Posts Tagged ‘Ludovic Kennedy’

UKIP, Islamophobia and the Loud Atheism Website

April 18, 2015

On Thursday, Hope Not Hate published a piece UKIP’s Stretford & Urmston Candidate Thinks Islam is “Despicable” reporting that Kalvin Chapman, the UKIP parliamentary candidate for Stretford and Urmston, Kalvin Chapman, had posted a comment on the ‘Loud Atheism’ Facebook page attacking Islam. He described it as a ‘despicable’ and ‘f***ed up’.

The article’s at http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/ukip/ukip-s-stretford-urmston-candidate-thinks-islam-is-despicable-4397, if you want to see it.

Now I have the impression that this is pretty much par for the course for much of the ‘New Atheist’ movement. This is the form of organised atheism that emerged in late decade, led by Richard Dawkins, Sue Blackmore, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel C. Dennett. The movements critics have pointed out that by and large the New Atheism didn’t have any new arguments, except perhaps an extension of Darwinian theory to try and explain religious belief. In the case of Sue Blackmore and Daniel C. Dennett, it had an extremely reductive view of human consciousness that saw it as being nothing more than a series of biological computer programmes. Sue Blackmore in particular took this to its most logically absurd extent and denied consciousness actually existed.

If the arguments were largely the same, traditional arguments used against religious belief and organised religion, the presentation was quite different. It was much more vicious, vitriolic and intolerant. Atheist movements in the past have persecuted organised religion. Religious belief in the former Communist bloc was severely limited and fiercely persecuted, with religious believers killed or sent to forced labour camps. In the former Soviet Union the penalty for holding a religious service in your own home would see you arrested and your house demolished.

The older, atheist tradition in the West could be much more genteel. Angry revolutionaries like the Surrealist film-maker Bunuel and his counterparts could and did make blasphemous films and art attacking organised religion in general and Roman Catholicism in particular. In the 1950s they held a mock trial of the Roman Catholic church in a disused church just outside Paris, while the Surrealists’ leader, Andre Breton, wrote an article denouncing recent attempts to combine surrealism with Christianity, entitled ‘To Your Kennels, Curs of God’.

Against this, there were atheist intellectuals like A.J. Ayer and Ludovik Kennedy, who were much less personally abusive. Kennedy when he appeared on Mark Lamarr’s chat show, Lamarr’s Attacks, in the 1990s, was courteous and polite. A.J. Ayer became friends with a Jesuit priest after having a Near Death Experience choking on a piece of fish in hospital. It didn’t make him become a religious believer, but the incident does show that people of differing and opposed religious views needn’t be personal enemies.

The New Atheism, by contrast, was much more aggressive, with a far greater use of invective. Rather than merely being attacked intellectually, religious and religious belief should be actively discouraged and given much less tolerance. Richard Dawkins has been quoted by his critics as saying that religious believers should be humiliated and shamed into abandoning their beliefs.

The result of this is that some atheist websites have a reputation for abuse and invective, like P.Z. Myers’ The Panda’s Thumb, set up to defend evolution from creationism, and Raving Atheism. I was warned off the latter by a friend, who said it was just atheists being extremely blasphemous and abusive for the sake of it.

To be fair, this approach has its critics from within the atheist movement, many of whom are genuinely shocked at how extreme and bitterly intolerant the New Atheist rhetoric is. A few years ago one atheist writer published an article in one of the papers actually saying that Richard Dawkins’ made him ashamed to be an atheist. And within the last couple of years in particular a strain of Islamophobia has emerged within the New Atheist movement. Again, this has been exemplified by Richard Dawkins, who become the subject of further controversy because of his posts and tweets attacking Islam, particularly the low status of women in Islamic countries and Female Genital Mutilation. Chapman’s comments about Islam are part of this strand of New Atheism.

And the fear of Islam, or at least radical Islamism, may have been one of the catalysts of the New Atheism from the start. I was talking to a friend of mine a while ago about the origins of the New Atheism. I thought it was a reaction to the growth of Creationism and Intelligent Design, which recognises the emergence of new species over time, but claims this is due to the intervention of intelligent agencies, rather than the mechanism of random mutation and natural selection, suggested by Neo-Darwinian theory. I also wondered if it was also due to the accession to the Presidency of George ‘Dubya’, an Evangelical Christian, and the increasing power and influence of the Christian religious right in American politics.

My friend took a different view. He believed it was a reaction to 9/11 and the rise of aggressive Islamic terrorist movements, like al-Qaeda, and radical and aggressive Islamic political movements within the largely secular West, such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir. He stated that some of Atheists’, Agnostics’ and Secularists’ Societies set up on university campus in practice were little more than anti-Islam societies.

Now I don’t know how true this is. The AAS at Bristol University did not seem to be particularly interested in Islam, only in attacking religion in general. The events and lectures it organised seemed generally disrespectful, such as a social evening in which members were encouraged to dress up as their favourite religious figure. One of their lectures was a general account of traditional, religious beliefs about the creation of the world from antiquity onwards.

Now I do believe that if you are going to criticise religion, then this should extend to all religions, rather than just Christianity as the former majority, mainstream religion of the West. However, in the case of Islam at the moment, such criticism has become extremely dangerous. It can easily lead to the persecution of innocents, including racist attacks and the demonization of Islam generally because of the atrocities committed by the Islamist militants. This in turn may fuel the alienation and resentment in Muslim communities, and further the Islamists’ goal of their further radicalisation.

In the case of Chapman, I’m not surprised that his post against Islam was particularly splenetic, given the title of the website on which it was posted. What is worrying is that it comes from a prospective parliamentary candidate for a party that has developed a reputation for racism and a bitter hostility to Islam.

Advertisements

Vox Political: Labour to Introduce New Legislation Against Animal Cruelty

February 22, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has this story, Labour’s plan to protect animals. Maria Eagle – now there’s a fitting name – has just announced Labour’s six point plan to protect the nation’s wild and domestic animals. These are:

* Defending the hunting ban.
*Banning the use of wild animals in circuses.
* Ending the badger culls.
*Improving the protection of dogs and cats
* Tackling wildlife crime and reducing cruelty on shooting estates.
*Leading the fight against animal cruelty across the world.

Mike’s article lists the policies and describes them in order. He begins

Here’s another terrific Labour Party policy announcement that seems to have been overlooked by the news media: Animal protection.

The policy was announced by Maria Eagle and runs as follows:

1) Labour will protect the Hunting Act
Ten years ago the Labour Party ended the cruel practice of hunting with dogs, because we believe that causing defenceless animals to suffer in the name of sport has no place in a civilised society. But just as we celebrate the Hunting Act, the Tories plan to repeal it. Only Labour can protect the Hunting Act because Labour is the only major party committed to defending it.

2) Labour will ban wild animals in circuses
Travelling circuses are no place for wild animals. Being moved from place to place in cramped and substandard enclosures, forced training and performance, loud noises and crowds of people are the unavoidable distressing realities for animals in circuses. Despite promising to ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses, the Tory-led Government has failed to do so. The next Labour government will ban this cruel practice.

Mike’s piece is at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/02/22/labours-plan-to-protect-animals/. Read it for a further description of the policy.

These are actually good, sensible policies. Despite the noise made by the Countryside Alliance, as various bloggers have recently revealed, most people in the countryside don’t support fox hunting. I personally know people from a farming background, who are very strongly against it.

As for the use of wild animals in circuses, this has been a scandal for years. The great broadcaster, Ludovic Kennedy, who I remember for hosting the television review programme Did You See ..?, was very clear in his disapproval of circuses that featured performing wild animals. A number of circuses today don’t use them, a movement that began, as I recall, back in the 1990s.

And people naturally love domestic animals, to the point where, shockingly, the amount given to animal charities is actually greater than that for children. Don’t get me wrong on this – I’m not arguing that people should give less for animals, only that children deserve more. Despite this, there are indeed cases of terrible abuse and neglect inflicted on dogs and cats. Clearly, some extra protection is appropriate here.

Mike points out that nothing like this has been put forward by the Tories. Quite the opposite. They have decided to spend taxpayer’s money subsidising grouse shooting. Because of the desperate poverty and near destitution of all the great landowners and their shooting estates north of the border.

Such as, presumably, the former Tory treasurer, Lord McAlpin. Way back in the 1990s he was repeatedly in the pages of Private Eye, because rare birds of prey were turning up poisoned on his estate in the highlands. No-one was prosecuted, and it looks like any investigation was either impeded or very half-hearted.

Mind you, perhaps it’s too much to believe that the Tories will be much interested in protecting animals. After all, they really don’t like humans much, and especially not if they’re poor.

So we can expect more Tory opposition to this, based not on its feasibility, but simply because the Tories will resent what they see as their right to pursue the usual aristocratic sports of hunting and shooting.