The Hijab as a Symbol

4 October, 2016

This makes a lot of sense.

 

 

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Last month, US Secretary of State John Kerry received a letter from 55 members of the US Congress asking him to address what they see as the human rights violations of women in El Salvador.

Amnesty International explains the background:

El Salvador banned abortion in all circumstances in 1998….. Women and girls found guilty of having an abortion face a prison sentence of two to eight years. Health care providers who assist them face up to 12 years in prison….. Women who have had miscarriages have been charged with aggravated homicide, a charge which can bring a sentence of up to 50 years in prison. Amnesty International has documented the cases of many women who have been sentenced to decades in prison after having a miscarriage.

According to the BBC:

El Salvador is not the only country in Latin America to have such strict laws, but it is particularly strict in enforcing it. Doctors have to inform the authorities if they think a woman has tried to end her pregnancy. If they fail to report such cases, they, too, could face long sentences in jail. The result is what human rights groups are calling a criminalisation of miscarriages and medical emergencies.

San Salvador’s auxiliary Roman Catholic bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez was quoted as saying: “Every human life is sacred. To get rid of that is committing murder. If there are two lives in danger, you have to save the one that’s most fragile and that’s the child”.

So El Salvador is being entirely logical in how it enshrines Roman Catholic theology (can that be the right word in to describe such a cruel policy?) in its civil law.

If I may repeat myself, even in Ireland we implicitly, and necessarily, recognise that the death of a foetus does not warrant the same legal protection as the death of a child or adult.  For otherwise our law would require that, every time a woman becomes pregnant but fails to deliver a live baby in due course, there would be a full and formal legal Inquest into the “death” of the “person” .   Under Irish law, an Inquest must be held if a coroner has reasonable cause to believe that a death occurred suddenly and/or from unknown causes.  That we don’t subject women to such a ridiculous process every time there is a miscarriage during a pregnancy demonstrates that even in Ireland we are prepared to accept that in practice a foetus does not warrant the same legal due process and protection as a fully formed human being.

I suspect that if we did follow the anti-abortionists’ logic and launch a full Inquest every time a woman suffered a miscarriage, just in case there had been some intent on her part to induce the miscarriage, or negligence in this regard, then we would see an uproar from all sane people, and Amnesty International and US politicians would be on our case with a vengeance.

But requiring an inquest in these circumstances would be the logical (but crazy) outcome of the call for the “unborn” to have the same legal rights as a child or adult. Sometimes those guilty of folly and cruelty need to be shown a reductio as absurdum to help change their mindset.

We are, one might surmise, less savage in our laws (or their implementation) than El Salvador is; but we are undoubtedly less consistent too. If we are to enshrine the doctrine of a particular religion in our laws, then why don’t we go the whole hog, just as Iran or Saudi Arabia do?

I recently finished reading Jonathan Meades’ memoir of his early life An Encyclopaedia of Myself.  Some may find his style and vocabulary challenging, but he is always fascinating and often hilarious.  I felt I should share his views on religion, of which the following passage is a useful example.
The majority of Anglican clergy, certainly of Salisbury Cathedral’s clergy, were not susceptible to dilute modernism. The Close was a bastion of unchallenged dogma, ritual, philistinism, unquestioning belief. The manipulator of millions of minds Joseph Goebbels wrote: ‘It is almost immaterial what we believe in so long as we believe in something.’  Time and again, those with this promiscuous capacity for credulousness are shown to be those with the equal capacity to promote and sanction atrocities. We repeatedly witness the migration of believers — ‘spiritual persons’ — from one cult to the next; a religion is merely a heavily armed cult. Believing in something all too evidently means believing in anything. Why should Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims — especially Muslims — be treated with anything other than the contemptuous toleration that is visited on flat-earthers and ufologists? Believe in the existence of fairies at the bottom of garden and you are deemed fit for the bin, for the Old Manor. Believe in parthenogenesis and ascension and you are deemed fit to govern the country, run the BBC, command UK Landforces etc.  The notion that these people might be mentally ill is quite overlooked: quis custodiet and all that.

I see that the Austrian parliament has passed reforms to the country’s century-old ‘Law on Islam’.  Amongst other provisions, the new law bans foreign funding for Islamic organisations.  Muslim groups say the ban on foreign funding is unfair as international support is still permitted for the Christian and Jewish faiths.  They are right, but only up to a point.

I find it unacceptable that any religion should be allowed to accept funding from external sources, just as most countries prohibit political funding from outside the jurisdiction.  If such funding is going to be allowed, then at least it should be excluded from the general tax exemption from which most religions benefit.

But where I would absolutely draw the line is where religions or religious lobby groups obtain direct or indirect funding from foreign governments, or foreign-government-sponsored entities.  Clearly in these situations the line between religion and politics has been crossed.  And this is where the Austrians have got it right: Islam is noteworthy for the fact that states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar give generous financial support to Islam (or particular strains of Islam) across the globe.  And unfortunately the type of Islam they are promoting is one where there is no separation between Church and State, and where the dictates of the Koran and the hadiths are considered to be justification for horrific crimes.

I would like to see a law in Ireland which (a) prohibits religions and religious organisations from receiving funding from foreign governments and (b) removes tax-exempt status from funding received from all non-residents, private or governmental.  This would incidentally stop any funding of the Catholic Church or Catholic organisations by the Vatican, as the latter claims to be a State, but this is something with which I could live …..

 

Art vs religion

12 January, 2015

Clive James’s review of John Bayley’s collected book reviews , which was included in “The Revolt of the Pendulum”, has this:-

He just doesn’t think that art and religion make a good match, especially if the religion is an adopted one, as in the case of Waugh – and the case of Graham Greene, by whom he is enthralled even less.  Without precisely calling those two eminent Catholic converts perpetrators of a put-up job, he makes it clear that he thinks their religiosity detracts from their scope of vision rather than adding to it. …..

A work of art exists to occupy the whole space between tumultuous reality and the artist’s attempt to give it shape, with no supervening providence to nullify the order of what has been achieved. Bayley is at his very best when he is pushing his insistence that the mundane is sublime enough. (‘Boots and shoes’, ‘the detail and the dailiness’: the phrases keep on coming.) He is surely right. Art, by making bearable sense of the world, is out after religion’s job, which is probably why no religion in its fundamentalist phase has ever liked it. Art is its own ideal state, which is probably why Plato didn’t like it either.

Famously, Islam prohibits the depiction of human and animal forms in art.  The Taliban even went to the trouble of destroying the Buddhas of Bamiyan.  But strict Protestantism used to be none too keen on depictions of God and the saints.  I heard a historian claim recently that 99% of all religious artworks were destroyed in England during the Reformation.

My recent reading has been the diaries of James Lees-Milne, which are interesting on a number of levels despite (or maybe because of) his snobbery and social-climbing.  He was a friend of the Earl of Rosse of Birr Castle in County Offaly and, during a visit thereto in 1948, he wrote the following about Ireland in his diary:

“I wish I could define properly what it is I do not like about the climate, the people and the scenery.  My dislike is almost intuitive, certainly temperamental and racial.  I fear the native hostility under the mask of deceit.”

Lees-Milne, who had converted to Catholicism, continued:

“At Mass the church here is so crowded that one cannot worship.  Irish Catholicism is like a vice, crushing the congregation like nuts.  The Irish God is not loving.  He is a tyrant.  The people are tight within his grasp.  Unlike Latins they are subdued by the Church, not elevated by it.  They derive from it no inspiration, recreation or romance.  Here it is grey and puritanical.”

He was writing 66 years ago, but some of the noxious influences he detected are still at play in this country.  The current case of the young non-national girl who had been raped and was denied an abortion despite being suicidal is shocking, and it exposes the extent to which our law is still influenced by tyrannical and absolutist Roman Catholic dogma.

As an aside, on a visit to Ireland 3 years earlier, Lees-Milne had met a “Lord X” – thought to have been Lord Killanin – whose views gave rise to this diary entry:

He says the priests are so bigoted and politically minded that he fears there will be a strong reaction against Catholicism in Ireland within the next generation.  Most of the priests are peasants’ sons, with no true vocation.  They become priests because it gives them social status.  He blames Maynooth College.  A generation ago the neophytes went to Rome.  Now they are totally nationalistic and provincial in outlook.  The Cardinal [probably Joseph MacRory] is positively chauvinistic.  Lord X blames the Vatican for not taking the Irish hierarchy in hand.  The people are kept in great ignorance, as in Spain.

The problems within the Catholic Church in Ireland, and the problems caused by it, are not a recent development. An English Catholic aesthete witnessed them all too clearly in the 1940s.

 

From Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov.

The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for (at some forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour).

The “brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness” brings to mind Mark Twain’s observation:

“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

This attitude explains why atheists are so sanguine at the prospect of the absence of an afterlife. Not surprisingly, Richard Dawkins picks up this theme in “The God Delusion”:

“Being dead will be no different from being unborn – I shall be just as I was in the time of William the Conqueror or the dinosaurs or the trilobites. There is nothing to fear in that.”

Reading Nabokov requires time and attention, but it’s usually time well spent.  It is a thing of wonder that he was capable of writing such remarkable prose in a language that was not his native one.  The opening paragraph of Speak, Memory, Nabokov’s memoir of his early life,  continues:

I know, however, of a young chronophobiac who experienced something like panic when looking for the first-time at home-made movies that had been taken a few weeks before his birth. He saw a world that was practically unchanged—the same house, the same people—and then realized that he did not exist there at all and nobody mourned his absence. He caught a glimpse of his mother waving from an upstairs window, and that unfamiliar gesture disturbed him, as if it were some mysterious farewell. But what particularly frightened him was the sight of a brand-new baby-carriage standing there on the porch, with the smug, encroaching air of a coffin; even that was empty, as if in the reverse course of events, his very bones had disintegrated.

Although the memoir has perhaps too much detail on the various (and generally aristocratic) members of Nabokov’s family tree, and also a surfeit of reminiscences of particular butterfly-netting experiences, it contains much else that is a real pleasure to read.