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Ed Webb

What Went Wrong With France's Deradicalization Program? - The Atlantic - 0 views

  • When Vallat returned to France in 1994, he began visiting a Salafi mosque his GIA friends had recommended. Salafism, an ultraconservative, fundamentalist strain of Islam that aspires to emulate the Prophet Mohammed and return to the religion’s supposed original ways, has been known to breed jihadists. At the mosque, he was told that modern-day Islam was a domesticated product of colonization, and that true Islam was that of combatants, of sacrifice, of blood. Anyone opposing the jihadists must be annihilated, he was told. He read the Koran and began learning Arabic.
  • he began visiting a Salafi mosque his GIA friends had recommended. Salafism, an ultraconservative, fundamentalist strain of Islam that aspires to emulate the Prophet Mohammed and return to the religion’s supposed original ways, has been known to breed jihadists. At the mosque, he was told that modern-day Islam was a domesticated product of colonization, and that true Islam was that of combatants, of sacrifice, of blood. Anyone opposing the jihadists must be annihilated
  • After a few months, the residents were eating non-halal food. Residents also received a rigorous training in French nationalism: They were asked to wear uniforms and sing La Marseillaise, France’s national anthem, each morning.

    But deradicalization is a murky, unsettled science. A debate soon broke out among experts over how best to implement the program. Could radicalized youth be “cured” psychologically? Or was radicalization a structural problem, caused by inequality and segregation? What, for that matter, did it even mean to be radicalized?

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  • Reading Machiavelli and Rousseau gave him a new political idea—what he later referred to as the “gift of humanism,” where the potential for human goodness is regarded as a more important force than anything divine.  “I started to understand that all humans … can make a choice to believe in God,” Vallat, now 45, told me when we met at a sun-soaked café in central Lyon. “We can decide what we want, and the majority of our choices can be made to benefit us here on earth. Really, it shocked me.”
  • Though Vallat comes from an older generation of jihad, he insisted that radicalization remains much the same today. And the problem is worsening: some 350 “Islamic terrorists” currently sit in French prisons; another 5,800 are under police surveillance, and an additional 17,000 have been classified as a potential threat
  • The plan was to open an experimental “Center for Prevention, Integration, and Citizenship.” Radicalized men and women who’d been flagged by local prefectures for exhibiting withdrawn behavior were invited to voluntarily enter a program to “develop critical minds and appropriate citizenship and republican values,” according to its charter. If it went well, the government would open 12 more centers—one in each of France’s 13 districts.
  • Residents, who were aged between 18 and 30 and came from all over France, received lessons in French history, philosophy, literature, media, and religion, all with the goal of teaching them to “muscle their intellectual immune systems,” as Gerald Bronner, a French sociologist who worked at the center in Pontourny, put it. They also participated in daily therapy, art, and music classes. Group conversations centered on democracy, religion and laïcité, the French concept dating back to 1905 that calls for the separation of religion from politics.
  • Working as a junior al-Qaeda operative, he prepared to return to Bosnia as an arms dealer and die for Allah “like the Americans in Normandy.” But on August 29th, 1995, just a month after a bomb exploded inside a Paris metro killing eight and injuring 100, French authorities raided the cell and arrested Vallat. They were so surprised to find a French native that his mother was asked to confirm that he was not an undocumented Algerian.
  • Part of the difficulty, though, is in creating a program that avoids falsely categorizing Muslims who are conservative but not radicalized. While French intelligence monitors mosques, neighborhoods, and online activities, often there’s no way to tell if someone has fully committed to jihad until it’s too late.
  • “Radicalization” is subjective; it’s not like being ill or suffering from addiction. The idea that someone can possess the “wrong” radical ideology presumes there’s some “right” corpus of values. The CIPDR claimed to be addressing this problem by using the term “disengagement” instead of deradicalization. “Deradicalization means that we are going to withdraw the beliefs of a spirit,” Bronner wrote in an email. “This is not really the objective of the center; everyone has the right to believe what he wants. Rather, we want to help these radicalized young people make a declaration of mental independence to better control certain processes of deceptive reasoning such as conspiracy theories.”
  • “It’s a stupid idea to take young people from their homes. The problem is you need to re-socialize these people, not make them a bourgeois model.”
  • to Boukhobza, the “full-frontal” approach of “flag raising in the morning, courses in secularism, etc.,” was too aggressively nationalistic. “They’ve built a program in total opposition to the particular mental universe of the individuals. I don’t think it’s the right solution. Rather, they should propose not a counter-truth but something that can coexist.”
  • Is someone who rejects principles of laïcité inherently radical, even if they aren’t violent?
  • Even Vallat, still a practicing Muslim with a wife and daughter, doesn’t have an answer. “There always remains something of the pathway created from radicalization,” he wrote me later over email. “For example, I never go into a protected place without immediately imagining how to take it by storm. When I see a group of soldiers or policemen on the street, I cannot help but think how I’d neutralize them. I know today I will never do it, but this regard (or “outlook”) persists.”
Ed Webb

Palestinian sisters dig into history of last all-Christian village - 0 views

  • Aware of the rich history of Taybeh, known as the last all-Christian village with Caananite roots in Palestine, Farah and her sister Nusra worked to compile a comprehensive database on the history of their village using local and international sources and interviewing villagers. The database grew into an encyclopedia on the history of the village that was published in January.

    The village of 3,000, located 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) northeast of Ramallah, is indeed the only village solely inhabited by Christians. It's known for both its history that dates back 4,000 years and its Oktoberfest, which attracts tourists who come to enjoy the local Taybeh beer.

  • The 500-page encyclopedia is written in Arabic and English. The two sisters, who paid for its production out of their own pockets, printed 100 copies that they have distributed to schools, libraries, churches and other institutions in the village. Farah said that more can be printed, adding, “We do not seek financial remuneration or profits out of this. We want each family in the village to have a copy of the encyclopedia and to keep it as a reference.”
  • Christian pilgrims who travel from Jerusalem to Nazareth visit the village because of its historical and religious importance. According to Abu Sahliya, an estimated 15,000 pilgrims visit Taybeh annually, a major source of income for the hotels and the village in general.
Ed Webb

The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer: Turning Qatar into an Island: Saudi cuts off... - 0 views

  • There’s a cutting-off-the-nose-to-spite-the face aspect to a Saudi plan to turn Qatar into an island by digging a 60-kilometre ocean channel through the two countries’ land border that would accommodate a nuclear waste heap as well as a military base.

    If implemented, the channel would signal the kingdom’s belief that relations between the world’s only two Wahhabi states will not any time soon return to the projection of Gulf brotherhood that was the dominant theme prior to the United Arab Emirates-Saudi-led imposition in June of last year of a diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar.
  • The message that notions of Gulf brotherhood are shallow at best is one that will be heard not only in Doha, but also in other capitals in the region
  • the nuclear waste dump and military base would be on the side of the channel that touches the Qatari border and would effectively constitute a Saudi outpost on the newly created island.
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  • The plan, to be funded by private Saudi and Emirati investors and executed by Egyptian firms that helped broaden the Suez Canal, also envisions the construction of five hotels, two ports and a free trade zone.
  • The $750 million project would have the dump ready for when Saudi Arabia inaugurates the first two of its 16 planned nuclear reactors in 2027. Saudi Arabia is reviewing proposals to build the reactors from US, Chinese, French, South Korean contractors and expects to award the projects in December.
  • Qatar’s more liberal Wahhabism of the sea contrasts starkly with the Wahhabism of the land that Prince Mohammed is seeking to reform. The crown prince made waves last year by lifting a ban on women’s driving, granting women the right to attend male sporting events in stadiums, and introducing modern forms of entertainment like, music, cinema and theatre – all long-standing fixtures of Qatari social life and of the ability to reform while maintaining autocratic rule.
  • A traditional Gulf state and a Wahhabi state to boot, Qatari conservatism was everything but a mirror image of Saudi Arabia’s long-standing puritan way of life. Qatar did not have a powerful religious establishment like the one in Saudi Arabia that Prince Mohammed has recently whipped into subservience, nor did it implement absolute gender segregation.

    Non-Muslims can practice their faith in their own houses of worship and were exempted from bans on alcohol and pork. Qatar became a sponsor of the arts and hosted the controversial state-owned Al Jazeera television network that revolutionized the region’s controlled media landscape and became one of the world’s foremost global English-language broadcasters.
  • Qatari conservatism is likely what Prince Mohammed would like to achieve even if that is something he is unlikely to acknowledge
  • “I consider myself a good Wahhabi and can still be modern, understanding Islam in an open way. We take into account the changes in the world,” Abdelhameed Al Ansari, the then dean of Qatar University’s College of Sharia, a leader of the paradigm shift, told The Wall Street Journal in 2002.
  • if built, the channel would suggest that geopolitical supremacy has replaced ultra-conservative, supremacist religious doctrine as a driver of the king-in-waiting’s policy
Ed Webb

With more Islamic schooling, Erdogan aims to reshape Turkey - 0 views

  • Erdogan has said one of his goals is to forge a “pious generation” in predominantly Muslim Turkey “that will work for the construction of a new civilisation.” His recent speeches have emphasised Turkey’s Ottoman history and domestic achievements over Western ideas and influences. Reviving Imam Hatip, or Imam and Preacher, schools is part of Erdogan’s drive to put religion at the heart of national life after decades of secular dominance, and his old school is just one beneficiary of a government programme to pump billions of dollars into religious education.
  • spending on Imam Hatip upper schools for boys and girls aged 14 to 18 will double to 6.57 billion lira ($1.68 billion) in 2018
  • the 645,000 Imam Hatip students make up only 11 percent of the total upper school population, they receive 23 percent of funding
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  • Turkey has also increased religious education teaching at regular state schools, some of which have been converted into Imam Hatip schools. The government declined to say how many
  • Islamic schools are underperforming the regular ones
  • Education Minister Ismet Yilmaz has said previously that the government is responding to popular demand by opening new Imam Hatip schools
  • “Islam is not being forced on people. It is not a matter of saying everyone should go to Imam Hatips. We are just providing an opportunity to those families who want to send their children to Imam Hatips.”
  • Some secularist parents say the Islamist school movement is robbing their children of resources and opportunity. Those differences are part of a wider disagreement between liberal and secular sections of society and Erdogan’s support base of conservative, pious Turks
  • critics have accused Erdogan of rolling back the secular state founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923 and weakening its pillars - the army, judiciary and media. Relations between NATO-member Turkey and its U.S. and European partners have become strained. Ankara’s bid to join the European Union has stalled and Western countries have criticised Turkey over mass arrests that followed a failed military coup in July 2016
  • The school’s website vaunts its success in pursuits including karate, biology, chemistry, Arabic, music and Koran recitation. Religious education lessons account for around a quarter to a third of the curriculum in Imam Hatip schools
  • anathema to secularists, people on the political left and members of the minority Alevi faith, which draws upon Shi’ite, Sufi and Anatolian folk traditions and rituals that differ sharply from those of the country’s Sunni majority
  • Sarigazi is a non-religious school, in an area with a strong Alevi and secular community, but a large part of the premises has been converted into an Imam Hatip school.

    A group of parents has petitioned education authorities to stop the conversion, collecting hundreds of signatures. Those parents say the change began several years ago with a few Imam Hatip “guest” classes but has since expanded to 1,300 pupils, encroaching on the building where some 3,000 students study in a regular middle school. The mother of a 10-year-old girl at the regular school said she and other parents would continue their fight against the school’s conversion. She said it was wrong to force Islam on people. Like several other secularist parents interviewed, the woman declined to give her name

  • Successive AK Party governments have given a high priority to education, ramping up the education ministry’s spending to some 12.3 percent of the entire budget this year from 6.9 percent in 2003, the AK Party’s first full year in power.

    Despite all the money allocated to the schools, figures on 2017 university placements show graduates of religious schools lag their peers in regular schools. Only 18 percent of applicants from religious schools earned places on full degree courses at university last year, compared with 35 percent from regular state upper schools and 45 percent from private upper schools.

  • survey of academic performance published in December 2016 for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development showed the success of Imam Hatip upper school students was below the national average
  • Turkey slipped an average of eight places in the survey’s rankings for science, mathematics and reading, compared with the previous study three years earlier, to 50th among 72 countries
  • Reuters could not determine whether socioeconomic factors were contributing to the performance gap between Imam Hatip and regular schools because there is no data available on pupils’ family backgrounds, their income and education. However, religious schools are found in towns and cities across Turkey, in poor and affluent districts.
  • the number of students in Imam Hatip upper schools dipped slightly last year. Opposition lawmaker Engin Altay said the slide was “directly correlated with the low success rate of Imam Hatip upper schools in an academic sense.”
  • Halit Bekiroglu, chairman of an association of Imam Hatip members and graduates, said secularist fears about the schools were exaggerated. Their revival, he said, reflected the conservative religious character of most of Turkish society and a desire for a change in an education system that previously imported Western ideas
  • Parents who send their children to Imam Hatip schools speak of their desire for them to have a strong moral education
  • Batuhan Aydagul, director of Education Reform Initiative, an independent think tank in Istanbul, said: “What we see now is a ‘national and native’ identity being constructed in education.”
  • mathematical engineer Ozlem Koc, 42, who lives on the Asian side of Istanbul. She won a court case in June after a year-long battle with education authorities to exempt her 10-year-old son from religious education, arguing that it was contrary to human rights to force it on children.

    “This is not just my personal case,” she said. “I want my child to be exempt from religious lessons, but I am also fighting for compulsory religious education to be removed from the curriculum.”

Ed Webb

A glimpse inside Saudi Arabia in photos - 0 views

  • photos in the gallery below illustrate Saudi Arabia’s rapid urbanization, rising national identity, and some of the changes underway in society and politics as King Salman’s Vision 2030 gets underway
Ed Webb

I found out what happened when a mother took her son to be kneecapped in Nort... - 0 views

  • The resulting film, A Mother Brings Her Son to Be Shot, will receive its international premiere this weekend in Copenhagen, at CPH:DOX, one of the most prestigious documentary festivals in the world, where it has been nominated for an award. The Oscar-winning director Joshua Oppenheimer is now executive producer.

    The international interest is in disappointing contrast with the UK. The documentary premiered at the London film festival last year but as yet, no UK broadcaster has committed to screening it, despite mounting concerns that Brexit could reawaken old divisions.

  • Some of the people I met during the making of my film are just waiting for an excuse to return to the Troubles. They have not yet recovered from the conflict, nor accepted that the political process requires them to “move on”. They continue to nurse grievances, they plot, they openly carry arms, indeed they yearn for bigger and better weapons. They miss the drama of war, and the identity it gave them. Their children have grown up with this. None of this suits the narrative that the Good Friday agreement brought peace to Northern Ireland. The agreement was a vital achievement for all involved, and should be protected, but some sections of the community still feel that they lack support and believe the peace process has not provided for them.

    This state of mind is widespread within Northern Ireland. More people have taken their own lives there in the last 20 years than were killed during the Troubles.

Ed Webb

The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer: Countering Extremism: Jihadist Ideology Reig... - 0 views

  • By James M. Dorsey

    Edited remarks at India Foundation conference, Changing Contours of Global Terror, Gurugram, Haryana, 14-16 March 2018
  • Al Qaeda produced the counterterrorism industry in the context of a response that was focussed on law enforcement, security and military engagement. To be sure, that has produced significant results. It has enhanced security across the globe, stopped plots before they could be executed, driven Al Qaeda into caves, and deprived the Islamic State of its territorial base.

    All of that, however has not solved the problem, nor has it fundamentally reduced the attraction of religiously-cloaked extremism.
  • the call for a counter-narrative has produced an industry of its own. Like the terrorism industry, it has vested interests of its own: its sustainability is dependent on the continued existence of perceived real threats.
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  • The notion that one can eradicate political violence is illusionary. Political violence has been a fixture of human history since day one and is likely to remain a fact of life. Its ebbs and flows often co-relate to economic, social and political up and down turns. In other words, counterterrorism and counternarratives will only be effective if they are embedded in far broader policies that tackle root causes.

    And that is where the shoe pinches. To develop policies that tackle root causes, that are inclusive and aim to ensure that at least the vast majority, if not everyone, has a stake in society, the economy and the political system involves painful decisions, revising often long-standing policies and tackling vested interests. Few politicians and bureaucrats are inclined to do so.
  • militants have benefitted from the fact that the world was entering a cyclical period in which populations lose confidence in political systems and leaderships. The single largest success of Osama bin Laden and subsequent militants is the fact that they were able to disrupt efforts to forge inclusive, multicultural societies, nowhere more so than first in Europe, then the United States with the rise of Donald Trump, and exploit ripple effects in Asia
  • what makes this cycle of lack of confidence more worrisome and goes directly to the question of the ideological challenge is how it differs from the late 1960s, the last time that we witnessed a breakdown in confidence and leadership on a global scale.

    The difference between then and now is that then there were all kinds of worldviews on offer: anti-authoritarianism, anarchism, socialism, communism, concepts of extra-parliamentary opposition, and in the Middle East and North Africa, Arab nationalism and Arab socialism. Today, the only thing on offer are militant interpretations of Islam and jihadism
  • an approach that focuses on the immediate nature of the threat and ways to neutralize it rather than on what sparked it
  • Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appeared to be holding out a dream for his kingdom. But that dream increasingly is being shattered both in Yemen and at home. Autocrats in the Middle East and North Africa are about upgrading and modernizing their regimes to ensure their survival, not about real sustainable change
  • populists and nationalists advocating racial, ethnic and religious purity and protectionist economic policies are unlikely to fare any better
  • Creating a policy framework that is conducive to an environment in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia that would favour pluralism and respect of human rights and counter the appeal of jihadism and emerging sectarian-based nationalism is not simply a question of encouraging and supporting voices in the region, first and foremost those of youth, or of revisiting assumptions of Western foreign policies and definitions of national security. 

    It involves fostering inclusive national identities that can accommodate ethnic, sectarian and tribal sub-identities as legitimate and fully accepted sub-identities in Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian, as well as in Western countries. It involves changing domestic policies towards minorities, refugees and migrants
  • Instead of reducing the threat of political violence, the largely military effort to defeat Al Qaeda produced ever more virulent forms of jihadism as embodied by the Islamic State. It may be hard to imagine anything more brutal than the group, but it is a fair assumption that defeating the Islamic State without tackling root causes could lead to something that is even more violent and more vicious.
  • With democracy on the defense, free market enterprise having failed significant segments of the public, and newly found legitimacy for prejudice, bias and bigotry, democratic governments are incapable of credibly projecting a dream, one that is backed up by policies that hold out realistic hope of producing results
  • Norway’s response to right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik’s traumatic attacks in 2011 that killed 77 people stands as a model for how societies can and should uphold concepts of pluralism and human rights. Norway refrained from declaring war on terror, treated Breivik as a common criminal, and refused to compromise on its democratic values. In doing so, Norway offered a successful example of refusing to stigmatise any one group in society by adopting inclusiveness rather than profiling and upholding the very values that autocrats and jihadists challenge
Ed Webb

What It's Like to Live in a Surveillance State - The New York Times - 0 views

  • when it comes to indigenous Uighurs in the vast western region of Xinjiang, the Chinese Communist Party (C.C.P.) has updated its old totalitarian methods with cutting-edge technology
  • The Qing Empire conquered Xinjiang in the 18th century. The territory then slipped from Beijing’s control, until the Communists reoccupied it with Soviet help in 1949. Today, several Central Asian peoples, including Uighurs, Kazakhs and Kyrghyz, make up about half of the region’s population; the remainder are Han and Hui, who arrived from eastern China starting in the mid-20th century
  • the C.C.P. has since subjected the entire Uighur population of some 11 million to arbitrary arrest, draconian surveillance or systemic discrimination. Uighurs are culturally Muslim, and the government often cites the threat of foreign Islamist ideology to justify its security policies
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  • A law now bans face coverings — but also “abnormal” beards. A Uighur village party chief was demoted for not smoking, on grounds that this failing displayed an insufficient “commitment to secularization.” Officials in the city of Kashgar, in southwest Xinjiang, recently jailed several prominent Uighur businessmen for not praying enough at a funeral — a sign of “extremism,” they claimed.
  • Uighurs’ DNA is collected during state-run medical checkups. Local authorities now install a GPS tracking system in all vehicles. Government spy apps must be loaded on mobile phones. All communication software is banned except WeChat, which grants the police access to users’ calls, texts and other shared content. When Uighurs buy a kitchen knife, their ID data is etched on the blade as a QR code
  • The C.C.P., once quite liberal in its approach to diversity, seems to be redefining Chinese identity in the image of the majority Han — its version, perhaps, of the nativism that appears to be sweeping other parts of the world. With ethnic difference itself now defined as a threat to the Chinese state, local leaders like Mr. Chen feel empowered to target Uighurs and their culture wholesale
  • There’s an old Chinese joke about Uighurs being the Silk Road’s consummate entrepreneurs: When the first Chinese astronaut steps off his spaceship onto the moon, he will find a Uighur already there selling lamb kebabs. And so even as Mr. Chen cracks down in Xinjiang, the Chinese government touts the region as the gateway for its much-vaunted “one belt, one road” initiative, Mr. Xi’s signature foreign policy project. The grand idea combines a plan to spend billions of dollars in development loans and transport investment across Eurasia with a strategic bid to establish China’s diplomatic primacy in Asia.
  • How does the party think that directives banning fasting during Ramadan in Xinjiang, requiring Uighur shops to sell alcohol and prohibiting Muslim parents from giving their children Islamic names will go over with governments and peoples from Pakistan to Turkey? The Chinese government may be calculating that money can buy these states’ quiet acceptance. But the thousands of Uighur refugees in Turkey and Syriaalready complicate China’s diplomacy.
Ed Webb

UAE now Requires Licenses for 'Social Media Influencers' - 0 views

  • The United Arab Emirates says it will now require anyone conducting "commercial activities" through social media to register for a government-issued license.

  • new rules announced Tuesday target so-called "social media influencers,"
  • help ensure "that media material respects the religious, cultural and social values of the UAE,"
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  • The UAE, while liberal in many regards compared to its Middle Eastern neighbors, has strict laws governing expression.

    Journalists working in the country require government-issued press cards. People also have been jailed for their comments online.

Ed Webb

'The Insult,' Lebanon's first Oscar-nominated film, examines a country's deepest wounds... - 0 views

  • The film follows Yasser, a Palestinian construction worker who becomes embroiled in conflict with Toni, a right-wing Lebanese Christian, over a leaking water pipe. When Yasser confronts Toni about his grievances, Toni hurls back an insult that strikes sharply at the heart of the Palestinian struggle. The film examines the many forms our personal truths can take, how they collide, and the consequences of words in a polarized world.
  • It could happen like that in Lebanon. You could have a very silly incident that could develop into a national case.
  • we were fought because some people thought that we’re opening old wounds, and then all the people felt that, you know, we were defaming the Palestinians. Other people said we were attacking the Christians. Anytime you make a movie that is a bit sensitive — this one is a little bit more than a bit sensitive — people go up in arms. You know, they look at the film and then they immediately start projecting themselves and projecting their prejudices against it
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  • The subject came out of something I lived through, growing up in a war. Something that my co-screenwriter Joelle also lived through. It’s not like we read a book or based it on a TV interview on CNN. It’s something that we lived through, all the dynamics that you saw in the film, we are very familiar with it. You know, the Palestinian point of view, the Christian point of view. These are things that are so familiar to us. You know it’s this thing that we grew up eating and drinking and living. We were stopped at checkpoints, we hid under the bombs, we lived in shelters in Beirut in the 70s and the 80s and the 90s
  • We could have been such a lighthouse in the midst of all these other places around because we’re so interesting. Lebanon so interesting. But it’s sad that it does not fully use its potential. You know Christians, Muslims, Shiites, Sunni, liberal, it has all the potential of making a very, very interesting place
  • I had a lot of prejudice towards the Christians growing up. Like incredible. My parents were very left wing pro-Palestinian. And anybody from the Christian camp, from East Beirut, was considered a traitor, the enemy. And then you meet people from East Beirut, Christians, who were part of the Christian camp, and then you sit down and they work on your movie and and then you go have a drink and then you suddenly say, “Their story’s like mine, they suffered as much as [me].”
  • “The Insult” is about reexamining the other side. The woman who co-wrote the film with me who became my wife — we wrote four films together — she comes from the Christian camp. I come from [Muslim] West Beirut. She wrote all the scenes of the Palestinian. And I wrote the scenes of the Christians. We swapped.
  • every screening we do in the states, in Los Angeles in Telluride, in Toronto people were like so emotional about it. And then they said, “We totally identified because of what’s going on in the States today. We are living in America at a period where it feels like this entire society is tearing apart a bit.” And they look at the film and suddenly it’s speaking to them, even though that was not the intention.
  • Sometimes the country needs to go through a tear in order to heal better.
Ed Webb

Canadian who plotted ISIS attack in U.S. says 'frustration' turned him to violence | G... - 0 views

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    Not even echoes of Sayyid Qutb's arguments in this young man's apologia.
Ed Webb

Unenlightened thinking: Steven Pinker's embarrassing new book is a feeble sermon for ra... - 0 views

  • Steven Pinker is fond of definitions. Early on in this monumental apologia for a currently fashionable version of Enlightenment thinking, he writes: “To take something on faith means to believe it without good reason, so by definition a faith in the existence of supernatural entities clashes with reason.” Well, it’s good to have that settled once and for all. There is no need to trouble yourself with the arguments of historians, anthropologists and evolutionary biologists, who treat religion as a highly complex phenomenon, serving a variety of human needs. All you need do is consult a dictionary, and you will find that religion is – by definition – irrational.

  • in A Treatise of Human Nature (1738), Hume wrote: “Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” Hume believed being reasonable meant accepting the limits of reason, and so too, in quite different ways, did later Enlightenment rationalists such as Keynes and Freud.
  • He is an evangelist for science – or, to be more exact, an ideology of scientism. Along with reason, humanism and progress, science features as one of the core Enlightenment values that Pinker lists at the start of the book. But for him science is more than a bunch of methods that are useful in conjecturing how the world works: it provides the basis of ethics and politics.
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  • There is nothing novel in scientism. The Victorian prophet of social evolution, Herbert Spencer, believed that the universe, life and society were moving from undifferentiated simplicity to a higher state of complex order. In politics, this meant a movement towards laissez-faire capitalism. In social contexts, “survival of the fittest” – an expression Spencer invented after reading Darwin’s On the Origin of Species – meant that anyone unable to stay afloat in such a society would struggle, sink and then disappear. Spencer welcomed this process, since for him it was evolution in action – the movement from lower to higher forms of life.
  • Many early-20th-century Enlightenment thinkers supported eugenic policies because they believed “improving the quality of the population” – weeding out human beings they deemed unproductive or undesirable – would accelerate the course of human evolution. When Pinker touches on eugenics in a couple of paragraphs towards the end of the book, he blames it on socialism: “The most decisive repudiation of eugenics invokes classical liberal and libertarian principles: government is not an omnipotent ruler over human existence but an institution with circumscribed powers, and perfecting the genetic make-up of the human species is not among them.” But a theory of entropy provides no reason for limiting the powers of government any more than for helping the weak. Science cannot underwrite any political project, classical liberal or otherwise, because science cannot dictate human values.
  • Exponents of scientism in the past have used it to promote Fabian socialism, Marxism-Leninism, Nazism and more interventionist varieties of liberalism. In doing so, they were invoking the authority of science to legitimise the values of their time and place. Deploying his cod-scientific formula to bolster market liberalism, Pinker does the same. Scientism is one of the Enlightenment’s bad ideas. But bad ideas do not evolve into better ones. They keep on recurring, often in cruder and sillier forms than in the past. Pinker’s formula for human progress is a contemporary example.
  • Like the faithful who tell you Christianity is “a religion of love” that had nothing to do with the Inquisition, Pinker stipulates that the Enlightenment, by definition, is intrinsically liberal. Modern tyrannies must therefore be products of counter-Enlightenment ideologies – Romanticism, nationalism and the like. Enabling liberals to avoid asking difficult questions about why their values are in retreat, this is a popular view. Assessed in terms of historical evidence, it is also a myth.
  • the 19th-century French positivist Auguste Comte – not discussed by Pinker – promoted a brand of scientism that was overtly anti-liberal. Human progress meant following the path of reason and moving from magical thinking to scientific inquiry. In a society based on science there will be no need for liberal values, since moral and political questions will be answered by experts
  • Comte’s core ideas – reason, science, progress and humanism – are precisely those that Pinker lists at the start of this book as the central values of the Enlightenment. Interestingly, neither of them mentions freedom or toleration.
  • Instead of acknowledging that the Enlightenment itself has often been illiberal, Pinker presents a Manichean vision in which “Enlightenment liberal values” are besieged on every side by dark forces.
  • The message of Pinker’s book is that the Enlightenment produced all of the progress of the modern era and none of its crimes.
  • Enlightenment Now is a rationalist sermon delivered to a congregation of wavering souls. To think of the book as any kind of scholarly exercise is a category mistake. Much of its more than 500 pages consists of figures aiming to show the progress that has been made under the aegis of Enlightenment ideals. Of course, these figures settle nothing. Like Pinker’s celebrated assertion that the world is becoming ever more peaceful – the statistical basis of which has been demolished by Nassim Nicholas Taleb – everything depends on what is included in them and how they are interpreted.
  • If an Enlightenment project survives, what reason is there for thinking it will be embodied in liberal democracy? What if the Enlightenment’s future is not in the liberal West, now almost ungovernable as a result of the culture wars in which it is mired, but Xi Jinping’s China, where an altogether tougher breed of rationalist is in charge? It is a prospect that Voltaire, Jeremy Bentham and other exponents of enlightened despotism would have heartily welcomed.
  • even if Pinker was capable of providing it, intellectual inquiry is not what his anxious flock demands. Only an anodyne, mythical Enlightenment can give them what they crave, which is relief from painful doubt
  • Judged as a therapeutic manual for rattled rationalists, Enlightenment Now is a highly topical and much-needed book. In the end, after all, reason is only the slave of the passions.
Ed Webb

Oklahoma Republican: No Jewish or Muslim Chaplains Allowed - 0 views

  • Chuck Strohm, the Republican Oklahoma state representative charged with coordinating the “chaplain of the day” program, quietly changed the program's rules a few weeks ago. Given that Strohm is a conservative Republican in the deeply red state of Oklahoma, do you think he made the program more or less embracing of minority faiths? Stop laughing.
  • how did Strohm, a graduate of the conservative Christian Oral Roberts University that featured Michele Bachmann as the commencement speaker in 2014, change the chaplain program? His recent letter setting forth the new rule explains it: “We do ask that the Chaplain be from the Representative’s own place of worship.”

    Well that might be okay except for one small thing: In the current Oklahoma state legislature, there are zero legislators who are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other minority faiths. This is Strohm’s way of only allowing Christian clerics to give the opening prayer.

  • the silver lining to Strohm’s “only Christians need apply” chaplain policy is that it has been uniting Jews, Muslims and some Christian groups in Oklahoma to stand up to this blatant attempt to marginalize minority faiths.

Ed Webb

Police Arrest Student and Venue Owner Organizing an Egypt Gay Concert - 0 views

  • Egyptian police recently arrested a student in the Giza district of Kerdasa for “debauchery” after allegedly organizing a concert for gay people. The Egypt gay concert never happened. Now the student and one other man face legal charges.
  • Egypt’s recent and massive anti-LGBT crackdown began by targeting a musical event when  police arrested several young people who waved a rainbow flag at a Cairo concert in September 2017. The concert was that of Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese band whose name means “A Night Project” in Arabic. Mashrou’ Leila’s lead singer, Hamed Sinno, is openly gay.
  • Since homosexuality is not criminalized in Egypt, people are often arrested and charged with vague crimes like “debauchery,” “immorality” and “blasphemy.”
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