"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Saturday, January 31, 2009

"I shall not go out of my way to offend, but nor shall I don kid gloves to handle religion any more gently than I would handle anything else." - Richard Dawkins


"Also missing from the Secular Islam Summit are Western women’s organizations. One would expect that the oppression of women in Islamic societies would be a defining issue for Western feminists. Instead, as philosopher Martha Nussbaum observed in 1999, "Feminist theory pays relatively little attention to the struggles of women outside the United States." Western intellectuals’ “hip quietism,” she said, “collaborates with evil.” The Web site of the National Organization for Women lists the following as its “Top Priority Issues”: abortion rights/reproductive issues, violence against women (domestic violence in the United States), constitutional equality (the Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution), promoting diversity/ending racism, lesbian rights, and economic justice. Yet if it is a feminist issue that some women make less than men for the same work, then it must be a feminist issue that other women are forbidden from leaving their homes unaccompanied by a man. If it is a feminist issue that some women are stigmatized for their sexual orientation, then it must be a feminist issue that others are murdered with impunity by their male relatives for the crime of “dishonor” or stoned to death by the government for extramarital sex. (“Paradise,” Muhammad is said to have remarked, “lies at the feet of mothers.”) Yet in a morally relativistic universe, all are given equal gravity. It is a bizarre case of moral dysmorphia that blows the failings of one’s own society out of all proportion while diminishing the failings of others. And this for the sake of respecting difference.

Admirably, political leftists instinctively seek solidarity with the dispossessed and oppressed. So, when they see that the perpetrators of Islamic terror are brown-skinned people from backward societies, they assume they must in some way be allies against the common foe of Western imperialist aggression led by America. They are blinded to the fact that the enemy of Islamism—the self-professed enemy—is secular liberalism itself.

A noteworthy exception is the Feminist Majority Foundation, which launched a campaign in 1997 to call international attention to the inhumane treatment of women under the Taliban in Afghanistan. Working with human rights groups, the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) succeeded in persuading the United States and the United Nations to deny formal recognition to the regime. This was too much for some of their sisters. An article in the International Feminist Journal of Politics accused FMF of colonialism: “The FMF’s campaign narrative is one of colonialist protection rather than of solidarity. [It] capitalizes on the images of prominent white Western women who construct themselves as ‘free’ and ‘liberated’ and thus in the best position to ‘save’ Afghan women.” For these pious feminists, the preservation of their own imagined moral purity appears more important than protecting real women’s lives.

In 2006, Ayaan Hirsi Au emigrates to the United States and publishes two popular books critiquing Islam from a woman’s perspective. The reception in the liberal press ranges from condescension to hostility, while “neoconservatives” embrace her... Renaissance humanist Montaigne had a line from Terence inscribed on the wooden beams of his tower library: Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto (I am human, nothing human is foreign to me). The slogan of too many Western feminists is Tu quoque (You, too). Incessantly pointing a finger at their own societies, they cannot reach out to others...

The mainstream left wing remains more fixated on embarrassing local conservative parties than on protecting women and religious minorities in the Islamic world. As Salman Rushdie put it in a speech on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in October 2006, “The fellow traveling of a great section of the left with Islamic radicalism” is a “historical mistake as great as those who were the fellow travelers of Stalinist Communism in an earlier age.”...

As Iranian-born journalist Amir Taheri observes:

The only valuable dialogue between Islam, in its multiple forms, and the West, also in its diversity, can take place at a people-to-people level. Muslims should be allowed to read books and newspapers, see films, watch television and listen to the music produced in the West. In exchange the peoples of the West should be able to have direct access to Islam’s cultural, artistic and philosophical production. And, yet, we know that this cannot happen as long as censorship remains a key element in the policies of most majority—Muslim states.

... Practices that would today be considered intellectual piracy were crucial to America’s technological ascendance. Early American patent and copyright systems rewarded those who introduced technologies taken from European markets...

A public good invites “free-riders,” making it difficult for the producers to extract value from it. Just ask the Pythagoras estate about the royalty check they don’t cash each time someone calculates the area of a triangle...

Religious institutions ought to be private, but the religious conscience is not. The Privacy Fallacy must be abandoned. Sectarian reaSons cannot be barred from public debate; they can and must be held to the same critical conversational standards as all serious contributions to public debate. Religion inevitably makes truth-claims that are susceptible to examination and evaluation by others and continuous at many points with the sciences. Many beliefs that go by “faith” are actually attempts at reason: trusting on the basis of past experience; believing in the face of uncertainty. So-called religious experience is not a reliable guide to truth. The sole alternative to reason is raw, baseless, intransigent intuition, something to which no decent person aspires. But even “subjective” intuition can be evaluated and found immoral or unwise. Faith cannot escape the judgment of reason."


"Political liberals might insist that respect makes the further demand that we offer to each citizen reasons that are compelling to him or her. Call this the strong conception of respect. The strong conception of respect, however, places liberals in a dilemma. The principle of public reason would have us construct our political arguments out of public reasons. But especially for the devout, public reasons sometimes will not be among the most important or relevant with respect to a political decision. For example, a Christian opponent to capital punishment might regard the Ten Commandments as a reason more important than some “public” considerations, like fairness or racial justice. This might be the case even if he endorses the public considerations as well. If respect demands that one offer each citizen reasons that are compelling to him, then arguably one ought to offer religious considerations to such an abolitionist. By offering public reasons to all, one fails to offer to some the reasons that they find most compelling."

"Rawis claims that reasonableness is an attitude that lies between rational self-interest and altruism. It includes rationality but also a certain commitment to social cooperation. Reasonableness among citizens, in his view, is like the relations among acquaintances who share an apartment building. They are bound to interact with one another under conditions of limited scarcity (peace and quiet, hot water, and so on) and they mutually and openly seek cooperative arrangements to govern these interactions. In these arrangements, tenants are not expected to sacrifice themselves altruistically to satisfy the preferences of their neighbors. Yet neither are they expected to simply aim at maximizing their self-interest but instead to genuinely seek and follow rules for the collective that are generally regarded as fair."

"In America, God is always on the ballot. This is an American tradition that did not begin with Bush, or even Jimmy Carter. Woodrow Wilson’s internationalism was rooted in a Presbyterian belief that America should “exemplify that devotion of the elements of righteousness which are derived from the revelations of Holy Scripture.”...

Harry Truman worked to enlist Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Greek Orthodox churches in the cold war, to “mobilize the people who believe in a moral world against the Bolshevik materialists” (Spalding, “True Believers,” p. 44). In his 1949 inaugural address, after taking the oath of office on a Bible laid open to the Ten Commandments, Truman intoned that “human freedom is born of the belief that man is created equal in the image of God and therefore capable of governing himself.”...

A candidate’s religion is often a poor predictor of how he will behave in office and what policies he will pursue. The religion of the 2004 presidential hopefuls was a perfect example [on stem cells, abortion and preemptive war] which most denominations opposed...

The Pew Foundation found that 42 percent of Americans said politicians should be guided by religious principles, and 46 percent said "religion and poltiics don't mix." A 2000 survey by Public Agenda indicated that among those who want religion and poltiics to mix more, three-quarters don't care which religion it is, only that it's sincere... the American preference for religious candidates is not necessarily a preference for religious politics"

"Sometimes science hits upon unanticipated methods of inquiry. A recent colorful example comes from the field of hyperbolic geometry. Hyperbolic geometry, created in the 1820s and '30s, studies certain kinds of spaces and objects that don’t obey Euclidian assumptions. A hyperbolic plane, for example, is a counterintuitive surface in which the space curves away from itself at every point. Since the 1950s, geometers had been trying to construct models of hyperbolic spaces but with limited success. Many believed it impossible, until Daina Taimina came along. Taimina, then a mathematician at Cornell University, made a discovery in the handicraft she had learned as a girl in her native Latvia: crocheting. In 1997, she crocheted the first usable model of a hyperbolic space. Together with her Cornell colleague and husband, David Henderson, she wrote up the results and submitted them to the journal Mathematical Intelligencer. According to Taimina, the editors’ response was something like, “You want us to publish what? A sewing pattern?” Of course, it was the first time that crocheting directions had been submitted to a peer—reviewed math journal"

"Maybe such suffering is permitted by God for good reasons that we finite, imperfect beings cannot know. Then again, one can just as easily imagine that there is a being who permits the good things that occasionally happen in our world because they ultimately serve a higher evil, which we cannot know. Maybe every silver lining has a cloud, and every success is necessary to bring about failure on a grander scale. We have no reason to believe that there are any such unknowable evils, but we have no less reason to believe in them than to believe in unknowable goods. The insistence that there must be such goods is merely an attempt to save the hypothesis of a perfectly good God from refutation at all costs, not a rational response to any independent reasons."

--- The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life / Austin Dacey
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