Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A Reprise of the Great British Venn Diagram

Faithful and regular readers of this humble offering of a blog (Hi Mr Seat!) will no doubt be aware of my predilection for mathematics and linguistic pedantry.

So you will assume that this would be warming the cockles of my heart like a family pack of super strength heart-cockle warmers. The article starts magnificently:
There's some recent evidence that President George W. Bush really does believe in morphological regularization of toponymic adjectives.
Those Yanks and their fondness for the letter 'Zee'. Doncha just love 'em?
It then displays the Venn Diagram about which we have posted. Excellent! A little more mathematics and slightly less sociology. Hurrah!

The table that places adjectives against proper nouns is an amusing diversion. But then disaster strikes. A correspondence ensues and the author sees fit to post an addendum from one Lora Totten-Schwartz:
I'm emailing you to pester you (as I'm sure others are/will be) about calling people from Great Britain "British."

I'm trying very hard not to say, "G'wan, say that to a Scotsman!" with a giggle. People who live outside of England are not British.
WHAT? What in the name of Arse? Did I hear that right?
That's why they have that "United Kingdom" thingy in the official name of the country. Scots are Scottish, Welsh are Welsh, Irish are Irish, English are either English or British.

That Prof Liberman sees fit to post this at all is frankly staggering. What comes next is beyond the pale. From the author himself, by way of explanation:
Of course she's talking about people, whereas Aidan is talking about places and political institutions. So my ignorance is becoming deeper and more nuanced by the minute.
Oh no it isn't. Deeper I grant you, but nuanced? No. Just plain ignorant.

PG Prescription:
A Custard Pie for Ms Totten-Schwartz. Prof Liberman will be lucky to escape a thorough application of the birch if he is ever so unwise as to get within range of the Gentleman Usher of the Cat-o-Nine-Tails....


UPDATE: Welcome to Language Log readers. Prof Liberman's profuse apology is very much accepted. The Gentleman Usher of the Cat-o-Nine-Tails has been informed and instructed to offer tea and cake, as opposed to the birch, should the noble and learned Professor ever wish to come and discuss Correctness Conditions, gerundives or any other matter.

But Ms Totten-Schwartz should still watch her back....


Knock, knock.
Who's there?
Europe who?
No, you're a poo.

(Hat tip, well shamelessly nicked from: Tom at Let's be Sensible)

Monday, February 27, 2006

Liberty Central

.... is now up and running.

You can read all about it here and I recommend, heartily that you do so.

For those of you who are little slow off the mark, here is a short but perfectly-formed extract of the raison d'etre of the project:
We already have, in the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, emergency powers accorded to Ministers which, if used, would permit them to make emergency regulations equivalent to an Act of Parliament or direct use of the Royal Prerogative, powers from which not even the provisions of Magna Carta are exempt and which would permit:
  • the confiscation and destruction of property (without compensation),
  • the restriction of movement,
  • censorship of the free press
  • and even the curtailment of habeas corpus;
... all by Ministerial decree.

To that we may shortly be adding the provisions of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, already dubbed the ‘Abolition of Parliament Act’, which again will permit legislation to the passed by Ministerial order with the minimum of Parliamentary scrutiny and with few exemptions – such orders may not introduce new taxes, create new criminal offences with a maximum penalty of imprisonment in excess of two years or increase the maximum penalty for minor offences beyond two years or tinker with arrangements for the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly but otherwise provides Ministers with a blank legislative cheque on which to write, amend or repeal laws. And again, there is no exemption from its provisions for core constitutional and civil liberties legislation; Magna Carta could be ‘reformed’, habeas corpus suspended, Christmas cancelled – and all by Ministerial edict.
That is a scary list of powers to grant, even to the most benevolent of rulers. It is pertinent to ask exactly why such powers are considered necessary, particularly as any legislator worth his salt knows that one must not assume that all future rulers will be so benevolent. Part, if not most, of the problem with this current government is that it does not appear to understand this fundamental dictum. Indeed, like all socialists, the apparatchiks of New Labour really do appear to believe that they alone hold the keys to "Social Justice" or whatever worthy, yet nebulous, cause may be invoked and therefore that any objection is an affront to their lofty motives and a direct attack upon the greater good.

This moron, as usual, is a case in point. He starts by denying that the "Abolition of Parliament Act" is totalitarian in any way. Then he rails against its detractors thusly:
One of the main arguments used against this government by the obsessive absolutist libertarians who run Liberty Central, is that, it is not that this government is necessarily going to abuse these new powers, but that some future government might. The major flaw in this argument is of course that, if such a government did get power, the last thing we would have to worry about would be what was currently on the statute book, but what they would add to it.
Errr.... No. We ensure that there is no mechanism for power to be abused in the first place. As we all know:
Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
This bill appears to be a step towards absolute power.

Time for a return to the constitutional settlement that we thought we had...

And send them homewards, to think again...

I'll see Arthur's measly bit of reporting on the epic victory at Murrayfield on Saturday, and raise him....

... a cup!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

From the Horse's Mouth

Flemming Rose - the cultural editor of Jyllands-Posten who commissioned and published the "mo-toons" - tells us why. (Free registration required, but worth it)
One cartoon -- depicting the prophet with a bomb in his turban -- has drawn the harshest criticism. Angry voices claim the cartoon is saying that the prophet is a terrorist or that every Muslim is a terrorist. I read it differently: Some individuals have taken the religion of Islam hostage by committing terrorist acts in the name of the prophet. They are the ones who have given the religion a bad name.
Read the rest. And tell me what I missed in this post. Crucially, my core argument - that these cartoons were not "a joke", but were commissioned in response to a serious debate on self-censorship - appears to be smack on the money.

To coin a phrase:
Every time a Muslim complains about, errrr...., complaints about the barbarism committed in the name of Islam, this should be the refrain:
"You should be arguing with them, not with me."

Monday, February 20, 2006

A Gap in the Market

Your libertarian and open-minded Pedant-General, who is noted for leading from the front with dauntlessness and little apparent fear of breaking with conformity, begs the forgiveness of his immensely tolerant audience. I am behind the curve.

Unity, muttering darkly in his lair, has spotted a rather large gap in the market: no political party is based seriously upon the premise of upholding the civil liberties that were gained with the Enlightenment and defended through two world wars etc, etc. To a fairly large degree, he has been prompted as the full horror of the proposed Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill has emerged. There have been further dark mutterings about this across most sections of the (not actually barking mad) blogosphere regardless of left/right political persuasion. Indeed, this very fact demonstrates clearly that the left/right axis is profoundly misleading - a fact known and understood well by most (not actually barking mad) political bloggers. The big issues of the day revolve more around the social freedom axis, not that of economics.

With remarkable deftness for a self-declared socialist, he has moved to fill this gap with a "Coalition of the Willing" and we expect a smart new salon in which to plot the overthrow of this totalitarian monster of a government. It will be called "Liberty Central".
A non-partisan grand coalition of the British people with a uniform objective - a new constitutional settlement with all the trimmings; a written constitution, bill of rights, electoral reform, the full works. Think the Levellers, the Chartists. Think John Locke, J S Mill and Thomas Paine.
He can count on the fulsome support of the Pedant-General.

On this bright note, I should also like to temper my request for forgiveness. It appears that I have beaten young Johnson to the fray. Late though I may be, he is later. With that gentle poke in the ribs, I shall commend him to you. He is bright, ascerbic, sensible and has a pleasing prose style. But then, what else would one expect from a Wykehamist Aularian?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Islam, Democracy and Doublethink

An interesting letter in the hoots mon today:
Islam and Democracy

The reaction of the Muslim world to the cartoons published in several European countries has raised issues of freedom of expression, and whether, even under provocation, demonstrations advocating murder and incitement to terrorism are acceptable.

Perhaps, however, it can also yield some insight into the situation in Iraq. The West sees democracy as the ultimate form of government. We think we know best, but are we trying to foist our own principles on people who have different values?

Recent events illustrate that those of the Muslim faith place their religion and what they see as the law of God above anything man may advocate, and see them as more influential in their lives than western-style politics.

While the people of Iraq were probably pleased to be rid of Saddam Hussein, do they really want democracy, or would they rather be governed by their religious leaders whom they see as the agents of a much higher authority?

The Meadows
Torryburn, Fife

I think Mr Papworth is profoundly wrong. However, let us assume for a moment that he is right and that Muslims - as a group, not as individuals - are
"... people who have different values."
Maybe. However, it appears that he is content to assume that those different values include the feeling that
... demonstrations advocating murder and incitement to terrorism ...
are acceptable and that
their religious leaders whom they see as the agents of a much higher authority
are better suited to be their leaders. I think that is rather patronising.

Further, if he really does believe that this is the case, what would be his views on the ability of
"... people who have different values "
to integrate into our secular democracy where, errm....., we at least have the freedom to debate
whether, even under provocation, demonstrations advocating murder and incitement to terrorism are acceptable.
He can't have it both ways.

Dead Man Walking

I meant to write yesterday - but signally failed - on this simply extraordinary article by Seumas Milne in Al-Graun yesterday - bemoaning the bad press that is dished out in the direction of communism.

Here is the accused. Pretty grim looking if you ask me. The "Pixellation" on scaling up seems somehow appropriate, rather like a bad photo-fit of a dangerous criminal.

Quite a number of people noted this article also:
For my part, there are two lines in this that really sum up this whole sorry tale:
"For all its brutalities and failures, communism in the Soviet Union, eastern Europe and elsewhere delivered rapid industrialisation, mass education, job security and huge advances in social and gender equality. It encompassed genuine idealism and commitment ..."
Rapid Industrialisation, eh?

I remember it well. The miserable capitalist "West", impoverished and lacking in any idealism or commitment, had to make do with such ghastly vehicles such as these:

and these:

And of course, this:

Oh the tyranny of consumer choice. It was awful.

In the same period, the glorious industrialised communist "East" managed to produce this:

OK, so that's not a very flattering publicity shot. How about this?


All right, but the idealism and commitment bit was cracking though, wasn't it?

Especially if you suggested ideas about how to do things differently and maybe better:

Errmmm.... We all make mistakes and it's the thought that counts. Everyone meant well really.
The particular form of society created by 20th-century communist parties will never be replicated. But there are lessons to be learned from its successes as well as its failures.
Never be replicated? Zimbabwe anyone?

But I suppose he does have a point: there are indeed lessons to be learned from the successes of communism:
  1. that they were eclipsed entirely by greater achievements in the free world in every field;
  2. and that they were predicated entirely upon totalitarianism without which the system crumbled completely.
  3. the little car analogy is rather apt. The closest that the UK got to this form of nonsense was during the 1970s. What did we produce then? This:

P-G Verdict: A quick glance at my manifesto is illuminating. When I set down my thoughts, "Advocating communism" was such a ridiculous idea that the offence is not even covered, which makes this judgement a little tricky. I suppose this article could be covered by:
Advocating Socialism for communities larger than a small farm, when one is in a position of power
but, somehow, I don't think that A Sound Flogging, to be administered on the steps of the perpetrator's club is either sufficient punishment or deterent for a mind so twisted as Mr Milne's.

However, I am minded to ask what is communism if it is not the act of "Preferring equality of outcome over equality of opportunity"? This gets us into a more sensible section of the P-G Penal Code.

There is, however, a more serious charge here. In his attempt to equate Nazism and Colonialism as progenitors of systematic, deliberate, state-sponsored murder (whilst simultaneously distancing communism from this little institutional flaw), he states:
Tens of millions perished in avoidable or enforced famines in British-ruled India
I shall borrow Tim J for a moment here:
Presumably Milne is referring to the two famines that affected Bengal during British rule. The first was in 1769-73, six years after control of Bengal had been established. ... The reason for the famine was that the two previous harvests had failed.


The second famine happened in 1943. This was less severe and better ameliorated, but deaths were still in the region of 3 million. The dearth was largely the result of the fact that Burma, which had provided up to a third of Indian imports of rice, was at this point almost entirely overrun by the Japanese, while scarce food was concetrated on Calcutta, in an attempt to protect the city from defeat or siege.
Avoidable? Enforced? Deliberate? State sponsored? Comparable? Tim J again:
The only 'enforced' famines have occurred in Communist countries - the Ukraine, Ethiopia under Mengistu, North Korea. To talk of 'enforced famines' in British India is both ignorant and malicious. To do so in an attempt to make them seem worse than Communist countries that did enforce famines is revolting.
That's moral equivalence to you and me. And that's a hanging offence.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Your Hoops Are Blasphemous

Your just, if somewhat wrathful, Pedant-General (peace and blessings be upon him) is not noted for his abstinence when it comes to the smiting of sinners.

He looks forward, eagerly, to the adoption of some cracking ideas purportedly being adopted by our Norwegian cousins.
DR SHEIKH Yusuf al-Qaradawi, head of the International Union for Muslim Scholars (IUMS) as well as the European Council for Fatwa and Research, accepted in principle yesterday an apology tendered by a delegation from Norway for cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
However, the acceptance is subject to issuing of a law banning blasphemy against any religion, Dr al-Qaradawi said.
Any religion? Bring it on! Your hoops are blasphemous, you heathen swine. Blasphemous I tell you!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

More Censorship. Hmmmm.....

ninme (inimitably) notes some naughtiness. Some distinctly nasty naughtiness.

Not only has angelfire taken down "Patrick Henry"'s site (as we discussed here), but it appears that Google video has taken down the version of "It's In the Koran" that they were hosting.

You can still see the video here and here.
You can download it from "Patrick Henry"'s site here, in various formats for your listening pleasure. I recommend you do so: it appears that you need to have your own copy.

I recommend further that you note his comments and motivations for writing the song.
Commenters have argued that the Koran doesn't say what this song claims the Koran says. To everyone who holds this view, I answer - and this is very important, so I'll be stating it again below - that I agree with you. I agree that the Koran says what you claim it says. Islam is one of the world's great religions, and I don't believe that billions could have followed it if it weren't, at its core, beautiful and life-engendering.

The problem is this: all the incidents I describe in the song have happened, and all were caused by men who disagree with you. These men have a different view of Islam. They find in the Koran inspiration and justification for their horrible acts.

To these men the Koran says that it's proper that girls fleeing a fire should be trampled to death because they aren't wearing headscarves. To these men the Koran says, even demands, that these girls die. The Koran says this, not to you, not to me, but to them.

The same goes for the other deeds I name: rape, torture, massacre, beheading, defilement of shrines. To these men, the Koran insists that they commit such acts.

I wrote the song from the point of view of these men because they're the dominant force in Islam now. If you don't believe me, remember this: Palestinians have just elected Hamas to lead their parliament, knowing that Hamas plan to institute sharia. Muslims had a choice, and they chose as leaders the kinds of men my song is about.

If you want more evidence, go to MEMRI.org and read the translations of interviews with influential Islamic figures. It's rare to find one criticizing anything done by Muslims to non-Muslims, or even to other Muslims.

Here's a comparison I find useful:

When the Abu Ghraib photos appeared, every American with a microphone - columnist, politician, religious leader - condemned the soldiers responsible.

When radical Muslims hide among civilians so that our soldiers can't fight them without killing the innocent - do Arab and Muslim leaders, politicians, journalists unite to call such behavior cowardly and un-Islamic? No. When radical Muslims murder women and children? No. Gang-rapes in Scandinavia, forced mass starvation in Sudan - the list is long and wretched, and the men who commit these actions receive no criticism from the only people they might listen to: their religious leaders.

That's why I wrote this song.

Again, if you say that Islam doesn't permit such deeds, and that the men who perform them aren't behaving like true Muslims, I'll agree with you. But these men consider themselves true Muslims, the only true Muslims, and think that Muslims who disagree with them are apostates, the worst of betrayers.

I stand by every line in the song; it's what such men believe. All I did was make their beliefs rhyme, scan and bounce like a vaudeville tune.

To those of you who feel that I'm mocking Islam, I reply: I'm not. I respect your view of it. These men - the men I'm writing about - don't. You should be arguing with them, not with me.
Every time a Muslim complains about, errrr...., complaints about the barbarism committed in the name of Islam, this should be the refrain:
"You should be arguing with them, not with me."

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Ooooooooooh - A new toy

This is fun. That is not to say that it is completely accurate. But it is definitely fun. And widens your horizons/reading-material which, if we are to believe the Sharpener, is a good thing.

Friday, February 10, 2006

An Example of REAL satire

I didn't tell you go here and watch this. Arthur did. And Emily too. And you know what she's like.
Furthermore, I am not remotely suggesting that you could go and read the creator's commentary and an annoted version of the lyrics with embedded links to demonstrate each and every point.

All I will do is echo Matthew Parris, who seems to be coming gently back into the real world:
Against reverence and awe the best argument is sometimes not logic, but mockery. Structures of oppression that may not be susceptible to rational debate may in the end yield to derision. When people see that a priest, rabbi, imam or uniformed official may be giggled at without lightning striking the impertinent, arguments may be won on a deeper level than logic.

We should never, therefore, relinquish, nor lightly value, our right not to argue in the face of other people’s gods — but to fart.
Or in the words of the creator - one "Patrick Henry",
To those of you who feel that I'm mocking Islam, I reply: I'm not. I respect your view of it. These men - the men I'm writing about - don't. You should be arguing with them, not with me.
It is ironic that in this debate, ostensibly about free speech, one victim is "Patrick Henry" himself, whose site has been taken down by his ISP. Don't worry: I've got my download copy and there are plenty of others out there. If this isn't a perfect example of how free speech - with the internet as a concrete manifestation of the principle - defeats oppression, I struggle to see what would be.

Any policy - however brutally enforced - that is an affront to reason or rationality cannot survive contact with free speech. Why? Because inherent contradictions are the very source of satire.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Context, context, context

I am not all clear why the BBC seems to want to discuss only HALF the cartoon story.

Here is their summary of events.

Note that it starts on the 30th Sept with the publication of the cartoons, not the 17th Sept - two weeks earlier, with the article discussing self-censorship that led to the publication of the cartoons:

On September 17, 2005, the Danish newspaper Politiken ran an article under the headline "Dyb angst for kritik af islam"[5] ("Profound fear of criticism of Islam"). The article discussed the difficulty encountered by the writer Kåre Bluitgen, who was initially unable to find an illustrator who was prepared to work with Bluitgen on his children's book Koranen og profeten Muhammeds liv ("The Qur'an and the prophet Muhammad's life"). Three artists declined Bluitgen's proposal before an artist agreed to assist anonymously. According to Bluitgen:

One [artist declined], with reference to the murder in Amsterdam of the film director Theo van Gogh, while another [declined, citing the attack on] the lecturer at the Carsten Niebuhr Institute in Copenhagen[5].

In October 2004, a lecturer at the Niebuhr institute at the University of Copenhagen was assaulted by five assailants who opposed the lecturer's reading of the Qur'an to non-Muslims during a lecture[6].

The refusal of the first three artists to participate was seen as evidence of self-censorship and led to much debate in Denmark, with other examples for similar reasons soon emerging. The comedian Frank Hvam declared that he did not dare satirise the Qur'an on television, while the translators of an essay collection critical of Islam also wished to remain anonymous due to concerns about violent reaction.

How can you discuss this controversy rationally if you are not given this background? It is insane to withhold this context as it projects only bad motive on the part of the Danes.

There has been a complete failure of the main Muslim lobby groups to perform ANY SEMBLANCE of introspection about the issues raised in these cartoons. Presenting this context makes their grievance mongering look petty and forces them to deal with the substantive issue:c creeping self-censorship for fear of violent reprisals.

The BBC is major part of the problem here.

Worse than that, have a look at this. The article is titled "Danish Muslims Split over cartoons" and nods in the direction that some think protests have gone too far.

Further down, we get this:
However, some of the strongest protests against the cartoons have come from imams who are part of the government's integration think tank.

"We want the newspaper to promise that this will never happen again, or this will never stop," said
... wait for it ...
imam Ahmad Akkari of the Islamic Faith Society.
That name rings a bell. Oh yes.

Oddly enough, the BBC does not seem to think that Mr Akkari's little holiday in Saudi Arabia or his cheeky embellishment of the cartoons merits a mention here. Indeed, it could be said that MrAkkari's actions played a large part in fomenting the violent flare up across the Middle East.

So, on the one hand, the BBC is reluctant to give us context that makes the Danes look reasonable and on the other, it is reluctant to give us the context that might alter our view of the Imam's position.

That is not unbiased reporting.

UPDATE: When I said
"Indeed, it could be said that MrAkkari's actions played a large part in fomenting the violent flare up across the Middle East."
What I meant was:
Mr Akkari is almost certainly responsible for the violent flare up.
Apparently the cartoons were published in Egypt in October, but nobody took any notice.
(via the Pub Philosopher)

The more you look at this, the more absurd the extremist Muslim overreaction becomes.

UPDATE: Welcome to B-BBC again. Sorry for being a total link-whore. Interestingly, the 1.30pm "context" programme has just finished. A couple of interesting points:
  1. It didn't give the correct context. GAAAH!!! It mentioned the book and the fact that no-one would illustrate it, (but NOT WHY THEY WOULDN'T), then skipped straight to the JP publication, not via the 17th Sept article and subsequent discussion on Self-censorship. I still think this is key. The reason he didn't mention is ...
  2. The presenter portrayed the rational for publication of the cartoons by JP throughout the whole programme as "a joke". These were not funny cartoons, nor were they commissioned as such. He has to ignore the entire self-censorship debate in order to do this. He also has to ignore the self-censorship debate in order to give any credence to the Muslim affront.
  3. Presenter skips very quickly to Muslim reactions. This is the first vox pop. The first guy interviewed makes clear that it is NOT wrong to draw pictures of Mohammed (oops - there goes half the BBC website) and he refers to drawings throughout history, but that these cartoons were wrong because they were offensive. Perhaps we now see why the presenter refrained from giving the correct context....
  4. There is a reasonable attempt to hold Abu Laban and Ahmad Akkari's feet to the fire which is good. I don't think they come out of it smelling very good at all.
  5. Some fascinating insights into some of the more gory background also emerges, which may also be uncomfortable for the BBC. Part of the problem in Denmark is that unemployment amongst Muslims is so high. The imams spend some time making out that there is an institutional islamophobia behind this. The programme investigates one other possible cause: Danish taxes are extremely high, partly to pay for an extremely generous welfare state. The Danish minimum wage is also extremely high. It is extremely high because Danish Unions have done a very good job for their members. Muslim immigrants are not members of Danish Unions and are mostly relatively unskilled (caution - I am repeating the programme here - I have no data to back this up. yet...) so Danish companies are reluctant to hire them at exorbitant cost, but [to quote the programme again] immigrants are happy with generous welfare support instead. That won't go down well with the statists... The only people who aren't very happy with the deal are -sit down: this may surprise you - the Danish middle classes who are having to pay for it. Guess what, the Socialists get thrown out of power.
But as regards the meat of the programme in terms of the Danish background, the topic was fumbled really really badly.

Pleasing Search Results

Your tweedy and largely "Edwardian" Pedant-General treats his co-inhabitants of the blogosphere with much the same horror that he reserves for all this new-fangled nonsense. (you know, washing machines, showers that actually work rather than dribbling a miserable trickle of scalding liquid whilst the rest of you freezes, video cassette recorders, that sort of thing). Naturally, he keeps his outward forays to the barest minimum needed to corroborate the bile with which these pages are filled.

Limited those these forays are, I cannot help but notice the glee with which other "bloggers" record how their "sites" are chosen by "search engines" in response to the most abstruse terms.

Today, however, I discover that Infinitives Unsplit (pbuh) is awarded the Silver medal from MSN Search in response to the search for "another word for wicked or depraved".

Your grammatically unimpeachable Pedant-General is quite content to take second place in this contest, given that the winner manages to get the word "Discombobulation" into the title of his blog and is evidently a considerably greater danger to the public at large than I am.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A Rational Muslim Speaks

Here is one who gets it.

(via the Pub Philosopher)

Monday, February 06, 2006

No Political Correctness Here - Part 5

[Chuckles and Rubs hands with glee...]

So everyone, there is no Political Correctness (in scare quotes pace Robert Sharp - who is generally extremely thought provoking and inciteful insightful - or otherwise) in Britain?

Political Correctness, at least as I understand it, is the business of refraining from speaking your mind, or using particular forms of words or whatever, TO AVOID CAUSING OFFENCE.

I fail to see how this is in any way different to self-censorship, why it is not the very antithesis of Freedom of Expression. As we have seen rather too clearly since September and as 'Arry would have it:

Liberty, if it means anything, is the right to tell people what they don't want to hear.
In other news, the long-running controversy surrounding the depiction of Mohammed atop the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC, enters its 71st year. Crowds of Muslims - alternately praying at its foot and giving thanks to the Founding Fathers of the US for the doctinre of the separation of Church and State that gives them full citizenship and the freedom to practise their religion without interference, have been condemned by Muslim leaders reminding them that this is idolatrous.

Conflict Resolution

I have been struck by the degree to which bloggers and commenters all over the blogophere, who have been wavering or slightly less than completely uncompromising in their defence of free expression, have changed their tune quite markedly when presented with the original rationale for the JP publication in September.

ninme (inimitably) makes a principled point that the context should not even be needed, but I suspect that with the yawning chasm of misunderstanding between Muslims and, well, everyone else, context helps.

This is one of the foundations of conflict resolution. Where two parties are at loggerheads, the first thing you have to do is to get them to restate, clearly, the position of the OTHER SIDE. Before you can begin to resolve the differences, "A" must be able to recite, to the satisfaction of "B", the thinking of "B". In return "B" must recite the position of "A". Whilst each is concerned only with his OWN greivances and does not consider the offence he has himself caused, there is no hope of bridging the gap. This allows tit-for-tat recriminations to be removed from the issue and even for goodwill/trust to be engendered as each side can apologise for any trivial tit-for-tattage that is not core to their position. You quickly get down to the root cause issue and often find that that root cause issue may indeed be simply a misunderstanding.

Clear so far? Good.

Now let's examine this issue again, using the BBC boilerplate text:

Further demonstrations have been held in a number of Muslim countries, to condemn the publication of European newspapers of cartoons which depict the Prophet Mohammed. One of the cartoons shows the Prophet with a bomb-shaped turban. Muslim activists are organising a protest outside the Danish Embassy this afternoon. The cartoons first appeared in a Danish newspaper last year.

In this text, we have - for the sake of this analysis - two sides: I shall call the two sides "FoS&E" and "MF". There is a conflict between FoS&E and MF. One might so far as to suggest that there has been some tit-for-tattage. Actually there hasn't. There has been an awful lot of tittage - some of it pretty serious - but to the best of my knowledge close to bugger all tattage. Never mind. We'll let that pass.

It is extremely clear that FoS&E recognises MF's position: that these cartoons are insulting is reported everywhere, including the original article.

Does MF even tangientally recognise any part of the argument of FoS&E? No. Indeed, they continue to maintain that FoS&E acts entirely in bad faith. They focus entirely on their own grievances.

Until such time as MF begins to recognise that FoS&E has a legitimate position, FoS&E cannot assist in the process of reconciliation. FoS&E cannot come to the table and cannot trade anything in concessions whilst MF treats it with such contempt.

It is time for MF to understand FoS&E - NOT the other way round.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Free Speech For Muslims!

In amongst all of the brouhaha (and long may it continue: it's important and we might even get some BBC heads on sticks if we are really lucky...) about THOSE CARTOONS, there is one thing that we are forgetting:


It is the majority of Muslims - who were born here, raised here, do their damnedest (sp?) to get on in life and who are British - who suffer because of the lunacy of those self-selected nutcases who claim to represent Muslims in the UK.


That is our rallying cry. When the "West" says it is tolerant, that is what it means: it means that all who choose can benefit from this. We want to defend Freedom of Expression so that ALL may benefit.

We should do everything in our power to give the moderates the cover to stand up to the fundamentalist bullies.

Think about: if that is what HE feels like, imagine how much pressure there will be not to break ranks if you are a Muslim?

Free Speech For Him!

Free Speech for ALL OF US!

We are being censored by the BBC

Transcript of BBC World At One News report today:

Further demonstrations have been held in a number of Muslim countries, to condemn the publication of European newspapers of cartoons which depict the Prophet Mohammed. One of the cartoons shows the Prophet with a bomb-shaped turban.
So we know why the Muslims are offended.
Muslim activists are organising a protest outside the Danish Embassy this afternoon. The cartoons first appeared in a Danish newspaper last year.
And we know why the Danes are to blame. And that's it. That is the headline.

The BBC isn't going to tell you WHY they were published last year. Or why they have appeared now after such a protracted gap. Or about the dubious tactics of the Danish Imam who has kicked up the fuss.

Whatever. I'm sure that context isn't important. Kinda like Free Speech. Whatever.

Someone needs to be fired. The BBC knows that they have judged this wrong because the "Have Your Say" recommended comments was MASSIVELY, overwhelmingly in favour of publication and the defence of free speech. It is extremely telling that that site is still up, but the link from the Have Your Say home page takes you here, where they can cover the strength of the response and attempt to cover it with technical issues....

Right now the actual message board is working fine: Check it out now. We are being censored by the BBC and you can prove it for yourself.

UPDATE 5pm ish: My bad. It's back up. Do compare the reader recommended comments balance vs the BBC view though.

UPDATE 7pm: Welcome to readers from B-BBC. Thanks for the link, Natalie!

UPDATE Sat 7pm: Just reviewed the emasculated HYS page. Current tally stands at:
No these cartoons should not be published: 13 comments
Yes they should: there is a principle at stake: 12 comments
It's a bit insensitive/we are all guilty/freedom comes with responsibilities: 12 comments

None of these comments mentions the background to the original publication, so there is no context to illustrate the key principle and why these cartoons are illustrative.

This is so COMPLETELY at odds with the Recommended Messages tally as to be laughable. The "Balance" of comments posted with which readers agreed was OVERWHELMINGLY in favour of standing up for free speech, unequivocably. Interestingly, even these posts are moderated: no mention of the context got through the censors even here. I simply cannot believe that such an important point would be ignored if posted coherently and politely (as I did ~20 or so times during the day...)

We are being censored. It's as simple as that.

Oh and contrast the picture below with the BBC report of the Protests, here and here (which was at least reporting a condemnation by MPACUK, and which included this nice line:
On Saturday more protesters, organised by the Hizb ut-Tahrir group, gathering outside the Danish embassy in London.
It appeared that the rally was far more restrained than the one on Friday.
Police later said two men had been arrested near the embassy during the protest.
Thank goodness: someone enforcing the law as regards incitement to violence.
They were arrested to prevent a breach of the peace, after a search by officers found leaflets including cartoons of the prophet Mohammed," a Met spokeswoman said.
Oh. Maybe not then. It's just those who wish to stand up for freedom of speech that get arrested.

UPDATE: Sun evening. Balance of comments now a bit better, but the killer context - I shall say it again so it doesn't get lost: Cartoons were published because illustrators were too frightened to submit RESPECTFUL drawings for fear of death threats - is still missing. The topic appears to have moved towards condemnation of the protestors, but the only comment addressing the original motivation is - Wait for it. I bet you can't guess - naked greed.

That's right. JP contrived an entire two week long debate, just so that it could publish some cartoons that would - FOUR MONTHS AFTER THE EVENT - cause Danish Embassies to be ransacked, just as a publicity stunt.

Blimmin Blogger

Blogger has been on the Blink.

I have lost some updates to posts and I suspect you will have had difficulty commenting.

Apologies. (But blame Blogger: restricting our freedom of speech - bastards)

Friday, February 03, 2006

Offensive Spirit - An Encore

Here's the deal. It's very simple.

I say something which you find offensive. I have the freedom to do this.

In turn, you have the freedom to criticise me for being offensive.
There are two possibilties. Either I am right about what I say, but just put it rather tactlessly, or I am wrong (or just gratuitously offensive. This obviously counts as "wrong").

If I am wrong, and you kick up a stink and demonstrate WHY I am wrong, not only do I look stupid, but the rest of the world will see that I am an offensive bigot.

If I am right, and you kick up a stink, the rest of the world will think that you are denying an unpleasant truth about yourself and that you aren't really being very honest, regardless of how tactless I may have been.

If you choose to hit me instead, it is pretty clear to everyone that you have no manners and no counter-argument. I win by default. The world will believe me, not you.

Now, into which category would you put these protestors?

As ninme put it so delightfully in an earlier (unrelated - I just loved the quote) post:
Hey Guys: way to play to your stereotype.
Anyone still have any doubts that we need to publish these cartoons?

Colours nailed to the mast

Not very surprising that Biased BBC might take a cynical view, but then, there is plenty to be cynical about.

Good news and Bad news

The Good News:

A Jordanian Paper shows "those cartoons".


The Bad News:

The Editor is sacked. And all copies of the paper pulled from the stands.


UPDATE: Sun morning. The Editor is arrested. Anyone still wondering if this isn't a Freedom of Speech issue?

The Really Shocking News:

The Strawman grabs his ankles.

Danish Iman Busted for Stirring Up Trouble

Perhaps this is why this little row won't go away.

Looks like our friendly Imam (the who has magiced up some additional cartoons and inflated his support base by an order of magnitude) hasn't been entirely straight with the Danish media.

Rasmussen [the Danish PM] was referring specifically to an incident in which controversial imam Abu Laban said to television station al-Jazeera that he was happy about the Muslim boycott. Later in the day, Laban said to Danish television station TV2 that he would urge Muslims to stop the boycott immediately.

Anyone got any interpretations of this incident that show Mr Laban in anything other than a bad light?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Danes and Free Speech - F*ck Yeah!

I don't know what the Danish for the English for the American vernacular "F**k YEAH!" might be, but I think that a reprise of Second Breakfast's noble reminder of the finer qualities of this sceptred isle might be in order. We might also want to reflect on the events that caused such an outburst and in whose name they were carried out.

Mermaid Statues: Fuck Yeah!

Complicated Crop Rotation Schemes involving lots of different Root Vegetables: Fuck Yeah!

You know the score.

Where is OUR spine, damnit?

We are all Danes now.

So far, the 12 cartoons of Mohammed, published originally in Denmark on 30 Sept 2005 following a two week long debate on self censorship and the widespread fear of criticising Islam, have been printed in Denmark, Norway, Germany, France, Spain and Italy. Where is the editor in the UK with the will to do what is right and stand up for the Freedom of the Press? For goodness sake, it was the Scots in what was then the nascent UK who came up with the concepts of Freedom of Speech and the supremacy of Reason during the Enlightenment.

The BBC's coverage of this has been appalling:
  • They have completely failed to report the original context behind the September publication of the cartoons, without which the Danish reaction (and that of the blogosphere) makes no sense;
  • There is no attempt to defend Freedom of Speech as one of the fundamental foundations, an essential pre-requisite, for the maintenance of other wider freedoms and a healthy democracy in general;
  • There is no attempt to question why there is a gap of FOUR MONTHS between the publication in Denmark and the protests now, and no attempt to question the motives of the Danish Imam who has embellished the 12 cartoons actually published with a collection of other drawings, which are both unattributed and significantly more offensive. The Wikipedia article on this is illuminating:
    "Akhmad Akkari, spokesman of the 21 Danish Muslim organisations which organised the tour, explained that the three drawings had been added to "give an insight in how hateful the atmosphere in Denmark is towards Muslims." Akkari claimed he does not know the origin of the three pictures. He said they had been sent anonymously to Danish Muslims. However, when Ekstra Bladet asked if it could talk to these Muslims, Akkari refused to reveal their identity. These images had however never been published in Jyllands-Posten.

    The society also allegedly exaggerated its membership and the hardships of Muslims in Denmark, for instance claiming to represent 200,000 angry Muslims, when the actual number was in fact fewer than 15,000.

    Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen was shocked at the way in which some Muslims were misrepresenting Denmark. “I am speechless that those people, whom we have given the right to live in Denmark and where they freely have chosen to stay, are now touring Arab countries and inciting antipathy towards Denmark and the Danish people"
  • There is no appeal to reason: is it rational to beat up an employee of an unrelated Danish food distributor who had no hand in the publication of the cartoons? Is it rational - or helpful to the cause of Islam - to issue death threats against the cartoonists? Do these actions not - oh the irony - merely prove the point of the editors of JP?
We should be with the Danes on this one, not sitting on the fence. Free Speech is no Offence, nor is it negotiable.

Which is more offensive:
1. A newspaper publishing cartoons of Mohammed
2. Threatening to kill the publisher (and the cleaners in the building)
3. Beating up - that is causing actual bodily harm - someone completely unrelated to the publication of the cartoons?

This is not a tricky choice. Moreover, we are (rightly) forever warned not to stereotype - not to project the vices of a few fruitcakes onto the group as a whole. What, I ask you, is item 3 if not a prime example of this heinous sin? Yet we hear only condemnation of the first not the second or third.

Without this vociferous condemnation, it appears that the group as a whole agrees with its spokesmen. (And it is almost always men.) If most of the individuals within the group represented by a spokesman, self appointed or otherwise, disagree, why are they prepared to be misrepresented, especially when such misrepresentation is so obviously harmful? Why are there no more moderate spokesmen? There are two possibilities: either most condone options 2 and 3, or most are sufficiently repressed not to be able to voice their concerns.

We came VERY VERY close to making it illegal to print these cartoons. Indeed, it appears that it was a mere totting up error on the part of the Labour Chief Whip for which we must be eternally grateful (until the next time).

As for the cartoons themselves, I will post more in due course. For the time being, let us examine the substantive issue. There is much complaint that, for Muslims, it is forbidden to show any image of Mohammed, whether flattering or not. Permit me to disagree with that premise.

But even assuming that it is forbidden, I fail to see how this applies to non-Muslims.

But even assuming that it is forbidden, and by some arcane ruling it does apply to non-Muslims, it is still nonsense in this context.

Consider this one of the 12 in particular:

Is this actually a picture of Mohammed? If I say it is, that apparently becomes a crime to be punished by death threats or savage beatings. What if I secretly think it is, but say it isn't? What if I think it isn't, but say it is? Ironically, this is genuinely the case here: the non-Stick fellow is actually a caricature of the author who could not get anyone to illustrate his book on Mohammed.

I can think of no better illustration of a "thought-crime". We don't do thought-crime here. Not if we can help it anyway.

This whole episode would be farcical but for the death threats flying about.

It would be farcical but for the disgusting hypocrisy of the Muslim states that have withdrawn their ambassadors. The cry goes up that we must "respect" the religious beliefs of others. This is, to be blunt obscene.

Which would you rather be:
1. A Muslim trying to practise your religion in Denmark or any other post-Enlightment, pre-dominantly Christian, "Western" democracy
2. A Christian trying to practise your religion in Saudi Arabia or Iran
3. A Jew trying to practise your religion in Saudi Arabia or Iran, or in fact, anywhere in the Middle East outside Israel?

It would be farcical if it weren't for the fact that this venal Labour Government seems flippant in the manner with which it discards our fundamental liberties and rules with no apparent regard for its slim, almost non-existent, electoral mandate, the centuries of precedent over which our constitutional settlement has evolved and the millions upon millions who gave their lives to defend these liberties against the onslaught of many other totalitarian systems.

It would be farcical if it weren't for the fact that we are compelled, on threat of imprisonment, to pay the Licence Fee which funds these excerable apologists for the attacks on the cornerstone of our freedom and prosperity.

Right. I'm going for a bacon roll. With lots of butter. And I'll need a stiff drink with which to wash it down...

UPDATE: Welcome to readers from TopixNet. I meant to link to my little essay on Giving and Taking Offence, but failed to do so in the body of the post. It is especially aposite, given the reference to THE BACON ROLL.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Some Light in Another Bit of Darkness

Mr Alhamedi is always pithy. Never more so than tonight. Read it all.

No Political Correctness Here - Part 4

Oh, and by way of a top quality right-wing guffaw, I couldn't help noticing that the author of the Socialist Worker article to which I referred on Monday is bylined as:
Ken Muller, assistant secretary Islington NUT (pc)
"NUT (pc)", eh? It's Political Correctness Gone Mad.

ba-boom. Tsh!

Thank you. You've been a lovely audience.

Returning the Compliment

The inimitable ninme sends me a pleasing amount of traffic. She notes today the topic of returning compliments. What better day to do so.

For any medieaval fundamentalist crackpot err... readers of a more sensitive persuasion, her link is a joke. Unusually for an American, she is displaying a well developed sense of irony.