Who's liberal enough?
Ross Douthat writes a thoughtful piece at the NYT Blog on how to understand and engage with Muslim critics of radical Islamism. He rejects those Western thinkers who limit the category of “moderate Muslims” to those, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Irshad Manji, who endorse Western liberalism absolutely and without qualification. He writes:
This school of thought strikes me as misguided. Manji and Hirsi Ali are brave and admirable, but what they’re offering (Hirsi Ali especially) is ultimately a straightforward critique of Muslim traditions and belief, not a bridge between Islam and the liberal West that devout Muslims can cross with their religious faith intact. If such bridges are going to be built, much of the work will necessari
ly be done by figures who sometimes seem ambiguous and even two-faced, who have illiberal conversation partners and influences, and whose ideas are tailored to audiences in Cairo or Beirut or Baghdad as well as audiences in Europe and America. That’s how change — religious, ideological, whatever — nearly always works.
On the other side, Douthat is clear that making “these kind of distinctions doesn’t require us to suspend all judgment where would-be Islamic moderates are concerned” and that ” forays into more dubious territory should be greeted with swift pushback, rather than simply being accepted as a necessary part of the moderate Muslim package.”
I discussed similar issues here.
Image by Flickr user Paul Lowry used under a Creative Commons Attribution License
Equality butts heads with freedom
Jonathan Martin and Ben Smith write at Politico that a new debate about first principles and the role of government has replaced the social issues at stake during the “culture wars” of the last three decades.
This dispute over first principles is deeply entwined with questions of national identity and the appropriate role of the government in the economy.
On one extreme is a minimalist state, in which the government is responsible for little more than upholding the rule of law and providing for a common defense. On the other extreme is a socialist state in which the government manages all facets of economic activity.
Neither extreme applies to any industrialized country today. Rather, the modern world is populated by welfare states of various stripes.
You may not know this, but, earlier this year, President Obama signed into law the most sweeping overhaul of health care since the 1965 creation of Medicare. It's the largest piece of social legislation in at least half a century.
I know, I know, I shouldn't be treating you as if you have your head buried in the sand. Except you do.
According to a recently leaked presentation based on polling and focus groups about the law encourages Democrats to “Let voters know the healthcare [sic] law passed!”
They don't know? Really?
This raises a depressing question: what's the point of governing in the Republic of Ignorance?
Most major theories of government make some basic assumption
s about human rationality. Some say people are perfectly rational beings capable of deciding their own good. Others take a more moderate stance, suggesting that people are often shaped by their environment and circumstances.
But few if any theories account for complete and total inability to notice life-changing events.
My tone may be humorous, but my humors are melancholy (the bodily ones, anyway).
It's time to make a choice. Must we radically improve the capacity of our population to understand the basic knowledge it takes to function as a democracy? Or should we radically rethink democracy itself?
In either case, it may be time to do something radical.
Image of a lemming used under a Creative Commons attribution license from Flickr user kgleditsch.
Laura Schlessinger recently found herself embroiled in controversy after using racial epithets several times on her talk radio show. This incident has led Dr. Schlessinger to abandon her program, proclaiming “”I want my First Amendment rights back, which I can't have on radio without the threat of attack on my advertisers and stations.”
Over at NPR, Linda Holmes quick cash advance
e-always-had” target=”_blank”>argues that being economically pressured for her speech is not a violation of her First Amendment rights. As Holmes draws the distinction, the Constitution guarantees that speech will be “free from government interference,” not “free from consequences.”
The article brings up not only questions of free speech, but also questions about the respect owed to other ideals cherished in a liberal democracy.
Photo by Flickr user Ian Hayhurst used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
Last Friday, President Obama weighed in publicly on the mosque at ground zero. In doing so, he has joined Mayor Bloomberg as one of few major political figures who have openly voiced support for the project on the basis of freedom of religion.
However, polls indicate that Americans as well as New Yorkers overwhelmingly oppose the mosque’s construction to the tune of 68 percent. The poll reaffirms a truism that the writers of the Bill of Rights were grimly aware of: freedom often runs afoul of democracy. As one opponent of the mosque argues: ‘…[Obama]'s lost sight of the germane issue, which is not about freedom of religion,” she said. “It's about a gross lack of sensitivity to the 9/11 families and to the people who were los
Except the germane issue is exactly the balance between sensitivity and principle, and whether, as Jonathan asked yesterday, something can be “legally harmless but unpleasant enough for us to rightly or morally require legal intervention at the cost of others’ legal rights?” Namely, do people have a right not to be offended? Do they also have a right for their faith, beliefs, or values not to be challenged?
Greg Gutfeld of Fox News clearly believes not. In one of the most creative responses to the Ground Zero Mosque controversy, Gutfeld argues for both supporting the mosque's construction and opening a gay bar next door. Now that might take equal opportunity offending to an extreme. But in a society in which we value both the principles of religious freedom and the “marketplace of ideas,” should we want it any other way?
Image from Flickr user Johnnie Utah used under a Creative Commons Attribution license
Should the poor be allowed to choose?
The New York Times reports that malnutrition and starvation remain stubbornly entrenched decades after India’s Green Revolution, which modernized agricultural practices, massively increased agricultural yields and eliminated the specter of famine.
The existing government food distribution system relies on bureaucratic rationing, through which the poor are given ration cards to purchase food from government-run distributors. It is notoriously inefficient and plagued by corruption. Some reform proposals emphasize improving monitoring and delivery within the system. Others favor entirely dismantling the system, replacing it with vouchers or cash payments to the needy. Read more
A church in Gainesville, Florida, plans to host an “International Burn the Quran Day” on the ninth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Their reasons for the book burning are pretty straightforward:
We believe that Islam is of the devil, that it's causing billions of people to go to hell, it is a deceptive religion, it is a violent religion and that is proven many, many times,” Pastor Terry Jones told CNN's Rick Sanchez earlier this week […]“Eternal fire is the only destination the Quran can lead people to, so we want to put the Quran in it's [sic] place — the fire!
I suspect most Americans would immediately find such sentiments revolting because of the value of freedom of religion promised by the Constitution. Yet, this is not so much a question of freedom of religion as much as a question of respect for other religions – and this respect is of course not guaranteed by law.
Still, I can think of t
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