Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Howard on Islam

"There is a section, a small section, of the Islamic population . . . which is very resistant to integration.

"Fully integrating means accepting Australian values, it means learning as rapidly as you can the English language, if you don't already speak it.

"People who come from societies where women are treated in an inferior fashion have got to learn very quickly that that is not the case in Australia." - John Howard.

Okay, first, I don't see this as any kind of cynical ploy or anything that might suggest Fearless Leader isn't stating what he believes to be 100% truth. I think Howard believes that society should be monocultural, that it should remain basically the same as it has been for generations, and that people who arrive should assimilate into it with zero regard for any benefits to Australia that their original culture may bring to us. Strength through conformity and tradition are more important than strength through individuality and adaptation in this worldview. I disagree with it, but I don't doubt the sincerity of those who might agree with it, such as the Prime Minister.

Second, remember when we were supposed to be worried about being swamped by Asians? How quickly people forget. Which brings me to one reason why I think Muslims are getting singled out now in the same way that Asians were singled out last decade: because they are unfamiliar, and their unfamiliarity is most visible right now. It's stupid, but the good news if Hansonism is anything to go by is that such stupidity only lasts for a few years at a time. The bad news is that the reason that one group stops being viewed as an unfamiliar danger may be simply because a new group's alleged unfamiliar danger has taken its place.

Third, an anecdote: my sister mentioned a friend of hers who emigrated from Lebanon. She is a Muslim and didn't wear a headscarf when she first arrived here. She had children and grandchildren while here. Those children pressured her into wearing the headscarf on the grounds that they didn't view her as a true Muslim unless she did so.

People who view Islamic extremism as an immigration problem might want to ponder that. Me, I view Islamic extremism as an attempt to resolve an identity crisis in the children of immigrants who find themselves caught betweeen the security of conformity offered by mainstream Islam and
the enabling freedom of first-world living. The above example is hardly evidence of anything violent, but I do think it's telling that the more rigid structures of Islam were accepted - and enforced - by the children of an immigrant more than they were by the immigrant herself.

Islam and The Left

The Left and the Jihad

I confess to finding the Left's wholehearted embrace of Islam incomprehensible. Certainly there is considerable undeserved animosity towards Moslems whose only "crime" is to claim adherence to the religion of Islam, but that seems to get translated somehow into a worldview in which no adherent of Islam can do anything wrong so long as what they're doing is done in the name of Islam (or perhaps more accurately, done in the name of opposing the West).

The above link documents the history of Islamist groups' (where "Islamism" is a political ideology derived from the religion of Islam) opposition to the political ideology of the Left in the 20th century. I appreciate the concerns of religious bigotry that can easily run rampant when dealing with what to many is an unfamiliar religious philosophy, but I draw the line at accepting that jihadism is the name of nothing more than a just and acceptable response to Western imperialism. Rather, I see it as a fundamentalist strain of Islam that's at least as potent and dangerous as that practised by their Christian fundamentalist counterparts, to which anyone concerned with freedom and equality - as the modern Left allegedly is - would be implacably opposed.

I assume I can criticise Christian fundamentalism without people viewing me as attacking Christianity as a whole. Can I criticise Islamic fundamentalism without it getting viewed as an attack on Islam as a whole?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Evolving trends of war in the 21st century. The author describes how the receding necessity of war in Western nations places severe limits on the ease with which the West can practise it. He advises several strategies that Western nations would do best to avoid, all of which the Bush Administration have implemented, or is in the process of implementing.

Comment from Bruce Sterling: "I really worry that every word of this post is true."

Friday, September 01, 2006

Conspiracy theories as an attempt to make sense of a senseless world

Why conspiracy theories?

Humanity is driven by narrative. We tell stories about the world around us. We like those stories to make sense. We like those stories to have understandable reasons for playing out the way they do.

First, a lot of the "stories" that occur in reality make no sense, and have no reasons for why they happen the way they do. People are killed for no reason, good people are punished and bad people rewarded, things happen that don't fit any kind of narrative structure

A conspiracy theory provides a narrative. It replaces the terrifying arationality of blind chance with a more reassuring story in which events are under somebody's control. Even if those "somebodies" are mysterious and hidden figures, that's a better option for many than the idea that things "just happen" sometimes, without any ability to understand or influence them.

Second, sometimes we're presented with events which do line up in an understandable narrative - but it's a narrative that contradicts some other narrative about the world we've accepted as true. How to resolve the contradiction? Discard one of the narratives as false. Either the new narrative shows that we've misunderstood how the world works (discard the old), or the new narrative is viewed as not true (discard the new).

But if you "discard the new", a person still wants a narrative to make sense of the events which the discarded narrative described. One way to do this is to construct yet another narrative - but one in which the events are portrayed as lining up with the old worldview rather than contradicting it. So a bomb in Bali becomes a narrative in which the US is an evil mastermind rather than a narrative in which there are people in the world who slaughter the innocent in Allah's name. On some sites on the web, an ignomiously captured and defeated Saddam Hussein was fit into a narrative in which he was a tool of the US all along as a way of avoiding acceptance of a narrative in which his opposition to the US was a whole lot of empty posturing, with zero ability to back it up in action.

Third, sometimes a narrative has an appeal of elegance to it that makes it seem like it MUST be true. The allegation that the US government knew of the 1942 Pearl Harbour bombing in advance fits this mould: it seems so pat that the event which brought the US into World War 2 may have been allowed to go ahead in order to bring about that exact end-goal. But accepting that as true requires ignoring the role that blind chance plays in life. As said above, sometimes things "just happen" - even things like a punishing military strike which actually had the ultimate effect of aiding the Allies by bringing the US into the war.

Updated blog

Just spent an entertaining half hour switching over to Blogspot's "new system" and applying labels (what every other blogging system I've seen calls "tags") to my old posts. I don't know, it feels like there's something lacking in my old writings - it's over-written, and at the same time doesn't say everything I think I wanted to say.

Oh well, practice makes perfect I guess.

Bashir on the Bali Bombings

Bashir claims CIA bomb was used in Bali. I think I need to watch Foreign Correspondent before I comment too much, but in 2002 Bashir claimed that the bomb which caused the destruction in the Bali Bombings was the conventional bomb that Indonesian authorities said it was,but the United States was the one who actually constructed it because it was "too sophisticated" for Indonesians to make. That's Wikipedia's version of events but I can find no reference for the exact content of Bashir's October 12 2002 press conference in which he allegedly said this. A "micro-nuclear" device is part of a conspiracy theory dating back to almost immediately after the bombings.

Why embrace the "micro-nuclear" conspiracy? Especially if you've already previously articulated a conspiracy theory that contradicts it? Something to do with a perceived slight that the US has nukes and the Islamic world doesn't, perhaps? A way of saying that it must have been the US that did this act and not "good Muslims", because no "good Muslims" have nukes?

Alexander Downer called the claim "preposterous", telling ABC Radio "I don't think anyone would much believe anything he was saying". I would have to disagree, and it disturbs me that our Foreign Minister underestimates the potential appeal of a story which makes the US looks bad, makes Muslims look like undeserving victims and which may tap into latent fears of the US nuclear arsenal. To dismiss such remarks so cavalierly tells me that the Australian government really doesn't get the idea that America's so-called "War on Terror" is a clash of ideologies more than anything else. In such a conflict, failing to actively engage with and expose the flaws in the ideology of the opponent, as Downer has failed to do, will mean losing. We appear to be blindly following the US' idiotic path of believing that jihadists "hate us for our freedom", that "there's no reasoning with terrorists", and expecting that punitive action alone can win the day.

On a semi-related note, I can't help noticing that what passes for commercial papers' "journalism" on this topic is actually nothing more than expounding upon excerpts lifted from ABC news programming. Go the ABC, and boo to the so-called "news" outlets that can't even do their own investigative reporting without the ABC to spoonfeed them quotes on an issue du jour.