Pride (In the Name of Love)

After my earlier post/can of worms on secularism I have been a bit hesitant to stir up more religious trouble. Until I saw this little beauty:

The Vatican has asked Israel to ban a gay pride parade due to take place tomorrow in Jerusalem. Thousands of gay activists are expected to march in Jerusalem even though violence is expected.

This, in and of itself, is not such a big deal. The Holy See has always claimed that the catholic Church has the right, the duty even, to interfere with other people’s lives. If you have some time, you can go and read the official social doctrine of the Holy See. No, the really interesting part in the article is this:

“The Holy See has reiterated on many occasions that the right to freedom of expression … is subject to just limits, in particular when the exercise of this right would offend the religious sentiments of believers,” the Vatican said.

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Europe and secularism

Via DJ Nozem I was directed to a very interesting and very important article on Eurozine about European secularism and its role in shaping European identities. The text contains many useful insights and provides a wealth of discussion material. I’ll give one quote for our readers to consider and debate, emphasis mine, but please do and go read everything.

Internal differences notwithstanding, western European societies are deeply secular societies, shaped by the hegemonic knowledge regime of secularism. As liberal democratic societies they tolerate and respect individual religious freedom. But due to the pressure towards the privatization of religion, which among European societies has become a taken-for-granted characteristic of the self-definition of a modern secular society, those societies have a much greater difficulty in recognizing some legitimate role for religion in public life and in the organization and mobilization of collective group identities. Muslim organized collective identities and their public representations become a source of anxiety not only because of their religious otherness as a non-Christian and non-European religion, but more importantly because of their religiousness itself as the other of European secularity. In this context, the temptation to identify Islam and fundamentalism becomes the more pronounced. Islam, by definition, becomes the other of Western secular modernity. Therefore, the problems posed by the incorporation of Muslim immigrants become consciously or unconsciously associated with seemingly related and vexatious issues concerning the role of religion in the public sphere, which European societies assumed they had already solved according to the liberal secular norm of privatization of religion.

The sentence in bold goes to the heart of what I personally feel to be one of the main issues we are dealing with. Sure, Muslim fundamentalists who are ready to throw bombs and cause physical damage are a real threat and get plenty of media attention, deservedly or not. However, I believe the issues are much larger and much more complex. Terrorists, for better or for worse, are still a minority within a minority. There are bigger forces and trends at play here, as Eurozine points out:

The final and more responsible option would be to face the difficult and polemical task of defining through open and public debate the political identity of the new European Union: Who are we? Where do we come from? What constitutes our spiritual and moral heritage and the boundaries of our collective identities? How flexible internally and how open externally should those boundaries be? This would be under any circumstance an enormously complex task that would entail addressing and coming to terms with the many problematic and contradictory aspects of the European heritage in its intra-national, inter-European, and global-colonial dimensions. But such a complex task is made the more difficult by secularist prejudices that preclude not only a critical yet honest and reflexive assessment of the Judeo-Christian heritage, but even any public official reference to such a heritage, on the grounds that any reference to religion could be divisive and counterproductive, or simply violates secular postulates.

Al-Qaeda Recruits in Egypt

The first in our series of anniversary guest posts comes from the great Praktike, who normally writes for American Footprints.

The number two man in al-Qaeda, the Egyptian doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri, made waves when he announced on August 5th via a taped statement that five members of the Egyptian Islamic Group (EIG) had joined al-Qaeda. Ominously, he implied that they were just the tip of the iceberg. The revelation seemed to confirm what many terrorism analysts have been saying for some time: that the American response to September 11th has radicalized the region and made recruiting an easy task for al-Qaeda. Excerpts of the video, in which Al-Zawahiri appeared with the little-known Mohamed Khalil al-Hekayema, originally aired on the Al-Jazeera satellite channel.
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The liberalism of fools?

I cannot recommend highly enough Ken Macleod’s post (found via Crooked Timber) on how the “socialism of fools” – Engels’ description of anti-semitism – was accompanied by a sort of “liberalism of fools”, to wit, the anti-Catholicism of the pre-WWII era. Macleod, acknowledging that anti-Catholicism is rather passé these days, wonders if hatred of something else, perhaps another sect, might fill the roll as a modern liberalism of fools.

And, on a not entirely separate topic, French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo (no website, not that kind of paper) is republishing the images, along with one on its cover of Mohammed crying “It’s hard to be loved by fools”. An effort by the Conseil français du culte musulman to stop publication through the French courts was rejected on a technicality.

Chirac, however, has demonstrated that he is not, contrary to widespread belief, the biggest fool in Europe. Unlike the Danish Prime Minister, he has “condemned all manifest provocations that are liable to dangerously arouse passions.” Alas, he has only retreated to the number two slot in European political idiocy. He also said, “Anything susceptible to harm the convictions of others, particularly religious convictions, should be avoided. Freedom of expression should be exercised with a sense of responsibility.” Right on count two, wrong on count one. Responsible freedom of expression means that when you go out to offend people, you can’t claim to be surprised when they are offended. But there is little point in free speech if it is forbidden from trying to change convictions.

And round and round this totally avoidable fiasco goes.
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When Chams Attack

Greece and Albania are having a small diplomatic tiff. If reading about that sort of thing interests you, read on.

So: two weeks ago, Greek President Karolos Papoulias’ was scheduled to meet with Albanian President Alfred Moisiu, in the southern Albanian town of Sarande. I’m pretty sure this was the first meeting of Greek and Albanian heads of state in a long time. So, fairly big deal by regional standards.

But it didn’t happen, because of the Chams. About 200 of them. They showed up outside the hotel in Saranda where President Papoulias was staying, waved signs, shouted, and generally made a nuisance of themselves.

President Papoulias didn’t take this at all well. He cancelled the meeting with President Moisiu and went back to Greece in a huff. A day or two later, Greece issued a demarche to Albania. (A demarche is a formal diplomatic note from one country to another. It’s about a 5 on the diplomatic hissy-fit scale, higher than merely expressing disapproval but lower than recalling your ambassador.) The demarche expressed regret that Albania did not “take the necessary precautions so that the meeting between the Greek and Albanian Presidents could take place without hindrance.” Worse yet, they did not “take the necessary measures to discourage certain familiar extremist elements which, in their effort to obstruct the normal development of bilateral relations, continue to promote unacceptable and non-existent issues, at the very moment when Albania is attempting to proceed with steps fulfilling its European ambitions”.

Got that? Okay, now comes an obvious question.

What, exactly, are Chams?
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Out Of Tragedy Comes Hope?

On August 11, 1965 citizens of the United States woke up to news of an incident which, one way or another, changed fundamentally recent American history: the traffic arrest which lead to the Watts riots. The nature and context of the London Bombing may be different, but its impact on a nation may not be. I retain my view: the effects of what has just happened will be significant.
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Brass Crescent Awards from alt.muslim

In addition to our own European blog awards, I note that via Crooked Timber (and in turn from The Head Heeb) the people at alt.muslim are taking votes for the First Annual Brass Crescent Awards. This selection of blogs and posts on Islam or by Muslims offers some much needed diversity in the discussion of Islam-related topics. Several blogs from our blogroll have been nominated under various headings (primarily Best Non-Muslim Blog), including Abu Aardvark, The Head Heeb, Amygdala and Informed Comment. One Fistful of Euros post (full disclosure: by me) has also been nominated in the Best Post category. It seems a little strange to be classed as part of the “Islamsphere”, but it’s not a badge I’m bothered to wear.

By all means, go over to alt.muslim and take a look at the nominated posts. Getting some sense of the breadth of Islamic opinion and of the perceptions of Muslims is something I would consider near to a civic duty these days, and I think they have assembled an excellent collect for those interested in doing so.

Turkey and the EU: Poles apart?

Like most numbers of the Spectator, the festive, XL-sized holiday edition is marred by the presence of Mark Steyn. But don’t let that put you off, there’s some good stuff there as well. And one of the better bits is an essay by Prof. Norman Stone on Turkey (Potential EU Accession of) (reg. req.).

For the most part Stone paints a picture of the old Ottoman Empire as something much less uniformly Islamic than some think. You should already be aware, of course, that what would later (in truncated form) become Turkey was a multicultural, multiethnic, multireligious state, but if you weren’t, Stone gives you a quick background. (By the time it fell apart, the Ottoman Empire had become the ‘Sick Man of Europe’; but for centuries it was a success.) What you might not have known, though, was that the orthodox Christians of the Ottoman realms were only too happy to be part of a nominally Islamic polity. The orthodox patriarchs and the Muslim sultans saw in the latinate West a common foe. Indeed my own suspicion is that the Greeks felt a keener enmity than the Turks. The sultan, understandably, might well have seen the theological differences between orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism as obscure and uninteresting (how many of us in the post-Christian lands of the west are aware of, let alone take much interest in, the distinctions between the theravada and mahayana strains of Buddhism?) To the bishops of the orthodox world, though, the sultan served (whether he cared about this or not) as a bulwark against the centralising domination of their brother-bishop at Rome.

But what set Stone off was a recent article in Die Zeit by Prof. Hans-Ulrich Wehler. The title of Wehler’s article, which formed part of the contra side in a Zeit-sponsored debate on Turkish accession to the EU, has some unfortunate historical echoes: “Das T?rkenproblem“.
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Suspicion and divided loyalties

Perhaps the most damaging effect of 9/11 and all that has followed will be its role in making divided loyalties one of the most dangerous things a person can have. From the beginning, while the ruins of the World Trade Center were still burning, any effort to hold non-trivial positions about terrorism and Islam were attacked. People opposed to the war in Iraq were branded as terrorist supporters, people unimpressed by a programme of reform in the Middle East imposed at the end of a gun were castigated, people who asked questions about whether there was more to things than “they hate us for our freedom” were branded as traitors.

Tariq Ramadan wrote a piece in Wednesday’s New York Times which must be read in this light. The key paragraph – the statement of where he stands – appears at the end:

I believe Western Muslims can make a critical difference in the Muslim majority world. To do this, we must become full, independent Western citizens, working with others to address social, economic and political problems. However, we can succeed only if Westerners do not cast doubt on our loyalty every time we criticize Western governments. Not only do our independent voices enrich Western societies, they are the only way for Western Muslims to be credible in Arab and Islamic countries so that we can help bring about freedom and democracy. That is the message I advocate. I do not understand how it can be judged as a threat to America.

But it is not that hard to see the threat in it. To encourage western Muslims to at once see themselves as having a place in the West and a role in the Islamic world is tantamount to asking them to divide their loyalties. To all too many people right now, divided loyalties are a synonym for treason. The charge of divided loyalties is an old one, and a very damaging one. It was once the most mainstream charge that people made against Jews. To see it revived today – against Muslims in Europe, against Mexicans in the US by the likes of Samuel Huntington, and yes, against Jews in many countries – is very, very troubling.
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