Friday, August 31, 2007

Art and the Man

Image unrelated; included for Caturday

Stop me if you have heard this one before, but some conservative politicians and religious leaders are getting all outraged about some works of art. This time, the works of art are two unsuccessful contenders for an art prize in Australia; those outraged include the Prime Minister of Australia and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney.

Yes, of course you have heard this before. You will remember Piss Christ and Virgin in a Condom, amongst others. Every so often, an artist will make a work which comments on some aspect of Christianity and various conservatives will get in a fluster. It is a familiar pattern of stimulus-response. Sadly, it is only on these occasions that Art is noticed by the media.

What is surprising in this case is that the exhibition which is showing the offending works is not of the usual elitist, secular-humanist, liberal kind. The show is an exhibit of works submitted for the Blake Prize for Religious Art, which was set up by a Jesuit priest, a Jewish businessman and a Catholic lawyer; I wonder if they ever went to a pub together and caused an hilarious joke to happen. The prize was established to "encourage artists of disparate styles and religious allegiances to create significant works of art with religious content."

Well, now look what they have done. Prime Minister John Howard has described the two offending works as "gratuitously offensive," while Cardinal Pell thinks the prize has "probably outlived its usefulness." In all the excitement, the works which were awarded prizes, none of them offensive (or avant garde for that matter) have been overlooked.

Now, if I were an Australian Christian, I would be more offended by the insult to my religion made by the fundamentalist pastor who defended having sex with his two daughters on the grounds that he was teaching them "how to behave for their husbands when they eventually married, as dictated in scripture." I might also be angered by the self-proclaimed prophet who showed a girl letters from the Virgin Mary telling her to have sex with him. I might also feel more than a little uneasy that my Prime Minister spends so much time hanging out with Hillsong, the corporate church founded by a man who had unorthodox methods of curing homosexuality and which now is run as a successful business operation by the son who usurped him.

But then, I am neither Australian nor a Christian. I do know more than a little about Art, though, and I can recognise a pre-fabricated art scandal when I see one. Art is always a ready target for conservative outrage. Mostly, the indignation is of the "tax-payer's money" kind: the makers and curators of Art are portrayed as a pampered elite who live on the taxes paid by ordinary people who don't know much about Art but know what they don't like. The Art elite are depicted either as knaves, who try to trick the public with works that a five year-old could make, or as fools who themselves are tricked by their vanity. Every so often, however a work of art offends somebody's deeply-held beliefs, usually religious ones.

So it was with Andres Serrano's Piss Christ, a photograph of a crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist's own urine. It won a prize in a competition that was sponsored, in part, by the National Endowment of the Arts, the US federal body which funds artistic projects. Enter Senator Jesse Helms, who mounted a sustained campaign against the NEA. So it was too with Tania Kovat's Virgin in a Condom, which provoked that Christian gentleman Graham Capill, among others, to righteous wrath when it was exhibited at Te Papa.

As always, there are protests and demands. The politicians and religious leaders milk the issue for all the airtime they can get out of it. Their constituents are led to believe their lives are controlled by a decadent elite which scorns their values. The artists are accused of mocking religious beliefs and of opportunism, although it is the conservatives who made the works a political issue.

So it is with this affair, although with some peculiar local differences. As I noted above, these works were entered in a prize for religious art, so the charge of mocking religion hardly has any weight. Another fact which hardly can be avoided as that both works mix Christianity with Islam. Yes folks, it is the culture wars again. Not surprisingly, TBR has picked up the issue; so has columnist Andrew Bolt, who manages to throw homosexualism into the mix, before concluding that what is at stake is our Civilisation.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The memory man

'By the time the end came, I had begun to think of Alberto Gonzales as Bartleby the Attorney General. Everyone -- well, nearly everyone -- wanted him to go, but he preferred not to. Like the maddening scrivener of Melville's short story who would not leave his job, Gonzales was possessed of a "wonderful mildness." Senators of both parties might rage at his transparent evasions, but "not a wrinkle of agitation rippled him." He was passive in the face of partisan and even bipartisan aggression.'

Ruth Marcus dissects the President's man; further analysis from the WaPo is here.

Meanwhile the NY Times has a stinging editorial: "Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has finally done something important to advance the cause of justice. He has resigned." Aziz Huq in The Nation notes the Justice Department's disregard for the rule of law, while Mother Jones lists some of those who have failed upwards.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The bomb party

"Palestinian society has channelled a good deal of thought and energy into the solemnisation of suicide-mass murder, a process which begins in kindergarten. Naturally, one would be reluctant to question the cloudless piety of the Palestinian mother who, having raised one suicide-mass murderer, expressed the wish that his younger brother would become a suicide-mass murderer too. But the time has come to cease to respect the quality of her 'rage' - to cease to marvel at the unhingeing rigour of Israeli oppression, and to start to marvel at the power of an entrenched and emulous ideology, and a cult of death. And if oppression is what we're interested in, then we should think of the oppression, not to mention the life-expectancy (and, God, what a life), of the younger brother. There will be much stopping and starting to do. It is painful to stop believing in the purity, and the sanity, of the underdog. It is painful to start believing in a cult of death, and in an enemy that wants its war to last for ever."
In an effort to raise the quality of the debate about Islam, I suggest everybody read Martin Amis on The age of horrorism.

Beat the rates with the red wedge

From last week's Craccum:

It's a funny old business, doing the news. All sorts of different organisations send media releases to Craccum, hoping that we will give them some publicity. But sometimes, when we take an interest in one of these organisations, they go all cagey on us.

Take, for example, the Residents Action Movement. They are the people who brought George Galloway all the way from England to talk about "Islamophobia." They were previously known only as a leftist group which had won a seat on Auckland Regional Council in 2004.

We received a media release from RAM (as they like to call themselves) called "RAM stands in council elections." It went on for quite some length but it didn't say much about the elections. Although it said "RAM is fielding a united team of strong candidates," it didn't say who are these candidates or where they are standing.

We needed to know more if we were to run this as a news story. So I contacted Grant Morgan, the Organiser of RAM, and asked him:
How many candidates will RAM be fielding, for which elections?
Is RAM a front for the Socialist Workers' Organisation?
The second question is not strictly related to the first but it is relevant, since Grant Morgan is General Secretary of the SWO; it is widely held by opponents of RAM that they are a front organisation.

I received this reply:
In order to reply, I need to know:

1.   Are you a front for the Labour Party?
2.   When will you get the name of Socialist Worker right?
Well, we didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition. The first question was a little puzzling. Craccum of course is part of a vast conspiracy to take over the world, but don't tell anyone we told you.

Mr Morgan's sensitivity about the name of the organisation is understandable; the party's current name is Socialist Worker (Aotearoa/New Zealand). Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, everyone calls his party the Socialist Workers Organisation, the name it had back in the dark days of its past.

The SWO was founded by the merger in 1994 of the Communist Party of New Zealand and the International Socialist Organisation. Mr Morgan was the last General Secretary of the CPNZ. The merger was the end of the CPNZ, which had been founded in 1921, only a few years after the Russian Revolution. Like all other Communist parties, it was obedient to the Soviet Union and worshipped Josef Stalin.

However, the CPNZ did not take a liking to Stalin's successor, Khrushchev; they thought he was a "revisionist," which is the worst insult in Communist circles. So, when the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China fell out in 1961, the CPNZ backed China, unlike every other Communist Party in the world. This was yet another first for New Zealand.

The CPNZ later showed itself to be even more eccentric when China split with Albania. Enver Hoxha, the nondescript little dictator of that nondescript little dictatorship, had condemned China, for being revisionist. The CPNZ agreed. In the opinion of New Zealand's Communists, the only country that was truly Communist was one most people could not find on a map.

Then, in 1993, things became stranger still. The CPNZ, under Mr Morgan's General Secretaryship, then decided that none of the dictatorships that had been the shining future were either shining or the future. They were not even Communist, but State Capitalist. This was an important distinction. The Stalinist CPNZ became Trotskyist: its doctrine was that Socialism had not happened in any of the dictatorships, but was still to come.

The remaining Stalinists left the Party, muttering that it had become a "hidden, fifth-column agent for the class enemy in its massive international campaign to convince the working class that socialism does not work." The next year, the Party gave up altogether and merged with the International Socialist Organisation.

The International Socialist Organisation is international more in theory than in practice. It is based in Dunedin. It also has a branch in Wellington. It was aligned to the Socialist Workers Party, a British organisation which developed the State Capitalism theory. The SWP was not happy having two franchises in New Zealand, so it brought the CPNZ and the ISO together in a shotgun marriage, after which they were known as the SWO.

The marriage did not last. The ISO realised that their new-found colleagues from the CPNZ were not International Socialists at all, but were still Stalinists. So the ISO left and went back to Dunedin. They are still very hurt by the experience. To say the least, they have not moved on.

So, the SWO, which used to be the CPNZ until it joined with the ISO and which used to align itself with Russia, then China, then Albania and which used to be Stalinist but now is Trotskyist, then decided to call itself Socialist Worker (Aotearoa / New Zealand), a snappy title it keeps to this day. In the interests of brevity, we shall call them the Socialist Workers.

Our Socialist Workers are part of the SWP's International Socialist Tendency (IST) which has local organisations in many countries, including Botswana and Norway. They are also crazy about Chavez, believing that the unfolding Venezuelan revolution, if it continues to move in the direction it's currently going, will reshape the socialist and labour movements in every country on every continent, just as the unfolding Bolshevik revolution did from 1917-24. Therefore, rather than looking inwards, the IST needs to be focused outwards towards the most advanced revolutionary upsurge in 90 years and the global socialist regroupments it will inevitably set into motion.

With all these global socialist regroupments going on, you might wonder how Grant Morgan finds time to deal with the Residents Action Movement. You might also be wondering why he has an interest in local government. Traditionally, International Socialists have disdained elections, thinking they are just a means of maintaining the hegemony of the bourgeoisie. But in recent years the SWP has discovered that elections can be quite handy.

This is where George Galloway comes into the story. After Galloway was kicked out of the Labour Party, he won a seat in Parliament for Respect, a political coalition which is dominated by the Socialist Workers Party. Members of the SWP have won seats on local councils as part of Respect. All of a sudden, the International Socialists have discovered the usefulness of democracy.

It is no wonder that the Residents Action Movement was keen to have Galloway come to New Zealand, because they are so similar to Respect. The Socialist Workers in New Zealand, like their equivalents in Britain, have discovered that they can get involved in elections and win them. It is quite a change for these people, who firmly believe in the inevitability of the coming workers' revolution, to be campaigning in local body elections. But they seem to be quite good at it.

It will be interesting to see how RAM prospers in the local body elections. Will they be able to find some candidates? Will they hold on to their seat? Will they win more? Will Grant Morgan become the Hugo Chavez of the Auckland Regional Council? Will the inevitable workers' revolution be brought about by elected councillors on Auckland local bodies? Will cowards flinch and traitors sneer, when the the red flag flies in Aotea Square? We shall see.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

It's whining men

Anonymous has alerted me to a new initiative by Masculinist Evolution New Zealand (MENZ), the organisation for angry men. Next week, MENZ are going to get hip with the youth, distributing leaflets at universities in the Auckland area.

The leaflet, which can be downloaded from this page, begins:
If you’re a man, then you really should reflect on how worthless you have become, and you should also recognise that there is very little concern neither for how badly you might be injured physically, nor for how long-term might be your psychological hurt. And, one day, whether you’re sitting in some unfamiliar surroundings wondering how it is that you’ve actually managed to lose your home, your children, and much of your future income, or whether you’re defending yourself in a courtroom against a false and malicious accusation of some sexual sort, or whether you’re dying in a hospital from some male-specific disease that no-one has been funded to research properly, or whether you’ve been passed over for promotion because of your male gender, or whether your children are being brought up to look upon you as if you were some kind of potential abuser, or, perhaps, when you are lying in the road because your partner has attacked you with a knife, and yet it is YOU who gets arrested, then, surely, even a piece of sh*t like you - because, quite clearly, this is what you are - will finally wake up and realise that you are considered by your society to be completely expendable, and well and truly worthless.
It's all about "going to the younger male generation and providing them with not just information but a journey." ¡¡ROADTRIP!! Not surpisingly, required reading for the journey includes Eve's Bite. The leaflet, after that inspiring introduction, goes on to pose such questions as "do men get paid more than women," the answer being:
No, the gender pay gap does not exist. Men and women get the same pay for the same job. The fabricated problem lies with males and females choosing different jobs with different risks. If females were to choose jobs such as mining and working on sky scrapers, they too would get danger money. The other reason is that women prefer to work part-time to raise their children.
I could comment about disgruntled wife-beaters who have been dumped by their long-suffering wives and now blame their misfortunes on the Vast Feminist Conspiracy, but I shall move on. The Herald reports that the country's only Men's refuge has opened in Tauranga "to accommodate local fathers when their marriages collapse and out-of-town fathers visiting their children..." Correct me if I am wrong but isn't that more of a hostel than a refuge? Are not women's refuges for women who are hiding from their violent husbands, not merely looking for somewhere to stay?

Here's Yo La Tengo, again.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Straight is the new Alt

Among the general population, the issues receiving the most attention were overall care and resources devoted to children – 82 percent said change was "absolutely necessary;" the quality of public education, 82 percent; and national security, 72 percent.

Among evangelical Christians, however, the top three priorities were "enhancing the health of Christian churches, upgrading the state of marriage and families, and improving the spiritual condition of the U.S."

According to research by the Barna Group in the US, the priorities of evangelical Christians devaite from those of average Americans more than any other subgroup.

This is news worth relishing. All those fundies who talk about the Family, Judeo-Christian values and that old time religion, they are the outsiders. Everyone else is more American than the people who claim to represent the American Way.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

East of Eden

Here is my review of Ian Wishart's Eve's Bite, from this week's Craccum. And, in case you are wondering, the redhead with the exotic pet in the picture is not Eve but Lilith, Adam's first wife.

It's all gone horribly wrong. They don't teach proper history in schools anymore. They promote the homosexualist agenda. They teach Evolution. They say that sex, any kind of sex, is alright. They are destroying the family. They are brainwashing us with their ideologies. They are leading the West to its destruction.

Ian Wishart's trade is investigative journalism. He publishes a glossy monthly, Investigate, which does what it says on the cover. Every month he finds a new scandal, as often as not involving the Government. Wishart doesn't like the Government. He doesn't like what is happening in this country or in the West generally. He doesn't like modern society.

In this book, Wishart gathers up all his concerns about the modern world and attempts to create a grand theory that explains what is going on. Although Eve makes a striking appearance on the front cover, showing her usual seductiveness, she doesn't have a part to play in the book. Wishart avoids making many Biblical references but this is a book written from a Conservative Christians standpoint, addressing the fears that his fellow believers share. Its argument is that the West is declining, because our Christian values have been supplanted by those of atheism and Marxism. Meanwhile, Islam is gaining strength and one day will overcome us all.

He knows who is to blame. It's the Marxists; and the Darwinists; and the Eugenicists. These atheistic doctrines, we are told, are the Trojan Horse ideologies which are destroying the West. Like Eve, they are seductive, deceptive and dangerous. They have brought us to our knees and (ironically, given their atheism) exposed us to a greater evil still, Islam. The enemy within has allowed us to fall prey to the enemy at the gate.

To persuade us of the validity of his argument he has searched Internet for evidence. This is very much an Internet book. Most of his references come from websites like his own Briefing Room, where Christian Conservatives discuss the ills of society. He has also drawn on the work of Conservative megastar writers, such as Mark Steyn and Tammy Bruce; the chapter on Evolution is preceded by a quotation from Ann Coulter, who probably is not recognised by many as an expert on Biology. However, despite the multitude of sources from which he quotes at length, Wishart preserves enough of his own breathless and indignant style to make this a readable book.

So, what's it all about then? Here's a summary. The left are using the propaganda techniques of the Nazis; the Media is biased towards liberal opinion; Evolution is wrong; Richard Dawkins is wrong, both about Evolution and the Bible; the separation of Church and State is a myth; there is a Homosexual Agenda - and Wishart has read it; Homosexuals should not have children; Homosexuals are not born that way; the Government is indoctrinating our children; safe sex is a myth; birth control, abortion and euthanasia are all wrong; Eugenics is alive and well - and wrong. All this is weakening the West, fatally. Meanwhile Islam is resurgent. The Muslims are outbreeding us. Theirs is a political religion. Muslims pretend be peace-loving but that is all part of their plan. They are determined to take over the West.

What can be done? Apparently nothing; it's late. This book offers no solutions, only the hope that readers will awaken from their slumbers; the question of whether anything can be changed at this late stage is neither posed nor answered.

This is an ambitious book, to say the least. It is also written with an extraordinary degree of certainty. Wishart is a prophet with a message. There is no space here for any doubt or reflection. Whether or not he is right is another matter. His argument is a selective one. He concentrates on those aspects of history, science and sociology which interest conservative Christians, not quite succeeding in his attempt to create an overall theory out of these various discontents. Quite how the Theory of Evolution, for example, is part of the decline of the West is something of a mystery. Wishart stamps it with the label 'atheistic,' a characteristic it shares with Marxism and Eugenics, and that is seemingly enough to condemn it. He does try to show that almost everybody working in biology is a fool for believing the theory but, even if he were right, that would hardly be enough to claim that Evolution is contributing to our moral decline.

At times, Wishart's ambition gets the better of his understanding. For example, he attempts to get the better of Richard Dawkins by claiming that Dawkins does not understand the nature of the universe. Wishart sneeringly laments that Dawkins did not consult Stephen Hawking, who apparently would have told him that "when we talk of 'natural' laws, they apply only inside the natural universe. Outside the universe is a timeless realm, something we humans simply cannot conceive. It has no past, no future, only an enduring present." Apparently, "we know this because we know all the laws we take for granted came into existence for the purpose of this particular universe." Of course, A Brief History of Time is not an easy read, but Wishart here is under the misconception that there is something outside the universe. He is also claiming that the nature of this outside is inconceivable to us mere mortals, although he writes about it with the certainty of one who has witnessed it first hand.

For much of this book, Wishart's technique is not to engage in argument but to suggest guilt by association. He is convinced that there is a ruling elite of Marxists who control everything. To demonstrate this, he shoves great blocks of text into his narrative, quotes from infamous Marxists. So a diatribe against the content of the school curriculum is interrupted temporarily by a quotation from Trotsky about supporting atheist propaganda. Other than that, he has no real claim against what is being taught in schools. He just does not like children learning about Confucius or the Suffragettes, so he suggests it is all part of a Marxist plot.

The Nazis are everywhere in this book as well, quoted mostly for their views on propaganda and indoctrination. At one point Wishart even suggests a correlation between statements made about the Exclusive Brethren by Government Ministers and comments made by Hitler about the Jews. Far from being a telling argument, Wishart's analogies collapse into bathos, such as when he suggests that teacher training in modern New Zealand is "centralised at state facilities" and thus is similar to the Third Reich's requirement that all teachers belong to the Nazi Party.

It is a facile way to make an argument, which does not stand up. For all his outrage and indignation, Wishart fails to make the case that all of us, except the author himself, are being fooled by a cabal of Marxists, using the propaganda techniques of the Third Reich.

Still, this book is a best-seller and there will be many who take Wishart's warnings to heart. No doubt, we will be hearing them repeated relentlessly on talkback radio and in the letters section of our papers.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

This week's news headlines

Hillsong hosts Howard and Rudd.
Campaign to clear Cult leader.
Atheist discovered in Congress.
Religion, culture behind Texas execution tally.
Christian Hip-hop infests Australia...
...Schools at particular risk.
Anti-Shari'a march banned in Brussels.
Mexican death cult goes soft.
Buddhas told to seek permission to reincarnate.
Hezbollah billboard removed from Windsor.

With thanks to Craig. Image found on Gratuitous Common Sense and based on this.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Church of the poison mind

My spy at Whitecliffe College tells me that the college administration is busy making the building pretty for its forthcoming transfer to The Church of Scientology. Thirty grand has been spent on the floors and students have been banned from using oil-based paints; yes, in an art college. Interestingly enough, the college administration has yet to tell students anything of the sale of the building or their dreadful fate: the college is moving to Manukau (Face of the Future).

You may be wondering, at this point, why the Church of Scientology needs such a large building. Well, according to the Herald the building will cater for 200 students and 100 staff, which is a high student-to-staff ratio. In time-honoured Scientology tradition, many of the staff will be paying off the exorbitant fees for their own training by training the noobs.

In any case, the Church obviously needs a big building; according to spokesman Mike Ferris, they have about 5000 members in New Zealand. Quite where they all are is something of a mystery, since the 2006 census found only 357 souls prepared to stand up and be counted as children of Ron.

I guess we could blame that on the margin of error but the Church has had some difficulties with maths elsewhere. In Britain, the ratio of imaginary to real members is 100:1. Worldwide, the Church claims eight million adherents, although the real number seems to be more like half a million.

It seems that Church is having something of a worldwide spending spree, buying buildings that are rather grand but somewhat aesthetically incorrect, perfectly suited to the Church's downright tacky interior design style.

Whilst we are on the subject, whatever happened to Scientomogy, the locally-owned website whose owner endured threats and harassment from the Church?

Here's Culture Club:

Yesterday in Parliament

The Justice and Electoral committee has been hearing submissions on the Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Bill. Both Idiot/Savant and DPF presented submissions in favour of the Bill. Both note in their posts that the Maxim Institute also presented a submission, arguing against the Bill on the grounds that "sedition laws protect lawful authority, and the common good. They recognise that it is possible not only to do violence to people, but to institutions, and to the bonds that hold us together."

If you have the time and patience to wade through all seventeen pages of Maxim's submission you can download it here. It does not seem to have impressed the Committee: as both I/S and DPF report, Maxim was roughed up by National Party members of the Committee. That must have hurt.

Some of us, of course, may be pondering at this stage how an organisation which gains considerable tax advantages from its status as an educational charity should spend so little time on matters of education and so much on defending indefensible laws.

Also of note is that I/S and DPF talked about repealing the Blasphemous Libel section of the Crimes Act. Now, there's a thought.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Liberal guilt

This blog has been rather quiet of late, for which I apologise. I have been caught up with the Paul Buchanan affair, in my other role as Craccum's News Editor. The piece below is from this week's Craccum.

Let's talk about sex. On the other hand, let's not; let's talk about Paul Buchanan instead.

We had thought that if anything were to be controversial about last week's Craccum, it would be the sex theme. After all, we had published illustrations of very unpleasant Japanese sex games and a photograph of a man playing with his inflatable animal toy. Instead, the media went wild about a news item concerning a sacked lecturer.

Admittedly, the lecturer was Paul Buchanan, who is well-known to the media as a commentator on international affairs. And Craccum did have something of a scoop: we published the email he wrote to a student which, as it turned out, was the cause of his sacking. But we were unprepared for the storm of media attention that this item created.

Since the original news story was published, we have spoken to Paul Buchanan about the email and about his dismissal. His response to being sacked was: "the punishment is grossly exaggerated, given the nature of the crime and given the fact that I’ve had no prior warnings of any sort and I’ve never had a student complain against me before, ever. So it was a one-off that seemed a bit excessive; but then again I was on the receiving end, so I would say that. "

About the email, Dr Buchanan said: "I realise that the original email was too harsh, it was angry and that was a mistake and I wrote her the next day, I apologised and I told her I was having a real bad day and I shouldn’t have lost my temper. She accepted the apology and we agreed that she would give in this late work at some time in the near future. After that acceptance of the apology, she went silent and then things got really, really strange. So from then on obviously there were other actors at play. I had no idea what happened, but I do think the fact that I expressed to her and to the university my very deep remorse and sorrow at doing such a thing would’ve been a mitigating circumstance, and there were plenty of others as well, and for the life of me I can’t explain why those mitigating circumstances weren’t taken into account. 

Dr Buchanan does not believe his email is an example of discrimination and racism: “No, on the contrary, the Western liberal guilt stuff, I was talking about myself, my own culture, I don’t have any Western liberal guilt, I’m sort of a hard person. As far as the culturally driven stuff, I thought at the time that she was preying on the fact that she was alleging that her father had died abroad, and I hear that all the time at the end of semester from international students. I hear it all the time every semester – relative dying in far-off places with no evidence of the death provided, and so I was in a particularly bad-tempered mood and so I wasn’t believing it, so that’s why I wrote what I wrote.

He added "My preference would be to settle it internally and be reinstated. Anything above and beyond that is up to the union. " Dr Buchanan suggested we speak to his representative at the Association of University Staff; we tried to do so, but our calls were not returned.

We also tried to get the other side of the story, that of the student to whom the email had been sent. She had forwarded Buchanan's email to us on 18th July, saying she found it offensive and hurtful. She asked us to print it so that students would be aware of the "institutional racism" at the University. After the story had broken in the mainstream media, we arranged a time with her for an interview. However, when that time came she did not answer our calls, although she did speak to the New Zealand Herald on the same day. The Herald story said she had complained to the university's mediation service and the Human Rights Commission because she felt Dr Buchanan's comment about her "culturally driven" reason for seeking an extension was racist.

The Herald also reports that Dr Buchanan had a broader concern with the quality of overseas students being accepted for his post-graduate courses. He says he had argued with Associate Professor Stephen Hoadley about this issue on the same day that he sent the email.

One of Dr Buchanan's former students, Darryl Godfrey MA(Hons) supports his concerns: "Paul is absolutely correct to speak out about the quality of international students coming here to do post-graduate study in an academic discipline that they have no previous training in. The mighty dollar side of the argument will win yet again because, it seems, money talks, not academic principles. It's deja vu for me from my days on the University Senate hearing the same arguments then. I had some good chats with Paul about the antics of the various University bodies over these matters. I can honestly say that he has very strong convictions on these issues and has a spine unlike many other people around the McIvory Towers. For that he loses. Where's the fairness?"

We have also heard from current and former members of the academic staff who have complaints about the University's methods of dealing with employment issues. One asked rhetorically: "guess which university has accounted for the bulk of Personal Grievance claims in the past few years? And pays out huge sums to settle out of court. A number of us have observed that the University does not make real attempts to redeploy staff in redundancy cases, but simply seeks to make a paper trail in case things come to court, and seems prepared to pay out large sums to avoid things getting into court.

Our source also observed that "the apogee came last year when some of my colleagues were declared redundant by the University, which then proceeded to advertise for people to teach in their areas while they were serving out their notice. The University said that they have to advertise 'vacancies' under the State Sector Act, but you may well ask how an employer can have a vacancy if it has employed someone to do the work that it is seeking someone to do!"

You can expect to hear more from revolting staff. According to our source, a group has been formed among academic staff to publicise the University's behaviour: "there is much more below the surface than I am letting on, and I suspect that it will come to the light of day in the near future"

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Islamophobia revisited

Re my earlier post, George Galloway's speech at Auckland University is available, courtesy of 95bFM, here.

One of these days in England

From the Old Country comes an extraordinary story about Channel 4's Dispatches documentary Undercover Mosque. Rather than prosecuting the nasties who were exposed by the programme, the West Midlands Police are trying to have the programme's makers prosecuted for inciting racial hatred.

Also in the Guardian is a piece about Richard Dawkins, TV Evangelist.

Other strange and wonderous things are happening in England. The blueberry has become the nation's favoured fruit and British farmers cannot find enough Eastern Europeans to harvest them. The nation's lawmakers have decided that prostitutes must face re-education or jail. The British are getting fat because of their cars. The nation's academic and creative workers are afflicited by email stress.

However, there is good news. My favouritist web comic in the whole wide web, A Softer World, is being printed in the Guardian, while Steve Bell is on holiday.

Here's Roy Harper:

Monday, August 06, 2007

Don't let's be beastly to the Muslims (again)

From this week's Craccum, a piece I wrote about George Galloway's speech at Auckland University:

Recently, I was reading about the bakers of Baghdad. For centuries, Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq had lived together peacefully. The bakers were usually Shiites, even in predominately Sunni districts. But in 2005 the bakers became targets. One by one, bakeries closed as their staff were murdered. In Iraq, where sectarian conflict was unknown, it seemed unthinkable, but a civil war was beginning.

George Galloway did not mention the bakers when he spoke about Islam at the University. He didn't speak of any of the conflicts or differences within Islam. Listening to him, you might think that Islam is a united and universal religion, with a singular purpose and a common enemy, the West. Which is an odd state of affairs, considering that he came to New Zealand to condemn those who believe that Islam is united in enmity of the West, the fundamentalists of the Christian Right.

Galloway is the sole Member of Parliament for the Respect Party, which he founded after he was expelled from the Scottish Labour Party for his criticisms of the Labour Government in Britain and its support for the occupation of Iraq. In 2005, he won the seat of Bethnal Green and Bow in London, which has a large Muslim population, defeating the sitting Labour MP. He is no stranger, as they say, to controversy. Shortly before visiting New Zealand, Galloway was suspended from the House of Commons because of his use of Parliamentary resources to support his charity, the Mariam Appeal.

He is no stranger to Iraq, either. His critics say he supported Saddam Hussein, although he claims he was misquoted. The Mariam Appeal has been under investigation by both the British Parliament and the US Senate over allegations that it was funded by Hussein through the UN Oil for Food Programme, as a propaganda tool to have sanctions against Iraq lifted. Galloway won a libel action against the Daily Telegraph in Britain about similar allegations made by the newspaper.

However, Galloway came to New Zealand not to escape his critics but to bury them. He was invited here by the Residents Action Movement to talk about Islamophobia. RAM, a left wing coalition which holds a single seat on the Auckland Regional Council, has not previously involved itself in the Clash of Civilisations; its main policies are advocating free public transport and reducing rates for home owners. RAM has recently discovered that New Zealand is in danger of being contaminated by Islamophobia which, like the Possum and the Gum Leaf Skeletoniser Moth, comes from Australia.

The main agent of the spread of Islamophobia is a group of fundamentalist Christians who had organised their own tour, of two Australian Christians. Stuart Robinson, senior Pastor of Crossway Baptist Church in Melbourne, wrote Mosques and Miracles, a book which argues that Islam is trying to take over the world. Daniel Shayesteh is a former radical Muslim who converted to Christianity and is now Director of an organisation called Exodus from Darkness. Both are keen to convert Muslims to the own version of Christianity, before it is too late. They also want to warn Christians about the true intentions of Muslims.

Although they have some celebrity and notoriety at home, Pastor Robinson and Mr Shayesteh have yet to make much of an impact in New Zealand. They spoke at a couple of meetings in Auckland and Wellington. RAM believes they are spreading a message of hatred towards Muslims, which will destroy the social fabric of this country if it is not nipped in the bud. RAM would have us believe that their bringing Mr George Galloway MP to New Zealand was our last best hope of stopping this sort of thing before it gets out of hand. In the rest of the West, Islamophobia is rife, so we must heed his warnings.

Perhaps I am a little cynical about these matters but I could not help thinking, as I listened to the support acts who preceded Mr Galloway's speech, that this is all a little hysterical. After all, nobody really listens to the Christian fundamentalists who, not so long ago, were telling us that Civil Unions would lead to the collapse of everything we apparently hold dear, as would banning the smacking of children and legalising prostitution. The threat of Islam is the latest of their preoccupations which, like the threat of Homosexualism and the threat of Evolution, are imported wholesale from the United States of Anxiety. They always have something to be scared about. In this respect, the fundies of the religious Right are not so different from the fundies of the political Left. Right now, Islamophobia is the Left's concern; tomorrow it will be something else (dates and venue to be announced).

But tomorrow's problems are another concern. On the night, Mr Galloway delivered what everybody expected of him, a rousing speech. He was given his just reward, a standing ovation by all present (except the small group of flinching cowards and sneering traitors of which I was part). His message was clear. Islamophobia is being propagated by the very forces that created the bloodbath of Iraq. It is the work of the West and it will not succeed.

In fact, he had little to say about New Zealand, other than warning us that we were particularly at risk because we lack a law which criminalises incitement to religious hatred. If we let it take hold here, we will face the horrors that now afflict Britain. Angry young Muslim men will be roused to anger when their sisters are mocked in the streets and when their mosques are vandalised by Islamophobes. These men will take out their justified resentments with acts of violence against innocent people, as they have done in Britain and elsewhere.

At this point in his rhetoric, I thought of the angry young Muslim men who had plotted, unsuccessfully, to blow up the Ministry of Sound nightclub in London. When they came to trial, their emails were presented as evidence for the prosecution. They spoke of killing "sluts" and "slags," whose deaths would be regretted by nobody. I thought also of the recent and almost successful plot to bomb the Tiger Tiger night club, on Ladies Night. Somehow, I think these angry young Muslim men were concerned with something more, something much more dark, than the mocking of their sisters.

I thought also of those bakers in Baghdad, particularly when Mr Galloway spoke about the "resistance" in Iraq. The differences between Shiite and Sunni were not part of his discourse. Acts of violence perpetrated by Muslims were attributable to the West, to the Islamophobia propagated by the Governments of Bush and Blair. The conflicts within Islam and the conflicts with the modern world where women are free to go to Ladies Night were not Mr Galloway's concern.

Every Muslim, he told us, carries the name "Palestine" in his heart. If the West does not solve the problem of Palestine, then the violence will continue. The West must solve other problems as well: the occupation of Muslim countries by outsiders and the repression of corrupt Muslim governments. These concerns of Mr Galloway, incidentally, are shared by Osama Bin Laden, whose struggle is as much with the ruling family in Saudi Arabia as they are with the Great Satan of America.

For Mr Galloway, as for Mr Bin Laden, Islam is a monolith. All Muslims are as one and Islam has a single enemy, the West. Mr Galloway described Mr Bin Laden as an "obscurantist," but it seems they share the same clear vision of Islam. Curiously enough, it is the same vision as that of Pastor Robinson and Mr Shayesteh, seen from the other side: an army of millions, united as one.

For Mr Galloway, his audience on that night were soldiers in another army: "an army of justice." For his sponsors in RAM, they may be another army still: an army of voters. RAM will go into the next local body elections on a platform which will include combating Islamophobia alongside its more local concerns.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Dangerous work at low tide

Following comments by readers on my recent post about the Rationalists, I had decided to let it lie. However, in another place, Matt Flannagan has been doing some digging and the results are curious. I shall refrain from comment, great though the temptation may be.

Russell Brown did me the honour of interviewing me on Public Address Radio last week. The show was broadcast on Radio Live last Saturday; you can listen to the podcast here. We spoke about the Rationalists, science, Atheism and the Ministry of Defence Art Collection.