Commentary Magazine


Topic: Archbishop

Iraqi Clerics May Issue Fatwa — Against Sectarian Violence

This is a promising development. A gathering of Iraqi Sunni, Shiite, and Christian leaders met in Copenhagen today to discuss whether to issue a religious decree condemning the recent tide of violence against Christians, AFP is reporting:

“I hope that we will be able to produce a joint Shiite-Sunni fatwa (religious decree) against violence towards Christians,” said Canon Andrew White, head of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME) and vicar of St. George’s Church in Baghdad.

“There is a total unity between the Muslims and Christians: we need to do something radical,” White told AFP on the sidelines of the three-day closed-door meeting that began Wednesday.

The emergency summit at a heavily guarded Copenhagen hotel, organised by FRRME and the Danish foreign ministry, comes on the heels of a string of attacks on Christians in Iraq, as well as in neighbouring countries.

It is time “to think seriously about steps that need to be taken to protect all the minority communities,” White insisted.

And it looks like the summit has drawn some influential participants, including Sheikh Abdul Latif Humayem (a top Sunni adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki), Shiite leader Sheik Abduhaeem al-Zubairi (the representative for Iraq’s Assyrian community), and Archbishop Avak Asadourian (leader of Iraq’s Christian Council).

“This group of leaders has the power and influence to negotiate on behalf of the people they represent, to deny legitimacy to the use of violence and to call authoritatively for reconciliation and peaceful solutions,” Danish Foreign Minister Lene Espersen told the AFP.

It’s interesting that Iraqi leaders are using their own cultural mechanisms to push the liberal idea of religious tolerance. At a time when there’s been a lot of negativity about the influence of Iran over the Iraqi government, this is a good sign for those who remain optimistic about the future of democracy in Iraq.

This is a promising development. A gathering of Iraqi Sunni, Shiite, and Christian leaders met in Copenhagen today to discuss whether to issue a religious decree condemning the recent tide of violence against Christians, AFP is reporting:

“I hope that we will be able to produce a joint Shiite-Sunni fatwa (religious decree) against violence towards Christians,” said Canon Andrew White, head of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME) and vicar of St. George’s Church in Baghdad.

“There is a total unity between the Muslims and Christians: we need to do something radical,” White told AFP on the sidelines of the three-day closed-door meeting that began Wednesday.

The emergency summit at a heavily guarded Copenhagen hotel, organised by FRRME and the Danish foreign ministry, comes on the heels of a string of attacks on Christians in Iraq, as well as in neighbouring countries.

It is time “to think seriously about steps that need to be taken to protect all the minority communities,” White insisted.

And it looks like the summit has drawn some influential participants, including Sheikh Abdul Latif Humayem (a top Sunni adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki), Shiite leader Sheik Abduhaeem al-Zubairi (the representative for Iraq’s Assyrian community), and Archbishop Avak Asadourian (leader of Iraq’s Christian Council).

“This group of leaders has the power and influence to negotiate on behalf of the people they represent, to deny legitimacy to the use of violence and to call authoritatively for reconciliation and peaceful solutions,” Danish Foreign Minister Lene Espersen told the AFP.

It’s interesting that Iraqi leaders are using their own cultural mechanisms to push the liberal idea of religious tolerance. At a time when there’s been a lot of negativity about the influence of Iran over the Iraqi government, this is a good sign for those who remain optimistic about the future of democracy in Iraq.

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Unemployment Insurance I

If an astronomer were to casually claim that Ptolemy was right and the sun revolves around the earth, or if a paleontologist were to suddenly subscribe to Archbishop Ussher’s idea that the world was created as we know it now in the night preceding October 23, 4004 BCE, they would be laughed out of their disciplines. The evidence for the modern understanding of such matters is, after all, overwhelming. So to make such a claim would require massive and unequivocal data to back it up.

However, if an economist does the equivalent, the entire profession, instead of collapsing in laughter, says, ” . . . . oh, look! A squirrel!” Economists, it seems, suffer no loss of respect by their peers if they utter ex cathedra pronouncements that are in flat contradiction of the most basic tenets of the discipline. All they have to do is to be advancing a political agenda at the time, and all — no matter how ridiculous — is forgiven.

When Senator John Kyl said that “continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work,” Paul Krugman wrote in his New York Times column “To me, that’s a bizarre point of view — but then, I don’t live in Mr. Kyl’s universe.”

Really? Here’s what Paul Krugman wrote in his own textbook, Macroeconomics:

Public policy designed to help workers who lose their jobs can lead to structural unemployment as an unintended side effect. … In other countries, particularly in Europe, benefits are more generous and last longer. The drawback to this generosity is that it reduces a worker’s incentive to quickly find a new job. Generous unemployment benefits in some European countries are widely believed to be one of the main causes of “Eurosclerosis,” the persistent high unemployment that affects a number of European countries.

As James Taranto pointed out, “It seems Krugman himself lives in two different universes — the universe of the academic economist and the universe of the bitter partisan columnist.”

When the Wall Street Journal noted last week that extending unemployment benefits tends to keep unemployment high by reducing the incentive to look for work — and quoted Lawrence Summers, writing in 1999, to that effect — they received a furious letter from Mr. Summers, now head of Obama’s National Economic Council. The Wall Street Journal had a field day in response, pointing out that,

The Summers argument is that increasing unemployment insurance increases aggregate demand and thus reduces unemployment. This is because he and the neo-Keynesians believe that the impact on macroeconomic demand of this jobless spending outweighs the microeconomic harm on individual incentives. In other words, if government pays people for not working, then more people will work. Subsidize unemployment and you will somehow get less of it.

Summers’s idea is the economic equivalent of a perpetual motion machine.

If economists want to get the same respect that people give to real scientists, they are going to have start behaving like real scientists. They have to denounce nonsense from a fellow economist when they hear it, even if that economist is wearing a political hat rather than an academic one.

If an astronomer were to casually claim that Ptolemy was right and the sun revolves around the earth, or if a paleontologist were to suddenly subscribe to Archbishop Ussher’s idea that the world was created as we know it now in the night preceding October 23, 4004 BCE, they would be laughed out of their disciplines. The evidence for the modern understanding of such matters is, after all, overwhelming. So to make such a claim would require massive and unequivocal data to back it up.

However, if an economist does the equivalent, the entire profession, instead of collapsing in laughter, says, ” . . . . oh, look! A squirrel!” Economists, it seems, suffer no loss of respect by their peers if they utter ex cathedra pronouncements that are in flat contradiction of the most basic tenets of the discipline. All they have to do is to be advancing a political agenda at the time, and all — no matter how ridiculous — is forgiven.

When Senator John Kyl said that “continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work,” Paul Krugman wrote in his New York Times column “To me, that’s a bizarre point of view — but then, I don’t live in Mr. Kyl’s universe.”

Really? Here’s what Paul Krugman wrote in his own textbook, Macroeconomics:

Public policy designed to help workers who lose their jobs can lead to structural unemployment as an unintended side effect. … In other countries, particularly in Europe, benefits are more generous and last longer. The drawback to this generosity is that it reduces a worker’s incentive to quickly find a new job. Generous unemployment benefits in some European countries are widely believed to be one of the main causes of “Eurosclerosis,” the persistent high unemployment that affects a number of European countries.

As James Taranto pointed out, “It seems Krugman himself lives in two different universes — the universe of the academic economist and the universe of the bitter partisan columnist.”

When the Wall Street Journal noted last week that extending unemployment benefits tends to keep unemployment high by reducing the incentive to look for work — and quoted Lawrence Summers, writing in 1999, to that effect — they received a furious letter from Mr. Summers, now head of Obama’s National Economic Council. The Wall Street Journal had a field day in response, pointing out that,

The Summers argument is that increasing unemployment insurance increases aggregate demand and thus reduces unemployment. This is because he and the neo-Keynesians believe that the impact on macroeconomic demand of this jobless spending outweighs the microeconomic harm on individual incentives. In other words, if government pays people for not working, then more people will work. Subsidize unemployment and you will somehow get less of it.

Summers’s idea is the economic equivalent of a perpetual motion machine.

If economists want to get the same respect that people give to real scientists, they are going to have start behaving like real scientists. They have to denounce nonsense from a fellow economist when they hear it, even if that economist is wearing a political hat rather than an academic one.

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Why Punch Is No More…

Pete, your post put me in mind of a story Malcolm Muggeridge tells in The End of Christendom, of an evening at the theater with then Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey.  Muggeridge, you may remember, was, among other things, the editor of Britain’s venerable humor magazine Punch for several years. Well, during a performance of Godspell, the good Archbishop saw fit to leap out of his seat at a climactic moment and yell, “Long live God!”

Which, to Muggeridge:

was like shouting “Carry on eternity” or “Keep going infinity.” The incident made a deep impression on my mind because it illustrated the basic difficulty I met with when I was editor of Punch: that the eminent so often say and do things which are infinitely more ridiculous than anything you can invent for them. That might not sound to you like a terrible difficulty but it is, believe me, the main headache of the editor of an ostensibly humorous paper. You go to great trouble to invent a ridiculous Archbishop of Canterbury and give him ridiculous lines to say and then suddenly he rises in his seat at the theater and shouts out “Long live God.” And you’re defeated, you’re broken.

Needless to say, Keith Olbermann is not “eminent,” as was Dr. Ramsey, merely immanent, much like a hallucination. Perhaps for not too much longer, given that his expectorations threaten the livelihood of many a satirist.

Pete, your post put me in mind of a story Malcolm Muggeridge tells in The End of Christendom, of an evening at the theater with then Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey.  Muggeridge, you may remember, was, among other things, the editor of Britain’s venerable humor magazine Punch for several years. Well, during a performance of Godspell, the good Archbishop saw fit to leap out of his seat at a climactic moment and yell, “Long live God!”

Which, to Muggeridge:

was like shouting “Carry on eternity” or “Keep going infinity.” The incident made a deep impression on my mind because it illustrated the basic difficulty I met with when I was editor of Punch: that the eminent so often say and do things which are infinitely more ridiculous than anything you can invent for them. That might not sound to you like a terrible difficulty but it is, believe me, the main headache of the editor of an ostensibly humorous paper. You go to great trouble to invent a ridiculous Archbishop of Canterbury and give him ridiculous lines to say and then suddenly he rises in his seat at the theater and shouts out “Long live God.” And you’re defeated, you’re broken.

Needless to say, Keith Olbermann is not “eminent,” as was Dr. Ramsey, merely immanent, much like a hallucination. Perhaps for not too much longer, given that his expectorations threaten the livelihood of many a satirist.

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A Brave UK Muslim

The U.K. has seen a recent string of capitulations to radical Islam and its politically correct Western enablers. In a February 12 article in the Jerusalem Post, Daniel Pipes chronicled three events in one very bad week in England:

First, the UK government has decided that terrorism by Muslims in the name of Islam is actually unrelated to Islam, or even anti-Islamic.

[…]

Second, and again culminating several years of evolution, the British government now recognizes polygamous marriages.

[…]

Third, the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, endorsed applying portions of the Islamic law (the shari’a) in Great Britain.

Indeed, there is reason to suppose that a fair number of British lawmakers and clergy could get a tidy British shari’a system up and running before the Dems figure out who their nominee for President is. Which is why the following news is so important. The Evening Standard reports on a brave British Muslim who’s taking a stand against radicalization among England’s Muslims and the isolation that feeds it.

A leading Muslim figure has spoken out against plans for a 12,000-seat mosque next to the Olympic site.

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, who co-founded the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, says there is no need for another mosque in East London.

His opposition follows that of mayoral candidate Alan Craig – who found his own “obituary” posted on internet site YouTube after making his views known.

Dr Siddiqui, an Indian-born elder statesman, said: “We have too many mosques. I think it should not be built. What we need first is more integration between the existing mosques and the wider community.”

The “megamosque” in Newham is being planned by Islamic group Tablighi Jamaat, which the FBI has described as “a recruiting ground” for al Qaeda – a claim it denies. Shoebomber Richard Reid and 7/7 bombers Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer were members.

Dr. Siddiqui’s courage and honesty should be a source of great shame to the likes of Rowan Williams. As a Muslim, this man faces a far greater danger from his radical co-religionists than does the Archbishop. Yet he grasps the graver peril of allowing his country to give in to fanatics without a fight. While Williams deems shari’a inevitable, Dr. Siddiqui finds at least enough morale to take a stand. His proposition is hardly dramatic; he’s simply recognizing that there is a problem worthy of engagement. How encouraging it would be if Dr. Siddiqui’s call was the first in a hat trick of resistance to counter Britain’s bad week.

The U.K. has seen a recent string of capitulations to radical Islam and its politically correct Western enablers. In a February 12 article in the Jerusalem Post, Daniel Pipes chronicled three events in one very bad week in England:

First, the UK government has decided that terrorism by Muslims in the name of Islam is actually unrelated to Islam, or even anti-Islamic.

[…]

Second, and again culminating several years of evolution, the British government now recognizes polygamous marriages.

[…]

Third, the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, endorsed applying portions of the Islamic law (the shari’a) in Great Britain.

Indeed, there is reason to suppose that a fair number of British lawmakers and clergy could get a tidy British shari’a system up and running before the Dems figure out who their nominee for President is. Which is why the following news is so important. The Evening Standard reports on a brave British Muslim who’s taking a stand against radicalization among England’s Muslims and the isolation that feeds it.

A leading Muslim figure has spoken out against plans for a 12,000-seat mosque next to the Olympic site.

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, who co-founded the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, says there is no need for another mosque in East London.

His opposition follows that of mayoral candidate Alan Craig – who found his own “obituary” posted on internet site YouTube after making his views known.

Dr Siddiqui, an Indian-born elder statesman, said: “We have too many mosques. I think it should not be built. What we need first is more integration between the existing mosques and the wider community.”

The “megamosque” in Newham is being planned by Islamic group Tablighi Jamaat, which the FBI has described as “a recruiting ground” for al Qaeda – a claim it denies. Shoebomber Richard Reid and 7/7 bombers Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer were members.

Dr. Siddiqui’s courage and honesty should be a source of great shame to the likes of Rowan Williams. As a Muslim, this man faces a far greater danger from his radical co-religionists than does the Archbishop. Yet he grasps the graver peril of allowing his country to give in to fanatics without a fight. While Williams deems shari’a inevitable, Dr. Siddiqui finds at least enough morale to take a stand. His proposition is hardly dramatic; he’s simply recognizing that there is a problem worthy of engagement. How encouraging it would be if Dr. Siddiqui’s call was the first in a hat trick of resistance to counter Britain’s bad week.

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An English Woman Defends Shari’a

In the Birmingham Mail, Maureen Messent has written a ridiculous defense of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s proposal to incorporate aspects of shari’a into British law.

From that innocuous thought was fashioned the belief that Dr Williams was advocating the practices of limb-lopping for thieves, stonings for adulterers and the whole grizzly gamut of uncivilised punishments dealt in some Islamic countries.

There are two alarming aspects to the Archbishop’s “innocuous thought.” These are the application of different laws to different citizens and the nature of shari’a itself. Ms. Messent ignores the first and plays games with the second. A noble state is in large part defined by the fair application of its laws. Citizenship means nothing if not the inclusion in a larger body of people subject to the same expectations. The kind of splintering that Williams advocates would mean the end of English unity.

Rowan Williams says Muslim citizens shouldn’t be torn between “the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty,” but by bending the country to meet the culture he’s addressing the problem too far downstream. Citizens should never have reached such a crossroads to begin with. It’s the fairly recent radicalization of European Islam that’s made British citizenship a cultural challenge for Muslims. It’s not the state’s job to further enable that shift, but rather to meet it with unapologetic severity.

Speaking of severity. There’s good reason for people to be concerned with the nature of shari’a, and not merely with its interpretation in “some Islamic countries.” The Independent reports that 17,000 women in Britain are victims of “honor violence” yearly. Now, would Ms. Messent and the Archbishop like to ease the pressure on the practitioners of this savagery? Or are “alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty” appropriately “stark”? Ms. Messent wrote that…

…the Archbishop is a man of peace. Only fools – a multitude of whom seemed up in arms this week – could interpret that suggestion as a return to medieval punishments. The outcry following his words, whipped up by idiots who hadn’t listened, was interesting.

Of the types of idiots one could be, I suppose interesting isn’t that bad.

In the Birmingham Mail, Maureen Messent has written a ridiculous defense of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s proposal to incorporate aspects of shari’a into British law.

From that innocuous thought was fashioned the belief that Dr Williams was advocating the practices of limb-lopping for thieves, stonings for adulterers and the whole grizzly gamut of uncivilised punishments dealt in some Islamic countries.

There are two alarming aspects to the Archbishop’s “innocuous thought.” These are the application of different laws to different citizens and the nature of shari’a itself. Ms. Messent ignores the first and plays games with the second. A noble state is in large part defined by the fair application of its laws. Citizenship means nothing if not the inclusion in a larger body of people subject to the same expectations. The kind of splintering that Williams advocates would mean the end of English unity.

Rowan Williams says Muslim citizens shouldn’t be torn between “the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty,” but by bending the country to meet the culture he’s addressing the problem too far downstream. Citizens should never have reached such a crossroads to begin with. It’s the fairly recent radicalization of European Islam that’s made British citizenship a cultural challenge for Muslims. It’s not the state’s job to further enable that shift, but rather to meet it with unapologetic severity.

Speaking of severity. There’s good reason for people to be concerned with the nature of shari’a, and not merely with its interpretation in “some Islamic countries.” The Independent reports that 17,000 women in Britain are victims of “honor violence” yearly. Now, would Ms. Messent and the Archbishop like to ease the pressure on the practitioners of this savagery? Or are “alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty” appropriately “stark”? Ms. Messent wrote that…

…the Archbishop is a man of peace. Only fools – a multitude of whom seemed up in arms this week – could interpret that suggestion as a return to medieval punishments. The outcry following his words, whipped up by idiots who hadn’t listened, was interesting.

Of the types of idiots one could be, I suppose interesting isn’t that bad.

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Re-branding Capitulation

The Dutch were arguably the first to harness the capital and military potential of the sea and establish a muscular free-trade empire; England followed, and then the U.S. In accordance with a simple timeline school of history the undoing of Dutch culture should proceed that of England or America. Sometimes history can be frighteningly simple.

Britain’s Daily Telegraph reports that Dutch Catholics have “re-branded” the Lent fast “Christian Ramadan.” Martin Van der Kuil, director of the Catholic charity Vastenaktie said, “The image of the Catholic Lent must be polished. The fact that we use a Muslim term is related to the fact that Ramadan is a better-known concept among young people than Lent.”

Meanwhile, the second great sea power lays the groundwork. The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has recommended that England formally adopt certain aspects of shari’a law to “help maintain social cohesion.”

Williams’ sentiment is echoed by Van der Kuil, who said of Lent and Ramadan: “The agreements are more striking than the differences. Both for Muslims and Catholic faithful the values of frugality and spirituality play a central role in this tradition.”

As this plays out, former Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was forced to flee the Netherlands under Islamist death threats, can’t find her way to the “social cohesion” of an interfaith Europe. She’s going from country-to-country in the hopes of convincing a government to protect her from would-be assassins. Hard to say what her chances are in Denmark, where police just arrested three men plotting to kill a cartoonist who drew a picture of the Prophet Mohammad.

The “re-branding” of Lent is really a re-defining of several things: Catholicism, European culture, and the fate of nations. “Re-branding” is one of those weaselly terms common to market-driven societies such as the Netherlands, Great Britain, and the U.S.. What’s really happening isn’t marketing, but product development: Anglican shari’a and Catholic Ramadan. When some version of this trend hits America, us savvy consumers should at least be able to call it by its name.

The Dutch were arguably the first to harness the capital and military potential of the sea and establish a muscular free-trade empire; England followed, and then the U.S. In accordance with a simple timeline school of history the undoing of Dutch culture should proceed that of England or America. Sometimes history can be frighteningly simple.

Britain’s Daily Telegraph reports that Dutch Catholics have “re-branded” the Lent fast “Christian Ramadan.” Martin Van der Kuil, director of the Catholic charity Vastenaktie said, “The image of the Catholic Lent must be polished. The fact that we use a Muslim term is related to the fact that Ramadan is a better-known concept among young people than Lent.”

Meanwhile, the second great sea power lays the groundwork. The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has recommended that England formally adopt certain aspects of shari’a law to “help maintain social cohesion.”

Williams’ sentiment is echoed by Van der Kuil, who said of Lent and Ramadan: “The agreements are more striking than the differences. Both for Muslims and Catholic faithful the values of frugality and spirituality play a central role in this tradition.”

As this plays out, former Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was forced to flee the Netherlands under Islamist death threats, can’t find her way to the “social cohesion” of an interfaith Europe. She’s going from country-to-country in the hopes of convincing a government to protect her from would-be assassins. Hard to say what her chances are in Denmark, where police just arrested three men plotting to kill a cartoonist who drew a picture of the Prophet Mohammad.

The “re-branding” of Lent is really a re-defining of several things: Catholicism, European culture, and the fate of nations. “Re-branding” is one of those weaselly terms common to market-driven societies such as the Netherlands, Great Britain, and the U.S.. What’s really happening isn’t marketing, but product development: Anglican shari’a and Catholic Ramadan. When some version of this trend hits America, us savvy consumers should at least be able to call it by its name.

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Shari’a in Britain

Yesterday, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, suggested that shari’a law apply in Britain in limited circumstances. In a BBC interview, he said that it is “a bit of danger” that “there’s one law for everybody and that’s all there is to be said.” So it would be okay if, for example, marital disputes or financial matters would be tried in an Islamic court. Williams argues “a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law” will help social cohesion. (He must have had this in mind.)

Whatever happened to the concept that one law applies to everyone? In the country that greatly contributed to the concept of the West’s legal principles, there is already precedent for separate law and tribunals. The Archbishop of Canterbury noted that Britain’s Jewish community has its religious courts, the Beth Din. What’s good for Jews, Dr. Williams argues, is also good for Muslims.

So shouldn’t each person have the right to choose his or her own legal system? In the contractual setting, parties can select their own law as well as designate the court that will hear any dispute. They may even decide on arbitration—in other words, private settlement largely outside the judicial system. Yet this is voluntary, as are cases in Britain’s Jewish tribunals. “There’s no compulsion,” says David Frei, the registrar of the London Beth Din. “We can’t drag people in off the streets.” Moreover, the Jewish courts hear only civil disputes, and then only within the strictures of British law. In essence, the Beth Din is a private arbitration organization.

The risk of applying shari’a is drawing—and enforcing—the line for adherents who seek no bounds. The BBC reports that Somalis living in Britain have their unofficial courts, or “gar,” which have, without legal justification, begun to handle criminal cases. Unfortunately, Britain’s Muslims are already growing apart from the rest of society, as the Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali, noted when he said last month that parts of England had become “no-go” areas for infidels. So the risk of introducing Muslim law is that it will, as a practical matter, become compulsory in Britain’s increasingly exclusionist and radical Islamic communities.

So I’m with the Sun, Britain’s tabloid. “It’s easy to dismiss Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams as a silly old goat,” the paper said today. “In fact he’s a dangerous threat to our nation.” And Western society as well.

Yesterday, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, suggested that shari’a law apply in Britain in limited circumstances. In a BBC interview, he said that it is “a bit of danger” that “there’s one law for everybody and that’s all there is to be said.” So it would be okay if, for example, marital disputes or financial matters would be tried in an Islamic court. Williams argues “a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law” will help social cohesion. (He must have had this in mind.)

Whatever happened to the concept that one law applies to everyone? In the country that greatly contributed to the concept of the West’s legal principles, there is already precedent for separate law and tribunals. The Archbishop of Canterbury noted that Britain’s Jewish community has its religious courts, the Beth Din. What’s good for Jews, Dr. Williams argues, is also good for Muslims.

So shouldn’t each person have the right to choose his or her own legal system? In the contractual setting, parties can select their own law as well as designate the court that will hear any dispute. They may even decide on arbitration—in other words, private settlement largely outside the judicial system. Yet this is voluntary, as are cases in Britain’s Jewish tribunals. “There’s no compulsion,” says David Frei, the registrar of the London Beth Din. “We can’t drag people in off the streets.” Moreover, the Jewish courts hear only civil disputes, and then only within the strictures of British law. In essence, the Beth Din is a private arbitration organization.

The risk of applying shari’a is drawing—and enforcing—the line for adherents who seek no bounds. The BBC reports that Somalis living in Britain have their unofficial courts, or “gar,” which have, without legal justification, begun to handle criminal cases. Unfortunately, Britain’s Muslims are already growing apart from the rest of society, as the Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali, noted when he said last month that parts of England had become “no-go” areas for infidels. So the risk of introducing Muslim law is that it will, as a practical matter, become compulsory in Britain’s increasingly exclusionist and radical Islamic communities.

So I’m with the Sun, Britain’s tabloid. “It’s easy to dismiss Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams as a silly old goat,” the paper said today. “In fact he’s a dangerous threat to our nation.” And Western society as well.

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Jihad’s Own Patriarch

On Wednesday, longtime jihad apologist Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch and Archbishop of Jerusalem, lashed out against Israel once again. The Jerusalem Post reports:

“If there’s a state of one religion, other religions are naturally discriminated against,” Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah told reporters at the annual press conference he holds in Jerusalem before the Christian holiday.

In his address, which he read in Arabic and English, Sabbah said Israel should abandon its Jewish character in favor of a “political, normal state for Christians, Muslims and Jews.” Sabbah’s rap sheet of anti-Semitism and Islamist sympathy is long and storied, and well worth reading. However, his recent claim itself demands rebuttal, lest people begin weighing in with the “he’s a bad guy, but . . .” canard.

It’s worth noting that the Patriarch himself is emissary of a state—the Vatican—the citizens of which are “subject to the sovereignty of the Holy See” as well as emissary to a state that’s declared Islam its official and sole religion. It’s this habitual blindness to contradiction that characterizes analyses of Israel, whether by interested or non-interested parties.

Israel is simply the most religiously plural state in the Middle East—by an enormous margin. Muslims and Christians have equal rights under Israeli law: they vote in elections; they hold elected positions; they enjoy religious freedoms; and so on. This is to say nothing of the humanitarian purpose served by Israel’s open-door policy for Jewish refugees.

In Egypt, Coptic Christians may be imprisoned for their beliefs. In Saudi Arabia, the practice of non-Muslim religions is illegal. In Jordan, Jews are denied citizenship. A true representative survey of the region’s discriminatory policies could fill a library, let alone a blog posting. When the head rabbi of Riyadh speaks up, perhaps the issue of Israel’s religiously exclusionary nature can be revisited.

On Wednesday, longtime jihad apologist Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch and Archbishop of Jerusalem, lashed out against Israel once again. The Jerusalem Post reports:

“If there’s a state of one religion, other religions are naturally discriminated against,” Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah told reporters at the annual press conference he holds in Jerusalem before the Christian holiday.

In his address, which he read in Arabic and English, Sabbah said Israel should abandon its Jewish character in favor of a “political, normal state for Christians, Muslims and Jews.” Sabbah’s rap sheet of anti-Semitism and Islamist sympathy is long and storied, and well worth reading. However, his recent claim itself demands rebuttal, lest people begin weighing in with the “he’s a bad guy, but . . .” canard.

It’s worth noting that the Patriarch himself is emissary of a state—the Vatican—the citizens of which are “subject to the sovereignty of the Holy See” as well as emissary to a state that’s declared Islam its official and sole religion. It’s this habitual blindness to contradiction that characterizes analyses of Israel, whether by interested or non-interested parties.

Israel is simply the most religiously plural state in the Middle East—by an enormous margin. Muslims and Christians have equal rights under Israeli law: they vote in elections; they hold elected positions; they enjoy religious freedoms; and so on. This is to say nothing of the humanitarian purpose served by Israel’s open-door policy for Jewish refugees.

In Egypt, Coptic Christians may be imprisoned for their beliefs. In Saudi Arabia, the practice of non-Muslim religions is illegal. In Jordan, Jews are denied citizenship. A true representative survey of the region’s discriminatory policies could fill a library, let alone a blog posting. When the head rabbi of Riyadh speaks up, perhaps the issue of Israel’s religiously exclusionary nature can be revisited.

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Fascism Old and New

As the jury and contestants entered the second round of Stuttgart’s triennial classical song competition last week, organized by the Internationale Hugo Wolf Akademie, idealistic young singers and pianists performed lieder by Robert Schumann and Wolf, often alluding optimistically to a better world. A brief break offered time for a stroll through one of Stuttgart’s parks, where high school girls jogged dispiritedly, sidestepping piles of horse dung. I walked to the Hegel-Haus, the birthplace of the philosopher G. W. F. Hegel. On display in the charmingly spare little house were letters from Hegel’s friends, stressing the importance of freedom: “Vive la liberté” writes one, while another quotes Klopstock, an 18th century German poet who cheered the American Revolution.

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As the jury and contestants entered the second round of Stuttgart’s triennial classical song competition last week, organized by the Internationale Hugo Wolf Akademie, idealistic young singers and pianists performed lieder by Robert Schumann and Wolf, often alluding optimistically to a better world. A brief break offered time for a stroll through one of Stuttgart’s parks, where high school girls jogged dispiritedly, sidestepping piles of horse dung. I walked to the Hegel-Haus, the birthplace of the philosopher G. W. F. Hegel. On display in the charmingly spare little house were letters from Hegel’s friends, stressing the importance of freedom: “Vive la liberté” writes one, while another quotes Klopstock, an 18th century German poet who cheered the American Revolution.

Such echoes of the so-called German Idealism movement are all the more timely as the current talk of the town is about Cardinal Joachim Meisner, Archbishop of Cologne, who on September 14th made a speech at the opening of a new art museum in which he stated: “Wherever culture is separated from the worship of God, cult atrophies into ritualism and art becomes degenerate.” The word “degenerate” inevitably hearkens back to Nazi-era jargon, as local newspapers were quick to point out; the Nazi’s notorious 1937 Munich “Degenerate Art” exhibit was intended to ridicule modernist paintings. Meisner’s statement was followed by a backlash of articles defending the Cardinal from “Meisner-Bashing” by the so-called “word-police” This vehement support was to be expected, since Meisner controls a vast empire of real estate and church-owned media, stoked by the highest annual donation rate in Germany, estimated at around 680 million euros per annum. In 2005, Meisner asserted that women who have an abortion are comparable to mass killers like Hitler and Stalin. Stephan Kramer, General Secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, noted that Meisner repeatedly “misuses language as a taboo-breaker. If that sets an example, we should not be surprised if Nazi beliefs become respectable again.”

Meanwhile, in between sessions of idealistic song, equal concern is devoted to the Swiss national elections scheduled for October 21, where the front-runner is a billionaire named Christoph Blocher, Switzerland’s current Justice Minister. Blocher’s campaign, featuring a poster of a black sheep kicked off the Swiss flag by three white sheep under the caption: “For More Security,” has been called fascist, racist, and perhaps worst of all, “un-Swiss.” Blocher’s wealth has also bought him a TV program during which servile interviewers, likened to East German broadcasters in the old Communist days, ask him adoring questions. While Europe ponders these reminders of oppression old and new, it is particularly useful to focus on the optimistic message of an international gathering like the Wolf Akademie’s lieder contest, where the sheep are dismissed only if they hit wrong notes, not if the color of their wool offends.

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Mugabe Takes a Bishop

Last week, the boldest and most outspoken advocate for liberty in Zimbabwe—Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, the country’s second largest city—resigned his position because of a sex scandal. This summer, after speaking out against the Mugabe regime, Ncube incurred the dictator’s wrath; state newspaper and television stations propagated photos of Ncube with a married woman, whose husband has since filed an adultery charge against the Archbishop. As Ncube made the painful decision to step down, he nonetheless denounced the “crude machinations of a wicked regime.”

But earlier this week, seemingly hopeful news emerged from Zimbabwe, in the form of a tentative political agreement between Mugabe’s long-ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. The details are sketchy at this point, but they indicate an agreement on the preconditions for free and fair elections to be held next year. Predictably, the government of South African President Thabo Mbeki, who had been tasked by the Southern African Development Community, a regional group, with bringing the parties together, applauded the breakthrough as progress toward “a lasting settlement.”

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Last week, the boldest and most outspoken advocate for liberty in Zimbabwe—Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, the country’s second largest city—resigned his position because of a sex scandal. This summer, after speaking out against the Mugabe regime, Ncube incurred the dictator’s wrath; state newspaper and television stations propagated photos of Ncube with a married woman, whose husband has since filed an adultery charge against the Archbishop. As Ncube made the painful decision to step down, he nonetheless denounced the “crude machinations of a wicked regime.”

But earlier this week, seemingly hopeful news emerged from Zimbabwe, in the form of a tentative political agreement between Mugabe’s long-ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. The details are sketchy at this point, but they indicate an agreement on the preconditions for free and fair elections to be held next year. Predictably, the government of South African President Thabo Mbeki, who had been tasked by the Southern African Development Community, a regional group, with bringing the parties together, applauded the breakthrough as progress toward “a lasting settlement.”

While it is always tempting to welcome positive news like this in Zimbabwe, good tidings usually prove elusive. The bare fact is that Robert Mugabe will never cede power. He is a totalitarian through and through, and will kill as many people—through slow starvation (as he has been doing for the past several years) or outright murder—as necessary to stay in charge. If, as in 2000, 2002, and 2005, it appears that ZANU-PF will lose at the polls, Mugabe will simply rig the vote, expel poll watchers, imprison and torture domestic opponents, and curse the West. He has done this every time even the slightest threat to his power emerged, and the world community has allowed him to get away with it for the past 27 years. While these recent negotiations may seem fruitful, the only way Zimbabwe will ever see freedom is through regime change and a subsequent, thorough de-Mugabification process.

With America’s attentions focused on the situation in Iraq, it is all too easy to forget that friends of freedom struggle in many other places across the globe, particularly in Zimbabwe. Even in the midst of this “scandal,” Pius Ncube—one of the more remarkable figures of our time—stands as testament that even in the most dire of conditions courage perseveres.

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Hello, Dalai!

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the new face of Western resolve, will meet with the Dalai Lama this Sunday. In a move obviously intended to further rile Beijing, Germany’s leader will receive His Holiness in the German chancellery.

China immediately summoned Berlin’s ambassador to complain. Chinese diplomats are busy these days because this week they also objected to the Tibetan’s upcoming visit with Canada’s Stephen Harper, scheduled for next month. The Canadian prime minister also went out of his way to poke the Chinese in the eye by announcing that he too would receive the Nobel laureate in a government facility (the Dalai Lama’s last meeting with a Canadian leader, which took place in 2004, was a five-minute affair in the residence of the Roman Catholic archbishop in Ottawa).

China’s dominant Han ethnic group has struggled to control the Tibetans for centuries, but the Chinese Communist Party has opened an especially ugly chapter in this history by trying to suppress—and even eliminate—Tibetan folklore and customs. Many call Beijing’s “modernization” efforts “cultural genocide.” China’s current supremo, Hu Jintao, should be able to shed some light on this. After all, as Party secretary for Tibet he presided over a crackdown that led to the deaths of dozens and perhaps hundreds of citizens in 1989. Many believe he was chosen to be China’s leader precisely because of his brutal repression of the Tibetans.

President Bush, to his credit, has hosted the Dalai Lama. That, however, was the old Dubya. The exhausted president we see today has been reduced to throwing South Lawn events for Chinese authoritarians, denigrating Taiwanese democrats, and helping Beijing repress its Muslims. We know that something must be terribly wrong when a Canadian leader appears more inspiring than ours.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the new face of Western resolve, will meet with the Dalai Lama this Sunday. In a move obviously intended to further rile Beijing, Germany’s leader will receive His Holiness in the German chancellery.

China immediately summoned Berlin’s ambassador to complain. Chinese diplomats are busy these days because this week they also objected to the Tibetan’s upcoming visit with Canada’s Stephen Harper, scheduled for next month. The Canadian prime minister also went out of his way to poke the Chinese in the eye by announcing that he too would receive the Nobel laureate in a government facility (the Dalai Lama’s last meeting with a Canadian leader, which took place in 2004, was a five-minute affair in the residence of the Roman Catholic archbishop in Ottawa).

China’s dominant Han ethnic group has struggled to control the Tibetans for centuries, but the Chinese Communist Party has opened an especially ugly chapter in this history by trying to suppress—and even eliminate—Tibetan folklore and customs. Many call Beijing’s “modernization” efforts “cultural genocide.” China’s current supremo, Hu Jintao, should be able to shed some light on this. After all, as Party secretary for Tibet he presided over a crackdown that led to the deaths of dozens and perhaps hundreds of citizens in 1989. Many believe he was chosen to be China’s leader precisely because of his brutal repression of the Tibetans.

President Bush, to his credit, has hosted the Dalai Lama. That, however, was the old Dubya. The exhausted president we see today has been reduced to throwing South Lawn events for Chinese authoritarians, denigrating Taiwanese democrats, and helping Beijing repress its Muslims. We know that something must be terribly wrong when a Canadian leader appears more inspiring than ours.

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Is It Any Wonder?

The new Seven Wonders of the World, which were announced last week with great fanfare in Lisbon, are a droll affair. Two are from pre-Columbian America (the citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru and the temples of Chichén Itzá, Mexico), two from Asia (the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China), and one from the Middle East (the rock tombs of Petra, Jordan). The modern world comes up rather short (the mountaintop statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro), as does European civilization in general (represented only by the Coliseum in Rome). Is this list something to take seriously? Does its comprehensive global sweep give it an authority that the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—mostly huddled around the Mediterranean—lacked?

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The new Seven Wonders of the World, which were announced last week with great fanfare in Lisbon, are a droll affair. Two are from pre-Columbian America (the citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru and the temples of Chichén Itzá, Mexico), two from Asia (the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China), and one from the Middle East (the rock tombs of Petra, Jordan). The modern world comes up rather short (the mountaintop statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro), as does European civilization in general (represented only by the Coliseum in Rome). Is this list something to take seriously? Does its comprehensive global sweep give it an authority that the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—mostly huddled around the Mediterranean—lacked?

The new list was created by the New7Wonders Foundation, whose own website proclaims—and without apparent irony—that it “was created in 2001 by Swiss adventurer Bernard Weber.” Weber has certainly been enterprising. Rather than forming a panel of experts, he allowed the public to vote for its favorite monuments. It is no surprise, then, that countries with large populations (China, Brazil, and India) dominate the list, and that monuments without constituencies (one thinks of the Stone Heads of Easter Island) do not figure. How Weber tabulated the votes, or what measures he took to prevent multiple voting, is unclear. The Vatican has speculated, according to the (London) Times, about the systematic exclusion of Christian monuments. As the Times reported,

Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, who heads the Vatican’s pontifical commission for culture and archeology, said that the exclusion of Christian works of art such as Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel was “surprising, inexplicable, even suspicious.”

One can no more quarrel with such a list than with television ratings. Still, as a thought exercise, one might speculate as to how a contemporary list of wonders might be drawn up—one not dependent on the erratic wisdom of the internet electorate. For one thing, one might turn for guidance to the original Seven Wonders. Several were noteworthy for their bold engineering, such as the Lighthouse of Alexandria and the Colossus of Rhodes, which showed their cultures building to the limits of their structural acumen. A contemporary list might recognize structures of similar engineering audacity. Three obvious candidates would be the Panama Canal, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Channel Tunnel between Britain and France. One might also note that landscape art was represented by the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Would it be too chauvinistic to suggest Yosemite National Park as a wonder, one shaped and organized by human intervention?

Whether or not the Vatican is correct about bias, the list certainly ignores one of the wonders of western civilization, the poetic shaping of interior space. Weber’s list of wonders consists of photogenic exteriors—which look good on computer screens, unlike architectural interiors, which need to be experienced. The organized spatial poetry achieved in such buildings as Hagia Sophia, Istanbul; St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome; and Cologne Cathedral is indeed a wonder, and one or more of these monuments certainly belong on such a list. After all, one of the principal reasons for having such a list is educational.

In the end, the new Seven Wonders of the World have less to do with Herodotus than with David Wallechinsky, whose bestselling Book of Lists (1977) ranked the “worst places to hitchhike” or “people suspected of being Jack the Ripper.” Weber’s new list is at best a bit of harmless conversation fodder—although nowhere near as diverting as Wallechinsky’s “famous people who died during sex.”

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Israel and the German Bishops

“In the morning at Yad Vashem, photos of the inhuman Warsaw Ghetto; in the afternoon, we go to the ghetto in Ramallah. It’s enough to make you blow your top.” This outburst in Bethlehem by Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke of Eichstätt was only one of several provocative comments made during a much-heralded pilgrimage to Israel and the Palestinian terroritories by all 27 German Catholic bishops last week.

The Bishop of Augsburg, Walter Mixa, accused the Israelis of “racism,” while the most senior member of the delegation, the Cardinal Archbishop of Cologne, Joachim Meisner, compared Israel’s security fence to the Berlin Wall and predicted that it, too, would be torn down. “This is something that is done to animals, not people,” Cardinal Meisner declared.

While in Israel, the bishops were given VIP treatment by Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres and other senior officials. At the Yad Vashem memorial, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the chairman of the Bishops’ Conference, gave a respectful speech. But the tone changed dramatically after the bishops left Israel and entered Palestinian-controlled territory.

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“In the morning at Yad Vashem, photos of the inhuman Warsaw Ghetto; in the afternoon, we go to the ghetto in Ramallah. It’s enough to make you blow your top.” This outburst in Bethlehem by Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke of Eichstätt was only one of several provocative comments made during a much-heralded pilgrimage to Israel and the Palestinian terroritories by all 27 German Catholic bishops last week.

The Bishop of Augsburg, Walter Mixa, accused the Israelis of “racism,” while the most senior member of the delegation, the Cardinal Archbishop of Cologne, Joachim Meisner, compared Israel’s security fence to the Berlin Wall and predicted that it, too, would be torn down. “This is something that is done to animals, not people,” Cardinal Meisner declared.

While in Israel, the bishops were given VIP treatment by Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres and other senior officials. At the Yad Vashem memorial, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the chairman of the Bishops’ Conference, gave a respectful speech. But the tone changed dramatically after the bishops left Israel and entered Palestinian-controlled territory.

Despite sharp reactions from Shimon Stein, the Israeli ambassador to Germany, and from German Jewish leaders (described by the Iranian news agency as “German Zionist lobbyists”), the bishops seem unrepentant. They issued a statement vehemently denying that they had “demonized” Israel, adding that the “emotional consternation” of their visit to Bethlehem had evoked some “very personal remarks” that had already been “self-critically corrected.” In fact, however, Bishop Hanke merely said that “comparisons between the Holocaust and the present situation in Palestine are unacceptable and were not intended.” Neither he nor Cardinal Meisner and Bishop Mixa offered any apology.

I do not know what to make of this lamentable tale. Do the German bishops really need to be reminded of the collaboration with the Nazis of many of their predecessors during the Third Reich? Do they need to be reminded of what the Germans actually did in the Warsaw Ghetto? Does an East German like Cardinal Meisner need to be reminded of the difference between the Berlin Wall, built to stop people fleeing from Communist tyranny, and Israel’s fence, built to protect its people from Palestinian terrorists? Do the German bishops still know so little of the tragic struggle for survival of the Jewish people that they need to be reminded of their own unique responsibility, as Germans and as Christians, to counter the revival of anti-Semitism in Europe?

I hope that Pope Benedict XVI will summon the offending bishops to Rome and discipline them. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he encouraged John Paul II to make unprecedented gestures toward the Jewish people and the state of Israel. As the first German pope for a thousand years, he declared his intention to continue to lead the Church down the path of reconciliation. As a man who knows the Third Reich from personal experience—he was a member of the Hitler Youth and served in an anti-aircraft unit during the last months of the war—Pope Benedict has a special duty to distance the Catholic Church from comparisons between Israel and the Nazis. Such comparisons, though commonplace in the Islamic world, are not a Muslim monopoly.

This incident has a particular resonance for me, as a philo-Semitic Catholic, a friend both of Israel and of Germany. Quite simply, I feel ashamed of these bishops. Nobody wants the Germans to be perpetually beating their breasts to atone for the crimes of the Nazis. Like anybody else, they are entitled to criticize the Israeli government. After all, Israelis themselves criticize their own government all the time. But I am angry that German bishops, of all people, should come out with extremist propaganda that delegitimizes Israel, a state that is threatened with a second Holocaust at the hands of a nuclear-armed Iran.

These campaigns of vilification against Israel have done terrible harm. A new BBC poll conducted in 27 countries finds that Israel has the most negative image of all, ahead of Iran, the United States, and North Korea. This grotesque attitude to the beleaguered Jewish state is fuelled by comments like those of the German bishops, and reinforced by their failure to apologize.

In medieval times, Christians knew how to do penance for their sins. The German Emperor Henry IV went to Canossa, in Tuscany, to beg Pope Gregory VII to lift a sentence of excommunication. The monarch stood in the snow outside the castle for three days, wearing only a hairshirt, before the pope forgave him.

To repair the damage they have done to German-Israeli and Catholic-Jewish relations, these three German bishops must make their own journey to Canossa. They don’t have to wear hairshirts, but they do need to show that they have grasped the magnitude of their folly. They owe that much to the younger generation of Germans—some of whom last week destroyed a medieval Jewish cemetery in Bavaria.

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