Monday, February 13, 2006

The harmony of civilisations

From the BBC:

About 5,000 UK mainstream Muslims joined a protest in London's Trafalgar Square against controversial cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad.

There had been fears the rally may have been disrupted by extremists, but it proved to be a trouble-free afternoon.

Protesters waved banners calling for unity against Islamophobia.

The event aimed to explain the views of moderate Muslims towards cartoons published in a Danish newspaper which led to worldwide protests.

Organisers also said it wanted to dissociate the mainstream Muslim community from a "minority of extremists".

Earlier, organiser Anas Altikriti, of the Muslim Association of Britain, said he was confident the demonstration would not be taken over by extremists, adding that only the official slogan - United against incitement and united against Islamophobia - would appear on their T-shirts and placards.


Doctor Azam Tamimi, who is the director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought, said before the rally he believed it would be peaceful.

"The main purpose of the rally today is to object to what has been going on in a civilised manner.

"We have the right to be angry, but we have to do it within the remits of the law, and we have to respect the rights of others," he said.

This was a peaceful British protest by peaceful Britons who happen to be Muslim, and was of immeasurable importance.

The people who want to instigate a clash between Muslims and non-Muslims in Europe are the likes of Nick Griffin of the BNP, and Osama bin Laden.

Both of these extremists wish to portray Islam and Western values as being fundamentally opposed. It is vital that the moderate majority continues to actively demonstrate that they are wrong.

It is also incumbent on mainstream media to put the views of the extremists in their proper perspective – a small band of evil people whose actions not only threaten the general public through their own acts of violence, but by turning public opinion against a minority group, could take us down the same road that the Germans followed in the 1930s.

We must not fall into the anti-Islamic trap.


martpol said...

Quite right. I dislike the supposed contrast that is referred to, even in the most respectable media outlets, between "Western" culture and Muslims, which appears to reject the notion that one can be both Western and Muslim. It's an over-convenient comparison that is ripe for exploitation by both extremist camps you mention.

Brit said...

If you never left your house and read only American blogs and conservative newspapers, you would soon get the impression that Europe is under threat of intifada from an army of enraged Muslims.

I don't know for sure how this poisonous nonsense started, but I can have a good guess:

1) American bloggers love analysing and critising Europe, and above all predicting its imminent 'decline' (whatever that actually means). Mostly this helps them to avoid analysing and criticising America's problems. They prefer to believe there are no problems, and that America is the benchmark on every issue, and has nothing at all to learn from the rest of the world.

2) Since 9/11, Americans have got very scared of Muslims.

Put the two isn't rocket science.

A good example was the recent Paris riots. Americans thought this was the start of the great Muslim intifada, when in fact it was about unemployment.

Oroborous said...

A good example was the recent Paris riots [...] about unemployment.

Yes ?
And why are French Muslims so underemployed that rioting for WEEKS seems like a good idea ?

Is it possible that Muslim unemployment in France is symptomatic of a larger problem ?

America has had many race riots in the 20th century, some as recently as the 90s, and none of them were about whatever sparked them off.

[Americans] love analysing and critising Europe, and above all predicting its imminent 'decline' (whatever that actually means).

France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Poland, at a minimum, are going to have flat or shrinking economies throughout most of the first half of the 21st century, coupled with aged populations and weak conventional militaries, which will lead to a reduced influence on the world stage.
Meanwhile, the national debts of each nation will be rocketing upwards, and there will be much higher rates of inflation than there are now.

Those aren't solely American predictions, by the way, as the governments of at least France, Germany, and Italy have come to the same conclusions.

That seems like "decline" to me.

They prefer to believe [...] that America is the benchmark on every issue...

Speaking only for myself, not every issue; just MOST.

But you guys lead the way on school choice, banning smoking, national ID cards, and electronic tracking of vehicles, or so I've read.

Peter Burnet said...

Whoa, Brit. You get full points for your humanity, but the jibes at the Cousins are a little out of line. Diverting attention from problems in America? Sorry, but they never seem to stop talkng about them and never hide them. What other country can you think of that would turn oral sex or a minor hunting accident into a constitutional crisis?

About a year ago I was on a prominent and quite popular British site and saw some very, very vile opinions about Muslims and how they should be sent back, etc. I intervened with pretty much the same arguments as you have been making of late, including direct references to my own experiences. Boy, was I swarmed. Right down to: "You Canadians don't understand the real world like we Brits do". Now, where have I heard that before? It was ugly, ugly, ugly.

It is fair comment to note that our American friends are prone to see issues in moralistic "right vs. wrong" terms that don't always sit well with their more pragmatic Anglospheric buddies. That's fodder for a million posts. But they usually seem to manage to find their way to the right answer. I think a Muslim in America might take issue with you that being a Muslim in Britain is any more welcoming.

The whole reason I'm in this game is because of disgust with my country's craven reactions to 9/11, Durban, etc. All credit to Blair, but in terms of public opinion, Americans sure understood things we didn't. I'm with you on this one, pal, but I would like to quote a brief discussion I had with the British Air Force attache to Ottawa. We were visiting common friends in Brooklyn and he and I were on a traditional Brooklyn Street looking at all the flags and bunting put up by these crazy, lovable, fractious, multicultural Brooklyners:

Me: "Where would we be without them"?

He: "Alone".

Hey Skipper said...


Of course (and speaking as an experienced Anglophile, and someone who has never had an unpleasant personal experience with a Muslim) the problem isn't in Britain or, for the most part, Europe.

The odd knifed to death film director, or Ducth MP living under death threats notwithstanding.

All the riots making news are in heavily Muslim countries, where the populace was stirred up by those looking to foment violence (and aided, at least in come cases, by fake cartoons that were truly insulting).

I'll bet the only reason for this cartoon kerfuffle is through the determined efforts of some Islamists to make it so. To the extent they deserved opprobrium, the demonstration you discussed was precisely correct, as would have been, say, a boycott of Danish products.

Take that, Bang & Olufsen.

And no, I'm not trying to transplant a discussion from elsewhere to here.

It just seems odd, at times, that the conversation has revolved around cartoons, rather than the movitations of the groups who fomented riots.

Brit said...


My little explosion above - admittedly rather OTT - wasn't directed at our Cousins as a whole, whom I love dearly, but at certain American bloggers, particularly the more, shall we say, strident commenters on BrosJudd, of whose unpleasant, verging-on-white-supremacist views I've wasted far too much of my recent time reading.

Brit said...


Your comments are reasonable. But I'm a little tired of the endlessly repeated "European decline" mantra.

People have stopped questioning it, but it needs examining.

For a start, it's pure pessimism. The whole 'ageing population' thing for example, shows a lack of imagination. Too many commentors assume that nations won't find ways to adapt to economic or demographic change, most obviously by finding employment for older people, but they surely will.

Maybe Britain might turn out to be better at adapting than France because of general attitudes to work and retirement, but 'oblivion' is such tiresome hyperbole.


You're right about all that. But even in the heavily Muslim countries, the riots are not as spontaneous as most of us think.

Hey Skipper said...


Per your comments about Europe facing a demographic crisis.

Italy is apparently Exhibit A. However, as it turns out their crisis could be greatly forestalled, if not eliminated entirely, by the simple expedient of increasing the retirement age from 50 to 60.

The problem will have to get worse before enough people take the obvious on board, but there is absolutely no other impediment to that change.

Russia, on the other hand ...

Peter Burnet said...

I vote we all chip in to give Brit a well-deserved vacation full of frolic and whimsy so he can re-charge his ideological batteries.

Hey, Brit, have you ever been to Hanover, New Hampshire?

Hey Skipper said...


I've been there -- I spent part of a summer visiting a friend at Dartmouth.

Brit said...


Wrong time zone.

Obvious, but I couldn't resist it...

Bless you for the sentiment though.

Oroborous said...

Sure, the problems will/would be less severe if people work well past their expected retirement date.

However, few people are willing to do that, regardless of what the consequences might be.

There have been massive protests recently in France and Germany over that, and in the 90s in the U.S. over a similar proposal.

Further, President Bush just got nowhere at all proposing to overhaul a pension system that we KNOW, beyond any shadow of a doubt, is going to fail.

People will do what they eventually must, to get by, but that's not the same as a robust economy or society.

I do agree that the argument that Europe is facing "oblivion" is vastly overstated, even with regards to Russia.

Just... Less prosperous, more withdrawn, more stagnant in spirit.


Raising the retirement age in Italy, (maybe to America's current 68), would definitely be helpful to them, but you can't outrun the effects of a fertility rate of 1 forever.

Hey Skipper said...


With respect to one aspect of the problem -- old-age pensions, it doesn't have to.

The demographic bulge will eventually pass away, meaning that problem will too.

There are obviously other problems that will remain, but unlike Russia, Italian women could, at least in theory, decide at any moment to become as fertile as Iowa farmfields in the spring.

Many Russian women do not have that choice.

(I have squirreled away a study on that for posting, so I'm not giving any more away.)

Oroborous said...

While I understand from an intellectual viewpoint the decision not to have children, I cannot grok the emotional state required.

My parents had six children, they already have nineteen grandchildren, and I'll be surprised if they don't end up with at least twenty-five.

A big house, fancy car, and memories of Mediterranean vacations won't provide much comfort to the elderly.

martpol said...

Would it be wide of the mark to suggest that in fact it's the US, with its staggeringly large rich-favouring tax cuts and eroded welfare system, which faces some sort of imminent social implosion?

Oroborous said...



You'd have to define "eroded" for me to fully grasp what you think is occurring, but currently almost everyone gets any medical care that they need, nobody is starving in the streets, and education is still free.

The bottom 50% of American wage-earners pay 4% of all income taxes collected, the top 10% pay 40%, and we don't have a VAT.
We can argue over whether the American tax cuts of the past five years have benefitted the rich disproportionately, but a simple fact is that it's hard to cut someone's taxes if they aren't paying any.

There are specific areas of discontent, but no general malaise.

martpol said...


I'm referring rather generally to the rich-poor gap, which I sometimes read about in articles like this, and particularly statistics like:

"While 45.8 million Americans lack any health insurance, the top 20 per cent of earners take over half the national income. At the same time the bottom 20 per cent took home just 3.4 per cent."

But I don't claim to be an expert.

Oroborous said...


The U.S. does indeed have a very great gap between the rich and the poor, but that might not be the best way to analyze American society.

In the first place, the gap isn't so wide because the poor are so very poor, it's because the rich are so very rich.

For instance, one can be seen as "poor" in the U.S., but still:

* Reside in one's own apartment of several hundred square feet or more per family or even individual, with heat and air conditioning, stove and refrigerator, hot and cold running water, and indoor toilet - there are even "poor" people who own their own homes;

* Own an automobile used exclusively by one person or family;

* Own a radio, CD player with music library, DVD player or VCR with video library, and/or television with cable service;

* Have medical insurance, provided by employer or the state;

* Have access to enough or far more than enough food

In other words, what a good chunk of humanity would consider "rich", and most would consider "middle class", can be "poor" in America.

Further, it's not as though there's a huge number of people barely getting by, and a small number of unimaginably rich people.
There are, for instance, one million U.S. households worth a million dollars or more, or roughly 1% of ALL households.

65% of U.S. households own their own home.

Prosperity in America is very widespread.
There's simply no great social movement to correct any supposed disparities in well-being among Americans - no upheaval is imminent.
(Although there will be a big struggle over gov't pensions over the next two decades, starting no later than five years from now).

Brit said...

Re the Observer story Martpol links to:

'Candy Lumpkins' - heh heh, what a name.

On a less childish note, inequality per se isn't a cause of social unrest. It needs to be combined with:

1) the feeling that the wealth owned by the few is unearned
2) the feeling that you personally have no opportunity of making your own vast wealth or at least advancing up the ladder

Both of these are largely absent in America, in a way that they were not in say, pre-Revolution Russia.

What socialists generally fail to grasp is that equality is neither possible nor desirable if humans are to live happily. Sad but true, except it's not really that sad. People like succeeding.

Oroborous said...

The Observer article is a load of rubbish. Many of the facts are correct, but they're incorrectly interpreted.

I will slowly debunk the article, over several comments.

First, health care.

In America, we have a problem with health care: Not everyone gets all of the care that they should.

However, as I will demonstrate, that problem is much smaller than many believe, and, the American healthcare system has unique strengths, as well, which make it in many respects better than the universal systems of Canada and the UK, for instance.

Because Americans don't have a universal system, people must provide their own means of receiving health care. This also means that anyone can opt NOT to make provisions, which is the first point to make about those "46 million" Americans without health care: Many of them choose not to have health care.

Over a quarter of those without health insurance make $ 50,000 or more a year, which is nearly DOUBLE the mean wage of Americans. Clearly, they could afford to carry health insurance - they just don't want to.
Young single healthy males often don't see any point in paying what can be a pretty steep monthly fee to have access to coverage that they never use, and of course they assume that they'll never be involved in a serious accident, or suffer from serious illness.

Another large group are those who switch jobs.
In America, during WW II, there was a wage freeze in effect. Because businesses couldn't offer higher wages to attract scarce labor, many started offering better benefits, such as health insurance. For various political reasons, that system is still the predominant one, and most Americans have health insurance through plans sponsored by their employers.
However, there is often a waiting period of up to a year before new employees can sign up for their company's health plan, and so many people who switch jobs are without coverage for up to a year.
While there is a Congressionally-mandated system which allows people to continue to participate in their old employer's health plan for up to 18 months, the premiums go up significantly, and so many people opt not to continue coverage.
Therefore, many of the "46 million" are only temporarily without health coverage, with six months apparently being the average gap in coverage.

Further, some people who are officially "without health insurance" qualify for Medicaid, but they haven't filled out the paperwork to be officially enrolled.
However, they can do so at any time, including in emergency rooms while waiting for treatment, or while being treated.

Which brings us to a final point: All Americans have a very basic coverage, in that any emergency room MUST treat anyone who presents themselves for treatment, regardless of insurance status.
While this leads to people clogging emergency rooms to get treatment for ailments which should, under ideal circumstances, be treated in a more efficient and less costly manner, such as a scheduled visit to a non-trauma facility, it does provide a safety net for all.
Additionally, in most major cities there are "free" clinics, which charge either nothing or a small fee, depending on ability to pay, to treat everyday ailments and illnesses.

There are many uninsured people in America who get very extensive and expensive care, including major surgery and/or free drugs which normally cost thousands of dollars per year.
However, despite that being the norm, uninsured people are not guaranteed to receive long term care, or highest-level care.

There are certainly people who, if they had insurance, would get a million dollars' worth of treatment for their complex and possibly deadly conditions, but since they lack insurance they merely get pain medication.

The bottom line is that there are only perhaps 12 million Americans who are chronically and involuntarily without health insurance, and as I noted they have access to some care via free clinics and emergency rooms.

It's kinda like America's "problem" with the homeless.
Advocacy groups like to talk about the "millions" who use homeless shelters and soup kitchens, but upon careful examination of the data, we find that many people use a homeless shelter for less than TWO NIGHTS, and the vast majority use a shelter for less than two weeks a year.
The number of people who actually live in homeless shelters is less than 10% of the total number of people served annually.

Which is to say, it's a problem, but not a big problem. But I digress.

Universal health coverage systems have problems, too.
In Canada, they have a large problem with very long waiting times to be treated for non-emergency conditions. There are some Canadians who, despite having "health coverage", die while waiting for treatment, people who would have lived if they had been in the American health care system.

In the UK, they're having problems with cost overruns and the increasing expense of providing healthcare. Those costs will only continue to rise, as the number of pensioners becomes far greater, with their age-related health problems, few of which are cheap to treat.

So, in some respects, it's just a question of which health-care-system problem that any given society finds most acceptable - there's no Health Care Utopia.

One of the great strengths of the American health care system is the profit motive, which leads to a great deal of time and money being spent on research and development, and to deploying and distributing the resultant techniques, equipment, and drugs.

American drug companies are among the world's leaders in research, and the American bio-tech industry is EXPLODING.

Just recently, for example, a small American start-up bio-tech firm has brought to market a gene-therapy technique that can HALT macular degeneration in almost ALL people. Millions of people who were previously destined to go blind, can now face the future with hope.

And, the technique isn't limited to macular degeneration, it may be very useful on any number of ailments that involve improper expression of a normal genetic function.

Another example would be privately-owned "imaging centers", where investors purchase million-dollar pieces of equipment such as MRI and CAT scanners, and even more cutting edge non-invasive imaging devices.
They profit by receiving a fee from patients referred to them by doctors, and local hospitals don't have to come up with the money to buy and maintain these extremely expensive machines.

In the Los Angeles area alone, there's more cutting-edge medical equipment than there is in the entire nation of Canada.