Monday, July 30, 2007

Andrews's excuse: an older boy made me do it

the beginning of the end?

Life keeps overtaking me, and every time I start writing a post on the Haneef case, it becomes obsolete almost immediately. I should carry on regardless.

I'm still of the view that the visa decisions in this case should be sheeted home to Ruddock or Howard rather than Andrews, but that'll never come out methinks.

Hopefully the light being shone on this matter will also raise questions about the egregious treatment of other less high-profile cases by DIMIA, as highlighted by Andrew Bartlett.

Remarks made by Andrews, that Haneef's swift exit from the country raises suspicions, have been rightly denounced as contemptible. Considering that Haneef is in a foreign country, with a foreign culture, and that he has just suffered the most traumatic ordeal of his life, and that this ordeal has delayed his imminent departure from Australia to see his first child for the first time, and that he is very close to his family who have also suffered through this ordeal, and that in his home country he has become something of a cause celebre, his wish to get back to India as soon as possible makes a very good deal of psychological sense, so Andrews's hamfisted remark won't endear him to anyone.

Oh and I forgot to mention that the AFP trashed his apartment and his landlord evicted him.

Oh but Andrews has classified info which he would just love to release to the public in order to prove his own innocence. It's delicious to see the shoe on the other foot, and questions being raised about the government's contempt of court!

There's been a lot of heroism and a lot of shameful behaviour associated with this case. Certain sectors of the media,including the ABC and, belatedly, The Australian, were instrumental in publicising the false claims made by the AFP and the DPP; Stephen Keim risked his career and suffered the opprobrium of the police and the government for releasing transcripts to the media [material owned by his client, the release of which was in no way illegal]; the Queensland Law Society, the Australian Law Council and a number of lawyers spoke critically of the matter; Peter Beatty raised his concerns, and Ozblogistan played its small part. The government's usual reliance on secrecy and political bipartisanship in these sorts of matters has come unstuck, if only partly. I'm not yet convinced that Andrews really wants to release material to the public. If there were other factors to consider, they would have been used to bolster the prosecutor's extremely weak case in opposing bail, a case which included three statements prejudicial to Haneef which later turned out to be false. Yet the magistrate granted bail in spite of not being aware of the falsehood of these remarks. Considering that the only material which Andrews and his cronies used to revoke Haneef's visa was material supplied by the AFP, and that Haneef's visa was revoked immediately after bail was granted, it surely defies belief that the AFP would have with-held information from the court that would have ensured Haneef's continued detention. Unless of course there was some sort of conspiracy to present a weak case to the magistrate so that Immigration could get their hands on him. I don't think there's a conspiracy. The other possibility is that the AFP didn't want to release sensitive info, which might compromise ongoing investigations, in open court - in which case, Andrews wouldn't be allowed to release such info either.

Apparently, Andrews said he was going to selectively release info on the case, as soon as he was able. So, even if he does release info, we won't be able to rely on it.

There are calls, of course, for the resignation of Kevin Andrews. It won't happen, because that would plunge the government into crisis. If the appeal to the Federal Court goes ahead, and the decision is overturned, then Andrews should, and probably would, go. I'm not sure the decision will be overturned though, because current law grants the minister wide discretionary power, and the courts must interpret and enforce current law.

However, there's no doubt that Andrews's behaviour has been dubious and duplicitous throughout. This article provides an excellent summary of the man's conduct.

The title of this post, by the way, comes from a witty comment on Larvatus Prodeo.


Friday, July 27, 2007

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: contre la soumission

no shrinking Somalian

Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book The Caged Virgin presents a major challenge to those who unthinkingly advocate multiculturalism, because she throws down the gauntlet to Moslem leaders and those who support them, with reference in particular to the treatment of women in Islamic societies, and the continuation of that treatment by Moslem migrants and refugees in western countries. Certainly it has shaken me from my dogmatic slumber with regard to the multicultural push.
Hirsi Ali has had a polarising effect, and she has made many enemies in the west, as any net check will soon show. It's easy to see also why she has won many hearts. She's Somalian, black, Moslem-born, but she writes like a Westerner, she's an individualist and a feminist, uncompromisingly opposed to Islamic and Arabic patriarchy. Further, she has without doubt suffered at the hands of the fundamentally religious. Her critics, many of them on the left, describe her as naive, and a divisive figure. Presumably the accusation of naivete comes from her apparent desire to dismantle Islam as a patriarchal religion tomorrow if not yesterday. Many on the left take the view that you must engage with moderate Islamic leaders and emphasise the more positive and egalitarian aspects of the Qu'ran, to effect gradual change. Hirsi Ali's confrontational style, they argue, simply creates equal and opposite reactions, especially among women, her target audience.

It's a conundrum. I've been reading Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a natural phenomenon, a book which despite the [naively?] hopeful title, is rather less confrontational than recent books by Hitchins and Dawkins. It tries to engage with believers, trying to get them to look at their belief systems as natural phenomena. This makes it a little awkward - you feel he's forcing himself to be a bit more low-brow than he's comfortable being, to get the anti-intellectuals in [fortunately, though he often forgets this aim and becomes interesting]. Hirsi Ali doesn't bother with this sort of thing, hers is a 'here I stand' sort of position, not unlike Bertrand Russell in Why I am not a Christian.

Russell, writing in the twenties, was courageous in taking his stand, and I admire him for it, but Hirsi Ali's courage, or recklessness if you like, is of another order altogether. While Russell pointed out that Jesus wasn't his idea of a gentleman, because he threatened hellfire upon those who wouldn't listen to him, Hirsi Ali accuses the prophet Mohammed of child abuse, and claims that adherence to the Qu'ran has preserved a large percentage of Moslems in a state of seventh century ignorance. Considering what we know of Moslem responses to even the mildest criticisms of the prophet and their religion, to call these claims hanging offences would be an understatement. Hirsi Ali herself reminds us of the flare-up in 2002 when the Miss World pageant was held in Nigeria. Religious extremists protested the event, and turned violent when a newspaper suggested that Mohammed himself might've chosen a bride from among the contestants. Some two hundred people died in the subsequent mindless riots.

However, as an avowed secularist who has little time for such boorish, murderous antics, I'm more interested in non-Moslem, Western responses to Hirsi Ali's message.

She's something of a maverick, and I don't think she courts controversy for her own sake but out of an urgent need to speak out. This need and the controversy generated by it actually brought down the Dutch government, of which she had been a member, in 2006. These days, Hirsi Ali has sought and found support on the conservative side of politics, out of pragmatism it seems. Her reasoning might seem positively perverse to some: in a speech to the Dutch press before leaving for the US to work for a right-wing think-tank, she said
"...with like-minded people one cannot discuss. With like-minded people one can only participate in a church service, and, as is widely known, I do not like church services."
With these and other pronouncements, Hirsi Ali has defied left/right categorisation. The party she belonged to in the Netherlands, the Liberal Party (WD), is described as conservative on economics, foreign policy and immigration, but liberal on such issues as homosexuality, abortion and drug use. Often categorised as anti-multiculturalism, she lobbied for the banning of Belgium's Vlaams Belang party, a right-wing party opposed to non-Christian immigration. However, she was also concerned to restrict Moslem immigration, fearing that a larger, stronger Moslem population might fight to introduce Sharia law in the Netherlands.

Hirsi Ali has anticipated critiques from the left and is well able to defend her position, which isn't a political position in the usual sense. Her activism comes from a few basic principles: a passion for individual freedom [with particular reference to women]; a profound suspicion of faith-based belief systems; a conviction that the Western values forged out of the Enlightenment are the best values available to us, and that they are in fact, or should be, universal. This puts her at odds with those on the left who are uncomfortable with what they see as Western triumphalism, and feel that Islam, and Arab culture generally, are more deserving of respect than Hirsi Ali is willing to admit. And even where they are willing to concede the inferiority of this religion and culture, they feel that Hirsi Ali's approach, however courageous, is self-defeating on pragmatic grounds.

However, I have much sympathy for Hirsi Ali's call for a Voltaire of the Moslem world, an Enlightenment, however unlikely this is to occur in the foreseeable future. Those who think that an engagement with 'moderate' Moslems will lead to change are either forgetting or unaware of Western history. Europe's great advances through the Renaissance and especially the Enlightenment didn't come through engagement with more liberal versions of Christianity, and the separation of Church and State certainly wasn't something the Church ever acquiesced in - far from it, they fought it tooth and nail. They're still fighting it, in fact. No, Western advancement came through our forebears shrugging off the shackles of religious dogma and finding new ways of looking at the natural word - or recovering old ways, from before Christianity cast its pall. Recovering a freedom to play with ideas without fear of punishment, ideas that became so fruitful, so productive and life-enhancing and stimulating that they couldn't be suppressed or contained any more. I want that freedom for everyone, and for that reason I find a parade of breast-thumping Shiítes every bit as depressing as a procession of cross-bearing pilgrims. The opposite of freedom is submission, and god really isn't much good.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, July 21, 2007

liars or incompetents?

Apparently Mohamed Haneef's wife is asking that her husband be given a fair trial in Australia. Is this now possible, given the obvious politicization of the case by the Howard government?

I've just read this piece by James Farrell written a few days ago, which also points to the Scott Parkin parallels, the main one being the acquiescence of the opposition. I'm still hoping that Labor will finally realize that this case has been so badly handled that they won't be electorally damaged by making a stand.

Farrell looks at a 7.30 Report interview with Kevin Andrews, just after the government's visa decision. Kerry O'Brien asks the essential question - if the AFP haven't got a substantial enough case to oppose bail before a magistrate, how is it that a government minister, acting on information by the same AFP, can decide that Haneef is of sufficiently bad character to have his visa revoked? Andrews dodges the issue by arguing that these are parallel inquiries - as if Andrews' inquiry, based on the evidence before her, into the fitness of Haneef to remain in Australia has nothing whatever to do with the magistrate's inquiry, based on the evidence before her, into the fitness of Haneef to be released into the public on bail.

Of course, this could be dismissed as a difference in interpretation [leaving aside the undermining of judicial process effected by Andrews and the government], but it became much more egregious when it was revealed that even the weak case presented by the AFP in court contained, apparently, substantial errors of fact - or at least highly problematic claims. There are three that come to mind. The AFP's affidavit, presented to the court, claimed that Haneef had stated that he resided with 2 terrorist suspects in Britain, whereas Haneef's testimony revealed that he said no such thing, and that his relationship with terrorist suspect Kafeel Ahmed was quite tenuous. The only question at issue here is whether this was a piece of inadvertance by the AFP, or an inept lie. The affidavit also claimed that Haneef was trying to leave Australia on a one-way ticket when arrested, and that he had no explanation for the one-way ticket. The transcript of interview with Haneef does provide an explanation, and this has since been further elaborated by Haneef's father-in-law, who bought the ticket himself. The third and most serious falsehood was that the SIM card which is so central to Haneef's arrest and imprisonment was found not in the Jeep Cherokee in Glasgow, but with Sabeel Ahmed in Liverpool. In my earlier post I wasn't sure of the source or veracity of this claim, but on reading this ABC piece I find that the source was in fact the police in London, and apparently now the AFP have admitted this to be true. So it would seem that, unless the AFP has other information we don't know about, Haneef has no case to answer. However, the AFP do have a case to answer.

Now - it's getting hard to keep up with this, as I have other commitments and have just come down with a nasty case of impetigo - there have been some odd developments since my last post. One was a story that the AFP were claiming Haneef might've been involved in a plot to blow up some Gold Coast buildings. It sounded totally absurd to me but when i told a good friend about it she immediately became worried - maybe there was really something in their case against Haneef. This is what makes me so mad - a smokescreen is created, and many people immediately imagine there's fire. However, now Keelty has come out and said this Gold Coast rumour didn't come from the AFP and is incorrect.

Interestingly, the Australian Law council is trying to pressure the Immigration Minister to grant Haneef a temporary bridging visa so that he can be released into the community, but since the only reason Andrews took away the guy’s visa was to keep him locked up [or to deport him before things got too embarrassing], there seems little chance of that, even though it's now clear that statements made in the documents relating to the cancellation of the visa are false. However, these falsehoods would, I supect, make it almost impossible for the Federal Court not to overturn the government's decision on August 8. I very much look forward to that decision.

Andrew Bartlett has a lot of interesting things to say on this case, including concerns about the sweeping powers of the Immigration Minister. These powers have been abused in the recent past and they're being abused now.

I should also comment on the shameful complaints of Howard, Downer et al about media and lawyer involvement in this case. Where would be without such involvement? We're not mushrooms. Duncan Kerr and others have been forthcoming in their praise for outspoken lawyers and journos, and it seems many labor MPs are squirming at the opposition's official silence. How long?


Friday, July 20, 2007

a game and its pawn

the rogues gallery - but they may well lose this one

I've begun to write a review of Aayan Hirsi Ali's The Caged Virgin, a book challenging multiculturalism and Western countries' response to Islam, a book requiring much reflection about the extent of religious tolerance, and the concept of cultural relativism, but the continually unfolding events and revelations around the detention of Mohamed Haneef have so incensed me that I feel the need to stay with this story.

Driving home tonight, I heard on Radio National's PM that the claim made in court by DPP prosecutor Clive Porritt, that Haneef's SIM card was found in the car that crashed into Glasgow Airport, was false, apparently. This was first broadcast in the morning, on AM, though I've gleaned hints of it here, a piece published yesterday.

The AM reporter Rafael Epstein only cites 'sources' in Britain and Oz for his info, but it's info that seems to be getting around, and I'm not inclined to trust the version of events being pedalled by the AFP and the DPP.

Let's note that Haneef has been charged with 'recklessly supporting a terrorist organisation'. Presumably the prosecution's case was largely based around the use that was made of that SIM card, or even the use that could have been made of it - though it seems to me flimsy enough that you can be prosecuted or arrested for giving your SIM card to anyone. It doesn't make you in any way responsible for that person's actions in using it. A SIM card isn't generally regarded as a weapon, after all.

The sources have it that the SIM card was found in Liverpool, in the possession of Sabeel Ahmed, Haneef's [distant] cousin. Sabeel Ahmed was arrested on the evening of the failed Glasgow attack, and charged [on very tenuous grounds, it seems] with failing to disclose information that could have prevented an act of terrorism.

If this is true, as seems likely, Haneef gave his SIM card to a person who, a year later, may have failed to disclose information about a possible terrorist attack. For this, Haneef, a doctor highly regarded by the hospital that employs him, is being held in solitary confinement for an indefinite period, has had his visa revoked, has been smeared by this government as an undesirable character, is to be deported when the charges are dropped [as they inevitably will be], and generally has the forces of the government, the opposition and the federal police arrayed against him. One wonders what Franz Kafka would have made of this scenario? You're not paranoid when everybody really is out to get you.

Fortunately, Haneef does have his supporters - in the blogospere and in the legal profession. There's a suitably outraged report at Road to Surfdom [and updated here], and the legal profession generally has been doing a mighty job of getting stuck into the government on this.

So the prosecution, in its unsuccessful case opposing bail for Haneef, seems to have made at least two false statements to the court. First, that Haneef's SIM card was found at the site of the Glasgow attack, and second, that Haneef had lived with two terrorist suspects during his stay in Liverpool, England. Haneef never lived with Sabeel Ahmed [who in any case isn't accused of being a terrorist, as related above], and he stayed with Kafeel Ahmed, Sabeel's brother, only briefly during two trips to Cambridge in 2004 - three years ago. So the case against Haneef appears to be considerably weaker than that considered by magistrate Jacqui Payne a few days ago, when she decided that the case against Haneef was weak enough to grant him bail, in spite of the atmosphere of anti-terrorist hysteria in which this is all being played out.

The prosecution's case appears to have completely unravelled, and the AFP have revealed themselves as quite incompetent in this matter, but this will not move the government a whit. Andrews, doubtless leaned on by the corpse who walks and little Johnnie, has stated that Haneef will never get his visa back. Again we're asked to believe that he has damning information against Haneef, information that the prosecution either doesn't have access to, or is withholding for fear of causing magistrates to faint in their chairs at the horror of it all. The opposition is playing a waiting game. Only Peter Beattie is speaking out. It's time the increasingly disappointing Rudd did too.

By the way, The Australian has pulled the transcript of Haneef's July 3 interview with the AFP from their website. Why? We all suspect the government to have had a hand in this. The blogosphere, however has stepped into the breach, and the transcript continues to be widely available online.

There's a rumour that Downer is currently discussing with the Indian government sending Haneef back to Bangalore. This would've been easier if bail had been posted for Haneef, in which case he would've been sent to Villawood, out of protection of the law, and left to the tender mercies of our immigration department. I suspect that Haneef's lawyers had a hand in bail not being posted. They want to ensure Haneef's complete exoneration and pummel the government to death on this one. What a fascinating game it is.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

another life being destroyed for the public's edification

Stephen Keim - a career-destroying move?

Staying with politics and corruption and getting back to Australia, I worry about the future of Stephen Keim, the barrister acting for so-called terrorism suspect Mohamed Haneef. Keim has incurred the wrath of some of this country's most powerful politicians, and the head of the Australian Federal Police, in leaking the transcript of Haneef's interview with the AFP to the media. Now it may well be true that, within a few months, Howard, Ruddock and Kevin Andrews will be tossed into history's dustbin, but the fact is that there is a degree of bipartisanship in this issue, and my feeling is that politicians and the police love having more power and acting in cloak and dagger secrecy, and even with meanness and brutality, when they can convince themselves - and it doesn't take much convincing - that it's all for a Higher Purpose - the rescue of their country from terrorist invaders no less. Keim has tried to spoil their self-important fun and games, and I'm fairly convinced that they'll do everything in future to ruin his career. And they'll probably succeed. Alan Friedman's book Spider's Web, about connections between US Republican governments and Saddam Hussein, which told among other things of how ordinary people of integrity can be squashed and destroyed by the powerfully corrupted, is worth invoking here in terms of paybacks to whistle-blowers. And the public rarely hears about it.
The point that civil libertarians need to make again and again is that once politicians and the police find themselves with greater powers than they had, they won't give them up without a big fight. However, now it's too late to make the point, it's time to start fighting. Stephen Keim's action is a part of that fight, and I consider him a hero.
The frustrating aspect of this case, as with the Scott Parkin case a couple of years ago, is the veil of secrecy. Parkin, a non-violence activist, was deported, and forced to pay his own expenses for the privilege. Nothing has as yet turned up about any security-risk activities he was involved in or planning, but of course we were assured by government that he was a security risk. The public wasn't allowed to know why, but the Labour party agreed. We're supposed to be satisfied with this. I'm not. Similarly with the Haneef case, we’re told that it’s far from just a matter of giving his sim card to a second cousin. And we’re supposed to just trust the government on this? I don’t. Showing ‘strength’ in such situations is as much a political manoeuvre as anything. We need to hold our leaders accountable for their actions and not allow them this secrecy.
The legal fraternity and the media should continue to prise off the lid covering political and police action against the defenceless and vulnerable in a state that has, for self-serving reasons, gotten the balance between security and disclosure seriously wrong.

Haneef cannot get a fair trial in this country, and in any case, even if he's found innocent, he'll be deported. It's worth mentioning magistrate Janet Payne's reasons for deciding that there were indeed exceptional circumstances for granting bail in Haneef's case, summarised in The Age:

These included that he was not alleged to have been directly involved with a terrorist group behind last month's failed extremist attacks in London and Glasgow; that the mobile phone SIM card he gave to his second cousin was not alleged to have been used as part of an attack; that he left it with his family member when leaving Britain; that he was a doctor studying with the Australian College of Physicians; that he had no criminal history and a good employment history; that his passport had been taken and that he was likely to be placed under surveillance if released.
Kevin Andrews says that he has reliable information that must inevitably contradict this summary, but we're not permitted to know what it is, and of course we never will know. I think he's lying.

If you want to feel even more outraged, Glenn Milne has a truly imbecilic piece on the issue here. The errors of fact and logic in the first two paragraphs alone are almost too numerous to get your head around. And note the picture they've chosen to run with. Trial and conviction by illustration, you might call it.


Saturday, July 14, 2007

either don't give them the power, or enforce the responsibility

I'm a bit behind-hand with this, but someone sent me this regarding the Scooter Libby affair and the Bush administration generally, and someone else told me she thought it was the best speech she'd ever heard. I was less than impressed myself, as I find much of this kind of American grandstanding acutely embarrassingly more than anything else.

To my mind, the Scooter Libby ‘pardon’ doesn’t so much expose Bush’s corruption as it exposes a glaring flaw in the US political system. As one US pundit pointed out, the Clinton pardons at the end of his incumbency were also sleazy. The bleedingly obvious question is surely why Presidents have been given the power to over-rule judicial decisions. Does it happen anywhere else in the world, outside of dictatorships? I know that governments have leaned on the judiciary to review decisions, usually under pressure from a public wanting them to stick to their law and order agenda, but no government in Australia has ever stepped in and directly changed or reduced a sentence. The idea just seems outrageous to me.

I just wonder where accountability comes in with the US political system. Take the Iraqi death toll due to the US invasion, which has been estimated so variously, from more than 600,000 to as little as a few thousand. When Bush actually gave a figure in response to questioning on this matter, his figure was around 30,000. From all I could gather, nobody asked him where he got this figure from, or what the basis of the estimate was. I tried to find something out through the news agencies, but couldn't turn up a thing. Again it seems to me outrageous that a head of state [of all people] can get away with apparently plucking figures out of the air in such a deadly serious matter. It happens in Australia too, I admit, but not so much as in the US. Their head of state seems to be quarantined from criticism and scrutiny [I mean in the sense of being directly questioned or challenged] to a shameful degree, and it makes me very uncomfortable. It goes along too with the immunity from prosecution that heads of state have enjoyed in the past, and are still enjoying. This really has to change.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

let it go

theme for today

Over at EvolutionBlog, Jason Rosenhouse does a good job of defending the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens against so-called moderates who treat them as extremists harming their own cause. Comparisons between them and the highly admirable atheist philosopher J L Mackie are instructive. I haven't read Mackie's The Miracle of Theism but I've read his Ethics: inventing right and wrong a couple of times, and I'm sure his style would bore anyone not madly captivated by labyrinthine philosophical discourse. And getting to a wider audience is probably more than half the battle. Rosenhouse makes the point well here:
If Dawkins and all the rest stripped every snide remark out of their books, that would not stop the right wing noise machine from painting them as dangerous extremists. The mere fact that they are endorsing atheism and having some success is enough for that. On the other hand, such a move would surely hurt their sales and lead to less media attention as a result. Flashy rhetoric attracts attention.
Now I want to write about something completely different, almost. A while back I had a most unfortunate and public spat with someone over the use of language. Frustrated with not getting my voice heard as the heat of the debate rose, I ended up calling her a bigot, which put paid to any further discussion, civilized or uncivilized. Everybody was uncomfortable, and I had the distinct impression, whether correct or incorrect, that they all looked upon me as a cad and a bounder. So for my own sake I need to tease this issue out carefully.

The difference of view arose when one of my step-daughters, herself a mother of three, complained that the word 'bastard' was being used too frequently on TV during children's viewing time. Some obvious responses came to mind, though it was hard to get a coherent argument across with several people at the table all trying to put forward their views at the same time. I'll put the two most obvious responses here. First, the word bastard has come to have a distinctive colloquial meaning in Australia. The long entry for 'bastard' in Australia's Macquarie dictionary testifies to its manifold use here, and much play is made in Nino Culotta's There a weird mob to misunderstandings surrounding Australians' everyday use of a word which might cause offense elsewhere. Second, if we're talking about primary or high school kids, there's no doubt that they would hear [and probably use] much blunter and racier words and phrases than 'bastard' in the school-yard.

These are not the real issues for me, though. The issue is a broader one of morality. Let me illustrate with a couple of stories.

A while back, I was one of two people from our housing co-op assisting in an appeal or dispute between two members of a highly dysfunctional co-op, and that co-op's hierarchy. This co-op's recent history was appalling. It was made up of elderly women, a number of whom had left the co-op, even abandoning their houses, because the stress of meetings and of trying to deal with the cabal running the co-op was just too great. The list of people who had left or were too 'sick' to attend meetings was a long one, and the cabal stood accused of high-handedness, contempt for due process, intimidation, preferential treatment re maintenance and so forth. People were afraid to speak at meetings lest they be shouted down. The leader of the cabal, the most long-standing member of the co-op, presented herself very well at the appeal [unsurprisingly] and confessed to not knowing what the fuss was about. She found the meetings to be robust but nothing more, 'and of course, there's never any bad language, that would be totally unacceptable'. This remark really struck me. I was tempted to point out that, in our own co-op, everybody used 'bad language', quite frequently, but we all got on famously, most of the time.

Another story involves the actor, Carole Lombard, who died tragically young in a plane crash. Apparently Lombard could barely finish a sentence without swearing, she was considered one of the most foul-mouthed women in Hollywood, but she was also one of the most admired and loved, for her charity work, her generosity to aspiring actors, her down-to-earth good humour.

It's obvious enough where I'm going with this [and many other examples spring to mind as I write]; the point being that there's no clear connection between a person's use [or avoidance] of soi-disant bad language, and their moral value.

How anybody could think that a kid hearing the word ‘bastard’ on TV, and using it herself, would therefore be more corrupted or degenerate than if the word heard and used was ‘blackguard’ or ‘rapscallion’ is frankly beyond me. If she used it to belittle someone born out of wedlock, that of course would be another matter, but that’s not the current usage.

I was asked, in the course of this dispute, if I thought it would be ok if Courtney, my favourite four-year-old, started using the word bastard. In my stubbornness I insisted that it would be fine by me. A rather more considered response would have been that I would have discouraged it, for two reasons. First, if I didn’t discourage her, she might’ve gone on using it until she encountered and was admonished by someone much more intolerant – one of those Christians who think that bad language is a sin, while worshipping and promoting a mass-murdering supernatural despot is fine. Second, she would probably be using it as a put-down, or as a general act of name-calling, and that should generally be discouraged. I might add that I’ve heard Courtney use, in her innocence, terms much stronger, by socially accepted standards, than bastard. She didn’t pick them up from TV either, which illustrates my very first point.

There’s a bit of history behind this dispute, for me at least. I recall this same step-daughter having some doubts about the ‘strong’ language used in a novel I’d published some ten years ago. It was about growing up in a working-class suburb, and the colourful language of some of its characters was clearly integral to the novel. I didn’t know whether to be infuriated or amused at her pious, puritanical response, and obviously there’s still some residual annoyance. I put it down to the corrupting influence of that murderous Lord.

Finally, I’m not sure if this fits but something is nagging me to insert it. When I was a teenager, I watched a movie on TV, Night of the Iguana, based on a play by Tennessee Williams. In a seminal scene [ho ho], Deborah Kerr was talking to Richard Burton about some sad but sympathetic fellow who’d masturbated in front of her, or something like that. Burton’s character said something contemptuous about the fellow and his ‘disgusting act’, to which Kerr responded, ‘I didn’t find it disgusting. The only thing I really find disgusting is cruelty.’ It was one of those unforgettable, penny-dropping moments for me, one that has permanently affected my view of morality. So I look at bad language through that particular prism. Is its use a form of cruelty? If so, or when so, condemn it whole-heartedly. When it isn’t, let it go.

Labels: ,

Sunday, July 08, 2007

There Is No Alternative

best global campaign going

I randomly flick through TV channels on this morning of my birthday, and stop at a jaunty song, Love is my religion, sung by a young man looking suspiciously like Bob Marley - his son, I think. It strikes me, prima facie, as a pleasant enough sentiment, certainly one worth dancing to, and I try, not too strenuously, to consider it in the light of my current understanding of religion. If religion is submission as the Moslems, as well as Paul of Tarsus and Augustine of Hippo, appear to believe, why not submit yourself to love? Probably because it would have disastrous consequences, if carried to its logical conclusions, but it's good for three minutes of fuzzy feeling.
The love side of the equation sits there waiting to be wrestled with, but I prefer to ignore it for the time being.
I'm inundated with books, inspired by the current Adelaide Festival of Ideas, and though I tried to avoid the religious issue, picking up such texts as Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers, High & Dry by Guy Pearse, an insider's view of Howard's climate policy and the 'greenhouse mafia' that has apparently been writing it, two books by the unknown [to me] Francis Wheen, and Blood and Oil, by Michael Klare, I couldn't resist going back and buying Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a natural phenomenon, which I'm hoping will be closer in spirit to Pascal Boyer than to Dawkins or Hitchens. I'm also still reading The caged virgin by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a book which strikes me as far less naive than some would have led me to believe. I hope to expand on my response to Hirsi Ali's text soon.
I've also tried to steer clear of religion when attending Festival talks, though I did catch one on Islamism. It didn't tell me too much that was new, and it took the line, which I largely agree with, that Islamism, or fundamentalism or primitivism, is a reaction to complexities in the modern world, and frustration at the increasing material disparities between east and west. A retreat into the putative certainties of The Book. One of the themes that the speaker, Riaz Hassan, focused on was anti-semitism, which he noted was a relatively recent addition to the Moslem mind-set, brought about largely by the creation of the state of Israel and its support by the west and particularly the US, and also by anti-semitic propaganda from the Nazis in the thirties. Whether this provides an adequate explanation is hard to say, but Hirsi Ali has written that the word Jew was the greatest insult in use in her childhood in Somalia and Saudi Arabia.
Historically, Moslems didn't harbour the hatred and fear of Jews that Christians did, as perpetrators of cosmic evil. Unsurprisingly they held them in disdain as followers of the wrong religion, but there are apparently conflicting attitudes towards Judaism in the Qu'ran. There was at least one woman with hijab in the audience for Hassan, and I always wonder about these women's responses [though more to the likes of Hirsi Ali than to this inoffensive lecturer who, when confronted towards the end with a question which was really a statement from one audience member, that religion generally is a form of insanity, retreated into the shelter of his profession, that of a sociologist who could only treat religion as 'a social fact'].

I will say some things about Hirsi Ali now though. If she's naive it's only in that she has grossly underestimated the magnitude of the task, which is nothing less than reforming or even dismantling Islam. A more realistic aim would be the emasculation of Islam as a political force, as Christianity has been emasculated [though its resurgence in the US is of course to be deplored and combatted], but even so the task might seem impossible. Yet it's a task that needs to be undertaken, for any alternative is too horrible to contemplate. We're witnessing some of those alternatives now in fact, in the Middle East and in Northern Africa, and it truly is a hideous sight.


Saturday, July 07, 2007

summa theologica

A quote from Sigmund Freud is worth mentioning, in light of some heavy-handed criticism of Dawkins and others and their ignorance of theology.
Philosophers stretch the meaning of words until they retain scarcely anything of their original sense; by calling God some vague abstraction which they have created for themselves, they pose as deists, as believers. before the world; they may even pride themselves on having attained a higher and purer idea of God, although their God is nothing but an insubstantial shadow and no longer the mighty personality of religious doctrine.
Most theology, nutshelled


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

heroes and villains

Leonardo da Vinci, according to some probably unreliable tv program on the Turin shroud the other day, wrote circa 13000 closely-written pages in his lifetime without once mentioning the Judeo-Christian deity. For a man whose life happened to unfold in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, that's about as heroic as you can get. Cheers, Leo.

I was diverted by this vid of celeb secularist Hitchens grappling with a very silly yank Christian, one who's apparently well-known to American readers/viewers. Something Australians can be reasonably proud of: a bloke like that would have little hope of achieving celeb status here. the comments are amusing too - I'm surprised anybody can take this non-event seriously for a moment. The Christian's argument - gravity's inexplicable to me, it's like magic, therefore god exists. Magic happens! Most five-year-olds are more reflective than this.

Just finished David Day's hefty bio of John Curtin - solid and straightforward as its subject. Was particularly moved by how deeply Curtin worried about those he had to put in harm's way to defend the nation during the war. Nightmares, depression, the works. Compare Cheney and Bush and their gratuitous war.


Monday, July 02, 2007

pleasure units, updated

Kiss-Me-Kates for all occasions: buy 5, get one free

Watched a film with friends the other night - The Island, an overblown crashandburn sci-fi with an at least potentially interesting but predictably handled storyline about cloning. In 2019 no less, an organisation is producing clones of filthy rich people who want to greatly lengthen their lifespans. The clones are used as spare parts, and kept in the dark about their fate, being told, when needed, that they're going to 'the island', which they're led to believe is the ultimate tourist destination. We all agreed that Blade Runner did this sort of thing much better years ago, though the themes were rather different. Anyway, all this got me to thinking about those sexy pleasure units of the earlier film, and it struck me that, if I was filthy rich, I might be more inclined to invest in one of those than a spare parts factory. I mean, instead of prolonging the agony, why not opt for a bit of ecstacy while we've got the wherewithal to enjoy it? All you'd need, presumably, is some reliable DNA samples from your fave sex symbols. Got a thing about Johnny Depp? Does Jude Law make you just want to sink to your knees? Are you a secret Bruce Willis tragic [you know who I'm talking about]? Yes, you too can decorate your boudoir with your favourite toyboy, implanted to offer a lifetime of devotion to your worthy self. Sure it'll cost you an arm and a leg, rather than the other way round, but who's counting? Certainly not Brucey baby and his mates, and they're the ones who really count, right?
I wouldn't mind investing in a Kate Beckinsale or two myself. Might have enough for a down-payment if I can make it to the end of the century

Labels: ,

pavlov's cat