March 13, 2009

US-liberated Afhanistan: Blasphemy and Women's Rights are Punishable by Death!

What do You Mean Religion Can Breed Violence? You Deserve to Die for Saying this!

I've discussed the issue of blasphemy in several of my classes, and most students seem to agree that the UN General Assembly's attempt to ban criticism of religion is a bad thing. We then talked about the illiberal regimes--which include some democracies (more like mob rule) that don't afford individual conscience & expression. Invariably, however,most students are apt to criticize foreign people and countries without even thinking about the US or western democracies. In the previous post, the illiberal practice by Germany is cited as an example of censorship and violation of individual rights to free speech.

When I press the students a little harder on the question whether we should criticize, even offend, our own political & religious institutions, many reply in the negative! We have free speech, they tell me, so some limits are OK! Thankfully, many students seem willing to allow for maximum free expression, including blasphemy.What to you think about political blasphemy? As in burning the US flag for political protest?

Remember that Afghani student who was sentenced to death last year for promoting women's rights--a blasphemous act in Afghanistan--by distributing an essay questioning passages in the Koran? This past week and appeals court (more like a "cangaroo" court) converted the death sentence to 20 years in prison. If this decision stands, Pervez Kambaksh, will not survive, because the Taliban want him killed. Even if he's pardoned by the president of Afghanistan, there are thousands of others who have been killed, tortured, and sentenced to long prison terms for blasphemy or for promoting a more civil society--including women's rights!

PS. By clicking on the picture (Jesus & Mo), you can open it bigger; the picture on the right is that of Kambaksh being led out of the kangaroo court in Kabul. Clicking on his name in the post connects to the article by The Independent.

March 05, 2009

An Argument in Defense of Blasphemy

There are many things that offend me. High on my list is obligatory superstition and ignorance forced upon us, as well as violations of human rights & fundamental freedoms! On the other hand, I admit, I do like the occasional blasphemy routine (who doesn’t?), because it has a liberating effect on me. That’s right, it feels good to have the right to free expression! Even though, many things offend me, I support the conditions that ultimately make me happy. Such conditions allow others who disagree with my views and life style to pursue their own self-defined bliss. I can deal with offensive expressions by maintaining my personal choices and taste.

Boycotting, choosing not to, or ignoring something is not the same as legally banning it. I prefer not to be offended, but if it happens, I shouldn’t have the legal right to remain non-offended. This is easy to understand why: there’s isn’t anything under the sun that can’t be offensive to someone somewhere.

Morality, in its most basic application, is how we treat others in a civil society where a plurality exists. The conditions that support civil rights & constitutional liberal democracy are the most suited for enlightened, progressive human beings. A personal definition of fulfillment & purpose is appropriate for every thinking, mature individual. Free expression is in the core of such definition.

If you are a confident person you probably don't think that ideas (or expressions) are toxic, because you can handle them. Correct? Bad taste, stupidity, purposeful ignorance, prejudice, etc, can all be dismissed by the rational and confident mind. You probably worry that it is your fellow citizens who aren't equipped to handle such expression, and therefore you want to protect them by banning offensive material. Right?

Wrong! People have to grow up and deal with life and the real world--even if this means being offended here and there. Keeping people insulated in a web of mind control is not good. It results in ignorance, extremism, lack of confidence to deal with a crisis, and, obviously, authoritarian practices by small elites--benevolent dictators. We are better than that.

Besides, who is the best judge of what's offensive to me? Should I say, I don't want to be offended.. Should I elevate this to a legal right? What do you think?

When I was very young, I saw the American flag being burnt in protest by veterans of the Vietnam war. I was offended. I hadn't separated the material of the flag with what the flag represents. Just as I was offended when my religion was being attacked as a myth. Yes, once I believed in Zeus, Santa Claus, Superman, and the Tooth Fairy. I grew up since. Today, I'm offended mainly by actions that attempt to limit the conditions of freedom--including banning free speech. Being challenged on my core beliefs back then resulted in re-examining those long-held beliefs. I'm better for it. This has been another liberating experience for me. I mean, it's a relief not to have to worry about offending the big man in the sky. My dress code, eating patterns, sex, and how I relate to others, all improved after this discovery.

I do support blasphemy. I support it because I want to offend t
hose who don't want free-thinkers around. And, I want to fight for liberty, including the liberty of those who oppose free expression; though I oppose their plans to gag the rest of us into submission.

By now you've probably heard about the UN General Assembly's resolution to ban "defamatory" speech against Islam and religion in general. If that action is not a defamation of liberty & free expression I don't know what it is! The Islamic countries that are only ones pushing this, mind you. They have many Christian sympathizers, because most of the Church hierarchy does not care to defend free thought & expression; it wants more religion! Liberal democracies (and modernity) has a habit of challenging religious views that have originated in primitive society. I bet many western Churches dream longingly of the European theocracies of the past! The Archbishop of Canterbury, for example, favors Sharia law in the Muslim communities in Britain!!! Sharia law in a constitutional liberal democracy??!! Well, that's really offensive!

Germany shares a big slice of the blame here. It's illegal in that country to deny the Jewish holocaust--an offense that can land you 3 years in jail. Obviously, only ignorant persons or Nazi-sympathizers deny the holocaust, but those bigots should have a right to their own propaganda and indoctrination, even if they're 100% wrong and offensive to the rest of us. As others have the right to make up and believe in their own myths, like winged horses, virgin births, walking through walls, warlords from outer space, and the earth resting on a giant tortoise.

After all, there are many types of deniers out there, like those who deny the notion that Zeus is the God of all gods. I suppose this is fine, because only a handful of people follow the ancient Hellenic religion today, right? There are others, though, who make extraordinary claims without offering any proof while their claims could not stand against rudimentary logic. What's really crazy it's the view that irrational & superstitious beliefs deserve an absolute protection from blasphemy. I'd say, {it is precisely those beliefs that we must offend}, and offend with impunity!

Maybe this way, sometime soon, we can reclaim our humanity from those who want to impede our species' intellectual progress and self-fulfillment.
[Here's an older post written at the time of the Danish cartoon controversy. Who's afraid of offensive speech?]

PS>The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been signed by most UN members, should be re-read by those who seek to limit free expression. From the UDHR:

Article 19

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

March 02, 2009

Urban Sprawl

A major criticism of conventional, mainstream thinking is its inability to distinguish the forests from the trees, so to speak. There seems to be an overwhelming urge to be satisfied with describing symptoms when the urgent need is for an understanding of the root cause for the phenomenon in question.

"Descrirtive" analysis might not be totally useless but it fails to advance , meaningfully, our understanding of the dynamics behind the issue of concern.To suggest that environmental degradation is caused by excessive pollution is a "no brainer" when in fact what is instrumental is an understanding of the reason why we pollute.

This line of "shallow environmentalism" has become so widely spread that it is not an exaggeration to suggest that it might have become the norm. And that is tragic. One current example where this "shallow" analysis has become often applied is that of Urban Sprawl. There is no doubt that urban sprawl is one of the most destructive developments that we are confronting but to suggest that urban sprawl is related to numbers of inhabitants goes a long way in mismanaging the problem. No doubt that numbers can and often do play a role but may I suggest that the single most important issue in urban sprawl is NOT connected to numbers. Urban sprawl is very much the result of a life style, a habit of consumption and an accepted standard of living. Urban sprawl is very much a product of a feeling of entitlement that every family is to live in a ranch home spread over an acre of land with a swimming pool in the backyard and a three car garage in front. A recent study by the EU concluded that 65% of material use and 70% of global warming potential is related to urban areas. And yet uncontrolled, rampant urbanization is not only accepted but is even encouraged the world over.
Yet, is there a justification for the following: