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October 05, 2001

Chatting With Chomsky

The following is a transcript of Noam Chomsky's October 2 appearance in the MSNBC chatroom hosted by Will Femia. Full Article

Last chance to speak out

Abstract: Guardian Unlimited

( Polly Toynbee ) Religious extremism must not be put beyond criticism by legislation - or accusations of Islamophobia

The only good religion is a moribund religion: only when the faithful are weak are they tolerant and peaceful. The horrible history of Christianity shows that whenever religion grabs temporal power it turns lethal. Those who believe theirs is the only way, truth and light will kill to create their heavens on earth if they get the chance. Tolerance only thrives when religion is banished to the private sphere, but bizarrely this government is marching backwards, with more faith schools, more use of "faith communities" and now Blunkett's new laws against "religious hatred" to save religion from vulgar abuse. Wherever religion burns, it seeks power: Israel has become ever more dangerous (to itself and others) as religious parties gain power over secular ones. Religious politics scar India, Kashmir, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, Sudan ... the list of countries wrecked by religion is long. But the present danger is caused by Islamist theocracy.

There is no point in pretending it is not so. Wherever Islam either is the government or bears down upon the government, it imposes harsh regimes that deny the most basic human rights. Religions never accept universal human rights because their notion of rights derives from a higher revealed truth. Hundreds of emails from Muslims around the world flooded in this week claiming that UN human rights are a western construct, alien to their culture. A moderate one wrote: "Islam has its own understanding on human rights and the social order and the relationship between men and women established 1,400 years ago." Islam does have as wide a spectrum of interpretation as Christianity's long stretch from Ian Paisley to the Pope to the Quakers - but their Paisley element is alarmingly powerful.

This may be the last chance to say so before emergency measures ban "incitement to religious hatred". To say that religion is dangerous nonsense is indeed intended to incite people against irrational superstition in favour of reason. But this law will insulate religious ideas in a sanctuary beyond scrutiny, refutation or ridicule. Why does religion deserve a realm beyond questioning? Full Article

The Arabs will ensure they receive a political reward for their support

( Robert Fisk ) Could it be that the Americans are quietly acknowledging that their policies in the region might, just might, have something to do with the atrocities in New York and Washington? Of course, it could be just realpolitik. When President Bush's father wanted to maintain a Western-Arab alliance against Iraq in 1991, he decided to resolve the Middle East conflict, calling Arabs and Israeli leaders to a "peace" conference in Madrid. Anxious to create a new consensus with Arab nations in advance of his strike at Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, Mr Bush Jnr now says that "the idea of a Palestinian state has always been part of a vision, so long as the right to Israel to exist is respected". Which would have been much more impressive a statement had it been made before 11 September. But it wasn't.

Arab states, of course, have been making it clear for more than a week that their support for Mr Bush's "war on terrorism" was conditional; in return, the US would have to promise a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, meet the Palestinian chairman, Yasser Arafat, preferably at the UN in New York, and discuss an end to the sanctions against Iraq which have killed, according to some UN as well as Arab estimates, hundreds of thousands of children. The fact that these are two of the four demands repeatedly made by Osama bin Laden is, needless to say, not mentioned. Full Article

British culpability and the shadow of Canary Wharf

( Neil Sammonds ) It was shortly after I had addressed several hundred demonstrators outside the DSEI international arms fair in London Docklands that a journalist informed me that a plane had just flown into the World Trade Centre in New York. "I thought I should let you know," he said, "as there are rumours that Palestinians are behind it and you might want to take off your sandwich boards." My front board carried a picture of a heavily armed Apache helicopter and the slogan "British parts being used in ethnic cleansing"; the board on my back had an x-ray of a young Palestinianís skull with six bullets in it and the message "Israeli bullets Ė practiced on Palestinian children Ė bought by Londonís Metropolitan police." It was fitting that the very same police officers who had heavy-handedly detained hundreds more demonstrators outside Canning Town tube station, who had snatched and snapped in half the Palestinian flag I was peacefully waving ("It could be a f--king weapon" the officer politely explained) buy their soft-round bullets from Israeli Military Industries (via Samson Distraco in Leicestershire) who, incidentally, were showcasing their equipment a mile behind the police lines inside the arms fairís Israeli National Pavilion. Full Article

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