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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ICRC admits Israel and Palestine

According to this morning’s news, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent had admitted the Israeli Magen David Adom and Palestinian Red Crescent Society as full members, following the final passage of a text allowing the new “red crystal” symbol. The red crystal looks to me like a red Renault logo, but I guess at least it doesn’t have much religious significance for anybody.
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Killer Identities

Sorting through some old books yesterday, I came across one from Amin Maaloof that I hadn’t looked at in years. So I dusted it off, and started thinking about this post.

The English title of the book is “In the Name of Identity“, but the French title “Les Identit?s meurtrieres” (Lethal Identities?) or the Catalan one ‘Indentitats que Maten’ (Killer Identities) are much more expressive and to the point.
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Paul Johnson: carried away as with a flood

The catastrophic tsunami in the Indian Ocean gave many of us reason to crack open the dictionary and reacquaint ourselves with the term ‘theodicy’. Crooked Timber‘s Brian Weatherson, for example, saw in the catastrophe an opportunity to discuss the ‘problem of evil’ (i.e., given the manifest existence of evil in the world, is it not correct to say that God, if he exist, may be all-good, or all-powerful, but in any event cannot be both?).

Now that is is a very proper thing for a philosopher to discuss. As for me, though, I have never found the problem of evil very interesting, as it seems to presume that God plays a much more direct role in the day-to-day running of the world than I think he does.

But this is not the place to explore my unorthodox religious views. I wish instead to consider the religious views of Paul Johnson, which are presumably much more orthodox than my own and are at any rate, I think, far more offensive. For Johnson regards the tsunami from the perspective of classical theodicy, and concludes that it was a Good Thing.

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Adventures in Laïcité

Christmas time is traditionally a period of religious tension and social stress, and the first Christmas since the advent of “laïcité républicaine” has not spared France. Last month, students in Lagny-sur-Marne (Seine-et-Marne, e.g. outer Paris) had to give up their Christmas tree after a group of students (from what I’ve read, the principle won’t say what faith they professed if any) demanded the strict application of French law concerning secularism in the schools.

Students, parents, the French press and of course the usual suspects were shocked to discover that the idea of secularism might apply to their treasured fetishes. The tree was ultimately restored, from what I can garner from the press, following claims that Christmas trees are pagan and secular, not religious, in nature. In any other country, pagan and secular are mutually exclusive terms, and if a garment is religious, a holiday damn well can be too. I did not see an exception for Druidism in the “Loi sur la Laicité”. Besides, if we are to accept claims of secularism, where does it stop? I have to wonder if an Arab girl who claims to wear a headscarf not because its a religious symbol but because she’s having a bad hair day gets the same consideration.

Alas, the passage of the holidays has not made matters better. Today’s AP feed brings news that Muslim children may be expelled for failing to eat the meat offered in the school cafeteria. The letter making this threat was sent to twenty-odd Muslim parents. There was no mention of vegetarian students. Apparently “all children must eat all the dishes served, even if only a small portion” in order to have a “balanced diet.” Now, I went to university in Strasbourg and I saw the kind of meat on offer in university cafeterias. It was years before I could bring myself to eat rabbit after living in France. French cuisine may merit it’s reputation, but the national reputation for taste does not extend to school lunches. I have the strong suspicion that no vegetarian, Jewish, or simply fussy child will ever be the target of such a decision.

Promises that this law would apply equally to all religons are revealed to be the farce they always were. I stand by my prediction: this law is a fiasco. It will solve no problems, liberate no one, and create nothing but idiocy and new contradictions. It is already serving as an excuse for the institutionalisation of bigotry.

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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Thoughts on Establishment

Not having been educated in Europe, I can’t contribute to the thread on religious education. But I want to thank Nick for putting it up, and everyone else for their comments on it. One of my pet peeves is how American arguments about religious education, and “establishment” issues in general (as they are usually described in the U.S., following the language of the First Amendment), seem to me at least to be trapped in a very narrow (judicially dictated, for the most part) box. I’m not a theocrat, but I suspect that, had America’s historical experience with religious-civic partnerships been different, we perhaps might more easily be able to relate to both the benefits, and the costs, of the sort of (I think highly admirable) experiences with religious education that many of you are describing. Anyway, your thoughts prompt me to excerpt here a post from my own blog from last September; specifically, a quote from Stanley Hauerwas, that expresses my views of the matter pretty succinctly…
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Religious education in Europe

Following on from threads on Calpundit and Crooked Timber, and given that Europe seems to be at the centre of the debate over religious education in schools at present, what with the French headscarf debate and the proposals to add atheism, agnosticism and humanism to RE in British schools, I thought it would be interesting to get a picture of how the teaching of religion is handled in education systems across Europe.

Below the fold of this post, I’ve given my experiences of religious education at school in Britain and what I understand to be the present position. What I’d like is for our commenters and other contributors to add their experiences or knowledge in the comments box and we’ll see what sort of cross-continental picture we come up with. I’ll admit to being quite ignorant of the position outside Britain (though I know some of the system in France and Ireland) and hopefully we can all enlighten ourselves!
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Where the River Bends

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the female Iraqui blogger River Bend, but my feeling is that those of you who aren’t would do well to make her acquaintance. Juan Cole describes her in his blogroll as an Iraqi nationalist, but reading the posts she doesn’t seem to be a nationalist in any stronger sense than say Blair and Bush are patriotic, or than Schroeder and Chirac are in the defence of their respective corners (of course this may well be problematic, but it is just to put things in perspective). Iraqi nationalism could also mean Baath, and this isn’t the case here. Indeed what she has to say about the Kurdish question is remarkably similar to what the Spanish PSOE seems to be proposing in connection with the Basque and Catalan ‘problems’ here in Spain. And this is not an idle comparison, since I think if you don’t get your mindset round what the ‘problem’ is in Spain, you are never going to begin to understand what it is in Iraq.

Reading one of her posts earlier this week, I couldn’t help been drawn towards an unfortunate parrallel: that between what is now taking place in Iraq and the topic of one of Scott Marten’s recent posts: the headscarf. Wouldn’t it indeed be ironic if we were about to witness a similar – if diametrically opposed error – being committed in two places at once? Whilst young French girls may be denied the right to religious expression at one end, young Iraqi ones may be denied the right to secularism. at the other And all in the name of democracy. Strange world.
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