Tag Archives: Religion

Do arguments about religion need to be censored?

It’s a pity this question even needs to be asked. Last week, Jacqui Lambie, an independent Australian Senator, had a fiery exchange on ‘Q and A’, a panel discussion program, with Yassmin Abdel-Magied, a Somali-born Australian engineer turned TV presenter (who has lived in Australia since she was 18 months old) over Lambie’s call to ban Sharia law in Australia.

abdul-magied-and-lambieAbdel-Magied was making an effort to show some self-restraint under difficult circumstances, apologizing at one point for shouting. For a twenty-five year old being attacked by a federal senator twenty years older,  in front of an audience, it can’t have been easy. A video extract from the program is here.

Now I’ll state my prejudices here:  Lambie’s views on most things seem a confusing mixture of left (on welfare issues) right (on foreign affairs and immigration) and , and all over the place, and are often quite incoherent. She, like Pauline Hanson from the ‘One Nation’ party, seems exceptionally uninformed. When it comes to Islam, they’re opposed to it, but they appear to know nothing about it.  Abdul-Magied is a twenty-five-year old, while Lambie is a second term federal senator. I’m inclined to cut Abdul-Magied more slack than Lambie about the shouting match.

In the full program, (link below), at 38 minutes, Lambie is asked whether she would ever consider joining One Nation, a far right party which has four senators (in a chamber of 76). Lambie gives an answer that implies ‘no,’ without actually saying ‘no’.  She wants a halt on migration for two years, while money (presumably, money spent on migrants) is redirected to welfare of existing residents. A questioner in the audience then asks a question about migration, apparently in Europe, affecting the status of women, democracy and free speech. He then asks if migration should be controlled so that it ‘doesn’t disturb the peace and harmony of the community.’  The question sounds like a set-up. At this point, the panel moderator, Tony Jones, asks Lambie whether she has said to a newspaper that we (meaning Australia) should “deport all Muslims who support Sharia law.” Lambie says yes, that’s what she said.  She then repeats, “Anybody who supports sharia should be deported.” That’s when the fight begins.  Abdel-Magied strikes at this in the video clip: “My frustration is that people talk about Islam without knowing anything about it.”

The next day, Muslim groups were calling for The ABC TV management to apologize for having broadcast the segment. Their petition includes a description of the debate, and among other things, states that the exchange would have been unacceptable in any workplace. That’s right. If somebody talked to a Muslim fellow employee the way Lambie spoke to Abdul-Magied, there’d be a rapid trip to the personnel department.

But that’s not the situation they were in. Everybody knows that QandA is designed to bring together a group of people who will not agree on whatever is being discussed (and there are usually a dozen topics that come up in any one program, and the audience questions are pre-vetted and apparently selected for that specific purpose.) Many of the panelists talk over the top of each other. Everybody in Australia with a TV set knows this, and as a presenter on the same channel, Abdul-Magied no doubt knows it. Earlier in the program, she’d attempted (unsuccessfully) to interrupt and talk over a Liberal Party senator. It’s “let’s all get together and talk over the top of each other.” If the program changed this, it wouldn’t be QandA anymore. Perhaps that might be a good thing, but that’s another issue.

In their petition, the Muslim groups say: “If QandA wants to invite Muslim individuals to its forum, it should be able to guarantee a safe environment for them based on trustworthiness and comfort to speak in a platform that is rarely afforded to them, especially on issues concerning them.” I’m not sure what ‘trustworthyness’ is being referred to here. But guaranteeing a ‘safe environment … and comfort to speak…’ is precisely what the ABC should not be doing in a panel discussion. Since no-one was in any physical danger that night, the only ‘safety’ that could be meant here is emotional safety.  The demand for a safe environment sounds like code for ‘don’t criticize me or my beliefs.’

Free speech really does mean that you have to put up with some people who views are offensive to you. You also have to put up with idiots. I’ve had fundamentalist Christians tell me that without a God I have no basis for claiming to say anything about right and wrong. I think that view is incredibly stupid. Buddhism doesn’t have a God. Do Buddhists have no idea about right and wrong?

For the ABC to apologize would imply that it ‘won’t happen again’. The only way this could be done is to pre-tape the program, and then edit out the segments that might offend the petitioners.  That’s asking the ABC to internalize religious censorship. To even call for this shows a severe misunderstanding by the petitioners of the society they are living in. Apart from some matters relating to sex and violence Australia does not have a censorship system regarding what can be shown on TV. Some programs carry advice that the program is only suitable for certain ages, and some things have to be shown late in the evening, but that’s it. We don’t do religious censorship in Australia. Sadly, the Muslim petition has been signed by a large number of very well educated people who should know better. If the Muslim community wants to explain its faith to the broader Australian community, calling for censorship isn’t going to do it.

After writing most of the above, I became aware of a counter-petition by a right-wing news site, calling for the sacking of Abdul-Magied (link below). This is, in my view, equally stupid. Everybody ought to stop the “this is very offensive, that’s all offensive, sack him, sack her,” garbage. We are starting to sound like first-year American college students, and that is not a complement.

LINKS: Debate described here.

Muslim leaders demand apology in petition here.

Stephen Chavura’s article here.

Right-wing counter petition here .

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Is religion the major cause of wars? Karen Armstrong argues “No.”

Fields of Blood book coverOne only has to turn on the TV these days, or go to any internet news feed, to be confronted by horrific images of religious violence in the Middle East.  For those who saw the images of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, and the gunman murdering the wounded policeman on the pavement outside those offices, the religious violence seems all around us. So: Is religion to blame for most of the mass violence in the world?

Karen Armstrong’s Fields of Blood (Random House, 500 pages) traces the history of warfare since the invention of settled agriculture. Armstrong, a former Catholic Nun, has become one of the English-speaking world’s foremost scholars on the history of religion. She points out that in hunter-gather societies, there is no real warfare, except occasional skirmishes with nearby tribes, since the entire population is needed for food collection, and there is no agricultural surplus to sustain a kingly priestly, or soldier class. Once settled farming begins, and farmers are producing enough to support more than their own families,  a class of rulers, soldiers and priests can emerge.

The pace of agricultural innovation is terribly slow, however, so the only way that the new ruling class can expand its wealth is to conquer another nearby area and seize its surplus. That’s the start of warfare.

Throughout history, religions have been ideologies that propped up the legitimacy of the ruling class. (Have you ever known of a society where the major religion denied the legitimacy of the ruling class? How did that work out?) Warfare, Armstrong claims, occurs at times of social and economic change, and religion becomes enlisted in the political cause, rather than being the cause.

She also argues that the major conflicts of the 20th century were not religious. The first world war was not religious, and Germany didn’t start world War II  to spread either of its two recognized religions (Catholicism, and Lutheranism).   In the 1930s, Japan didn’t invade it’s neighbors to spread Shinto and Buddhism: China already had Confucianism and Buddhism, Thailand was already Buddhist, and Korea already had Buddhism.

The most interesting sections of the book deal with the crusades of the Middle Ages, and the religious ward of the 15 and 1600s, where religion really was at the center of the conflicts. The author has a knowledge of history that leaves me for dead.  For anybody who wants to get into the history of religion in a serious way, and is prepared to wade through some serious research, this book is a five star piece of work.

For those interested in reading some further reviews before committing to an arduous read, here is one from  The Guardian,  the New York Times   and here is publisher Random House’s description of the book’s subject matter. It’s a meaty read, but it’s worth it.

Should the state kill you for being an atheist?

In seven countries, there’s a belief to do with religion that can land you in jail, or get you killed. It’s not that you belong to a different religion to the rest of your country, or even a minority group within a religion. Those things can get you killed in some places, but I’m not talking about them.

Amnest InternationalIn January 2015 Karim al-Banna, a 21-year-old Egyptian student, was sentenced to three years jail for saying on Facebook that he was  an atheist.  As the New York Times reports in the same article, “Because atheism itself is not illegal in Egypt, charges are laid under laws against blasphemy or contempt for religion. In 2012, a 27-year-old blogger, Alber Saber, received a three-year sentence on charges of blasphemy for creating a web page called “Egyptian Atheists.” In 2013, the writer and human rights activist Karam Saber (no relation) was convicted of defaming religion in his short story collection “Where Is God?”

In Indonesia, Alexander Aan was arrested for saying there is no God on Facebook, and asking “If there is a God, why do bad things happen? Aan served two years jail, although some religious groups had called for his beheading. Amnesty International took up Aan’s case, and one of the country’s leading newspapers (The Jakarta Globe) described the case as blight on Indonesia’s democratic credentials and a threat to Indonesia’s attractiveness to foreign investors.”

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The Washing Post (see map above) describes the case of a Saudi Arabian, who was arrested as he changed planes in Malaysia, deported back to Saudi Arabia, because he had declared himself to be an atheist. The article includes a map showing the seven countries where you can die for being an atheist.

It’s time we asked a simple question. Is there any place in the 21st century for laws that allow a government to jail or kill a person just because they stop believing in god, and have the courage to say this publicly? Why should this be happening?

Amnesty International takes up cases like this, and campaigns to have  such sentences set aside. If you are not a member, I strongly urge you to join. The world needs more free speech, not less. It doesn’t need people hiding in cupboards and secret on-line forums just because they hold a minority opinion that harms no one. I hope you’ll consider joining. Here’s a link: http://www.amnesty.org/

OTHER INFO

Here is a Muslim author arguing that blasphemy charges are un-Islamic.

The Huffington Post provides a list of 13 countries where publicly declaring that you are  an atheist can get you jail or death.

What it’s like to grow up in Hezbollah culture

This is an extraordinary description of what it’s like to grow up in an area controlled by Hezbollah. The writer then compares Hezbollah to the fundamentalist Christian family and culture she married into, and talks about the similarities. It’s real eye-opener. (The passage starting “Hey guys! It’s been a coupe of months…” is the intro paragraph by the original author, not me.) And her article is here.

Odd stuff I found in the papers this week.

In Britain, a young woman has had her stomach removed after drinking a cocktail made with liquid nitrogen. Gaby Scanian, 18, a resident of Haysham in Lancashire, drank the cocktail at Oscars Bar in Lancaster. The bar had advertised the drink on its Facebook page.  Adding liquid nitrogen to the cocktail makes it give off white smoke. Liquid nitrogen is often used to chill food and glasses, but if swallowed may burn your mouth, throat, and stomach. The bar has since stopped serving the drink.

Cocktail Picture by Lynn Kelley Author, WANA Commons

Scientist have discovered a new type of squid, named  Vampyroteuthis infernalis, (Latin for  “Vampire squid from Hell”).  The squid lives at ocean depths so low that it can’t form muscle tissue, so it lives on  dead things, and guess what else? Faeces. Yep, that’s right. Apparently this doesn’t require a whole lot of muscle development.

Some squid that live in the waters around the states of Victoria and Tasmania, Australia, use up so much energy in mating that they swim slower for half an hour afterwards. The “dumpling squid” only live a year, and become sexually mature at four months, so they have to get it while they can. Melbourne University Master of Science student Amanda Franklin studied the squid and published  her findings in the Journal “Biology Letters.” According to Franklin, the squid have multiple partners and the males initiate sex “whenever they can.” Being slow to swim afterwards makes them vulnerable to predators, so they bury themselves in sand to hide.

A bride in the town of Jallias  in western France gave birth to a baby, only minutes after the wedding  ceremony. She was not due for a week, but felt unwell after a ceremony at the town hall and went back inside. Minutes later paramedics were called after her waters broke. The local mayor, Jean-Robert Gachet, said it was a very emotional moment for everyone when the baby was delivered. Yeah. sounds like bad planning to me. I wonder what the wedding photos will look like.

If anyone would like to alert me to weird stuff in their newspapers, please let me know.

ON A MORE SERIOUS NOTE: There has been a lot of discussion this last couple of weeks about the film “Innocence of the Muslims,” and the resulting riots in many counties, including at least a couple of dozen people who have been killed. I found this video by a Muslim man, Syed Mahmoud, urging his fellow Muslims not to demonstrate or riot. I agree. The film is an artless piece of junk that looks as tho a-14 year-old made it just to be provocative and seek attention. Mahmoud argues that by continuing to demonstrate, people are simply giving the film free publicity, for no good outcome. I agree, and   here’s the link to his video.

Have a good week.

Richard Snow

My novel ‘Fire Damage,’ an action thriller, is available on Amazon Kindle, here :The novel is based on the Japanese religious cult Aum Shinrikyo, which released Sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway system in the 1990s. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the app to read it on your computer or phone from here.

When ‘Art’ insults Religion; where are the limits?

Contents of ‘When ‘Art’ insults Religion; where are the limits?’

Piper Bayard has written in  her blog  about the current  film on Youtube which has resulted in riots and protests in several counties. Bayard states that “…religion, like politics, is visceral and rational discussions of either are rare.” She’s dead right. Her blog also has a discussion (which I recommend) of which countries might stand to gain from the current unrest, which I won’t attempt to summarize here.

Here in Australia there was a demonstration this week in which an adult held a sign saying “behead those who insult the prophet” and a small child (aged 6-7) held a similar banner, given to the child by its twenty-six year old mother.  You can see the sign here. Several police and demonstrators were injured when the demonstration moved to Martin Place, home of the US consulate.

A childish, stupid film, by a dishonest director

I’ve seen the film on Youtube. It’s childish, stupid, and is clearly intended to offend. The director has been dishonest with his actors, because he overdubbed the actor’s voices with other dialogue after the film was produced.  You can easily see where the producer (Sam Bacile) overdubbed the voices to make the actors say lines that weren’t originally in their scripts: the overdubbed voices don’t even sound like the original ones. (The actors claim to have been used and didn’t realize what would be done with the film.) It features a donkey who appeared to have converted to Islam.  I gather there are still arguments about whether the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi was related to the film or was already planned, so I won’t comment on that.

The film, we are told, only had one public viewing, in one cinema in Hollywood, for one night, and the audience consisted of about two dozen friends of the director. Without further publicity his film would have just fizzled away into the dustbin of history.

As best as I can figure, with the latest bombing in Afghanistan, the death toll appears to be about 20. (I’m writing about 4 pm Australia, Wednesday).   By demonstrating as they have, Muslims have only given the film free publicity and caused more people to click onto Youtube to see “what it’s about.”

So what role do we have – if any – in protecting the feelings of those who may be offended by deliberate insults to their religion?

Christians didn’t react with violence to the film Life of Brian. As far as I know Christians didn’t organize book burnings or demonstrations in response to Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. If they had it would probably just have increased his sales. Dawkins referred to the Christian God as a monster and a child abuser for ordering Abraham to (almost) sacrifice his son Issac on an altar as a test of faith. (For a summary of Dawkins’ claim and Christian reaction to Dawkins click here. ) On Melbourne television last night Muslim leaders appeared urging Muslims in Australia to ignore text messages and not to demonstrate.

Australia has a widely accepted  system of film censorship that mostly relates to sex and violence, but not religion.

So the central question: is how do you respond to so books or film that argue with or insult a religion?

Should we have censorship on the internet?

Should such things be censored?  Generally, my argument is no. In most of the English-speaking world, it’s legal to criticize, or even make a comedy about  a religion. I don’t see a way of banning the Youtube video unless Youtube itself pulls it – which it has done in several countries where the content would be illegal. But elsewhere governments have no power to do so. (Except China – but we don’t want to go down that pathway). Even if they had, the question becomes where do you stop? If governments had the power to ban this video, do you ban the Life Of Brian? Mel Gibson’s film, ‘The Passion of the Christ? Certain episodes of Southpark? I don’t see that religion is in a special category of its own that should somehow be exempt from logical criticism, humor, or ridicule. If there is a reason for religion being a special category, let’s discuss that – calmly and rationally.

On purely pragmatic grounds it sometimes helps to hold your tongue. If you’re at a family gathering and you think Mormon baptism of the dead is ridiculous (which I do think), or a loving monotheistic creator wouldn’t create a world in which the majority of its inhabitants are destined for hell, (which happens to be my own view) but you have a Mormon family member at the barbecue, it’s better for the sake of peace in the family to stay quiet.

In Australia, any religion is free to set up a table on the street or on a university campus, and debate or criticize the beliefs of others, including atheists, and others are free to criticize their religion – in fact any religion – and the best course of action is to respond with rational discussion debate. Explain why you think your religion is better than others, but do it logically.

Why give your enemy free publicity?

The actions of perhaps 50 people in Sydney have reinforced stereotypes of several hundred thousand other Muslims in Australia, who had nothing to do with these demonstrations. Many Muslim leaders in Australia have urged their followers to stay away from any similar future demonstrations about this film, and in this, I think the local Muslim leaders are correct.

We all have to accept that free speech means sometimes people will think that what you say is offensive, and they might think your views are offensive, so keep the response rational and civil.

Additional note: I found this video by a Muslim man, Syed Mahmoud, urging his fellow Muslims not to demonstrate or riot.  Mahmoud argues that by continuing to demonstrate, people are simply giving the film free publicity, for no good outcome. I agree completely, and   here’s the link to his video.