundamental difference. Those ancient philosophers stood at the very beginning of the western philosophical quest for God, and today popular science has decided to close down that quest by claiming to be on the brink of discovering the answer. Scientists often refer to the Higgs Boson as "the God particle", and Watts invites us to believe that its discovery has the capacity to answer the "fundamental question about why we’re here". Of course it doesn’t, because that is not a question that science can ever answer. </p> <p>The quest for the Higgs Boson particle has been described many times as the Holy Grail of modern science, but the Holy Grail is a mythical symbol of a quest into the thickets of mystery and longing which make us truly human. Simone Weil once wrote: "In the first legend of the Grail, it is said that the Grail...belongs to the first comer who asks the guardian of the vessel, a king three-quarters paralysed by the most painful wound: 'What are you going through?'" The quest for the Holy Grail is a quest for hope and compassion in a wounded world, beyond all the cures and answers that science can offer. Science has a part to play in that quest, but only when it allows its knowledge to be tempered by wisdom and its genius to be the servant rather than the master of our humanity. </p> <p>The Higgs Boson is not a God particle. It cannot tell us why there is something rather than nothing, it cannot tell us how consciousness is possible, and it cannot explain the curiosity that makes us ask such questions in the first place. But it is a wonder all the same, and something that might indeed make the year 2011 different from all the rest. GK Chesterton once said that "The world will starve not for lack of wonders but for lack of wonder." This has been a year of wonders, but it is wonder itself that makes us human. </p> <p><span>&nbsp;</span></p><div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> </div> </div> 50.50 Culture Democracy and government Ideas faith & ideas europe Tina Beattie Wed, 21 Dec 2011 07:28:52 +0000 Tina Beattie 63360 at An arch-visionary of Canterbury <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> The leading religious authority of the Church of England has disappointed many of the hopes invested in him. Rowan Williams has indeed failed to address the challenges facing the Church and the Anglican Communion, not least its historic entanglement with state power. This is the project that his successor must understand, says Theo Hobson. </div> </div> </div> <p>It seems increasingly likely that Barack Obama and Rowan Williams - alike leaders of institutions with both a national character and a global reach - will be haunted by the same question: had they been able to govern in less hostile circumstances, would they have become the great leaders they initially seemed to be, at least in their supporters’ eyes?</p><p>The United States president may yet win another term in 2012. But the disappointments of his first leave many wondering whether a healthy economy could have given Obama the foundation to do what now seems unlikely: point America beyond its culture wars and launch a new era of liberal confidence after the malaise of the George W Bush era.</p><p>The term-limit of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the most senior prelate of the Church of England and worldwide Anglican Communion, is less precisely defined - though his retirement, after almost nine years in the position, is reportedly imminent. </p><p>In his case, the counterfactual tends to go as follows. If the internal crisis over homosexuality had not blown up so dramatically, forcing him into damage-limitation mode and also leading him to suppress his own liberal instincts, could Rowan Williams have pointed Anglicanism beyond its own culture wars by articulating a vision both liberal and traditional? Could he then have renewed the Church of England, as well as taking the Communion in a progressive direction?</p><p><strong>The establishment fix</strong></p><p>Yet such questions assume rather a lot. In particular, that Williams had a clear agenda for the renewal of the Church from which he was regrettably blown off course. This in turn suggests that the standard liberal narrative of disappointment at Williams is inadequate. For it falsely supposes that bold liberalism on the gay issue is the essence of reforming vision: if only he had resolutely defended gay rights, all would be well. But in reality the Church of England and the Anglican Communion face deep-rooted challenges that have very little to do with the dispute over sexuality. The real cause for disappointment is that Williams failed to confront these challenges.</p><p>What are these deep-rooted challenges? They centre on the complex relationship between the Church of England and the rest of the Anglican Communion. The Communion of course arose from the British empire; an imperial state-church gave rise to satellite churches, which became independent, non-established churches in new states. The history of empire fades very slowly; in a sense it still hinders the development of this international Christian body (which does not call itself a church but a communion of churches, or ecclesial provinces). To a very large extent the Communion still finds its coherence in the imperial centrality of the Church of England. I suggest that it cannot easily move on from its imperial past while the Church of England remains strongly in tune with that past - by virtue of remaining established. Also, of course, there is a purely domestic case for disestablishment.</p><p>Rowan Williams's origin in the disestablished church in Wales meant that he was well placed to start this conversation. Without explicitly advocating disestablishment, he could have put the issue on the table. He could have explained, in his capacity as leader of the Anglican Communion, that establishment is not essential to Anglicanism, but rather anomalous, and that the establishment of the mother-church might be seen as a structural problem, a barrier to Anglican coherence. If the Communion is to become stronger, maybe this local quirk must be rethought.</p><p>I am not saying that Williams should have suddenly solved this huge, centuries-old problem, but he should have nudged the Church of England towards understanding the situation. He should have helped it to see itself less as a national established church, more as part of an international phenomenon. He had the opportunity to coax the Church of England towards this "paradigm shift"; to show it that its future is as one part of an international religious body, the Anglican Communion. But many diverse complexities surround this process, and over the last decade they all surfaced together, overwhelming any reforming intentions that Williams may have harboured.</p><p><strong>The double constraint</strong></p><p>It must first be noted that Williams’ position on the establishment of the Church of England has always been somewhere between nuanced and muddled. From one angle he sees it as a barrier to an authentic, international Anglican ecclesiology (he is sympathetic to the Anglo-Catholic tradition that sees establishment as an insult to the Church’s authority). But from another angle he sees establishment as a valuable defence against secular liberalism and individualistic capitalism: it is a statement that religion remains fundamental to society. </p><p>Before his appointment to Canterbury, the former perspective just about dominated: he was a very tentative advocate of disestablishment. This changed after his appointment, and not just because of his new role. The main factor was 9/11, and the high-profile debate about the place of religion in society that ensued.</p><p>The atmosphere of this debate was nervy, defensive; not conducive to the floating of reforming ideas. Many religious voices warned of a new aggressive secular liberalism, and insisted that establishment was a crucial bulwark in an uncertain time. Williams went with the flow: he foregrounded the "anti-secular liberal" side of his thought. The new mood of polarisatio, between "religion" and "secular liberalism" made it almost inevitable that the Church of England would retreat into conservative habits, and make liberal qualms seem disloyal. This conservative mood was also expressed in the arena of church schools, which were developed in a direction that greatly irked secular liberals (admission was increasingly restricted to active churchgoers). In this new era of religious politics, Williams perhaps had little choice but to make more of his conservative aspect, and to keep disestablishment far from the table.</p><p>In his previous career Williams had balanced conservative with liberal impulses. His conservatism was expressed in his attachment to Catholic forms and ideas, and his opposition to certain currents of liberal theology. His liberalism was expressed in a leftish, anti-Tory, gently anti-establishment attitude, and also in his reformist position on the ordination of homosexuals. </p><p>It was inevitable that appointment to Canterbury would to some extent encourage the exaggeration of his conservatism and the diminution of his liberalism. But external circumstances meant that this happened to a remarkable degree. Most obviously, he found it necessary to suspend his liberalism on homosexuality. With most provinces of the Communion violently opposed to the ordination of homosexuals, he had to represent the majority, and reprimand the American church for choosing a homosexual as a bishop in 2003.</p><p>The whole saga has had a disastrous impact on the aforementioned paradigm-shift: the process by which the Church of England moves towards seeing itself less as a national church, more as part of an international body. The crisis has made the Communion seem a retrograde force in the eyes of the liberal majority of English Anglicans, a vehicle for fundamentalism. It seems to show that the best defence of liberal Anglicanism remains the good old established Church.</p><p>It is hard to imagine how Williams could have defied these two mighty forces that beset him: the new conservatism that followed 9/11, and the explosion of anti-gay sentiment in the Communion that followed the election of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. But it is worth imagining what he might have attempted, had they been absent.</p><p>Without these constraints, he could have encouraged the Church of England to look at itself in the light of international Anglicanism. He could have shown it that its entanglement in national cultural politics might be a distraction from its essential religious purpose. As a semi-outsider, he was well placed to say that English Anglicanism carries unnecessary baggage that may impede evangelism. It entails a particular conception of religious politics, one that is very widely seen as dated, illiberal. He could have put the question: has this historical inheritance become a distraction, even a subtle form of idolatry? Consider the wider Communion, he could have said: it proves that establishment is inessential to Anglicanism.</p><p><strong>The surprising truth</strong></p><p>So the need remains, for a visionary archbishop of Canterbury. Such a figure would begin to wrest the Church of England from its ancient political entanglement, using the Anglican Communion. He would say that Anglicanism is now essentially a post-establishment tradition. He would tell the parent-church to learn from its children. By this means he would encourage the English to look again at the primary business of Christianity: the ritual response to Jesus Christ, and the creation of community around this form of culture. He would liberate Anglicanism from its historical involvement in state power - or at least announce that this is the project of our time.</p><p>Would this lead to a renewal of the Church of England? It is impossible to say whether it would become more successful in attracting people. But it would become purer, purged of its complicated accretions. </p><p>At the risk of sounding faux-naïve, English Christianity must be de-complicated, shown to be surprisingly simple. All the stuff that gets in the way of the communication of Jesus Christ must be reformed away, or at least identified as secondary, dispensable. This is a difficult process, which entails the renunciation of inherited power, but only through such a process can this tradition find new coherence, and new authenticity.<br /><br /></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Theo Hobson, <a href=";bc=0"><em>Against Establishment: An Anglican Polemic </em></a>(Darton, Longman &amp; Todd, 2004)</p><p>Theo Hobson, <a href=";bc=0"><em>Anarchy, Church and Utopia: Rowan Williams on the Church</em></a> (Darton, Longman &amp; Todd, 2005)</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Theo Hobson is a <a href="">theologian</a> and writer. His books include <a href=";bc=0"><em>Against Establishment: An Anglican Polemic </em></a>(Darton, Longman &amp; Todd, 2004); <a href=";bc=0"><em>Anarchy, Church and Utopia: Rowan Williams on the Church</em></a> (Darton, Longman &amp; Todd, 2005); and <a href=";CountryID=1&amp;ImprintID=2&amp;BookID=132203"><em>Milton's Vision: The Birth of Christian Liberty</em></a> (Continuum, 2008). His website is <a href="">here</a></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/the-anglican-vision-after-lambeth">The Anglican vision after Lambeth</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/john-milton-s-vision">John Milton’s vision</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/faith_ideas/europe_islam/sharia_law_uk">Rowan Williams and sharia law</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/rowan_williams_sharia_furore_anglican_future">Rowan Williams: sharia furore, Anglican future</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/theo-hobson/religious-crisis-of-american-liberalism">The religious crisis of American liberalism</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> England </div> <div class="field-item even"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> </div> </div> UK England Democracy and government Ideas institutions & government faith & ideas democracy & power Theo Hobson Wed, 23 Nov 2011 05:46:44 +0000 Theo Hobson 62781 at 9/11: the identity-politics trap <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> The reaction to the attacks of 11 September 2001 included an instinctive veneration of their chief architect. Its deeper foundation is a regressive and widespread ethno-religious view of the world, says Sami Zubaida. </div> </div> </div> <p>A few days after the 9/11 attacks I was at a dinner-party at the house of middle-eastern friends. Most of the guests were exiled veteran communists. The discussion turned, inevitably, to the recent cataclysmic event. I was soon astonished and dismayed by the tone of veneration of Osama bin Laden, whom my companions clearly saw as a hero - even as they simultaneously cast doubt on whether it was the <em>jihadists</em> under his command who really were responsible.</p><p>This was, of course, the contradictory position taken by many admirers at the time and subsequently: bin Laden didn’t do it, it was the work of the CIA and the Jews, and yet it was still deeply gratifying - an event that lifted those who were not even responsible to the ranks of heroes and prophets.</p><p>The depressing ethos of that dinner-party was widely shared. In that particular case it was a phenomenon of the bankruptcy of a particular section of the left which, at the collapse of the Soviet world and its affective associations, had turned to various narrow nationalisms and a third-worldist anti-west stance.</p><p>In other cases, 9/11 satisfied (well-earned) anti-American sentiment in many corners of the world. There were reported street-parties in Argentina, Chile and elsewhere; some Palestinians in their occupied land and camps distributed sweets; rich, smart Saudis sported wrist-watches with flashing images of their hero (who didn’t do it); Nigerian babies were named after him (who didn’t do it); and “Shaykh Usama” was for a while revered in the Muslim world.</p><p>The raid in Pakistan which killed bin Laden raised echoes of this earlier veneration, a reaction partly occasioned by the way it was conducted. These sentiments continue to be toxic in many parts, notably in troubled Pakistan and among the Pakistani diaspora in the west.</p><p>It’s true that in the intervening years, the many atrocities of al-Qaida which targeted Muslim populations weaned most people away from any sympathy with the organisation. Yet the reactions generated at the original moment survived as a layer of identity politics for many Muslims and westerners alike; and they were strongly reinforced by the “war on terror” and the military adventurism of the United States and its allies, in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. The idea of a universal Muslim <em>umma</em> confronting a hostile west (Christian and Jewish, as well as Hindu) became a standard motif, reciprocated by hostility to Islam in many western quarters.</p><p>Such notions of confrontation have the consequence of subordinating geopolitical and economic to ethno-religious formulations. The complex and tragic events of Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance, are simplified into America “killing Muslims” (ignoring the fact that most Muslims there and elsewhere have been killed by co-religionists). Israelis and their supporters can wash their hands of any efforts towards peace or settlement on the grounds that “Muslims hate us”, and no amount of negotiation or concession can alter that. Again, issues of land and settlement and military occupation are all subordinated to an essential ethno-religious conflict.</p><p>The Arab uprisings appear to have brought a new political generation onto the field, one that eschews the old paradigms of nationalism and religion in favour of what has been called “constitutional patriotism”: liberty, democracy, economic reforms and jobs. There are fears, however, that this generation lacks the cohesion, the institutional or organisational base, and thus the potential for mobilisation that will be needed to turn its initial momentum into the lasting change that would amount to “revolution”.</p><p>Moreover, other forces are far better positioned to benefit from “democracy” (read elections): elements of the ancien regime (notably the military top-brass in Egypt), regional bosses and religious authorities (though not necessarily the Muslim Brotherhood, which is divided by generation and includes elements of the new politics). Ethno-religious slogans and symbols are part of the armoury of these groups. The atmosphere of the bleak post-9/11 days casts a shadow that is still to lift.&nbsp; <br /><br /></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Sami Zubaida is emeritus professor of politics and sociology at Birkbeck College, London. Among his books are <em>Islam, the People and the State: Political Ideas and Movements in the Middle East</em> (IB Tauris, 1993) and <em>Law and Power in the Islamic World</em> (IB Tauris, 2003)</p> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> Conflict Democracy and government International politics Globalisation faith & ideas american power & the world democracy & power middle east Sami Zubaida Wed, 07 Sep 2011 14:30:48 +0000 Sami Zubaida 61309 at The dinner-party revolution <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> The dinner-party is a symbol of complacent presumption, the last occasion to be associated with genuine dialogue or the jolt of rethinking. But it’s possible to renew the ritual in surprising ways - and really caring about the food is just the start, says Keith Kahn-Harris. </div> </div> </div> <P>Dinner-parties don’t always get a good press. They can be a euphemism for a certain kind of middle-class smugness, disguised under a thin veneer of sophistication. This image of superficiality is embodied in an old TV advert for coffee, where a hostess passes off instant for fresh coffee by making ostentatious brewing sounds from the kitchen.</p> <P>The dinner-party can also signify a kind of echo-chamber for the lazy assumptions and anathemas of the “chattering classes”. An illustration came in January 2011, when the chair of Britain’s co-governing Conservative Party, Sayeeda Warsi, <A href="">argued</a> that Islamophobia had passed the “dinner-party test” - itself a mirroring of the&nbsp;<A href="">accusation</a> of&nbsp;the writer Rhoda Keonig in 2009&nbsp;that “dinner-party anti-semitism” was now rife in Britain. Here, the dinner-party becomes the measure of newly acceptable social prejudice and conformity.</p> <P>Whether or not such characterisations of polite opinion in Britain are true, they themselves carry the danger of a sort of inverted stereotype towards the dinner-party as an “occasion” and the people who attend it - and perhaps a lazy prejudice about its possibilities. In fact, the reality of the dinner-party can indeed escape the casually reductive formula that surrounds the notion and be instead (as well as a place of enjoyable food) a forum of different views and a space of genuine challenge rather than smug agreement. I know this because, for the last couple of years, I have been organising private dinners that are intended to encourage dialogue and civility within the Jewish community.</p> <P>The Jewish <A href=";SearchType=Basic">community</a> in Britain, although relatively small (under 300,000 people), is riven with internal conflict. In the last few years, one of the principle conflicts has been how to relate to the state of Israel. Whereas Zionism had, for the decades after the 1967 war, been a source of relative consensus in the Jewish community, since the outbreak of the second Palestinian <EM>intifada</em> in 2000, Israel <A href="">itself</a> has become a source of dissensus. Questions of how and whether Jews should criticise Israel in public are extremely divisive and <A href="">debates</a> on the subject are often conducted with great bitterness and anger. At stake are fundamental questions about community and identity - including who is a Jew, and what are Jews’ duties to other Jews and to the Jewish state.</p> <P>My own difficult experiences of being embroiled in the Israeli conflict in the Jewish community -&nbsp;including losing a grant because of my views on Israel - led me to seek ways to encourage a more civil dialogue on the subject. But few existing conflict-resolution and dialogue models seemed appropriate, as formal dialogue can be stilted and most projects concentrate on relations between communities rather than within them.</p> <P>After a few false starts I hit on a model that made sense to me: why not invite small groups of Jewish leaders and opinion-formers to my house to discuss the issues in an informal and convivial setting?</p> <P><STRONG>Across the divide</strong></p> <P>So for the last couple of years, my wife Deborah and I have held a series of dinner-parties at our home. We have hosted nearly seventy people from all sides of the Israel debate, including such well-known figures as <A href="">Jacqueline Rose</a>, <A href="">Melanie Phillips</a>, <A href="">Jonathan Freedland</a>, <A href=";ci=9780199297054">Anthony Julius</a> and <A href="">Julia Neuberger</a>. Each dinner is carefully put together to ensure a diverse spread of opinions, ensuring that everyone encounters views with which they (according to their publicly expressed views) do not agree.</p> <P>The dinners are kept deliberately open-ended. Neither my wife nor I are neutral conflict-resolution specialists. Rather, our job is to encourage productive, meaningful conversation between those who, all too often, only know each other from platform debates, media exchanges and comment-threads.</p> <P>One of the ways we do this is through paying a lot of attention to food and the intangibles of atmosphere. The food is a big deal for us. That means consistently avoiding the Jewish communal standby meal of grilled salmon and boiled new potatoes, or anything that screams “Jewish dinner to talk about Israel". Rather, we’ve tried to serve food that demonstrates care, attention and love, such as home-baked bread and pies, and vegetables from our garden. One rule we have is that everyone eats the same thing if at all possible, so when a vegan attends or someone has an allergy they are not singled out.</p> <P>It cannot be a coincidence that the one serious row we had happened at a dinner when a lentil dish we had made got burned. For the most part though, conversations have been intimate, sometimes intense, but almost always courteous and productive. We are modest in our aims in that we do not expect that our dinners on their own can bring peace to the community. Instead we focus on subtly putting the issue of civility on the communal agenda, on creating opportunities for opposing “sides” to meet, and on proving that it is possible to talk about our differences without anger.</p> <P>The strict confidentiality of the dinners means I can only speak about them in general terms. What I can say is that they are often surprising in that those who have argued in public often find beliefs and experiences in common when they meet in private. Those whose public articles and speeches imply an unwavering certainty are often full of ambivalence and complexity in private. When encountered over an intimate dinner, it is hard for any individual to remain a stereotype or a caricature for long - or to see any other that way.</p> <P>Over the course of this project, I’ve gradually become aware that I’m far from alone in my belief in the possibilities of the dinner-party. Although there is no exact analogue of my dinners, some of the more successful (and least known) interfaith projects do involve sharing food together. More broadly, the rediscovery and popularisation of the salon in recent decades, stimulated in part by work of the American magazine the <EM><A href="">Utne Reader</a></em>, and the massive popularity of book groups, show a deep desire for convivial conversation held, for the most part, within the home.</p> <P>Some organisations, such as the <A href=""><SPAN><SPAN>School of Life</span></span></a>&nbsp;and the <A href=""><SPAN><SPAN>The Oxford Muse</span></span></a>, have held “conversation dinners” that aim to stimulate connection and dialogue through the shared pleasures of eating and talking together.&nbsp;The <A href=""><SPAN><SPAN>The Underground Restaurant</span></span></a>&nbsp;movement, that transforms houses into intimate and quirky places for strangers to come and eat and meet,&nbsp;is quietly growing around the world, stimulated by such remarkable figures as London’s Kirsten Rodgers (aka <A href="">Msmarmitelover</a>). I myself am part of a project called The High Table that opens at the <A href="">The University Project</a> in London in autumn 2011; it will create a kind of egalitarian version of the Oxbridge formal high table, in which innovative thinkers and doers will create a kind of fellowship over food and conversation.</p> <P><STRONG>The universal table</strong></p> <P>More broadly, the major world religions all have traditions in which <A href=";SubjectId=1043&amp;Subject2Id=1785">hospitality</a> is a sacred duty. For example, in the book of <EM>Genesis</em> (chapter 18), Abraham’s efforts to extend hospitality to three strangers who pass by his tent are one of the ways through which he is portrayed as a spiritual model. There are many ethnic and religious practices that involve welcoming others into the home and the sharing of food: Jewish festivals such as Pesach and Sukkot, monastic practices of hospitality, breaking of the fast during Ramadan, and Pashtun hospitality codes in Afghanistan.<BR /><BR />These diverse practices and projects share something very primal. Eating is one of the things that connects all human beings. It is both a pleasure and a necessity. Similarly, the home and hospitality is a reflection of the human need for shelter. By sharing food and the home we affirm something common to us all. That isn’t to say that hospitality can cure all ills, but&nbsp;by creating a temporary refuge from an often harsh world it can also fertilise the seeds of a better.&nbsp;&nbsp; <BR /><BR />Perhaps one of the reasons for the frequent disparagement of dinner-parties is that they are small and private affairs. All too often the public sphere is regarded as the place where “real” change happens and the private sphere as a parochial source of secrets and narrow-mindedness. This certainly, and for understandable reasons, informed the early feminist critique of the family and the home.<BR /><BR />The problem is that in a multifarious world of 7 billion people, the task of social change can also seem bewildering and frightening. All the more reason to rediscover the possibilities offered by the private sphere and the home, including that of eating together. After all, big changes can start with small acts, a fact exemplified by some of the great&nbsp;events the world has witnessed in 2011. The educationalist <A href="">Ivan Illich</a> is reputed to have&nbsp;said: “The limit of political possibility today is the number of people who can sit together around a table.” Maybe, just maybe, holding a dinner-party can be a first step to a larger transformation.<BR />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <P>Keith Kahn-Harris &amp; Ben Gidley, <A href=";SearchType=Basic"><EM>Turbulent Times: The British Jewish Community Today</em></a> (Continuum, 2010)</p> <P><A href="">Keith Kahn-Harris</a></p> <P>Anthony Julius, <EM><A href=";ci=9780199297054">Trials of the Diaspora:&nbsp;A History of Anti-Semitism in England</a></em> (Oxford University Press, 2010)&nbsp;</p> <P><A href="">TED</a></p> <P><A href="">School of Life</a></p> <P><A href="">RSA</a></p> <P><A href="">School of Everything</a></p> <P><A href="">Dialogue Project</a></p> <P><A href=""><SPAN><SPAN>The University Project</span></span></a></p> <P><A href="">The Oxford Muse</a></p> <P><A href="">The Underground Restaurant</a></p> <P><EM><A href="">Utne Reader</a></em></p> <P>Richard Kearney &amp; James Taylor, <EM><A href=";SubjectId=1043&amp;Subject2Id=1785">Hosting the Stranger:&nbsp;Between Religions</a></em>&nbsp;(Continuum, 2011)</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <P>Keith Kahn-Harris is honorary research <A href="">fellow</a> at the Centre for Religion and Contemporary Society, Birkbeck College. He is the author (with Ben Gidley) of <A href=";SearchType=Basic"><EM>Turbulent Times: The British Jewish Community Today</em></a> (Continuum, July 2010). He has written widely on Israel, Jewish affairs and politics. His website is <A href="">here</a></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/keith-kahn-harris/naming-movement">Naming the movement</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/keith-kahn-harris/war-of-rhetoric-israel-palestine-vortex">A war of rhetoric: the Israel-Palestine vortex</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/keith-kahn-harris-joel-schalit/in-search-of-israeli-left">In search of an Israeli left</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/keith-kahn-harris-joel-schalit/israeli-post-democracy-origins-and-prospects">Israeli post-democracy: origins and prospects</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/the_attractions_of_denial">The seductions of denial</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/the-politics-of-me-me-me">The politics of ME, ME, ME</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/arts_cultures/literature/human_knowledge">How to talk about things we know nothing about</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> <div class="field-item even"> England </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> England UK Civil society Democracy and government faith & ideas democracy & power europe Keith Kahn-Harris Tue, 06 Sep 2011 09:29:33 +0000 Keith Kahn-Harris 61276 at Indonesia: pluralism vs vigilantism <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> A pattern of violence against the Ahmadiyah religious community, in which the perpetrators enjoy near-impunity and official indulgence, is disfiguring Indonesia. It also presents a wider challenge to the country’s vital search for a model of religious tolerance in public life, says Charles Reading. </div> </div> </div> <p>Indonesia’s political and social progress is shadowed by the indulgence of violence towards members of the country’s Ahmadiyah religious community. An example is the fallout of an attack in Cikesuik on 6 February 2011 that <a href="">killed</a> three people, of which a disturbing and graphic recording was <a href="">made</a> and used in evidence at the trial of led of twelve men accused of inciting hatred and mob violence. In the event the district-court verdict on 28 July found the men guilty only of a secondary charge of “participation in a violent attack that resulted in casualties”, and they were given lenient sentences of three and six months’ imprisonment.</p><p>A worrying aspect of the trial is that the judges held the Ahmadiyah community itself responsible for the assault on the grounds that it had not left the scene as the police had requested, but rather stood its ground in face of the mob. One of the Ahmadis, Deden Sujana, was even prosecuted (and <a href="">convicted</a> on 15 August 2011) on charges of provoking the violence; he will serve six months in prison, <a href="">more</a> than some of the assailants.</p><p>This clearly sends the dangerous message to vigilantes that violence can be <a href="">perpetrated</a> with impunity or at best very mild punishment. These actions pose a very real threat to local communities, and contribute to the growing political influence of vigilantes despite their proportionally small numbers. More broadly, the confrontational approach of vigilantism sidelines other actors in the important and vibrant debate concerning religious identity in modern Indonesian society.</p><p><strong>The assault on the Ahmadiyah</strong></p><p>The attack against the Ahmadiyah in Cikeusik cannot be described as a one-off, as members of the group have faced repeated targeting, stigmatism and intimidation. The <a href="">Ahmadiyah</a>, who number around 200,000 in Indonesia, revere the founder of their sect, Mirzan Gulam Ahmad, as a messenger; because of this, some Muslims <a href="">consider</a> them heretical. In 1980, the <a href=""><em>Majelis Ulama Indonesia</em></a>&nbsp;(Indonesian Council of Ulama / MUI) issued an edict declaring Ahmadiyah heretical, and reiterated this in 2005.</p><p>The situation was exacerbated in 2008 when a joint ministerial <a href="">decree</a> (SKB No 3/2008) from the religious-affairs and interior ministries and the attorney-general’s office called, if not for the outright banning of the Ahmadiyah, then for severe restriction on their activities. Some of the decree’s supporters - such as Itoc Tochiya, the mayor of the city of Cimahi in West Java province - had claimed the ban would be in the interest of the Ahmadiyah’s own security; and in May 2008, independently of the national government’s restriction Itoc Tochiya officially <a href="">outlawed</a> Ahmadiyah in Cimahi.</p><p>Violence has continued, as in the burning of an Ahmadiyah mosque in Cisalada, West Java, in October 2010 and the gruesome <a href="">attack</a> of February 2011; so has persecution, as in the <a href="">banning</a> of the group in West Java by the province’s governor, Ahmad Heryawan, in March 2011.</p><p>Several civil-society organisations - backed by Islamic organisations like the <em>Muhammadiyah</em> - have called for the protection of the Ahmadiyah community; they include the Bandung Legal Aid Institute (<a href="">LBH-Bandung</a>), the inter-religious network <a href=""><em>Jakatarub</em></a>, and the <a href="">Institute for Culture and Religion Studies</a> (Incres). Indonesia’s government has paid little heed, and failed to counter regional prohibitions against the Ahmadiyah; rather, the minister for religious affairs, Suryadharma Alihas, regularly <a href="">expresses</a> his determination to ban the sect.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>The rise of vigilantism </strong></p><p>This climate of stigmatism and violence is the <a href="">context</a> for the attack against the Ahmadiyah community in Cikeusik and the tolerance shown by the courts towards the perpetrators. This paints a worrying picture of <a href="">impunity</a> for those who commit violence “in the name of religion”.</p><p>Indeed only two days after the verdict, the vigilante group <a href=""><em>Front Pembela Islam</em></a> (FPI) marched on the presidential palace to call on the government to ban Ahmadiyah. The FPI regards itself as a defender of Islamic norms, and - through the militant <em>Laskar Pembela Islam</em> (LPI) command - is continuously <a href="">involved</a> in attacks on bars, clubs or even (in March 2010) an international sexual-rights conference in Surabaya. Almost none of this aggression carries serious consequences for the agitators. &nbsp;</p><p>The numerous cases where the FPI has taken the law into its own hands show that the relationship between the group and the police is complex. In the past the police have done little to <a href="">deter</a> FPI violence towards Ahmadi and minority groups, though in 2011 they stated their wish to ban FPI vigilante raids during Ramadan. Members of the government maintain relations with the group, as was evident in August 2010 when the FPI’s twelfth anniversary was <a href="">attended</a> by the governor of Jakarta, Fauzi Bowo and Jakarta’s then police chief inspector, Timur Pradopo. Moreover, the group maintains friendly links with conservative <a href="">elements</a> within the MUI, the department of religious affairs, and <em>Bakor Pakem</em> (the Coordinating Body for Monitoring People’s Mystical Beliefs in Society). &nbsp;</p><p>The FPI also involves itself in political issues with no obvious religious relevance - such as its demand that Greenpeace (which has waged a high-profile campaign against Indonesia’s <a href="">palm-oil</a> industry) leave Indonesia. The group plays on the argument that juxtaposes the “Islamic world” against “the west”. Its use of such civilisational logic helps explain why the FPI quite easily can oppose anything it views as western but remains quiet when, for example, Saudi Arabia <a href="">beheads</a> an Indonesian maid, an act that caused uproar in Indonesia. A dextrous stance of this kind allows the FPI to exploit an imaginary religious solidarity that overrides the rights of individuals and, conveniently, aligns with vested interests within business and governmental circles.</p><p><strong>The worlds of faith</strong></p><p>A less visible consequence of the growing impunity towards vigilante groups is the way such violence limits the debate concerning the role of religion within Indonesian society. In a time when violations of religious freedom are (according to the <a href="">Setera institute</a>) on the rise, the inclusion of further voices becomes ever more necessary.</p><p>The Wahid Institute and UIN Syarif Hidayatullah’s <a href=""><em>Pusat Pengkajian Masyarakat dan Islam</em></a> (Centre for the Study of Islam and Society / PPMI) - although they lack the mobilisational ability of conservative groups like <em>Hizb-ut Tahrir</em> and the FPI - offer two examples of highly distinguished institutions that are analysing how Islam holds relevance in contemporary Indonesia. In this they represent an alternative standpoint from which to approach religion, based less on a <a href="">dichotomy</a> of the Islamic vs non-Islamic world and more on modern transformations within society itself.</p><p>Indeed, the seeming resurgence of Islam (on all sides) should not be seen as a regression into an outdated religious authority but rather linked to economic and political developments in Indonesia since Suharto’s “new order”. Mass urbanisation and new access to education (for example) may have brought an influx of ideas associated with the Muslim Brotherhood and <em>Hizb-ut Tahrir</em>; but these processes also led to the growth of a new urban Muslim professional class that expressed their emerging identity through Islamic clothing and fashion, banking and business models as well as discussion groups, such as <a href="">Paramadina</a>, that undercut traditional lines of Islamic authority.</p><p>In this context, the relative ease with which vigilantes can act with impunity sets a dangerous precedent, and greatly detracts from the image Indonesia is striving to build of itself as a multi-ethnic, multi-faith country of tolerance. The thuggish behaviour of a small group of radicalised individuals and organisations deflects from the vibrant debates that take place more quietly under the rubric of a range of institutions and social organisations linked to Indonesian universities, think-tanks as well as <em>Muhammadiyah</em> and <a href=""><em>Nahdlatul Ulama</em></a>.</p><p>Amid these islands of progress, the government has failed to take leadership in building a more inclusive society and protecting its minorities. The result is to create a vacuum and set a disturbing example. If Indonesia is to build religious pluralism and tolerance between religions, it should start by recognising the plurality of different positions amongst Islamic groups themselves rather than allowing a coercive minority to paint a distorted picture of “Indonesian Islam”. &nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="">International Crisis Group - Indonesia</a></p><p><a href=",com_news_portal/Itemid,42/"><em>Inside Indonesia </em></a></p><p><a href=""><em>Jakarta Post </em></a></p><p><a href=""><em>Nahdatul Ulama</em></a></p><p><a href="">Centre for the Study of Islam and Society (PPIM)</a></p><p>John Braithwaite, Valerie Braithwaite, Michael Cookson &amp; Leah Dunn, <em><a href="">Anomie and Violence: Non-truth and reconciliation in Indonesian peacebuilding</a> </em>(ANU E Press, March 2010)</p><p><a href="">Setara - Institute for Democracy and Peace</a></p><p><a href="">Universitas Paramadina</a></p><p>Adrian Vickers, <a href=""><em>A History of Modern Indonesia</em></a> (Cambridge University Press, 2005)</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Charles Reading is the pseudonym of a Jakarta-based security analyst</p><p>Also by Charles Reading in <strong>openDemocracy</strong>:</p><p>"<a href="article/indonesia-bombs-and-politics">Indonesia: bombs and politics</a>" (20 July 2009)</p><p>"<a href="charles-reading/papuan-autonomy-blocked-road-0">Papuan autonomy: the blocked road</a>" (7 December 2009)</p><p>"<a href="charles-reading/papua-elusive-dialogue">Papua: the elusive dialogue</a>" (23 April 2010)</p><p>"<a href="">Indonesia's far east: security and politics</a>" (18 August 2010)</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/globalization-world/article_1239.jsp">West Papua: Dutch past, Indonesian present, independent future?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/indonesia-bombs-and-politics">Indonesia: bombs and politics</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/globalization-world/article_1874.jsp">West Papuans: neither lads nor cannibals, but humans</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/indonesia_the_biofuel_blowback">Indonesia: the biofuel blowback </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/node/2129">Indonesian democracy: lessons for the west</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/charles-reading/indonesia%E2%80%99s-far-east-security-and-politics">Indonesia’s far east: security and politics </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/arts-Literature/toer_3530.jsp">Pramoedya Ananta Toer: an appreciation</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/charles-reading/papua-elusive-dialogue">Papua: the elusive dialogue</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/east_timor_a_tough_road_ahead">East Timor: a tough road ahead</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/charles-reading/papuan-autonomy-blocked-road-0">Papuan autonomy: the blocked road</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Indonesia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> Indonesia Civil society Democracy and government International politics faith & ideas democracy & power asia & pacific Charles Reading Fri, 26 Aug 2011 05:25:51 +0000 Charles Reading 61132 at Bin Laden, Dostoevsky and the reality principle: an interview with André Glucksmann Europe is trapped by complacency and an all too human desire for oblivious contentment, says a leading French philosopher. This helps ensure the success of the nihilistic terror and extremist ideology exemplified by al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein. Nobody wants war &#150; but genocide is worse than war.<a name="0"></a><br /> <p><b>Liss Gehlen/Jens Heisterkamp:</b> Why do you return to <a href="" target="_blank">the work of Dostoevsky</a> to explain the terrorism of the 20th and 21st centuries?</p> <p><b>Andr&eacute; Glucksmann:</b> In <a href="" target="_blank"><i>Dosto&iuml;evski à Manhattan</i></a> I pose a philosophical question: what is the &#145;idea&#146;, the characteristic form of modern terrorism? And my answer is: nihilism.</p> <p>Socrates asked: what do a beautiful woman, a beautiful vase and a beautiful bed have in common? His answer: the idea of beauty. My question is: what do extremist ideologies like the communism or Nazism of yesteryear and the Islamism of today have in common? After all, they support ostensibly very different ideals &#150; the superior race, mankind united in socialism, the community of Muslim believers (the <a href="" target="_blank"><i>Umma</i></a>). Tomorrow, it could be altogether different ideals: some theological, some scientific, others racist. But the common characteristic is nihilism.</p> <p>The root element is the attitude that anything goes, particularly when with regard to ordinary people: I can do whatever I want, without scruples. Goehring put it like this: my consciousness is Adolf Hitler. Bolsheviks said: man is made of iron. And the Islamists whom I visited in Algeria said that you have the right to kill little Muslim children, in order to save them.</p> <p><b>Liss Gehlen/Jens Heisterkamp:</b> And this took you back to Dostoevsky?</p> <p><b>Andr&eacute; Glucksmann:</b> It is the highest achievement of Russian literature in particular that it has revealed this kernel of human experience in which &#145;everything is allowed&#146;. In Dostoevsky&#146;s <i>The Possessed</i> there are atheists and believers (a figure like Shatov for example) who have very different outlooks on the future. But they share one thing in common: the right to kill, to burn, to overturn, in order to achieve <i>tabula rasa</i>.</p> <p><b>Liss Gehlen/Jens Heisterkamp:</b> When Dostoevsky talks about the devils, or the possessed, he still seems to be guided by the idea that evil is something which captures man from outside. The main protagonist Stavrogin, for example, even talks about the devil&#146;s appearances.</p> <p><b>Andr&eacute; Glucksmann:</b> Actually, the beautiful thing about Stavrogin is that you don&#146;t really know him. You don&#146;t know if he believes in God or not. In the end, what surprised me was to find that he is a little like bin Laden; he might be very cynical, or fanatical, nobody really knows.</p> <p>The inner nature of this <a href="" target="_blank">nihilistic</a> terrorism is that everything is permissible, whether because God exists and I am his representative, or because God <i>does not</i> exist and I take his place. That is what I find so impressive about Dostoevsky: he is a secret, a riddle.</p> <p><b>Liss Gehlen/Jens Heisterkamp:</b> The group of conspirators at the centre of <i>The Possessed</i> seems, from the outside, to have both a coherent programme and a great deal of charisma. From the inside, on the other hand, all that remains is a fascination with destruction. And this fascination develops its own dynamic, pulling everyone under its spell. Destruction takes over as the group&#146;s <i>raison d&#146;etre</i>, while some of those involved still believe it is about the content and messages it offers. </p> <p><b>Andr&eacute; Glucksmann:</b> Yes, there are several different layers of nihilists. There are the &#145;outer&#146; nihilists who follow and believe, and then there are the nihilists at the centre of the action, the activists who pursue the logic of destruction. Dostoevsky has shown this very well indeed, as has Turgenev, in the persona of Bazarov. Or take <a href="" target="_blank">Fritz Lang&#146;s</a> Dr Mabuse figure. These destructive personalities have coherence precisely because they are not idealists. Their coherence derives from the logic of destruction. In a linguistic sense it is performative, and therefore self-endorsing.</p> <p><b>Liss Gehlen/Jens Heisterkamp:</b> Surely Dostoevsky contradicts nihilism to the extent that he is still arguing for a religious solution, a renewal of belief &#150; a point that would be a bit difficult to make today?</p> <p><b>Andr&eacute; Glucksmann:</b> This is very arguable indeed, and would require a much longer examination of Dostoevsky&#146;s work. I think you are right from the ideological point of view. Dostoevsky was conservative, he believed in Greater Russia, and he was also an anti-Semite. But in his literary work as opposed to his essays, he is much more <a href="" target="_blank">subtle and complicated</a>. Dostoevsky completely submerged himself in his writing. His literary work is more difficult, but less dogmatic.</p> <p>Religion as such is surely not the &#145;solution&#146; in this part of his oeuvre. Take the Grand Inquisitor who is a religious man but a catastrophe at the same time. And someone very much influenced by Dostoevsky, the great theologian <a href=",mozilla,unix,english,,new)" target="_blank">Vladimir Soloviev</a>, concludes in his <i>Dialogue</i> of 1900 that there is a strong connection between Orthodoxy, eastern theosophy and Catholicism, one that has been very irritating for all sides.</p> <p><b>&#145;Long live death!&#146;: religious shell, nihilist kernel</b></p> <p><b>Liss Gehlen/Jens Heisterkamp:</b> Let&#146;s go back to nihilism as you have characterised it. If you include Islamic terrorism in nihilism as you have done in <a href="" target="_blank"><i>Dostoevsky in Manhattan</i></a> then you must accept the objection that Islamism is peculiar in presenting itself in the cloth of religion, a spiritual mission.</p> <p><b>Andr&eacute; Glucksmann:</b> Yes, but you can also find a missionary zeal driving those <a href="">Russian nihilists</a> who wanted Greater Russia, or at another time the Great Revolution. There are many missions; what is much more difficult to pin down is the actual practice, the approach. For it is in their approach as activists that religious nihilism, dialectical materialist nihilism or Nazi nihilism are the same.</p> <p>Religion is only the cloth, the excuse and the justification. What is essential is the practice. For there is a direct connection between the Islamic suicide bomber and the general serving under Franco who shouted out in front of the University of Salamanca: &#147;Long live death!&#148; This is the connection that I was trying to grasp.</p> <p><b>Liss Gehlen/Jens Heisterkamp:</b> &#147;Long live death!&#148;?</p> <p><b>Andr&eacute; Glucksmann:</b> At the opening of the University of Salamanca, one General <a href="" target="_blank">Millán Astray</a> shouted <i>Viva la Morte</i>. <a href="" target="_blan">Miguel de Unamuno</a>, who was in charge of the occasion, was a conservative, the prot&eacute;g&eacute; of Franco&#146;s wife, a philosopher of the right. He reproved the general for this impermissible, unacceptable statement, and added: &#147;You, my general who has lost an eye in the war, are a handicapped man not because you have lost an eye but because you have shouted &#145;Long live death&#146;&#146;&#146;.</p> <p>It is precisely this slogan which you hear from Islamic suicide bombers.</p> <p><b>Liss Gehlen/Jens Heisterkamp:</b> Perhaps then, you think that during the course of the 20th and now the beginning of the 21st century, this destructive nihilism has manifested itself in different guises, but remains something like an anthropological constant throughout. Is that your belief &#150; that man carries this trait in his very nature; that he is bound to recurrently submit to it?</p> <p><b>Andr&eacute; Glucksmann:</b> I would put it the opposite way round. Man is human: therefore, he can be civilised, even if he can&#146;t read or write, because he can master this hubris. Wherever you go, this belligerent hubris is considered lethal. In the huts of the Amazon, young men are taught to conquer this capacity for excessive violence. You can fight together, but you cannot fight in any way that comes to hand, and you don&#146;t set out to fight just anyone. The same idea occurs in the teachings of the Greeks, the <i>paidera</i>. All European education is based on the same principle.</p> <p>Indeed, all civilisations have two essential taboos in common: the taboo on &#145;total sexuality&#146;, the incest taboo, different in individual cases, but ubiquitous, and the taboo on violence. You are not allowed to succumb to &#145;absolute violence&#146;. You have to master that hubris in one way or another. In every civilisation you can find the mastering of these two absolute, destructive impulses. And the nature of modernity means that these fundamental taboos are vanishing.</p> <p><b>The sleep of reason</b></p> <p><b>Liss Gehlen/Jens Heisterkamp:</b> Let&#146;s go back to your opening statement on the essential values of Europe that have always been established in resistance to evil. The current threat from militant Islamism is not coming from Europe, and Europeans seem to have a problem in perceiving this threat as a threat to their own interests. Is that why it seems so difficult to summon up the necessary resistance?</p> <p><b>Andr&eacute; Glucksmann:</b> It is not only Islamism: it is nihilism, in its practical manifestation of laying waste to the civilian population. The same approach was to be found in the case of the Russian army when it flattened Grozny, a city of 400,000, and the first capital to be razed to the ground since Hitler&#146;s <a href="" target="_blank">destruction</a> of Warsaw in 1944. This destructive impulse is not in the nature of Islam; this impulse is integral to the nature of civilisation and it can destroy any civilisation.</p> <p><b>Liss Gehlen/Jens Heisterkamp:</b> But these events are not perceived as being played out in central Europe, but in far away and strange locations.</p> <p><b>Andr&eacute; Glucksmann:</b> It has happened in central Europe too &#150; with Milosevic and his ethnic cleansing, which is also a nihilist activity.</p> <p><b>Liss Gehlen/Jens Heisterkamp:</b> Nevertheless, for a long time now, Germany and France have shied away from taking on any responsibility in such situations. They have delayed it as long as possible. And even now, it seems that Europe only wants to safeguard the relative stability that we have achieved in the last fifty years. Everything which falls outside these boundaries, like <a href="" target="_blank">Chechnya</a> or the Middle East, really shouldn&#146;t bother us. </p> <p><b>Andr&eacute; Glucksmann:</b> Yes, exactly: but this is wrong. This is exactly the complacency, the crime of complacency, which once made Hitler possible. This complacency has cost us about 50 million lives. It also worked well for Stalin. &#145;Better red than dead!&#146; Pacifism is a kind of complacency. And this complacency continues with Milosevic, with terrorism, with Saddam Hussein; people just want to sleep. </p> <p>This is nowhere more beautifully invoked than in Chekhov&#146;s <a href="" target="_blank"><i>The Cherry Orchard</i></a>, where the protagonists all live together on an old estate, and nobody cares at all about what might happen, even when they already hear the trees falling. (I had just read the play when they showed the twin towers in Manhattan collapsing on television). The equivalent today is the silence that greeted the odd intellectual who drew attention to Afghanistan, Chechnya, or Kosovo. Nobody wanted to listen; people turn away as from the bearers of ill tidings. </p> <p>But in the end, the reality principle will catch up with us. We believe that we can live in a world where there are only little wars in the peripheries, the suburbs, &#145;low-intensity conflicts&#146;, as the political strategists like to call them. When Ahmed Shah Massoud, Afghan leader of the Northern Alliance and enemy of the Taliban, came to Paris four months before his <a href="" target="_blank">assassination</a> on 9 September 2001, only a small circle of perhaps five or six intellectuals met him. None of our ministers could find the time; only Nicole Fontaine, the president of the European Parliament, came.</p> <p>When the twin towers fell the day after Massoud&#146;s murder, I told myself, &#147;Maybe now men will learn that what happens to women in distant Afghanistan should also be of interest to the people in New York. If Massoud and his troops had gone into Kabul earlier, the twin towers might not have been destroyed&#148;.</p> <p>But I misjudged mankind&#146;s need to sleep. And now we are saying that this only happens to the Americans, not to Europe. But the first time it nearly happened was in Europe. In 1994, a plane was hijacked in North Africa and landed in Marseille. The hijackers had wanted to crash the plane above Paris. But these GIA hijackers (<a href="" target="_blank">Groupe Islamiste Alg&eacute;rien</a>), who were also in some kind of contact with bin Laden, did not know how to fly a plane. That is how the pilots managed to bring the plane to Marseille. For their part, the hijackers clearly learnt from this that they have to be able to fly planes themselves. They have learnt their lesson. But we, we have learnt nothing at all. </p> <p><b>The reality principle</b></p> <p><b>Liss Gehlen/Jens Heisterkamp:</b> But there is a lot of resistance out there to combining anticipation with the use of force, even where it is necessary.</p> <p><b>Andr&eacute; Glucksmann:</b> Yes, of course. This is simple enough to understand. If someone is ill then you are afraid of this illness: you feel sorry for the sick person but you tell yourself at the same time that this could only happen to him, not to yourself.</p> <p><b>Liss Gehlen/Jens Heisterkamp:</b> What was your response to the French government&#146;s thinking on the Gulf conflict and their strict &#145;no&#146; to a forceful removal of Saddam Hussein?</p> <p><b>Andr&eacute; Glucksmann:</b> I am in a minority on this, and not for the first time. When I spoke up in leftist circles about <a href="" target="_blank">Solzhenitsyn</a> I was regarded as some kind of devil. When I supported the <a href="" target="_blank">boat people</a>, it was scandalous. And when it came to Milosevic in 1991, just four of us in France said we have to finish with Milosevic; and if this is possible by peaceful means, good, if not, then by force. But they waited for another eight years before taking action and that cost 200,000 lives. In the beginning you are in the minority, but in the end there is the reality principle.</p> <p>I have discussed these problems a lot with Joschka Fischer whom I have known since 1968. We became friends because when I supported Solzhenitsyn, he and <a href="" target="_blank">Daniel Cohn-Bendit</a> agreed with that position, and criticised Russia. Even though they didn&#146;t endorse my criticism of Marxism, at least they understood it.</p> <p>In these pacifist times, we have had long debates in <i>Die Zeit</i>. Joschka Fischer did not agree with me for a long time. In the end he conceded that after <a href="" target="_blank">Srebrenica</a> there is something worse than war, and that is Auschwitz. What I cannot now understand is how he has turned into a pacifist once again in the face of Saddam Hussein &#150; who is much worse, bloodier and more dangerous than Milosevic, and who has gassed people, partly with German gas.</p> <p><b>Liss Gehlen/Jens Heisterkamp:</b> Maybe Germany and France are so opposed to war because of the war-torn history they have shared. Can&#146;t you accept that this is also part of the common inheritance of European humanism? The loathing of war is understandable after all, isn&#146;t it?</p> <p><b>Andr&eacute; Glucksmann:</b> Of course everything can be understood. Nobody wants war, me included. The question is, is there something worse than war?</p> <p>I have been answering &#145;yes&#146; for years. One thing that is worse than war is genocide &#150; that is, the extinction of a whole people. Many people said this before Auschwitz. In Greek tragedy, it is revealed in the destruction of Troy. This is indeed the horizon of western history.</p> <p>That is why I don&#146;t believe that the refusal to take part in a war against Saddam should be seen as an expression of humanism, but of a blindness that exists not only in Europe, but in all civilisations. We all want to live peacefully, oblivious and happy. That wish already existed in ancient Athens, and there is nothing wrong with it as such, except that it is not very realistic.</p> <p><b>Liss Gehlen/Jens Heisterkamp:</b> Do you think France will stick to its opposition against the US?</p> <p><b>Andr&eacute; Glucksmann:</b> Longer than in Germany. Here in our country, the rivalry with America is more prominent. But at the moment, the people in the street are only asking themselves, how can we stand up against Bush? Saddam Hussein doesn&#146;t come into the equation, and that is where my whole objection lies. Because the issue here is actually Saddam.</p> <p>Bush is a challenge for American democracy; Aznar, the challenge for Spanish democracy. Why are there fewer protestors in France than in Spain, England or Italy? Because in Italy they fight Berlusconi, in Britain they fight Blair &#150; and in France they fight nobody.</p> <p>But the overriding question remains: what about Saddam Hussein? If I may be a little moralistic here: I could not look at myself in the mirror if Saddam Hussein were still in power because I have been to a demonstration against Bush, and as a result, the people in Iraq had to live in this totalitarian regime for another twenty years.</p> <p><i>This interview by Liss Gehlen and Jens Heisterkamp originally appeared on </i><a href="" target="_blank">Info 3<i></i></a> ( It was translated by Michael Rebehn.</p> <br /><br /> Ideas iraq: philosophy in war faith & ideas middle east europe André Glucksmann Original Copyright Mon, 02 May 2011 07:33:41 +0000 André Glucksmann 1111 at Moderate secularism: a European conception <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> The question of religion’s place in modern secular societies is intellectually contested and politically divisive. Here, the scholar Tariq Modood argues that European experience and institutional development can favour an accommodative model that respects religion yet goes beyond both toleration and even civic recognition. This moderate secularism, he says, meets the test of core democratic values while avoiding the dangers that fear-induced exclusion of religion from the public sphere would entail. </div> </div> </div> <p>At a time when for many in western Europe politics are being defined by their views of Muslims and Islam, who are deemed to be not secular enough, Rajeev Bhargava has raised an important issue in discussing different conceptions of secularism that are at work in western states (see “<a href="">States, religious diversity and the crisis of secularism</a>”, 22 March 2011).</p><p>I wholeheartedly agree with him that secularism needs defending but that the idealised French and American conceptions, with their interpretation of the separation of religions and the state as one-sided exclusion and mutual exclusion respectively are not the best models. I also agree with him that an alternative and better conception is to be found not by confining ourselves to the models that captivate western intellectuals but by looking at the best moments of historical experience and institutional developments. He suggests that doing this with India provides us with such an alternative. </p><p>The Indian practice certainly offers resources to think about how the <a href="">principles</a> of freedom and equality work out in a context of deep religious diversity and where inter-religious, as well as intra-religious, domination are live issues. Such an inquiry is helpful for western Europe as it struggles to cope with Muslim challenges and the new multi-faithism; for again, as Bhargava observes, it is good for everyone to be open to learning from the institutional experience of others. </p><p>If, however, Bhargava’s methodology is broadly applied to Britain - and indeed to northwest Europe more generally - we will find, or so I argue, that on two points it does not agree with Bhargava’s claims. These are:</p><p>* the dominant conception of political secularism to be found in northwest European institutional arrangements are quite distinct from the French and American conceptions. So, it is not the case that there are only “two mainstream western secularisms”, and that if they are both flawed then the way forward is to look at the example of countries like India</p><p>* the conclusion that “formally or informally established religions, and the establishment of a single religion, even of the weaker variety, is part of the problem not the solution” cannot be unequivocally reached on the basis of the argument.</p><p>If I am right on these points, then to speak of “the crisis of secularism” is hyperbolic.</p><p><strong>A moderate secularism</strong></p><p>The characterisation of western secularism in most of western (especially northwestern) Europe, where France is the exception not the rule, is best understood in more evolutionary and moderate terms than <a href="">Rajeev Bhargava</a> allows. There are several important features here that reflect a more pragmatic politics; a sense of history, tradition and identity; and, most importantly, an accommodative character which is an essential feature of some historical and contemporary secularisms in practice.</p><p>It is true that some political theorists and radical secularists have a strong tendency, when discussing models and principles of secularism, to “abstract out” these features. If this tendency is countered, British and other European experience ceases to be an inferior, non-mainstream instance of secularism but becomes both mainstream and politically and normatively significant, if not indeed superior to other versions.</p><p>What can be called accommodative or moderate secularism, no less than American liberal and French republican secularism, can be justified in liberal, egalitarian, democratic terms, and in relation to a conception of citizenship. Yet it has developed a historical practice in which, explicitly or implicitly, organised religion is treated as a potential public good or national resource (not just a private benefit), which the state can in some circumstances assist to realise.</p><p>This assistance can be in the form of organised religion’s input into a legislative forum, such as the House of Lords (the upper chamber of the British parliament) on moral and welfare issues; or of a role as social partners to the state in the delivery of education, health and care services; or of builders of social capital; or of churches belonging to “the people” (so that those who do not attend them, or even sign up to their doctrines, feel they have a right to use them for weddings and funerals). All this is part of the meaning of what secularism means today in most west European countries; and it is quite clear that it is often lost in the models of secularism deployed by some normative theorists and public intellectuals.</p><p>This is clearer today partly because of the development of thinking in relation to the challenge of multicultural equality and the accommodation of Muslims. This thinking highlights the limitations of the “privatisation conception” of liberal equality, and sharpens the distinction between moderate/inclusive secularism and radical/ideological secularism. I have in my work expressly related the accommodative spirit of moderate secularism to the contemporary demands of multiculturalism (see Tariq Modood, <a href=""><em>Multiculturalism: A Civic Idea</em></a> [Polity, 2007], and <a href=""><em>Still Not Easy Being British: Struggles for a Multicultural Citizenship</em></a> [Trentham Books, 2010]).</p><p>I would argue that it is quite possible in a country like Britain to treat the claims of all religions in accordance with multicultural equality without having to abolish the established status of the Church of England, given that it has come to be a very “weak” form of establishment and that the church has come to play a positive ecumenical and multi-faith role. If the context here is an emergent multi-faith situation, or one where there is a political will to incorporate previously marginalised faiths and sects and to challenge the privileged status of some religions, then the context-sensitive and conservationist response may be to pluralise the state-religion link rather than sever it.</p><p>This indeed is what is happening across many countries in western Europe, in the face of critics on both the left (especially among radical secularists) and the right (especially among Islamophobic populists). In relation to the British case, this pluralising (or “multiculturalising”) can be seen in a number of incremental, ad hoc and experimental steps, of which two suffice the make the point.</p><p>The first is the indication by Prince Charles, the heir to the throne - and to the office of Supreme Governor of the Church of England - that he would as a monarch prefer the title “Defender of Faith” to the historic title “Defender of the Faith”.</p><p>The second is the use by the current sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II, of her Christmas television and radio broadcast - an important national occasion, especially for the older generation, on the most important national Christian day of the year - to affirm the religious diversity of Britain. Her message was (in the words of the sociologist of religion, <a href="">Grace Davie</a>) that “[religious] diversity is something which enriches society; it should be seen as a strength, not a threat”. The TV broadcast, moreover, was accompanied by film of the Queen visiting a Sikh temple and a Muslim centre.</p><p>“It is important to put these remarks in context. The affirmation of diversity as such is not a new idea in British society; what is new is the gradual recognition that religious differences should be foregrounded in such affirmations. Paradoxically, a bastion of privilege such as the monarchy turns out to be a key and very positive opinion former in this particular debate” (see Grace Davie, "Pluralism, Tolerance, and Democracy: Theory and Practice in Europe", in Thomas Banchoff ed., <a href=";ci=9780195307290%202007"><em>Democracy and the New Religious Pluralism</em></a> [Oxford University Press, 2007]). </p><p>If such examples may be regarded as merely symbolic, it may further be noted that British governments of centre-right and centre-left have felt the need to create multi-faith consultative bodies. The Conservatives created an <a href="">Inner Cities Religious Council</a> in 1992, chaired by a junior minister; in 2006, the (New) Labour government replaced this with a body with the <a href="">Faith Communities Consultative Council</a>, which had a much broader remit.</p><p>Moreover, after the election of 2010 which resulted in the formation of a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, a division devoted to faith communities was created under the new department of communities and local government (which is represented in the cabinet). This suggests that a “weak” or “reformed” form of establishment can be one way of institutionalising religious pluralism.</p><p>I am not suggesting it is the only or best way, but in certain historical and political circumstances, it may indeed be a good way - and that care should be taken before ruling it out by arguments that appeal to “the dominant self-understanding of western secularism” or other abstract and non-contextualised definitions of secularism. Bhargava’s idea of “principled distance” is meant to insert flexibility into secularism, but his establishment vs secularism view is as dichotomous and inflexible as anything he rejects.</p><p>By contrast, the new institutional accommodation of minority or marginal faiths runs with the grain of mainstream western European historic practice of secularism. This practice has its imperfections, and like much else in Europe today, has to be pluralised. But the steps that are being taken in this direction do not categorically suggest that “weak” establishment is “part of the problem”, nor that pluralisation requires the abandonment of the European conception of moderate secularism in favour of another conception. </p><p><strong>The respect for religion</strong></p><p>There is an influential image of religion as organisations or communities around competing truths, which are mutually intolerant - perhaps even hate each other. This has some occasional empirical basis; but a very different (indeed opposite) reality is far more prevalent.</p><p>Let me illustrate this by reference to the decision of my late father, a devout and pious Muslim, that I should attend the daily Christian non-denominational worship at my secondary school. I told him that I could be exempted from it, like the Jewish children, if he sent in a letter requesting this. He asked what the other exempted children did during this time each morning. When I replied that some read comics, some took the opportunity to catch up with homework and some even arrived late, he said I should join the assembly. He said that as Christians mainly believe what we believe I should join in fully, but whenever it was said that Jesus was the son of God, I should say to myself, “no, he is not”.</p><p>It is a view that can perhaps be expressed thus: it is better to be in the presence of religion than not, and so the value of religion does not simply reside in one’s own religion. One’s own religious heritage is to be cherished and honoured, but so are those of others; and the closing down of any religion is a loss of some sort.</p><p>The respect for religion can be found amongst contemporary Muslims in the west. A recent Gallup world poll finds (in the words of a report) that the “expectation of respect for Islam and its symbols” among Muslims in Paris and London “extends to an expectation of respect for religion in general”; the reporters add add that the British Muslim member of parliament Shahid Malik had “complained about what he called the ‘policy wonks’ who wished to strip the public sphere of all Christian religious symbols’’ (see Dalia Mogahed &amp; Zsolt Nyiri Mogahed, "<a href=",0&amp;Harvard-AES%3ASS-auth%3A1_4=">Reinventing Integration: Muslims in the West</a>" [<em>Harvard International Review</em>, 29/2, 2007]).</p><p>This valuing of religion and respect for the religion of others, even while not requiring participation, is based on a sense that religion is a fundamental good as part of a shared humanity at a personal, social and civilisational level: as well as an ethical good, and so to be respected as a feature of human character - just as other such features (truth-seeking, the cultivation of the intellect or the imagination, artistic creativity, or self-discipline) might be respected, and not just because of its utility or even truth.</p><p>It is possible to think religion as a good of this sort regardless of whether or not one is a believer, just as we music or science can be considered a good whether or not one is musical or scientific. A person, a society, a culture, or a country would be poorer without religion. It is part of good living, and while not all can cultivate it fully it is good that some do, and they should be honoured and supported by others.</p><p>The respect for religion tout court clearly amounts to more than the recognition of religious minorities; and while I am mainly concerned to argue for the latter I also emphasise the importance of the former, especially as I believe that respect for religion as such is quite common amongst religious believers irrespective of their particular faith (the mirror-image of <a href="">Richard Dawkins</a>’s view), and because I worry about an intolerant secularist hegemony.</p><p>There may indeed have been a time in Europe when a powerful, authoritarian church or churches stifled dissent, individuality, free debate, science, and pluralism; but that is not the present danger. Increasingly since the 1960s, European cultural, intellectual and political life - the public sphere in the fullest sense of the word - has become dominated by secularism, with secularist networks and organisations controlling most of the levers of power. The accommodative character of secularism itself is being dismissed as archaic, especially on the centre-left. Thus respect for religion is made difficult and seems outlandish, but it may be necessary as one of the sources of counter-hegemony and a more genuine pluralism. Hence, respect for religion is compatible with and may be a requirement of a democratic political culture.</p><p>I appreciate that this may seem to be, and indeed may be, a form of “privileging” religion. For in this idea that the state may wish to show respect for religion I am going beyond not just toleration and freedom of religion but also beyond civic recognition. Nor am I simply pointing to the existence of overlaps and linkages between the state and religion. But the sense of “privilege” may be weaker than it may seem. After all, the autonomy of politics is the privileging of the non-religious, so this is perhaps qualifying that non-secular privileging.</p><p>Moreover, it is far from an exclusive privileging. States regularly “privilege” the nation, ethnicity, science, the arts, sport, and economy in relation to the centrality they give each of these areas in policy-making, in the public resources devoted to it, or in the prestige attached to it. So, if showing respect for religion is a privileging of religion, it is of a multiplex, multi-logical sort; and it is based on the recognition that the secular is already dominant in many contemporary states.</p><p><strong>The renewal of Christian and radical-secular identities</strong></p><p>The above trends are grounds for optimism in relation to a multi-faith and multiculturalist society, but contemporary counter-trends exist. An overt one is the considerable negative reaction to Muslims. In the main this involves a racialisation of Muslims in terms of culture, politics and terrorism, but it is manifested also in relation to religion, secularism and the institutional accommodation of Muslims.</p><p>An example of an institutional accommodation resulting from Muslim pressure is that in the United Kingdom census of 2001 included a question about religion for the first time since 1851; this was exceptional too in being voluntary, the only such in the census form. There were misgivings that the question would be declined, but in the event 94% answered it. The real surprise, however, was that 72% identified themselves as “Christian” (rather than ticking the “no religion” box), and that fewer then 16% declared themselves to be without a religion. These figures were considerably higher than recorded in most surveys, such as the <a href="">British Social Attitudes</a> (BSA) surveys (which in 1992 found that 31% professed no belief in a god and in 2010 that 43% self-identified as non-religious.</p><p>There is no single explanation for these variations, but it is quite possible that the presence and salience of Muslims is stimulating a Christian identity. There is some research foundation for this; two scholars find that in neighbourhoods with a high Muslim populations, the percentage of white Britons who chose “Christian” is considerably higher than in otherwise similar but less mixed neighbourhoods (see Steve Bruce &amp; David Voas, "<a href="">The 2001 Census and Christian identification in Britain</a>" [<em>Journal of Contemporary Religion</em>, 19/1, 2004]).</p><p>The emergence of a new, sometimes politically assertive cultural identification with Christianity has been noted in countries such as Denmark and Germany; it was also politically apparent in the debate over the European Union constitution and is so in the ongoing debate about Turkey’s accession to the EU member (see Jos<span>é</span> Casanova, "Immigration and the New Religious Pluralism: A European Union–United States Comparison", in Geoffrey Brahm Levey &amp; Tariq Modood, eds., <a href=""><em>Secularism, Religion and Multicultural Citizenship</em></a> [Cambridge University Press, 2009]). Some proponents of the constitution wanted it to include a reference to Christianity as the religion of Europe, and even some critics of this suggestion oppose Turkey’s membership on the grounds of its non-Christian character (and, worse, that it would bring 70 million Muslims into the EU).</p><p>These public assertions of Christianity are not necessarily accompanied by any increase in expressions of faith or church attendance, which continue to decline across Europe. Giscard d’Estaing, the former president of France who chaired the <a href="">Convention on the Future of Europe</a> which drafted the EU constitution (later substantially revised) expresses neatly the kind of assertiveness noted here: “I never go to church, but Europe is a Christian continent.”</p><p>It has to be said, however, that such political views about Europe are held not just by cultural Christian identitarians but also by many practicing Christians, including many in the Catholic church. It has been argued that Pope John Paul II “looked at the essential cleavage in the world as being between religion and unbelief. Devout Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists had more in common with each other than with atheists”. Pope Benedict XVI, the same author contends, “thinks that, within societies, believers and unbelievers exist in symbiosis. Secular westerners, he implies, have a lot in common with their religious fellows” (see Christopher Caldwell, <a href=",,9780713999365,00.html"><em>Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West</em></a> [Penguin, 2009]).</p><p>The fact that the proposed clause about Christianity was absent from the final draft of the EU constitution indicates that many secularists do not share Pope Benedict’s view. Yet the suggestion that secularists and Christians in Europe have more in common with each other than they do with Muslims is part of a wider reinforcing or renewing of the sense that Europe is “secular Christian” (a term analogous to “secular Jew” in describing someone of Jewish descent who has a sense of Jewish identity but is not religiously practicing and may even be an atheist).</p><p>This assertiveness of a secular Christian identity is mainly if not exclusively to be found on the centre-right. Alongside it is a radical secularism more characteristic of the left. This exists in a tradition deriving from the Enlightenment (though more the French than the Scottish, English or German), and is often anti-religion as well as non-religious. Its best epigrammatic capture is Karl Marx’s famous “religion is the opium of the masses” and Nietzsche’s “God is dead”.</p><p>The post-9/11 decade has seen the emergence of a radical discourse <a href="">referred</a> to as “the new atheism”, most prominent in the work of Dawkins, Christopeher Hitchens and Sam Harris (see Tina Beattie, <a href=";bc=0"><em>The New Atheists: The Twilight of Reason and the War on Religion</em></a> [Darton, Longman &amp; Todd, 2008]). Its cultural-political manifestation in Britain is found amongst intellectuals and political commentators such AC Grayling, Kenan Malik and Polly Toynbee, and organisations such as the <a href="">National Secular Society</a> and the <a href="">British Humanist Association</a>.</p><p>They tend to interpret political secularism to mean that religious beliefs and discourse should be excluded from the public sphere and/or politics, and certainly from activities endorsed or funded by the state. Thus they argue, for example, for the disestablishment of the Church of England, the removal of the Anglican bishops from the House of Lords, and the withdrawal of state support for faith schools (the greatest beneficiary of which in terms of secondary schooling is the Catholic church).</p><p>Today, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus are pressing to have some of these benefits extended to themselves (as to some extent has happened for Jews), and religious groups are more involved in the delivery of welfare and urban renewal. In this context it is clear that this radical political secularism is both a break with the inherited status-quo secularism in most parts of western Europe (with France being something of an exception) and at odds with the current institutionalisation of religious pluralism.</p><p>Which of these will become dominant, or how these trends may develop, interact and synthesise is not clear. The critical issue of principle is not how but whether religious groups, especially those that are marginal and under-represented in public life, ought to be represented. The real problem today, however, is with an approach that eschews difference-blindness in general but would not dream of being anything other than religion-blind. The BBC - an organisation with a deserved reputation for public service and high standards - is a case in point (an aspect of this is manifested in the assent in 2001 by a serving director-general, Greg Dyke, to an interviewer's suggestion that the organisation was “hideously white” (see Greg Dyke, <a href=""><em>Diversity in Broadcasting: A Public Service Perspective</em></a> [BBC, 2002]).</p><p>For some years now the BBC has given political importance to reviewing and improving its personnel practices and its output of programmes, including its on-screen “representation” of the British population, by making provision for and winning the confidence of women, ethnic minority groups and young people. Why should it not also use religious groups as a criterion of inclusivity, and have to demonstrate that it is doing the same for viewers and staff defined by religious-community membership?</p><p><a href="">Rajeev Bhargava</a>, then, is right that European secular states, and their underlying ideology of political secularism, are facing new challenges around multifaithism - and specifically, Islam. French and American conceptions of secularism, based on ideas of one-sided exclusion and mutual exclusion, are distinctly unhelpful for Europeans. He overlooks, however, that northwestern Europe has its own dominant model, moderate secularism, which has begun the process of pluralisation and which can meet the needs of the moment - if it is not diverted by projects of re-Christianisation and radical secularism, or indeed by exaggerated headlines about the “crisis of secularism”.</p><p>Radical secularists may be experiencing an ideological crisis but the moderate secular state is coping by adapting. The fact that some people are today developing cultural Christianity and/or secularism as an ideology to oppose Islam and its public recognition is a challenge both to pluralism and equality, and thus to some of the bases of contemporary democracy. This is both a risk to democracy as such and, in the present context of high levels of fear of and hostility to Muslims and Islam, threatens to create a long-term racialised-religious division in Europe.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="">Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship</a>, University of Bristol</p><p>Tariq Modood, <a href=""><em>Still Not Easy Being British: Struggles for a Multicultural Citizenship</em></a> (Trentham Books, 2010)</p><p>Rajeev Bhargava, <a href=""><em>The Promise of India's Secular Democracy</em></a> (Oxford University Press, 2010)</p><p>Tina Beattie, <a href=";bc=0"><em>The New Atheists: The Twilight of Reason and the War on Religion</em></a> (Darton, Longman and Todd, 2008)</p><p>Tariq Modood, <a href=""><em>Multiculturalism: A Civic Idea</em></a> (Polity, 2007)</p><p>Christopher Caldwell, <a href=",,9780713999365,00.html"><em>Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West</em></a> (Penguin, 2009)</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Tariq Modood is <a href="" target="_blank">professor</a> of sociology, politics and public policy and the <a href="" target="_blank">founding director</a> of the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship at the University of Bristol</p><p>His latest book is <a href=""><em>Still Not Easy Being British: Struggles for a Multicultural Citizenship</em></a> (Trentham Books, 2010)</p><p>Tariq Modood's previous books include (as co-editor) <em><a href="">Ethnicity, Nationalism and Minority Rights</a> </em>and<em> <a href="">Ethnicity, Social Mobility and Public Policy: Comparing the US and UK</a></em><a href=""> </a>(both Cambridge University Press, 2005); (as co-editor) <a href=""><em>Multiculturalism, Muslims and Citizenship: A European Approach</em> </a>(Routledge 2006); (as author) <a href=""><em>Multicultural Politics: Racism, Ethnicity and Muslims in Britain</em></a> (Edinburgh University Press, 2005); (as author) <a href=""><em>Multiculturalism: A Civic Idea</em></a> (Polity, 2007); (as co-editor) <a href=""><em>Secularism, Religion, and Multicultural Citizenship</em></a> (Cambridge University Press, 2008)</p><p>Also by Tariq Modood in <strong>openDemocracy</strong>:<br /><br />"<a href="faith-europe_islam/article_1214.jsp">Muslims and European multiculturalism</a>" (14 May 2003) <br /><br />"<a href="conflict-terrorism/multiculturalism_2879.jsp">Remaking multiculturalism after7/7</a>" (28 September 2005)<br /><br />"<a href="conflict-europe_islam/liberal_dilemma_3249.jsp">The liberal dilemma: integration or vilification?</a>" (8 February 2006)<br /><br />"<a href="conflict-europe_islam/multiculturalism_4627.jsp">Multiculturalism, citizenship and national identity</a>"(16 May 2007)<br /><br />"<a href="multiculturalism_s_civic_future_a_response">Multiculturalism's civic future: a response</a>" (20 June 2007)</p><p>"<a href="article/faith_ideas/europe_islam/anti_sharia_storm">Multicultural citizenship and the anti-sharia storm</a>" (14 February 2008)</p><p>"<a href="">Multiculturalism, Britishness, and Muslims</a>" (27 January 2011)</p> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> </div> </div> Civil society Democracy and government Ideas faith & ideas europe & islam democracy & power europe 50.50 Gender Politics Religion secularism fundamentalisms Tariq Modood Thu, 07 Apr 2011 18:56:20 +0000 Tariq Modood 58878 at Egypt, and the post-Islamist middle east <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> The portrayal of Egypt’s uprising in terms of its potential capture by Islamists is doubly misleading, says Asef Bayat: for this misses both the true character of the people’s movement and the transformation of the Arab world’s religious politics. </div> </div> </div> <p>For years, western political elites and their local allies have charged the Arab peoples with political apathy and lethargy. The argument that Arabs are uninterested in seeking to wrest greater democratic freedoms from their authoritarian rulers always rested on shaky foundations. But now that millions of Egyptians, following the Tunisians’ example, have proved it wrong by mobilising against power, the sceptical ground has adjusted: toward the murmured fear that Egypt’s uprising would develop into an “Islamist revolution” along the lines - demagogic, violent, intransigent, expansionist, anti-western - of that of Iran in 1979.</p> <p>The idea of an “Islamic revolution in Egypt” is voiced by four sources. The first is the Hosni Mubarak regime, in the attempt to dissuade its western allies from supporting the uprising. The second is Binyamin Netanyahu’s Israel and its allies in the United States and Europe, which wish to maintain the autocratic regime more or less intact by keeping such players as Omar Suleiman (the new&nbsp;vice-president and former intelligence chief) in power after Mubarak. The third is Iran’s Islamist hardliners, who are making a desperate effort to downplay the democratic thrust of the Egyptian revolution and present it as Islamic and Iran-inspired one. The fourth is a section of Egypt’s own citizens who express genuine concerns about a possible new Islamic revolution in the heart of the Arab world.</p> <p>It is true that there are some similarities between today’s Egyptian uprising and the Iranian revolution of 1979. They share the quality of being nationwide revolutions in which people from different walks of life - religious, secular, leftist, men and women, middle classes, working classes - participated. Both movements aimed at removing western-backed autocratic regimes; both&nbsp;sought to establish democratic governments that would ensure national and individual dignity, social justice, and political liberties.</p> <p>But there are also fundamental differences. In ideological terms, the Iranian revolution was a nationalist, third-worldist, and anti-imperialist movement, which took a strong stance against the US government for its continued support of the Shah (whom the US had reinstated via a CIA-engineered coup in 1953 against the secular-democratic government of Mohammad Mosaddeq).</p> <p>In addition, the Iranian revolution - unlike the Egyptian upheaval of 2011 - was led by a religious figure, Ayatollah Khomeini, backed by an elaborate <em>Shi’a</em> clerical hierarchy and religious institutions. So, once the Shah had fled, the Islamist hardliners and the new revolutionary organisations combined - the former using religious institutions (mosques, <em>madrasas</em>, and shrines), the latter mobilising support while marginalising liberals, democrats, and other non-conformist - in a final push to establish <em>velayat-t faqih</em> (the rule of the supreme jurist), i.e. a semi-theocratic state. The Islamic revolution then ushered a new era of Islamism which&nbsp;was to dominate the middle east and Muslim world for the next two decades.</p> <p><strong>A political-religious shift</strong></p> <p>But today’s Egyptian uprising is also different. It is neither nationalist, anti-imperialist ,nor third-worldist.&nbsp;The largely civil, peaceful, and jubilant mood of the protesters (until the pro-Mubarak thugs triggered a vicious spate of violence on 2 February) and their demands are more reminiscent of the democratic revolutions of east-central Europe in 1989. In Egypt, there have been no chants against foreigners, westerners, or Americans.</p> <p>Moreover, it is significant that the uprising is not guided by any single organisation, ideology, or personality - let alone an Islamic figurehead. Rather, this monumental upheaval is composed of different political and civil organisations with diverse religious, secular, and political affiliations, and a collective “leadership”. I am not aware of any religious slogans in the street rallies; on the contrary, at least one chant, sung by the crowd in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on 28 January 2011, projects a very different meaning - “our revolution is civil; neither violent, nor religious” (<em>al-Thowratna Madaniyya, la Sayfiyya, la Diniyya</em>).</p> <p>Islamic organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood are present in the movement, though they make up only one segment of its very broad constituencies. But still there is little resemblance between Egyptian political Islam and that of Iran’s Islamist rulers. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, the largest and most organised Islamic opposition, is not leading the uprising. The Brothers were even ambivalent in participating in the street demonstrations in the early days, largely for&nbsp;fear of state reprisals. In strategic terms, the Brothers have refrained from confrontation with the state and not resorted to violence during the three decades of the Hosni Mubarak era.</p> <p>Moreover, in deciding eventually to take part in the current uprising they made it clear that they did not wish to participate in any post-Mubarak administration. Unlike the Iranian Islamists in 1979, the Muslim Brotherhood has not tried to appropriate the movement nor even give it a religious colouring. Instead, they have joined (as they did during the <em>Kefaya</em> mobilisations of the mid-decade) a coalition of various opposition groups consisting of political currents with variegated (nationalist, secular, leftist, and civil) orientations.</p> <p>The Muslim Brotherhood’s disinterest in governmental power in a possible post-Mubarak administration seems genuine, given that in free and fair elections they would be able to gain substantial votes. In political terms, the Brothers may appear to be somewhat similar to Jordan’s <em>Ikhwan</em> or Lebanon’s Hizbollah, though with probably smaller support. But ideologically, Egypt’s Muslim Brothers remain very different from these groups (and, for that matter, Iran’s Islamists).</p> <p>In fact, the Brothers are in the throes of an ideological transformation. An internal debate involving discord between the old guard and the “young” leadership has engulfed the movement in recent years. Indeed, its ability and desire to enter Egypt’s political life has intensified the ddiscussion about what the Muslim Brotherhood ultimately wants to achieve.</p> <p>While the older faction remains in an ideological quandary - at times repeating the ambiguous and anachronistic dictum “Islam is the solution” - the “young” elements (represented by such figures as Essam al-Erian and Abdel Moneim Abou el-Fotouh) view Turkey’s ruling <em>Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi</em> (Justice &amp; Development Party / AKP) as their favoured model of Islamic governance. This embrace of a modern concept of democracy is a radical departure from the group’s adherence in the early 1990s to the Qur’anic concept of <em>shura</em>, a vague conception of authoritarian but just rule subject to the principle of consultation.</p> <p>The shift in Egypt’s religious politics goes beyond the Muslim Brothers. <em>Al-Gama‘a al-Islamiyya</em>, the Islamist group that inflicted atrocious violence on officials, Copts, and foreign tourists in the 1980s and 1990s in pursuit of an Islamic state in Egypt, underwent a significant change by the late 1990s; it laid down its arms, abandoned its violence and radical Islamism, and opted to work as a political party to pursue peaceful <em>da‘wa</em> (proselytising) within Egypt’s legal framework (though the government refused to give the group a permit).</p> <p>Even before the transformation of <em>al-Gama‘a al-Islamiyya</em>, the <em>Hizb-ul-Wasat</em> had defected from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood to pursue its own very different trajectory. <em>Al-Wasat</em> now privileges modern democracy over the Islamic <em>shura</em>, embraces pluralism in religion, welcomes gender mixing, supports women’s prominent public roles, and ideological diversity. It’s not merely that (Christian) Copts are admitted to the party; a Christian, Rafiq Habib, serves as the group’s key ideologue.</p> <p><strong>A deeper transformation</strong></p> <p>Indeed, there are indications that the entire region is experiencing a shift in religious politics. In Tunisia following the revolt which overthrew the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben-Ali, the largest Islamic group is <em>al-Nahda</em>, represented by the ex-leftist Rashed al-Ghannouchi. But <em>al-Nahda </em>is not an Islamist party - that is, its aim is not to seize power and to establish an Islamic state; rather, it wishes to nurture pious Muslims within a democratic polity. Rashed al-Ghannouchi has categorically rejected the Islamic <em>khalifa</em> (caliphate) in favour of parliamentary democracy, and his <em>al-Nahda</em> is committed to social justice, multiparty democracy, and religious pluralism.</p> <p>The model of “Islamic governance” that Tunisia’s <em>al-Nahda</em>, the “young” Egyptian Muslim Brothers, and Iran’s reformist and other groups project is the AKP in Turkey, which has governed that country since November 2002. This Islamic party has - amid much and continuing political controversy - implemented important reforms that have had an overall democratising effect.</p> <p>It has (for example) abolished the death penalty, ended army-dominated security courts, removed curbs on free speech, brought the military budget under civilian control, authorised Kurdish-language broadcasting, and established workable relations with both the west and the rest of the Muslim world. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister and the leader of the AKP, is now one of the most popular leaders in the Muslim-majority middle east.</p> <p>This is not to downplay the&nbsp;limitations of these Islamic organisations’&nbsp;stance&nbsp;in the areas of&nbsp;individual rights, religious pluralism, and democratic practice. Yet the legitimacy crisis that Islamism is experiencing on account of its neglect and violations of people’s democratic rights is a signal of an emerging new era characterised by the search for a different kind of religious polity: one which both wishes to promote pious sensibilities in society and takes democracy seriously.</p> <p>In this incipient post-Islamist middle east, the prevailing popular movements assume a post-national, post-ideological, civil, and democratic character. Iran’s green movement, the Tunisian revolution, and the Egyptian uprising represent the popular movements of these post-Islamist times. They strive to achieve social justice, dignity, and a form of democratic governance that can protect citizens’ fundamental rights.</p> <p>So: what is there to fear from these historic social revolutions? They are too important to leave judgment of their character and legitimacy to the likes of Hosni Mubarak and Binyamin Netanyahu; that would be a betrayal of common sense and political expediency, even an act of moral bankruptcy. A people on the move and hungry for freedom deserve better.<br /><br /></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Asef Bayat, <a href=""><em>Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East</em></a> (Stanford University Press, 2010)</p> <p>Asef Bayat, <a href=""><em>Making Islam Democratic: Social Movements and the Post-Islamist Turn</em></a> (Stanford University Press, 2007)</p> <p><a href=""><em>Foreign Policy</em></a></p> <p><a href="">Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP)</a></p> <p>Paul Rogers, <a href=""><em>Tunisia and Egypt in context </em></a>(Oxford Research Group, January 2011)</p> <p>Tarek Osman, <em><a href="">Egypt on the Brink: From Nasser to Mubarak</a> </em>(Yale University Press, 2010)</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Asef Bayat is professor of sociology and middle-east studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His books include<em> <a href="">Making Islam Democratic: Social Movements and the Post-Islamist Turn </a></em>(Stanford University Press, 2007; <em><a href="">Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East</a> </em>(Stanford University Press, 2010);<em> </em>and (with Linda Herrera)<em> <a href="">Being Young and Muslim: Cultural Politics in the Global South and North</a> </em>(Oxford University Press, 2010)</p> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Egypt </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> Egypt Civil society Democracy and government International politics institutions & government Globalisation faith & ideas democracy & iran democracy & power middle east Asef Bayat Tue, 08 Feb 2011 15:43:37 +0000 Asef Bayat 57934 at Multiculturalism, Britishness, and Muslims <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> The idea of multiculturalism has been subjected to greater criticism in recent years, especially on the grounds that it is divisive and undercuts other solidarities of society, class or nation. But a fuller understanding of the context in which the arguments for multiculturalism arose and evolved can help both address some of the simplifications that now cluster around it and achieve a more nuanced view, says Tariq Modood. </div> </div> </div> <p>Much has changed in relation to the discussion of Britishness since my collection of essays, <a href=""><em>Not Easy Being British: Colour, Culture and Citizenship</em></a> was published in 1992. For me the most important is that the suggestion made there - that the issue of racial equality led inevitably to the bigger questions and “isms” of multiculturalism, national identity and rethinking secularism - is now commonplace.</p><p>When the essays in <em>Not Easy Being British...</em> were being written in the late 1980s and early 1990s, very few observers made these connections. Most racial egalitarians thought that “multiculturalism” was not sufficiently challenging of racism; indeed that as it was merely about “steel bands, saris and samosas” it did not cut very deep into society.</p><p>Moreover, those who did think of themselves as political multiculturalists - for whom it meant more than black music, exotic dress and spicy food - saw British nationalism as the property not of the British people but of rightwing ideologues. Their main reaction to any talk of “Britishness” was to denounce it as reactionary and racist; many argued too (or instead) that as no one could define what they meant by “British” in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions, the concept referred to a fiction and should not be used.</p><p>In this sense the “anti-racists” and the the “multiculturalists” were united in their rejection of the discourse of Britishness (as indeed over their view that secularism was intrinsic to anti-racism and multiculturalism). It was these views that I set out to challenge almost twenty years ago.</p><p>At the time I was in a very small minority, especially amongst racial egalitarians. The essays collected in <em>Not Easy Being British: Colour, Culture and Citizenship</em> were written in my private time whilst I was working as an equal-opportunities officer at the London Borough of Hillingdon, and then at the head office of the Commission for Racial Equality. I was forever being told that the issues I was raising were unnecessary, confused and divisive - above all that they had nothing to do with racial equality. The rest of my career has more or less been spent in proving this charge mistaken. I may not have been as successful as I would have liked, but in at least three ways there has been a substantive change in the intellectual and social climate.</p><p>First, the vast majority of people now believe that a broad, serious discussion of multiculturalism, national identity and secularism is essential if Britain is to become a society in which ethnic minorities are treated with respect and are not the targets of prejudice.</p><p>Second, in the late 1980s it was still routinely controversial (especially amongst racial egalitarians) to say that most ethnic-minority people actually wanted to be British, indeed that many wanted to be British more than some white people did, and that this particularly applied to Asian Muslims. This proposition too is no longer as contentious as it used to be, though in the case of a minority of Muslims some misunderstandings persist.</p><p>Third, the post-1997 <a href="">devolution</a> of power from Westminster to Edinburgh and Cardiff (and agreement to transfer powers back to Belfast when certain conditions have been met), reflects a decline in the frequency and intensity of identification with British identity relative to Scottish, Welsh, English and (pan- or Northern-) Irish.</p><p>Against this large canvas, I have collected a set of essays from the 2000s - including two <a href="">published</a> in <strong>openDemocracy</strong> - in a companion volume to the 1992 one, entitled <a href=""><em>Still Not Easy Being British: Struggles for a Multicultural Citizenship</em></a> (Trentham Books, 2010). The developments I most focus on relate to post-immigration ethno-religious differences within Britishness (as opposed to territorial and national ones). Here the story is about the rise and fall - or at least the mixed fortunes - of a communitarian multiculturalism. This article examines two key elements in this twenty-year story: the evolution of the <a href="">idea</a> and practice of multiculturalism, and British Muslims’ relationship with it; and of British Muslim identity in the context of the larger society.</p><p><strong>Multiculturalism: past its sell-by date?</strong></p><p>A linking theme of the essays assembled in <em>Still Not Easy Being British..</em>. is the belief that multiculturalism is neither intellectually nor politically out of date. But to begin to make this argument it is necessary also to understand the three distinct levels at which the term “multiculturalism” (no less than “integration” or “assimilation”) operates, which are also sometimes combined.</p><p>First, there is the sociological level which acknowledges the fact that racial and ethnic groups exist in society. This acknowledgment works both in terms of minorities being told they are “different” and (from the “inside”, so to speak) of minorities having their own sense of identity. This social recognition is sometimes termed “multicultural society” in order to distinguish it from political concepts.</p><p>Second, there is the political <a href="">level</a> which is part of a wider discussion about the best response to that social reality. The prominent answers include assimilation, and liberal integration based on respect for individuals (but no political recognition of groups). Multiculturalism is another response; it bases itself not just on the equal dignity of individuals but also on the political accommodation of group identities as a means of challenging exclusionary racisms and practices and fostering respect and inclusion for demeaned groups.</p><p>Third, there is what might be called the imaginative level that projects a positive vision for society as a whole - a society remade so as to include the previously excluded or marginalised on the basis of equality and belonging. This involves enlarging the focus on exclusion and minorities to a stage where it is possible to speak of “multicultural integration” or “multicultural citizenship” (see, for example, Bhikhu Parekh, <a href=""><em>Rethinking Multiculturalism: Cultural Diversity and Political Theory</em></a> [Palgrave, 2nd edition, 2005]).</p><p>This third level - which both incorporates the sociological fact of diversity, groupness and exclusion and goes beyond notions of individual rights and political accommodation - has perhaps been least emphasised. That may be why many have come to understand multiculturalism as “only” about encouraging minority difference, without any countervailing emphasis on cross-cutting commonalities and a vision of a greater good. This has led many commentators and politicians (sometimes sincerely, sometimes cynically or polemically) to talk of multiculturalism as divisive and productive of segregation).</p><p>A popular-academic critique of multiculturalism of this kind was already evident in the 1990s across several European countries - including those that had never embraced multiculturalism (such as France and Germany) as well as those that had (such as the Netherlands and Britain). In the following decade, especially after the terrorist <a href="">attacks</a> in the United States on 11 September 2001 and their sequels in <a href="">Madrid</a> (11 March 2004) and <a href="">London</a> (7 July 2005), fears about international terrorism and associated wars and conflict coalesced with anxiety about Muslims’ failure to integrate into their “host societies”. </p><p>The discourses of anti-multiculturalism gradually increased in influence in the media and relevant policy fields, and to be at the forefront of politics. The notions of “community cohesion” and “integration” were prominent in this shift, though they overlooked the fact that no major theorist or advocate of multiculturalism - nor any relevant policy or legislation - had promoted “separatism”. Indeed, prominent theorists of multiculturalism such as <a href="">Charles Taylor</a> and <a href=",-bhikhu">Bhikhu Parekh</a>, as well as related policy documents such as the <span><a href="">Commission on Multi-Ethnic Britain</a> (</span>CMEB) (2000) and enactments such as those in Canada - universally regarded as a pioneer and exemplar of state multiculturalism - all appealed to and built on an idea of national citizenship.</p><p>True, some urged a “post-national” analysis of society and advocated transnationalism or cosmopolitanism (see, for example, Yasemin Soysal, <a href=";bookkey=3618186"><em>Limits of Citizenship: Migrants and Postnational Membership in Europe</em></a> [Chicago University Press, 1995]); David Held, <a href=""><em>Democracy and the Global Order: From the Modern State to Cosmopolitan Governance</em></a> [Polity, 1995]); and David Jacobson, <a href=";qty=1&amp;source=2&amp;viewMode=3&amp;loggedIN=false&amp;JavaScript=y"><em>Rights Across Borders: Immigration and the Decline of Citizenship</em></a> [Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997]) - though these authors are not multiculturalists in the sense being discussed here.</p><p>Hence, from a multiculturalist point of view, though not from that of its critics, the recent emphasis on cohesion and citizenship - what has been called “the civic turn” (<a href="">Per Mouritsen</a>, 2006) - is a necessary rebalancing of the political multiculturalism of the 1990s, which largely took the form of the second level of multiculturalism in the above typology (see <a href=";jsessionid=A464A65E2F7A9F17D5E03B9962BDF17E.d02t02">Nasar Meer &amp; Tariq Modood</a>, 2009). In this view the “turn” cannot be understood simply as a move from multiculturalism to integration, as it both continues to recognise exclusion and identity as sociological facts and to persist with group consultations, representation and accommodation. </p><p>In fact, the latter have actually increased. The British government, for example, has found it necessary to increase the scale and level of consultations with Muslims in Britain since 9/11 and 7/7, though it has been dissatisfied with existing organisations and has sought to increase the number of interlocutors and the channels of communication. Even avowedly anti-multiculturalist governments have worked to increase corporatism in practice, for example with Nicholas Sarkozy’s creation of the <a href=""><em>Conseil Francais du Culte Musulman</em></a> (French Council of the Muslim Faith) in 2003 to represent all Muslims to the French government in matters of worship and ritual; and by the creation of the <a href=""><em>Deutsch</em> <em>Islam Konferenz</em></a> in Germany in 2006, an exploratory body yet one with an extensive political agenda.</p><p>It cannot be denied that these bodies are partly top-down efforts to control Muslims or to channel them into certain formations and away from others; but it is clear also that such institutional processes cannot be understood within the conceptual framework of assimilation or individualist integration. In contrast, <a href="">British Muslims</a> have neither been offered nor sought a single formal institutional basis such those in France or Germany. The British arrangements are instead a mixture of semi-formal and <em>ad hoc</em>, yet compose a set of extended minority-majority relationships that can still best be described as “multiculturalism” (even if the term has become as unfashionable in Britain as it is elsewhere in Europe). </p><p>This multiculturalism has no single legal or policy statement (unlike Canada). It is evolutionary and multifaceted, having grown up - sometimes in contradictory ways - in response to crises as well as to mature reflection. The “multi” is an essential feature of what I am talking about, for the policy and institutional arrangements have grown out of and continue to be part of ways to address not just Muslims but a plurality of minorities. The “multi” thus refers both to the fact that a number of minority groups are within the frame, and to the fact that there are different kinds of groups - some defined by “race” or “colour” (for example, black or Asian), some by national origins (for example, Indian or Pakistani), some by religion (for example, Sikh or Muslim).</p><p>Indeed, the origins of British multiculturalism, both as an idea and as policies, lie in the experiences of African-American struggles for equality and dignity. British racial-equality thinking and policy was directly and consciously influenced by developments in the United States in the 1960s and early 1970s. This policy paradigm was referred to as “race relations”, and the group that policy-makers were most focused on was young black men. As the population of south Asian origin became more numerous, visible and assertive, especially in relation to their cultural-community needs, the terms “ethnicity”, “ethnic minorities” and “multiculturalism” replaced “race” in an effort to better capture a changing reality.</p><p>This history is also an important reminder that Muslim/non-Muslim relations in Britain are based upon white/non-white relations, and that no British policy-maker (or social scientist) understood “coloured immigrants” from the Commonwealth in terms of religion or expected, let alone desired, religion to have political significance. </p><p>The new political relevance of religion has come not from the state or “top-down” action but from the political mobilisation of specific minorities (or parts of minorities) who prioritised their religious identity over that of ethnicity and “colour” (which is not to say that they deemed the latter insignificant). The Sikhs were the first religious minority to politically mobilise and win concessions from the state in relation to the legal recognition of the turban. So, in many ways, Muslim political assertiveness arose in the context of an anti-racism movement, equality legislation and Sikh mobilisation - in short a political multiculturalism.</p><p>Muslims, as late arrivals, have tried to catch up with the rights and concessions already won by racial and ethnic groups. This helps explain why it sometimes looks as if multiculturalism is a movement that Muslims have virtually taken over, though at the price of damaging the support for it - perhaps even mortally.</p><p>The event in which Muslim political agency first significantly manifested itself in Britain is over the battle over Salman Rushdie’s novel <em>The Satanic Verses</em> in 1989 and subsequent years. The “Rushdie affair”, as well as raising important <a href="">issues</a> of freedom of expression (which are not part of my concern here), revealed five important characteristics about the politics of the emergent Muslim communities.</p><p>First, Muslim politics was not created nor desired by the state but was a challenge to existing majority-minority relations from below.</p><p>Second, Muslim politics - unlike most minority struggles up to that time (though not the Sikhs’) - consisted of the nominal and actual mobilisation of a single minority; Muslims neither <a href="">sought</a> nor received support from other British minorities. They looked to the British establishment (publishers, the political class, the politicians, the law courts) to intervene on their behalf, and some of them looked for allies amongst Muslim forces outside Britain.</p><p>Third, the Rushdie affair both shifted the focus of minority-majority relations from the Atlantic to “the orient” and marked the beginning of the internationalisation of British minority-majority relations on a scale never achieved through pan-black or “global-south” solidarities. Global “subaltern” politics had arrived in Britain but in ways that few advocates of global activism had envisaged or desired. As much as it has provided a resource in a potential transnational or “ummatic” solidarity, this international association has also made life difficult for British Muslims (from Ayatollah Khomeini’s <em>fatwa</em> to terrorist networks). </p><p>Fourth, the Rushdie affair threw up both a radical and a pragmatic (or “moderate”) leadership amongst Muslims in Britain. Among evidence of the latter is a change in the way the main Muslim umbrella body generated by the campaign - the UK Action Committee on Islamic Affairs (UKACIA) - expressed the offence which had angered Muslims. Initially it described this as “apostasy”; realising that this achieved little comprehension (let alone sympathy) amongst the political class, it soon switched to the more British term, “blasphemy”; but when that too failed to rally support, the committee spoke of “incitement to religious hatred”, echoing legislation for Northern Ireland (and that over incitement to racial hatred in Britain).</p><p>Fifth, the pragmatists were never able decisively to defeat the extremists, who continued to have some ongoing presence. There was and is no centralised authority in British Islam (or for that matter in Islam per se, especially <em>Sunni</em> Islam), such that access to that authority was sufficient to lead or guide Muslims. Muslim leaders who spend their time criticising extremists find themselves in a double-bind: they give even more publicity to these extremists (already often “popular” hate-figures in the media) and are criticised by the main body of Muslims for being divisive and not focusing attention on getting concessions from the state. (It has also to be said that British Muslim political culture can resemble leftwing student politics of a generation earlier - a sort of “holier-than-thou” quality, which makes it easier to win approval for radical political rhetoric than support for practical compromises.)</p><p>These five features of the Muslim campaign against <em>The Satanic Verses</em> remain relevant, for they are all present today. Nevertheless, a pragmatic Muslim politics has been relatively successful in achieving the goals it set itself. The lead national moderate organisation, the UKACIA, later broadened out into the <a href="">Muslim Council of Britain</a> (MCB, founded in 1998) and came to be accepted by the government and other bodies as a leading - if not the leading - voice of Muslims.</p><p>As domestic and international crises affecting British Muslims became more frequent and rose up the political agenda, the MCB became the chosen interlocutor with more regular access to senior government policy-makers than any other organisation representing a minority (religious, ethnic, or racial). The MCB’s pre-eminence began to suffer from the mid-2000s, as it grew increasingly critical of the invasion of Iraq and of the “war on terror”. The government started accusing it of failing to clearly and decisively reject extremism, and to seek alternative Muslim interlocutors.</p><p>From the early 1990s to that point, UKACIA/MCB lobbied primarily on four issues:</p><p>* mobilising and establishing a Muslim religious community voice, not subsumed under an Asian or black one, that would be heard in the corridors of national and local power - and ensuring that the UKACIA/MCB should be that voice</p><p>* securing legislation on religious discrimination and incitement to religious hatred</p><p>* persuading governments to implement socio-economic policies targeted on the severe disadvantage of Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, and other Muslim groups</p><p>* getting the state to recognise and resource some Islamic schools.</p><p>All four of these goals have in part been met, especially since New Labour came to power in 1997. Although, as noted, there continues to be a problem about representativeness which particularly relates to issues of foreign policy and security</p><p>To a degree the security agenda (which can too easily be seen as anti-Muslim) has come to eclipse the Muslim equality agenda. Yet the latter has got as far as it has is because of Britain’s liberal and pragmatic political culture on matters of religion, which would have been unlikely in an order of more thoroughgoing secularism that requires the state to control religion.</p><p>Moreover, Muslims have not just pursued their own interests but utilised and extended previously existing arguments and policies in relation to racial and multicultural equality. The result is that most politically active Muslims have, in respect of domestic issues (such as discrimination in education and employment, in political representation and the media; and “Muslim-blindness” in the provision of healthcare and social services), adjusted to and become part of British political culture in general and British multiculturalist politics in particular.</p><p>The process of accommodation of Muslims into a distinctively British multiculturalism has entailed <a href="">tensions</a> and conflicts, and there may be more to come. The unfolding of a British Muslim identity has run in parallel, and it is this which forms the second part of this article.</p><p><strong>Muslims and multiculturalism</strong></p><p>British Muslim identity politics was, as discussed above, stimulated by the intense dispute over Salman Rushdie’s book <em>The Satanic Verses</em> in 1989. This was a crisis that led many in Britain to think of themselves for the first <a href=";ImprintID=2&amp;BookID=130863">time</a> as Muslims in a public way. With any identity, for some it will be a background, while others will often foreground it, although much will depend on context. So it is with Muslims.</p><p>Even with those for whom a Muslim identity is in many contexts more than a background, it does not follow that the religious dimension will be most prominent; rather, this could be a sense of family and community, or a commitment to collective political advancement, or righting the wrongs done to Muslims. Indeed, it cannot even be assumed that “being Muslim” means the same thing to all.</p><p>Among other things, it can be understood in terms of community membership and heritage; a few simple precepts about self, compassion, justice and the afterlife; membership of a worldwide movement armed with a counter-ideology to modernity. Some Muslims are devout but apolitical; some are political but do not see their politics as being “Islamic” (indeed, may even be anti-”Islamic”).</p><p>In light of the foregoing, it is striking that Muslims in Britain today are experiencing pressures to be “<a href="">British Muslims</a>” in the same context where members of other minorities might be coming to feel an easing of identity pressures and greater freedom as individuals to “mix and match” identities. It is interesting here to note the emergence of organisations (albeit still on a modest scale) seeking to belong to the family of “public Muslims” yet thoroughly critical of a religious politics; what is particularly distinctive about them is the relative thinness of their appeal to Islam to justify a basically social-democratic politics. In principle they could just as easily seek to privatise their Muslimness - but they feel a socio-political obligation to do the opposite, to join the public constellation of Muslim identities rather than walk away from it.</p><p>Some contemporary Muslim identity politics, then, responds to (external or internal, or both) pressure in pragmatic fashion, by seeing “British Muslim” as a hyphenated identity in which each part is to be valued as important in terms of one’s principles and beliefs. It follows that to bring together two (or by extension several) identity-shaping, even identity-defining, commitments will have an effect on each of the commitments.</p><p>These will begin to interact, leading to some reinterpretation of the distinct parts, a process that often leads to scholarly engagement with the Islamic intellectual heritage. Two such areas of engagement are worth highlighting.</p><p>The first area of renewal and reinterpretation is equality and related concepts. In debates about gender equality, for example, Muslim cultural practices and assumptions have been subjected to severe critique through fresh readings of the Qur’an, the sayings and practice of the Prophet Mohammed, and Muslim history; these readings trace the emergence of conservative and restricted interpretations at moments when other interpretations could and should have been favoured (see, for example, Fatima Mernissi, <span><em>Women and Islam</em>: <em>An Historical and Theological Enquiry</em> </span>[Blackwell, 1991]). </p><p>The second area is plurality, which is emerging as an important idea in Muslim discourse. Most Muslims have no theological or conscientious problems with multi-faith citizenship - after all the <a href="">Prophet Mohammed</a> founded just such a polity. The earliest organised, settled Muslim community was in the city of Medina which was shared with Jews and others and based on an inter-communally agreed constitution. The late <a href="">Zaki Badawi</a>, one of the most learned Muslim theologians to have lived in modern Britain, once described the latter as the first example of a multicultural constitution in history in that it guaranteed autonomy to the various communities of the city. </p><p>Islam has a highly developed sense of social or ethical citizenship. It has some parallels with contemporary western “communitarian” thinking in that it emphasises duties as well as rights. This is illustrated in one of the “five pillars” of Islam, namely <em>zakat</em> (the obligation to give a proportion of one’s income or wealth to the poor and needy). This requirement has an inherent civic character, in that it extends beyond family or even neighbours and workmates to strangers, to an “imagined community”.</p><p>This widening sense of citizenship is reflected too in a current of thinking about Islamic modernity, chiefly from within Europe and north America, which challenges the authoritarian idea that a state is needed to enforce social citizenship or, more generally, religious law (itself very much a post-colonialist theology that seeks to place the political over the legal [the <em>sharia</em>]).</p><p>The Islamic-modernity argument counters by positioning the <em>sharia</em> not as a body of unchanging law, but as a set of ethical principles with legal conclusions that apply only to specific places and times and thus have to be continually reinterpreted; the effect is to place the ethical over the legal and the political (see Ziauddin Sardar, <em>The Future of Muslim Civilization</em> [Mansell, 1987] and Tariq Ramadan, <a href=";ci=9780195183566"><em>Western Muslims and the Future of Islam</em></a> [Oxford University Press, 2005). This is an example of how scholarship can draw on extra-European heritages and reinterpret them in a context of a democratic citizenship. </p><p>As Muslims’ discussion of these matters develops, and as their discourse becomes an integral part of British <a href="">debates</a>, one positive effect could be that a broader range of Muslim voices or civic participants are able to contribute. Such a development would reflect a healthy internal variety among Muslims (as within any group), part of which is that different individuals or members will want to locate themselves variously across the representational landscape (secular, religious, close to government, distant from political parties). That, after all, is true integration; new groups should have similar opportunities to old groups and do not need to conform, or feel obliged to conform, to a special “minority” perspective. </p><p>These discursive and institutional processes have two implications. The first is that an increasing acceptance that Muslims can politically organise “as Muslims” without any sense of illegitimacy - in raising distinctive concerns or having group representation in public bodies, for example - means allowing them to choose the paths they think appropriate at different times, in different contexts and for different ends.</p><p>The result will be a democratic constellation of organisations, networks, alliances and discourses in which there will be agreement and disagreement, in which group identity will be manifested more by way of family resemblances than the idea that one group means one voice. </p><p>The second implication is that where there is “difference” there must also be commonality. That commonality is citizenship, a citizenship seen in a plural and dispersed way. There is no contradiction here, for emphasising and cultivating what we have in common is not a denial of difference - it all depends upon what kind of commonality is arrived at, something that cannot be taken for granted. Difference and commonality are not either-or opposites but are complementary and have to be made - lived - together, giving to each its due.</p><p>More than that, commonality must be difference-friendly, and if it is not, it must be remade to be so. This does not mean as a corollary weak or indifferent national identities; on the contrary, multiculturalism requires a framework of dynamic national narratives and the ceremonies and rituals which give expression to a national identity. Minority identities are capable of generating a sense of attachment and belonging, even a sense of a “cause” for many people. If multicultural citizenship is to be equally attractive to those people, it needs a comparable (and counterbalancing) set of emotions; it cannot be merely about a legal status or a passport. </p><p>A sense of belonging to one’s country is necessary to make a success of a multicultural society. An inclusive national identity is respectful of and builds upon the identities that people value and does not trample upon them. So integration is not simply or even primarily a “minority problem”. For central to it is a citizenship and the right to make a claim on the national identity in the direction of positive difference. </p><p>An intellectual as much as a political vision of social reform and justice in the 21st century must include these aspects of multicultural citizenship. The turning of negative into positive difference should be one of the tests of social justice in this era. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="">Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship</a>, University of Bristol</p><p>Tariq Modood, <a href=""><em>Multiculturalism: A Civic Idea</em></a> (Polity, 2007)</p><p>Tariq Modood, <a href=""><em>Still Not Easy Being British: Struggles for a Multicultural Citizenship</em></a> (Trentham Books, 2010)</p><p>Philip Lewis, <a href=";ImprintID=2&amp;BookID=130863"><em>Young, British and Muslim</em></a> (Continuum, 2007)</p><p><a href=""><em>Deutsch Islam Konferenz </em>(Germany Islam Conference)</a></p><p>Bhikhu Parekh, <a href=""><em>Rethinking Multiculturalism: Cultural Diversity and Political Theory</em></a> (Palgrave, 2nd edition, 2005)</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Tariq Modood is <a href="">professor</a> of sociology, politics and public policy and the founding director of the <a href="">Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship</a> at the University of Bristol. His books include (as co-editor) <em><a href="">Ethnicity, Nationalism and Minority Rights</a> </em>and<em> <a href="">Ethnicity, Social Mobility and Public Policy: Comparing the US and UK</a></em><a href=""> </a>(both Cambridge University Press, 2005); (as co-editor) <a href=""><em>Multiculturalism, Muslims and Citizenship: A European Approach</em> </a>(Routledge 2006); (as author) <a href=""><em>Multicultural Politics: Racism, Ethnicity and Muslims in Britain</em></a> (Edinburgh University Press, 2005); (as author) <a href=""><em>Multiculturalism: A Civic Idea</em></a> (Polity, 2007); (as co-editor) <a href=""><em>Secularism, Religion, and Multicultural Citizenship</em></a> (Cambridge University Press, 2008); and <a href=""><em>Still Not Easy Being British: Struggles for a Multicultural Citizenship</em></a> (Trentham Books, 2010)<br /><br />Also by Tariq Modood in <strong>openDemocracy</strong>:<br /><br />"<a href="">Muslims and European multiculturalism</a>" (14 May 2003) <br /><br />"<a href="">Remaking multiculturalism after7/7</a>" (28 September 2005)<br /><br />"<a href="">The liberal dilemma: integration or vilification?</a>" (8 February 2006)<br /><br />"<a href="">Multiculturalism, citizenship and national identity</a>"(16 May 2007)<br /><br />"<a href="">Multiculturalism's civic future: a response</a>" (20 June 2007)</p><p>"<a href="">Multicultural citizenship and the anti-sharia storm</a>" (14 February 2008)</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/conflict-terrorism/responses_2970.jsp">In search of British Muslim identity: responses to &#039;Young, Angry and Muslim&#039;</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/conflict-europe_islam/multiculturalism_4627.jsp">Multiculturalism, citizenship and national identity</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a 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response</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/beyond_multiculturalism.jsp">Beyond formula: a civic multiculturalism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/conflict-terrorism/identity_2721.jsp">Muslims in Britain: generations, experiences, futures</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/faith_ideas/europe_islam/anti_sharia_storm">Multicultural citizenship and the anti-sharia storm</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/conflict-terrorism/britain_2713.jsp">What kind of country?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/conflict-europe_islam/liberal_dilemma_3249.jsp">The liberal dilemma: integration or vilification?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/globalization/postsatanic_3247.jsp">A post-Satanic journey</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/globalization/british_muslims_4048.jsp">British Muslims: ends and beginnings</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/faith-europe_islam/many_faces_4677.jsp">The many faces of multiculturalism</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/conflict-terrorism/muslims_3120.jsp">Muslims in Britain after 7/7: the problem of the few</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/people-europe_islam/article_1216.jsp">Muslims in flux: the problem of tradition</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/globalization/canada_muslims_4414.jsp">Muslims and multiculturalism: lessons from Canada</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/conflict-terrorism/islam_religion_ideology_4346.jsp">Islam, religion and ideology</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/the-next-ten-years-british-muslims-and-the-muslim-council-of-britain">British Muslims and the Muslim Council of Britain: the next decade </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/faith-protest/bangladeshi_3715.jsp">Bangladeshis in east London: from secular politics to Islam</a> </div> <div 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Modood Thu, 27 Jan 2011 21:49:44 +0000 Tariq Modood 57743 at The religious crisis of American liberalism <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> The extraordinary arc of Barack Obama’s popular appeal tells a deeper story of America: of how the relationship between liberalism and religion was forged, then frayed and broken, and how the president’s rhetoric offered the mirage of healing. Theo Hobson asks what, if anything, can be recovered from the ashes of a once-potent compact. </div> </div> </div> <p>During his campaign in 2008, Barack Obama seemed to be doing more than getting himself <a href="">elected</a> president. He seemed to be launching a revival of liberal idealism, shifting the United States’s political landscape in the process. This impression hardly lasted beyond his inauguration as president on 20 January 2009. Never has a national <a href="">mood</a> of progressive optimism evaporated so fast. The parlous state of the economy doesn’t fully explain this: economic turbulence might actually be conducive to forging a new liberal movement, as Franklin D Roosevelt showed in the 1930s.</p><p>Maybe, nowadays, liberal idealism is something that can be conjured up at election time, to a greater or lesser extent, but is otherwise dormant. If so, this is an acute problem for liberalism. For its adversary, in the form of the Tea Party <a href="">movement</a>, has proved itself to be a dynamic populist force, which motivates its followers between elections as well as during them. The only popular American ideology, it has seemed in the last two years, is of the small-tax, anti-government variety.</p><p>Alongside campaigning on economic issues, the purpose of the Tea Party has been to expose Obama’s rhetoric of <a href="">hope</a> as inauthentic, even un-American: for here is the site of real popular American idealism. Ours are the real, passionate voices queuing up to demand freedom from state interference. Liberals have no response, except to recoil in distaste. They were excited recipients of Obama’s campaigning rhetoric, but lack the ability or inclination to echo this rhetoric themselves, to participate in it. The huge advantage of the right is that every ordinary conservative knows how to hum its tunes: liberals have a more passive relationship to their leaders’ rhetoric.</p><p>Why is liberalism so much culturally weaker than conservatism? Part of the answer, I suggest, lies in the relationship of liberalism with religion.</p><p><strong>An alliance ended</strong></p><p>Barack Obama’s vision of hope had religious echoes. He boldly presented himself as the heir of the civil-rights movement, which, thanks to Martin Luther King and others, was an expression of liberal Christianity as well as progressive politics. King himself was inspired by the “social gospel” movement that influenced Roosevelt’s <a href="">New Deal</a>.</p><p>The American liberal-left in the 20th century had clear links to religion. This overlap goes back to the abolitionist movement: <a href="">Frederick Douglass</a> was a forerunner of King. Lincoln was more reticent on religion, but powerfully suggested that divine justice was the fuel of the democratic project.</p><p>Obama knowingly drew on this tradition, with his impassioned talk of hope. This went much further than the “hope” rhetoric of other politicians; it often referred to the biblical concept of faith - implicitly, of course. He repeatedly characterised his candidacy as “unlikely”, and “improbable”: as if his career was a reason-defying miracle, as if he were not a normal politician but the amazed witness to God’s action, like Abraham or Joseph. It is little exaggeration to say that this prophetic theme gave him the edge over Hillary Clinton, a more experienced politician with very similar policies, and won him the Democratic candidacy, and then the presidency.</p><p>He understood that that the liberal vision is most powerful when in touch with its religious roots. Democrats had been routinely wary of pressing these buttons, which can misfire in various ways. Indeed the strategy <a href=",8599,1723990,00.html">almost</a> misfired for Obama, thanks to his former pastor Jeremiah Wright.</p><p>What enabled him to play the “prophetic” card with such success was the racial element: he could offer himself as a sign of the <a href="">overcoming</a> of racial division, and therefore a living icon of the liberal Christian vision.<br />This prophetic rhetoric is admirably rooted in American history, and Obama was a master performer of it. So why did his support melt away?</p><p>The problem is that this prophetic tradition, for all its attractiveness, lacks clear roots in contemporary culture. For the cultural overlap of liberalism and religion has been weakening for decades. In a sense the appeal of prophetic hope-rhetoric is nostalgic: it reminds Americans of a previous era of idealism.</p><p>In this previous era there was a strong culture of liberal Christianity for politicians such as Woodrow Wilson, FDR, John F Kennedy and Lyndon B Johnson to draw on. The old “mainline” Protestant churches, full of respect for the liberal state, were still very strong. Liberal Protestantism was America’s semi-official creed. This allowed Wilson to rein in the free market, and Roosevelt to implement the New Deal. Accusations that such policies were socialist did not stick, for their architects were clearly pillars of the nation’s Protestant establishment (establishment, that is, in the unofficial sense).</p><p>Liberal Protestant intellectuals had great cultural respect, into the 1960s. Thinkers such as <a href="">Reinhold Niebuhr</a> made it seem obvious that America was simultaneously liberal and Christian. The civil-rights movement seemed a new chapter in this story of the expansion of the liberal Christian vision. It still seemed that America was held together by a mild form of “civil religion” (a phrase coined by the sociologist <a href="">Robert Bellah</a> in 1967). And this civil religion emphasised the common good, and a liberal form of faith.</p><p>But in fact things were changing. The culture wars were underway. The fundamentalist strain of American religion revived. And anti-liberalism <a href="">became</a> central to the Republican Party, first with Nixon’s demonising of liberal elitists, then with Reaganomics.</p><p>And, perhaps most importantly, the old liberal Protestant consensus was crumbling. From the mid-1960s, the mainline churches began losing members fast: some opted for Evangelicalism, but most drifted away from religion. The most vocal Christians were now those who looked on liberal reforms with suspicion. Moreover, progressive causes had a new “secular” aura, especially with the Supreme Court’s <a href="">verdict</a> on the Roe vs Wade case in 1973.</p><p>The old assumption, that America was simultaneously liberal and Christian, was in tatters. The noisiest Christians denounced liberalism, and even implied that the separation of church and state was a misunderstanding. This dynamic has continued ever since: the old alliance of Christianity and liberalism has never been revived.</p><p><strong>A recovery project</strong></p><p>This is the background to Obama’s roller-coaster reception. He implicitly promised to restore the broken relationship between America’s religion and its liberal idealism. This appealed to liberals on a deep level. But in reality the old synthesis cannot be restored just like that. There was therefore something pretentious about Obama’s campaigning rhetoric. He implied the existence of a latent common faith that just had to be dusted down - but it had in fact been ripped apart by the culture wars. His famous rejection of the <a href="">division</a> of the country into “red” (Republican) and “blue” (Democrat) states was, in effect, a promise to heal the culture wars. And the reconciliation of liberalism and religion is at the heart of this.</p><p>Obama’s rhetoric was therefore founded in a profound diagnosis of the nation’s inner division. America must end its painful culture wars and reunite around its old-fashioned liberal faith. But such a major cultural shift cannot be effected by a presidential election. Obama was announcing the need for a movement that transcends normal politics. It is hardly surprising that no such cultural shift suddenly became apparent.</p><p>And perhaps it is unsurprising that the main practical effect of his election has been <a href=";cm_sp=hpg-_-topbooks-_-9780062016720">anger</a> on the right. The Tea Party movement has ostensibly focused on Obama’s economic policies, but much of its rhetorical violence comes from the religious right. What arouses such hatred is Obama’s affinity with the old liberal Christianity, his claim that America is founded in a liberal Christian vision. The suggestion that Obama is <a href="">really</a> a Muslim is a mark of how deeply the religious right fears liberal Christianity: it would rather pretend that it is contending with a different religion, or with atheism. It fears to admit the fact that there is another account of American religion.</p><p>But does the old alliance of liberalism and Christianity show any signs of rising from the ashes? No obvious signs: the liberal churches, such as Episcopalianism, remain far weaker than the Evangelical ones. But on the other hand there are signs that Evangelicalism is rethinking. Some of its leaders feel that it was damaged by too close an association with the George W Bush administration.</p><p>Many younger Evangelicals, such as the megachurch star Rob Bell, are developing a new, inclusive, socially engaged approach, in which poverty and global warming are taken seriously. The rather vague reform movement called “emerging church”, mostly made up of ex-Evangelical liberals, is also on the rise. The old paradigm, of dominance by the religious right, has a few cracks in it that might develop into serious fissures.</p><p>Also, the turmoil of the Bush years has led some liberal commentators to see the old culture wars as just too dangerous. The journalist <a href="">George Packer</a>, for example, argues that liberalism was led astray by arrogant secularism and identity politics; America must rediscover a deeper understanding of its liberal tradition, and the rediscovery of its liberal Christian tradition is a key part of this.</p><p>Obama was hardly likely to repair America’s divided soul single-handed, but his campaigning rhetoric, and the angry reaction of the right, has helped to clarify the question. Can America reject the illiberal religion that has dominated for a generation, and rediscover, on new terms, the old alliance of faith and liberal idealism?<br /><br /></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Theo Hobson, <a href=";CountryID=1&amp;ImprintID=2&amp;BookID=132203"><em>Milton's Vision: The Birth of Christian Liberty</em></a> (Continuum, 2008)</p><p><a href="">Theo Hobson</a></p><p>Frank Lambert, <a href=""><em>Religion in American Politics: A Short History</em></a> (Princeton University Press, 2010)</p><p><a href="">Robert N Bellah</a></p><p>Wolfgang Mieder, <em>“<a href=";seitentyp=produkt&amp;pk=54062">Yes we can”: Barack <em>Obama's</em> proverbial</a></em><a href=";seitentyp=produkt&amp;pk=54062"> </a><em><a href=";seitentyp=produkt&amp;pk=54062">rhetoric</a> </em>(Peter Lang, 2009)</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Theo Hobson is a theologian and writer. His books include <a href=";bc=0"><em>Against Establishment: An Anglican Polemic </em></a>(Darton, Longman &amp; Todd, 2004); <a href=";bc=0"><em>Anarchy, Church and Utopia: Rowan Williams on the Church</em></a> (Darton, Longman &amp; Todd, 2005); and <a href=";CountryID=1&amp;ImprintID=2&amp;BookID=132203"><em>Milton's Vision: The Birth of Christian Liberty</em></a> (Continuum, 2008). His website is <a href="">here</a></p><p>Also by Theo Hobson in <strong>openDemocracy</strong>:<br /><br />"<a href="">Rowan Williams: <em>sharia</em> furore, Anglican future</a>" (13 February 2007)<br /><br />"<a href="">The Anglican vision after Lambeth</a>" (4 August 2008)</p><p>"<a href="">John Milton's vision</a>" (9 December 2008)</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/john-milton-s-vision">John Milton’s vision</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/barack-obama-and-the-american-void">Barack Obama and the American void </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/the-anglican-vision-after-lambeth">The Anglican vision after Lambeth</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/barack-obama-hope-fear-and-advice">Barack Obama: hope, fear... advice</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/max-blumenthal/days-of-rage-tea-party-and-american-conservatism">Days of rage: the Tea Party &amp; America&#039;s right</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/rowan_williams_sharia_furore_anglican_future">Rowan Williams: sharia furore, Anglican future</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/faith_ideas/europe_islam/sharia_law_uk">Rowan Williams and sharia law</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/max-blumenthal/nation-against-islam-americas-new-crusade">A nation against Islam: America&#039;s new crusade</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/democracy-americanpower/article_2081.jsp">America right or wrong</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/the_end_of_postmodernism_the_new_atheists_and_democracy">The end of postmodernism: the “new atheists” and democracy</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> United States </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> United States Civil society Democracy and government Ideas International politics faith & ideas democracy & power north america 50.50 Gender Politics Religion secularism Theo Hobson Wed, 26 Jan 2011 16:42:18 +0000 Theo Hobson 57724 at The “Islam” drumbeat: an Orwellian story <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> A reductive and tendentious portrayal of Islam and its followers is spreading across Europe and America. It is all too reminiscent of the chilling world imagined by George Orwell, says Arshin Adib-Moghaddam </div> </div> </div> <p>A few metres from my office at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the heart of London’s Bloomsbury area is the Senate House of the University of London, a remarkable neo-classical colossus of a building which functioned as the headquarters of Britain’s ministry of information, where <a href="">George Orwell</a> worked occasionally during the second world war.</p><p>The building’s influence on Orwell is apparent in his dystopian novel <em>Nineteen Eighty-Four</em> (1949) which&nbsp; powerfully evokes a lobotomised society controlled by Big Brother, whose Thought Police dominate a brainwashed populace while torturing anyone guilty of “thoughtcrime” into submission. Winston Smith, the tragic hero, is charged with the daily task of&nbsp; altering the historical record to conform with whatever the current position of the regime (Oceania) happens to be in relation to its counterparts (Eurasia and Eastasia); he works at the Ministry of Truth, which Orwell drew on his wartime experiences of <a href="">Senate House</a> to depict.&nbsp;</p><p>The novel is most often viewed as a political satire of the totalitarianism of the <a href="">era</a> (especially Soviet, as the Fascist regimes had fallen by the time the book was written) and an indictment of ultra-controlled illiberal societies. Among the most memorable themes is its emphasis on the state’s use of mass media&nbsp; to establish complete power over language and thought. Orwell elaborates this theme via the concept of “Newspeak”, the language of the ruling Party, used to smooth over any complexity in favour of easy and clear dichotomies: “goodthink” versus “thoughtcrime”.</p><p>Orwell writes elsewhere, in a famous essay, that “(political) language - and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists - is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”. In this non-fictional context, <a href="">Orwell</a> seems to be acknowledging that “thoughtcrime” is not limited to Soviet and Fascist regimes, that the distortion of reality is a feature of politics in general, and (as other parts of this essay illustrate) that the media is complicit in the assault on independent thinking.</p><p><strong>The formula</strong></p><p>The word “Orwellian” has itself become instantly recognisable in modern media and political discourse as its description of a world of lies, propaganda and indoctrination. Its connotations seem to become even more sinister when it is used to identify, not direct and overt deceit, but the kind of “thought control” that operates in advanced capitalist societies: more ciphered, clandestine, opaque, flatly networked, horizontal, penetrative,&nbsp; global and politically transcendent than that in the intensely vertical and vulgar top-down form indicted in <a href=";cat=&amp;title=1984%2B1st%2Bedition%2BDustjacket&amp;maker=Orwell%2C%2BGeorge&amp;desc=Dustjacket%2Bof%2Bthe%2B1st%2Bedition&amp;ref=ORWELL%2BCOLLECTION%2BDUSTJACKETS"><em>Nineteen Eighty-Four</em></a>.</p><p>This current form of “thought control” can be seen operating in relation to many politicised topics. In this short article I consider its relevance to media coverage of “Islam”, and argue that most consumers of the “Islam” story are socialised into accepting the dominant narrative of their societies in a much more subtle and clandestine way even than George Orwell imagined.&nbsp;</p><p>A single example of what has been written and said recently about “Islam” (the quote-marks are used to emphasise that this is a media construction) illustrates the point. <a href="">Thilo Sarrazin</a>, a board member of Germany's <em>Bundesbank </em>and a former senator of finance&nbsp;serving in&nbsp;the Berlin government, published a <a href="">book</a> entitled <em>Deutschland schafft sich ab</em> (<em>Germany does away with itself</em>) which <a href="">argues</a> that high birthrates among Turkish and Arab communities in the country mean that Germany will soon be ruled by “Muslims”, and that “Turkish genes” are responsible for lowering the “level of intelligence” in the country.</p><p>The great success of Sarrazin’s book, helped by huge press <a href=",1518,716648,00.html#ref=nlint">exposure</a>, prompted the leading political magazine <em>Der Spiegel</em> to ask why Sarrazin has become a national hero. Sarrazin’s phobia corresponds to what is happening <a href=",1518,719842,00.html">elsewhere</a> in Europe, such as the electoral success of <a href="">Geert Wilders</a> in the Netherlands, the minaret <a href="">ban</a> in Switzerland, and the emergence of ultra-nationalist parties in several&nbsp; European Union member-states (such as <a href="">Hungary</a> and <a href="">Sweden</a>).</p><p>Thilo Sarrazin’s words contain <a href=",1518,714567,00.html">residues</a> of an persistent racist myth that was central to the cod-science of the Nazis (among others): that intelligence is ethnically codified. The obscure American <a href="">pastor</a> called Terry Jones who raised a furore when he <a href="">threatened</a> to burn a Qur’an in protest at the proposed establishment of an Islamic community centre in Manhattan (two blocks away from “<a href="">ground zero</a>”, the site of the 9/11 attacks) reflects a variant of “thought control” regarding Muslims: that “Islam” functions as a formula to aggregate “Muslims” even more tightly under the label of terrorism. The social and geographical distance between these two men suggests that, while there is no all-encompassing anti-Muslim consensus, such attitudes are capable of reaching widely across the political cultures of the contemporary world.</p><p>It was, for example, another prominent English novelist, <a href="">Martin Amis</a>, who in 2006 <a href="">gave</a> expression to the "urge" to say that Muslims should “suffer until they get their house in order”, in a sequence of measures: "deportation – further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they are from the middle east, Pakistan, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children”.</p><p>Amis’s friend, the journalist <a href="">Christopher Hitchens</a> - who has <a href="">written</a> wdiely on George Orwell - in 2007 linked what he <a href="">called</a> “the fascistic subculture” in Britain to “shady exiles from the middle east and Asia who are exploiting London's traditional hospitality” and to the projection of an immigrant group that has its origins in a particularly backward and reactionary part of Pakistan.”</p><p>All the individuals mentioned have (or in the case of Terry Jones, been given) privileged access to the media, and their tendentious and in some cases inflammatory views are readily disseminated across the world-wide-web. In the cacophony that invariably ensues the voices of reason and empathy tend to be quelled.</p><p><strong>The echo</strong></p><p>These narratives also sketch the contours of a new strategic enemy, which exists as a projection from the mind of its makers rather than a reality. An insidiously divisive discourse promotes the idea that “Muslimness” is equivalent to an all-encompassing and reductive signifier. The toddler is the Muslim. The neighbour is the Muslim. The prostitute is the Muslim. The gay-rights activist is the Muslim. The prisoner is the Muslim. The worker is the Muslim. The feminist is the Muslim. The disabled person is the Muslim. The lover is the Muslim. Muslim - and nothing more.</p><p>The waste of opportunities for understanding and dialogue here is obvious. But even on their own terms, if writers such as Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens are seeking to <a href="">distinguish</a> forms of “Islamic radicalism” from a notional “good Islam” then to talk of “Muslims” and “Islam” as if they are integrated entities is self-defeating. Even more as as their discourse pronounces the unity and singularity of Islam, and renders coherent what is <a href="">diversified</a>, differentiated and molecular.</p><p>The resemblance here is to the views of Osama bin Laden, who fervently <a href="">believes</a> that Islam is an all-encompassing totality which determines everything, all the way down to a person’s individual character traits. In their shared flattening of complex realities these imagined adversaries collude in a dangerous myth of truly Orwellian proportions.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Arshin Adib-Moghaddam<em>, </em><a href=""><em>A Metahistory of the Clash of Civilisations: Us and Them beyond Orientalism</em></a> (Columbia University Press / <a href="">C Hurst</a>, 2010)</p><p>George Orwell, <a href=",,9780141036144,00.html"><em>Nineteen Eighty-Four</em> </a>(1949)</p><p><a href="">The George Orwell Archive, UCL</a></p><p>Cas Mudde, <a href=";ss=fro"><em><span><span>Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe</span></span></em></a> (Cambridge University Press, 2007)</p><p>Neal Wyatt ed., <a href=""><em>Islam in Europe, a Research Guide</em> </a>(RUSQ, 2010)</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Arshin Adib-Moghaddam is <a href="">lecturer</a> in the comparative and international politics of the middle east at SOAS, London. His books include <a href=""><em>Iran in World Politics: The Question of the Islamic Republic</em></a> (C Hurst, 2008 / <a href="">Columbia University Press</a>, 2008); and <a href=""><em>A Metahistory of the Clash of Civilisations: Us and Them beyond Orientalism</em></a> (Columbia University Press / <a href="">C Hurst</a>, 2010)</p><p>Also by Arshin Adib-Moghaddam in <strong>openDemocracy</strong>:</p><p>"<a href="arshin-adib-moghaddam/how-to-make-peace-with-iran">How to make peace with Iran</a>" (14 May 2010)</p><p>"<a href="">A new order in 'greater west Asia': Iraq to Palestine</a>" (14 July 2010)</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/cas-mudde/intolerance-of-tolerant">The intolerance of the tolerant </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/conflict-europe_islam/muslim_cartoons_3244.jsp">Muslims and Europe: a cartoon confrontation</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/patrice-de-beer/frances-other-worlds-burqa-and-abyss">France&#039;s other worlds: burqa and abyss</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/arshin-adib-moghaddam/new-order-in-%E2%80%9Cgreater-west-asia%E2%80%9D-afpak-to-palestine">A new order in “greater west Asia”: AfPak to Palestine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/sara-silvestri/french-burqa-and-%E2%80%9Cmuslim-integration%E2%80%9D-in-europe">Europe&#039;s Muslims: burqa laws, women&#039;s lives</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/arshin-adib-moghaddam/how-to-make-peace-with-iran">How to make peace with Iran</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/conflict-terrorism/identity_2721.jsp">Muslims in Britain: generations, experiences, futures</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/cas-mudde/geert-wilders-enigma">The Geert Wilders enigma </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/faith_ideas/europe_islam/anti_sharia_storm">Multicultural citizenship and the anti-sharia storm</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/the_swedish_cartoon_art_as_provocation">The Swedish cartoon: art as provocation</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/people-europe_islam/article_1216.jsp">Muslims in flux: the problem of tradition</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/faith-protest/bangladeshi_3715.jsp">Bangladeshis in east London: from secular politics to Islam</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/faith-europe_islam/freespeech_3282.jsp">Free speech in the frontier-zone</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/democracy-europefuture/recognition_3288.jsp">Europe and beyond: struggles for recognition</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> Conflict Democracy and government International politics faith & ideas europe & islam democracy & power Arshin Adib-Moghaddam Thu, 28 Oct 2010 13:27:31 +0000 Arshin Adib-Moghaddam 56599 at Pope Benedict: the faith of authority <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> A delicate papal visit to Britain was in the end a diplomatic success. All the more reason to examine the ideas it advanced, says Michael Walsh. </div> </div> </div> <p>When Pope John Paul II returned to Rome from his visit to Britain in May-June 1982, it was widely reported that the Vatican regarded the trip as one of the pontiff’s most successful. After Benedict XVI’s journey to Scotland and England from 16-19 September 2010, a similar reaction has been heard. But a month after the event, any such judgment must relate to the content of the pope’s message as much as the impressive atmospherics surrounding the trip. <br /><br />The latter were significant in that the pre-tour reports of low interest seemed confounded by the day. The crowds along the route in on Edinburgh were relatively sparse, and Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park in Glasgow could have held many more (a comparison with the numbers in 1982, the largest single gathering of Scots in the history of the country, may be unfair). Yet London’s Hyde Park looked packed for the evening prayer-vigil, and even more impressive (as seen on the big screens which dotted the venue) were the thousands that lined the pope’s route to the vigil celebration.<br /><br />All went remarkably smoothly. There were guards of honour on his arrival and departure, there were state trumpeters welcoming him into Westminster Hall to address assembled politicians and civic leaders; but the formal state trappings of the visit were kept to a minimum. Protesters against the cost had themselves partly to blame for the overwhelming presence of police and rather too zealous security personnel at the various sites. But as it turned out, opponents of the papacy - from Ian Paisley’s coterie to Geoffrey Robertson QC bellowing into a microphone - made little or no impact, and certainly did not mar the enjoyment of the occasion for the hundreds of thousands of Catholics and others who celebrated.<br /><br /><strong>The doctrinal heart</strong><br /><br />Yet if the visit may have been a success for those who participated, and fuelled the self-confidence of British Catholics, its long-term consequences are much more difficult to measure. Benedict came, no doubt, because he wanted to beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman, and that he duly did in a relatively simple but moving ceremony. Monsignor Rod Strange, the rector of Rome’s Beda College and an authority on the new <em>beatus</em>, somewhat piously remarked that Benedict was like a parish-priest in his parish church - though with a rather larger congregation (and, it might be added, with a very much larger choir, a plethora of television cameras and an extravagance of bishops). <br /><br />But he had a point. For those present it was not only a beatification but their Sunday mass. The sermon, with its touching tribute to the anniversary of the “Battle of Britain” fought over the skies of southern England in 1940 - when Josef Ratzinger, though he did not mention this, it, briefly helped operate a German anti-aircraft battery - was perhaps rather more intellectually demanding than most congregations are used to.<br /><br />That may perhaps be one of the lasting legacies of the visit. The Oxford historian Diarmaid MacCulloch - no great friend of the Roman Catholic church - remarks that Pope Benedict used the visit to introduce a much needed note of seriousness into religious discourse. Nowhere was this more evident than the pope’s address in Westminster Hall. There, he paid the appropriate compliments to Britain’s parliament; spoke of the achievements of the country’s democracy, highlighting as one example the abolition of the slave trade under Christian (though of course not Catholic, inspiration); and talked of freedom of conscience. <br /><br />The appropriateness of the last topic, much discussed in the run-up to the visit, was highlighted by Newman’s famous remark - in his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk - “if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts, (which indeed does not seem quite the thing) I shall drink - to the Pope, if you please, - still, to Conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards”. Moreover, as Benedict did point out, the issue of conscience brought the Catholic martyr Thomas More to trial on the very spot from which the pope was speaking. It was all very symbolic.<br /><br />The main thrust of his Westminster speech, however, dealt with the issues of church and state. “While couched in different language”, he said, “Catholic social teaching has much in common with [the British parliament’s] approach, in its overriding concern to safeguard the unique dignity of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, and in its emphasis on the duty of civil authority to foster the common good.” <br /><br />Maybe so, but there was also a remark which could be taken to question the whole notion of parliamentary government: “If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy”. <br /><br />It’s not hard to read between these lines. “Social consensus” in Britain might very well try to reinstate the death penalty. Parliament has resolutely opposed capital punishment, and so (now - it did not always) does the Catholic church. The church, and MPs, might very well be described as out of step with society on the issue. <br /><br />This is but one example of a wider problem that the pope is identifying. It has arisen lately for the church in Britain on the issue of gay rights and adoption, which has led to some Catholic adoption agencies closing down, others cutting off their links with the church. It may reappear over Catholic schools, one of the great successes of the church in this country. <br /><br />The pope’s speech on 18 September may provide a framework for discussion of these, and other, issues, but it does not resolve them. The pope, as Catholics traditionally do, bases his argument upon natural law. Natural law is a philosophical theory, it is not a religious dogma. No authority can impose a particular interpretation upon natural-law arguments (though there are some, perhaps, it can rule out on the grounds that adopting them might lead to un-Christian outcomes). In any event, late in his own life Pope John Paul II seemed to express a degree of disappointment with the outcome of the democratic process. I wondered if there were not just a hint of that in Benedict’s Westminster Hall address.<br /><br /><strong>The ghostly faithful</strong><br /><br />Such protests as there were focused on sexual abuse by clergy, on women’s rights and gay rights, on contraception. On the abuse scandal the pope spoke out clearly and forthrightly (if belatedly) calling it a crime as well as a sin. </p><p>The other issues received only an oblique mention, if that; abortion and contraception, which John Paul II spoke of often and called “the culture of death”, played little part in Benedict’s discourse (neither on his British nor other visits). <br /><br />When he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger earned the soubriquet of “Cardinal Rottweiler”. His journey in Scotland and England presented the image of a much more congenial pope. But the papal project has not changed. Catholic institutions, he said, “need to be free to act in accordance with their own principles and specific convictions based upon the faith and the official teaching of the church”. In his mind, the Vatican - unswayed by “social consensus” - remains the only authentic interpreter of that teaching. Newman, it may be remembered, wrote a book with the evocative title <em>On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine</em>.<br /><br /></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="">Heythrop College</a></p><p><a href="">Pope Benedict XVI - visit to Scotland and England, 16-19 September 2010</a></p><p><a href=""><em>The Tablet</em></a></p><p><a href="">Vatican City State</a></p> <p><a href="">Catholic News Service</a></p><p>Ladislas Orsy, <a href=""><em>Receiving the Council</em>: </a><em><a href="">Theological and Canonical Insights and Debates</a> </em>(Liturgical Press, 2009)</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Michael Walsh is a writer and broadcaster. He was <a href="" target="_blank">librarian</a> at Heythrop College from 1972 to 2001. Among his books are <a href=""><em>The Secret World of Opus Dei</em> </a>(HarperCollins, 2004) and <em>The Conclave: A Sometimes Secret and Occasionally Bloody History</em> (<a href="">Canterbury Press</a>, 2003)</p><p>Also by Michael Walsh in <strong>openDemocracy</strong>:</p><p>Also by Michael Walsh in <strong>openDemocracy</strong>:</p><p>"<a href="../../faith-catholicchurch/article_2405.jsp">Cutting the Vatican down to size</a>" (5 April 2005)<br /><br />"<a href="../../faith-catholicchurch/article_2441.jsp">From Joseph Ratzinger to Pope Benedict XVI</a>" (20 April 2005)<br /><br />"<a href="../../faith-europe_islam/regensburg_3920.jsp">The Regensburg address: reason amid certainty</a>" (20 September 2006)<br /><br />"<a href="../../faith-catholicchurch/pope_patriarch_4151.jsp">The Pope and the Patriarch</a>" (4 December 2006)<br /><br />"<a href="../../article/pope_benedict_xv1_forward_to_the_past">Pope Benedict XV1: forward to the past</a>" (14 September 2007)</p><p>"<a href="../../article/democracy_power/faith_ideas/the_pope_s_mixed_signals">The pope’s mixed signals</a>" (25 April 2008)</p><p><a href="../../article/the-vatican-s-debacle">"The Vatican’s debacle</a>" (16 February 2009)</p><p>"<a href="../../michael-walsh/vatican%E2%80%99s-fix-abuse-and-renewal">The Vatican's fix: abuse and renewal</a>" (22 March 2010)</p><p>"<a href="">Pope Benedict's divisions</a>" (13 July 2009)</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/faith-europe_islam/pope_jihad_3914.jsp">Pope Benedict XVI and Islam: beyond words</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/faith-aboutfaith/article_2399.jsp">Pope John Paul II and democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/faith-catholicchurch/article_2421.jsp">The Catholic church and democracy: a reply to Neal Ascherson</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/faith-catholicchurch/catholicmedia_3450.jsp">Poland&#039;s past and future pope</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/pope_benedict_xv1_forward_to_the_past">Pope Benedict XVI: forward to the past</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/faith-catholicchurch/article_2406.jsp">Cardinal Arns of Brazil on Pope John Paul II, the Vatican and the poor</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/faith-catholicchurch/article_2416.jsp">The Vatican, the Kremlin and the Feminine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/globalization-institutions_government/benedict_brazil_4601.jsp">Benedict XVI in Brazil: raising the Catholic flag</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/globalization-institutions_government/religion_2626.jsp">Who rules Italy?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/faith-catholicchurch/article_2430.jsp">The Catholic church is not a democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/faith-catholicchurch/article_2402.jsp">Through the Vatican white smoke</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/tina-beattie/catholic-church%E2%80%99s-abuse-scandal-modern-crisis-ancient-roots">The Catholic church’s scandal: modern crisis, ancient roots </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> Democracy and government Ideas International politics faith & ideas democracy in the catholic church? democracy & power europe 50.50 Gender Politics Religion secularism patriarchy Michael Walsh Fri, 22 Oct 2010 23:14:41 +0000 Michael Walsh 56295 at Ayodhya: verdict and consequence <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> An Indian court’s ruling on the Hindu-Muslim dispute over the sacred site of Ayodhya sheds light on the relationship between two forms of rationality in India, says Deep K Datta-Ray. </div> </div> </div> <P>The high court in Allahabad in India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh made an important <A href="">judgment</a> on 30 September 2010 on the long-running Ayodhya saga, where the ownership of a site sacred to both Hindus and Muslims has been bitterly contested in the courts since the early 1990s. The judgment, a compromise that divides the land in dispute between the religious claimants - and seems thus to create the <A href="">possibility</a> of defusing the deep-rooted tensions between them - elicited a collective sigh of relief from India’s intellectual elite. But this very reaction tells a sobering story about the nature of the elite and its <A href="">understanding</a> of modern India.</p> <P>This understanding is reliant on assumptions drawn from Europe to make sense of Indian state practice, which are then embodied in narrow explanations which simultaneously trap the elite in a siege mentality. By dissecting this elite approach, it is possible to tease out the state’s rationality from its very practices - and Ayodhya provides the terrain.</p> <P><STRONG>The alien logic</strong></p> <P>The starting-point is the Indian elite’s curious interpretation of the Allahabad ruling, The formal <A href="">issue</a> at stake may be ownership of land where once stood a temple and then a mosque (the latter torn down by Hindus in December 1992 who claimed the site as the birthplace of Lord Ram); but the elite prefer to infuse the judgment with symbolism, so that they can take it as example of the state having <A href="">weathered</a> a primordial storm.</p> <P>In this view, the state is presumed to be motivated by an imported rationality&nbsp; - developed in a faraway land, generated a certain set of practices such as parliamentary democracy, transplanted to hostile climes by a vanguard, obliged to be secured by educating the recalcitrant masses, and thus always under threat of extinction.</p> <P>This elite story about all Indians embodies the notion that the elite are the ones who crafted India and keep it <A href="">going</a> against the opposition or misunderstanding of millions of others.</p> <P>This attitude explains the profound insecurity of the Indian elite, which permeates their writings and indeed defines their very being, usually behind high walls in metropolitan areas. They believe that their oases of civilisation are constantly under siege from a population it regards as barbaric, or at best infantile, whose <EM>Bharat</em> (the uneducated masses’ term for India) is a very different <A href="">country</a> from its own, western-influenced one.</p> <P>Yet this binary story is rendered chimerical by the state’s own practice. True, the Ayodhya verdict can be used to validate the elite assumption that its rationality is irredeemably superior to that of the masses. But things are not so simple, for a closer look suggests that practices imported by the vanguard continue to thrive in India thanks to the survival of a rationality among the masses that is resolutely non-western and firmly local. This puts <A href="">democracy</a> on a far stronger footing than the elite presumes, and relieves them of their angst and even their self-appointed role of vanguard. But by continuing to assume that only they qualify as civilised, the elite miss the local intellectual foundations of the Indian state.</p> <P><STRONG>The universal divine</strong></p> <P>The Ayodhya ruling, an exemplary case of the state being animated by a civilised local rationality, undermines the elite Indian story about India. The relevant section deserves quoting in full: “This Court is of the view that place of birth that is Ram Janm Bhumi is a juristic person. The deity also attained the divinity like Agni, Vayu, Kedarnath. Asthan is personified as the spirit of divine worshipped as the birth place of Ram Lala or Lord Ram as a child. Spirit of divine ever remains present everywhere at all times for anyone to invoke at any shape or form in accordance with his own aspirations and it can be shapeless and formless also.”</p> <P>The notion of “juristic person”&nbsp;simply means that a being or object is treated like a real, living human being in terms of the law (thus, states are treated as juristic “persons” under international law). What is striking in the Ayodhya judgment is that it <A href="">proclaims</a> this juristic person to be a deity, and that the divine is everywhere and may be conjured up by people anywhere and at anytime and as anything - because the divine is everything. This makes for a state animated by an altogether different intellectual realm than that occupied by Christianity and Islam. They assume that the divine created the world for humans’ benefit (and indeed from that occupied by western <A href="">secularism</a> based on equality and hence toleration, not divinity).</p> <P>The consequences of the Indian state rendering the mundane divine are phenomenal. The state here views the divine not as extraneous to the material and intellectual world but as inextricably intermeshed with it.</p> <P>The notion that everything, including ideas, may be divine is itself an idea with deep roots in Indian society. By making this the basis of its judgment, the state observes an ancient and local rationality - and thus presents the possibility of moving beyond European assumptions and understanding because its sources of animation lie within, including in the divine which the masses (and the judges in this instance) still <A href="">believe</a> in.</p> <P>The state is here legitimising the traditional respect for everything which is expressed in its extreme by the notion of ahimsa. This is no alien category to Indian politics. It appears in the <A href=",,9780140446814,00.html"><EM>Mahabharata</em>,</a> which <A href="">Mahatma Gandhi</a> drew upon to craft Europe’s expulsion from the sub-continent. The Allahabad verdict then is notable less for having reinforced democracy, the rule of law or <A href="">secularism</a> than for showing that all those practices are maintained in India by a rationality which views everything as divine. Such a rationality requires practices capable of maintaining its integrity, or at least practices which move beyond mere toleration to reverence.</p> <P>As it happens, some of the practices of governance imported from Europe did maintain the integrity of this local rationality. (Others did not; note the limited <A href="">appeal</a> of fascism in India.) It is the rationality of the masses, rather than the shrill preaching of the elite, that explains why Indians took to certain foreign practices so easily - because they are in keeping with the rationality of the majority, one that predates both colonialism and Europe.</p> <P><STRONG>The local rational</strong></p> <P>This being said, and contrary to the elite’s views, the verdict is dubious at best. After all, what has been done in Ayodhya is simply to recreate <A href="">partition</a>, albeit on a much smaller scale and thankfully without any violence so far; but the decision has once again wrenched apart a cultural unity which views everything, including the state, as an expression of the divine. Yet the settlement itself is less significant than the way it was reached, as it provides a glimpse of the state’s true rationality.</p> <P>In any case, perhaps no practice could have resolved the case adequately. The fact that the issue was taken to court at all suggests that though the traditional rationality motivates the state it eludes the litigants. After all, the anguish of destroyed temples is not new. A means of managing it is presented in the practices of Nik Rai, an 18th-century Hindu who served the <A href="">Mughals</a> and wrote in elaborate Persian: “Look at the miracle of my idol-house, o Sheikh, That when it was ruined, it became the house of God.”</p> <P>Rai was highly Persianised, yet remained a believer in a rationality which permitted everyone to be viewed as divine. It prompted him to resort to prose to manage his pain because maintaining the integrity of his rationality demanded that he could not seek revenge. After all, in Rai’s rationality the destroyer too may also be made divine.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <P>Rajeev Bharghava, <A href=";ci=9780198060444"><EM>The Promise of India's Secular Democracy</em></a> (Oxford University Press, 2010)</p> <P>Stuart Corbridge &amp; John Harriss, <A href=""><EM>Reinventing India: Liberalization, Hindu Nationalism, and Popular Democracy</em></a> (Polity, 2000)</p> <P>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <P>Deep K Datta-Ray is a journalist and academic. His work is published in a variety of publications, including the <EM>South China Morning Post</em> (Hong Kong), the <EM>Straits Times</em> (Singapore), and the <EM>Times of Indi</em>a (Delhi). His website is <A href="">here</a></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/conflict/article_845.jsp">Gujarat: shades of black</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/globalization-vision_reflections/indian_experience_3535.jsp">The Indian experience</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/people-india_pakistan/article_1801.jsp">India and Pakistan: the cricket test</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/democracy/article_677.jsp">Travelling by sun-bird: Bali in Indian sight</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/conflict-india_pakistan/article_1684.jsp">The silent wounds of Gujarat</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/conflict-india_pakistan/article_197.jsp">India and Pakistan: states of mind, contests of perception</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uttar_pradesh_indias_democratic_landslip">Uttar Pradesh: India&#039;s democratic landslip</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/india-at-61-heres-looking-at-you-kid">India at 61: here&#039;s looking at you, kid! </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/faith-india_pakistan/article_691.jsp">India&#039;s majority-minority syndrome</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/indias-election-parties-and-people-amid-change">India&#039;s election: parties, people, politics </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/india-s-election-season-bad-for-minorities">India’s election season: bad for minorities </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/democracy/article_1566.jsp">The political psychology of Hindu nationalism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/conflict-india_pakistan/article_1568.jsp">Ayodhya: India&#039;s endless curse</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/democracy/article_504.jsp">Words save lives: India, the BJP and the Constitution</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/globalization/article_1006.jsp">India in the face of globalisation</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/india-s-christians-politics-of-violence-in-orissa">India’s Christians: politics of violence in Orissa</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> openIndia India Conflict Democracy and government Ideas International politics faith & ideas democracy & power india/pakistan Deep K Datta-Ray Tue, 05 Oct 2010 18:54:29 +0000 Deep K Datta-Ray 56278 at Europe's Muslims: burqa laws, women's lives <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Several European states - France, Italy, Belgium and Britain among them - are involved in legal, social or political disputes over the dress-codes of Muslim women. A detailed and alert survey of the variegated experiences and attitudes involved is the best way to understand a complex issue, says Sara Silvestri. </div> </div> </div> <p>The <em>burqa</em>, and items associated with some Muslim women’s dress (the <em>niqab and jilbab) </em>is once more at the centre of political controversy in Europe. In fact, the immediate event that has propelled it to the centre of attention - a near-unanimous vote by France’s lower house of parliament on 13 July 2010 in <a href="">favour</a> of a bill to prohibit concealment of the face in public places - is but one episode in a more or less continuous saga that tends to produce more speculation than informed understanding.</p> <p>Perhaps then this is a good moment to disentangle some of the “<em>burqa</em> debate’s” many threads, in part by bringing to bear some of the <a href=";LangType=1033">detailed research</a> I have been conducting into the issue of Muslim women’s dress and the wider question of “Muslim integration” across <a href="">several</a> European countries (see "<a href=";LangType=1033">Europe's Muslim women: potential, aspirations and challenges</a>", King Baudouin Foundation, 2008).</p> <p><strong>Between law and politics</strong></p> <p>The evidence that the <em>burqa</em> and other coverings are increasingly becoming a matter of public discussion, emotion, regulation and legislation in Europe is widespread. Yet there is also little that is definitive about how this “problem” is defined or the measures taken to “solve” it.</p> <p>The high-profile parliamentary vote in France is an example. The 335-1 result sounds overwhelming, but the bill remains highly divisive in the country; several parties (including the socialist, green and communist) abstained from voting; France’s council of state has already (in May 2010) issued an “unfavourable opinion” about a total <a href="">ban</a> of the <em>burqa</em> in public spaces, which it deemed legally “unfounded”; the senate (upper house) will examine the issue in September; and France’s constitutional council too may be called on give a ruling. Even after that, opponents of the measure could in the event it passes have <a href="">recourse</a> to the European Court of Human Rights.</p> <p>Thus, the French <a href="">vote</a> is only part of a wider and more messy situation. This is true elsewhere, for example Belgium. Belgian MPs for their part have since the mid-2000s agreed that the “integral veil” should be <a href="">banned</a>. This was the eventual result of a gradual process whereby the <em>hijab </em>became condemend as a form of oppression of women. At the same time, Belgium’s internal political divisions have come into play in relation to the issue; the lower house of parliament <a href=",,5532582,00.html">voted </a>in 2010 for a bill to prohibit clothes that do not <a href=",1518,692212,00.html">allow</a> the wearer to be identified (including the <em>burqa</em> and <em>niqab</em>), but a governmental crisis halted the bill before it could become law. </p> <p>Yet the “contagious” element of the anti-<em>burqa</em> mood is undisputed. Spain, Britain and Italy have their own public campaigns, legal proposals and social sentiments on the issue. Everywhere the details are different, yet there are many <a href="">crossovers</a> of shared concern.</p> <p>Is all this an indication that anti-Muslim feelings have spread and become rooted across Europe, <a href="../../../../../../../../david-hayes/london-bombs-five-years-on-opendemocracy-digest">five years</a> after the 7/7 bombs in London that led to fears over security being linked to Muslim women’s dress? This may be a simplification which disregards other possible elements in play: that mixed feelings about how to respond to the epiphenomenon of the <em>burqa/hijab </em>finds in it a ready outlet for not-fully-understood <a href=",dwp_uuid=f4f78a4e-50b6-11dc-86e2-0000779fd2ac.html">uneasiness</a> with Islam. A widespread confusion and ignorance about the Muslim population and its religion in general may also be part of the situation. Behind all this in turn, a host of experiences perceived as problems - globalisation, migration, financial crisis, shifting national identities, the changing balance of religion and secularism in society - can underlie the focus on an issue that seems to connect so many of them.</p> <p><strong>Between religion and fashion</strong><strong> </strong></p> <p>What is the fuss about? The <em>burqa</em>, the <em>hijab</em> and the <em>niqab</em> may have come to be merged in the European psyche, yet these three pieces of cloth are - technically, stylistically and symbolically - completely different things, which individually look and are worn in many variations across Muslim-majority countries. The <em>burqa</em> covers the full body, with an embroidered opening for the eyes; the <em>niqab</em> is a veil of different colours, often black, covering the nose and the mouth only; the <em>hijab</em> is a scarf covering the head, loose or tight, of all sorts of colours (for instance black in Iran, bright in Malaysia, patterned in Turkey), and wrapped and knotted in different fashions under the neck or behind the head; the <em>jilbab</em> is normally a dark long dress or cloak, going from the head to the feet, usually covering other clothes underneath.</p> <p>The Qu’ran does not prescribe specifically any of these coverings. It urges Muslim women to dress “modestly”; the verses about covering the head and the bosom have been interpreted in different ways. Most Muslims around the world would agree, in broad terms, that the <em>hijab</em> (head-cover or “headscarf”) is recommended, though not compulsory.</p> <p>The <em>jilbab</em>-plus-<em>niqab</em> “twin-set” that is becoming increasingly popular across the world is a way of dressing imported from the Gulf region, and influenced by the conservative, puritanical and extremely prescriptive (<em>Wahhabi</em>/<em>Salafi</em>) version of Islam sanctioned in some of its states. It is not a general Arab, or Asian, or Balkan custom (although lighter forms of <em>niqab</em> were used up to the beginning of the 20th century, in Morocco and Egypt for instance). So it is not fully part of the “traditions of origin” of the majority of the Muslim population of <a href="">Europe</a>, but rather an “imported” product of globalisation (and it is particularly liked by young women, included educated ones and converts). It is this <em>jilbab</em>-plus-<em>niqab</em> combination that is appearing in Europe, rather than the <em>burqa</em>; although mentioning the more familiar <em>burqa</em> tends to be an easier route to public reaction, in part because it stirs awareness of how the Taliban regime imposed this rural tradition upon the female population of Afghanistan in the 1990s.</p> <p>The significance of these different pieces of fabric tends to change depending on the social, legal and political context of region or the country under consideration. This makes it important to make and be respectful of distinctions: for example, not to associate Muslim women born in Europe with what is happening in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, not to fuse fear of immigration or the unknown with support for a ban of the <em>burqa/niqab</em>.</p> <p>This is but the surface of a complicated context full of passion where the wearing of dress can carry a symbolic and political charge. Those on different sides need to attend too to the paradoxical effect their views may have; one young <em>niqabi</em> told me that she felt the need to put on her face-veil and long black robe because otherwise people (i.e. non-Muslims) would not be interested to hear her opinions! More broadly, the multiply changing dress-codes among <a href="">Europe’s Muslims</a> suggest that (as <a href="">Annelies Moors</a> argues) the word “fashion” may in most cases be a more appropriate descriptive of their choices. This form of diversity is spreading in Europe as a consequence of the fragmentation-cum-globalisation of Islamic knowledge, what some have called “cut-and-paste” Islam. In addition, the fine work of <a href="../../../../../../../../author/olivier-roy">Olivier Roy</a> shows that many “religious” practices among Muslim young people in Europe are the product of peer-pressure rather than of knowledge of the the faith.</p> <p><strong>Between rejection and respect</strong><strong> </strong></p> <p>Many critics argue that the <a href="../../../../../../../../faith-europe_islam/article_1811.jsp">existing</a> French anti-religious-symbols law (passed in 2004) aims to protect Muslim women from the impositions coming from their religious community and from male members of the family. But even in cases of real oppression, how useful is a law that forbids the practice of total covering if as a result a woman is confined to the walls of her house? A number of scholars - <a href=";ci=9780199550210">Cécile Laborde</a> and <a href=";ci=9780195305319">Martha Nussbaum</a> among them - rightly holds that forbidding by law a “symbol” of perceived oppression does not equate with solving the oppression problem. It might even produce another form of oppression, of coercion of conscience on the part of the state, which would go well beyond reasonable <a href="">concerns</a> and security priorities.</p> <p>The way that the issue of Muslim women’s dress is acquiring a pan-European <a href="">dimension</a> is indicated by the spread of concern about the “veil” to Spain, Italy and Austria. My research team and I have recently completed fieldwork with Muslim women in Spain and Italy, and we clearly detected fear and paranoia among our respondents. I have long stated in relation to the situation of Islam in Italy that although some issues were problematic (inconsistent immigration laws, restrictive access to citizenship), the veil was definitely not a concern - if anything because Italians (and Spaniards) were used to seeing and interacting with nuns. The situation has now reversed; the “non-issue” of the veil has been “imported”, and it polarises people.</p> <p>Spanish and Italian local authorities have begun to propose or <a href="">pass</a> legislation against veiling (which has also attracted the support of national politicians, including from the left); but concerns had been latent for some time. Most of our <a href=";LangType=1033">interviewees</a> in Zaragoza mentioned cases of women forced to take off their headscarves in order to be able to take up jobs. In Turin we detected fear among the women we approached in the streets; many educated and articulate Muslim women of Moroccan origin complained that when they went to public offices regarding citizenship or residency status, they would be treated with disrespect and as idiots. A young Italian convert told us how frustrated she felt when, the moment she started wearing the <em>hijab</em>, people in shops and in the street began to address her with the <em>tu</em> (“you”, singular) form and insisted she could not possibly be Italian, whereas before they would use the more formal <em>lei</em> (“you”, third person) form in similar situations.</p> <p>Many Muslims have become very anxious about such developments, and middle-eastern governments and media often publicise Europe’s apparent anti-Islamic attitudes. Yet the situation may be more one of contradictory policy choices and attitudes coexisting, rather than of outright <a href="">prejudice</a>. In Paris, our French interviewees denounced general discrimination and vehemently criticised the 2004 law, but surprisingly did not want to comment much on the anti-<em>burqa</em> law: they saw it as something unwelcome but at the same time distant. It is not that many French Muslims would endorse this mode of dress (and indeed some Muslim activists in principle support the ban) but they feel scarred by a state that has increasingly <a href="">interfered</a> in religious matters in a way that appears to target Muslims.</p> <p><strong>Between state and individual</strong><strong></strong></p> <p>Many non-Muslim Europeans demand the “integration of Muslims” and the end of Muslim women’s “oppression” symbolised by the <em>hijab</em>; many Muslims (including women) respond by rejecting an oppressive stereotype and asking for a reform of citizenship laws as a way to integrate. Many Muslims <a href="">across</a> Europe are also opposed to <em>niqabs</em> and <em>burqas</em> and worried about creeping <em>Salafi</em> fashions that are alien to the cultural traditions (western European, Turkish, Moroccan, Egyptian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Somali…) of most Muslims in Europe. But they are also worried about the inability or unwillingness of non-Muslim publics and <a href=",,5528714,00.html">lawmakers</a> to see that Muslim individual agency also underlies religious or quasi-religious beliefs and practices, and about the patronising tendency to define their campaigns as a way of protecting Muslims from their own oppressive religion.</p> <p>The problem with the laws that are currently being discussed across Europe - even if, as has been seen, several have a long way to go to become effective - has a lot to do with the tone of discussion, and with the contradictory approach of European countries in matters relating to freedoms and diversity. The practice of talking to Muslims in antagonistic and aggressive terms, in particular when so many are citizens (as in Belgium, France or Britain) or aspiring citizens (as in Spain or Italy) is not an ideal way to promote the notion of a cohesive society with <a href="">shared</a> values working for the common good. Most political and popular talk in Europe these days tend to revert to the question of integrating and educating Muslims. Maybe a collective reflection and education effort in the direction of respecting the individual is more urgently needed.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href=";LangType=1033">Europe's Muslim women: potential, aspirations and challenges</a> (King Baudouin Foundation, 2008) - a qualitative study based on interviews with Muslim women in Brussels, London and Turin</p><p><a href="">European Muslim Network</a></p><p>Sophie Gilliat-Ray, <a href=";ss=fro"><em>Muslims in Britain: An Introduction</em></a> (Cambridge University Press, 2010)</p><p>Gilles Kepel, "<a href="">French Lessons in Londonistan</a>" (<em>National Interest</em>, 23 February 2010)</p><p>Ian Buruma, <em><a href=";edition=1434">Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance</a></em> (Atlantic, 2007)</p><p>Christopher Caldwell, <a href=""><em>Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West </em></a>(Random House, 2009)</p><p>Patrick Weil, <em><a href="">How to Be <em>French</em>: Nationality in the Making since 1789</a> </em>(Duke University Press, 2008)</p><p>Aziz Al-Azmeh &amp; Effi Fokas eds., <a href=""><em>Muslims in Europe: Diversity, Identity and Influence</em></a> (Cambridge University Press, 2008)</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Sara Silvestri is <a href="">lecturer</a> in religion and politics at City University, London, and an <a href="">associate</a> with the department of politics and international studies (<a href="">POLIS</a>) at Cambridge University, and with the <a href="">VHI</a>, St Edmund’s College. She is on the advisory council of the <a href="">Anna Lindh EuroMediterranean Foundation</a>, and a visiting lecturer with the <a href="">Cambridge Muslim College</a>. Her research includes <a href=";LangType=1033"><em>Europe's Muslim women: potential, aspirations and challenges</em></a> (King Baudouin Foundation, 2008).She is the author of <em>Europe’s Muslim Women: beyond the burqa controversy</em> (<a href="">C Hurst</a>, forthcoming)</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/faith-europe_islam/article_1811.jsp">A nation in diversity: France, Muslims and the headscarf</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/patrice-de-beer/frances-other-worlds-burqa-and-abyss">France&#039;s other worlds: burqa and abyss</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/david-hayes/london-bombs-five-years-on-opendemocracy-digest">The London bombs, five years on: a digest</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/conflict-europe_islam/muslim_cartoons_3244.jsp">Muslims and Europe: a cartoon confrontation</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/delwar-hussain/east-london-election-politics-and-coercion">An east London election: politics and coercion </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/islam_and_europe_a_debate_in_amsterdam">Islam and Europe: a debate in Amsterdam </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/globalization/british_muslims_4048.jsp">British Muslims: ends and beginnings</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/faith_ideas/europe_islam/anti_sharia_storm">Multicultural citizenship and the anti-sharia storm</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/democracy-village/infidel_kilday_4408.jsp">Sister in spirit: Ayaan Hirsi Ali&#039;s &#039;Infidel&#039;</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/node/34938">Secularism confronts Islam</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/democracy-europe_islam/article_1753.jsp">France unveiled: making Muslims into citizens?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/faith-islamicworld/article_103.jsp">&quot;Born-again&quot; Muslims: cultural schizophrenia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/people-europe_islam/article_2239.jsp">After tolerance</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/the-jihadist-style-journey-germany-s-election-and-after">The jihadist style-journey: Germany’s election and after </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> France </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> 50.50 uk France Civil society Democracy and government International politics faith & ideas europe & islam democracy & power europe 50.50 Gender Politics Religion women's human rights patriarchy gendered migration feminism bodily autonomy Sara Silvestri Thu, 15 Jul 2010 22:45:16 +0000 Sara Silvestri 55156 at Siberian Shamans Come in From the Cold (part 3) <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> After decades of repression, Siberia’s shamans are re-emerging. Ken Hyder is a musician who performs with a Tuvan shaman. His novel describes the culture of contemporary shamanism as it emerges after decades of repression. Part three of three. </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="" alt="" width="515" /><span class="image-caption"> Making music by the Mongolian Steppe<br /></span></p><p><strong>The kamlanie at the spring, with Zoya, gave Chimit the answer to his onstage visions</strong><span><strong>.&nbsp;&nbsp;</strong> He was being called.&nbsp; It was more than an invitation.&nbsp; Individuals who were singled out to become shamans could always decline. &nbsp;But Chimit knew that usually, they would suffer sometimes a succession of illnesses, or just one big, long affliction.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Of course, the idea of becoming a shaman attracted him.&nbsp; It gave status and power, and if not exactly popularity, it meant small-scale celebrity. He could see how it would fit in with his personality.&nbsp; He could carry it off with style.&nbsp; When he shamanised it would be a powerful performance.</span></p><p class="PreformattedText"><span>At the same time, he knew it was a serious business, a serious step to take.&nbsp; There were pressures and stresses which went with the job. He would be dealing with the uncertainties and dangers of the spirit world, daily.&nbsp; And there was the shamanic politics.&nbsp; There was always the shamanic politics.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Shamans tended to be fiercely proud to the point of seeing sleights in the smallest gestures of other shamans. Sometimes the fights were sneaky affairs, black magic behind closed doors.&nbsp; But every now and again it was a full-scale public call-out like a western gunfight.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Then each shaman would chant his or her own kargysh &ndash; a personalised invocation or curse - in an attempt at destroying the other with black power.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>But Chimit thought he could handle all that.&nbsp; He was used to fighting.&nbsp; He was a powerful man, capable of silencing opponents with a hefty punch.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>So he agreed to begin his apprenticeship with Zoya.&nbsp; He left&nbsp; his wife Irgit, and daughters Nelli and Natasha in Kyzyl and moved back to Erzin for a month, staying with an uncle, not far from Zoya&rsquo;s home.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>There were no concerts or tours planned for another two and a half months, so he had time, and there was enough money left over from the last European tour to tide the family over.</span></p><p class="PreformattedText"><span>It was like going back to school.&nbsp; Zoya was thorough and strict.&nbsp; She felt she had to control Chimit&rsquo;s flare for extravagant gestures and showbiz posturing. Although there has always been a strong display aspect to Tuvan shamanism, Zoya thought that Chimit had more than enough already, and clipping his flamboyant wings would not reduce his effectiveness.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Zoya also believed in doing things by the book &ndash; except that there was no book, only a tradition which was interpreted more liberally by some shamans than others. &nbsp;For Zoya, every ritual had to be performed with the right words, the right procedures, in the right order.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Again this did not sit easily with Chimit&rsquo;s more fluid approach to life.&nbsp; But he was decided on one thing.&nbsp; He was going to do this with conviction. And as Zoya was his teacher, he resolved to follow her instructions with respect. She started by looking at Chimit&rsquo;s astrological background.&nbsp; There were two systems.&nbsp; The first is the familiar 12-year cycle &ndash; the year of the dragon, the snake, the horse &ndash; used by the Chinese and others. The other is an unusual system which probably arrived in Tuva from Tibetan Buddhists, via Mongolia. The Tuvans called it the nine menge method, menge meaning a dot.&nbsp; So in the nine year cycle, Chimit was born in an eight white-dot year, also in the year of the snake.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>It meant, said Zoya, that he was a deep thinker, but a rowdy reveller. She went on to build up a picture of Chimit, and the origins of his power, and she told him he had to study these astrological methods in order to help people.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>&ldquo;If you use the astrology alongside your shamanic power, you will be able to give more positive help to people,&rdquo; she told Chimit.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>She showed him an old book of charts combining both systems, a book she had been given by her own teacher who had added notes in the margins of nearly every page, and she told Chimit to copy it out for his own use.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Although Chimit knew the differences between black and white shamans, Zoya insisted on spelling it out.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>&ldquo;You will become a white shaman. You have the power to go to the white sky.&nbsp; There you can find white energy to bring back down to give to people who are ill.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>&ldquo;Only black shamans can deal with black spirits.&nbsp; Sometimes people you shamanise for will be ill from black spirits.&nbsp; You should not try to fight these spirits.&nbsp; You will lose and become ill.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>&ldquo;Instead you must find and use as much white energy as you can to help the sick person. Usually the white energy is enough to cure that person.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>&ldquo;After some time, it is likely you will find something that you are especially good at doing.&nbsp; Maybe you are good with children, or people with problems of the spine.&rdquo;</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Zoya effectively worked out an intensive shamanic course for Chimit designed to last the month he would be in Erzin.&nbsp; He would visit her house each day at two in the afternoon, they would talk mainly, sometimes going outside to walk in the steppe land, and in the evening Chimit would act as an assistant when people came to Zoya&rsquo;s house for help.</span></p><p class="PreformattedText"><span><img class="image-left" src="" alt="" width="530" /><span class="image-caption"> </span><span class="image-caption"><br /></span></span></p><p class="PreformattedText"><span><span class="image-caption">A shaman's kuzungu<br /></span></span></p><p class="PreformattedText"><em><span><span class="image-caption">&nbsp;</span></span></em><span>She insisted that Chimit get a new dungur.&nbsp; The dungur he had was fine, but tainted with rock and roll.&nbsp; So in the mornings, Chimit had to find a goatskin and prepare it, then start working on the drum itself.&nbsp; He also had to make himself a tos-deer - the ritual spoon with nine small hollows in it for sprinkling salt-milk tea to the nine skies.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Chimit was a well-respected stone carver, but he was equally adept with wood.&nbsp; He began carving an elaborately designed spoon with interlocking patterns reminiscent of Celtic knotwork.&nbsp; He was so pleased with it, he decided to do another, as a present for Zoya.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>He also went hunting, shooting a steppe owl, preserving its claw as a protector eeren. </span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>But there was one essential part of the equipment which was still elusive &ndash; the kuzungu or copper-brass mirror.&nbsp; A lot of shamans say the kuzungu is even more important to them than the drum. It helps them to see into the future, to heal people by amplifying energy, and to fight black energy.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Chimit asked around, going to blacksmiths asking if anyone had the metal so he could make one. But there was nothing around.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Then he was speaking to Vova, another school-friend of his who happened to mention that his grandmother had been a shamanka, and he thought her drum and costume and equipment had been hidden in a cave during one of the purges in the 1930s.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>They went to Vova&rsquo;s home, and spoke to his father. Vova explained that Chimit was apprenticed to Zoya, and needed a kuzungu. His father described a ridge about fifteen miles north-east of Erzin where the cave was. </span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>If they found it, Chimit could keep and use any of the implements&nbsp; that were there. Vova&rsquo;s father was only a baby when his mother&rsquo;s paraphernalia was hidden, but he remembered her telling him about it when he was a teenager.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>She told him precisely how to find the cave by following a stream, and that nobody should try to retrieve her instruments until it was safe.&nbsp; But such a long time had passed, nobody in the family had thought to go and look for it.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Next morning, Chimit borrowed one of his uncle&rsquo;s horses, and together with Vova, he rode to the ridge. It was dry and dusty, and shortly after leaving Erzin, they were in wide open wild country.&nbsp; They headed north towards the old capital of Tuva, Samagaltai, then soon took a track to the east towards the hills.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>As they rode up on to higher ground, the still-luscious steppe turned into scrubby sandy ground, becoming more rocky interspersed with loose scree.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>They found the stream, tethered their horses and walked up towards the spot where the cave should be. It was hot, and the ground was steep by now, and they stopped to drink from the stream and wash their faces.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Ten minutes more climbing and they found the cave. It wasn&rsquo;t much of a cave.&nbsp; The entrance was half-hidden by a boulder and the opening was only three foot high.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Chimit began to crawl in. After four feet or so the cave opened out becoming wider and higher. The torch illuminated bare walls.&nbsp; He edged further forwards and there, on his right, was a wooden box about two foot square, and on top of it something looking like a bundle of cloth.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Chimit reached forward and began dragging the box towards him.&nbsp; Then he gradually reversed out of the cave, pulling the prize with him.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>At the entrance, he passed out the cloth bundle to Vova, then crawled further back out, bringing the box into the open.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>It was a green-painted box with red and gold painted decoration in the familiar interlocking design.&nbsp; There was a hasp, but no padlock.&nbsp; It opened easily.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span><img src="" alt="" width="500" /></span><span><span class="image-caption">Kara-Ool - one of the most influential shamans in Russia</span></span></p><p class="PreformattedText"><span>Inside, the first thing they saw was a headress of feathers, the Tuvan shaman&rsquo;s hat, just like American indians&rsquo; warbonnet, but smaller.&nbsp; The black eagles&rsquo; feathers were still intact, but dry and brittle.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Carefully they lifted the cap, and underneath was a black cloak with faded ribbons attached and small bells.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>And finally, underneath resting on the bottom of the chest, were three black cloth bags.&nbsp; In the first they found a dried steppe-owl claw just like the eeren Chimit made a few days ago. </span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>In the second bag was another bag of stiff leather. Carefully they opened it out and inside they saw black and white stones. They both knew there would be&nbsp; 41 of them. They were used for khuvaanak - a traditional method of divination by stones.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Chimit opened the last bag, but even as he picked it up he knew what he was going to find.&nbsp; He could feel the weight of a flat disk about four inches across, and when he brought it out into the daylight it was a kuzungu - dusty, dirty and faded like the purple, yellow and blue plaited ribbon attached to it.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>They shifted their attention to the bundle now, and as they began teasing out the dirty black cloth, they heard a jingle of a tiny bell. A dungur. It had been a magnificent dungur.&nbsp; On the faded blackened hide skin they could make out a painted dragon.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Vova took out his clasp-knife and slashed the drum head.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>&ldquo;Maybe my grandmother thought she would be able to use the dungur again some day.&nbsp; But she is gone now, so I must release the spirits of the drum.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>&ldquo;I will take it home to my father.&nbsp; But you can have any thing else here.&rdquo;</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Chimit said he would take the kuzungu and the stones.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>They put the costume back in the box, wrapped up the dungur in the cloth and silently descended back down to the horses.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Now Chimit had something else to do in the mornings.&nbsp; Polishing the kuzungu first with emery paper, then with toothpaste and water.&nbsp; After three or four days it was transformed into something brilliant and precious.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Zoya said that at the end of the month, they would take Chimit&rsquo;s new drum and all the other instruments up to the arzhan where they had the first kamlanie and she would purify them all.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Gradually in the last few days, Zoya moved from the theoretical to the practical.&nbsp; More than assisting by tending to the juniper incense and observing Zoya&rsquo;s shamanising, Chimit was being asked to make diagnoses when patients came to her house in the evening.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>He was learning how to seek out imbalances in the body by running his hands over a patient.&nbsp; And he began healing patients by redirecting energy from one part of the body to another using his hands again.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>And they started shamanising together. If someone called asking for help for a relative in Novosibirsk, say, Zoya would later shamanise to send distant healing.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Late at night, Zoya and Chimit would shamanise together. Drumming, going into light trance, flying up to the white sky together.&nbsp; And they would see things while they were shamanising, and compare experiences afterwards.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>And slowly Zoya&rsquo;s disciplinarian demeanour changed. She had been watching Chimit closely over the past month.&nbsp; And he had changed too.&nbsp; The more he worked on his craft, the more serious he had become about it.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>He did everything with respect.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>On the last day, after they had gone to the arzhan where Zoya had sanctified the accoutrements, they sat together in Zoya&rsquo;s house.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>She poured two large glasses of vodka and proposed a toast.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>&ldquo;Chimit, you were called through visions.&nbsp; And in the past weeks you have worked hard to understand the mysteries of Tuvan shamans.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>&ldquo;What you have achieved in these weeks is more than others have achieved in some years.&nbsp; But it is only a start. You have a lot more to learn and now you will go back to Kyzyl.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>&ldquo;There are many temptations there, as you know.&nbsp; I hope you have the strength to be modest about your new work.&nbsp; I hope you find a way to work to help people, and to carry on learning.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>&ldquo;There are others who can help you, and others who can put you on a wrong path. But you know enough and have learned enough to make good judgements.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>&ldquo;I salute the work you have done, and the work you have yet to do.&rdquo;</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>They drank the vodka.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Chimit presented the tos-deer spoon he had carved for Zoya.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>He picked up the black bag containing his new dungur and his other instruments, and said goodbye.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Tomorrow he would be back in Kyzyl.</span><em><span>&nbsp;</span></em><em><span><br /><br /> Black Sky, White Sky is published as an e-book by Amazon</span></em></p><p class="MsoNormal"><em>All photos (c) <a href="">Ken Hyder</a></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Vilmos Dioszegi <a href="">Tracing Shamans in Siberia</a>, (Oosterhout:Anthropological Publications, 1968)<br /><br />Andrei Znamenski, <a href=";printsec=frontcover&amp;dq=Russian+Records+of+Indigenous+Spirituality&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=kQI7Q01U4f&amp;sig=hfhE1qxF_wl0DIL6zqg3aQXZ8_Y&amp;hl=en&amp;ei=M7XZS9eZMISvONnPxO8P&amp;sa=X&amp;oi=book_result&amp;ct=result&amp;resnum=1&amp;ved=0CAYQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=false">Russian Records of Indigenous Spirituality</a> (Kluwer Academic Publicatios, 2003)<br /><br />Piers Vitebsky <a href="">The Shaman: Voyage of the Soul, trance, ecstasy and healing from Siberia to the Amazon</a> (Duncan Baird, 2001)</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><strong>Black Sky, White Sky</strong> deals with rivalry among shamans in Tuva as they come out in public after years of working in secret. The shamans form group-practice clinics, but jealousy and power-struggles lead to in-fighting – with deadly consequences.</p><p>The book cuts across genres and seeks to set out the landscape of the mind, culture and spirituality of Siberia allowing the reader to identify with and understand the action - which often takes place in the altered states of characters, most of whom are shamans.</p><p>In 1990 - with another player - he toured Russia from Leningrad to Vladivostok. Later, Ken began studying shamanic music in Yakutia, Buryatia, the Altai and Tuva in Siberia. He performs and records with a shaman from Tuva, and that connection made it much easier for him to gain the confidence of local shamans who were very generous with the information they passed on.</p> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Russia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Culture russia & eurasia faith & ideas arts & cultures Ken Hyder Religion Internal Cultural politics Mon, 17 May 2010 15:50:25 +0000 Ken Hyder 54034 at Siberian Shamans Come in From the Cold (part 2) <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> After decades of repression, Siberia’s shamans are re-emerging. Ken Hyder is a musician who performs with a Tuvan shaman. His novel describes the culture of contemporary shamanism as it emerges after decades of repression. Part two of three. </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="" alt="" width="530" /></p><p><strong>Zoya lit the fire with a cigarette lighter decked out in the Marlboro colours</strong><span><strong>.</strong> Alexei the driver sat down, not knowing what to do.&nbsp; Some shamans insist participants hold their hands together in a Buddhist pose of concentration. &nbsp;But Zoya gave no indication.&nbsp; She fanned the small flickering flames with her hands and when she thought it was established, she began a quiet incantation, so quiet that neither Alexei nor Chimit who was standing beside her could make out any of the words.</span></p> <blockquote><p class="PreformattedText"><em><span>&ldquo;You should believe in something very strongly and the soul will be powerful and clean.&rdquo;&nbsp; -&nbsp; </span></em><span>Kungaa Tash-Ool Buu</span></p></blockquote> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>She addressed the spirit of the spring and called on Hiarakan the supreme bear spirit to observe the s&eacute;ance. She then picked up the bowl and began throwing spoonfuls of the milk and juniper mixture into the air with her tos-karak ritual spoon. Some of the droplets were caught in the firelight as she moved round the fire.&nbsp; </span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Then both Zoya and Chimit warmed their drums by the fire, moving them horizontally over the flames to even out the heat. Every now and again they would hit the skin once or twice with their drum-beaters listening to the dulled thud as the sheepskin of the beater moved the drumhead and the air. Then they might hold the dungur at an angle of 45 degrees to the heat, only moving it slightly to distribute the heat. Then another couple of quick hits, listening to the raised pitch, but also feeling the heaviness of the way the drum spoke.&nbsp; Some shamans liked their dungurs slacker than others.&nbsp; They liked the wet-sounding muffled slap, the darker sound, and the way you could almost dig the beater into the skin.&nbsp; They liked the contrast of the black sound of the drum&rsquo;s depth and the white sound of the high-pitched bells on the inside of the shell. That was Chimit&rsquo;s style. Although he wasn&rsquo;t a shaman. Very dark, very masculine. Zoya&rsquo;s dungur was smaller, her goatskin head thinner, and her drumstick smaller and lighter. She kept coaxing the pitch higher. But not too high, or the drum would not speak. Too tight, and it is choked. When it was right, she began playing.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Chimit joined in. He knew this wasn&rsquo;t a musical performance. He knew the drumming was not directly for anybody&rsquo;s benefit but his own.&nbsp; He knew that musical rhythm, timing, and phrasing were not what was needed.&nbsp; And it was harder for him, because he was a musician. He remembered what an old shaman told him when he was starting to act shamanic roles onstage.&nbsp; &ldquo;Listen to the drum,&rdquo; he said. And it instantly made sense. Listen to the drum.&nbsp; Listen closely.&nbsp; Each beat was different.&nbsp; Each stroke a little harder or lighter than the previous one.&nbsp; And landing in a different part of the skin. And the metal rings in the beater would vibrate differently. And the bells inside the dungur would respond a little further or nearer the beat each time. And as the shaman listens to the drum, it informs the next beat to be played. And the drumming becomes a circle.&nbsp; A loopback. An ever changing loop.&nbsp; There are no bars, no accents.&nbsp; Because every beat is just one beat. It is one-time. And the focus on that one blurred moment is the trigger.&nbsp; The key. The opening.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Zoya began playing fairly fast. She moved all round the cleft in the slope where the spring was, just behind the fire.&nbsp; She was careful to cover all the ground at the spring and as she drummed, sometimes sweeping the dungur skywards to the left and the right, she sang her algysh - her own shaman&rsquo;s song.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="PreformattedText"><span>&nbsp;</span><img class="image-right" src="" alt="" width="270" /><strong><em><span>I will travel to Ak-Deer (white sky)</span></em></strong></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><strong><em><span>Come bird, come lift me</span></em></strong></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><strong><em><span>Bird-spirit you know me</span></em></strong></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><strong><em><span>My dungur is ready</span></em></strong></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><strong><em><span>The bells need no playing</span></em></strong></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><strong><em><span>The milk has been offered</span></em></strong></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><strong><em><span>My cap is fastened</span></em></strong></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><strong><em><span>Come bird, come lift me</span></em></strong></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Her eyes were closed. Chimit&rsquo;s eyes were closed. The musician in him could not allow him to stop listening to Zoya&rsquo;s drum. But Zoya had no such distraction. She was not a musician. Her dungur was not a musical instrument. She was a shamanka.&nbsp; And now she was flying. Her body began swaying.&nbsp; She was bent at the hip, leaning forward.&nbsp; It seemed like the drum was leading her in a dance. She&rsquo;d hold a position for a moment, then suddenly the drum pulled her left. Or right. Or round and round in a complete circle. The drum pulled her body upright, reaching for the stars.&nbsp; Or down, down towards the ground. Sometimes the pace of her drumming suddenly quickened &ndash; or slowed down. Another shaman, watching, could tell where she was, where her spirit was flying to. But others could only tell that she was somewhere else. </span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Zoya herself was in two states at once.&nbsp; She was both aware of where she was in her out of body flight, yet she was not in control at all. She could hear the drum clearly, and precisely, but it felt like somebody else was playing it.&nbsp; She was locked into a movement, a moving forward, a moving upwards.&nbsp; And her experience informed her that she was going where she needed to go, half pointing herself in the direction, half abandoning choice like a leaf drifting on a stream. Of course none of these thoughts surfaced. She was there.&nbsp; In the moment. In time. In the time that never stops.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Chimit was thinking however. And he was trying to stop. But he knew that a spirit of a relative calling on him was potentially troublesome. If it is a peaceful visit, a lot of smiling, a benevolent watching-over vision, that&rsquo;s fine. But if it is unfinished business. It is bad. And he thought that smoking the joint had been both a good, and bad idea. It loosened him up.&nbsp; It allowed things to happen.&nbsp; But at the same time, it made him think. His mind was racing.&nbsp; Each time he began to lift, he caught himself being aware of it, then he would start to analyse it.&nbsp; Was he really lifting &ndash; or just imagining he was lifting?&nbsp; And it went on like this for ten minutes. Although it seemed much longer to Chimit. Then he fought the distractions head on.&nbsp; He dug deeper into the dungur.&nbsp; And by now the skin had slackened, away from the heat. And it was lower and muddier, and Chimit began to lose himself and find himself in the undertones of the dungur which only he could hear by putting his face closer to the head. </span></p><p class="PreformattedText"><span><img src="" alt="" width="456" height="338" /><br /></span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Then he saw his father. Only this time he wasn&rsquo;t speaking. Or trying to speak. He was showing Chimit something.&nbsp; His father disappeared.&nbsp; And in his place was a mountain.&nbsp; A distinctive mountain.&nbsp; Not a stylised mountain. It was Hiarakan. Bear mountain.&nbsp; The holiest spot for all Tuvan shamans. Some of the few foreign visitors who were starting to take the long, difficult journey to reach Tuva compared it to Mont Saint Victoire. Cezanne&rsquo;s mountain. Then it disappeared. And his father reappeared for just an instant. &nbsp;Then Chimit was almost blinded.&nbsp; By a dazzling yellow light which flooded the field of his vision.&nbsp; Then it shrunk slowly to one smaller circle of bright deep reddish-yellow in a black velvet-like background. And that circle remained there for a long time.&nbsp; Gradually losing the light-like quality of its appearance, becoming more solid, more real, more metallic. Then his father reappeared. He looked straight at Chimit.&nbsp; Didn&rsquo;t say anything to him.&nbsp; But now Chimit could understand without hearing.&nbsp; He knew was that his father would not appear again. He had done what he had to do and now he was leaving his son to his life.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>And Chimit stopped. He let his arms fall to his sides, still holding the vertical crossbar of the dungur, and the beater. And he stood. Still. He was breathing heavily. But there was no sweat on his brow. He felt exhausted.&nbsp; But alive. Alive with frizzing energy zapping through the meridians of his body. He could lift the huge boulder Alexei was sitting on - if he wanted. Only he couldn&rsquo;t move. And the thoughts came back. The analysis. The questioning.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>He shuffled over to the stone he had been sitting on earlier, and propped the drum against it.&nbsp; And he sat down.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Zoya had just finished. She was bright eyed. Razor sharp. Yet calm and floating in her movements. Carefully she placed her dungur on a stone. Her teacher Kaigal-Ool told her early on in her apprenticeship: &ldquo;Don&rsquo;t ever place your dungur on the ground. You will lose its energy.&rdquo;</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>On the other side of the fire &ndash; where Chimit could not see what she was doing &ndash; Zoya began drawing.&nbsp; She brushed the fine earth with her hand, smoothing it out, then with a stick she began drawing. First she drew the outline of the mountain, then a circle with a ribbon attached. Finally she began drawing an animal.&nbsp; Then she rubbed it out, as she realised what it was, and it was for Chimit to discover when he was ready.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Zoya looked over to Chimit.&nbsp; Alexei looked on.&nbsp; He saw. But he did not know.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>&ldquo;I know you saw some things, Chimit.&rdquo;</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>&ldquo;Ahha.&rdquo;</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>&ldquo;Well, what?&rdquo; Zoya sounded impatient.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>&ldquo;I saw Hiarakan.&nbsp; The mountain.&nbsp; Not the bear. Oh and I saw my father before that.&nbsp; But he didn&rsquo;t say anything. And I saw this light.&nbsp; A big yellow light and it got smaller, and less fuzzy.&nbsp; And more clear.&rdquo;</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>&ldquo;What was it?&rdquo;</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t know.&rdquo;</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>&ldquo;Anything else?&rdquo;</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>&ldquo;No.&nbsp; Except I felt my father will not come back again.&rdquo;</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>&ldquo;Come here.&rdquo;</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>She showed him her drawing. She explained that the yellow light which got smaller and smaller was a kuzungu copper-brass mirror.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Chimit was in shock. He was shocked with amazement. Zoya had the same visions. He knew that shamans often saw the same things when they shamanised. He looked at the drawing, Bear mountain, and the kuzungu. And he realised what it meant.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>&ldquo;You know what it means.&rdquo; It was not a question Zoya asked.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>&ldquo;You know what you have to do.&rdquo;</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Chimit nodded. Slowly. </span></p> <p class="PreformattedText">&nbsp;</p><p class="PreformattedText"><em><span>Part 3 to follow.</span></em></p><p class="PreformattedText">Ken Hyder can be contacted at Sky, White Sky is published as an e-book on Amazon.</p><p class="PreformattedText">All photographs (c) <a href="">Ken Hyder </a></p><p class="PreformattedText">&nbsp;</p><p class="PreformattedText"><em><span><br /></span></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="PreformattedText"><span><span><span>Vilmos Dioszegi&nbsp;<a href="">Tracing Shamans in Siberia</a>, (Oosterhout:Anthropological Publications, 1968)<br /><br />Andrei Znamenski,&nbsp;<a href=";printsec=frontcover&amp;dq=Russian+Records+of+Indigenous+Spirituality&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=kQI7Q01U4f&amp;sig=hfhE1qxF_wl0DIL6zqg3aQXZ8_Y&amp;hl=en&amp;ei=M7XZS9eZMISvONnPxO8P&amp;sa=X&amp;oi=book_result&amp;ct=result&amp;resnum=1&amp;ved=0CAYQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=false">Russian Records of Indigenous Spirituality</a>&nbsp;(Kluwer Academic Publicatios, 2003)<br /><br />Piers Vitebsky&nbsp;<a href="">The Shaman: Voyage of the Soul, trance, ecstasy and healing from Siberia to the Amazon</a>(Duncan Baird, 2001)</span></span></span></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <div class="odtab-content"><p><span><span><span><span><em><span>Black Sky, White Sky deals with rivalry among shamans in Tuva as they come out in public after years of working in secret. The shamans form group-practice clinics, but jealousy and power-struggles lead to in-fighting – with deadly consequences.<br /><br />The book cuts across genres and seeks to set out the landscape of the mind, culture and spirituality of Siberia allowing the reader to identify with and understand the action - which often takes place in the altered states of characters, most of whom are shamans.&nbsp;<br /><br />In 1990 - with another player - Ken toured Russia from Leningrad to Vladivostok. Later, he began studying shamanic music in Yakutia, Buryatia, the Altai and Tuva in Siberia. He performs and records with a shaman from Tuva, and that connection made it much easier for him to gain the confidence of local shamans who were very generous with the information they passed on.</span></em></span></span></span></span></p></div> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Russia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Culture russia & eurasia russia faith & ideas Ken Hyder Religion Internal Cultural politics Mon, 10 May 2010 11:48:59 +0000 Ken Hyder 54013 at Siberian Shamans Come in From the Cold <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> After decades of repression, Siberia’s shamans are re-emerging. Ken Hyder is a musician who performs with a Tuvan shaman. His novel describes the culture of contemporary shamanism as it emerges after decades of repression. Part one of three. </div> </div> </div> <p><strong>They heated the drums by an open fire.</strong> Zoya and Chimit did not notice the big sky. The big, dark sky. With all the stars you could want, or need. There was always a big sky at Erzin and over the border too, in Mongolia. The steppe had a huge boundless feel, but when you&rsquo;re used to it, it&rsquo;s normal.&nbsp; And it was normal too, for villagers to ask a shaman for help.&nbsp; All kinds of help. Every sickness, lost animals, a drunken husband or wife, cleaning out the home of bad, or trapped spirits.&nbsp; But this kamlanie s&eacute;ance was unusual.</p><p class="PreformattedText"><span>Zoya Sedip, although just thirty-two, had been a shamanka for eight years.&nbsp; Her initiation followed a classic pattern. She became ill with an inexplicable depression.&nbsp; For six months she lay in the platform bed in her family&rsquo;s round white felt yurta tent on the outskirts of Erzin where most of the homes were traditional Russian-style single storey wooden houses which could remind you of North American frontier cabins.</span></p><blockquote><p class="PreformattedText"><em><span>&ldquo;Knowledge is a vocation. When knowledge becomes a calling that calls us toward our own being, we can discover it in art and music and poetry as well as in rocks and trees and stars.&nbsp; Knowledge is found in all living things, as well as in numbers and symbols.&nbsp; It is found in all creativity and inspiration. Knowledge is beauty, delight, and joy, like rich, full humour and laughter. It is love and appreciation, alive with the richest feelings that the heart can offer.&rdquo;&nbsp; -&nbsp; </span></em><a href=""><span>Tarthang Tulku Kadai</span></a></p></blockquote> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Every day her mother Larissa fed her white food &ndash; sundried cream, white smoked cheese, and white salt-milk tea. Kaigal-Ool, the oldest of the three remaining Erzin shamans, visited the yurta every two or three weeks to see Zoya.&nbsp; But he knew there was little he could do.&nbsp; The spirits wanted her &ndash; whether or not she knew it herself.&nbsp; Later, the visions would come, and Kaigal-Ool would tell her what they meant, and the choices open to her.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Simply put, she was being marked out to become a shaman.&nbsp; Few of those selected in this way actually wanted to surrender.&nbsp; Of course there was status, respect even. And now it was safe, politically at least. Until the Gorbachev era it was dangerous being a shaman.&nbsp; Thousands of Tuvan shamans died in government purges, some thrown out of helicopters to their deaths.&nbsp; Others were sent to the gulag. Kaigal-Ool himself was an underground shaman for 31 years, sometimes fleeing across the border to Mongolia when KGB officers came south from the capital Kyzyl and started asking questions. The Erzin shamans uniquely wore all-black costumes.&nbsp; But that did not mean they were necessarily black shamans who dealt with negative energies and who fought black spirits, and when necessary, carried out dark rituals. Kaigal-Ool was a white shaman, able to visit the white sky - and heal people with white, positive energy.</span></p><p class="PreformattedText"><span>Eventually, towards the end of her depression, Zoya succumbed to the imprecations of the spirits.&nbsp; Kaigal-Ool told her that if she hadn&rsquo;t, the spirits would never have left her alone, and she may never have recovered.&nbsp; So, here she was, an initiated shamanka, with Chimit Ondar, a musician, a stone sculptor, a hard-drinking, hard-living cowboy whose musical performances involved dressing up as a shaman, and appearing to shamanise onstage.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Chimit had known Zoya since childhood.&nbsp; They were country-Tuvans, although like many others from their region, Chimit had moved to Kyzyl, the largest settlement in the country.&nbsp; It was a small capital with just 200,000 people. But it was superabundant with life.&nbsp; There were dozens of musicians, and stone carvers, and three different shamans-centres operating like doctors&rsquo; group practices. Patients going to one of these centres could sometimes have the pick of a dozen shamans, some of them specialising in different aspects of healing, divination and exorcism.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Tonight though, Chimit was back home in Erzin, looking for answers. He had been playing in folk and rock groups for over a dozen years.&nbsp; He was best known for his bass style of overtone singing that Westerners discovered in the 1990s and referred to as throat-singing. Tuvans thought it was a funny way to describe it. Doesn&rsquo;t everyone sing with their throat?&nbsp;&nbsp; There were very many astounding overtone singers in Tuva and it was hard to stand out.&nbsp; Chimit covered the bass style <em>Kargiraa</em> &ndash; holding a low drone while simultaneously producing whistle-like overtones. And he did it better than most.&nbsp; But he also developed his own particular style where he injected an urgent rhythmic vibrato into the singing.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>He also played the horse-head fiddle &ndash; which was more like a small square-bodied cello and was also played in an upright position.&nbsp; Chimit mastered other traditional instruments too, but what got him noticed were his shaman-artist performances where he spectacularly drove whatever band he played in, further and further into ecstasy - with the dungur. </span></p><p class="PreformattedText"><span><img src="" alt="" /></span><span class="image-caption">Preparing for a ritual (kamlanie). Photo Ken Hyder</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>The dungur is a frame-drum.&nbsp; A shaman&rsquo;s drum. The shaman&rsquo;s horse - a vehicle for flying. It is a little like an Irish folk drum, the bodhran. Each drum is different.&nbsp; The size varies, the skin can vary too.&nbsp; Most have ribbons and bells. Chimit&rsquo;s was big.&nbsp; About 30 inches across, with eight horns &ndash; raised bumps of three wooden knuckles around the frame over which goatskin was stretched. &nbsp;The Tuvans made their drums with eight horns, corresponding to compass points. But the Sakha people of Yakutia in the north, were insistent on the whole nine horn complement, representing the nine skies belief, also shared by the Tuvans.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>The problem Chimit took to Zoya was that after years of acting out as a shaman onstage, sometimes it was getting too real.&nbsp; He was starting to get visions. Recurring visions.&nbsp; He began seeing Kuular, his father who died from throat cancer when Chimit was six.&nbsp; Every fourth or fifth performance, Chimit saw him. It didn&rsquo;t matter that there was an audience, stage lights, other musicians playing harder and harder.&nbsp; When Chimit saw the visions, everything around him stood still.&nbsp; It was like he was the only one moving in a freeze-frame. His father was trying to speak to him, but he couldn&rsquo;t work out what he was saying.&nbsp; He could feel his father had a message for him, but the sound was switched off.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Zoya had readily agreed to help.&nbsp; They met in Chimit&rsquo;s mother&rsquo;s house, and had a meal of roasted goat-chops.&nbsp; Alexei, another childhood friend from school days had a Lada and was a part-time unofficial taxi-driver and he came round at eight to pick them up and take them to the arzhan &ndash; a spring where people went for the healing waters.&nbsp; The Ak-Ugbai arzhan was thought to be particularly beneficial for skin diseases, although people with other ailments used it too. But it was also a power-spot. A place where a shamanic session could be super-charged with more energy, more success. </span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>It had been a hot day. Winters in Erzin could easily reach a low of minus 40 degrees centigrade. But in summer, days like today could hit plus 40. The big sky was like a new age painting of bright garish pinks and oranges and shades of black as they motored on the pot-holed road out of town. The spring was nearby.&nbsp; Twenty minutes into the steppe they approached a low rise, turning off the road to the old capital of Samagaltai.&nbsp; The new track was dusty and even more rough and bumpy and they slowly climbed towards the escarpment.&nbsp; On their left they saw nine or ten wild camels lethargically moving towards night-time rest. </span></p><p class="PreformattedText"><span> By the time they stopped at a flattened piece of ground sheltered by man-sized boulders, there was a pleasantly refreshing light chill in the air and a faint smell of dry grass.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Zoya supervised the preparations.&nbsp; Alexei opened the boot and took out the bag of flour, the butter wrapped in brown paper, and the juniper twigs tied together with copper wire at the bottom, and still full of fragrant green life. Zoya and Chimit lifted out their dungurs, each in a canvas bag. Because the drums were single-headed with a fairly shallow shell, they doubled up as round suitcases for the shaman&rsquo;s costume, hat and paraphernalia. Zoya also took a plastic bottle of milk out of the boot, and the three of them made their way up a path to a narrow cleft in the ridge, nestling between bushes festooned with mainly white ribbons.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Just behind some flat stones was a larger flat stone, charred by ritual fires over the years. As well as the ribbons tied to branches to give thanks to the spirits, there was a cairn of small stones placed there for the same purpose, and paper and coin money, and some cigarettes. Although Chimit knew how to build a ritual fire, he allowed Zoya the shamanka to organise it. He and Alexei collected some twigs and small branches from bushes not far away, and Zoya built the fire with flour on top of the wood, and the butter, followed by the juniper, broken into smaller pieces about three inches long.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><img class="image-caption" src="" alt="" width="500" /><span class="image-caption">An ovaa (shaman shrine) at the side of the road, Tuva. Photo Ken Hyder</span></p><p class="PreformattedText"><span>Before they actually lit the fire, Zoya and Chimit prepared their equipment. Alexei, meanwhile started making a Siberian joint. He took a Belomor papierosi cigarette &ndash; the roughest and cheapest Russian cigarette, with its long, empty cardboard tube, pinched and twisted before smoking. He shook the tobacco out of the cigarette and into the palm of his left hand, leaving him with a half-paper, half-cardboard empty tube. With his right hand he crumbled a block of cannabis resin into lumps the size of small peppercorns and mixed it up with the crude tobacco. In spite of the climate, or perhaps because of it, some of the strongest most potent cannabis in the world grows wild and free in Tuva. He carefully poured the mixture back into the empty cigarette tube, and the joint was ready.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Zoya and Chimit had opened their fawn-coloured canvas bags and had put on costumes. Each had an eagle feather hat.&nbsp; It&rsquo;s where the American Indians got the style, and of all Siberians, the Tuvans have the closest genetic link to native Americans. Zoya&rsquo;s costume was plain black cloth, like a short dressing gown.&nbsp; There were blue ribbons attached to the front and back. And sewn into the back were also three brass bells about one and a half inches deep.&nbsp; The headband of her feather hat was decorated with cowrie shells and small brass disks intended to repel black spirits.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Chimit&rsquo;s costume was a showbiz affair, silky, almost glittering in the emerging moonlight. It was basically bright red, but with sewn-on patches representing different animals, and there were dozens of ribbons in many colours. Chimit was typically Tuvan in stature, short and solidly built, but more stocky than most.&nbsp; He gave the impression of a slow, lumbering country boy. But he could skip from stone to stone on a hillside like a goat.&nbsp; And on horseback, he melded into the shape and force of the animal. He exuded a peaceful, confident stillness, but you could tell there was fierceness below, and few would want to get on his bad side. His hero was Chingis Khan.&nbsp; And it showed. His flat, wide face and high bronzed cheekbones showed no emotion as he looked at his dungur, feeling the slackness of the skin under his fingers, judging just how much heat it would need to come up to an ideal playing tension.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Zoya got out her paraphernalia bag. It was a piece of maroon velvet with pockets sewn into it.&nbsp; It was rolled up and tied with a cord. She unrolled it onto a flat stone.&nbsp; From the first pocket she took out her kuzungu&nbsp; - a highly polished copper-brass mirror - and slipped its ribbon over her neck so that it faced outwards from her body. In Tuva and in some other parts of Siberia, the kuzungu is the most important shamanic instrument &ndash; more important than the dungur. It&rsquo;s also the most versatile, being used for healing, divination, and protection &ndash; and in the hands of a black shaman, sending black energy into the enemies of patients. It could be hard for outsiders to understand how it worked.&nbsp; A kuzungu is just a round flat disk of copper-bronze, plain, but polished on one side.&nbsp; It has a raised bossed loop on one side to take the ribbon so it could be worn round the neck. It is a mirror and it is as clear as a glass mirror. Some are just three inches or so across, while others can cover a shaman&rsquo;s chest.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>If a shaman runs a kuzungu over your arm, you feel a tingling, a prickly feeling, a sensation of energy. Try passing any other flat metal disk over your arm, and you&rsquo;ll feel nothing.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>She also took out a bear claw protector, a small bell, a single divining rod made from a piece of wire, her ritual spoon carved with nine small indentations for sprinkling libations to the nine skies.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>Zoya was tall and strikingly beautiful in both her shape, and in the mesmeric aspect of her face. People were attracted to her piercing, intense dark eyes.&nbsp; She was a Kyrgyz and proud of her tribe&rsquo;s history. &nbsp;When Chingis Khan was in Tuva, he married a Tuvan woman. The Kyrzyz used to live in the north of Tuva, then one of the tribes moved south settling on the border with Mongolia. She said little, and could appear stern, but she could also laugh freely. &nbsp;When she did talk, it was considered. Other Tuvans liked her Tuvan-language accent. It was rhythmic and melodic, coming out in phrases which paused just slightly longer than you expected. She was part of the community, but she also kept herself apart.&nbsp; She lived alone in a small wooden house in the village.&nbsp; She got on well with the few shamans around Erzin &ndash; most of the time.&nbsp; But shaman rivalry can be violently volatile and intrigues and even shamanic fights can develop overnight from the slightest of slights. She didn&rsquo;t want to get drawn into petty rivalries, nor the binge-drinking which put so many shamans out of action for several days at a time.&nbsp; She knew why they did it.&nbsp; She knew the pressures shamans suffered in their work. &nbsp;But Zoya wanted to be purer, stronger than the others. Her seriousness and dedication earned her the respect of the villagers, although they knew she was not yet as powerful as her teacher Kaigal-Ool. <br /></span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>The last part of her preparation needed one of the ceramic bowls Tuvans used for drinking tea. She poured milk into it. Then she broke up some juniper in her fingers and sprinkled the green crumbs on top of the milk.&nbsp; The milk was now ready for sprinkling to the skies and to the earth with her ritual spoon. </span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>All during the preparation for the kamlanie seance nothing was said. Siberians have this way of working where each person gets on with an individual task until the whole job is done. Nothing is said, for nothing needs to be said. It&rsquo;s the way their nomadic ancestors set up and broke camp. And now everything was ready for a s&eacute;ance to find out why Chimit was receiving visions, and what his father was trying to say.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span>The three stood still and looked at each other. Zoya briefly glanced at the joint in Alexei&rsquo;s hand and nodded. They each sat down on a boulder and Alexei lit up.</span></p> <p class="PreformattedText"><span><em>Parts 2 and 3 to follow.&nbsp;</em></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><em><span>Ken Hyder is a London-based freelance journalist specialising in policing, serious crime, and race. He is also a highly original <a href="">musician</a> who has made over 25 albums. Ken Hyder can be contacted at</span><span>&nbsp;</span></em><span><em>Black Sky, White Sky &nbsp;is published as an e-book on Amazon</em></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Vilmost Dioszegi <a href="">Tracing Shamans in Siberia</a>, (Oosterhout:Anthropological Publications, 1968)<br /><br />Andrei Znamenski, <a href=";printsec=frontcover&amp;dq=Russian+Records+of+Indigenous+Spirituality&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=kQI7Q01U4f&amp;sig=hfhE1qxF_wl0DIL6zqg3aQXZ8_Y&amp;hl=en&amp;ei=M7XZS9eZMISvONnPxO8P&amp;sa=X&amp;oi=book_result&amp;ct=result&amp;resnum=1&amp;ved=0CAYQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=false">Russian Records of Indigenous Spirituality</a> (Kluwer Academic Publicatios, 2003)<br /><br />Piers Vitebsky <a href="">The Shaman: Voyage of the Soul, trance, ecstasy and healing from Siberia to the Amazon</a> (Duncan Baird, 2001)</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Black Sky, White Sky deals with rivalry among shamans in Tuva as they come out in public after years of working in secret. The shamans form group-practice clinics, but jealousy and power-struggles lead to in-fighting – with deadly consequences.<br /><br />The book cuts across genres and seeks to set out the landscape of the mind, culture and spirituality of Siberia allowing the reader to identify with and understand the action - which often takes place in the altered states of characters, most of whom are shamans. <br /><br />In 1990 - with another player - he toured Russia from Leningrad to Vladivostok. Later, Ken began studying shamanic music in Yakutia, Buryatia, the Altai and Tuva in Siberia. He performs and records with a shaman from Tuva, and that connection made it much easier for him to gain the confidence of local shamans who were very generous with the information they passed on.</p><p><span><span><br /></span></span></p> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Russia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> </div> </div> oD Russia Russia Culture what about faith? russia & eurasia russia faith & ideas Culture & society arts & cultures Ken Hyder Religion Internal Cultural politics Fri, 30 Apr 2010 16:39:57 +0000 Ken Hyder 53985 at The Catholic church’s scandal: modern crisis, ancient roots <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> The sexual violation of young people within the Catholic church is the poisonous legacy of a long tradition of contempt for human sexuality in an institution which has privileged secrecy and unaccountable power over transparency and participation. But the silence and darkness revealed by the scandal must not be allowed to define the majority of Catholics who are the living church, says Tina Beattie. </div> </div> </div> <p><span><span>The scandal engulfing the Roman Catholic church as a result of the exposure of widespread and long-lasting sexual abuse of children and young people by priests in a number of countries created a global media and political firestorm around the institution. Many analysts and commentators have reached for images such as “</span></span><a href=""><span><span><span><span>tsunami</span></span></span></span></a><span><span>” to describe what is happening. Two eminent church historians not given to hyperbole – </span></span><a href=""><span><span><span><span>Diarmaid MacCulloch</span></span></span></span></a><span><span> and Michael Walsh – have described it as the worst crisis facing the Catholic church since the 16th-century reformation (see Michael Walsh, “</span></span><a href="../../michael-walsh/vatican%25E2%2580%2599s-fix-abuse-and-renewal"><span><span><span><span>The Vatican’s fix: abuse and renewal</span></span></span></span></a><span><span>”, 22 March 2010). &nbsp;</span></span></p> <p><span><span>However, I am not convinced that the Vatican is yet aware of what a challenge this scandal poses to its authority and moral credibility. Rome’s smooth-talking representatives are capable of astounding feats of verbal dexterity when it comes to </span></span><a href=""><span><span><span><span>refusing</span></span></span></span></a><span><span> to fully acknowledge the culpability of those responsible for decades of evasion and concealment. Moreover, some attempts to target the media show the Vatican hierarchy to be profoundly out of touch with the perceptions and values of everyday people.</span></span></p> <p><span><span><strong>The failure of leadership</strong></span></span></p> <p><span><span>Undoubtedly the sex-abuse scandal has provided a smokescreen for the expression of anti-Catholic sentiments, but in this case there really is no smoke without fire. There was widespread public outrage when Pope Benedict XVI’s preacher, Reverend Raniero Cantalamessa, </span></span><a href=""><span><span><span><span>compared</span></span></span></span></a><span><span> the treatment of the Catholic hierarchy to the persecution of the Jews, and the pope sought to distance himself from these remarks. But for one of the most influential men in the Vatican to liken the church’s elite to innocent victims of a pogrom or a campaign of persecution shows an ongoing failure of moral judgment, and a refusal to accept that it is in fact being held to account for a catastrophic failure in the exercise of leadership.</span></span></p> <p><span><span>If they are to respond effectively to this crisis then they need to do much more than simply create more effective systems of reporting and control, for the current scandal has its roots deep in the church’s attitudes towards the related issues of sexuality and power, and it will take a leader of quite remarkable courage, wisdom and vision to address that fundamental problem. Unfortunately, having been part of the problem for so long, it is questionable whether the church’s current leadership can now become part of the solution.&nbsp;</span></span></p> <p><span><span>Whatever Pope Benedict XVI did or did not know about cases of sexual abuse when (as </span></span><a href="../../faith-catholicchurch/article_2441.jsp"><span><span><span><span>Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger</span></span></span></span></a><span><span>) he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (</span></span><a href=""><span><span><span><span>CDF</span></span></span></span></a><span><span>), it is known that he was a zealous authoritarian when it came to defending the doctrinal absolutism of the church’s teaching on issues such as contraception and abortion, homosexuality and the ordination of women. The institutional paralysis which gripped the Catholic hierarchy when dealing with sexually abusing priests does not seem to have affected its ability to respond with ruthless efficiency when it came to disciplining priests and theologians who brought informed intellectual criticism to bear on these most neuralgic aspects of Catholic doctrine.&nbsp;The censuring by the Ratzinger-led CDF of respected theologians such as </span></span><a href=""><span><span><span><span>Charles Curran</span></span></span></span></a><span><span>, </span></span><a href=""><span><span><span><span>Hans Küng</span></span></span></span></a><span><span>, </span></span><a href=""><span><span><span><span>Edward Schillebeeckx</span></span></span></span></a><span><span> and </span></span><a href=""><span><span><span><span>Leonardo Boff</span></span></span></span></a><span><span> might be compared with the far more lenient and covert treatment of priests who were found guilty of abusing children. &nbsp;</span></span></p> <p><span><span><strong>The problem of power</strong></span></span></p> <p><span><span>If the current crisis is to usher in a genuine process of change, then there needs to be far greater collaboration by the Vatican, not just with local bishops’ conferences (although that might be a start), but with academic theologians, lay Catholic communities, and most especially with women. Part of the reason why this </span></span><a href=""><span><span><span><span>scandal</span></span></span></span></a><span><span> continued for so long with such little public exposure and accountability can be attributed to the fact that the leadership of the Catholic church has become concentrated in the hands of a secretive and isolated </span></span><a href=""><span><span><span><em><span>Magisterium</span></em></span></span></span></a><span><span> which is less and less able to listen to and learn from those outside its own closed ranks of celibate men. &nbsp;</span></span></p> <p><span><span>This is not to suggest that </span></span><a href=""><span><span><span><span>celibacy</span></span></span></span></a><span><span> </span></span><span><span><em>per se </em></span></span><span><span>is the cause of sexual abuse. If it were, then there would be few cases of child sexual abuse in modern secular societies, which afford ample opportunities for the expression of adult sexuality. The problem is any situation in which sexually immature or dysfunctional individuals are in positions which allow them to exercise power over the vulnerable and the powerless within closed and unaccountable communities, and this is the kind of culture which prevails in too many Catholic institutions. &nbsp;</span></span></p> <p><span><span>It is not just that the Catholic priesthood in its present formation and structure risks attracting men lacking sexual maturity, it is that the Catholic spiritual tradition is in itself potentially damaging to our understanding of the meaning and purpose of human sexuality. Catholicism is heir to a long tradition in which sexual desire has been portrayed as the enemy of those who seek spiritual union with God. In a religion in which the main focus has been the development of men’s spirituality through the suppression of their sexuality, this has meant that male priests and monks have regarded the sexual female body as the greatest threat to their spiritual well-being, and the control of female sexuality has been and continues to be a major preoccupation. This in turn leads to the accumulation of power over other people’s bodies, it allows men to believe that their primary spiritual responsibility lies in the area of sexual discipline, and the use of power becomes a means to inhibit and punish sexual desire.</span></span></p> <p><span><span>It is not difficult to see how this might create a dark spiral of temptation, guilt and punishment focused on the “sin” of sexual arousal and the bodies which cause it - whether those are the bodies of women, children or men, or indeed one’s own (which becomes subject to extravagant masochistic practices of chastisement). Nor is it hard to see why one consequence of this tradition is a few dozen celibate men in Rome believing they have God-given moral authority over the sexual and reproductive bodies of all the women in the world.&nbsp;</span></span></p> <p><span><span>In other words, the current crisis is the poisonous legacy of a long tradition of contempt for human sexuality in an institution which has privileged secrecy, self-interest and unaccountable power over transparency, dialogue and democratic participation. </span></span></p> <p><span><span>It is disingenuous to suggest that the crisis is a consequence of secularisation and modernity, or of the liberalisation which followed the <a href="">Second Vatican Council</a> – both suggestions made by Pope Benedict XVI in his </span></span><a href=""><span><span><span><span>letter</span></span></span></span></a><span><span> of 19 March 2010 to the Irish church. If we want to understand what is happening today, we need to recognise that for much of its history Catholic spirituality has been in bondage to a pathologically dysfunctional attitude to sex.&nbsp; In the past this has been targeted primarily at women but today homosexuals are also included, perhaps because dramatic transformations in western society mean that homosexual bodies have also become highly visible sources of temptation for a religious hierarchy which includes many homosexuals among its ranks. So the “problem” of homosexuality has now been added to the age-old “problem” of female sexuality with which the men of the church must do battle. It is hardly surprising that the most radical Catholic theologians today are feminists and gays. &nbsp;</span></span></p> <p><span><span><strong>The cost of repression</strong></span></span></p> <p><span><span>It is worth noting by way of a relevant aside that, while the current scandal includes cases of abuse of young children, Catholic priests are statistically less likely to be guilty of paedophilia than the male population at large. Most cases have involved pederasty, which is the sexual abuse of adolescent males. In every culture young pubescent boys can become sources of sexual attraction for men, and Catholic institutional life provides the ideal conditions within which such attraction might flourish. To say this is not to say that homosexuality is the root of the problem any more than celibacy is, and the latest attempt by the senior Vatican official Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone to </span></span><a href=""><span><span><span><span>shift</span></span></span></span></a><span><span> the blame onto homosexuality is yet another example of curial dissimulation. However, the combination of an increasingly liberal secular culture and an increasingly repressive Catholic hierarchy is likely to increase the problems associated with homosexual priests in particular.</span></span></p> <p><span><span>In his letter to the Irish church, Pope Benedict </span></span><a href=""><span><span><span><span>acknowledges</span></span></span></span></a><span><span> the need for better methods of recruiting and training priests, and it is clear from some of his earlier statements that this means a more vigorous vetting of homosexual candidates for the priesthood. But the church’s refusal to accept same-sex relationships means that devout homosexual men sometimes seek refuge from their own repressed sexuality by becoming priests, for if they have to be celibate they might as well be priests. The current generation of seminarians and newly ordained priests includes a depressing number of austerely repressed and repressive young men, while some Catholic seminaries have become home to gay subcultures. </span></span></p> <p><a href=""><span><span><span><span>Mark Dowd</span></span></span></span></a><span><span>, himself a gay Catholic and former seminarian, made a documentary in 2001 entitled </span></span><a href=""><span><span><span><em><span>Queer and Catholic</span></em></span></span></span></a><span><span> (shown on Britain’s Channel 4 station) in which a few brave and honest priests described some of their own experiences and the practices they had witnessed in seminaries. Perhaps most shocking of all was the revelation that some seminarians regard cruising and promiscuity as acceptable, so long as they don’t fall in love. It is hard to imagine a more perverse distortion of the Gospel or a more effective way of perpetuating sexual abuse than the idea that using another person for sex is fine so long as love is not involved. </span></span></p> <p><span><span>I am not of course making the absurd suggestion that such attitudes are intentionally inculcated in the training of seminarians. I am however suggesting that they may be the unfortunate consequence of a religious regime that has yet to find a way of dealing with human sexuality in a mature and informed way rooted in the realities of people’s experiences of sexual love in all its complexity – women as well as men, homosexual as well as heterosexual.&nbsp;</span></span></p> <p><span><span><strong>The refusal to listen</strong></span></span></p> <p><span><span>My fear in all this is that the sex-abuse scandal will be dealt with but the root problem will be ignored, and this has particular implications for women and girls in the church. The sexual exploitation of women and girls by priests has barely featured in coverage of the current scandal, even although it is an endemic problem. </span></span></p> <p><span><span>In 2001, senior leaders of women’s religious orders presented evidence to Rome of the widespread rape and abuse of nuns by priests, with a particular problem in Africa which has no cultural tradition of celibacy and where the threat of HIV and Aids means that priests are more likely to have sex with nuns than prostitutes. The Vatican acknowledged the problem and there was a brief flurry of media interest, but this is a scandal which has disappeared without trace. What mechanisms of repression and denial allowed the men in Rome to ignore these complaints and suppress the voices of those who spoke out on behalf of the victims? It seems as if rape, abuse and sexual exploitation are tolerable so long as they are only targeted at women and girls.&nbsp;</span></span></p> <p><span><span>The church has all the resources it needs to deal with the roots of this problem in a way that would ensure long-term effective transformation of its practices and institutions. Catholicism is home to many women and men who have learned how to live and love as sexual beings in spite of rather than thanks to the church’s teachings, and who have a wealth of experience and insight to offer. </span></span></p> <p><span><span>There are more women theologians and biblical scholars today than at any time in history, and yet not a single one of these has ever been quoted or cited in any papal document, nor are they consulted in the formulation of the church’s doctrines and teachings. There are thousands of women’s religious communities around the world led by strong, educated women which have yet to gain any effective representation in the Vatican - indeed, in the midst of the sex-abuse scandal the men in Rome have still found time to launch an investigation into women’s religious communities in the United States, in order to weed out those guilty of what Vatican spokesman Cardinal Franc Rodé </span></span><a href=""><span><span><span><span>calls</span></span></span></span></a><span><span> a “feminist spirit” and a “secularist mentality”. </span></span></p> <p><span><span>There are many homosexual men and women who could lead the church from a climate of suspicion, fear and denial to one of acceptance, wisdom and integrity, based on their experience of coming to terms with and accepting their sexuality as a gift from God. And there are many women and married men who could bring new visions and opportunities to the Catholic understanding of priesthood, if only they were invited to participate. The problem is not a lack of available wisdom, but a refusal to listen and to learn by those who think they already know it all.&nbsp;</span></span></p> <p><span><span><strong>Out of the darkness</strong></span></span></p> <p><span><span>I know from many private conversations that there are priests and nuns, bishops and teachers in the Catholic church who would agree with much of what I’ve written here, but they cannot say so publicly for they do not enjoy the kind of protection which has been offered to abusers and rapists. When a priest or nun dares to question or speak out publicly against the church’s teachings on questions such as contraception, the use of condoms in the prevention of HIV and Aids, or the plight of women living in countries in which contraception is unavailable and abortion is illegal (often as a result of pressure from the Catholic church), if they seek to express the belief that homosexual love is holy and given by God, or if they express support for women’s ordination, they are likely to suffer swift and draconian retribution. I hope that I speak with as well as for that silenced and often frustrated majority of Catholic men and women, priests, religious and laity alike. We are all the church. We must not let ourselves be defined by the powers of silence, fear and darkness.</span></span></p> <p><br /><br /></p> <p lang="en-US"><br /><br /></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Tina Beattie, <a href=";jsessionid=am1CGCxhB7o4PyMe5Y?s=showproduct&amp;isbn=0415301483"><em>New Catholic Feminism: Theology and Theory</em></a> (Routledge 2005)</p> <p><a href="">Tina Beattie </a></p><p><a href=""><em>The Tablet</em></a></p><p>Kayzam Farzaneh, "<a href="">The Catholic Church's Latest Abuse Scandals</a>" (<em>Foreign Policy</em>, 16 March 2010)</p> <p><a href="">Catholic News Service</a></p><p>Ladislas Orsy, <a href=""><em>Receiving the Council</em>: </a><em><a href="">Theological and Canonical Insights and Debates</a> </em>(Liturgical Press, 2009)</p><p><span></span>John W O'Malley, <a href=""><em>What Happened at Vatican II</em></a> (Harvard University Press, 2008)</p><p>Leon J Podles, <a href=""><em>Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church</em></a> (Crossland, 2007)</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Tina Beattie is <a href="">professor</a> of Catholic studies at Roehampton University, England. Among her books are <a href=""><em>God's Mother, Eve's Advocate</em></a> (Allen &amp; Unwin, 2002),<a href=""> <em>New Catholic Feminism: Theology and Theory</em></a> (Routledge 2005), and <a href=";bc=0&amp;sID=ALL&amp;Type=B&amp;cp=1"><em>The New Atheists: The War on Religion and the Twilight of Reason</em></a> (Darton, Longman &amp; Todd, 2007). Her website is <a href="">here</a></p><p>Also by Tina Beattie in <strong>openDemocracy</strong>:</p><p>“<a href="">Pope Benedict XVI and Islam: beyond words</a>” (17 September 2006)</p><p>“<a href="">Veiling the issues: a distractive debate</a>” (24 October 2006)</p><p>“<a href="">Religion in Britain in the Blair era</a>” (10 January 2007)</p><p>“<a href="">Religion's cutting edge: lessons from Africa</a>” (14 February 2007)</p><p>“<a href="">The end of postmodernism: the ‘new atheists’ and democracy</a>” (20 December 2007)</p><p>“<a href="">Rowan Williams and sharia law</a>” (12 February 2008)</p><p>“<a href="">The dark (k)night of a postmodern world</a>” (21 August 2008)</p><p>“<a href="">Along the precipice: visions of atheism in London</a>” (6 November 2008)</p><p>“<a href="">Banksy in Bristol</a>” (24 June 2009)</p><p>"<a href="">Antichrist: the visual theology of Lars von Trier</a>" (13 August 2009)</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/michael-walsh/vatican%E2%80%99s-fix-abuse-and-renewal">The Vatican’s fix: abuse and renewal</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/globalization-institutions_government/benedict_brazil_4601.jsp">Benedict XVI in Brazil: raising the Catholic flag</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/faith-catholicchurch/catholicmedia_3450.jsp">Poland&#039;s past and future pope</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/the-vatican-s-debacle">The Vatican’s debacle</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/faith-catholicchurch/article_2441.jsp">From Joseph Ratzinger to Pope Benedict XVI</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/faith-catholicchurch/article_2405.jsp">Cutting the Vatican down to size</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/pope_benedict_xv1_forward_to_the_past">Pope Benedict XVI: forward to the past</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/faith-catholicchurch/article_2421.jsp">The Catholic church and democracy: a reply to Neal Ascherson</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/globalization-institutions_government/religion_2626.jsp">Who rules Italy?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/faith-catholicchurch/pope_patriarch_4151.jsp">The Pope and the Patriarch</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/faith-catholicchurch/article_2430.jsp">The Catholic church is not a democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/faith-catholicchurch/article_2402.jsp">Through the Vatican white smoke</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/faith-aboutfaith/article_2399.jsp">Pope John Paul II and democracy</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> 50.50 Democracy and government International politics faith & ideas democracy in the catholic church? democracy & power europe Tina Beattie Wed, 14 Apr 2010 22:27:18 +0000 Tina Beattie 53683 at Iran: torch of fire, politics of fun <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> The doctrinal contempt of Islamist regimes for popular festivals such as the Iranian nowrooz (new year) extends to suspicion of every expression of spontaneous life. The result is to conjure the very rituals of resistance they fear, says Asef Bayat.  </div> </div> </div> <p><em>Chah</em><em>ā</em><em>rshanbe-S</em><em>ū</em><em>ri</em> ("wednesday feast") is an ancient Persian festival whose origins lie in the Achaemenid <a href="">era</a> of Persia’s civilisation (549-330 bce) and its successors, when Zoroastrian <a href="">beliefs</a> were strong. By tradition it is celebrated on the last Wednesday night before <em>nowrooz</em> (Iran’s new year) in mid-March. It is a jubilant collective <a href="">moment</a> for Iranians in the country and among diaspora communities across the world. In Iran itself, people gather in streets and back-alleys to make bonfires and (in the case of the <a href="">younger</a> and more adventurous) jump over them; set off firecrackers; play music, dance and sing; and enjoy special foods and the joys of conviviality. In the life-affirming <a href=""><em>Chah</em><em>ā</em><em>rshanbe-S</em><em>ū</em><em>ri</em></a>, modern Iranians each year take the fire that was at the heart of the Zoroastrians’ sense of their world and their collective self-definition, and make it the centrepiece of their own modern ritual.</p> <p>This year, the approach to the <em>Chah</em><em>ā</em><em>rshanbe-S</em><em>ū</em><em>ri - </em>which fell on 16 March 2010 - was of a different character to any in the country’s history. Iran’s doctrinal regime politicised the ritual and made it an object of official fear. A campaign to discourage people from joining the celebrations began when the head of the national police warned parents to prevent their children from going out, and continued with plans by the state-run television to show popular movies to keep youngsters indoors. Then, the authorities <a href="">deployed</a> security forces (including <em>basij</em> militias armed with guns and batons) in the streets and around the strategic locations of Iran’s major cities. The campaign culminated in the issuing by Iran’s <a href="">supreme leader</a> Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of an unprecedented <em>fatwa</em> that castigated the ritual as both “irrational” and in Islamic terms “illegitimate” (<em>gheir shar‘i</em>). &nbsp;</p> <p>It didn’t work. As ever, millions of Iranians poured into their neighbourhoods&nbsp; to observe the national “calendar custom”. Many of them responded to the state’s politicisation of <em>Chah</em><em>ā</em><em>rshanbe-S</em><em>ū</em><em>ri </em>by using the occasion to express their own defiance of the clerical regime, chanting slogans and songs of resistance. In Tehran, fifty people were arrested after clashing with the police and <em>basij</em> vigilantes.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Repression as fear</strong></p> <p>Why does the Islamist <a href="">regime</a> express so much paranoia over Iran’s great annual festival with deep roots in the country’s <a href="">history</a>? The immediate answer would refer to the political context: in particular, the eruption of popular protest against the fraudulent presidential election of 12 June 2009, when Iranians <a href="">poured</a> onto the streets in a defiant affirmation of justice that only the most ferocious repression could subdue (see Farhang Jahanpour, “ <a href="">Iran's stolen election, and what comes next</a>”, 18 June 2009). In these circumstances, the regime’s attitude can be seen as inspired by fear that any occasion when Iranians gather in numbers is now an opportunity for the opposition “green movement” to mobilise popular anger and demonstrate how hollow is the regime’s legitimacy (see “ <a href="">Iran: a green wave for life and liberty</a>”, 7 July 2009).</p> <p>The Islamic Republic’s deepening fear of the people since mid-2009 is a plausible explanation for its <a href="">animosity</a> towards the joys of <em>Chah</em><em>ā</em><em>rshanbe-S</em><em>ū</em><em>ri</em>. But if the first <em>nowrooz</em> since the election has provoked this stringent campaign, the suspicion of puritan Islamists towards many public expressions of human pleasure has been evident since the <a href="">foundation</a> of the regime in <a href="">1979</a>. Any occasion of festivity and spontaneous life - informal gatherings at street-corners, concerts and sporting contests, student parties and even bustling shopping-malls - is regarded by Islamist zealots with profound disdain. In this context, Khamenei’s <em>fatwa</em> seeks to give a new doctrinal <a href="">form</a> to this larger paradigm of disparagement.</p> <p>The zealots’ opposition even reaches into private and individual <a href="">expressions</a> of festivity. The many videos posted by Iranians of their <i>Chahārshanbe-Sūri</i> celebrations (and protests) onto the web includes a shocking attack by the police and <a href=""><em>basij</em></a> on a late-night indoor private party in a Tehran neighbourhood on 16 March 2010. It shows the security agents dragging a screaming woman into custody - spreading terror among everyday citizens doing what people in normal countries do and take for granted across the world: having fun.</p> <p><strong>Life as politics</strong></p> <p>In its attitude to everyday enjoyment, the Iranian regime has - for all the political differences - much in common with fellow-Islamist states or movements such as <a href="">Saudi Arabia</a> and the <a href="">Taliban</a> in Afghanistan. There may be variations in what is regarded as “un-Islamic” (television, dance and even kite-flying in the latter case), but the mindset is the same. &nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>The fear of enjoyment is a singular feature of these Islamist states and movements, whose doctrinal models are unable to accommodate - and so are compelled to reject and seek to deligitimise - expressive behaviours that are at the heart of human life: even including playfulness, laughter, and displays of fashion. These power-driven forces seek to reinforce their case by depicting such behaviours as as part of a “western cultural invasion” (see <a href=""><em>Life as Pol</em><em>i</em><em>tics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East</em></a> [Stanford University Press, 2010]).</p> <p>Here, the systemic intolerance towards so much that constitutes the human also reveals its inner weakness in face of its <a href="">innocent</a> enemy. To suppress fun in everyday life - including on festive and ritual occasions - is also to politicise it. The doctrinal compulsion to control turns the everyday into a site of struggle and defiance; such that each explosion of a firecracker in what would otherwise be a routine festival becomes a thunderous affirmation to the highest power: “I do not want you”.&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Asef Bayat, <a href=""><em>Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East</em></a> (Stanford University Press, 2010)</p> <p>Asef Bayat, <a href=""><em>Making Islam Democratic: Social Movements and the Post-Islamist Turn</em></a> (Stanford University Press, 2007)</p><p><a href="">BBC - Iran crisis</a></p> <p><a href="">Tehran Bureau </a></p> <p>Juan Cole, <a href="">Informed Comment</a></p> <p>Ali Gheissari &amp; Vali Nasr, <em><a href=";ci=9780195189674">Democracy in Iran: History and the Quest for Liberty</a></em> (Oxford University Press, 2006)</p> <p>Ali Ansari, <em><a href="">Confronting Iran</a></em> (Basic Books, 2006)</p> <p>Ray Takeyh, <a href=""><em>Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic</em></a> (CFR, 2006)</p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <p><a href="">Rooz </a></p> <p>Nikki R Keddie, <a href=""><em>Modern Iran: Roots and Results of Revolution</em></a> (Yale University Press, 2006)</p> <p>Michael Axworthy, <a href=""><em>Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran</em> </a>(C Hurst, 2007)</p><p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Asef Bayat is professor of sociology and middle-east studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His books include<em> <a href="">Making Islam Democratic: Social Movements and the Post-Islamist Turn </a></em>(Stanford University Press, 2007; <em><a href="">Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East</a> </em>(Stanford University Press, 2010);<em> </em>and (with Linda Herrera)<em> <a href="">Being Young and Muslim: Cultural Politics in the Global South and North</a> </em>(Oxford University Press, 2010)</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/iran-a-green-wave-for-life-and-liberty">Iran: a green wave for life and liberty </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/democratising-the-muslim-world">Democracy and the Muslim world: the “post-Islamist” turn</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/david-hayes/iran-from-protest-to-politics">Iran: from protest to politics</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/linda-herrera-s-deghati/children-of-iran-lives-in-tumult">The children of Iran: lives in tumult</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/sanam-vakil/iran-phantom-victory">Iran: a phantom victory</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/r-tousi/voices-of-new-iran">Voices of a new Iran</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/nazenin-ansari/irans-pre-revolutionary-rupture">Iran&#039;s pre-revolutionary rupture</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/iran-s-unfinished-crisis">Iran&#039;s unfinished crisis</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/iran-revolution-for-the-hereafter">Iran: revolution for the hereafter</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/mahmoud-ahmadinejad-a-political-shadow">Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: a political shadow </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/iran-revolution-beyond-caricature">Iran: revolution beyond caricature </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/iran-s-tide-of-history-counter-revolution-and-after">Iran&#039;s tide of history: counter-revolution and after</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/voices-from-iran">Voices from Iran</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/the-archaeology-of-iran-s-regime">The archaeology of Iran’s regime</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/iran-s-crisis-and-ali-khamenei">Iran&#039;s crisis and Ali Khamenei</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/iran-dialectic-of-revolution">Iran: dialectic of revolution </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/iran-s-stolen-election-and-what-comes-next">Iran&#039;s stolen election, and what comes next</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/iran-s-election-democracy-or-coup">Iran&#039;s election: people and power </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Iran </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> Iran Civil society Democracy and government International politics politics of protest faith & ideas democracy & iran democracy & power Asef Bayat Wed, 24 Mar 2010 23:31:23 +0000 Asef Bayat 50888 at Religion in schools, finally <em>Russia&#39;s Orthodox Church has finally won its battle to make religious education compulsory in schools, says Russian Orthodox Church official Viktor Malukhin. But the secularists have won concessions too </em> <p> Patriarch Kirill&#39;s public<a href=""> triumph</a> in Ukraine in July was preceded with another achievement no less important for the Russian Orthodox Church. This took place in the much more intimate atmosphere of the presidential residence in Barvikha, in the Moscow Oblast. There Dmitry Medvedev met with the leaders of Russia&#39;s traditional religions, and responded to two appeals from them. </p> <p> He agreed that the history and culture of the country&#39;s main religions should be included in the core school curriculum. He also agreed that the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation should have <a href="">military priests</a>. </p> <p> Patriarch Kirill was the first to sign both documents. The Muslim and Jewish religious communities supported the Orthodox position, despite previous objections from some muftis and rabbis. </p> <p> What will this decision mean in practice for schools? Twice a week from the spring of next year, pupils in the fourth and fifth classes will study one of three new subjects. They and their parents will be able to choose between the religious culture of one religion (Orthodox, Islam, Judaism or Buddhism), the history and cultural background of the world&#39;s great religions, or the foundations of secular ethics. It will be compulsory for pupils to choose one of these three modules. </p> <p> To start with, it will be introduced in 18 regions in six of the seven federal regions of Russia. The three-year experiment will be introduced in 12,000 Russian schools, 20,000 classes, 256,000 children and 44,000 teachers, according to the Ministry for Education and Science. From 2012, the new modules will be introduced to all Russian schools. </p> <p> These three modules, &quot;Foundations of religious culture&quot;, &quot;Foundations of history and culture of world religions&quot; and &quot;Foundations of secular ethics&quot;,- will be taught by teachers who have taken a special training course, though most of them will probably have had  a secular education. The rector of Moscow&#39;s State University V.A. Sadovnichy has already expressed a desire to put the resources of the country&#39;s leading university behind the re-training of these specialists. But it is clear that at first the main problem will be a serious lack of qualified teaching staff. </p> <p> The contents of the textbooks for these modules is also likely to prompt public debate. Consequently, the Church has already declared its readiness to work with the Ministry of Education and Science, the Russian Academy of Education, and a number of other institutes in order to inspect the new textbooks and study materials. This has already been announced by the head of the Synodal Department for Religious Education, Bishop Zaraisky Merkury. </p> <p> The patriarchate has entrusted the writing of the new textbook on the foundations of Orthodox culture to the well-known <a href="">Deacon Andrei Kuraev</a>, professor of Moscow State University and the Moscow Spiritual Academy. &quot;We must hope that these various textbooks will be written in such a way that whatever religion the children belong to, if they are going to fight during the school break, they&#39;ll use the books, rather than the words contained in them as weapons!&quot; said the protodeacon. </p> <p> &quot;There should be no place for religious propaganda in these lessons, no appeals  to perform particular religious rites or to accept particular dogmas. The textbooks should not contain criticism of other religions, and there should not be a single line which could be used as an argument in the debate of the superiority of one religion over another. The subject should be treated secularly. It should be financed by a secular organisation, and ‘indoctrination&#39; into any faith should be prohibited,&quot; stressed the author of the future Orthodox textbook. <em> </em> </p> <p> <em>A long<a href=""> campaign</a></em> </p> <p> It took two decades to win state support for the teaching of religious culture. However, thanks to the persistence of children and their parents, and to the good will of local authorities and school heads, in many parts of Russia, classes in Orthodox or Muslim culture have in fact already become part of the curriculum - but only as optional subjects, or as part of the regional component of the curriculum. </p> <p> For example, in the bishopric of Smolensk, which was headed by Bishop Kirill before he was elected Patriarch, they have already set up a three-tier system of spiritual and moral education for children and young people, embracing Orthodox kindergartens, lyceums and the appropriate faculties and departments in high schools. </p> <p> In various other bishoprics it was agreed that the Church would work with local education authorities. Teachers were given training on the foundations of Orthodox culture. In one way or another, over half a million pupils are already studying the subject across the country. However, it was the abolition of the regional educational component two years ago that spurred the religious activists into action. </p> <p> An open letter addressed by Patriarch Kirill to the minister for education and science A.A. Fursenko just over a month before the meeting at Barvikha testified to their disquiet. The Patriarch expressed his concern that despite the agreements previously arrived at, &quot;the educational section on religious and moral culture was missing from the main (compulsory) section of the curriculum of the new federal state education standard for the education of the young proposed for publication on the official site of the Ministry for Education and Science of the Russian Federation. It had been proposed that this would come up with a number of subjects concerning a common system of moral values, to be chosen by pupils or their parents.&quot; </p> <p> The Patriarch asked the ministry to reintroduce the subject of &quot;spiritual and moral culture&quot; to schools. He also asked them to include official representatives of the Church &quot;in a working party tasked with developing federal state educational standards. Also to include them in all bodies connected with the confirmation of these standards, as also with the development of the curriculum on spiritual and moral culture&quot;. </p> <p> The tone of barely restrained irritation in this document is understandable. For the Ministry of Education and Science had blatantly broken all previous agreements, including those reached at high-level meetings in the presence of the head of the presidential administration S.E. Naryshkin and his first deputy V.Yu. Surkov. </p> <p> Besides, the Russian Orthodox Church (chiefly through the metropolitan, and subsequently through Patriarch Kirill), has been trying for years to persuade its opponents that teaching the foundations of religious culture is only intended to be a voluntary subject. There will be alternatives, which will take into account the regional predominance of different religions.  </p> <p> The Patriarch was at pains to stress that his overriding concern was that the historical and cultural aspect of the new subject should be well established. For without a good grasp of the foundations of the religion that defines the state, it is impossible to understand the country&#39;s historical roots, or to appreciate the riches of its national culture. </p> <p> There was much discussion of the fact that although Russia&#39;s <a href="">constitution</a> stipulates the separation of Church and state, in Russian history the Church is none the less <a href=";lr=&amp;rls=gm&amp;sourceid=gmail&amp;q=russia+relationship+church+and+state&amp;start=40&amp;sa=N">closely linked</a> with the lives of the people, as well as being a significant and influential aspect of civil society. </p> <p> Finally, the Church issued a polite but firm reminder that freedom of conscience, seen solely as an unlimited opportunity to inculcate atheist thought, is a hangover from the worst days of the state&#39;s <a href="">war against religion</a> </p> <p> Responding to critics who accuse the Church of trying to clericalise secular society, the Patriarch said: &quot;We are worried about the moral climate in schools which forms the personality of the person, and his or her understanding of good and evil. This is what concerns us, not lobbying for a particular subject of the curriculum, as people often try to make out&quot;. </p> <p> However, the lack of balance in the national education system does raise issues. For example, in Moscow today there are plenty of ethnic schools which receive municipal funding, and sometimes also from the state. There are several dozen Azerbaijani, Armenian, Georgian, Jewish, Korean, Lithuanian, Moldovan, Ukrainian, Tatar and many other schools, upper secondary schools and education centres. But strange though it may seem, there is not one which specialises in Russian culture (unless you count private schools like the Radonezh gymnasium). In fact, they have not been allowed to teach a course on Orthodox culture in mainstream Moscow schools. It would seem obvious that  such anomalies in our approach to educating young people could lead to serious inter-ethnic problems for those living in a multi-ethnic capital such as ours. </p> <p> The Kremlin heard the voice of the Patriarch. So too did critics of the Moscow Patriarchate, who mocked the &quot;Barvikha symphony&quot; of the Church and State, the &quot;Orthodoxisation of the country&quot; and the &quot;missionary revenge of the church&quot;. For they realise the threat which Patriarch Kirill&#39;s new policy, which is gaining increasing popular support, poses to their ideas. </p> <p> This policy lies in turning nominal Christians, people who are Orthodox only in name, into active members of the Church. The Patriarch has set himself the task of bringing the growing generation of Russians into the church and taking care of them, a generation whose spiritual, moral and physical health is now being sorely tested by the false ideals that are forced on it - vulgar consumerism, social egoism, and attainment of personal success at any price. For as the old Russian saying goes, &quot;he who does not know the law does not know sin either&quot;. </p> <p> I hear that at a parish Sunday school where the well-known Moscow priest Maxim Kozlov teaches pupils sing this merry ditty after lessons: &quot;Father Maxim is going to teach us ‘goats&#39; (<em>ed play on name Kozlov)</em> everything!&quot; </p> <p> I like the pun, the self-deprecating humour. It makes me feel good about the future. </p> Viktor Malukhin works for the public relations department of the Moscow Patriarchate oD Russia oD Russia Russia Ideas faith & ideas russia & eurasia russia Viktor Malukhin Creative Commons normal email Religion Internal Fri, 25 Sep 2009 10:20:16 +0000 Viktor Malukhin 48702 at "Born-again" Muslims: cultural schizophrenia <p> In the immediate aftermath of the skybombing of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington on 11 September 2001, anyone with a minimum of human sympathy will be overwhelmed by feelings of rage and despair. Politicians, responding to the public mood, declare a “war on terrorism”. The airline industry goes into the proverbial nosedive. The stock markets tumble and experts predict that to the cost in human sorrow will be added the pain of economic recession. </p><p>Muslim statesmen and spokesmen, fearful of the consequences of America’s ire, denounce the attack as contrary to everything that Islam stands for. But Palestinian Muslims are shown on TV dancing in the streets and in Pakistan, Islamic militants are shown demanding <em>jihad</em> (“holy war” or “struggle in the path of Allah”) against the United States in the event of an attack on Afghanistan. </p> <p> Pakistan, pressured by the United States, agrees to join the “coalition against terrorism” despite fears that collaboration with the US will meet resistance from the Taliban and their Pakistani supporters. Yet a US attack on Afghanistan could trigger the overthrow of the moderate, pro-western government headed by General (and now President) Pervez Musharraf, placing Islamist fingers on the nuclear button long before President George W Bush’s &quot;national missile defence&quot; initiative is ready for action. </p><p>An American attack on Afghanistan could well precipitate the overthrow of pro-western regimes not only in Pakistan, but in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, Egypt, Jordan and north Africa. Should this occur the attack on New York and Washington will no longer be seen as acts of “nihilistic” violence as some commentators maintain. Seen from the terrorists’ perspective it was an act of provocation aimed at unleashing a global conflict between a revitalised “Islam” and “the west”. </p> <p> Whether or not George W Bush’s “war against terrorism” will generate such direful consequences remains to be seen. The dust has to settle and the debris cleared, with its hideous burden of human remains, before the international ramifications become fully apparent. Yet certain patterns are already beginning to emerge. </p> <p> Contrary to the rhetoric of politicians, the attack was far from being “cowardly” or “mindless”. A brilliantly executed feat of planning, coordination and execution backed by an astonishing degree of courage, the attack exemplifies something that has come to characterise the modern (or &quot;post-modern&quot;) world: <em>the union of the symbolic with the actual, the mythical with the material, in a single act of destruction shown live on television</em>. </p> <p> <strong>Solidarities of tribe and faith</strong> </p> <p> The United States president, using the language of a Texan sheriff, has announced Osama bin Laden is “wanted dead or alive” for mass murder in New York City and Washington. The evidence linking the Saudi dissident with the atrocity appears to be largely circumstantial and it is doubtful if, on present reckoning, it would stand up in a court of law. </p> <p> One should, of course, be cautious before drawing firm conclusions. But if press reports fed by leaks from the FBI are accurate, the finger points directly to Osama bin Laden. Although the networks over which he presides are loosely structured - he does not apparently use his own satellite phone in case the calls are traced to him - the fact that the hijackers are thought to be Saudis and Yemenis from the same region as his own family suggests that the inner circle of al-Qaida, its Praetorian guard, may have been directly involved. </p> <p> There are precedents. Throughout Islamic history rebels and reformers - or, to be more precise, rebels against the established order who present themselves as <em>mujaddids</em> (“renovators”) – have allied themselves with closely-knit tribal communities (often their own) with a view to achieve power and purge the state of corruption. The 14th-century philosopher and historian Ibn Khaldun (d 1406) who lived in Spain and north Africa before moving to Egypt, used the word ‘<em>asabiya</em> (group-feeling or solidarity) to describe the tight human bonds that held these movements together. </p><p>In Ibn Khaldun’s historical theory, the ‘<em>asabiya</em> of groups moving from the periphery to the centre under the banner of reformed or revitalised Islam was the motor of historic and dynastic change. The ‘<em>asabiya</em> of the group that planned and executed the hijackings, which may have involved hundreds of individuals in different countries communicating via coded emails and mobile-phones, appears to have been formidable: not only was nothing leaked, but some people with foreknowledge of the attack appear to have made fortunes in airline stocks, possibly for use in future operations. </p> <p> Many hundreds of Muslims may be numbered among the victims of the attack on the World Trade Center. In their “war against America” the terrorists do not distinguish between their co-religionists and others. Most westerners find it paradoxical that people who have demonstrated a remarkable degree of technical proficiency in their operations - training as pilots, coordinating a highly complex logistical operation involving the coordination of airline schedules with carefully worked-out dummy-runs, should hold “fanatical” or “fundamentalist” religious views. Newspaper accounts focus on the rewards of martyrdom promised for those “who die in the path of Allah”, which include the ministrations of seventy-two virgins in paradise. </p><p>The political passions that motivate terrorists in other traditions (such as Irish republicanism) are not usually linked so directly to a belief in the carnal pleasures of immortality. Yet no successful movement of this kind, whether religious, political or a combination of both, has ever lacked for martyrs willing to kill and be killed for the “cause”. </p> <p> <strong>Modernising the war on unbelief</strong> </p> <p> There is, however, a substantial body of research which indicates that fundamentalist movements in the Abrahamic traditions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) are particularly attractive to graduates in the applied sciences (such as engineering, computer programming and other highly technical trades). </p><p>Graduates in the arts and humanities who are trained to read texts critically may be less susceptible to the simplistic religious messages put forward by such movements. Technical specialisations discourage critical thinking. It may be that technicians from “pre-Enlightenment” cultures operate on separate epistemological tracks. The cultural, emotional and spiritual knowledge embedded in the religious tradition they inherit has not been integrated with the technical knowledge they acquire by training and by rote. </p> <p> Their understanding of paradise may be a case in point. Traditional Muslim exegesis - which the fundamentalists bypass - takes a sophisticated view of the heavenly rewards promised to the believer: the <em>imam</em> Ghazali (d 1111), the greatest of the medieval theologians, saw the sexual imagery in the Qur&#39;anic descriptions of paradise as inducements to righteousness: “It is a foretaste of the delights secured for men in paradise, because to make a promise to men of delights they have not tasted would be ineffective…” </p> <p> Similarly, traditionally-trained scholars take a more nuanced view of duty of <em>jihad</em>than today’s fundamentalists. In classical jurisprudence <em>jihad</em> is a collective duty which is only valid if a sufficient number of people take part in it. War against the unbelievers may not be mounted without summoning them to Islam or submission before the attack. Clearly a terrorist raid conducted without warning satisfies neither of these conditions. Mainstream Islamic doctrine would deny the rewards of martyrdom to the takers of innocent life. </p> <p> The issue revolves around a theological question which has caused considerable controversy within the Islamic movement in recent decades. The Qur&#39;anic discourse on <em>jihad</em> was based on the duty to fight the unbelievers – Mohammed’s Meccan opponents who rejected his message. Their condition was one of ignorance - <em>jahiliya</em>: a word which also carries connotations of paganism, arrogance, and stubbornness. Although revival movements throughout Islamic history invariably characterised their opponents as “infidels”, for most authors up to modern times the <em>jahiliya</em> remained the “period of ignorance” before the coming of Mohammed. </p><p>Modern Islamic ideologues have given it a new definition: for them it refers not to the past condition of the pre-Islamic Arabs, but to the present condition of Islam, in which the people are ignorant and the rulers have effectively apostasised. </p> <p> The new definition of <em>jahiliya</em> was formulated by Sayyid Abu Ala al-Mawdudi (1903-79), the influential Indo-Pakistani Islamist ideologue and founder of the <em>Jamaat-i-Islami</em>, the Pakistani version of the Muslim Brotherhood. </p><p>It was adopted by the Egyptian revolutionary ideologue Sayyid Qutb (1906-66) who saw <em>jahiliya</em> everywhere: “Humanity today is living in a large brothel! One has only to glance at its press, films, fashion shows, beauty contests, ballrooms, wine bars, and broadcasting stations! Or observe its mad lust for naked flesh, provocative postures, and sick, suggestive statements in literature, the arts and the mass media! And add to all this the system of usury which fuels man’s voracity for money and engenders vile methods for its accumulation and investment, in addition to fraud, trickery, and blackmail dressed up in the garb of law…” </p> <p> “Today we are in the midst of a <em>jahiliya</em> similar to, or even worse than the <em>jahiliya</em> that was ‘squeezed out’ by Islam. Everything about us is <em>jahiliya</em>: the concepts of mankind and their beliefs, their customs and traditions, the sources of their culture, their arts and literature, and their laws and regulations. [This is true] to such an extent that much of what we consider to be Islamic culture and Islamic sources, and Islamic philosophy and Islamic thought… is nevertheless the product of that <em>jahiliya</em>.” </p> <p> <strong>&quot;Born-again&quot; Muslims</strong> </p> <p> Sayyid Qutb, imprisoned and tortured by Gamal Abdel Nasser’s police and executed on what were almost certainly trumped-up charges, concluded that Muslim society in the Arab world and beyond had ceased to be “Islamic”, having reverted to the condition of <em>jahiliya</em>. Just as God had authorised Mohammed to fight the Meccan pagans before they eventually submitted to Islam, so Qutb in his prison writings provided the rationale that would later be used to justify the assassination of President Anwar al-Sadat in October 1981, and the Islamist attacks on the Egyptian and other nominally Muslim governments, on western personnel and tourists. </p> <p> Though Qutb himself never explicitly advocated violence against individuals, the myth of the <em>jahiliya</em> state, supported by the west, sustains Islamist militants from Algeria to the Philippines. Yet before his “conversion” to Islam, Qutb had been a member of the Egyptian intellectual elite. A protegé of the writer Taha Hussein and the poet Abbas Mahmud al-Aqqad, leading lights in Egypt’s liberal western-oriented intelligentsia, he received government funding to study in America, where he attended universities in Washington DC, Colorado and California. It was exposure to western (particularly American) culture, not ignorance, that led to his revulsion. His is the paradigmatic case of the “born-again” Muslim who having adopted or absorbed many modern or foreign influences makes a show of discarding them in his search for personal identity and cultural authenticity. </p> <p> The term “fundamentalist” may or may not be appropriate when applied to Muslim radicals, but in Qutb’s case it is problematic. Far from espousing received theological certainties or defending “Muslim society” against foreign encroachments, his understanding of Islam seems almost Kierkegaardian in its individualism: his “authentic” Muslim is one who espouses a very modern kind of revolution “against the deification of men, against injustice, and against political, economic, racial and religious prejudice.” </p> <p> <strong>The Saudi boomerang</strong> </p> <p> It may be too early to say how far the men who hijacked the four American airliners and committed the greatest terrorist atrocity in history were influenced by Qutbist doctrines. Osama bin Laden is reported to have studied with Sayyid Qutb’s brother Mohammed after his “conversion” to Islam. Mohammed initially shared his brother’s radicalism, although in the debate among the militants that followed Sadat’s assassination, Mohammed eventually sided with the moderates who rejected the strategy of pronouncing <em>takfir</em> (declaration of infidelity) against other Muslims. </p><p>But if press reports are to be believed, at least one of the hijackers, the Egyptian-born Mohammed Atta, fits the Qutbist mould in many respects. A brilliant student of architecture and town-planning at the technical university of Hamburg, he seems to have experienced a dramatic conversion to Islamic fundamentalism shortly before completing his thesis (the equivalent of an MSc in town planning) which earned him a 1.0 - the highest possible mark). </p><p>After returning from Egypt where he had temporarily grown a thick bushy beard he began shying from any physical contact with women - the hallmark of fundamentalist piety. Thereafter he appears to have led a double life, showing unusual courtesy and consideration to strangers while planning and training for his murderous attack. </p> <p> Atta’s “schizophrenic” behaviour seems to dramatise the conflict that also occurred in Sayyid Qutb’s mind after he abandoned his love affair with the west and reverted to “Islam”. In both cases, of course, this was far from being the received Islam or what scholars of religion call “cumulative tradition”; rather, it was a brand-new, invented Islam that drew on selected elements of this tradition but also incorporated, without acknowledgment, many “western” ideas - from the revolutionary puritanism of Robespierre to the “propaganda of the deed” advocated by the Baader-Meinhof gang. </p> <p> The cultural and religious schizophrenia experienced by a man like Mohammed Atta is microcosmic when compared to that of a whole society. Modern Saudi Arabia (where Osama bin Laden’s father, a street-porter from Aden, made a fortune by constructing palaces for princes) exemplifies the paradox of a hi-tech society wedded to a pre-modern conservative theology. </p><p>The chief religious dignitary, Sheikh bin Baz, still holds a Ptolemaic or geocentric view of the cosmos based on his reading of the Qur&#39;an. Yet Saudi Arabia has bought into the US space programme, sending the first and so far the only Muslim astronaut into orbit. </p> <p> Oil, the source of Saudi wealth, has been the “fuel of fundamentalism” - ever since the Stewart brothers of southern California used the money they made in the oil business to fund the conservative Christian publications that brought the “f-word” into the English language. Because the extraction process is largely technical and depersonalised, the creation of oil wealth (unlike wealth acquired through manufacturing) has not necessitated the intellectual or social transformations and the evolving relations of production that occurred in older industrialised societies. </p> <p> Saudi Arabia buys in its technology wholesale and houses its guest-workers and hired technocrats in foreigners-only compounds in order to protect its society and the Wahhabi version of Islam underpinning it from foreign influences. This strategy, however, has failed to insulate it against the radical religio-political currents sweeping through the region. Paradoxically, it has assisted their spread through its sponsorship of such organisations as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Muslim World League. Having assisted in the globalisation of radical Islam Saudi Arabia is now one of its principal targets. What happened in New York and Washington exemplifies the contradictions between Saudi Arabia’s hired technocracy and its religious conservatism. </p> <p> <strong>The Qur’an as training manual</strong> </p> <p> The people of Pharaoh, according to the Qur’an, rejected God’s warnings and were punished for their sins [54: 41-2] as were the people of Thamud, who, rejecting the teaching of the Prophet Salih, were destroyed by a single blast that turned them into “dried-up crumbling twigs” [54:31]. Just as the assassins of Anwar al-Sadat in 1981 identified the Egyptian president with the evil figure of Pharaoh in the Qur’an, so it is reasonable to speculate that the perpetrators of the 11 September massacres in New York and Washington may have seen - in their dying moments - the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre as the pillars of Pharaoh’s temple. </p><p></p><p>Although liberal Muslims and concerned western leaders are at pains to deny any connection between American atrocities and the Islamic faith, the “punishment stories” in the Qur’an, understood literally, can be read as operational briefings by those who see themselves as agents of the divine wrath. </p> Conflict Ideas The Americas faith & ideas 9/11: islamic worlds conflicts Malise Ruthven Original Copyright Thu, 10 Sep 2009 23:15:00 +0000 Malise Ruthven 103 at Antichrist: the visual theology of Lars Von Trier <p> Lars von Trier is a tantalising film-director who provokes his audiences sometimes to the point of humiliation. He is also a master of visual theology. His <em>Antichrist</em> is the antithesis of Mel Gibson's tawdry and emotive <em>The</em> <em>Passion of the Christ</em>, offering as it does an exploration of the violent underbelly of the Christian story of sin and redemption. If <em>Antichrist</em> offers us any glimpse into the tortured psyche of its <a href="">director</a>, then it is a psyche sculpted around a visceral Catholicism of a much darker and more existentially credible kind than Gibson's lurid fantasies of crucifixion. A number of critics at the <a href="">Cannes</a> film festival derided von Trier for his dedication of <em>Antichrist</em> to <a href="">Andrei Tarkovsky</a>, and in doing so missed their affinity: for like the great Russian director, von Trier has a capacity to use the moving image as a celluloid icon through which to offer us glimpses into the depths of the Christian unconscious with its metaphysical terrors and yearnings. </p> <p> <a href="" target="_blank"><img src="" alt="" align="left" /></a> </p> <p> In von Trier's <a href=""><em>Breaking the Waves</em></a>, the female character Bess (Emily Watson) is a Christ-like figure, a disturbing representation of mysticism and madness who sacrifices her life to redeem the man she loves. It is a harrowing and controversial film, not least for the questions it raises about the extent to which Bess's prostitution and murder reinforce violent sexual stereotypes about female sexuality and martyrdom. <em>Antichrist</em> pushes these questions even further by asking us to contemplate what it would mean to portray woman not as a Christ figure but as Eve, who in the Christian theological tradition has been represented as the personification of evil and bringer of death to the world. </p> <p> <span class="pullquote_new">Tina Beattie is <a href="">professor</a> of Catholic studies at Roehampton University, England. Among her books are <a href=""><em>God's Mother, Eve's Advocate</em></a><em> </em>(Allen &amp; Unwin, 2002), <a href=";jsessionid=am1CGCxhB7o4PyMe5Y?s=showproduct&amp;isbn=0415301483"><em>New Catholic Feminism: Theology and Theory</em></a><em> </em>(Routledge 2005), and <a href=";bc=0"><em>The New Atheists: The War on Religion and the Twilight of Reason</em></a><em> </em>(Darton, Longman &amp; Todd, 2007). Her website is <a href="">here</a></span> In the 2nd century, <a href="">Tertullian</a> wrote of women: "You are the devil's gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God's image, man. On account of your desert - that is, death - even the Son of God had to die." Von Trier takes his audience into the malevolent brew of these masculine beliefs and the havoc they wreak in women's lives. </p> <p> <strong>The elusive source </strong> </p> <p> <em>Antichrist</em> is an allegory of the Genesis myth which exposes the psychological terrors of Christian beliefs about the origins of sin. It draws its imagery not only from modern horror films but also from the teeming fears of medieval imaginations with their pervasive sense of evil and the power of Satan. The Antichrist of the film's title is everywhere and nowhere - a viscous and elusive presence that seeps through nature, including human nature, and infects it with futility, death and decay. The Antichrist is perhaps also the God-man himself, alluded to in the figure of the husband, whose misogynistic cult has sacrificed generations of women through persecution, burning and torture, while implanting in women themselves a deeply rooted sense of guilt and self-loathing. </p> <p> The film opens with a prologue of exquisite pathos, filmed in black and white and played in slow motion to ethereal music (the <em>Lascio Chi'o Pianga aria</em> from Handel's <a href=""><em>Rinaldo</em></a> - "Let me weep over my cruel fate, and that I long for freedom"). As the nameless protagonists (superbly played by Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Dafoe) make love, their toddler climbs out of his cot and down the stairs, briefly witnessing his parents' entwined <a href="">bodies</a> before falling to his death in the snow outside. Thus von Trier begins his exploration of the shadow side - the feminine side - of the Christian story of salvation, focusing on the Mary/Eve figure whose child must die to bring redemption to man; but at what cost to her? <span class="pullquote_new">Also by Tina Beattie in <strong>openDemocracy</strong>:<br /><br /> "<a href="/faith-europe_islam/pope_jihad_3914.jsp">Pope Benedict XVI and Islam: beyond words</a>" (17 September 2006)<br /><br /> "<a href="/faith-europe_islam/veil_islam_4026.jsp">Veiling the issues: a distractive debate</a>" (24 October 2006)<br /><br /> "<a href="/democracy-blair/religion_britain_4234.jsp">Religion in Britain in the Blair era</a>" (10 January 2007)<br /><br /> "<a href="/globalization-institutions_government/christian_africa_4347.jsp">Religion's cutting edge: lessons from Africa</a>" (14 February 2007)<br /><br /> "<a href="/article/faith_ideas/the_new_atheists">The end of postmodernism: the &lsquo;new atheists' and democracy</a>" (20 December 2007)<br /><br /> "<a href="/article/faith_ideas/europe_islam/sharia_law_uk">Rowan Williams and sharia law</a>" (12 February 2007)<br /><br /> "<a href="/article/the-dark-k-night-of-a-postmodern-world">The dark (k)night of a postmodern world</a>" (21 August 2008)<br /><br /> "<a href="/article/along-the-precipice-visions-of-atheism-in-london">Along the precipice: visions of atheism in London</a>" (6 November 2008)<br /><br /> "<a href="/article/banksy-in-bristol">Banksy in Bristol</a>" (24 June </span> </p> <p> Von Trier's woman is Madonna and whore, a tender and grieving <em>piet&agrave;</em> and a voracious and deadly seductress. In flashbacks we see how, the summer before her child's death, she had taken him to a cabin in a remote forest known as "Eden" to work on her doctoral thesis. Her topic was gynocide - a term coined by feminists to refer to the persecution and killing of women, particularly in the Christian tradition. As she studied she became convinced that the knowledge she sought was a lie, and that women really are guilty of the evil of which they have been accused. And so this young mother becomes von Trier's Eve, seeker of forbidden knowledge, bringer of death, bearer of the guilt of the human race, cause of the death of the Son of Man. </p> <p> The husband is a therapist who decides to take control of his wife's rehabilitation, offering himself as her confessor and saviour as she plunges into the depths of inconsolable grief and madness over the death of her child. When she admits to him that she is terrified of the forest, he insists they go back there so that she can confront and rationalise her fears. Thus this human pair - Adam and Eve, everyman and everywoman - cross over a bridge which symbolises the boundary between culture and nature, reason and chaos, sanity and madness: the bridge into hell. The narrative of the film disintegrates as von Trier <a href="">takes</a> his archetypal western man of reason through the nightmares of his most repressed and irrational fears - the swamp of violent female sexuality and the savagery of nature. </p> <p> There are several scenes where the husband tries to analyse his wife's fear of the forest. She tells him that her greatest fear is not the forest but something else. He draws a triangle and writes "Eden (garden)"&nbsp; near the top, leaving a question-mark in the top position as he tries to find a word for the real source of her fear. At one point, she tells him that nature is "Satan's Church', and he puts Satan in the top position. Then, as he discovers the depths of her sense of personal evil and blame, he puts the word "me" - her ultimate fear is herself - only to cross it out again. I was reminded of <a href="">Paul Ricoeur</a>'s study of Genesis, in which he ponders on the pre-existence of evil in the Garden of Eden, suggesting that we find ourselves in a world in which evil precedes us as an unnameable mystery. The symbols of the fall pervade this film, but the serpent never appears. Whatever the source of evil, it has already done its work before we enter this poisoned Eden. </p> <p> <strong><a href="" target="_blank"><img src="" alt="" width="341" height="191" align="baseline" /></a></strong> </p> <p> <strong>The gynocidal story</strong> </p> <p> <a href="">Lars von Trier</a> made <em>Antichrist</em> during a time of deep depression, and his antipathy to therapists is well known. Yet his target here is not just the therapy industry, but the controlling power of the rational masculine mind which refuses to acknowledge the mystery of good and evil, the primal chaos of nature, and those aspects of human experience which are beyond language and the control of reason. If it is a condemnation of modern psychotherapy, the film is also an oblique homage to Sigmund Freud who dared to venture into the forest of our darkest and most haunted dreams. </p> <p> A recurring motif is the three beggars who symbolise grief, pain and despair and who provide the chapter titles for the film which, like <em>Breaking the Waves</em>, has its narrative interrupted by title pages: Grief, Pain (Chaos Reigns), Despair (Gynocide) and The Three Beggars. It might be pushing the symbolism too far to suggest that these allude to the beggars in Russian folklore who, like Christ, offer wisdom and compassion through suffering - it is hard to find any redemptive message in von Trier's portrayal of suffering here. The epilogue has a repeat of the Handel aria but it offers a kitsch fantasy of redemption. The man - saviour turned murderer - is wounded but alive in an Eden apparently restored to its original goodness, while the women whose dismembered bodies have recently littered the forest floor rise up in a general resurrection. But it is an ironic and mocking ending. </p> <p> Whatever the meaning of redemption, the mystery of evil remains, and von Trier seems to imply that no resurrection or return to Eden can erase the gynocidal story which precipitates the biblical drama. As the closing credits rolled, I for one was left wondering whether those women were supposed to represent the redeemed at the heavenly banquet, or a hoard of vengeful harpies about to set upon the solitary man. </p> <p> <strong>The mother of sorrows</strong> </p> <p> So what to make of this? <em>Antichrist</em> has been condemned for being misogynistic and anti-Christian, but I think this is simplistic. Perhaps von Trier is even pointing a finger at those critics who seek to deny the chtonian depths of the human psyche by their moral posturing. The woman in this film is a vengeful and violent force of nature, but the film invites another reading too. She is also the <em>mater dolorosa</em>, the mother of sorrows whose grief is too vast to be contained in a world dominated by the forces of objective and rationalising masculinity. The more the man seeks to control her, the more uncontrollable she becomes, mutating into the woman of Genesis who is condemned to bear her children in pain and longs for the husband who will lord it over her (Genesis 3:16), but whose child will also be the source of their redemption. </p> <p> There is a scene when the woman describes hearing her son's voice crying in the forest. She goes in search of him but he seems to be nowhere and everywhere. Suddenly, the camera pans up so that we have a God's eye view, and the child's cry becomes the cry of a cosmic Christ, suffering for the sins of the world. This imagery is reinforced by the mother's subsequent discovery of her child, playing in the cabin with a piece of wood in a pose reminiscent of paintings of the young Christ in his father's carpentry workshop, foreshadowing the wood of the cross. Later, the woman will use that same piece of wood in a castrating attack on her husband, in one of the film's most disturbing and explicit scenes of sexual mutilation and abuse. </p> <p> This Eve is not the passive victim of male control. She seeks vengeance, allowing her terror of abandonment and forsakenness to drive her to extremes of sadistic and masochistic violence as she seeks to entrap the man, so that audiences have been appalled by the brutality of the film. But that may be part of its oblique message. Audiences of horror films have an apparently insatiable appetite for the penetration, mutilation and murder of female bodies. Just like those medieval images of burning and tortured women, the cinema reveals us to be a gynocidal culture, accepting as normal the mutilation and abuse of women by men, but horrified when it is women who become the abusers. </p> <p> <strong>The missing half</strong> </p> <p> Nevertheless, one is left with the uneasy question as to whether von Trier simply adds to the catalogue of gynocidal horrors which he <a href=";var_recherche=von+trier">exposes</a>. Ultimately, it is not the woman but the man who survives, as the crucified one becoming the crucifier, and the woman inflicts upon herself the most savage sexual punishment for the evil of which she stands accused in her own eyes. </p> <p> These ambiguities are part of the film's disturbing potency. Von Trier peels away the veneer of a domesticated, civilised religion and shows us the human condition as it appears in the darker, more pessimistic aspects of the Christian tradition, suggesting a fall into evil which plunges man, woman and nature into a state of savage alienation and violence. </p> <p> One can of course argue that this is a deeply distorted reading of Christianity, for the woman at the heart of that tradition is Mary, the New Eve, whose divine motherhood symbolises God's peace with creation and the goodness and grace of woman redeemed. Yet as many feminists point out, Mary has occupied a position of unique purity and holiness in the texts and traditions of Catholic Christianity, while all other women have been identified with Eve as a primordial force of nature, chaos and death which must be resisted and controlled by the rational masculine mind. Von Trier might only tell half the story, but it is the half which has too often been allowed to define the whole in the history of western religion and culture. <!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> 72 544x376 </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> Normal 0 </xml><![endif]--><style> </style><!--[if gte mso 10]> <style> /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman";} </style> <![endif]--></p> <p> </p><table border="0" cellspacing="5" cellpadding="5" width="500" height="200" bgcolor="#e3f2f9"><tbody><tr><td> <p> Among <strong>openDemocracy's </strong>essays on world <strong><a href="/arts-Film/debate.jsp">cinema</a></strong>: </p> <p> Rosemary Bechler, "<a href="/arts-Film/article_561.jsp">All our (Gothic) yesterdays: the really special relationship</a>" (25 April 2002) </p> <p> Maryam Maruf, "<a href="/arts-Film/article_645.jsp">Spider-man!</a>" (31 October 2002) </p> <p> Geoff Andrews, "<a href="/arts-Film/pasolini_2982.jsp">The life and death of Pier Paolo Pasolini</a>" (1 November 2005) </p> <p> Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, "<a href="/arts-Film/iwo_jima_4381.jsp">Letters to the past: Iwo Jima and Japanese memory</a>" (23 February 2007) </p> <p> Stephen Howe, "<a href="/arts-Film/last_king_4241.jsp">A murderous muse: Idi Amin and <em>The</em> <em>Last</em> <em>King</em> <em>of</em> <em>Scotland</em></a>" (12 January 2007) </p> <p> Maggie Gee, "<a href="/arts-Film/babel_4255.jsp">Babel: worlds within worlds</a>" (17 January 2007) </p> <p> Birgitta Steene, "<a href="/article/art_culture/film/bergman_sweden">Ingmar Bergman and Sweden: an epoch's end</a>" (6 August 2007) </p> <p> Patrice de Beer, "<a href="/article/film/calle_sante_fe"><em>Calle</em> <em>Santa</em> <em>F&eacute;</em>: between Chile and freedom</a>" (16 January 2008) </p> <p> Grace Davies, "<a href="/article/5050/arts_cultures/4months_3weeks_2days">One day of life: a Romanian odyssey</a>" (13 March 2008) </p> <p> Tarek Osman, "<a href="/article/art_culture/film/youssef-chahine-the-life-world-of-film">Youssef Chahine, the life-world of film</a>" (29 July 2008) </p> </td> </tr></tbody></table><p> &nbsp; </p> <p> &nbsp; </p> <p> &nbsp; </p> <p> &nbsp; </p> <!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> 72 544x376 </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> Normal 0 </xml><![endif]--><style> </style><!--[if gte mso 10]> <style> /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman";} </style> <![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> 72 544x376 </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> Normal 0 </xml><![endif]--><style> </style><!--[if gte mso 10]> <style> /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman";} </style> <![endif]--> Culture Ideas arts & cultures faith & ideas film Tina Beattie Creative Commons normal email Thu, 13 Aug 2009 16:30:32 +0000 Tina Beattie 48476 at Leszek Kolakowski: thinker for our time <p> A few weeks ago I was at a dinner in Bucharest, hosted by a small centre-right think-tank, at which the discussion focused on the continuing dominance in western universities of certain familiar styles of intellectual subversion: postmodernism, Michel Foucault, American feminism and the occasional bureaucratised version of these things in <a href=",,4399618,00.html">Jürgen Habermas</a>, <a href="">Ulrich Beck</a> and <a href="">Anthony Giddens</a>.   </p> <p class="pullquote_new"> Roger Scruton is a writer, philosopher and public commentator. Among his recent books are <a href=";CountryID=1&amp;ImprintID=2&amp;BookID=125092"><em>Gentle Regrets: Thoughts From a Life</em></a> (Continuum, 2005); <a href=";CountryID=1&amp;ImprintID=2&amp;BookID=123511"><em>News from Somewhere: On Settling</em></a> (Continuum, 2006); <a href=""><em>Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged</em></a> (Encounter Books, 2007); <a href=""><em>A Dictio</em><em>n</em><em>ary of Political Thought</em></a> (Palgrave Macmillan, 3rd edition, 2007); <a href=""><em>Beauty</em></a> (Oxford University Press, 2009); <a href=";SntUrl=145104"><em>Understanding Music: Philosophy and I</em><em>n</em><em>terpretation</em></a> (Continuum, 2009); and <a href=";SntUrl=145104"><em>I Drink Therefore I Am: A Philos</em><em>o</em><em>pher&#39;s Guide to Wine</em></a> (Continuum, 2009). His website is <a href="">here</a><br /> <br /> Roger Scruton&#39;s many articles in <strong>openDemocracy</strong> include:<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/node/2783">Maurice Cowling&#39;s achievement</a>&quot; (26 August 2005)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/node/3492">Jane Jacobs (1916-2006): cities for life</a>&quot; (2 May 2006)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/node/3325">Power inquiry, public debate</a>&quot; (6 March 2006)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/node/3889">The great hole of history</a>&quot; (11 September 2006)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/globalization-kingdom/england_identity_4578.jsp">England: an identity in question</a>&quot; (1 May 2007)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/democracy_power/people/richard_rorty_legacy">Richard Rorty&#39;s legacy</a>&quot; (12 June 2007)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/art_culture/film/ingmar_bergman">Ingmar Bergman: the sense of the world</a>&quot; (4 August 2007)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/faith_ideas/europe_islam/secular_world">Islamic law in a secular world</a>&quot; (14 February 2008)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/alexander-solzhenitsyn-the-line-within">Alexander Solzhenitsyn: the line within</a>&quot; (7 August 2008) </p> <p> Most of those present had spent time in a western university, and all had been troubled by the curriculum they had encountered there. In their eyes the western curriculum seems to have no other appeal than that which comes from deconstructing the forms of authority and order which have come down to us from our Judaeo-Christian culture. And yet that appeal is enough: nothing else seems required for academic legitimacy, and even if you write the kind of constipated sociologese of a Habermas or a Giddens, you can be guaranteed a position by those who would read you only so far as to extract the subversive and postmodern message. </p> <p> Someone put on the table a copy of the first volume of <a href=""><em>Main Currents of Marxism</em></a>, which had that day appeared for the first time in Romanian, and invited us all to contemplate it. The question on everybody&#39;s lips was &quot;How did he get away with it?&quot; How did Leszek Kolakowski not only survive coming into the open with the most devastating critique of Marxism and its intellectual fellow-travellers in existence, but go on to enjoy an academic <a href="">career</a> of unparalleled success in western universities, becoming a fellow of All Souls College at Oxford University, winning the MacArthur &quot;genius&quot; prize, normally reserved for prominent leftists, and the million-dollar <a href="">John W Kluge prize</a> for a lifetime&#39;s achievement in the humanities? He picked up honorary degrees and awards by the score, and retired to a comfortable life in Oxford, there to write <a href="">books</a> on subjects normally held to be marginal, if not shocking, by the liberal establishment - topics such as man&#39;s religious need, the concept of the sacred, and the need for a counter-Enlightenment in defining our spiritual home. </p> <p> I was not able to answer the question. For I too have always been puzzled by Kolakowski&#39;s unorthodox <a href="/article/leszek-kolakowski-1927-2009-a-life-of-courage">journey</a>. He fled Poland in 1968, part of an intellectual exodus that later included <a href="">Włodzimierz Brus</a> - whose continued adherence to Marxism facilitated an extended career in Oxford, having nothing else to recommend him to the English intellectual establishment. While Brus achieved only a brief moment of vicarious notoriety, when the attempt was made in the late 1990s to <a href="">extradite</a> his wife to Poland to stand trial for her <a href="">alleged</a> crimes during the Stalinist period, Kolakowski went from strength to strength. </p> <p> <strong>The grand survey</strong> </p> <p> <em>Main Currents of Marxism</em> began appearing in English in 1978, and made little impact on the curriculum in London University, where I was <a href="">teaching</a>, and where philosophy students had the chance to take an option in Marxism. The official view was that this book was a piece of marginal continental baggage, left over from 19th-century ways of seeing things. Kolakowski, it was said, had failed to see the real scientific potential of the Marxist vision, and his book was far too mired in literary controversies to deserve close attention. </p> <p> Elsewhere, however, the impact of <em>Main Currents</em> began to be felt. It was impossible to dismiss it as a mere anti-communist diatribe: Kolakowski had himself been a Marxist, had joined the Communist Party in the period of post-war <a href="">reconstruction</a>, and had for a while shared the illusion of many Poles that communism offered the only secular alternative to fascism - the only way of organising a modern society that would remove oppressive relations between people and ensure some kind of social justice overall. He had grown <a href="">away</a> from communism, like most of his countrymen, in a state of disillusion rather than contempt, and had meanwhile read widely and deeply in the Marxist literature, so that <em>Main Currents</em> remains the most comprehensive <a href="">survey</a> of Marxism in existence, and one that traces the intellectual roots of the Marxist idea right back to tendencies in western thinking that were already revealed in the <em>Enneads</em> of <a href="">Plotinus</a>. </p> <p> Most impressive, in my view, is the third volume of the work, in which Kolakowski directs his attention to the post-war forms of intellectual Marxism which were reshaping the western curriculum, and which were the real cause of those changes which had so appalled my Romanian friends. Kolakowski treats characters like <a href="">Antonio Gramsci</a>, <a href="">György Lukács</a>, <a href="">Louis Althusser</a> and <a href="">Theodor Adorno</a> with enough respect to make his criticisms stick, and he perceptively traces the French structuralist and post-structuralist movements of the 1960s to the way in which Marxist ways of seeing things had become institutionalised in French intellectual life. </p> <p> The book does contain one huge lacuna - <a href="">Michel Foucault</a>, who is not menioned, even though it was he who was to pick up the banner that had been dropped in the gutter by <a href="">Jean-Paul Sartre</a>. My own view is that Foucault owes his appeal to perpetuating the Marxist way of seeing things beneath a non-judgmental veneer. He is giving what Marx hoped to give in <a href=""><em>The German Ideology</em></a> - an account of &quot;bourgeois&quot;&#39; society and its institutions that would remove the mask, and reveal the underlying workings of power. This lacuna aside, however, Kolakowski&#39;s survey of post-war Marxism provides a better explanation than any source that I know, of the decline of the humanities in western universities. </p> <p> <strong>The human secret</strong> </p> <p> In later <a href="">life</a> Kolakowski showed a growing attraction to the Catholic heritage in which he had been raised. It is never clear, in his later writings, precisely where he stands on the question of God&#39;s existence, Christ&#39;s resurrection and those minor details like the immaculate conception and the virgin birth. Nevertheless, he writes with enormous respect not just for those who believe in those things, but for the concepts which they use to organize their experience and to make sense of the world. In particular, he emphasised the great loss, as he saw it, which has ensued with the disappearance of the sacred from the worldview of western intellectuals. &quot;With the disappearance of the sacred&quot;, he wrote, &quot;arises one of the most dangerous illusions of our civilization - the illusion that there are no limits to the changes that human life can undergo, that society is ‘in principle&#39; an endlessly flexible thing, and that to deny this flexibility and this perfectibility is to deny man&#39;s total autonomy and thus to deny man himself.&quot; </p> <p> He was increasingly concerned with the need, as he saw it, to fill the god-shaped hole in the scheme of things which had been made by the Enlightenment, and which Marxism had tried to fill with an ideology of equality - an ideology that left its followers with a disenchanted vision of the social world, and an inability to find meaning in anything save political activism and the pursuit of power. He defended capitalism in the same spirit as Winston Churchill defended democracy, as the least worst system available. </p> <p> &quot;Capitalism&quot;, he wrote in 1995, &quot;developed spontaneously and organically from the spread of commerce. Nobody planned it, and it did not need an all-embracing ideology, whereas socialism was an ideological construction. Ultimately, capitalism is human nature at work - that is, man&#39;s greed allowed to follow its course - whereas socialism is an attempt to institutionalize and enforce fraternity. It seems obvious by now that a society in which greed is the main motivation of human action, for all of its repugnant and deplorable aspects, is incomparably better than a society based on compulsory brotherhood, whether in national or international socialism.&quot; </p> <p class="pullquote_new"> Also in <strong>openDemocracy</strong>:<br /> <br /> Adam Szostkiewicz, &quot;<a href="/article/leszek-kolakowski-1927-2009-a-life-of-courage">Leszek Kolakowski, 1927-2009: a master figure</a>&quot; (21 July 2009) </p> <p> As the quotation reveals, <a href="">Kolakowski&#39;s</a> thought was marked to the end of his life by his former Marxism. That he should see capitalism as motivated by greed alone, overlooking the beautiful constructs of contractual obligation, accountability and the rule of law, shows just how much the Marxist marginalising of such things as mere &quot;superstructure&quot; had left its mark on him. </p> <p> Those who knew Kolakowski will remember his remarkable liveliness, achieved in defiance of long-standing physical frailty. I would encounter him, for the most part, at conferences and academic events. Nothing about him was more impressive than the humour and modesty with which he would deliver his opinions. He wore his scholarship lightly and showed a remarkable ability, until his <a href="">death</a> on 17 July 2009 at the age of 82, to respond with freshness and understandiong to the arguments of others. </p> <p> And perhaps this was his secret, and the explanation of the way in which he &quot;got away with it&quot; - that he never entered the foreground of others&#39; judgment as a dangerous opponent, but always as a sceptical friend. No alarm-bells sounded when he began his gentle arguments; and even if, at the end of them, nothing remained of the subversive orthodoxies, nobody felt damaged in their ego or defeated in their life&#39;s project, by arguments which from any other source would have inspired the greatest indignation. </p> Ideas faith & ideas people europe Roger Scruton Creative Commons normal email Wed, 29 Jul 2009 03:23:30 +0000 Roger Scruton 48415 at Leszek Kolakowski, 1927-2009: a master figure <p> Poland, and Europe, are losing our best. A year ago it was <a href="/article/bronislaw-geremek-polish-and-european-liberal">Bronislaw Geremek</a>, now it is Leszek Kolakowski. This great philosopher and public intellectual spent years after 1956 in brave and critical opposition to the communist orthodoxy that ruled Poland, before moving to the west in 1968. He chose to believe what he saw with his own eyes and could judge with his own mind, not what the party preached. When the gap became intolerable, he dared publicly to speak in defence of his core values: reason, truth and decency.   <span class="pullquote_new">Adam Szostkiewicz is a writer and journalist with the weekly magazine <a href=",1,15/"><em>Pol</em><em>i</em><em>tyka</em></a> in Warsaw <br /> <br /> Also by Adam Szostkiewicz in <strong>openDemocracy</strong>: <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/node/2858">The Polish lifeboat</a>&quot; (22 September 2005) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/democracy-protest/ironic_2963.jsp">The Polish autumn</a>&quot; (26 October 2005) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/faith-catholicchurch/catholicmedia_3450.jsp">Poland&#39;s past and future pope</a>&quot; (13 April 2006) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/democracy-protest/poland_marches_3990.jsp">Poland marches: the people sound the alarm</a>&quot; (12 October 2006) <br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/bronislaw-geremek-polish-and-european-liberal">Bronislaw Geremek: Polish and European liberal</a>&quot; (15 July 2008)</span> </p> <p> As a young man <a href=",100694.html">Kolakowski</a> was himself a communist activist in post-1945 Poland, but soon turned into a socialist critic of the abuses of &quot;really existing socialism&quot;; this earned him the enmity of the establishment, which in <a href="/article/globalisation/the_polish_march_students_workers_and_1968">1968</a> forced him from his post as a philosophy professor at Warsaw University. His journey continued as he became a renowned champion of human rights and democracy, supporting peaceful <a href="">struggles</a> for change in Poland in a way that made him a hugely influential figure during the Solidarity era. </p> <p> A ban on his ability to work or publish could not stop him inspiring Poland&#39;s independent-minded scholars and students, a deep influence that continued during his long years in the west. His prolific <a href="">output</a> included many articles, essays and books; most substantially, a three-volume intellectual history of the rise and fall of Marxism, which won him renown in Europe and the United States. In official Poland, he continued to be <em>persona non grata</em> until the transformations of 1989 and after.   </p> <p> But Kolakowski&#39;s work filtered through via unofficial channels: copies of his <a href=""><em>Main Currents of Marxism</em></a> trilogy were smuggled into Poland, and widely (if secretly) read by students and intellectuals - as well as high-ranking party and government functionaries. He acutely identified the loss of belief in official doctrines: &quot;This ideology was supposed to mould the thinking of people. But it became so weak and ridiculous that nobody believed in it, neither the ruled nor the rulers.&quot; </p> <p> <strong>The world and Poland too</strong> </p> <p> When the democratic opposition movement became stronger in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the gestation of the Solidarity movement, underground printers took the risk of jail by reprinting <a href="">Leszek Kolakowski&#39;s</a> writings.  </p> <p> Among the most popular of these were Kolakowski&#39;s &quot;manifesto of hope against hopelessness&quot; and his short <a href="">presentation</a> on &quot;how to be a liberal-conservative-socialist&quot;. When I read those clandestine (an added thrill!) musings I was overwhelmed: <em>that&#39;s</em> the way, I thought, <em>that&#39;s</em> the path I want to pursue. In reacting this way I was only one of the many who found in Kolakowski an inspiration to think and act for myself in my then captive country. The <a href="/democracy-protest/solidarity_2806.jsp">Solidarity</a> generation to which I belonged found Leszek Kolakowski to be one of its incarnations of courage, intellectual and political.  </p> <p> What fascinated us was Kolakowski&#39;s <a href="">evolution</a> from a radical leftwing and anti-clerical dogmatism to an open-minded, self-critical, sometimes even self-mocking, liberalism. It was a liberalism that allowed a serious and unbiased analysis of religion. He considered the Christian gospels a foundation of European culture, but he also took a great interest in Buddhism. (I remember vigorously discussing the Buddha with Kolakowski in the home of his Polish friends in London).  </p> <p> We were at the time - the early 1980s, the years of martial law after the crackdown on Solidarity - a pluralist crowd: a mix of socialists, anarchists, nationalists, Catholics. We argued about his ideas, but seldom denied his importance. What mattered was that he had changed his mind about the system, and continued to think for himself.  </p> <p> He saw through the deceits of the socialism that had been built in Poland, and  identified the contradiction between its proclaimed social and democratic ideals and the harsh <a href="">realities</a> of the project to create a &quot;new socialist man&quot; -  to be implemented under the dictatorship of the party.         </p> <p> In one of Kolakowsk&#39;s late and recently published interviews with Anna Bikont, he described his private library in Oxford, where he lived and worked as a fellow at All Souls College for many years until his <a href="">death</a> on 17 July 2009. There were all sorts of books, on almost every subject: he was one of the curious kind. This was a philosopher who loved poetry, which he read in Polish, German, French (Baudelaire was a favourite), and Russian. There were the great European novels, books on art, the Jewish and other religions, on the Bible, on witches and the devil - everything under the sun. </p> <p> The cultural Leszek Kolakowski was as <a href="">important</a> as the political one. He was an incarnation of what seems to me the very best in the 20th-century Polish and European intelligentsia. Never a guru, always a master.  </p> Ideas democracy & power faith & ideas people Adam Szostkiewicz Creative Commons normal email Tue, 21 Jul 2009 12:39:18 +0000 Adam Szostkiewicz 48388 at Musawah: solidarity in diversity <!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> </xml><![endif]--><!--[if !mso]> <object classid="clsid:38481807-CA0E-42D2-BF39-B33AF135CC4D" id=ieooui> </object> <style> st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } </style> <![endif]--><style> </style><!--[if gte mso 10]> <style> /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;} </style> <![endif]--> <br /> <p> &quot;This was inspirational. I got the same goose bumps at the rally the day Mandela was released,&quot; grinned Waheeda Amien, a founder of Shura Yabfazi which works to empower Muslim women in South Africa, at the close of the five-day launch of Musawah: a global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family last week. </p> <p> &nbsp; </p> <p> &quot;It speaks to the true you that combines your identities as a feminist and as a Muslim woman,&quot; commented Hadil el-Khouly, a young Egyptian activist who coordinated the young women&#39;s caucus at the event. </p> <p> &nbsp; </p> <p> &quot;For young women especially these battles are very personal: most young women are living at home, have to fit in with society, face pressures to get married. Musawah takes you out of the isolation&quot; </p> <p> &nbsp; </p> <p> &quot;When I began reading and looking for answers, I used to think there were only one or two other women who thought like me. Now I know there are millions!&quot; laughed Shaista Gohir, Executive Director of the Muslim Women&#39;s Network-UK, gesturing towards the Kuala Lumpur conference hall filled with some 250 women activists and scholars - and a handful of men - from Africa, Asia, the Middle East and countries of the North. </p> <p> &nbsp; </p> <p> For one young Uzbek woman who cannot be named for her own safety, &quot;We solved the issues of the laws decades ago. We have the laws. For us the question is the implementation. So I could relate to some of the experiences: like Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia where the laws are in place and we now need to tackle inequality at home.&quot; </p> <p> But for Raissa Jajurie of the Alternative Legal Assistance Centre in the Philippines it is a very different story: &quot;We are a minority group in Mindanao. With the armed struggle going on, it is difficult to look into gender issues among the Muslims, but we are nevertheless taking baby steps. Musawah has inspired us to look at the various possibilities and given us the tools to work with.&quot; </p> <p> &nbsp; </p> <p> Yet the similarities were clearly visible, in particular the misuse of culture and religion to deny women full citizenship and equality in the family. As United Nations Special Rapporteur Yakin Ertürk put it in her keynote speech, &quot;Culture has become the new stage for global wars. Women stand at the centre.&quot; However, the participants in our debate were keen to challenge the dominant understanding which pits human rights against culture: &quot;This meeting has added value to the women&#39;s movement with its approach of bringing <em>fiqh</em> [Muslim jurisprudence] and universal human rights together,&quot; noted Ghada Shawgi of the Khartoum Human Rights Centre, Sudan. </p> <p> &nbsp; </p> <p> Several participants came from countries such as Iran, Mauritania and Uzbekistan where women&#39;s rights activism and public opposition to state gender policies can carry a heavy personal price. Others, such as 31-year old Nassirou Zahara Aboubacar, one of only two women on Niger&#39;s Islamic Council, occupy positions of recognized public authority in their countries. </p> <p> &nbsp; </p> <p> Many women present, especially from North Africa and South Asia had previously used purely secular strategies. But as senior Egyptian feminist Amal Abd el-Hadi explained, &quot;I need to learn now to demystify religion and these claims.&quot; Demystification and indeed ‘desacralization&#39; of supposedly divine edicts was also a demand from participants who have long been feminists working within the framework of religion. We have many women leaders but the problem is that their interpretation of the Qur&#39;an is what the religious men tell them. This has got to change first,&quot; pointed out Djingarey Maiga, from Femmes et Droits Humains in Mali. </p> <p> &nbsp; </p> <p> As Special Rapporteur Ertürk commented: &quot;There is a growing convergence around human rights values, whatever their source may be.&quot; This holistic framework combines Islamic principles, international human rights, national guarantees of non-discrimination, and analysis drawn from lived realities. </p> <p> &nbsp; </p> <p> In many ways, a new way of thinking about gender relationships and the family requires new ways of movement-building, and some of those involved in the initiative believe Musawah offers just this. &quot;A lot of feminist organizing is driven by elites. I see Musawah&#39;s emphasis on people&#39;s daily lives as an opportunity for women at the grassroots to take the lead. It&#39;s really about how they see things in their Muslim contexts,&quot; says Asma&#39;u Joda from the Centre for Women and Adolescent Empowerment in Nigeria. </p> <p> &nbsp; </p> <p> Despite the pressure of media interest and the sheer excitement of the event, the participants refused to be pushed into premature campaigning. &quot;The end of this meeting is not a programme of activities and a structure: we need to build a foundation before we construct the house,&quot; commented Musawah Planning Committee member Kamala Chandrakirana from Indonesia. </p> <p> &nbsp; </p> <p> Nevertheless, one concrete outcome was a clear rejection of the proposal from the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) to produce an alternative to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Another development at the launch was the forming of Musawah caucuses in Africa and among minority communities in the global North, both designed to bring regional perspectives to national campaigns and to the global movement. </p> <p> &nbsp; </p> <p> Although the focus remains on family laws, the synthesis firmly placed Musawah in its wider context. It acknowledged the impact of conflict, authoritarianism and occupation on rights within the family: &quot;We need democracy so there is space to discuss the role of Islam in our public and private lives,&quot; noted Rabéa Naciri of the Association Democratique des Femmes du Maroc. All the many other women&#39;s rights initiatives in Muslim contexts, the struggles of women in other religious traditions to reform their laws, and the global human rights movement were likewise represented at the event. </p> <p> &nbsp; </p> <p> Identifying itself as a ‘knowledge-building movement&#39;, Musawah (whose name means ‘equality&#39; in Arabic) not only bridges diversities in terms of context and approach to women&#39;s rights but also seeks to bring rights activists and Muslim scholars together as part of the process of generating new approaches to equality and justice in the Muslim family. </p> <p> &nbsp; </p> <p> The launch was the first time that such a large number of women&#39;s rights activists from Muslim contexts and scholars had been brought together. Speaking on behalf of the international planning committee of 12 academics and activists from 10 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, Zainah Anwar of Sisters in Islam, Malaysia said, &quot;We hope this will strengthen the arguments used by activists as well as encourage Muslim scholars who support human rights to continue their research. Both of these groups face heavy opposition from some religious groups who claim that ‘non-expert&#39; activists have no right to reinterpret Muslim family laws, and who dismiss the scholarship of those who deviate from patriarchal interpretations.&quot; </p> <p> See also <a href="/article/home-truths-the-demand-for-equality-in-the-muslim-family">Home Truths in the Muslim family</a> </p> <p> See also <a href="/article/email/musawah-there-cannot-be-justice-without-equality">Musawah: there cannot be justice without equality</a> </p> <p> &nbsp; </p> 50.50 50.50 Ideas faith & ideas human rights democratic society Pathways of Women's Empowerment, 2007 - 2010 Cassandra Balchin Creative Commons normal email Mon, 23 Feb 2009 13:55:49 +0000 Cassandra Balchin 47382 at Musawah: there cannot be justice without equality A call for equality and justice &quot;in the Muslim family&quot; is being launched by a group of Muslim scholars and activists who insist that in the 21<sup>st</sup> century &quot;there cannot be justice without equality&quot; between men and women. <p> Musawah (which means ‘equality&#39; in Arabic) insists that change is possible by combining arguments from Islamic teachings, universal human rights principles, fundamental rights and constitutional guarantees, and grounding these arguments in the realities of women and men&#39;s lives in Muslim contexts today. </p> <p> Some 250 scholars and activists from 48 Muslim countries and minority communities will launch Musawah, a global initiative, starting today in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  The launch will include the public presentation of the Musawah Framework for Action, two years in the drafting, with input from activists and scholars from over 20 countries around the Muslim world, (<a href="" target="_blank"></a>, going live on 14 February). Aware that the arguments it contains will be controversial, the Framework has been kept under wraps until today.<a name="_ednref1" href="#_edn1" title="_ednref1">[i]</a> </p> <p> <strong>The Framework</strong> </p> <p> The Framework lays out three principles as the basis for equality and justice in the Muslim family. The first is that &quot;The universal and Islamic values of equality, non-discrimination, justice and dignity are the basis of all human relations.&quot; This bold statement is heresy for a formidable range of potential critics: for universalists who tend to see expressions of religion and culture as incompatible with human rights, and for Islamists who believe Islam&#39;s norms have a different conception of rights. Both cannot envisage religious men and women as feminists, and feminists as finding anything useful in religion. </p> <p> However, the Musawah Framework cites several Qur&#39;anic verses that can be regarded as mandating equality between men and women. While acknowledging that there exist at least four verses that speak of men&#39;s authority over women in the family and gender inequality in society, the drafters of the Framework argue that interpretation is a human act, and that the holy texts must be understood in their contemporary social contexts. &quot;Understandings of justice and injustice change over time,&quot; they explain, noting as an example that slavery used to be a part of Muslim societies, and that laws and practices relating to slavery had to be reconsidered as these societies changed. &quot;Similarly, our family laws and practices must evolve to reflect the Islamic values of equality and justice, reinforce universal human rights norms, and address the realities of families in the twenty-first century.&quot; </p> <p> To assert that Muslim family laws are not divinely ordained but are human interpretations, open to reason and change, is to jump into one of the most contentious debates in Muslim scholarship. Sunni traditionalists assert that after the 10<sup>th</sup> century, the previously vibrant process of diversity in interpretation was correctly shut down, an event known among Muslims as the closing of the Gates of <em>Ijtihad</em> - <em>ijtihad</em> being the process of juristic endeavour. The fear was that diversity would lead to chaos in the Muslim world. Musawah, on the other hand, seems to be arguing that social chaos has anyway arrived in Muslim societies - caused by the injustice in patriarchal interpretations of Muslim family laws. </p> <p> &quot;The provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) are more in line with the <em>Shari‘ah </em>than family laws and practices in many Muslim societies,&quot; says the Framework. </p> <p> Musawah&#39;s second principle declares that &quot;Full and equal citizenship, including full participation in all aspects of society, is the right of every individual.&quot; This apparently simple statement confronts two major sources of tension in many Muslim societies. </p> <p> It places the demand for gender equality within a broad framework of equality, that must then also include all types of minorities within Muslim societies. By reclaiming the concept of citizenship, it also throws down the gauntlet to those who argue that Muslims are either uber or sub-citizens, needing special treatment or to be discriminated against. The vision is of a society where as citizens of the same country, Muslims and non-Muslims alike can comment on human rights in each others&#39; communities. This is no abstract debate. It is alive and kicking, for instance, in Malaysia, the home base for Sisters in Islam, the women&#39;s NGO that initiated the Musawah process. A multiethnic, multi-religious country, it is increasingly fractured along these lines: and it shares this predicament with countries such as Britain where many feel that it is almost impossible for non-Muslims to comment on the mores of British Muslims without ‘causing offence&#39;. </p> <p> The final principle, that &quot;equality between women and men requires equality in the family&quot; highlights the centrality of Muslim family law to gender justice in Muslim societies. It calls for the family to be &quot;a place of security, harmony, support and personal growth for all its members&quot; and &quot;Marriage as a partnership of equals, with mutual respect, affection, communication and decision-making authority between the partners.&quot; </p> <p> In concrete terms, this entails equal rights to choose a spouse or choose not to marry; enter into or dissolve a marriage; equal property rights for men and women; and equal rights and responsibilities of parents regarding their children. Apparently deliberately not specified because it is a given, Musawah&#39;s vision of the happy Muslim family does not include the possibility of polygamy. </p> <p> Women from other religions have trodden similar paths. The charismatic Frances Kissling, founder of Catholics for a Free Choice, as well as Bhikkhuni Dhammananda who had to travel from her native Thailand to Sri Lanka in order to be able to be ordained as a Buddhist monk, are both speaking at the Musawah launch on their experiences of bringing their feminism together with their religion. </p> <p> Musawah is by no means the only international initiative working for women&#39;s human rights in Muslim contexts. The scope and depth of these are often overlooked by analysts and development policy makers, particularly in the global North. The international solidarity network <a href="">Women Living Under Muslim Laws</a> has been linking women across borders and boundaries since the mid-1980s, while more recent research and advocacy initiatives include <a href="">Women&#39;s Empowerment in Muslim Contexts</a>  and <a href="">Women&#39;s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality</a> (WISE). All three will be represented at the Musawah launch, as will international women&#39;s rights allies such as <a href="">Women&#39;s Learning Partnership</a> and Association for <a href="">Women&#39;s Rights in Development</a> (AWID). </p> <p> In so many contexts, the battle lines between progressives, fundamentalists and traditionalists are drawn around issues relating to women&#39;s bodies and autonomy. In this, Muslim societies are no different from contexts where for example Catholic or Hindu fundamentalisms have arisen. </p> <p> &nbsp; </p> <p> &nbsp; </p> <br /> <hr /> <p> <a name="_edn1" href="#_ednref1" title="_edn1">[i]</a> The Framework is accompanied by a resource book <em>WANTED: Equality and Justice in the Muslim Family.</em> </p> <p>   Cassandra Balchin is a freelance researcher, writer and human rights advocacy trainer. Formerly a journalist based in Pakistan, she has published on Muslim family law and international development policy regarding religion. She is on the planning committee of Musawah(Equality). </p> 50.50 50.50 Ideas Middle East Pathways of Women's Empowerment, 2007 - 2010 justice? human rights faith & ideas democratic society Cassandra Balchin Creative Commons normal email Fri, 13 Feb 2009 09:11:57 +0000 Cassandra Balchin 47328 at Barack Obama and the American void <p> There is something desperately lonely about Barack Obama&#39;s universe. One gets the overwhelming sense of someone yearning for connection, for something that binds human beings together, for community and commonality, for what he repeatedly calls &quot;the common good&quot;. This is hardly news. We&#39;ve known since his <a href="">keynote speech</a> at the 2004 Democratic national convention that &quot;there&#39;s not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America - there&#39;s the United States of America.&quot; </p> <p class="pullquote_new"> Simon Critchley is the chair of philosophy at the New School, New York. Among his books is <a href=""><em>The Book of Dead Philosophers</em></a><em> </em>(Granta/Vintage, 2008)<br /> <br /> This article is adapted from remarks delivered at the <a href="">American Political Science Association</a> in Boston on 30 August 2008 and at the New School in New York City on 18 September 2008. An extract from these was also published in <a href=""><em>Harper&#39;s Magazine</em></a> (November 2008) </p> <p> Obama&#39;s remedy to the widespread disillusion with politics in the United States is a reaffirmation of the act of union. This is possible only insofar as it is possible to restore a sense of community to the nation. That, in turn, requires a belief in the common good. In the face of grotesque inequality, governmental sleaze, and generalised anomie, we need &quot;to affirm our bonds with one another&quot;. Belief in the common good is the sole basis for hope. Without belief, there is nothing to be done. Such is the avowedly improbable basis for Obama&#39;s entire push for the <a href="">presidency</a>. </p> <p> <strong>A subjectivity of vision</strong> </p> <p> The obvious criticism one could make is that Obama&#39;s politics is governed by an anti-political fantasy. It lies behind the appeal to the common good, that &quot;no one is exempt from the call to find common ground&quot;; or &quot;not so far beneath the surface, I think, we are becoming more, not less, alike&quot;. This, one might claim, is the familiar delusion of an end to politics, the postulation of a state where we can put aside our differences, overcome partisanship, and come together in order to heal the nation. </p> <p> The same longing for unity governs Obama&#39;s discourse on race, with his call for a black-brown alliance and his appeasing <a href="">remark</a> that &quot;rightly or wrongly, white guilt has largely exhausted itself&quot;. Obama dreams of a society without power relations, without the agonism that constitutes political life. Against such a position one might assert that justice is always an <em>agon</em>, a conflict, and to refuse this assertion is to consign human beings to wallow in some emotional, fusional balm. </p> <p> One might add that the source of this longing for union is its absence. We anxiously want to believe, because we don&#39;t and we can&#39;t. The yearning for the common good comes from the refusal to accept that perhaps Americans have very little in common apart from the elements of a sometimes successful civil religion based around a sentimental, indeed sometimes teary-eyed, attachment to the constitution and a belief in the quasi-divine wisdom of the founding fathers. </p> <p> In the face of George W Bush&#39;s ultra-political presidency - his massive <a href="/node/4452">extension</a> of executive power and his prosecution of a politics of fear based on the identification of an enemy as morally evil - it is not difficult to understand the popularity of Obama&#39;s <a href="">anti-political vision</a>. Against the <a href="/democracy-americanpower/article_2348.jsp">messianic</a> certainties of Bush, Obama promises a return to a beatific liberalism whereby everything is seen <em>sub specie</em> consensus. This is a world where good old democratic deliberation replaces decisionism and where the to and fro of civil conversation replaces religious absolutism. Democracy is not a house to be built but &quot;a conversation to be had&quot;. After eight disastrous years of gross mismanagement, secrecy, and lies, it sounds like an absolutely blissful prospect. </p> <p> True, one might wonder how Obama&#39;s evacuation of power relations in the political realm goes together with his faith in the <em>agon</em> of capitalism, competition, and the salutary effects of free markets. One might also wonder how such a political position might genuinely begin to deal with poverty. But I don&#39;t want to go down the route of the classic critique of liberalism, according to which politics is evacuated in favor of the bifurcation of ethics, on the one hand, and economics, on the other, and the former is the veil of hypocrisy used to conceal the violence of the latter. I do not even want to propose a critique of Obama. Rather, I&#39;d like to describe a puzzlement that I don&#39;t think I am the only one to experience. What fascinates me is what we might call Obama&#39;s subjectivity and how it forms his political vision and how this might begin to explain his extraordinary popular appeal. </p> <p> <strong>An opacity of genius</strong> </p> <p> After watching countless speeches and carefully reading his words, I have absolutely no sense of who Barack Obama is. It&#39;s very odd. The more one listens and reads, the greater the sense of opacity. Take <a href=""><em>The Audacity of Hope</em></a>: there is an easy, informal, and relaxed style to Obama&#39;s prose. He talks about going to the gym, ordering a cheeseburger, planning his daughter&#39;s birthday party, and all the rest. He mixes position statements and general policy outlines with autobiographical narrative in a compelling and fluent way. Yet I found myself repeatedly asking: who is this man? I don&#39;t mean anything sinister by this. It is just that I was overcome by a sense of distance in reading Obama, and the more sincere the prose, the greater distance I felt. He confesses early on that he is not someone who easily gets worked up about things. But sometimes I rather wish he would. Anger is the emotion that produces motion, the mood that moves the subject to act. Perhaps it is the first political emotion. </p> <p> At the core of <em>The Audacity of Hope</em> is someone who lives at a distance, someone distanced from himself and from others and craving a bond, a commitment to bind him together with other Americans and to bind Americans together. There is a true <em>horror vacui</em> in Obama, a terror of loneliness and nothingness. He yearns for an unconditional commitment that will shape his subjectivity and fill the vacuum. He desires contact with some plenitude, an experience of fullness that might still his sense of loneliness, fill his isolation, silence his endless doubt, and assuage his feelings of abandonment. He seems to find this in Christianity, to which I will turn shortly. </p> <p> But perhaps this opacity is Obama&#39;s political genius: that it is precisely the enigmatic, inert character of Obama that seems to generate the desire to identify with him, indeed to love him. Perhaps it is that sense of internal distance that people see in him and in themselves. Obama recognises this capacity in an intriguing and profound remark when he writes: &quot;I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.&quot; He is a mirror that reflects back whatever the viewer wants to see. Somehow our loneliness and doubt become focused and fused with his. Obama&#39;s desire for union with a common good becomes unified with ours. For that moment, and maybe only for that moment, we believe, we hope. It is a strangely restrained ecstasy, but an ecstasy nonetheless. </p> <p> The occasional lyricism of Obama&#39;s prose is possessed of a great beauty. His doubts about being a father and a husband in the final chapter of <em>The Audacity of Hope</em> are touching and honest. And when he finishes the book, like a young Rousseau, by saying that &quot;my heart is filled with love for this country&quot;, I don&#39;t detect any cynicism. Yet Obama writes and speaks with an anthropologist&#39;s eye, with the sense that he is not a participant in the world with which he so wants to commune. Experience is always had and held at a distance. </p> <p> The passage in <em>The Audacity of Hope</em> that both focuses this sense of distance and complicates the problem I want to address is the death of his mother from cancer at the age of 52, when Obama was 34. He writes, for once, in a flare of directly felt intensity: </p> <p> &quot;More than once I saw fear flash across her eyes. More than fear of pain or fear of the unknown, it was the sheer loneliness of death that frightened her, I think-the notion that on this final journey, on this last adventure, she would have no one to fully share her experiences with, no one who could marvel with her at the body&#39;s capacity to inflict pain on itself, or laugh at the stark absurdity of life once one&#39;s hair starts falling out and one&#39;s salivary glands shut down.&quot; </p> <p> His mother was an <a href=",8599,1729524-5,00.html">anthropologist</a>. She died as an anthropologist, with a feeling of distance from others and an inability to commune with them and to communicate her pain. Perhaps this is the root of Obama&#39;s <em>horror vacui</em>. But to understand this, we have to turn to his discussion of religion. </p> <p class="pullquote_new"> Also in <strong>openDemocracy</strong> on Barack Obama and the United States:<br /> <br /> <a href="/usa">openUSA</a>&#39;s daily commentary and analysis of the 2008 election and after                                          <br /> Anthony Barnett, &quot;<a href="/article/taking_obama_seriously">Taking Obama seriously</a>&quot; (6 February 2008)<br /> <br /> Godfrey Hodgson, &quot;<a href="/article/openusa-theme/us_elections/barack-obama-at-the-crossroads-of-victory">Barack Obama: at the crossroads of victory</a>&quot; (11 June 2008)<br /> <br /> Sidney Blumenthal, &quot;<a href="/article/the-strange-death-of-republican-america">The strange death of Republican America</a>&quot; (4 November 2008)<br /> <br /> John C Hulsman, &quot;<a href="/article/memo-to-obama-the-middle-east-needs-you">Memo to Obama: the middle east needs you</a>&quot; (11 November 2008)<br /> <br /> Zaid Al-Ali, &quot;<a href="/article/what-obama-means-for-iraq">What Obama means for Iraq</a>&quot; (13 November 2008)<br /> <br /> Godfrey Hodgson, &quot;<a href="/article/let-obama-be-obama">Let Obama be Obama</a>&quot; (17 November 2008)<br /> <br /> Simon Maxwell, &quot;<a href="/article/global-development-barack-obama-s-agenda-0">Global development: Barack Obama&#39;s agenda</a>&quot; (20 January 2009)<br /> <br /> Pervez Hoodbhoy, &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-s-triple-test">Obama&#39;s triple test</a>&quot;  (21 January 2009)                                       Fred Halliday, &quot;<a href="/article/the-greater-middle-east-obama-s-six-problems">The greater middle east: Obama&#39;s six problems</a>&quot; (21 January 2009)                                        openDemocracy, &quot;<a href="/article/barack-obama-hope-fear-and-advice">Barack Obama: hope, fear...advice</a>&quot;  19 January 2009) - reflections from our authors around the world </p> <p> <strong>A question of belief </strong> </p> <p> Why do we need religion? Obama recognises that people turn to religion because they want &quot;a narrative arc to their lives, something that will relieve a chronic loneliness or lift them above the exhausting, relentless toil of daily life.&quot; The alternative is clear: nihilism. The latter means &quot;to travel down a long highway toward nothingness.&quot; Religion satisfies the need for a fullness to experience, a transcendence that fills the void. Obama&#39;s <a href="">path</a> to Christianity plays out against the background of his anthropologist mother&#39;s respectful distance from religion. </p> <p> Like many of us, Obama initially looks to what he calls &quot;political philosophy&quot; for help. He wants confirmation of the values he inherited from his <a href="">mother</a> (honesty, empathy, discipline, delayed gratification, and hard work) and a way to transform them into systems of action that &quot;could help build community and make justice real.&quot; Unsurprisingly, perhaps, also like many of us, he doesn&#39;t find the answer in political philosophy but only by confronting a dilemma that his mother never resolved. He writes: </p> <p> &quot;The Christians with whom I worked recognized themselves in me; they saw that I knew their Book and shared their values and sang their songs. But they sensed that part of me remained removed, detached, an observer among them. I came to realize that without a vessel for my beliefs, without an unequivocal commitment to a particular community of faith, I would be consigned at some level to remain apart, free in the way that my mother was free, but also alone in the same ways that she was ultimately alone.&quot; </p> <p> Freedom, for Obama, is the negative freedom from commitment that left his mother feeling detached and alone, a solitude that culminated in her death. Such is the freedom of the void. Being anthropologically respectful of all faiths means being committed to none, and being left to drift without an anchor for one&#39;s most deeply held beliefs. To have such an anchor means being committed to a specific community. The only way Obama can overcome his sense of detachment and resolve his mother&#39;s dilemma is through a <a href="">commitment</a> to Christianity. </p> <p> More specifically, it is only through a commitment to the historically black church that Obama can find that sense of grounding and fullness. It culminates in his joining Trinity United Church of Christ under Pastor Jeremiah Wright on Chicago&#39;s south side. Whatever one makes of it, the absolute centrality of black American Christianity in the arc of Obama&#39;s narrative is what makes his fractious <a href="">relationship</a> with Pastor Wright so important and intriguing. Ultimately, everything turns here on the relation between the prophetic word (<a href="">Wright&#39;s </a>&quot;God damn America&quot;) and the activity of government (&quot;My heart is filled with love for this country&quot;). </p> <p> What is certain about Obama&#39;s commitment to Christianity is that it is a choice, a clear-minded rational choice, and not a conversion experience based on any personal revelation. He insists that &quot;religious commitment did not require me to suspend critical thinking. . . . It came about as a choice and not an epiphany; the questions I had did not magically disappear.&quot; Although he goes on to add that &quot;I felt God&#39;s spirit beckoning me&quot;, it is the coolest, most detached experience of religious commitment, without any trace of epiphanic transport and rapture. I can&#39;t help but feel that Obama&#39;s faith craves an experience of communion that is contradicted by the detachment and distance he is seeking to overcome. For example, when he is unsure what to tell his daughter about the question of death, he says: &quot;I wondered whether I should have told her the truth, that I wasn&#39;t sure what happens when we die, any more than I was sure where the soul resides or what existed before the Big Bang.&quot; </p> <p> Such scepticism about matters metaphysical is understandable enough and has a fine philosophical ancestry. But where does it leave us and where does it leave the question of belief, the cornerstone of Obama&#39;s entire presidential campaign? We come back to where we started, with the common good. Obama wants to believe in the common good as a way of providing a fullness to experience that avoids the slide into nihilism. But sometimes I don&#39;t know if he knows what belief is and what it would be to hold such a belief. It all seems so distant and opaque. The persistent presence of the mother&#39;s dilemma - the sense of loneliness, doubt, and abandonment - seems palpable and ineliminable. We must believe, but we can&#39;t believe. Perhaps this is the tragedy that some of us see in Obama: a change we can believe in and the crushing realisation that nothing will change. </p> Ideas faith & ideas american power & the world democracy & power openUSA Simon Critchley Creative Commons normal email Sat, 24 Jan 2009 17:20:16 +0000 Simon Critchley 47179 at The politics of ME, ME, ME <p align="left"> The conflict in Gaza has dominated world headlines since the closing days of 2008. The war there is an exceptional <a href="">event</a> yet it also contains many elements of the familiar - in part because even at the “best” of times, media coverage of the middle east can be intense. In the new media age this coverage includes featuring and reflecting the intense engagement of people from around the world in the affairs of the region. </p> <div align="left"> </div> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> Indeed, it seems unarguable that anyone with even the slightest knowledge of world affairs knows “something” about the various middle-east disputes, and indeed is more likely than not to have an opinion on their rights and wrongs (which cannot be claimed with equal confidence for other conflict-zones, such as Kashmir or Abkhazia or the Democratic Republic of Congo). The middle east is distinguished by the way that legions of people across the globe - politicians, activists and commentators among them - are invested in its conflicts, often to a degree of passionate and partisan engagement. They may believe that the region is where the fight to defend western civilisation is being fought or that it is the place where the struggle against American imperialism needs to be won; that Israel in Gaza is justly defending itself from terrorism or that it is <a href="/article/israel-and-gaza-rhetoric-and-reality">engaged</a> in a brutal colonial enterprise - but in either case, many global protagonists are united in a sense of involvement in the region and even a sense of “ownership” of its issues and contested claims.<span class="pullquote_new">Keith Kahn-Harris is a <a href="">research associate</a> at Goldsmiths College, University of London.<br /> His website is <a href="">here</a><br /> <br /> Also by Keith Kahn-Harris in openDemocracy:<br /> “<a href="/article/globalisation/visions_reflections/denial">The attractions of denial</a>” (13 September 2007)     <br /> “<a href="/article/arts_cultures/literature/human_knowledge">How to talk about things we know nothing about</a>” (21 February 2008)</span> </p> <p align="left"> <strong>The elusive victory</strong> </p> <div align="left"> </div> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> In principle, there is nothing wrong with this. After all, one result of media or public indifference to the many “forgotten” wars in Africa and elsewhere is that they remain of interest only to those who are physically involved in it - which often contributes to their more or less indefinite perpetuation. At least in the middle east the interest of those around the world also ensures a ceaseless search for solutions and for reconciliation. </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> This very process of involvement has a twofold downside, however. First, it ensures that the more extreme protagonists on the ground are given moral support for their often violent struggles, their own passions fuelled rather than moderated by outsiders’ engagement. Second, those who choose or feel obliged to get involved in conflicts such as Gaza often do so in ways that are polarising, dogmatic, repetitive and damaging to the space of democratic debate they choose to enter. </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> A prime example is the Guardian’s <a href="">Comment is Free</a> (CiF) site, one of the most popular outlets for political commentary in Britain (and the United States). At the time of writing it is dominated by opinions on the conflict in Gaza. But even on an “ordinary” day there will normally be at least one comment piece on Israel-Palestine, Iraq or another middle-eastern issue (indeed an entire section of CiF is now <a href="">devoted</a> to the region). The articles tend to be short, easily understandable provocations - but the comments thread is where much of the real “action” takes place. The number of comments that the piece attracts is the principle measure of its popularity. In a kind of Darwinian struggle, the items that are kept on the front-page of the site for longest are those that attract the most comments. These are routinely pieces on the middle east; at the time of writing an article by Simon Tisdall on Barack Obama&#39;s response to the war in Gaza is in top slot with 1,108 comments (see “<a href="">Obama is losing a battle a battle he doesn’t know he’s in</a>”, 4 January 2009). </p> <p class="pullquote_new"> David Hayes is deputy editor of <strong>openDemocracy</strong><br /> <br /> Among his articles for <strong>openDemocracy</strong>:<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/node/3583">Bob Dylan&#39;s revolution in the head</a>&quot; (24 May 2006)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/a-politics-of-crisis-low-energy-cosmopolitanism">A politics of crisis: low-energy cosmopolitanism</a>&quot; (22 October 2008) - with Andrew Dobson<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/the-worlds-american-election-a-conversation">The world&#39;s American election: a conversation</a>&quot; (4 November 2008) </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> Comment Is Free is frequently an outlet for exciting and challenging writing (a judgment that is based on more than the fact that one of us has <a href="">contributed</a> to it). But when you peruse a typical comment-thread, the problems with it become apparent. What is striking is that few of the comments really engage with the piece they are supposedly commenting on. Instead, most commentators just engage with each other, often with a viciousness that takes your breath away. There is a kind of circularity to the threads, with similar arguments repeated time and time again and rebutted as often. </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> In parallel with the war in Gaza, another war is taking place in which the battlefields are comment-threads, message-boards and blog-posts. A maniacal energy is expended in the endless attempts to prove the other wrong, to find that elusive killer-blow that will ensure victory. That blow never comes, perpetuating the conflict as it migrates from website to website. </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> <strong>The war of attrition</strong> </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> This is not just a question of people with too much time on their hands beavering away at the keyboard on controversies that affect nothing – if it were “only” this, there would be little to worry about. The problem goes deeper. It is partly that so much of this activity is harmful and wasteful, in a context where intelligent citizens working in a spirit of constructive dialogue could in principle perform a useful role in clarifying issues and arguments and offering usable ideas to those seeking solutions to the conflicts concerned. </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> Even worse, this kind of internet politics is also engaged in by opinion-formers, major institutions and “the brightest and best” more generally. In the Jewish community - a world with which one of us is very familiar - those who are most committed and influential in what they view as the defence of Israel have, over the last few years, increasingly come to adopt the same style of politics and mode of address. They include (in the United States) high-profile intellectuals such as <a href="/conflict-terrorism/dershowitz_3561.jsp">Alan Dershowitz</a> and lobbying organisations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (<a href="">Aipac</a>) and (in Britain) organisations such as Britain Israel Communications &amp; Research Centre (<a href="">Bicom</a>). Pro-Palestinian activists, while usually less organised, also engage in these struggles with just as much fervid and driven commitment. </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> Both sides, all sides, have become tied up in intricate micropolitical struggles. At the moment these include: who exactly broke the ceasefire first; what the word “civilian” means; whether civilian casualties are simply “human shields”; what a “humanitarian crisis” consists of. In the recent past they have included long-running sagas such as whether <a href="">Jimmy Carter</a> is an anti-semite; whether settlements are illegal under international law; whether a particular BBC report is biased. </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> At root, these struggles can involve vital issues, but in the hothouse of the internet, they so often disintegrate into thousands of fragments - from the interpretation of an ambiguous phrase to the reliability of a single news item. The result is an internet war of attrition that produces an impenetrable fog of confusion - and must reinforce the indifference and alienation of the non-involved. </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> The latter point is vital, even though it may be of sublime indifference to the super-motivated partisans. The ultimate puerility of internet combat over the middle east means that the larger and most important issues - and the possibility of keeping in sight the big picture, a vision of a better future for the region - fade from view. </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> In this sense such internet politics is not just self-defeating but also profoundly exclusionary. Only those who are similarly versed in the minutiae of the conflict can participate fully. How telling that the supposedly democratising force of the internet should be subverted in this way! This is politics for insiders. Indeed, the ranks of the insiders may have been swelled by the internet, but the cliquishness of this new political class is no better than the more traditional political cliques. Worse, so obsessed is this clique with its endless internal arguments that the need to connect with those on the outside - both the larger citizenry, and those at the sharp end of conflicts - is largely forgotten. What remains is a mode of politics that has abandoned both persuasion and anchorage in reality outside the discursive bubble. </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> <strong>A medical parallel</strong> </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> There is evidence that the dead-end tendencies of much net-based combat over (for example) the <a href="/conflict-debate_97/debate.jsp">Israel-Palestine issue</a> is but one case of a broader trend. In many other areas of social and political controversy, or merely of public life, the way topics are discussed can over time lead to a fatal polarisation, circularity and exclusion - to the extent that the very logic of internet politics seems to push the ostensible subject-matter further and further away. The point can be illustrated by drawing attention to another form of cyberspace “ME” politics that may seem a long way from the internet war over the middle east, but which shares many of its characteristics. </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> The politics surrounding the illness myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME, also known as “chronic fatigue syndrome”) is unknown to most of those not affected by the condition. Yet in the <a href="">experience</a> of one of us its relentless viciousness is eerily similar to the far more high-profile middle-east conflict. </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> The medical controversy about what ME is, what causes it and how it can be treated has been bitter. For many years the “psychosocial” paradigm dominated research and treatment; this viewed ME as a disorder that, while possibly triggered by a virus or infection, is perpetuated by psychosomatic processes of deconditioning. This paradigm favours treatments for ME that focus on addressing “negative thought patterns” and gradually increasing exercise. </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> This paradigm has found itself increasingly being contested by “biomedical” approaches which argue that ME has physical causes. The proponents of this approach point to the failures of psychological and exercise therapies in many patients, while its detractors point to the continuing lack of evidence of a clear physiological cause of the illness. </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> Here then is a controversy that has profound consequences for ME <a href="">sufferers</a> and their families. It&#39;s understandable that as a result sufferers, patient groups, medical bodies and research funders have become embroiled in debates over how to respond to ME. What is problematic is the ways that the politics of ME have degenerated in recent years as the internet has become an important political tool. </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> In Britain, what might be called a largely web-based “ME opposition” has emerged that is passionately committed to the biomedical model. Its adherents are suspicious of the medical establishment, which they see as dominated by “psychs”; they also criticise most ME charities, in particular <a href="">Action for ME</a>, for being unaccountable and too willing to collaborate with the psychs. Again, in themselves, these views are not necessarily unjustifiable. The problem is that they are propounded in a way that falls into the worst traps of internet politics. </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> A dedicated group of activists has committed itself to the exposure of any trace of psychosocial bias. The campaign is relentless. On message-boards, blogs and other websites, any accommodation with psychs or deviation from this fight is instantly attacked. Any ambiguity or error in the statements of members of ME charities and the medical establishment is pounced on, deconstructed and treated as sinister. Lengthy, minutely detailed “dossiers” are compiled and presented with an accusatory seriousness. </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> An indication of where this leads is suggested by a blog such as <a href="">ME Agenda</a>. Over the last few months, many of its posts have concerned accusations of “betrayal” at the Countess of Mar, the patron of a number of ME charities who has apparently “gone over to the other side”; other posts have consisted of an impenetrable series of claims and counter-claims surrounding the actions of the chair of the Peterborough M.E. &amp; CFS Self Help Group. To the outsider, such controversies are bewildering or irrelevant. They exist as a self-enclosed world in which the real issues surrounding ME have degenerated into a Mobius strip of controversy. Whoever might or might not be “right”, the real need to move forward in addressing a terrible condition is all but forgotten. </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> <strong>A politics beyond solipsism</strong> </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> The politics of ME - the illness - demonstrates that the insular internet-driven combat that influences so many arguments over the middle east are now replicated in other fields.<style></style> People equipped with the requisite background or expertise - for example, those few who (like one of us) are both committed Jews and persons with ME - might have the knowledge necessary to understand the political contours of these two particular controversies. But in the huge number of other controversies where an individual&#39;s knowledge is more limited, the possibility of understanding, being persuaded by, or much less participating in them is much reduced if and when they descend into internet-driven cliquishness and circular backbiting. The day may be fast approaching when all politics will look like the middle east - and the only responses available will be either to join in the maelstrom of bickering or (more likely) to shrug one&#39;s shoulders and switch off. </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> The democratising possibilities of the internet are in the process of speeding the degeneration of the public sphere into a proliferation of insular nodes, each fighting a war that can never be won. Battles cannot be won on the net nor can they be lost. What remains is a solipsistic politics of ME, ME, ME: my views, my truths, my facts, my pain, my anger. Convincing others and changing the world is forgotten in favour of the perpetuation of one&#39;s own perspective. </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> It would be a mistake to look back at politics before the internet age as a prelapsarian idyll. But new realities create new problems as well as solving old ones. What is needed is a political model that can beging to redress the rise of solipsistic micropolitics; one that emphasises connection, self-critique and cool, considered analysis. What is needed is a different kind of technology that retains the internet&#39;s openness to participation but without the tendency to push activists and driven individuals towards self-righteous isolation. What is needed are tools for dialogue rather than tools for the proliferation of disconnected voices (see “<a href="/article/arts_cultures/literature%20human_knowledge">How to talk about things we know nothing about</a>”, 21 February 2008). The message-board and the comment-thread rarely encourage users to listen to each other, to share deeper (which usually means more complex) feelings rather than shouting at each other. To be sure, the possibilities for dialogue are there in the technology but the temptations of monologue usually prove too tempting. </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> It is hard to know how exactly this change could be brought about. Perhaps it is time for comment-threads on popular sites to be monitored more carefully or even jettisoned altogether. Perhaps the right to comment on something should be contingent on maintaining a respectful and constrained manner. The emergent trend towards “<a href="">slow blogging</a>” emphasises the production of considered, thoughtful online writing over immediate, often angry responses (and <strong>openDemocracy</strong> itself provides many good examples of this kind of writing). Blogs that feature dialogues rather than monologues are emerging (such as <a href=""></a>). Social-networking sites can bring politically active people together in ways that develop meaningful relationships rather than antagonistic ones (see for example, the “peacemaking” network, <a href=""></a>). </p> <div align="left"> </div> <p align="left"> The tools for a different kind of politics exist. What is needed is the will to turn away from self-obsessed and point-scoring politics to a politics that is actually about something. What is needed is a politics that reconnects individuals with each other, a politics that looks outwards as well as inwards, a politics that is not all about &quot;ME&quot;. </p> Conflict Ideas visions & reflections media & the net Globalisation faith & ideas conflicts middle east Keith Kahn-Harris David Hayes Creative Commons normal email Fri, 09 Jan 2009 11:23:58 +0000 David Hayes and Keith Kahn-Harris 47120 at John Milton’s vision <p> To honour the English writer John Milton on the 400th anniversary of his birth is to acknowledge his persistent otherness in the country he tried to transform, says Theo Hobson. </p> <!--break--> <p> There are, according to the received wisdom of our day, two sides to the greatness of John Milton, who was born in London on 9 December 1608. First and foremost he was a great poet (despite being religious). Also, he was a champion of <a href="">liberty</a>; a key architect of the English-British tradition of liberalism (despite being religious). It is principally the latter assumption that I want to discuss, though I will come back to his literary reputation.<span class="pullquote_new"><strong>Theo Hobson</strong> is a theologian and writer. He is the author of <em><a href=";CountryID=1&amp;ImprintID=2&amp;BookID=132203">Milton's Vision: The Birth of Christian Liberty</a> </em>(Continuum, 2008).<br /><br /> His earlier books include <a href=";bc=0"><em>Against Establishment: An Anglican Polemic </em></a>Darton, Longman &amp; Todd, 2004)<br /><br /><a href=";bc=0"><em>Anarchy, Church and Utopia: Rowan Williams on the Church</em></a><em> (</em>Darton, Longman &amp; Todd, 2005)<br /><br /> Also by Theo Hobson in <strong>openDemocracy</strong>:<strong><br /><br /></strong>"<a href="/article/rowan_williams_sharia_furore_anglican_future">Rowan Williams: <em>sharia</em> furore, Anglican future</a>" (13 February 2007)<br /><br /> "<a href="/article/the-anglican-vision-after-lambeth">The Anglican vision after Lambeth</a>" (4 August 2008)&nbsp;</span> </p> <p> The idea is that he helped to put his country on the path to an enlightened constitution, in which such things as freedom of the press are firmly enshrined. Liberty is "the greatest gift that Britain gave the world", in the words of prime minister <a href="">Gordon Brown</a>; and John Milton was a founding father of this noble tradition (Brown mentioned Milton in his 25 October 2007 <a href="">speech</a> about liberty). </p> <p> This subtly misrepresents what Milton was about. It's a variant of the Whiggish fallacy, that the history of ideas is essentially about how freedom unfolded into its present-day fullness. To call Milton a key figure in British liberalism is like calling Karl Marx a key figure in British political history. True, his <a href="">thought</a> was influential, but it is far more important to note that the entirety of his vision was shunned, rejected, reacted against. The nation defined itself in opposition to Milton's vision, considered as a whole - and still does. Unless this is acknowledged, he is treated with condescension: he is patted on the back for contributing something really useful to national identity, while his actual thought is ignored. </p> <p> If we are to honour Milton on his <a href="">400th birthday</a> we must clearly recognise the persistence of his otherness - the fact that he cannot be claimed as a noble exemplar of the national soul. The nation chose against him, and still does.&nbsp; </p> <p> It is far more accurate to say that Milton was a key founder of the American liberal tradition, than of the British one. This is not just because of his republicanism: even more important to him than republicanism was his aversion to religious establishment. During the interregnum (1649-60) he worried that England's revolution was uncertain until Oliver Cromwell had clearly separated church and state, and instituted an explicitly secular liberal state (which Cromwell never quite did). This was the ideological obsession of Milton's life. </p> <p> So if Milton were to revisit us today he would not rejoice at the progress of liberty since his death. He would be depressed to see that the country of his birth retains a monarchy, and even more so an established church. </p> <p> But surely, many will reply, Milton's ghost would acknowledge that liberty has blossomed despite the formal persistence of monarchy and establishment; surely he would have the sense to swallow his republican-disestablishmentarian pride and be glad about it? No. He would not take a pragmatic, "whatever works" view of the persistence of monarchy and establishment. To understand why not, we must speak of his passionate religious motivation (see <em><a href=";CountryID=1&amp;ImprintID=2&amp;BookID=132203">Milton's Vision: The Birth of Christian Liberty</a></em> [Continuum, 2008]). </p> <p> <strong>A church in freedom </strong> </p> <p> The ideological cause of his <a href="">life</a> was not simply "liberty" but a specific <em>story</em> about liberty. True political liberty, he believed, was rooted in a common acknowledgment that a new form of Christianity had emerged, by God's grace. This new form of Christianity was not simply "Protestantism", for that word points in various directions, most of them wrong. It was a specific version of Protestantism that was only now coming into being - a politically mature form of Protestantism. </p> <div style="margin: 10px; padding: 10px; clear: both; background-color: #d6e7f0; font-size: x-small; width: 100%"> <em>openDemocracy is pleased to offer readers special access to the History Today archive</em> </div> <div style="margin: 10px; padding: 10px; clear: both; background-color: #999999; font-size: x-small; width: 100%"> <p> <img src="" alt="History Today logo" width="192" height="67" /><u><br /> Discover the history behind this story...<br /><br /></u> <strong>&gt;&gt; </strong><a style="color: #ec1d23" href=";amid=30259586"><u>The Worthy Doctor Fuller</u></a><br /> M. J. Cohen celebrates the life of Fuller, a pioneering historian and contemporary of Milton, with whom he shares his 400th anniversary. The two men came from similar backgrounds; they disagreed, however, in print and fought on different side during the Civil War. <br /><br /><strong>&gt;&gt; </strong><a style="color: #ec1d23" href=";amid=12610"><u>Archbishop Laud</u></a><br /> Milton reacted against some of the religious changes which Archbishop Laud sought to introduce in the lead-up to the Civil War. Kevin Sharpe provides an insight into Laud&rsquo;s career. <br /><br /></p> </div> <div style="margin: 10px; padding: 10px; clear: both; background-color: #d6e7f0; font-size: x-small; width: 100%"> <a href="/advertising_rates"><em>Advertise Here</em></a> </div> <p> In his youth, his interest in ideas was secondary to his aestheticism. He was a sort of overgrown choirboy, who had made some stunningly pure poetic noises. He was a proudly Protestant young Englishman, but had not fully confronted the question-mark hanging over this identity. Was the English church properly Protestant? Or was its Protestantism skin-deep, and its latent Catholicism starting to show through? This was the fear of the Puritans, who saw episcopacy as the key marker: the church had to get rid of the bishops to achieve clarity about itself, and move on to a more complete Protestant identity.&nbsp; </p> <p> During Milton's student years, Charles I's archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, was reshaping the church. Laud was a passionate Anglo-Catholic and a canny politician (resembling, it might be said, the current archbishop <a href=";bc=0">Rowan Williams</a> crossed with New Labour politician <a href="">Peter Mandelson</a>). Milton withdrew from his expected clerical career. He later said that he had been "church-outed" by this high-church movement. But it was only when he travelled on the continent of Europe that he became committed to the opposition movement. In <a href="">Italy</a> he saw the global religious picture with new clarity. Catholicism really was an authoritarian creed, using the inquisition to crush dissent. To use a cold-war analogy he looked behind the iron curtain and saw that there was no room for complacency: this was an evil empire. England was meant to be leading the free world - so why was its church taking a backward turn? </p> <p> Such thoughts were shared by many parliamentarians in England, and shaped the environment that led to <a href=",,9780713996326,00.html">civil war</a>. Milton joined the political fray, through writing pamphlets against the bishops. But more importantly he started working out a coherent account of England's religious situation. It wasn't enough to insist that the church should be more "Protestant", for that term was vague. He realised that the <a href=",,9780140285345,00.html">Reformation</a> had evaded the whole issue of church-state relations; it allowed for an authoritarian state church. Real religious reform entailed going right back to the time of Constantine, and questioning the idea of a politically empowered church. A truly reformed religious culture would reject the idea of an established church imposing uniformity (see "<a href="">Milton's vision for Church and State is our answer</a>", <em>Times</em>, 31 October 2008).&nbsp; </p> <p> England must espouse this radically liberal version of Protestantism if it is to rise to its vocation, Milton said. It must pioneer a "reforming of the reformation". How? Through creating an explicitly secular polity - secular in the sense of excluding powerful religious institutions. </p> <p> <strong>Against the grain </strong> </p> <p> So was he an early "secular liberal"? Not in the dominant contemporary sense, which assumes that politics should be post-religious. He thought it should be post-ecclesial, but that liberal Protestant Christianity was the necessary foundation of a free society. This must be the national ideology, but it must not be identified with any religious institution. In effect, he was inventing the American approach to church-state relations. </p> <p> So those who claim him as a secular radical, or a great British liberal, must be sharply told: no, he wanted a constitutional revolution, on Christian grounds. He wanted a revolution in Christian identity, away from church allegiance. The enlightened Christian should affirm the authority of the liberal state. </p> <p> I consider Milton's thought to be acutely relevant to our contemporary religious and political situation. But it's hard to make this case, partly because it goes against the grain of our assumptions about the meaning of "secular liberalism"; but also because of "part one" of his greatness, his literary reputation. For centuries now, English intellectuals have seen him primarily as a poet, and his thought has been treated with slight embarrassment - whether on Tory, Catholic, atheist or aesthetic grounds. The vast majority of those who now write about Milton are <a href="">literary</a> critics who are not very interested in his religious thought, except as a theme within his art, almost as important as his misogyny. It's as if Germany had forgotten that Luther was a theologian, and only ever discussed him from a literary perspective. </p> <p> A recovery of Milton's importance entails challenging two major intellectual habits: the assumption that we already know what "secular liberalism" is, and the post-Romantic assumption that literature is a sort of holy realm, from which dirty ideas should be excluded. Most of the "honouring" of Milton that's now going on just expresses these habits. Instead, Milton ought to be celebrated as England's greatest religious thinker, and one of the truly great Protestants, who points beyond the arid opposition of "religious" and "secular" and invites fresh thinking about both. </p> uk Ideas faith & ideas ourkingdom Theo Hobson Creative Commons normal email Tue, 09 Dec 2008 14:09:42 +0000 Theo Hobson 46980 at Along the precipice: visions of atheism in London <p> &quot;One wants to do this thing of just walking along the edge of the precipice.&quot; (<a href="">Francis Bacon</a>) </p> <p> An enterprising plan to display an atheist message on the side of sixty of London&#39;s red buses from January 2009 suggests that, if there is a God, she has a rather wicked sense of humour. The <a href="">advertisement</a>, which is sponsored by donors who include the <a href="">British Humanist Association</a> and <a href="">Richard Dawkins</a>, reads: &quot;There&#39;s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.&quot; The idea may have struck more of a chord before the world&#39;s financial convulsions, when the popular <em>Zeitgeist</em> included indulging the extravagances of a consumer economy sustained by unlimited credit, than at a time when people are very worried about basic monetary security. It is in such a time, after all, that the search for faith and transcendent meaning often flourishes; when the easy comforts of a society whose only pursuit is of &quot;enjoyment&quot; can begin to seem hollow.   </p> <p> <span class="pullquote_new">Tina Beattie is <a href="">professor </a>of Catholic studies at Roehampton University, England. <br /> <br /> Among her books are <a href=";SntUrl=145184"><em>God&#39;s Mother, Eve&#39;s Advocate</em></a><em> </em>(Continuum, 2002), <a href=";jsessionid=am1CGCxhB7o4PyMe5Y?s=showproduct&amp;isbn=0415301483"><em>New Catholic Feminism: Theology and Theory</em></a><em> </em>(Routledge 2005), and <a href=";bc=0"><em>The New Atheists: The War on Religion and the Twilight of Reason</em></a><em> </em>(Darton, Longman &amp; Todd, 2007). Her website is <a href="">here</a> <br /> <br /> Also by Tina Beattie in <strong>openDemocracy</strong>:<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/faith-europe_islam/pope_jihad_3914.jsp">Pope Benedict XVI and Islam: beyond words</a>&quot; (17 September 2006)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/faith-europe_islam/veil_islam_4026.jsp">Veiling the issues: a distractive debate</a>&quot; (24 October 2006)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/democracy-blair/religion_britain_4234.jsp">Religion in Britain in the Blair era</a>&quot; (10 January 2007)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/globalization-institutions_government/christian_africa_4347.jsp">Religion&#39;s cutting edge: lessons from Africa</a>&quot; (14 February 2007)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/faith_ideas/the_new_atheists">The end of postmodernism: the ‘new atheists&#39; and democracy</a>&quot; (20 December 2007)<br /> <br /> &quot;<a href="/article/faith_ideas/europe_islam/sharia_law_uk">Rowan Williams and sharia law</a>&quot; (12 February 2007)<br /> </span>In any event, there is nothing original or provocative about that banal agnostic slogan. It has been the credo of our western consumerist societies since the 1960s. A &quot;probably&quot; non-existent God has been banished from the public square and confined to increasingly empty churches in the company of a few deluded pious souls, leaving a large part of society to make merry (and money) with a sense of glorious liberation from the repressive effects of religion. </p> <p> For the followers of a new and more ruthless deity have been building their temples in this society&#39;s midst. The fervour of their worship is familiar: a horde of over-excited, gesticulating men (like most religions, this one is dominated by men), shouting their prayers and petitions at the great glowing icons above them, placing their faith in the random and unpredictable whims of the gods, offering human sacrifices when necessary and creating a cult of secrecy so dense that the rest of us failed to see what they were up to until their creed had insinuated itself into so many institutions - governments and political processes, workplaces, schools and universities, shops, even homes and families. </p> <p> What is the name of this all-powerful, all-controlling God? It may have once been called Mammon, but most today know it as The Market, and his followers (this God is most certainly male) are called CEOs and hedge-fund managers and oligarchs and traders. The Market dictates, responds, demands, even suffers (it is common to hear broadcasters use phrases such as the markets have &quot;endured a brutal week&quot;); and its minions and worshippers - politicians, bankers and taxpayers alike - do its bidding. </p> <p> The power of <em>this</em> God would make &quot;The Market probably doesn&#39;t exist&quot; a more challenging slogan for London&#39;s buses to carry. But if anyone in the city wants to know what it would be like if God does not exist, they should take one of those buses to Tate Britain to view the <a href="">exhibition</a> of paintings by Francis Bacon. For this artist, there is no &quot;probably&quot; about it: God has been destroyed by the nihilistic horrors of 20th-century human behaviour, and the artist - recognising perhaps that people so often prefer the escapist route of consoling delusions - feels compelled to express the true face of a world without God. </p> <p> <strong>A world inside out</strong> </p> <p> Francis Bacon had an authoritarian Catholic father who expelled him from the family home on discovering the teenager wearing his mother&#39;s dresses. The remnants of this discarded Catholicism litter Bacon&#39;s art, like so much debris <a href="">washed up</a> by Matthew Arnold&#39;s &quot;melancholy, long, withdrawing roar&quot; of the sea of faith. Bacon&#39;s many sources of inspiration included Matthias Grünewald&#39;s <a href=""><em>Isenheim Altar</em></a>, though he turns Grünewald&#39;s vision inside out, forcing our gaze beyond its message of redemption and healing, to confront us with the mangled meat that we are: savage and savaged beasts in a God-less world. </p> <p> Grünewald intended the <a href="">graphic</a> torment of the crucified Christ to be a symbol of hope for the dying patients who knelt before it in the hospital chapel of St Anthony&#39;s monastery in Isenheim; but Bacon&#39;s crucified and monstrous bodies have the opposite intention, that of destroying any lingering trace of faith in a benevolent deity, a rational or redeemable humanity or a better hereafter. </p> <p> This is the artist who once said: &quot;I think that man now realises that he is an accident, that he is a completely futile being, that he has to play out the game without reason.&quot; </p> <p> Bacon&#39;s paintings from the 1940s to the mid-1960s reveal his genius at its terrifying and relentless best. Life is mirrored in the art - the genocidal landscape of 20th-century history is gorged upon and spat out onto canvases in which paint and image, form and matter, congeal in visceral gloops of despair. In <a href=""><em>Head II</em></a> (1949), a bestial shape oozes out of paint as thick and coarse as elephant-hide - is it winning or losing the struggle to take form against the suffocating sludge of primal matter? Why does it matter, if God is dead?  A series of early 1950s images <a href="">inspired</a> by Velásquez&#39;s <em>Pope Innocent X</em> howl from their entrapment in the dissolving and encroaching abyss. They look like popes should look, if there is no God. <br /> <span class="pullquote_new">Also in <strong>openDemocracy </strong>on matters of faith and unbelief:<br /> <br /> Michael Walsh, &quot;<a href="/faith-europe_islam/regensburg_3920.jsp">The Regensburg address: reason amid certainty</a>&quot; (19 September 2006)<br /> <br /> Yves Gingras, &quot;<a href="/article/globlisation_visions/mysticism-science">Science and mysticism: a tainted embrace</a>&quot; (17 August 2007)<br /> <br /> Mark Vernon, &quot;<a href="/article/globalisation/visions_reflections/charles_taylor">The bad faith of the secular age</a>&quot; (15 November 2007)<br /> <br /> Keith Kahn-Harris, &quot;<a href="/article/arts_cultures/literature/human_knowledge">How to talk about things we know nothing about</a>&quot; (21 February 2008)<br /> <br /> John Casey, &quot;<a href="/article/yes/rediscovering-traditionalism">Rediscovering traditionalism</a>&quot; (24 September 2008) </span> </p> <p> Then there are the paintings titled <em>Man in Blue</em>, also from the early 1950s. What astonishing serendipity that this exhibition appears in London at this time, with Bacon&#39;s tormented gaze seeing through the gloss and glaze of the City the faceless creatures trapped in its bureaucracies and institutions. His 1955 painting of a chimpanzee <a href="">echoes</a> the bestiality of his suited businessmen. We are animals, all of us: in the Darwinian fight some dissolve back into flesh and non-being even before they are formed, while others succeed at the business of becoming stronger beasts and get briefly ahead of the pack. But there is no God, so what&#39;s the point? Life is shit, and then we die. </p> <p> This is what atheism looks like, to those who have eyes to see. This is what it feels like, to suffer without hope, to have the courage and the truthfulness to live in fidelity to a vision of Darwinian despair about the human condition. Like the <a href="">master of Grünewald</a>, Bacon sought to exploit the connection between the suffering human body and its artistic representation by dissolving the space of mediation between the two. He once said that he wanted his art to appeal directly to the nervous system, bypassing the process of interpretation and the search for meaning. In the <em>Isenheim Alta</em>r, the fusion of body and art becomes a sign of incarnational hope, of flesh redeemed through the incarnate Word. In Bacon&#39;s repeated studies of crucifixion it becomes a sign of vicious and futile barbarity, of meaning devoured by the all-consuming flesh. </p> <p> <strong>An act of defiance</strong> </p> <p> Yet the paradox remains that the power of all great art - however nihilistic its message - depends upon the human capacity for transcendence. There are agnostic thinkers such as <a href="">Peter Fuller</a> and <a href="">George Steiner</a> who argue that only what Fuller called &quot;a wager on transcendence&quot; makes great art possible at all. In the obsession to represent, to create images which transcend the grip of the animal mind in order to explore a shared meaning and a common vision, Bacon must contradict the message he communicates. However much he resisted any attempt to find meaning in his art, its very existence depends upon the fact that humans are a meaning-making species - creative animals with a capacity for transcendence, imagination and linguistic and artistic expressiveness, all of which marks us out from the other life-forms with which we share the planet. </p> <p> The howl of protest against the torment of the flesh is in itself an act of defiance against the void: a refusal to succumb to the nihilism that would render us mute and meaningless in the face of our human capacity for suffering and violence. We cannot short-circuit the quest for meaning which makes art possible, and within that possibility lingers the haunting question of what lies beyond the here and now, beyond the meat and the muck of our bodily selves. </p> <p> There is a transition in Bacon&#39;s later works, so that by the 1980s the assault upon our senses becomes filtered through something less visceral and raw. The paint is less textured, the fusion of form and content yielding to a more stylised approach in which the dismembered and grotesque bodies have lost the pathos, the despair and vulnerability of the earlier work. There is a subtle shift from great art to something more akin to poster-painting. It is as if the artist&#39;s mourning and raging against the death of God has moved towards a reconciliation with the seductive message of modern consumerism: &quot;There&#39;s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.&quot; </p> <p> But the earlier work&#39;s insistence that God is dead makes it as theological in its meaning as all those great works of Christian art which inspired Bacon; a negation, after all, acquires its meaning from that which it negates and that which it refuses. The early crucifixion themes, for example, shock with the absence of God and the consequent dissolution of the humanist enterprise. Bacon once said: &quot;I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them, like a snail, leaving a trail of the human presence and memory trace of past events, as the snail leaves its slime.&quot; </p> <p> <strong>A cosmic wager </strong> </p> <p> But that snail&#39;s trail is a divine trail as well as a human one - because for nearly 2,000 years the western understanding of the human was inseparable from the western understanding of God. The mutual imaging between the human and the divine lingers in the recognition that the snail&#39;s trail of an abandoned humanity is also that of an abandoned divinity. In a later work, <a href=""><em>Triptych</em></a> (1976), a chalice and a host are shown amidst the figures; though here they are empty symbols, suggesting a rebellious gesture more worthy of the so-called new atheists than the tortured anti-theological profundity of the earlier work. </p> <p> Bacon may have been a nihilist, but like Nietzsche, he recognised that the death of God also signalled the death of the familiar, common-sense concept of the human. This is an <a href="">atheism</a> which is altogether different from the banal and bourgeois atheism emanating from the (predominantly) white male intelligentsia of little England. This atheism is rooted in a bewildering confidence - for it lacks foundation either in the Darwinian materialism to which it is wedded, or in the human capacity for rationality and progress to which it appeals. Intelligent atheism, like intelligent religion, offers few consolations if the challenges it poses to human knowledge, values and reasoning are taken seriously. </p> <p> For some of us, faith is a positioning of our lives upon a fulcrum of possibility, challenging us to live with the unanswerability of the questions it poses and the doubts it accommodates. Such an outlook may find the mourning rituals for a dead God meaningful in themselves, and more worthy of time and attention than the kind of banal satisfaction promoted on the London buses. Whatever we mean by that word &quot;God&quot;, there is inspiration and mystery to be discovered in the legacy which Christianity has bequeathed to our understanding of the world - in its music, art and architecture, in its Masses and devotions, in the compassionate and selfless endeavours of those who work in hospitals and refugee-camps around the world, witnessing to the existential possibility of a human world rooted in reconciling hope rather than competitive nihilism. </p> <p> But for those who cannot take that wager on belief, atheism is a persuasive and respectable alternative. Go then to the Francis Bacon <a href="">exhibition</a>, and see what it entails. For Bacon shows the real thing, the savage beast that we are, suggesting that <a href="">Martin Heidegger</a> may have been right after all: only a God can save us now. </p> Ideas faith & ideas europe Tina Beattie Creative Commons normal email Thu, 06 Nov 2008 10:53:28 +0000 Tina Beattie 46730 at