a. Kia ora: I always enjoy Joe Bennett’s column in The Dominion Post on a Wednesday. On 22 March he had a thought provoking column entitled “Do gooders do no good”. It is difficult to summarise his article and I cannot reproduce it here because of copywrite. But I can quote a couple of paragraphs that made me think.
“So why is Mr Chamberlain (Sure Start Centre, England) getting upset on behalf of people who are not getting upset? Because of a human habit that has done every bit as much harm in this world as warmongering – the urge to do good. Doing good makes people feel gooey inside, but it springs from exactly the same desire as warmongering. It springs from the desire to feel superior.”
I will ask permission to include the whole column in the next newsletter.
b. MONTHLY MEETINGS STOP PRESS: Monthly meetings are now to be held on THE LAST MONDAY OF THE MONTH.
If you have marked your diary for the first Monday of the month, please change the entry to the last Monday of the month.
c. April monthly meeting: Monday 24 April, 7.30 pm until 9 pm, Turnbull House, Wellington. All welcome.
Topic: The Muhammad cartoon controversy. Kent Stevens will speak to this from a Humanist perspective followed by discussion.
If you would like to share your thoughts on this subject Kent would very much like you to e-mail him at [email protected]
It is standard practice for current affairs programmes to have input from listeners via e-mails.
For all of our members who cannot attend meetings because of location or other commitments this is a way we can share thoughts. Or you may write to us at P. O. Box 3372 Wellington.
Mark your 2006 diary now, meetings are on the last Monday of each month.
d. Radio Access: 11 am 783 kHz DID YOU LISTEN via your computer on March 12? If you didn’t, you missed a most interesting discussion between that covered a wide range of issues. Do listen for our next broadcast Sunday April 9 at 11 am. See November 2005 newsletter for directions to listen via the Internet.
e. Communication with each other: The internet offers a way whereby members throughout the country may have some interaction. The radio programme may be listened to. Mark your diary. It is difficult to always remember to tune in. Those involved have put in their effort. It would be good to know that this effort is worthwhile. E-mail communication before the monthly meeting with your thoughts on the subject is another means through which we can make contact. E-mails received could be circulated with perhaps some added comments that arose at the meeting.
f. Email discussion group: Is operating on Yahoo at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/nzhumanism Have you registered to meet with other members via the web world of communication.
g. Email News: Those people who have provided an email address receive additional email Humanist News bulletins and items of interest. If you would like to be on the mailing list, please email [email protected] . Remember to let us know if you change your email or postal address.
h. Reflection from Marcus Aurelius Meditations. 150 CE
A little while and you will be nobody and nowhere, nor will anything which you now behold exist, nor one of those who are now alive. Nature’s law is that all things change and turn, and pass away, so that in due order different things may come to be.
i. Creationist Dr Jonathon Swingler, University of Southampton, answers questions from Richard Harris (New Humanist Nov/Dec 2005)
Question: Does the phrase “Let the earth bring forth” not imply that God made things via a process of evolution?
Answer: I can see where people get that idea from but that’s not the case, we have to understand that when the Bible say “a day” it means a day as in a 24 hour period. So what happened was God put the plants on the earth and caused them to grow in one day.
More of these next newsletter, a little sample, “On the ark there would have been a large supply of grain and other vegetable material and I think that the animals would have eaten that and not each other.”
Stem Cell Research Submission
prepared by Kent Stevens and the Humanist Council
A submission on proposed guidelines on the research use of established human embryonic stem cells was written and submitted to the Ministry of Health by 3 March 2006. The Council was concerned that the proposed guidelines were unduly restrictive, much more so than had been adopted in other Western countries, and probably reflected undue religious influence. A summary of the points made follows.
The Humanist Society of New Zealand (Inc.) represents the interests of non-theistic people in New Zealand. We seek to build a more humane society based on human and other natural values. New Zealand census figures indicate that 25% of the population have no religious beliefs and that 40% of New Zealanders have not indicated any specific religious belief.
The Humanist Society of New Zealand supports allowing surplus in vitro fertilisation embryos to be used in research. It also supports the creation of embryos specifically for research to be used in medical experiments. The Society supports allowing the use of established human embryonic stem cell lines in research. The stance we support is identified as the fourth position in terms of the stem cells discussion document. We would wish to make an oral submission on the proposed guidelines.
The Society considers that similar legislation and procedures to the United Kingdom regarding embryonic stem cell research are appropriate for New Zealand. New Zealand has cultural and historical links to the United Kingdom that suggest that what is acceptable law in the United Kingdom would be acceptable in New Zealand.
We disagree with the suggested guidelines in restricting stem cell research to surplus in vitro fertilisation embryos only. This is because this would impede the finding of treatments for debilitating ailments such as stroke, heart attack, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. We would want scientists to be able to create stem cells lines here in New Zealand and not be forced to pay other people overseas to provide them.
Generally, the Humanist Society of New Zealand also supports the use of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) cloning for therapeutic purposes as this can provide significant health benefits. We consider that embryonic stem cell research can be of great benefit to all humanity. However, as with other medical experiments there is a need for reasonable ethical safeguards and these are demonstrated in countries like the United Kingdom.
Some religious people are strongly for embryonic stem cell research while other religious people are strongly against it. In situations like this, the government should allow researchers and donors to produce embryos for research, if it is their choice and the embryos used are in the early stages of development. This is consistent with allowing New Zealanders freedom of religion or belief and freedom from religion.
Embryonic stem cell research does not involve harming anything that resembles a person. Since there is no harm being done to a person scientists should be able to create embryos for research purposes.
Currently, we allow the artificial creation and destruction of early embryos as part of fertility treatments. The destruction of embryos happens with fertility treatment when surplus embryos are no longer required. New Zealanders generally find this to be morally acceptable as helping couples with fertility promotes the public good. This is consistent with freedom of religion or belief as people can choose to undergo in vitro fertilisation or not. Likewise, we should also allow the artificial creation and destruction of early embryos for stem cell research to help find treatments for diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. This is because finding treatments for diseases also promotes the public good.
Why Europe Must Fight Back
As Fleming Rose, the cultural editor of Jyllands Posten, publishers of the Danish cartoons explained, it was never the intention of his paper to insult Muslims, but to test the climate of fear and self-censorship that has existed in Europe since the murder of Theo van Gogh. Yet virtually every commentator on this affair has tacitly assumed that the cartoons were intended to be gratuitously offensive; supposedly just one more manifestation of the growing Islamophobia of the West. Tariq Ramadan, one of the media’s favourite spokesmen for moderate Islam pointed out that Islam strictly forbids representations of the prophet in order to avoid the temptation of idolatry. But unless one accepts Ramadan’s unspoken assumption that something forbidden for Muslims must be forbidden for everyone else, non-Muslims need not feel bound by this constraint. In any case the cartoons were not meant to inspire idolatry, nor are they likely to.
But the protesters have been programmed to accept no criticism, explicit or implied, of anything done in the name of Islam, even terrorism. When the editor of a Jordanian newspaper asked the obvious question:
What brings more prejudice against Islam, these caricatures or pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim or a suicide bomber who blows himself up during a wedding ceremony?
he was promptly fired and jailed.
How the protests developed
At first it seemed that the protests over the cartoons would rapidly die down. After all, who outside Denmark reads Danish newspapers? A few fishermen in the Faroe Islands perhaps? Certainly not the carpet sellers of the Souk. But suddenly, in early February, Muslims took to the streets in widespread riots throughout Europe and the Middle East, burning flags, torching embassies and carrying placards calling for ‘Death to freedom’ and ‘Behead those who insult Islam’. Yet copies of the cartoons had appeared in the Egyptian press in early October to hardly a ripple of complaint. How did these cartoons, four months later, suddenly become an international cause célèbre?
The answer, as Flemming Rose explained to CNN, was that it had very little to do with the cartoons we’ve printed. The uproar ‘came right after … radical imams from Denmark travelled to the Middle East, deliberately lying about these cartoons, and deliberately lying about the context.’
The rioting and demonstrations were highly coordinated, involving the burning of a surprisingly ready supply of Danish flags, the torching of several embassies and a widespread boycott of Danish goods. This was no spontaneous grass-roots protest, but a well-orchestrated, government-supported display of Islamic power, clearly intended to intimidate the West. And the message is clear: western governments must be made to clamp down on freedom of expression or face the economic consequences. Freedom of expression anathema in much of the Islamic world can no longer be tolerated in the West.
In the words of Flemming Rose: ‘They don’t want our apology, they want our submission.
The European response With the exception of the Danish government itself, the reaction of many European leaders to the violence has been one of abject surrender. Rather than simply criticizing the cartoons while supporting freedom of expression, the Council of Europe condemned the Danish government for not taking action against Jyllands Posten even though a Danish court had found that no law had been broken.
French President Chirac and former US president Bill Clinton criticised the publication of the cartoons. George W. Bush, desperate to show that his ‘War on Terror’ is not a war against Islam was also quick to condemn the cartoons, as was Jack Straw, the British Foreign Minister, worried at the prospect of losing even more ground among his Muslim voters. Not one British newspaper chose to reproduce the cartoons. CNN said that it chose not to show the cartoons, ‘out of respect for Islam’. The unspoken assumption behind all this grovelling is that Islam, unlike Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism or any other religion has a special entitlement to respect. It does not. None of the papers refusing to republish the cartoons have hesitated to publish far worse insults to other religions. Their respect is spelt FEAR.
The noted historian, David Pryce-Jones cites a recent gathering of Church of England bishops who pontificated that ‘Democracy as we have it in the West at the moment is deeply flawed and its serious shortcomings need to be addressed.’ Their recommendation? A public act of repentance made to senior figures from the Muslim community!
One of the most striking features of the media debate on the cartoons has been the absence of any sense of shame among Muslims for the thousands of far more graphic cartoons appearing daily in the Arab media: cartoons defaming Jews, Christians and the West.
Apparently these are considered fair comment because, in the words of the Saudi Ambassador to the United States, ‘You have to consider the impact of the continuing occupation of Palestine’ (An occupation that apparently justifies the bombing and beheading of innocent people around the world.)
Religion or politics?
What few western leaders seem to realise is that by accepting the legitimacy of the Muslim complaints they are playing into the hands of the Islamists.
The worldwide calls from Muslim leaders from around the world for ‘dialogue’ and ‘respect’ were not simply a reaction to the cartoons, but are themselves part of a long-term plan by Islamists to bring Europe under the sway of Islam. This plan has been well documented by the historian and Islamic critic Bat Ye’or. In her book, Eurabia, she traces the plan for Islamic ascendancy back to the second Islamic conference held in Lahore in 1974.
The cartoons, misleadingly including one of Mohammed being sodomised by a dog that was never published in Denmark, gave the Islamists a golden opportunity to tighten the screw. Following the visit of the Danish imams to the Middle East, the cartoons were discussed at the 3rd Summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Mecca on December 7/8. This organisation represents all 56 Islamic states and the Palestinian Authority. It is considered the ultimate political authority in the Islamic world. The final communiqué of the summit condemned the ‘desecration of the image of the Holy Prophet Mohammed’ and the groundwork was laid for a massive response. On Qatar TV on 3 February, the popular Islamic televangelist and spiritual guide to the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, called upon the faithful ‘to show rage to the world’. The next day the OIC described the publication of the caricatures as an ‘act of blasphemy’ and the mob violence erupted.
The objective of the Islamists is to use the violent protests to pressure western governments and the UN into passing legislation outlawing defamation of religion. The UN Human Rights Commission has already, every year since 1999, passed a resolution ‘Combating Defamation of Religions’ (read ‘Islam’). The current campaign is designed to consolidate and extend these gains beyond the UN Human Rights Commission into national, European and international law. On 9 February the Financial Times reported that the OIC has called for the insertion of language into the founding document of the new Human Rights Council requiring the council to ‘prevent instances of intolerance, discrimination, incitement of hatred and violence’ arising from any actions against religions, Prophets and beliefs.
Sadly, the majority of Western politicians and religious leaders seem all too ready to go along with the Islamist agenda. In a letter published in both the Times and the New York Times, Edgar Bronfman, New York President of the World Jewish Congress argued that ‘tolerance is not enough’ and called for ‘respect for all religions’, a call echoed by the Vatican and a number of British church leaders.
But Islam has never displayed anything except contempt for other religions. The word Islam means ‘submission’. We are frequently told that ‘Islam is a religion of peace’. It offers peace, yes, but only for those who submit. No Islamic leader has ever, nor ever could, agree to equality of treatment for all people regardless of faith. Since 1990 a large part of the Islamic world has rejected the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The only human rights now recognised by the OIC are those listed in the 1990 ‘Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam’. This declaration has been rightly criticised by Prof. Elizabeth Ann Meyer as more a catalogue of duties towards God than a statement of human rights. Nevertheless, objective of the Islamists is for those limited rights to become the rules of submission for every nation on earth.
To paraphrase the eminent Iranian writer, Amir Tahiri, ‘Islam has become a political movement masquerading as a religion’.
Tolerance or respect?
Many states already have laws against causing offence to religious believers. They are called blasphemy laws. The penalty for blasphemy under Islamic law is death. It is this kind of law the Islamists want to push through the European Union and the UN. Of course, they are not demanding the death penalty, yet.
The demand is for human rights legislation to be extended to religion. No, not to the rights of believers, those rights are already protected, but to religion itself. The rationale offered is that an insult to any religion is an insult to the freedom of religion of its believers. But there is no human right not to be insulted. The very essence of freedom of expression indeed its only value as a right is when it defends the right to express what others may find offensive. No-one has the right not to be offended, nor to react violently when they are.
The demand for the right not to be offended is central to the Islamist agenda. Once in place it will be used to stifle any adverse comment on Islamic society. This demand has been aided and abetted by the ascendant follies of multiculturalism, political correctness and postmodernism that together have dominated liberal western opinion since the 1970s.
Dead prophets, saints and saviours are not human. They have no human rights. And no dead prophet’s legacy of laws is intrinsically worthy of more or less respect than any other system of law. All laws are created to serve the needs of society. All must be open to critical analysis on the basis of their impact on society and human freedom. If we have learned one thing from the battles of the last 200 years, it is surely this. No idea is sacrosanct. No idea, however ancient its origins, however well promoted, widely followed, or firmly believed to be of divine origin can be immune from critical analysis and allowed to go unchallenged. It is only through challenging the status quo and the received wisdom of the ancients that humanity has progressed.
Many Muslim leaders argue that new laws are needed to combat a rising tide of Islamophobia, reminiscent, they claim, of the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany in the 1930s. But the analogy is entirely false. Post-war Europe actively welcomed millions of Muslim immigrants into a society largely free of the kind of prejudice and narrow nationalism that plagued pre-war Europe. Multiculturalism has been the settled policy of most of Western Europe since the 1960s. The feelings of antipathy towards Muslims in Europe have grown only as a reaction to the violence and extremism that seem increasingly to dominate that community. We must resist the ever more shrill demands for special consideration for Islam in Europe when Islam so patently fails to respect the host culture into which it was welcomed. The parents and grandparents of many of today’s young European Muslims moved to the West to escape from the stultifying, backward regimes that the Islamists are now trying to impose.
The most that any religious leader should expect, and the most that those of other faiths or none can reasonably offer, is tolerance. We have no duty of respect to any religion or religious leaders that fail to respect others. Mutual tolerance is a virtue: it is the glue that holds a multi-cultural society together. But tolerance is not at all the same thing as respect. Respect cannot be imposed, it has to be earned, not through fear, but through evidence of consideration for others.
Islamism fails to respect the rights of others; it is intolerant of them. Are we to respect the intolerant? We should take to heart the words of Sir Karl Popper:
‘Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance’ We should therefore claim in the name of tolerance the right not to respect the intolerant.
Why Europe must resist
On 1st July 1766, a 19 year-old French nobleman, the Chevalier de la Barre had his tongue torn out and was then beheaded. His body was then consigned to the flames. His crime? He had failed to remove his hat as a religious procession passed by in the street. He was denounced by the Bishop of Amiens and condemned to death on 4 June 1766. Every attempt by Voltaire and others to save him was in vain. The crime of impiety no longer exists in France, but there are those who would willingly relight the bonfires. They began in 1972 to manipulate public revulsion against anti-Semitism in order to silence all criticism of religion. Now the cries of the Islamists have been added to the call, aided and abetted by many European leaders. Promises by the British government to remove the crime of blasphemy from the statute books have been quietly forgotten.
There is no concept of individual freedom in Islam. All rights are construed as duties, not to other individuals, nor to society as a whole, but to God. It is this mindset that Westerners ‘who ever since the Reformation have grown used to the concept of individual responsibility’ find so hard to understand.
The totally disproportionate Islamic reaction to a few relatively inoffensive cartoons, clearly orchestrated by the Organisation of Islamic States, has re-awakened popular fears in Europe as to what might be in store. We know that the declared objective of political Islam is nothing less than world domination. Young European Muslims are steadily being drawn into the radicals camp and Islamist sentiments are being more frequently heard on radio and TV. We are also hearing of intimidation by Islamists. Who wants to be told: When we take over your video shop and the pub will be closed down, and your wife will not be allowed to appear in the street without a hijab? European Muslims need to learn that the Islamic extremists idea of an ideal society is everyone else’s idea of Hell.
Sadly, the more radical voices we hear and the more violence we see, the more violent will be the reaction. The only ones to gain from violence will be the extremists on both sides.
Moderate Muslims need our support. They are the best hope we have for reform in the Islamic world. We must avoid the temptation of judging anyone by their religion. There are millions of inoffensive, well-behaved Muslims in Europe, appalled by the ranting of the extremists. For Muslims, as much as for the rest of us, freedom of expression is our first and most important safeguard against oppression. Yes, we need to be more sensitive to the real needs of the immigrants in our midst but this does not mean obeying the principles of their religion. And they need to understand that we feel equally committed to the values and ideals of the Enlightenment.
There is now, more than ever, a need for Europeans to stand firm on our hard-won values of liberty, human rights and freedom of expression.
Europe may finally be waking up to the fact that the values that have sustained the continent for over 200 years are once again under attack. We must defend them with all the means at our disposal. We are in a race against time between the Enlightenment and war.
Roy Brown is President of the International Humanist and Ethical Union
Republished from International Humanist News March 2006
To view the cartoons: http://www.cryptome.org/muhammad.htm