Kia ora:

Our first thoughts are again with our Christchurch members as they manage every day with continuing aftershocks and the question “how will the future unfold?” Last week I saw a sad sight. I was driving along a local road with a reserve on one side. Ahead of me I saw a lone bird, silhouetted motionless in the middle of the road. Drawing nearer I saw that it was a Pukeko, and that the object of its gaze was another Pukeko, sadly now dead and very squashed. The pathos was palpable and I wondered if Pukeko’s mate for life. I continue to see this grieving bird in my rear vision mirror. Upon completion of my errand, I returned down the road rather apprehensively and was glad to see that another person had stopped to remove the dead bird. He had chased the bird’s mate to the safety of the road verge where its gaze was still entirely focussed on its mate. Several other Pukeko had also gathered and their concern was quite obvious to my human eye. I felt quite chastened being a member of the human species who had caused such grief to another species.

· July monthly meeting: Monday 4 July: COLLISION – where world views meet,

Is Christianity absurd or good for the world?open discussion on what has been happening in the Middle East
A Debate between Christopher Hitchens and Pastor Douglas Wilson

by Chuck Colson 19 February 2010

Christopher Hitchens, renowned atheist, political journalist, and author, and Pastor Douglas Wilson, author, a conservative and sometimes controversial evangelical Christian, began a correspondence which led to a co-authored book, a debate tour through three cities and now a documentary, a behind the scenes look at the tour featuring interviews with both men. Both men are perfectly matched in this witty and passionate debate.

Venue for meeting: Turnbull House, Bowen Street, Wellington.
We meet from 7.30 pm until 9.00 pm

· Last month’s meeting:
We had a wide ranging discussion on events in the Middle East. Free Inquiry June/July 2011, has an article, “Have the Arab Revolutions Defeated the Orientalist Discourse?” Some of our discussion points are covered in this article. A copy of the article is included with this newsletter. • Winter Solstice celebration: Saturday 25 June from 5.00pm: We thank Mark and Lynette Fletcher for their hospitality last Saturday evening. It was good to chat and relax on a cold evening. We watched Religulous by Bill Mather and enjoyed a few laughs. Watching The Life of Brian went down well too.

· Radio Access:

Humanist Outlook, 10.30am, 783 kHz Wellington, on Saturday 23 July, and 20 August, 17 September, 15 October, 12 November, 10 December.
Humanist Outlook is broadcast at 10:30 am on Access Radio, Wellington, 783 kHz, every fourth Saturday.
If you are outside the Wellington area, go to www.accessradio.org.nz to listen or to download as a pod cast after the event.

· Winter Solstice celebration:

Saturday 25 June from 5.00pm: We thank Mark and Lynette Fletcher for their hospitality last Saturday evening. It was good to chat and relax on a cold evening. We watched Religulous by Bill Mather and enjoyed a few laughs. Watching The Life of Brian went down well too.

· “Jung, The Unconscious and Us”, a series of lectures by Professor Lloyd Geering:
The Unconscious and Us”, a series of lectures by Professor Lloyd Geering: Over the last four weeks Professor Geering has given a course of lectures at St Andrews on The Terrace, Wellington, focusing on how the ideas of pioneering depth psychologist Carl Jung has helped us to understand ourselves, our culture, and even our future. The lectures are titled: Jung and self-understanding, Jung and religious experience, Jung and the archetype of God, and Jung and global unity. These lectures can be watched at http://lifeuploaded.tv. DVD’s of this series will be available during July for $35 + $6 p&p online at http//lifeuploaded.tv or by sending a cheque to PO Box 5203, Wellington 6145 made payable to St Andrews Trust for the Study of Religion and Society. A point from the final lecture Tuesday 28 June: We do not control our thoughts, our thoughts control us.

• HSNZ Subscriptions for 2010/2011:
Thank you for subscriptions received via both mail and internet banking.

• Marriage Celebrants:

Peter Clemerson, a Wellington Humanist, may be contacted by phone (04) 938 5923 and by email [email protected] Pam Sikkema, an Auckland Humanist, may be contacted by phone (09) 570 4390.

• The Good Book, A Secular Bible by A C Grayling:

Next week’s Listener July 2-8 has a review of this book by Professor Lloyd Geering and New Humanist May/June 2011 has an interview with Grayling who discusses various aspects of the book. Grayling used the convention of book, chapter, and verse, along with double columns because “the Biblical structure works so well.” However Professor Geering feels that “these two features of the English Bible impede the flow of the text and thus frustrate the reader” adding that “the now familiar versification of the Bible is a very late intrusion that was introduced for study purposes”. Although Grayling provides a list of 124 names from Aeschylus to Xenophon that are presumably the sources for the book, Geering felt that Grayling would have done better to have referenced his sources – “For many wise sayings, we need to know both who said them and the context in which they originated to appreciate them. When bundled together (as they are here), they often lose their sharp edge and even, occasionally, their significance”.

The book has 14 parts, that are presumed to evoke biblical counterparts. “Histories” forms a third of the book and appears to be an edited version of The Histories of Herodotus. Geering thought that the best of The Good Book was the last and shortest section, called “The Good” because “some of the observations about life collected here manifest such a freshness of expression that one cannot help but wonder whether they were composed by the author himself”. Grayling in his interview said that unlike the Bible he does not end with a Book of Revelation, he “prefers to present the idea of the Good itself as kind of revelation.” Grayling would like his book to reach as large an audience as possible to convince people that a spiritual life can be lived without religion. In contrast, Professor Geering feels that overall “Grayling may have done the humanist movement a real disservice by assembling a “bible” that makes humanism appear drab, uninteresting and even boring.”

• The Four Horsemen at the 2012 Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne 13-15 April 2012:

The Atheist Foundation of Australia has announced that their next convention-“A Celebration of Reason” will feature speakers Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens (health permitting). The Foundation has succeeded in obtaining financial support from the Victorian Government – see www.atheistconvention.org.au .

• Quotable Quote:

The one who knows that enough is enough will always have enough. Lao-Tzu 6th Century BCE

Gaylene Middleton

Shadia B, Drury

Have the Arab Revolutions Defeated the Orientalist Discourse?

Although exaggerated and flawed, the “Orientalist discourse” contains an undeniable kernel of truth. What is the Orientalist discourse? What are its flaws? And has it been dealt a death blow by the revolutions in the Arab world?

The Orientalist discourse is a fancy term that was popularized by Edward Said in his celebrated book, Orientalism (Vintage Books, 1978). According to Said, Orientalism refers to the negative depiction of the Orient by Western travelers, writers, and intellectuals. They paint Orientals, including the Arabs, as primitive, inscrutable, and incapable of scientific or rational thought. Orientalism is a form of European self-congratulation in which Europeans are fully human, while the Orientals are an inferior manifestation of humanity. In this way, Orientalism justified colonial domination—as a means by which Europeans could introduce the Orient to civilization.

In Said’s postmodern lexicon Orientalism is a “discourse” because language, ideas, and knowledge have the power to shape the world. In other words, Orientalism is not just the attitude of Europeans toward non-Europeans. As the discourse of the powerful, Orientalism shapes reality in more than one way. By shaping the European attitude toward the Orient, it makes colonialism a reality. But interestingly, it also shapes the self-understanding of the Orient as inferior and subservient.

I would like to take issue with two aspects of this thesis. The first flaw is the assumption that the discourse shapes the self-understanding of the dominated, penetrates the heart of those it diminishes, and robs them of their humanity even in their own eyes. It seems to me that this presupposes a certain feeblemindedness on the part of the dominated that adds insult to injury. In truth, the simplicity of this psychological analysis falls short of the complexity of the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized.

It must be admitted that suspicion and contempt of the “other” is not simply a European phenomenon. In the Arabic language, there is a special word reserved for Europeans and Americans. The word in the singular masculine is agnaby. It indicates that the individual is a foreigner but not a Syrian, a Lebanese, a Jordanian, a Saudi, or an Indian. The word applies only to Westerners. It carries a connotation that mixes reverence with contempt. The reverence for the agnaby comes from his power, technical skill, and ability to dominate the globe. The contempt that is implied in the word is that the agnaby is a primitive simpleton. He has technical smarts but no depth, no soul, and no profundity. He cannot be expected to understand the poetic sentimentality that connects the Arab to the beauty of nature. He cannot be expected to have deep emotional attachments, especially to family and children. The agnaby is part man and part machine. When asked what he thought of Western civilization, Gandhi famously replied that he thought it would be a good idea. The same sentiment is implied by the term agnaby. The point is that the power of the Orientalist discourse to shape the inner reality of the dominated is highly overstated.

The second flaw of the Orientalist discourse is its postmodern inclination to undercut itself by denying the universality of human values. Thanks to the scam being perpetrated by globalization, it is understandable that universal principles have fallen on hard times. But just because universal values can and have been used as instruments of domination, there is no reason to give up on them altogether. To do so is to undercut the moral ground that gives the critique of colonialism its traction. The intellectual challenge is to distinguish between genuine universal values and their ersatz manifestations. I am not pretending this is a simple task, since people are inclined to think of the values of their own culture as the right ones for all humanity. This is particularly the case when a nation is as successful and as prosperous as the United States.

“… Just because universal values can and have been used as instruments of domination, there is no reason to give up on them altogether. To do so is to undercut the moral ground that gives the critique of colonialism its traction.”

The flaws of the Orientalist discourse notwithstanding, the question is: Have the revolutions in the Arab world dealt a death blow to the Orientalist discourse? Yes and no. They have certainly given a human face to the Arabs as people who long for freedom and justice—and who are not violent fanatics. The world has been inspired and mesmerized by the courage of unarmed protesters defying the tanks of dictators financed and fortified by the only superpower in the world. The protesters in Tunis, Egypt, and Libya have displayed breathtaking resourcefulness, organization, and ingenuity. The Egyptian revolutionaries turned Tahrir Square into a working model of republicanism in its purest form. The Libyans showed the world how quickly an alternative government can be created and made to function in Benghazi. So it is not surprising that these revolutions have changed the attitude of the West toward the Arab world.

However, the Arab revolutions have not eradicated Orientalism altogether. The most toxic versions of Orientalism are still very much alive, especially among American Republicans and Israeli Likudists. Both have been critical of the Obama administration for not supporting the dictator wholeheartedly. Benjamin Netanyahu made his support for the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak clear; he mobilized troops to the border with Egypt in the Sinai, as if the “cold peace” with Egypt had ended and war with the new regime was imminent.

Asked about the revolution in Egypt on CBC Radio’s The Current (February 1, 2011), Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Egypt and Israel, complained that there has been too much demonization of Mubarak. He described Mubarak as one of the valued “moderate” leaders in the region. He praised the dictator for his cooperation with American foreign policy, political as well as economic. He claimed that the alternative was fanatical Islamists in power. The implication was that Arabs need dictators to control their proclivity toward violence and extremism.

The same mean-spiritedness was displayed by Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, on the same program. Shaked maintained that Mubarak’s regime was one of the best in the Arab world and that abandoning it was a mistake as grave as abandoning the Shah of Iran in 1979; he expected the Egyptian Revolution to end in a radical Islamic theocracy, just as the Iranian Revolution did. He thought that the whole effort to promote democracy in the Arab world was the height of American naivete. He claimed that the best thing that could happen is that a “Mubarak clone” would emerge to rule Egypt with an iron hand. He added that “we” would naturally like “them” to have democracy, human rights, women’s equality, and all these nice things that are readily available in the West, “but this is not possible in Egypt or any of the other countries, because the Arabs have no traditions of democracy.” Shaked claimed that the only democracy in the region is Israel—as if to distance it from the Arab countries in its neighborhood while emphasizing its affinity with the West. This kind of chauvinism lends credibility to the Orientalist discourse; it displays the noxious levels it has reached in our time where its racialized overtones are designed to justify permanent colonial domination. It also confirms the claims of Islamic radicals that Israel is a Western colonial power that does not belong in the region.

Nevertheless, it is possible to agree with Shaked and Kurtzer that the Arab countries have no traditions of democracy. But where did the traditions of democracy in the West come from? They came from the revolutionary overthrow of autocratic regimes—the English revolution of the 1640s that ended with the beheading of Charles I was an auspicious beginning. But it was hijacked by the military dictatorship of Oliver Cromwell and his dastardly theocratic regime that outlawed Christmas for being too much fun. It was not till the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688 that England managed to get a Bill of Rights. And that revolution was not as glorious as it was deemed to be, since it robbed Catholics of their rights, which explains why the politics of Ireland is still rife with sectarian violence. It also behooves us to remember that the French Revolution of 1789 ended in Robespierre’s Reign of Terror. It took the autocratic power of Napoleon to further the principles of the revolution. The American Revolution of 1776 may be deemed more successful, but it can hardly be considered nonviolent or egalitarian in view of the War of Independence, the legacy of slavery, and the butchery of the Civil War. The Arabs deserve the opportunity to make their own history with all its attendant dangers.

In truth, it is not the Arabs that need tyrants to rule over them as Kurtzer and Shaked maintain. No human beings deserve tyranny, oppression, and injustice. It is the Americans and the Israelis that need tyrants in the Arab world, because only tyrants can be bribed to do their bidding—the displacement and dispossession of the Palestinian people, the embargo on Gaza, the bombing of Lebanese civilians, the bulldozing of Palestinian homes, and the building of exclusive Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. Instead of lamenting the loss of their friendly dictators. Republicans and Likudists should welcome the opportunity of dealing with a new breed of accountable Arab leaders in a spirit of justice and fair play. This will force Israel to become an integral part of the Middle East, dealing with its neighbors on an equal footing—a transformation that will be good for Jews, for Arabs, and for the world.

Shadia B. Drury, BA Hons., MA, PhD (York Canada), is Canada Research Chair in Social Justice at the University of Regina in Canada, Director of the Masters Program in Social and Political Thought, and Professor in the Departments of Political Science and Philosophy. Her areas of Scholarly Interest are: History of political thought; Contemporary political philosophy; Political ideologies: liberalism, conservatism, feminism; neo-conservatism, socialism, and fascism; Social Justice, Ethics, Meta-ethics, Canadian Politics; and History, Religion, Anthropology, and Literature. Her most recent book is Aquinas and Modernity; The Lost Promise of Natural Law (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008) http://phil.uregina.ca/CRC/

This article reproduced from: FREE INQUIRY JUNE/JULY 2011 www.secularhumanism.org