Just words on a page? Aslan v Harris


Anyone who follows the debate on fundamentalist Islamic terrorism will be familiar with Sam Harris and Reza Aslan. They usually come across as intellectually diametrically opposed, but are both clearly humanists and deep thinkers. The fact that two such intelligent students of world affairs, belief systems and geopolitics cannot find a common reference point from which to have more substantive debate is informative.

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What matters in (Green) politics?

I joined the UK Green Party recently. There’s a lot to fix with its internal organisation, media presentation and other peripheral aspects. There are bits of policy that need serious work. But the core thinking on the ecological, economic and social levels is broadly good and coherent.

There is an internal discussion (post mortem) going on after a ‘car-crash’ interview the Greens leader, Natalie Bennett gave on LBC, a radio station this last week. I posted the following on the internal discussion about the car crash by way of reaction. It might be of interest to some readers here (note: below, ‘GP’ = Green Party, not general practitioner!).

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War, vulture capitalism and how to really play a harp – part I

First the harp, since I have a small clip of a wonderful musician called Diego Laverde Rojas from Columbia, who was playing in Old St Tube station last night.

Like me many of you I often just walk past buskers, even good ones, following my imagined prioritisation of things (or just being late to a meeting). But… what could be more important than standing listening to a virtuoso player in the underground on a cold night, conjuring up traditional dances of South America on the least likely instrument? Thanks Diego, you made my night, and I am sure you will make many others happy. [Of course I asked him if I could upload the video of him. He’s a lovely guy to talk to. I was so stunned by his playing I completely forget to give him a few more coins. Londoners, please help me make up for that!]

And now for the dark side.

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How politicians killed democracy in the UK

UK democracy is in dire straits. All the evidence right now points to a failing system, and for quite different reasons than the US, a country now deemed an oligarchy by academic experts (Mike Lofgren’s book The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted is another absolute must-read on the failure of democracy in the US). But I’ll leave the US for now, since its democracy actually is dead, and concentrate on the UK’s, which is close to flat-lining.

Here, there are many causes, but it’s the outcome that is notable today: the public no longer believes in politicians. At all. They’ve lost confidence utterly in all the main parties. Here I’ll skim through the many causes I detect merely by tracking the media, and ponder if anything can be done.

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Islam and Violence – getting our thoughts in order

I posted last week on my outrage and revulsion of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, 7/Jan/2015. Those of us in the UK, France, other European and Western countries, and many around the world, expressed similar outrage. Now what?

I spent a good part of the last week thinking about my own reaction, and researching all manner of Islam-related topics on the net. To my surprise, along with much to be depressed about, I found some specific and unexpected resources – all created by Muslims – that give me some hope. (See ‘Resources’ in the middle of this post).

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Remembering Gough Whitlam

Gough Whitlam, one of my few political heroes recently died, aged 98.


In 1975, aged 10, I was in grade 5, in Brisbane, Australia. The news that the Labor government of Gough Whitlam had been dismissed by the governor general John Kerr came on the radio in the classroom (teachers of course knew it was imminent). The kids around me cheered. I had no idea why. Our household was a labor-voting household. Years later, I realised it was because I was at a private (Catholic) school, mostly full of kids whose conservative parents wouldn’t have realised that something called ‘society’ was at least partially responsible for their personal success.

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Sunday, (pre-)occupied at St Paul’s Cathedral, London

Today on the London tube I was reading the introduction to ‘The Monstrosity of Christ: paradox or dialectic?’, a debate between Slavoj Žižek and John Millbank, edited by Creston Davis, the latter the author of the introduction. My post here is not about the main subject matter of the book (two views of theology / christianity) but the final sentence of the introduction stayed with me for the day:

The monstrosity of Christ is the love either in paradox or in dialectics – and I believe, may be the pathway beyond the current popular-absolutist rule of finance, spectacle, and surveillance.

Although we can argue about the faith part of this (or even reject it out of hand), the two sides this statement resonate nowhere better right now than at tent city in the forecourt of St Paul’s cathedral, in the heart of the City of London.

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Burkas, Belgium and ‘Religious rights’

Belgium and France signalled in the press this week (22 Apr 2010) that they would ban the Islamic veil known as the Burka (total body coverage with mesh ‘window’ for seeing), and also the Niqab (open slit for seeing). Before legislation is even passed in either country, arguments and insults are flying back and forth. In France, the State Council warns that such bans may violate the French constitution as well as the European Convention on Human Rights [RFI 30 Mar 2010].

Woman wearing a burka

I find the appeal to ‘religious rights and freedoms’ here very interesting, not to say disingenuous. Moral ‘rights’ based on religion have been invoked in countless abhorrent events in human history, from the Crusades (a mostly wrong-headed series of adventuring under Christian flags featuring long periods of boredom punctuated by short episodes of massacre and mayhem) [Amin Maalouf’s ‘The Crusades through Arab Eyes‘ is a wonderful read by the way] to the hideous practices related to ‘honour’ maimings and killings common (but not limited to) in the Islamic world. In the modern world, religion is never far from bombs and violence – Northern Ireland, Palestine, Nigeria and Iraq being just a few examples. These extreme situations are all easy enough for peace-loving individuals and governments alike to condemn.

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