Tomorrow, Ken Livingstone and Daniel Pipes will debate the motion A World Civilisation or A Clash of Civilisations. I’ve got tickets, but I’m not going to go and maybe the best time to try to get away with writing about this without seeing it is before the event.

I’ve got too much work to be able to spare the time to travel down to London. All my projects are behind schedule and I need to put in the hours. But there’s another reason why I am not going to try to shuffle my commitments: the closer this event has crept, the more I find myself wishing both debaters could lose.

Because the reality is neither, and it is both. In other words, it is complicated and to see two of the extremes butt heads would be depressing even before I started to analyse the audience, and attribute motivations to them all. What are we going to gain from seeing this clash of the extremes? Increased polarisation is an inevitable outcome, indeed the entire event is an exercise in polarisation.

We do have a world civilisation. This is not meant to be exhaustive, but trace the currents that brought us, say, contemporary mathematics and you’ll have to bring in ancient Hindus, Babylonian accountants, Greek philosophers, Cambridge alchemists, Islamic astronomers, Indian railway clerks, French functionaries… the thin strands of the web cover much of the globe.

Look at the last five hundred years of art and you see Arabia, Africa, China, Japan, America, north and south, Australia…

Successful civilisations are omnivorous and voracious. The Western Roman Empire is still with us, in the form of the Papacy; they even dress as third century Imperial officials. That was accomplished by absorption, not by isolation. But imagine Rome in 100AD: people from every part of the known world walked the streets. So it is with London and New York today.

But that’s not to say we don’t have a clash right now, and if it is not of civilisations, then what is it? Broadly speaking, there is a world civilisation, but it doesn’t cover all the world and even in the parts it seems to encompass, it isn’t the main priority for everyone.

Pathan tribesmen, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Saudi religious police seem to be relatively unmoved by Joyce’s experimentations with the form of the novel, Picasso’s voracious appetite for artistic influences, and by twentieth-century physics. A part of the hard left has joined with them, and even soft left stragglers hang from the tails of the hard left.

Livingstone is a fellow traveller, Pipes is an ultra – nothing that has ever touched Islam can be acceptable.

I disavow both. Martin Amis put it well recently:

People of liberal sympathies, stupefied by relativism, have become the apologists for a creedal wave that is racist, misogynist, homophobic, imperialist and genocidal. To put it another way, they are up the arse of those that want them dead.

I detest the “racist, misogynist, homophobic, imperialist and genocidal” Islamists, and I detest those who are up their arses, like Ken Livingstone. But I’m not sure that Daniel Pipes is the answer.

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There has been some controversy about the recent Channel 4 Dispatches programme about extremism in British Mosques. There was an exchange of correspondence in the build up to the broadcast, and a little bird has dropped into my lap a letter dated 7th January 2007 from Shouaib Ahmed, Secretary General, Markazi Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith UK to Andrew Smith of HardCash Productions Ltd, the programme maker. In it, Mr Ahmed is at pains to dispel slanders against Islam, but I’m not sure he had the effect he intended. Here is the opening of his letter:

I am writing in response to your letter dated the 28th December 2006 which appears to have been written just when you knew we would be celebrating the ‘Id al-Adha, thereby giving us less time in which to respond to what in any case appears to be a programme whose content has already been decided.

Naturally I am surprised that you appear to have already more or less decided what words you are going to put into my mouth and that you did not even have the courtesy to request an interview with me so that my viewpoint could be included in your programme. In my humble opinion the mark of balanced investigative journalism is to do just this, to talk to everyone who is going to feature in an article or documentary, even if this means that some preconceived notions may prove to be unsustainable before they are aired.

If, which I hope is not the case, this is going to be just another attack on Islam and Muslims, which is very much in vogue nowadays, then I must remind you that if I or any member of my staff or anyone who worships at the Green Lane Mosque or the Mosque itself are subjected to any form of physical attack as a result of your programme then you, HardCash Productions Ltd and Channel 4 will all be liable to prosecution for incitement to commit a criminal act.

His enthusiasm for prosecutions for incitement to violence is to be welcomed.

Towards the end of a long letter, some aspects of Islam are explained:

Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab was an 18th century reformer who sought to restore that middle way where it
had been ignored or abandoned by the people of his time. He called on them to follow the Qur’an and the Sunnah, just as all sincere Muslim teachers and leaders do, whatever group they belong to. Many views and excesses are attributed to him that were not his – and which if anything characterise those who have abandoned the middle way.

Saudi-style salafism is, you will note, moderate, and the middle way. Later:

As regards corporal punishment, the teachings of Islam permit a light smack as a mark of disapproval, but never the violent physical abuse of either children or marriage partner

I can only read that as an assertion of the rightness of giving a marriage partner a “light smack”. And:

As regards amputations, whippings, and crucifixions, […] Some of the hadd (fixed punishments) punishments in Islam work as an effective deterrent, even for those who do not fear Allah and the Last Day.

That clears things up, then. But perhaps not in a way intended by the writer.

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I don’t think any post I’ve read shows as clearly as this why we need to stand with our democratic, secular friends in the Middle East, and elsewhere, and not allow the Islamists to divide us, as they would wish. The first and most grievous victims of Islamism are, of course, Muslims – including those who are Muslim only by birth. If you think Islamism is having a terrible effect on Western societies, think for a moment about what it must be like in a Middle Eastern country. Here’s a personal account from Nah·det Masr:

During the early and mid nineties of last century, life was looking nice for me and for a large portion of the Egyptian population. It was a booming time for the economy, I had recently graduated then, there was no problem finding a job for an engineer in my specialization, the air was so optimistic!

I went to get a graduate degree in the US. I returned to Egypt in 1998, the local economy was stagnating, I found a job at a multinational firm with a nice salary, hence, dodged the local stagnation, and even replaced my car with a nicer one. To continue the perfect picture, a new beltway road was introduced close to my home, and I managed to reduce my work trip from one hour to about 15 minutes! Life was so good!

I was driving to work one day on 1999 when the BBC Arabic Service news announced that an Egyptian Airliner on a trip from JFK to Cairo disappeared from the radar screens. In the next several days, the news kept pouring in about a suspicion that the pilot might have committed suicide, Egypt lost very good people on this plane including scientists, industrialists, and a contingent of army officers who were studying in the US. This has created all sorts of conspiracy theories! Anyway, this kept heading the news broadcast in a way that prompted me to switch off or change the channel whenever the news is broadcast. The bad news kept pouring in; in 2000 there was that infamous visit by Sharon to Haram Al-Sharif in Jerusalem which prompted the second intifada, and the pictures of Mohamed El-Dorra getting killed by the Israelis, then the senseless suicide bombings, and Israeli revenge. The news was so bad that a broadcaster once advised men not to watch them before going to bed with their wives!

I started 2001 with high hopes, I was just assigned the task of managing a major regional project, and it was going smooth. I had a lot of business travel, staying in 5 star hotels in lovely cities around the region. In the summer of 2001, as part of my assignment, I went to attend technical conference in Chicago, at that time I decided that I will try to move the US; I met with a recruiting agency, and they told me that the outlook was bright. At last, I was going to leave the region with its bad news, and Egypt’s crowded streets. I continued my trip in the US by visiting my Ph.D. advisor in Philadelphia, I then went on to give a lecture at the Georgia state university at the invitation of an assistant professor friend there, who later offered me to come and teach as visiting scholar there. Again, the outlook seemed very good, life was nice again, I didn’t even mind being randomly selected for extra security check at each airport I used in the US.

After returning to Cairo, I started getting calls from my recruitment agent. There was a serious offer, and I was about to transform my life the way I always wanted. Move to the US, raise my kids on the values of tolerance, and secure their future by sending them to good schools, getting a house, basically the American dream!

On the afternoon of 9/11 (Cairo time), I left work to find that one of my car tires was flat, and was told that it was emptied by a resident of the apartment building I was parked off who though I had nor right parking there! I got furious, and decided I am going to the police station to lodge a complaint.

On my way to the police station, I heard the BBC Arabic service radio broadcaster saying that they are extending their news hour to cover the accident of a plane hitting one of the WTC towers! I said to myself, what foolish pilot would accidentally hit a building! I also felt bad because I visited the WTC towers earlier, and I had some of the best family photos taken there. I lodged the complaint accusing that resident! of course, nothing was to happen since the witnesses wouldn’t testify, but I wanted that women to be called by the police so that she doesn’t do it again. Anyway, I noticed that everyone was listening to the news. I didn’t even turn on the radio on my way home! I was late, and hungry.

I arrived home, and was asking my wife at the door if she could imagine that an idiot pilot hit the WTC??? She was better informed! She told me to come to the living room to see for myself what was happening! I seemed like the world has gone crazy! All channels of the Nilesat were getting live feed from CNN, and replaying the second plane hitting the second tower! Of course, it became apparent that it was no accident, it was mass murder in the most cowardly way! We started getting calls from friends, and people started to float conspiracy theories, but that’s beyond the point!

I got that depressing feeling again! Of course the recruiting company stopped calling me, and I called off my idea of moving to the US under the circumstances.

For the next few years, there was nothing but bad news; locally, the Egyptian pound lost half of its value, and while the invasion of Afghanistan was justified to dislodge the evildoers, Bush decided to move against the advice of the UN, and most of world, and invaded Iraq. His decision is still inexplicable to me. Iraq had no role whatsoever in 9/11! News of carnage in Iraq kept pouring in, the gruesome beheading of Nick Burg which, in my view, was a milestone in TV history, I couldn’t watch it of course, but the reaction of the terrorists was to do more of it as they saw this tactic as their shock and awe , but that’s another story. The Fallouja carnage, the mass murder of Shia who were accused by the insurgents of cooperating with the occupation, the revenge by the shia, it was like a competition of who shows the most graphic scenes! These news were culminated by Saddam execution and the rise of islamic militancy in Egypt, and even the judiciay took a right turn towards intolerance.

I have not only become depressed most of the time, but I started to consider taking antidepressants, and judging by the news in Egypt, and the region, I think we should all stock up on antidepressants.

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I’m pretty familiar with this post, but maybe some readers of this blog aren’t. David Farrer, the Scottish libertarian, wrote this in 2003:

… why shouldn’t England have its national identity recognised? I am not convinced that asymmetric federalism is an insurmountable problem. The “problem” of a federation dominated by England is largely caused by the state doing too much in the first place. Let’s gradually cut back the functions of government towards its (arguably) legitimate one of protecting the citizen against aggression – and nothing else. This means having the police and court systems under the control of the various nations that make up the UK and keeping defence at the federal (UK) level.

The Freedom and Whisky constitutional plan is this:

Withdraw from the EU

Devolve all powers – except defence and foreign affairs – to the various national parliaments

Each parliament to be fiscally independent with contributions being made to the federal government in proportion to population

The federal government should be situated on the Isle of Man, which is not in any of the home countries but is equidistant from all four of them

The Irish Republic should be invited to unite with the North and rejoin the UK with Dublin taking its rightful place in the Anglosphere alongside Cardiff, Edinburgh and London

And amen to that.

(a half and a half is an order you can place in Scottish pubs – a half pint of beer, and a half gill [or ordinary measure, depending on the pub] of whisky)

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I consider it an honour to have been linked to by the Egyptian blog Nah·det Masr, and I have added a reciprocal link to my blogroll. Here’s the descriptive paragraph from this blog:

“Nah·det Masr” means “Egypt Renaissance” in Arabic. I am a middle aged Egyptian citizen, I work as an assistant professor at Cairo University. I also work as a consultant to many organizations in my field of expertise. I believe in a secular, democratic, and progressive state in Egypt. I will try to voice my views through this blog.

Vive la renaissance.

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I get regular page hits from a gateway computer at the Greater London Authority. Do I have a regular reader there? Well, it seems the answer is: sort of. There has been a flurry of activity this morning since someone using that machine to get internet access first read my entry Celebrating diversity.

This is a gateway computer, so will be the route to the internet for a number of computers in the GLA. It looks very much as though details of this post were circulated to a number of people in the GLA, who all clicked through to look at it. I suspect an email then went out to someone with a yahoo mail account, and they came to look. After a short pause, the page hits have started again.

So, why the interest, and who is interested?

The post in question demonstrates that a small number of people – it uses one as an example – can be very vociferous and represent more than one organisation, thereby appearing to represent more voices than is the case – hence the ironic title. It uses photographs that have all been published by other sites to make this example. It suggests that someone who complains about political persecution is a hypocrite if they are a ringleader of political persecution.

I can understand those points being annoying or challenging to professional left-wing and identity group campaigners. These faults – forming endless groups whose memberships are broadly shared to campaign against people in a way they would find intolerable if they were the victims themselves – almost define a certain section of the left, and undoubtedly define identity group politics.

Which brings us to the question of who might be using taxpayer-funded resources at the GLA to monitor my posts. At the moment, I don’t know. I suspect I might find out. When I do, I’ll be sure to let you know.

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Michael Gove asked about the controversial Mosque “planned” for the Olympic site in East London:

15 Jan 2007 : Parliamentary Question Tablighi Jamaat Mosque

Michael Gove: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what discussions she has had with (a) the Mayor of London and (b) Newham council on the proposed Tablighi Jamaat Mosque in East London. [113920]

Mr. Woolas: None. There is no planning application before Newham council for such a mosque.

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Following on from the reports of an imminent US attack on Iran – which I tend to discount at this stage – I notice this suggestion that there is mobilisation beginning within Iran. This report is attributed to an unnamed source inside Iran:

IRGC (Islamic revolutionary guard) is moving some point defence radars, anti ships missiles, Hoot missiles, and various anti ship equiptment and missiles that are not known to public to Iranian coast lines on persian gulf and Hurmoze. Also some air and ground equipment to north, north east, West ,south west, and south East of Iran. IRGC is not going to add more defences to those three islands (Greater Tumb, lesser Tumb and Abu Mussa) because they would be the first to be pounded by US Navy and air force. US does have a plan to capture those and several naval bases…

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Via Advanced Nanotechnology, I read that:

quantum cyptography company id Quantique SA (Geneva) has teamed with Australian cyptography company Senetas Corp. Ltd. (Melbourne) to create what the partners claim in the world’s first 1- to 10-Gbit/s secure network that combines uncrackable quantum keys with classical encryption.
[…]
The uncrackable codes rely on single-photon emitters and receivers that detect whether a hacker has viewed a polarized photon—flagging the intrusion by switching any bit that has been observed, thereby alerting the recipient to an eavesdropping attempt.

So that’s Australia and Switzerland. Over to Egypt, where Egyptian Researcher Dr. Abd Al-Baset Al-Sayyed Explains the “Science” behind His Demand to Abolish Greenwich Mean Time and Replace It with Mecca Time:

Abd Al-Baset Al-Sayyid: When British colonialism or the British kingdom were in control, and it was “an empire on which the sun never sets,” it imposed Greenwich Mean Time. This creates two problems for the world. The first problem is that in Greenwich, the magnetic field of Earth is 8.5 degrees, whereas in Mecca the magnetic field is zero.

[…]

Interviewer: Before the break, we talked to Dr. Abd Al-Baset about the centrality of Mecca, and about the importance of measuring time according to the latitude of Mecca, and not according to the latitude of Greenwich… Why is it?

Abd Al-Baset Al-Sayyid: It has been proven that there is a certain discrepancy if we calculate it according to Greenwich. This discrepancy has been estimated as 8.5 minutes between the northern and southern hemispheres.

Interviewer: How much?

Abd Al-Baset Al-Sayyid: 8.5 minutes. Air traffice cannot be organized this way. They are aware of this, and so they try to change it.

Interviewer: Really?

Abd Al-Baset Al-Sayyid: Yes. If they calculated time according to Mecca, it would be the same in the northern and southern hemispheres.

Interviewer: Surely they know this…

Abd Al-Baset Al-Sayyid: Yes, but we have to work on these things. We must declare this, and we must convene a large conference with them, and tell them that time must be calculated according to Mecca.

Interviewer: What other benefits are there to calculating time according to Mecca?

Abd Al-Baset Al-Sayyid: If you calculate time according to Mecca, those 8.5 minutes… The magnetic field of Earth, for example… What I say is that there are people at the North Pole and the South Pole who cannot come here in multitudes.

Interviewer: Really?

Abd Al-Baset Al-Sayyid: This is because the magnetic force is concentrated there, which affects people’s blood and the biological movement of life. It has been proven that if magnetism, anywhere, exceeds 1,000 gauss, which equals one tenth of a tesla, it affects the ability of the hemoglobin in the blood to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues, the ability of the blood to carry oxygen to the tissues.

Interviewer: In other words, the ability to live…

Abd Al-Baset Al-Sayyid: Yes, to live… This means is that when you are in Mecca, the ability of the blood to carry oxygen to the tissues is greater than anywhere else in the world.

Interviewer: That’s why, when people travel to Mecca, they return full of energy.

Abd Al-Baset Al-Sayyid: In Mecca, you don’t exert any effort. That’s why you may see an old man, who cannot walk, or who walks with crutches, and even though it gets very crowded around the Ka’ba, he is filled with great strength, and he circles the Ka’ba. You do not exert any effort, and you are filled with energy, because you are in a place in which there is no magnetic force.

[…]

Anybody who studies human chemistry knows that all circulation in the human body is to the right. All the components are called “dextro-rotatary,” which means circulating to the right. They call it dextro-rotatory, which means circulating to the right. When I’m circulating [the Ka’ba] from right to left, anti-clockwise, I increase my body’s circulation, and consequently I am filled with energy.

Interviewer: I get filled with energy too?

Abd Al-Baset Al-Sayyid: Yes, because the right-to-left circulation in my body increases.

(via lots of blogs)

One of these three countries is a net recipient of international aid. Can you guess which?

Meanwhile, The Guardian gives a platform to Intelligent Design and militant religious advocates.

Last time there was a prolonged period of Labour government, we had to be bailed out by the IMF. Nice to see the Guardian working to make that happen again, in its own way.

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