MOCKERY OF ISLAM CANNOT BE FORBIDDEN

By | Islam, Opinion pieces for the press, Religion | No Comments

  Last Monday, British journalist and broadcaster Douglas Murray, author of the satirical pamphlet Islamophilia, blogged that far from being something that should be frowned upon, mockery of Islam is a much needed antidote to its excessive severity and overweening claims to be taken seriously. He has a point that merits, dare I say it, serious thought. His remark was all the more notable because it was made in response to the assertion by Mohammed Shafiq that ‘our faith is not to be mocked’. Shafiq heads a body called the Ramadhan Foundation, in Manchester, has spoken out against extremism and…

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WE MUST CHAMPION APOSTASY FROM ISLAM

By | Islam, Opinion pieces for the press, Religion, Terrorism | No Comments

  About six weeks ago, in a televised address during Ramadan, the leading Muslim cleric in Egypt, Ahmed al-Tayeb, Grand Imam of al-Azhar University in Cairo, who is hailed as one of the leading ‘moderate’ teachers in the Islamic world, denounced apostasy from Islam as ‘grand treason’. He stated categorically: ‘Those learned in Islam and the imams of the four schools of jurisprudence consider apostasy a crime and agree that the apostate must either renounce his apostasy or else be killed.’ This prominent cleric has been a critic of ISIS, of Salafist radicals and of the Muslim Brotherhood. He was…

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VOLTAIRE WOULD HAVE BEEN HOUNDED FOR HIS MAHOMET

By | Islam, Opinion pieces for the press, Religion, Terrorism | No Comments

On 23 July, Waleed Aly will be presented with the Voltaire Award for free speech from Liberty Victoria. It would be rather charming were he to give a speech on that occasion reflecting on Voltaire’s play Mahomet, which depicted Islam as based on false miracles, personal ambition and ruthless fanaticism. Aly has for some time been the go to person for commentary on Islam and avoiding what is widely dubbed ‘Islamophobia’. It is safe to say he does not share Voltaire’s assessment of Islam. Yet Voltaire remains a figure for our time and free speech on the subject of Islam…

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KARL POPPER AND THE PRE-SOCRATICS

By | Critical Essays, History, Philosophy, Religion | No Comments

  If I was asked to teach an undergraduate course on Rationality 101, I would begin by introducing the students to the work of Karl Popper; especially Conjectures and Refutations, Objective Knowledge and The Open Society and Its Enemies. Indeed, a good case could be made for having such a course consist entirely of acquainting undergraduates with the arguments in these three books and inducing them to think hard about them. Between them they cover principles vital to both natural and social science. When I took first year philosophy, almost forty years ago, no such course was on offer. I…

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GOING CLEAR IS ALL ABOUT CIVIL LIBERTIES

By | Opinion pieces for the press, Religion | No Comments

If you are thinking about religion, social order and deradicalisation, you must see the new Alex Gibney documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. If you’re not thinking about them, you’re living in a cocoon. Based on Lawrence Wright’s book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief (2013), the film is a remarkably measured and candid expose. But its importance goes way beyond Scientology. It addresses the general susceptibility of human beings to manipulation, the role of religion in society and the complexities associated with the civil liberties enshrined, in the case of the United States,…

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IT’S NOT A REFORMATION ISLAM NEEDS, BUT AN ENLIGHTENMENT

By | Islam, Opinion pieces for the press, Religion, Terrorism | No Comments

ISIS has just taken Ramadi and is close to the ancient ruin of Palmyra. While Western leaders persist in denying that ISIS is Islamic, everybody should be reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s newly published manifesto, Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now (Fourth Estate, 2015). It is a clarion call we all need to hear and heed. Her argument that Islam needs a Reformation – on the model of the 16th century Reformation in Europe – is problematic. She is actually calling for an Enlightenment to descend upon Islam. But she has what might be called a genuine moral compass. Her…

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GENOCIDE BY ANY OTHER NAME

By | History, Human Rights, Opinion pieces for the press, Religion, Turkey | No Comments

  One of the strangest holdovers from the disasters of the 20th century is the refusal of the Turkish government to acknowledge the genocides of Armenians and Assyrians that were perpetrated under the Young Turks a century ago this year. Many governments, including our own, hesitate to call a spade a spade for fear of offending the Turkish government, but the Pope has recently called Turkey on the matter. At the very least, as Eugene Rogan observes in his newly published study The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East 1914-1920 (Allen Lane 2015), massive killing…

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GIVE US GOOD CHOICES, NOT FEARFUL BANS

By | Human Rights, Opinion pieces for the press, Religion, Science | No Comments

In May this year, in these pages, Peter Short wrote a forthright opinion piece declaring that he was dying of oesophageal cancer, had a supply of Nembutal and would end his own life at a time of his choosing. In January this year, his doctors gave him six months to live. He is still very much alive and is campaigning vigorously for the passage of legislation that would make it easier for people to do what he declares he will do: choose the manner and timing of their own deaths over medically protracted indignity and suffering. I am writing to…

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ISLAMOPHOBIA AND FREEDOM OF SPEECH

By | Islam, Opinion pieces for the press, Religion | No Comments

“Have not the Islamophobes already won the day when a person dare not speak on controversial matters because he is Muslim?” asked Simon Longstaff on Twitter  last week. That was a very strange rhetorical question in the circumstances. He was commenting on the fact that Uthman Badar, spokesman for the radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, had had his invitation withdrawn to speak at the Sydney Opera House on the proposition that of “honour killings are morally justified.” Is Longstaff serious? Does he really believe that this is a debate worth having? Does he really believe that horror at so-called “honour…

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THE INFERNAL PUZZLE OF ANTI-SEMITISM

By | Critical Essays, History, Religion, Western Civilisation | No Comments

  I have always found anti-Semitism perplexing. I associate Jewishness with a religion that doesn’t pester anyone; an intellectual culture that produces a disproportionate number of Nobel Laureates, comedians, musicians, philosophers, economists, novelists and philanthropists; and, perhaps not least, an outsider status with which, as an intellectual, I identify. When I was a young man, I knew only one set of anti-Semites: Hungarian immigrants, who had come to Australia after the Second World War and the Communist takeover in Eastern Europe. They were neighbours and members of the Catholic parish in which I grew up. They were fine people in…

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