Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Another PC general bows down to political correctness

By Aussiegirl

First Ralph Peters, and now Paul Vallely push the PC line about the religion of peace. I didn't realize that General Vallely was a theologian. Vallely is wrong on many counts in this article, and never more wrong than when he is talking about the Pope. I'm not a Catholic, but his dig about the Pope's "infallibility" betrays a shocking ignorance of what Catholic teaching says about that subject. The Pope's every utterance is not deemed to be infallible, as far as I understand it, but only his pronouncements "ex cathedra" on doctrinal matters. He is also completely mistaken when he states that the Pope has backtracked and apologized repeatedly. He has done no such thing, nor should he. The Pope has been very Jesuitical in his words -- he regrets the violent reaction to his words (don't we all?), but he does not take them back. Furthermore, Vallely triumphantly cites Calvin as an example of someone who preached a God of unreason, when he knows perfectly well that Calvin was a Protestant theologian and his views in no way express those of the Catholic Church.

Vallely's smarmy, smirky tone, which is sniffily dismissive of such antiquated notions as freedom of speech and western values, and seeks to portray those rightly concerned as unduly alarmist, is extremely annoying and condescending. He should stick to military analysis, as should Ralph Peters. What is it with these military men suddenly succumbing to politically correct nonsense that will have us treading on eggshells lest we offend the always ready to take offense Muslim. I suspect an administration plant. Little by little this is the first stage of a campaign to discredit those who are rightly raising alarms about the encroachment of Islam on our way of life and the imposition of de-facto sharia law in our own cultures. It happened with the Supreme Court nominations, when those of us opposed to the incompetent Bush crony Harriet Myers were labeled "elitists". It happened again with the outcry over illegal immigration, when opponents of an open-door policy were smeared as racists. It's happening again with former military men weighing in on subjects they know little about. One is pushed to ponder why? And with what motivation?

Independent Online Edition > World Politics

A cartoon in Private Eye neatly summarised one side of the argument. First Muslim: "The Pope says Islam is a violent religion."Second Muslim: "Let's kill him then."

Cartoons, as we have come to learn, can be dodgy guides through the minefield in which European and Islamic cultures meet. But there are fears of a clash of civilisations in which Europe's enlightenment values are under attack from religious obscurantism. Cherished traditions, such as freedom of speech, the alarmists complain, are being surrendered out of political correctness and appeasement.

Thus we see this week that Spanish villagers who have for centuries donned medieval costumes to re-enact battles between Moors and Christians are now abandoning the custom of burning effigies of the Prophet Mohamed to celebrate the end of 800 years of Muslim rule in the Iberian peninsula.

Meanwhile, in France a philosophy teacher is in hiding after publishing a newspaper article critical of Islam. In Germany a production of Mozart's opera Idomeneo has been cancelled for fear of angering Muslims. And in Rome, Benedict XVI continues to issue apologies - he's done four so far - for his ill-judged quotation from a 14th-century Byzantine emperor who had called Islam "evil and inhuman". The Pope clearly still isn't sorry enough in the view of the two hijackers.

[...]This is not so much a clash of civilisations as one between religious and secular fundamentalists. For our world is very different from even that of our fathers, let alone that of Voltaire, In his day, religion was the dominant oppressive culture against which emerging rationalism struggled. Today, by contrast, Islam embodies the identity of one of the most vulnerable, and alienated, minorities in Europe.

That is not all. The reality of a multi-faith multicultural Europe, in which many feel threatened by the fear of new and growing waves of immigration, is provoking a crisis of identity characterised by increasing insularity and fear. It is in that context that the simplistic polarisation between "the inalienable principle of freedom of speech" and "the sphere of divine duty" is taking place. The result is all too often a dialogue of the deaf.

Take the article in Le Figaro written by the French high-school philosophy teacher Robert Redeker. In it he complained that France was "more or less consciously submitting itself to the dictates of Islam" by banning string bikinis during this summer's annual beach party in Paris, setting up times when only women can visit public swimming pools and allowing Muslim schoolchildren - horror of horrors - to get halal food in school cafeterias.

These are all reasonable issues for debate. The problem was that, for good rhetorical measure, he also added that the Koran was "a book of extraordinary violence". And that the Prophet Mohamed was "a pitiless warlord", a "murderer of Jews" and "a master of hate". His vocabulary was not quite as vile as that of the Dutch filmmaker, Theo van Gogh, who routinely described Muslims as "goatfuckers" before one of them murdered him. Nonetheless Redeker, who immediately began to receive e-mail death threats, feared that some Islamic zealot might try to carry them out.

The trouble with debate carried out in this adolescent fashion is that it obscures rather than enlightens. Though it purports to open a dialogue with Muslims about the values of a pluralist society, in reality it is simply gratuitously offensive. And it merely reinforces the prejudices of the fundamentalists on both sides. See, say the Islamists, the West is inherently anti-Muslim. See, say the Enlightenmentists, Islam has an intrinsic propensity for violence.

The Pope has not helped here. Though he has apologised for not distancing himself from the "evil and inhuman" quote he has not resiled from the substance of his Regensburg address. In it he insisted that, thanks to the influence of Greek philosophy, there was no conflict between faith and reason at the core of Christianity. The Christian God is incapable of actions which are not good: hence He could never endorse the use of violence to spread religion. In Islam, by contrast, he said, God is not bound by any human categories, even that of reason, which is why Islam sees no contradiction on spreading religion by the sword.

To back his argument he selectively drew on Christian theologians who endorsed his view, niftily omitting those like Tertullian or Calvin who leaned towards the "God beyond reason" view. And he cited a marginal medieval Muslim theologian, Ibn Hazn, who said that God is not bound even by his own word, ignoring the many Muslims, such as the Mu'tazilite school, who have said God must act in accordance with reason.

This is all high-brow stuff but it boils down to the same kind of triumphalism, without the gross insults. Both say that Islam is alien and can never be truly European.

Others are less narrow-minded. The decision in Spain to scrap the burning of effigies of Mohamed reveals that a new sensitivity is developing in many quarters. It was evident in the cancellation of the production of Mozart's Idomeneo at the Deutsche Oper. The Hans Neuenfels production, which inserts a scene not in Mozart's score - in which the heads of Poseidon, Jesus, Buddha and Mohamed are pulled from a bloody sack - may have been unexceptional when it opened in 2003 but that was before the riots that erupted around the world after a Danish magazine last year published a series of puerile cartoons of Mohamed, including one in which the prophet's turban contained a bomb. Not everyone is so convinced. Wolfgang Boersen, the German government's culture spokesman, accused the opera house of "falling on its knees before the terrorists". One Austrian newspaper spoke of the "high point of self-censorship". But in many places there is a growing realisation that freedom of expression is not absolute but needs to be governed by a sense of social responsibility. To elevate one right above all others is the hallmark of the single-issue fanatic. Sometimes it is wise to choose not to exercise a right.

There are signs too of a growing maturity among the Muslim community. The wild men have been in evidence - and much quoted by a confrontation-hungry media - but many Muslims are coming to see that they must respect the traditions of the culture into which they and their fathers have immigrated. And if cynicism, irony and indeed blasphemy are - going back to Voltaire - part of the culture they have decided they must observe it with detachment. A group of German Islamic leaders, meeting in Berlin for a routine forum with the government, called unanimously for Idomeneo to be performed as scheduled next month. One imam even said they would all attend the performance.


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