The Ranting Kraut

19.3.2006 – 27.9.2010

Archive for September, 2006

Update: Freedom of Speech in Germany

Posted by rantingkraut on September 30, 2006

I have previously commented on two cases in Germany involving anti-fascist activists being taken to court for displaying crossed out swastika symbols (see here, and here). Jürgen Kamm, who runs a mail order company, for far-left merchandise (nixgut) has now been fined €3500 (approx. £ 2300) since some of his products included crossed out and smashed up swastika symbols (Source).

For anyone who sees his products it should be clear that they are not supporting neo Nazis. Anyone who had a look at the nixgut website should know that –however tasteless their merchandise– these guys aren’t fascists. In addition to the implications for free speech, this case should serve as a reminder for just how important a jury system is as a legal safeguard: under the German system, Kramm was found guilty by a judge and two lay assistants. One should doubt, that any jury meeting in confidence would have reached a guilty verdict.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Crazy Krauts, Freedom of Speech | 1 Comment »

The Pope’s Apology

Posted by rantingkraut on September 16, 2006

The Pope apologised today, not for what he said, but for the hurt his words have caused to Muslims, whom he says he respects. Not all Muslims in the UK seem to notice this subtlety in the apology –or maybe they choose to ignore it: according to the BBC, Ajmal Masroor of the Islamic Society of Britain praises Pope for acknowledging his mistake. He didn’t, he rather emphasises that the mistake lies with those who didn’t read his speech attentively enough.

Aside from the usual caving in to ill-motivated Muslim offence rituals there is one passage in the Vatican’s statement which all those who value freedom of speech should note:

Indeed it was he who, before the religious fervour of Muslim believers, warned secularised Western culture to guard against “the contempt for God and the cynicism that considers mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom”.”
(Source)

In a way, one could almost hope for a lasting rift between Christianity and Islam. An organised consensus between the Christian churches and Muslim leaders could in its practical consequence become an alliance for censorship. Let’s not forget that the remaining blasphemy laws in the west go back to the Christian tradition.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Freedom of Speech, Islamism | Comments Off on The Pope’s Apology

An Infidel’s Reflections on Ratzinger’s Speech

Posted by rantingkraut on September 15, 2006

It is hard not to be aware of the current furore over the Pope’s speech in Regensburg and the universal reaction of sulking Muslims. Rather than allowing Islamists to set the agenda from the onset though, let’s see what God’s rottweiler actually had to say. The full speech is available here in English and here in German. For those in a hurry, here is a summary in my own words:

Theology has a place in western Universities and raises the question of how God relates to reason. In a historic account of a conversation between the Byzantine emperor and a Persian Muslim, the former is reported to have criticised Islam for attempting to spread by force when religion should spread peacefully, through reason. This account can be seen against the background of the views of western theologians who attribute to Islam a view of the nature of God as transcending all categories, including that of reason.

Christianity has traditionally involved in an interaction of religious faith with the Greek rational tradition, a tradition which is at the heart of European culture. From the late middle ages onwards, there have however been tendencies towards a separation of faith and reason. The first such tendency materialised during the reformation with the call for a direct connection with God, circumventing the existing body of knowledge from a theological and philosophical tradition.

The second instance of the trend toward separating faith and reason emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries with a call to return to the simple beliefs of Jesus and accept theology as an academic discipline akin to the study of history. The latter view leads to demands for logical and empirical consistency for scientific inquiry, thus excluding inquiries into the nature of God from the realm of science.

The third and current manifestation of this secularising trend aims at the adaptation of Christianity in a multicultural context. However, while there is some room for cultural adaptation, the nexus between faith and reason lies at the heart of Christianity and must not be abandoned.

What is needed, is a re-connection of faith and reason. Science operates within the confines of empirical reality and philosophy and theology should investigate the nature of this encompassing reality. Theology should do so as a faith based religious discipline, not as a sub-form of history.

Religion is needed as a basis for ethical guidance. The renewed nexus of faith and reason in scientific inquiry is a precondition for a dialogue of cultures and religions. Once this condition has been met, other cultures can be invited to take part in the dialogue.

It should be instantly obvious, that this is not a speech against Islam nor mainly about Christianity vs. Islam. The main target of the Pope’s critique are people like me who think that religious belief has no place in scientific methodology. (Somehow I don’t feel the urge to go and angrily protest in front of the Vatican’s embassy though.) The main message to Christian Europe can be summarised as: ‘Return to religion and then peacefully reach out to other cultures and creeds on this basis.’ It is not a message I agree with but offensive it aint.

Having dealt with the real contents of the speech, let’s look what little is actually said about Islam. First of all, the two passages relating to Islam are first a quote of a quote (i.e. a historical account quoted by another scholar) and then the opinions of other theologians who seem to have studied Islam in some depth. This is just how university lectures are normally structured: if you touch on a subject that is not your speciality you briefly report a competent opinion on it before turning to your area of expertise.

The most offending passage seems to be the historic account, and Ratzinger notes the glaring lack of diplomacy quite explicitly:

The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur’an (…)

Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels”, he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”. The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God”, he says, “is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably (…) is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats… To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death…”.”

Now, this is not exactly hate speech is it? It is a historic quote and for a scholar it would be unacceptable to mellow it down to appear more diplomatic. Historic records are quoted as they are –anything else would be seen as fraudulent in an academic setting. The most the lecturer can do in this case is express his regret about the lack of diplomacy contained in the quote, and that the Pope has done. Moreover, he didn’t use this passage gratuitously, but to put the main topic of the lecture into a historic context. Add to this the fact that he was not addressing an anti-immigration rally but an audience of academics and clerics in a University and it becomes difficult to see why anyone would get irate over this.

The widespread angry reactions to the Pope’s speech are very revealing about the real Islamist agenda though. Anyone who wanted to avoid offending Islam under these conditions would literally have to request permission to speak from any part of the umma that might otherwise be offended. Parallels to the cartoon affair are frequently drawn, but this is quite misleading: the cartoons at least were an intentional if mild provocation. Ratzinger’s speech was just a theology lecture. If you can’t say something like that without causing Muslim outrage, then by now it should have become clear where appeasing Muslim demands for censorship will lead. This is not even a matter of suppressing isolated acts of frivolous blasphemy. The ultimate consequence of censorship will be an erosion of free speech in one of the places where it arguably matters most: in our Universities.

Note: in the initial version of this post the Byzantine emperor was wrongly referred to as the emperor of Constantinople in the summary of the speech.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Islamism | 2 Comments »

Playing the terror card

Posted by rantingkraut on September 12, 2006

David Cameron decided to commemorate 9/11 by keeping his distance from the US. On the eve of this day, an even more tactless commemoration came from the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Muhammad Abdul Bari. Abdul Bari accused the British media of promoting Islamophobia by reporting on successful and abortive terrorist activities. He also predicted that Britain’s ‘Muslim community’ would become generally supportive of terrorism, lest the media become more respectful of muslims:

If that demonisation continues, then Britain will have to deal with two million Muslim terrorists — 700,000 of them in London
(Source)

It seems to have escaped Abdul Bari that the media have done little more than reporting the facts –i.e. incidents which actually happened. If anything, they have bent over backwards not to offend Muslims. Against this background, Abdul Bari’s remarks simply amount to a demand for self censorship.

These demands should not surprise anyone. Abdul Bari has previously demanded that the people of Britain live their lives according to Islam’s religious prescriptions. The strategy he is using is likewise well worn. While just avoiding to endorse terrorism, a threat warning is issued that more terrorist activity will follow unless Muslim demands –as expressed by the community leader that be- are accommodated. Where terrorist attacks are thin on the ground, riots may do: the analysis of the Paris riots’ ‘root causes’ easily translates into ‘give us jobs or we’ll burn some more cars’. Abdul Bari’s demands likewise translate into ‘shut up or get blown up’ backed up by a thinly veiled ‘give us quotas or else…’:

Islamophobia was also making it hard for Muslims to rise to senior jobs, and unemployment among Muslims was far higher than the national average.
He called for more Muslim representation in the police force, Parliament and other areas of public life. “Young Muslims need role models to show them they can play a part in British society.
(Source)

Of course he won’t blow anyone up and of course he doesn’t want any more terror attacks –he’s just using the prospect while it suits him.

Posted in Islamism | 5 Comments »

The Megalomaniac Masterchef is at it again.

Posted by rantingkraut on September 7, 2006

The success of his televised complaint about school lunches seems to be going to Jamie Oliver’s head. Having told schools what to cook he now wants to tell parents how to feed their children:

He said 70 per cent of packed lunches in the country were “disgraceful” and he would like to see them banned.
(Source)

70%? Where did he get that figure from? Did he gather a large sample of packed lunches which he then categorized into graceful and disgraceful observations? What criterion did he use to quantify the gracefulness of a lunch?

The likely answer is of course that he did nothing of the kind. There is an obvious temptation to throw invented data around when all you have to go by is a wild guess. Prefixing outrageous demands with a phoney percentage may fool some into believing that your demands are backed up by solid knowledge of the facts rather than gut feeling and personal preference.

Jamie also took the opportunity to demonstrate his linguistic acumen:

In the film Oliver said: “I’ve spent two years being PC about parents, now is the time to say ‘if you’re giving your young children fizzy drinks you’re an a*******, you’re a t*****. If you give them bags of crisps you’re an idiot. If you aren’t cooking them a hot meal, sort it out’.
… he was particularly critical of parents who give their children Red Bull – an energy drink – when they are tired, saying it was not much better than giving them a line of cocaine.

Jamie, there is nothing un-PC about ‘food fascism’, on the contrary! It is almost tempting to reply in kind but it would unfair to the rectum to call Jamie Oliver an arsehole. The arsehole maybe lacking in prestige, but at least is very useful. Jamie Olivier has plenty of prestige –he also seems to know cocaine well enough to compare it with other stimulants—I just very much doubt that he is of any great use.

(Last edited 26 January 2008)

Posted in In The News, Strange happenings | Comments Off on The Megalomaniac Masterchef is at it again.

Chris Woodhead remembers Noah

Posted by rantingkraut on September 5, 2006

“It is the year 2001 and Noah lives somewhere in New Labour England, the Lord
speaks to Noah and tells him within a year he is going to flood the world but
Noah is to save the righteous people and two of every living thing on earth. He
is to build an ark ‘remember’ said the Lord to Noah ‘you must complete the ark
and bring everything aboard in one year.’ So exactly one year later, as you are
all very well aware fierce storm clouds circled the earth and the seas went into a
tumult. The Lord saw Noah sitting in his front yard weeping. ‘Noah’ he shouted
‘where is the ark?’ ‘Lord please forgive me’ cried Noah ‘I did my best but there
were big problems, first I had to get a permit for construction, and your plans
did not comply with the codes, I had to hire an engineering firm to redraw the
plans and then I got into a fight with the health and safety authorities over
whether or not the ark needed a fire sprinkler system and floatation devices and
then my neighbour objected claiming I was violating planning regulations by
building the ark in my front yard, so I had to get special permission from the
city planning department. I had problems getting enough wood for the ark,
because there was a ban on cutting trees to protect the spotted owl I finally
convinced the forestry commission that I needed the wood to save the owls but
the conservation people wouldn’t let me catch any owls – so no owls. The
carpenters formed a union and went on strike, I had to negotiate a settlement
with the TUC I know have 16 carpenters on the ark but no owls. And when I
started rounding up the other animals I got sued by an animal rights group –
they objected to me only taking two of every kind aboard, and just when I got
the suit dismissed the deputy prime minister popped up and notified me that I
couldn’t complete the ark without filing an environmental impact statement on
your proposed flood – he didn’t take very kindly to the idea that he had no
jurisdiction over the conduct of the creator of the universe. And then the army
called in engineers demanded a map of the proposed new flood plain – I sent
them a globe! Right now I am trying to resolve a complaint filed with the Equal
Opportunities Commission, that I am practising discrimination by not taking
godless, unbelieving people aboard. The Inland Revenue has seized my assets
claiming that I am building the ark in preparation to flee the country to avoid
paying taxes and I have just got a notice from the state saying that I owe them
some sort of user tax and have failed to register the ark as a recreational water
craft. Now at this point the skies began to clear, the sun began to shine and the
seas became calm. A rainbow arched across the sky, Noah looked up hopefully,
‘you mean you are not going to destroy the earth, Lord?’. ‘No’ said the Lord
sadly, ‘ the government already has!’”

(Source)

Posted in Meaning of Life | Comments Off on Chris Woodhead remembers Noah

Ante-natal ASBOs shouldn’t surprise anyone

Posted by rantingkraut on September 5, 2006

Faced with more than justified calls for his resignation, Blair has responded with his latest initiative of intrusion into peoples’ private lives. Never mind ASBOs. Never mind reversing the burden of proof. By now you don’t even have to be born to be presumed guilty:

The prime minister last week said the government needed to intervene before children were even born to stop them turning into troublemakers later.
(Source)

Bizarre as this may be, it is not really surprising. As has been pointed out here before, once a government embarks on the mission of planning particular aspects of peoples’ lives it must ultimately become totalitarian.
Those who believe that interventions will remain limited in scope should consider the following: so far, new labour has regularly failed to achieve its targets when it tried to regulate peoples’ and families’ private lives. People still smoke and drink, they don’t eat what Tony tells them to eat and their kids still misbehave. Government has failed to achieve its planning objectives the way it usually does: central planning doesn’t work. It didn’t work in the economy and it won’t work in society at large. A government plan that requires people to act contrary to their interests and inclinations can only work to the extent that it relies on compulsion. Even where a forced implementation is successful in one particular area it usually leads to unintended and undesired consequences.
What we are witnessing now is what usually happens in such cases: one ill conceived intervention leads to another. Once the authorities have embarked on mission impossible and are confronted with failure, they will claim that they have failed because they had insufficient power and resources to meet their target. Those inclined to believe this should remember that the Soviet leadership had both absolute power and complete control over their country’s resources. It still failed.
This point has been made more prominently before: the government of a free country should confine itself to national defence and enforcing general rules of just conduct equally applicable to all. Those rules should mainly be prohibitions designed to protect individual rights. Our government doesn’t do this: it openly aspires to micro-managing citizens’ private affairs, i.e. it is totalitarian by definition and by admission.

Posted in Civil Liberties | 1 Comment »

Kinky Friedman says …

Posted by rantingkraut on September 2, 2006

“Politics is the only field in which the more experience you have, the worse you get.”
(From the Economist)

Posted in quotes | Comments Off on Kinky Friedman says …