The voice of moderate Islam Late last year the classical liberal Centre for Independent Studies rendered a major public service by bringing over Mohammad Fajrul Falaakh, Deputy Chairman of the Central Executive Board of Nahdatul Ulama, the largest Muslim organisation in Indonesia (Abdurahman Wahid's group) to deliver its 2002 Acton Lecture (named after Lord Acton of course) on Religion and Freedom. The full lecture including the Q & A session is now available here. Here are some interesting extracts.
On the irrelevance of the burqa:
Followers of Islam understand Islam to be a comprehensive religion with both sacred and mundane aspects. It also covers public and private aspects. It provides injunctions that give direction on how to worship, but also acts as a guide in principle, to conduct in public life. So Islam as we believe in it is a comprehensive religion that has elements of faith, ethics and law. That legal aspect also covers public behaviour. What about the wearing of head scarves? It does fall under Islam, yes, but the general principle of behaving in public with regard to your dress is just to dress decently, modestly. The wearing of the head covering that only shows two eyes is an example of how history and culture have both influenced the religion of Islam. From my own reading and experience, this wearing of the headscarf or only showing your two eyes is due to the cultural influence from the Persian empire and the Middle East. This may have been fine for a particular society and culture during that time. But why should any religion of a highly sophisticated nature bother itself with this very mundane issue? My mother, for instance, is a devout Muslim woman, but she didn't wear the headscarf, and my grandparents never prohibited her from being involved in public affairs. That's why she could graduate and have a law degree as well. She also became a member of parliament for several years.
On redefining the shariah for the modern age while remaining truen to its spirit:
Back about 20 years ago, the development of a perspective to understand Islam was undertaken, mainly through our organisation, and Shariah has now been understood, to put it simply, as common good or public interest-very secular indeed. What constitutes common goods depends on what is considered common, but common can mean one village, one country, or common humanity. So there is a movement to understand Islam and technically, the way to understand Islam has to be according to the main goals of Shariah. According to my organisation's understanding-and this is contrary to, say, the adoption of the universal declaration of Islamic human rights back in 1975 or 1980 in Egypt-the goals of the Shariah can be grouped into five important or basic necessities. The Arabic term for these five basic goals or necessities is kulliyat al-khams...
The first basic necessity is the protection of religious freedom, or the protection of religion and the way religion is observed ...
The second goal is the protection of life ...
The third one is the protection of hifzh al-aql, meaning mine-that is, freedom of thought, freedom of conscience. ... What about the regulation or provision that many Muslims believe in that those who renounce Islam will be punished by death? That act is considered apostasy. The traditional, conventional understanding of apostasy in Islam says that once you enter into Islam there is no way that you can leave, otherwise you will put yourself to death. If that is really the case, why does the Shariah claim early on that there is to be protection of religion? So again, there is another level of tension. Many Muslims derive this firm understanding from history, but according to some historians, history is just the way you interpret ... There was a time when some parts of the Muslim community back in the 7th century were reported to have had renounced Islam and they were chased and punished by death. A legal historian tried to find out what was really going on and it turned out to be that, at the same time, they also waged war, turning against the community they had previously belonged to. So was that a very obvious case of apostasy or a case of rebelling against a political entity that you used to agree with-in other words, violating a political pact you created together with other people? So perhaps it was not really religious at all. It was simply a political affair.
The fourth necessity of Shariah is the protection of property or property rights and, as a consequence, promoting prosperity ...
Lastly is the right to enter into marriage, and the protection of reproductive rights. This was never really referred to when the family planning programme was introduced in Indonesia, and many Muslim societies still face difficulties in coping with the family planning programme. In Indonesia family planning has been a success.
If there is going to be a genuine reformation and adaptation of Islam to the modern age, it is going to come from the Southeast Asian branch. If Islam is to improve its public image in the West, it is going to come from the efforts of these guys and not from the likes of Keysar Trad and the new homeboy of Lakemba.
Update Wogblog has a brilliant but politically incorrect exposition of why reform of Islam is most likely to come from Southeast Asian countries. I think there is a lot of truth to what he says rather provocatively.
Bowling for Columbine I went to see Bowling for Columbine last weekend. From the way some people have written about Bowling for Columbine I was expecting it to be a left wing version of Triumph of the Will and a real doozy but it wasn't even unambivalent about the gun control issue - Moore emphasises many times throughout the movie the puzzle about Canada having low crime rates despite having as many circulating guns as the US . Some people will never be satisfied.
Speaking as someone who likes Michael Moore's gun control politics but doesn't like his corporate bashing politics a la Roger and Me (I'm sorry but businesses have no obligation to employ people for the sake of keeping them employed) I must say I found it by turns funny and touching though a little overdone towards the end with that silly stunt about returning bullets to WalMart. Moore may be a loose cannon (his recent comments about 'scaredy cats' are just plain stupid, insensitive and embarrasing) but he is a gifted filmmaker and some of the juxtapositions in the movie had the full emotional impact they were intended to have. Highlights of the movie include the chilling but hilarious interviews with the Michigan Militia and Terry Nichols, and the cartoon segment on a 'Brief history of the US'.
Paganism is caused by graven images Reason's blog notes this ridiculous piece of hyperbole on the Buchananite mag, The American Conservative by a William S. Lind:
The West spent three thousand years struggling to substitute the Word for the image. The war of the Word against the image is perhaps the most basic theme of the Old Testament. Thousands of Christians gave their lives in that fight. Now, thanks to the video screen, history is running backwards because on video screens images are far more powerful than words. Not surprisingly, paganism is on the rise, beyond and within the Church.
If conservatives cannot see the danger in the thing itself, in the substitution of the false for the true, one would expect they would at least, be alarmed that all virtual realities are subject to manipulation. Today, in America, most of them are manipulated, deliberately and systematically, to serve the ideology of cultural Marxism, a.k.a. political correctness. Thus we get endless television programs and video games where men are puny and women strong (they beat up the men), muggers are white and doctors are black, and the only normal-seeming white males are homosexuals. Thanks to virtual realities, the entertainment industry has become the most powerful force in American culture, and it is largely owned by the cultural Marxists. Through it, cultural Marxism does what it is supposed to do, psychologically condition. Soon enough, in any life where virtual realities hold sway, anyone who dares think that maybe Western civilization really is superior looks in the mirror and sees “another Hitler.” Does the prospect of Brave New World not bother conservatives anymore?
Who is William S Lind? Surprisingly, he is a former staffer to Democratic Presidential candidate Gary Hart (see the editorial note on the linked article), and a Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism, a division of the Free Congress Foundation, which, notwithstanding its suggestive name, advocates Puritanism rather than free congress. More worryingly, he also gives a nudge and a wink to Holocaust revisionists as this article notes:
at a major Holocaust denial conference put on by veteran anti-Semite Willis Carto in Washington, D.C., Lind gave a well-received speech before some 120 “historical revisionists,” conspiracy theorists, neo-Nazis and other anti-Semites, in which he identified a small group of people who he said had poisoned American culture. On this point, Lind made a powerful connection with his listeners.
“These guys,” he explained, “were all Jewish.” ...
Listening and enthusiastically applauding was a crowd that included Jürgen Graf, a Swiss Holocaust denier who fled to Iran to avoid prosecution at home; Eustace Mullins, a rabid anti-Semite who once wrote an article entitled “Adolf Hitler: An Appreciation”; former SS man Hans Schmidt, and many others.
Lind's theory was one that has been pushed since the mid-1990s by the Free Congress Foundation - the idea that a small group of German philosophers, known as the Frankfurt School, had devised a cultural form of “Marxism” that was aimed at subverting Western civilization. The method, he said, involved manipulating the culture into supporting homosexuality, sex education, egalitarianism, and the like, to the point that traditional institutions and culture are ultimately wrecked.
“Their whole plan,” he said, “is the destruction of Western culture.”
The cultural Marxism idea is of course recycled in the American Conservative article minus the reference to Jews.
The Revivalist My friend Rafe Champion now has an e-zine up on his site called The Revivalist. He describes it thus:
This section of the site covers the arts, letters and history of ideas, and pays tribute to people who in some cases have been forgotten or overlooked. It remains to be seen how this area will be organised and for the moment the focus will be on various people who have made significant contributions. Any ideas or suggestions welcome.
Currently it has features on Yvor Winters, James McAuley and Jacques Barzun.
Reading for economists The AEI-Brookings Joint Centre for Regulatory Studies (an excellent resource which I'll have to add to the links on the left) has a new collection of essays out on government policy towards open source software and it's fully available online here (PDF file). Meanwhile the Productivity Commission has released a report on managed competition in health care. Allso, check out the work of my colleagues on the economic implications of the Air NZ-Qantas alliance here (warning, big PDF file).
Note to readers: I'm starting to think that in between work commitments, reading I could get done, private research and articles I could get published in the mainstream media and academic journals, the opportunity cost of blogging is rather high. I won't be giving up the game but have decided I might go back to my old practice of being more of a 'linking blog' than a 'screed blog'. This doesn't mean I won't write long pieces when the mood catches me but that from now on I'll aspire towards maintaining the blog by doing more of the former, with the latter between fewer and more far between.
Roy Jenkins "The permissive society has been allowed to become a dirty phrase. A better phrase is the civilised society." - A great quote from liberty-loving moderate lefty, Rennaisance man and Churchill biographer Roy Jenkins who passed away recently. Here is an obituary in The Guardian.
The Windshuttle debate It's important to keep things in perspective amidst the accusations hurled around in the debate on atrocities against Aborigines. The fact remains that whomever is correct, the number of Aborigines killed isn't zero, nor is it negligible. Nor is the history of their mistreatment in any doubt. While the resolution of this debate is of high stakes insofar as it may lead to the reputation of some being in tatters (and I have not been following the arguments sufficiently closely nor do I claim any expertise to adjudicate whose reputations are genuinely on the line here) it isn't of high stakes when put in perspective of the atrocities that were committed. And anyone who claims to believe in a political philosophy that champions the impartial protection of individual rights cannot but regret that this is so. This is regardless of whatever strongly plausible 'what ifs' that may be constructed.