Friday, August 26, 2016

What the French Burkini Ban is NOT About

"Just the burkini, M'am. You may remain pixelated if you like."

Some beaches in Southern France have instituted a "burkini ban" - a ban on full-body covering Muslim swimwear for women. A few days ago, the world allegedly saw photographs of French police forcing a muslim woman to "strip." That incident was not what it seemed - it was a carefully staged setup, among other things. The law empowers the police to issue tickets, not force woman to take their clothes off.

Nevertheless, many, including many "conservatives," see the whole thing as silly at best and unjust at worst. Here's a response from Phil Lawler at Catholic Culture:
There are, indeed, aspects of Islamic fundamentalism that are inimical to a free and open society. (The face-veil, for example, is dehumanizing.) The desire to wear a modest bathing costume is not one of them. It is revealing (yes, that's the word) that in this weird response to a culture that shows no respect for women, secular France tells those same women to take off their clothes.
There's a lot to unpack in this paragraph (and notice how Lawler appears swayed by the symbolism of the fake incident above). But let's look at the issue by asking this question: what is the French burkini ban really about? Or to flip it: what is it not about?

It's not about modesty.

Modesty isn't defined by some recommended proportion of your body that should be covered by clothing. Rather, a large part of it is about not attracting undue attention to yourself. In this, the particular customs of place and time are obviously important. On a beach where most people go around 80% naked, Muslim women do not wear burkinis for reasons of modesty - to avoid attracting attention to themselves or to prevent lustful responses from those looking at them. They wear burkinis because they want to identify as Muslim or are frightened at what their community will do to them if they do not identify as Muslim.

It's not about diversity.

So, there's a one-piece over there, a bikini over there, here's a colorful shirt to protect from sunburn, there go a pair of cargo shorts, speedos to the right (look away) and under that umbrella is a burkini. Isn't that what diversity is all about? No. The burkina wearer represents an ideology that is opposed to diversity - in clothing as well as most other things. If that ideology had its way, all women, or at least all Muslim women would be required to wear one. Given the pressures within Muslim culture, up to and including threats of violence, that may be why she is wearing one now.

It's not about religion versus secularism.

France of course has a complicated history when it comes to religion. Much of French society is strongly secular, of course, and stressing the importance of "secularism" often earns one political points. It is not surprising then, that many proponents of the ban have justified it on the grounds that it upholds Farnce's secular values. But the burkini ban is obviously directed not at public displays of religion but rather at public displays of Islam. It's still perfectly fine to, say, wear a Christian cross with your bikini or one-piece. Not that you see that too much on the Riviera, but still.

It's not about security, at least directly.

While it's true that it's easier to hide a weapon in a burkini than in a one-piece or two-piece bathing suit, there are still plenty of ways for women or men to hide weapons on a beach if they were so inclined. A burkini isn't necessary for that. A burkini ban doesn't make beaches any more secure - or at least directly any more secure.

It's not about freedom of choice.

Shouldn't you be allowed to wear whatever you want on a beach? Yes and no. Some European beaches ban total nudity (though many do not). On German beaches it has long been illegal to wear Nazi memorabilia (just in case you might want to) and it's safe to say that swastika armbands wouldn't be tolerated on any European beach these days. Certain restrictions on freedom in public places are judged necessary to insure a minimum feeling of comfort or emotional safety. Most people wouldn't want to go to a public beach occupied by an aggressively public contingent of nudists or Nazis.

So what is the burkini ban about?

It's about Islam, of course.

The French see their country as gradually being occupied by an aggressive and violent invading force. They do not like it. For various reasons, most of them still feel they cannot quite express these thoughts in public, but they have them just the same. The burkini ban is one small way to fight back. It is of course a very small way of fighting back and thus taken on it's own will be almost entirely ineffectual. That doesn't mean it is bad or wrong per se.

Lawler thinks it is counterproductive:
Is the burkini ban intended to curb the tensions that arise between Muslims and their secular neighbors in public places? It will undoubtedly have the opposite effect. Muslim women humiliated by the police will be even more alienated; their menfolk will be even angrier.
This perfectly shows how some people who appear to at least partially get it -  "inimical to a free and open society," "dehumanizing," "a culture that show no respect for woman" - still, well, don't.

Sure the ban might temporarily make some Muslim "menfolk" mad (that it might make some of the womenfolk secretly happy is not considered). But if that is the criterion for judging the prudence of a particular policy vs. "radical Islam," then the cause is lost. Just don't rile them and everything will be fine. We hope. Maybe.

And why is it, exactly, that these tensions are arising? Do they just arise spontaneously because religions are, you know, different? Are tensions between Buddhists and Mormons and Sikhs and traditional Catholics and Hare Krishnas arising on southern French beaches? Or might it have more to do with the one particular religion behind the mass-murder of the month and the stabbing attack of the day? 

Muslim aggression is not a reaction to what non-Muslims do, unless of course you buy the arguments that if we would just stop bombing Syria and if Israel would just stop asserting it's right to exist, then there would be peace in our time. (Of course we would also have to agree to stop the occasional Protestant minister from barbecuing the Koran.) Or unless you look at things as many Muslims do - and as the Koran and the Hadith imply - that simply refusing to be put under sharia law is itself a provocation.    

There really isn't any middle-ground here. Either you think Islam, taken on its own and as a whole, is a threat to free civilization, or you do not. If you do not, then any legislation targeting Islam or Muslims is unjust. But if you do, then something must be done. While a burkini ban alone is obviously not that something, it may be part of a start.

And we're past the point of innocent protestations - "I'm against terrorism, but people should be perfectly free to practice their own religion, including Islam if they so choose."

Well, no. No, they shouldn't. Not if the sum of their "practicing" amounts to a growing threat on everyone's freedoms.

If every day, the trend was for more and more people to wear swastika armbands and greet each other with "Heil Hitler!" the thing would not be to righteously stand up for freedom of expression - including the freedom to wear Nazi armbands and make Nazi salutes. Rather, it would be to figure out how to shut the whole damn thing down.

Unless, of course, you thought Nazism was peachy.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

WHAT NEW DEVILTRY? Pope Emeritus Benedict Praises Raul Castro, Claims He Resigned in Part Because He Couldn't Make it to World Youth Day, Expresses Gratitude to Providence for the Election of Francis

World Youth Day got to him

The Italian daily, La Repubblica just published an interview with Pope Emeritus Benedict by Elio Guerriero, editor of the Italian edition of Ratzinger's works and author of a forthcoming biography. Andrea Torneilli provided a short summary in English for Vatican Insider.

These are only excerpts, of course:

On Pope Francis:
Obedience to my successor has always been unquestionable. Then there is a sense of deep communion and friendship. The moment he was elected I felt, as many others did, a spontaneous sense of gratitude towards Providence. After two Pontiffs from Central Europe, the Lord set his eyes as it were on the universal Church and invited us towards a broader, more Catholic communion. I personally felt deeply touched right from the start by Pope Francis’ extraordinary human warmth towards me. He tried to reach me by phone right after his election. He wasn’t able to get hold of me so he tried again straight after the meeting with the universal Church from St. peter’s balcony and he spoke to me in a very cordial manner. Since then, he has given me the gift of a marvellous paternal and fraternal relationship. I often receive small gifts, letters written in person. Before undertaking any major trips, the Pope always comes to visit me. The human kindness he has shown me is for me a special grace in this final phase of my life, which I can only be grateful for. What he says about being close to other people are not just words. He puts them into practice with me. May he in turn feel the Lord’s kindness every day. For this, I pray for him to the Lord.
On Cuba and Raul Castro:
I need scarcely remind you of how impressed I was in Cuba to see the way in which Raul Castro wishes to lead his country onto a new path, without breaking with the immediate past. Here too, I was deeply impressed by the way in which my brothers in the Episcopate are striving to navigate through this difficult process, with the faith as their starting point.
On World Youth Day and his decision to resign:
I was very certain of two things. After the experience of the trip to Mexico and Cuba, I no longer felt able to embark on another very demanding visit (to WYD in Rio in the Summer of 2013). Furthermore, according to the format of these gatherings, which had been established by John Paul II, the Pope’s physical presence there was paramount. A television link or any other such technological solution was out of the question. This was another reason why I saw it as my duty to resign.
Read the full summary here.

One would, I suppose, expect the Pope Emeritus to say nice things about Francis, though for faithful Catholics dreading each new day of the current pontificate, Benedict's overly effusive praise of Francis' election and his alleged quality of "being close to other people" are bound to grate.

Regarding being "impressed" by Raul Castro and the collaborationist episcopate in Cuba: Castro is a brutal communist tyrant who personally shot "counter-revolutionary" prisoners. The Cuban bishops are even now helping him suppress dissent, including dissent among Catholics. Would the younger anti-communist Benedict have ever made such outrageous statements?

Finally, that the universal head of the Catholic church felt it was his duty to resign (the first Pope in almost 600 years to do so) because he couldn't manage to attend an outdoor festival of Catholic teenagers in Brazil is of course insane.

I'm reminded of The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis. Everything you thought you could count on is going to pieces. Everyone you believed you could trust is betraying you.

A donkey is wearing a lion's coat.

Now that the Olympics are over, which largely occupied my mind for the last two weeks, I feel a profound sense of depression. There is no new good news about the Church. None. A donkey is wearing a lion's coat and the enemies of God are mocking and jeering.

What new deviltry will the next day bring?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

BREAKING: American University in Kabul Under Attack - Students and Teachers Trapped


From the Daily Mail:
American University in Kabul under attack: Gunmen storm campus packed with students as explosions are heard and victims tweet from inside 'I'm wounded and girls cry, please help us'
  • 'Complex' raid launched on campus of American University in the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul
  • Ambulances seen ferrying away the wounded from the assault on the school which is in a western suburb
  • University president, Dr. Mark English confirmed an attack has occurred - security forces have responded
  • The university was founded ten-years ago and currently has 1,100 students enrolled
  • College is styled on the American liberal arts model - 40-percent of students are women
The American University of Afghanistan in the capital Kabul is under attack by militants according to witnesses, with gunfire and explosions heard coming from inside the campus. 
A huge plume of smoke was seen rising above the campus on Wednesday night, where several American professors are inside university buildings, along with hundreds of Afghan students. 
Police spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said security forces have rushed to respond to the attack, while ambulances are ferrying the injured away. Many inside managed to escape the onslaught of gunfire through emergency exits. 
Teachers and students still inside the university are sheltering in place while security forces engage in a furious gun battle with militants inside, with many taking to Twitter to plead for help. 
According to one student, several of his classmate have been killed and wounded, while a number of professors and renowned Associated Press photographer, Massoud Hossaini remain trapped while fighting continues.

 'My class was over and I was planning to leave, then suddenly I heard gunshots,' said Ahmad Mukhtar, a student at the university. 
'I tried to find shelter, but a blast took place and I ran towards a wall and managed to escape by climbing the wall and injured my leg,' he told the LA Times. 
'Several students have been killed and injured; many students and professors are stuck,' said another student according to the LA Times. 
'Some managed to escape, but we are still here. Please help us.' 
Witnesses say that multiple attackers have descended on the university campus and detonated an explosion at the gate to gain entry to the heavily fortified facility. 
The Pullitzer-winning Associated Press photographer Massoud Hossaini is inside the university complex and tweeted that he is trapped along with other students. 
Hauntingly, he added that 'this maybe my last tweets'. 
The president of the university Dr. Mark English confirmed that the campus was under attack, saying 'We are trying to assess the situation.' 
'Several gunmen attacked the American University in Kabul and there are reports of gunfire and explosions,' another official said. 'They are inside the compound and there are foreign professors along with hundreds of students.' 
Ahmad Shaheer, a student at the university, told Reuters by telephone that he was trapped inside the university. 
'We are stuck inside our classroom and there are bursts of gunfire,' he said. 
Another student told NBC News that he had only just finished his class and was walking with friends when gunfire erupted and a 'massive explosion; threw them to the ground. 
'We got up, and in the midst of dust ... kept running to the back of the building and climbed the walls and jumped down on the street,' said the student. 
'I am in a taxi and on my way to hospital.' 
According to Afghan journalist Bilal Sawary, the Kabul's CDR rapid reaction force told him that they are dealing with a 'complex' attack and that special forces are 'en-route'. 
'We have been notified of a complex attack on the American University on Darul-Aman Road,' the commander of Kabul police's quick reaction force told NBC News, adding, 'We still don't know the exact nature of the attack.' 
Two professors, an American and an Australian were abducted from the university - where 40 percent of students are women - on August 8th, when five gunmen dressed in Afghan military uniforms kidnapped them at gunpoint from their SUV.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

BREAKING: French Tourist Yells "Allahu Akbar," Goes on Stabbing Rampage in Australia - 1 Dead, 1 Critically Injured


It happened at 11:35 in the evening, local time, at Shelley's Backpackers, a hostel on the North-East coast of Australia.

This isn't Western Europe. You'd think you'd be safe from this sort of thing there.

The suspect has been described as a "Frenchman," which presumably means he had a French passport.

The victims were British.

A woman is dead and a man is fighting for his life.

The suspect was caught on camera screaming "Allahu Akbar!"

From the Daily Mail:
Terror at Queensland hostel: Knife-wielding French tourist screaming 'Allahu Akbar!' kills female British backpacker, 21, and leaves man critically injured in rampage 

  • Woman is dead and a man is fighting for his life after they were stabbed 
  • The British nationals were allegedly attacked by a French national, 29 
  • Police were called to Shelley's Backpackers about 11.15pm on Tuesday
  • French man shouted 'Allahu Akbar' during the frenzied stabbing attack

A French man screaming ‘Allahu Akbar’ went on a stabbing rampage at a backpackers hostel in north Queensland, killing a 21-year-old British woman and leaving a British man, 31, fighting for his life in hospital. 
A third man, an Australian, received non-life threatening wounds and was released from hospital soon after the attack on Tuesday night, police said. 
The attacker, 29, also stabbed a dog to death during the frenzy that was witnessed by a roomful of more than 30 people at Shelley's Backpackers. 
Queensland state Deputy Police Commissioner Steve Golleschewski told a news conference on Wednesday that the attacker screamed the Islamic praise for God during the his frenzy. 
'It is alleged that the suspect used the phrase "Allahu Akbar" during the attack and when arrested by police,' Deputy Commissioner Gollschewski said. 
'Whilst this information will be factored into the information we are not ruling out any motivations at this early stage, whether they be political or criminal.' 
The French man, who has been in the country a temporary visa since March, was also caught on police body camera shouting 'Allahu Akbar' as he was being taken into custody. 
The alleged attack was being assessed for mental health issues and drug use. 
He was taken to Townsville Hospital and is being questioned by police after more than 30 people witnessed the knife attack. No charges have been laid yet. 
Australian Federal Police, who have a responsibility for investigating terror attacks, are also involved in the homicide investigation. 
'At this stage, there is no indications to indicate other than that the fact he was acting alone,' AFP Commander Sharon Cowden said. 
'Albeit it is a shocking incident and the community should remain vigilant. 
'He was in lawfully in Australia and at this stage he was not known to authorities.' 
Police say the man did not appear to have any ties to Islamic State. 
Both the Deputy Commissioner and the Commander expressed their condolences to the families affected by the attack. 
A third person, a 46-year-old local man, was taken to hospital with a stab wound to the leg but has since been released. 
Superintendent Ray Rohweder said police were confronted by a 'terrible scene' when they arrived at the hostel. 
'But both officers ... acted tremendously and ensured the safety of other persons at the venue,' he said. 
Supt Rohweder said the officers asked the alleged attacker, who had sustained injuries to his arms, to lay on the ground before taking him into custody. 
Investigators have the knife believed to have been used in the attack. 
Officers have been in contact with British consular staff. 
The French national is expected to be charged over the attack.

Scottish Police Announce Hijab Uniform

"It's the Scotch-hijab secret police. They've come for your Islamophobe niece."  

Police Scotland just 'unveiled' a new hijab uniform.

I feel safer already.

Actually, I think the picture looks like something out of a Monty Python skit - "No one expects the Scotch-hijab police!"

The intention is supposedly to encourage more Muslim women to join the force. But Muslims (and anyone else) have long been permitted to wear head coverings including a hijab. Yet, as the article claims, there are currently only 6 Muslim women on the force (out of 17,242 officers) and none of those women wear a hijab.

Obviously, prospective Muslima officers are intimidated by the high level of Islamophobia that still exists.

For example, knives and suicide vests are still prohibited while on duty.

BBC Scotland reports:
Police Scotland has announced women from Muslim communities may now wear the hijab as part of their uniform. 
It is part of an attempt to encourage Muslim women to consider pursing a career in the force. 
Officers and police staff have always had the option to wear religious headwear but the announcement ratifies the use of the hijab. 
Chief Constable Phil Gormley said the police force should be representative of the communities it serves. 
The move comes 10 years after the Metropolitan Police in London approved a uniform hijab. 
Mr Gormley said: "I hope that this addition to our uniform options will contribute to making our staff mix more diverse and adds to the life skills, experiences and personal qualities that our officers and staff bring to policing the communities of Scotland." 
The announcement was welcomed by the Scottish Police Muslim Association's chairman Fahad Bashir. 
He said: "This is a positive step in the right direction, and I am delighted that Police Scotland is taking productive steps in order to ensure that our organisation is seen to be inclusive and represents the diverse communities that we serve across Scotland. 
"No doubt this will encourage more women from Muslim and minority ethnic backgrounds to join Police Scotland." 
There are currently six female Muslim officers working for Police Scotland - but none of them wear the hijab either on duty or outwith the force. The most recent figure for the overall strength of the force - released at the end of June - was 17,242. 
Official figures showed that there were 127 applications from black, Asian and ethnic minority candidates in 2015-16. That was just 2.6% of the total number applying to work for the force. 
In order to reflect the 4% figure across Scottish society, the force said it would need to recruit an additional 650 ethnic minority candidates.

Monday, August 22, 2016

In Rio, the American Marathoners Ran Faster, Virtually Everyone Else Ran Slower - Why?

Paula of Brazil (15th) was not having a good time  

At the recent Olympic marathon, the two American-born athletes ran PRs, beating their previous best times by about a minute each. Galen Rupp, finished 3rd in 2:10:05 (previous PR: 2:11:13) and Jared Ward finished 6th in 2:11:30 (previous PR: 2:12:56).

Every other top ten finisher ran slower, sometimes dramatically slower than their PRs. Elide Kipchoge of Kenya finished 1st in 2:08:44 (5:39 slower than his PR of 2:03:05). Feyisa Lilesa finished 2nd in 2:09:54 (5:02 slower than his PR of 2:04:52).

The next ten finishers included 5 sub-2:10 marathoners. None of them did that in Rio.

Two Kenyans and one Ethiopian failed to finish in Rio. They had previous scorching PRs of 2:06:13, 2:03:51 and 2:04:24.

Before the race, on paper at least, it looked as if the Americans had no chance. But virtually all of the top runners had disappointing performances in terms of time.

Except for the two leading Americans.

Consider:
What explains this?

I really have no idea. But let's look at three possibilities:
  1. The humid conditions were brutal. Only the Americans were ready for this. Undoubtedly, the Americans trained very well (more kudos to Rupp's coach, Alberto Salazar). But all the top runners are relatively wealthy professionals with top coaches who, among other things, anticipate the possibility of varying race conditions. Most of these runners train on multiple continents. This explanation does not seem satisfactory to me.
  2. The pace over the first-half was slow. Thus, PRs were not in the cards for most runners (the reason Rupp and Ward ran PRs was because their PRs were relatively slow coming in). Indeed, I think each of the top 10 finishers ran a negative split (their first half was slower than their second half). But of course, this doesn't explain why the initial pace was so slow. Rupp claimed that his strategy was largely just to hang on to the favorite, Kipchoge for as long as he could. That sounds like a pretty good strategy to me, if you're Rupp. But why did Kipchoge and the other East Africans set such a slow pace at the beginning? It strikes me that if you are 7 or 8 minutes faster than, say Rupp, you want to take advantage of that over the full length of the race. The last thing you want is to have a 10,000 meter champion still with you with 10,000 meters to go. I'm not claiming Kipchoge and the other speedsters did the wrong thing. Obviously, they're smarter than I am when it comes to pacing. But I simply do not understand their strategy.
  3. The Americans were simply hungrier than the others. The Olympics are now the one international race where there is no monetary reward. All the other top runners (outside of the Americans) have successful careers where they make hundreds of thousands of dollars by finishing well at other races. So, perhaps from the point of view of one of these professionals, if things are not going perfectly at the beginning of the non-paying Olympic race, why kill yourself by going fast and thereby perhaps messing up your performance at the next paying marathon? Indeed, this might explain why the three super-fast East Africans dropped out. (My point is not to be critical, only to understand.) But again, this doesn't really explain why the fast guys didn't make more of an effort to set a faster pace at the beginning, or why more of them didn't try to hang on for a Silver or Bronze. Even the pace in the second half of the race was slower than many of them had run before. 
Again, my intention is not to be critical of anyone, least of all the superb East Africans.

But I do think it's a puzzle.

Does anyone else have any better explanations?

Machete Rampage in Brussels by 'Asian' Woman Wearing a Djellaba

Responders tend to a victim (or is it the suspect?)

Here is what we know so far:

Earlier today (afternoon in Belgium) a woman randomly stabbed three people. The location has been variously reported as occurring 'in a mall,'  'in a McDonald's,' 'at a bus stop' or 'on a bus' on the outskirts of Brussels.

Most reports claim she was wielding a machete. Some have called it a knife.

Two of the victims are in serious condition.

The woman was shot in the arm by police after refusing to drop her weapon.

Belgian media have reported that the woman was wearing a Djellaba - a loose fitting full-smock, popular in North Africa.

The police have not officially released the suspect's name (partial or full) or a description, but Belgian media reports that a police source claimed the woman was 'Asian.'

Almost immediately, it was reported that police do not believe the attacks were terrorist related or politically motivated, and that the woman had a 'history of mental illness.'

Read the Daily Mail article here.