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  • Swiss ban on minarets was a vote for tolerance and inclusion
    The recent Swiss referendum that bans construction of minarets has caused controversy across the world. There are two ways to interpret the vote. First, as a rejection of political Islam, not a rejection of Muslims. In this sense it was a vote for tolerance and inclusion, which political Islam rejects. Second, the vote was a revelation of the big gap between how the Swiss people and the Swiss elite judge political Islam.
    What Europeans are finding out about Islam as they investigate is that it is more than just a religion. Islam offers not only a spiritual framework for dealing with such human questions as birth, death, and what ought to come after this world; it prescribes a way of life.

    Islam is an idea about how society should be organized: the individual's relationship to the state; the relationship between men and women; rules for the interaction between believers and unbelievers; how to enforce such rules; and why a government under Islam is better than a government founded on other ideas. These political ideas of Islam have their symbols: the minaret, the crescent; the head scarf, and the sword.

  • Are we better off without religion?
    Popular religious belief is caused by dysfunctional social conditions. This is the conclusion of the latest sociological research (pdf) conducted by Gregory Paul. Far from religion benefiting societies, as the "moral-creator socioeconomic hypothesis" would have it, popular religion is a psychological mechanism for coping with high levels of stress and anxiety – or so he suggests.

    I've long been interested in Paul's work because it addresses a whole bunch of fascinating questions – why are Americans so religious when the rest of the developed world is increasingly secular? Is religious belief beneficial to societies? does religion make people behave better?

    Many believers assume, without question, that it does – even that there can be no morality without religion. They cite George Washington who believed that national morality could not prevail without religions principles, or Dostoevsky's famous claim (actually words of his fictional character Ivan Karamazov) that "without God all things are permitted". Then there are Americans defending their country's peculiarly high levels of popular religious belief and claiming that faith-based charity is better than universal government provision.

  • Here we go again
    Over at Foreign Policy, Robert Wright repeats his usual spiel against the “new atheists,” but this time he’s turned up the invective:

    The accusations:

    1. We want to spawn a generation of venom-spewers.

    But the New Atheists’ main short-term goal wasn’t to turn believers into atheists, it was to turn atheists into New Atheists — fellow fire-breathing preachers of the anti-gospel. The point was to make it not just uncool to believe, but cool to ridicule believers.

    Umm. . . that isn’t my goal. I’ve had some conversations with these NA’s, and never have I sensed that their goal was to ridicule believers. Sometimes they ridicule belief, of course, but more often they’re involved in serious discourse about ideas. Given the choice between turning believers into atheists or turning atheists into New Atheists, there’s not one of us who would opt for the latter.



re: wright's first accusation:

The point was to make it not just uncool to believe, but cool to ridicule believers.

as your lawyer (rabinowitz, rabinowitz, rabinowitz, goldberg and becker) i advise you to suck this one up and move on.

  1. it's essentially true, and everybody knows it. deying the fact is disingenuous.

  2. there's nothing really wrong with it. it may be distatesful (to some) adolescent behaviour, but ridicule, and making things cool or uncool are perfectly acceptable in modern society as a whole and in some ways actually define it.

focus on the stuff that you need to win, or can win. this is neither. don't sweat the small stuff.

Some good points in Ayaan Hirsi Ali's article, especially when she says

The pragmatists, most of whom are power holders, are partially right when they insist that the integration of Muslims will take a very long time. Their calls for dialogue are sensible. But as long as they do not engage Muslims to make a choice between the values of the countries that they have come to and those of the countries they left, they will find themselves faced with more surprises. And this is what the Swiss vote shows us.

When she discusses the head scarf, minaret, sword, as political symbols, I can't help but to think about cathedrals. Are the spires reaching towards heaven in gothic style cathedrals symbolic of the christian god's power? Is it different that the christian church clergy wears a certain kind of clothing while the lay people wear local fashion? Or that Jewish men wear yamulkas?

Certain political symbols from the past have varied meanings throughout history. Granted, the swastika of the Nazi party in Germany brings up really bad policy and inhumane activity. It's heritage from the Aryan symbol in India does not promote racial superiority. It is a religious symbol, but when I went to India, there was a moderate monument with an explanation of peace. Then I read through Wikipedia on the Swastika and find that it's use is more of a talisman or good luck charm, even when presented on the tilt that the Nazis seemed to prefer.

So I'm wondering about the symbols identified by Ali or anybody else and trying to determine just how significant they are compared to actions of a certain people - be they religious, politico-religious, etc. Nobody wants to wait around hundreds of years for Islamic fundamentalism to die down. Even though Ali implies that Christianity has toned down

They are prepared to appease some of the demands that Muslim minorities make in the hope that one day their attachment to radical Scripture will wear off like that of Christian and Jewish peoples.

  • has it really? It seems that Christian fundamentalism and emphasis on Judeo-Christian society has just moved around the globe.

I don't know - maybe because the article is determined not to take a stand but describes various viewpoints I'm left a little at odds, but I"m feeling like the article is at odds with itself. Anyone want to chine in, I"m game.

hirsa ali is a very, very conflicted character. my girlfriend just finished reading "infidels", and i've read large chunks of it and we've been discussing it a bit.

when she says in the article here:

Is it accurate to equate political symbols like those used by Communists and Nazis with a religious symbol like the minaret and its accessories of crescent and star; the uniforms of the Third Reich with the burqa and beards of current Islamists?

and claims this represents the fundamental question of islam as currently debated in european society, i don't think we can take this as a scholarly statement. she is really speaking from the heart, in terms of her personal aversion to the symbolism of the minaret. but i don't think the swiss vote was about symbolism. it's a very interesting and complicated situation the europeans are facing in terms of their muslim immagrint population and, while i think hirsa ali's input is valuable it's not scholarly per se, and probably not worthy of debate on this level. teach. :)

I still find that any limitations on freedom of speech defeats the point of our 'western' values of liberty from the get go. A percentage of the swiss may feel that minarets are symbolic of islamofascism or what have you, but that doesn't make it so, and that doesn't make the structure any less architectually imrpessive, perhaps as much so as, say, a cathedral, which could equally be argued to having initially represented papal tyranny. In the 'marketplace of ideas', though, everything is egalitarian. Permit the minarets, because in a proper democracy, they lose their supposedly political meaning and either ascend on its own inherit merits, or burn out accordingly. It isn't for the people to decide what is and isn't permissible as far as expression is concerned. Peopel can feel free to preach tyranny, but they are only able to do so in a free society. The latter will always trounce the former. There's nothing to fear of islamofascism in Switzerland, and it ins't because of minarets bieng banned -- it's because the country is (supposedly) free. It's sad irony they just took a step back with this referendum. What good is fear of islamofascim if you're just going to head towards a tyranny of euro-chrisitan culture instead?

Thanks for the input y'all.


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