December 23, 2009

You’ve got to hand it to the English.  They sure know how to sniff out a good case of discrimination when they sense one. 
Latest example of this prodigious olfactory power:  The case of “M”, the progeny of a non-Jewish mother and a Jewish father who lives in London.  “M” sought admission to the Jewish Free School (now known by its acronym JFS) in North-West London, an institute which characterizes itself as an orthodox Jewish day school offering a high school education to a wide spectrum of practices within the British Jewish community.  It has been doing so since 1732, making it the longest established Jewish educational institution in Europe.
” M” found himself  on the wrong branch of the family tree when he applied for admission to the school.  He was denied entry because it was determined that his mother’s earlier conversion to Judaism had not been conducted by strict orthodox standards.  This rendered ‘M’  technically non-Jewish, and therefore an inadmissible candidate.

A suit was launched on behalf of student ‘M’ under the U.K.’s 1976 Race Relations Act, claiming that school’s use of rabbinic law to determine the Jewishness of the student was  discrimination based on the student’s ethnicity –  the first time in English history such a claim had been made in a civil court.

According to ‘M”s legal team, an act of discrimination had occured and the father ( who had long since divorced the mother) had decided to ask the English legal system to fix it. 

For years the case dragged through the courts until the Court of Appeals finally held that the application of Jewish law in this case had indeed violated the Race Law.  And last week the newly re-established Supreme Court, by a narrow majority, supported the earlier decision, mandating that M  be allowed to attend the school.  

While the nine esteemed justices all went out of their way to make it clear that JFS’ admission’s policy was not ‘racist’ in the normal sense, the majority opinion nevertheless maintained that the observance of strict Jewish law by this school had infringed the rights of others.  Therefore JFS’s admission policies would not be allowed to stand.
 Anyone with even an ounce of understanding of the operation and influence of  common law must surely appreciate the seriousness of this assault on privacy and communal  rights.

 If not, then lets make it clear:  This decision amounts to a non-Jewish court dictating to a Jewish community as to who is and who is not a Jew, removing that privilege from the hands of the community’s own religious leaders.  

The  implications of the interference of a secular court  in a religious matter of this nature has telling consequences.  I have alluded in an earlier piece Tyranny of the Minority,  to the repercussions of  religious institutions bowing  to multicultural pressure. But with the Court now taking an interventionist role in a religious matter, all bets are off on the rights that will be trampled in the inexorable drive to build a just, diverse and truly multicultural British society.  
Faith schools could lose not only their right to select pupils on religious grounds but could have the entire gamut of religious life opened to judicial review by secular judges who will bring their own prejudices, experiences and likely ignorance to bear on the subject.

So a Jewish woman objects to her synagogue’s practice of dividing men and women during prayer services?   No problem.  Take it to the district judge who will review the case and decide it on the basis of common community practices.  Unhappy with the absence of a kosher certification for certain favorite products?  Well just hop  on down to your local attorney to file a complaint of  discrimination and presto, you will have a non-Jewish judge determining what kind of food is kosher and what is non-kosher.

In the United States, the Jewish Reform Movement and certain groups within the Conservative Movement, have long held that Orthodoxy’s focus on matrilineal descent is discriminatory.  But they should not be popping champagne corks any time soon.  With this Supreme Court decison, arguably the most authoritative voice on common law in the world,  schools, community centers, Jewish oriented social programs and even religious practices could all potentially come under the purview of secular law.  What the decision amounts to, (notwithstanding the five majority justices’ earnest hand wringing over the ‘unimpeachable’ and ‘ honest’ actions of the JFS school), is an attack on Jewish identity itself.  That is not a cause for any Jew to celebrate.
The decision could not have come at a worse time for  the British Jewish community.  According to commentator Gabriel Schoenfeld, anti-Semitic incidents in the first six months of 2009 alone – including vandalism, hate mail and direct attacks on Jews, exceeded the entire number for 2008. Antisemitism in Britain is higher than it has been in several generations and grows worse by the week with undisguised attacks on Jews from respectable publications such as the Times of London, the Guardian and numerous university student newspapers.
An example of how the British public is coming to view its Jewish citizens and its private religious schools, was given some illumination in a series of on-line comments which appeared with the report of the Supreme Court decision in the Daily Mail:
Denominational schools should be totally banned and made illegal . There should be no place of any Religeous( sic) Denominational Schools, Jewish,Muslim, Catholic or Church of England etc., in this multi-cultural country. It only breeds racism and religeous( sic) hatred. ALL religious schools should be banned and made illegal. ”
                                    Chomskyite, London, United Kingdom,
Of course parents should be free to bring up their children in whatever faith they wish  – but outside of the education system.  That way children of all faiths mix and make friends which makes for a more cohesive population.”
                                      Marie, Lancashire
“Faith schools foster division, you only have to look at Northern Ireland to see what they have done. Education should be purely that and not have anything to do with faith.”

Christians in the U.K. have not escaped from this growing hostility to the practise of religious faith.  Last week Olive Jones, a 54-year-old math teacher who teaches children too ill to attend school, was dismissed following a complaint from a sick girl’s mother. She was visiting the home of the terminally ill child when she asked the mother if she would join her in prayer on the girl’s behalf.  The mother responded  that they were not believers and so this would not be appropriate.
Jones was then called in by her managers who, she says, told her that sharing her faith with a child could be deemed bullying.   They then informed her that her services were no longer required.
How ironic it is that the multicultural creed, with its unflinching emphasis on freedom of cultural expression, grows increasingly intolerant of any religious practice, even while it continues to extol the benefits of pluralism and diversity.
As a result of the Court decision, JFS has already changed its admission policies.  Unable to give priority on the question of Jewish status, the School will now give consideration to those who obtain a religious practice certificate, issued on the basis of a child’s synagogue attendance, Jewish education and communal activities. Fifty other Jewish communal schools across the nation have followed suit.
To an outsider this might not seem to be such a remarkable change.  But for the U.K. Jewish community, which has lived within English secular and Christian societies for 20 generations, and for whom the sense of Jewish identity is tied inextricably to the concept of Jewish nationhood, it prevails as a monumental challenge to its existence.  It means that the community can no longer safely conduct its religious practices without worrying how commonly held  secular attitudes might judge them;  it  implies that those same practices may be subject to review by legal and political elites, who are indifferent to Jewish history and insensitive to Jewish tradition.
Across the Atlantic, religious communities should be no less concerned about these developments. With our local judges give increasing weight to the decisions of extra-territorial courts, this could be a wind blowing our way.  Perhaps we should all be wondering then, if the day will come, when to be “Jewish”  or “Christian”, ” Muslim” or “Bahai” will be regarded by our Courts as so inherently discriminatory that further laws will be needed to protect society from the attitudes, views and policies of those inflexible ‘religious separatists.’


December 14, 2009

Somewhere near the middle of The Road, the two protagonists, a father and his son, stumble on a barn at the top of a snow swept hill.  As they tentatively open the barn door they are exposed to a frightening sight: three bodies, two adults and an adolescent, hang from the rafters.  The camera focuses on the son’s face as he registers the tragedy. 

“ You know why they are dead,” the father mutters, almost matter-of-factly.The boy doesn’t answer.  But the sorrow is clearly etched on his face. 

The three died, it is revealed, for either of two reasons:   Either to pre-empt the certainty of a slow death by starvation; or else a defiance of the resort to cannibalism – almost the only means of sustaining life in a land where nothing grows.   

Its easy to see why Cormac McCarthy’s novel, transferred to the screen, is viewed as yet another tall tale in a long line of films depicting man pitted against man and man against nature.  But that would be to miss the film’s deeper and more pointed meaning. For The Road is no mere survival film but a portrait of humanity on the brink of extinction and the immutable fact that human survival depends not only on physical nourishment but on fundamental moral choices.      

As the father and son (never identified with names in either the book or the movie) wander across the desolate American landscape, they must contend with what it means to be human and the overarching question of whether survival is worth the moral cost of abandoning all human values.   

The movie could therefore have easily have been titled The Test. 

That is because the two are driven to extremes, as their sense of human decency is repeatedly stretched to the limit by the situations they encounter and the individuals they meet.  After the father is forced to kill another man to save the boy’s life, both are visited with the deepest dread of the implications of the deed.  A starving elderly man, who asks for nothing, is given food nonetheless, after the boy implores his father to do so.  A wild child, glimpsed through a window in a deserted town, becomes the subject of  a heated exchange between father and son as the latter beseeches his father to find the child and bring him along with them; a thief who steals all their possessions is hunted down and rather than being killed, is forced to disrobe and left to stand naked in the wind and rain.  Only after hours of pleading from the boy does the father return to the spot where they first caught up with him, to deposit the items of clothing on the ground in the hope the thief will return to reclaim them.   

In the clash between the father’s drive to protect his son and the almost febrile articulation of the boy’s moral consciousness, we are given a parable of the deep tension which has afflicted western civilization for the past 100 years:  the struggle between the demand for fulfillment of individual needs and the quest for social responsibility.   

McCarthy, himself, has never sounded so assured in his defense of humanity.   While the world may well have been annihilated by human hand, he seems to believe in an ultimate goodness for which the task of regenerating mankind is made all the more worthwhile.   This is the “fire” the man urges his boy to carry, a symbol of life and goodness that separates “the good guys”  from “the bad guys” and is the clearest statement yet in a McCarthy novel of the demarcation between absolute goodness and ultimate evil .   In this way The Road is a fundamental departure from other McCarthy works such as No Country for Old Men, Suttree and Blood Meridian  – all of which display a deep ambivalence about humanity and its purpose.    

For all its inherent bleakness, The Road is a profoundly uplifting movie. While it recognizes that there are two forces of evil that prevail upon us -one from within and the other from without –  it also suggests that with sufficient vigilance and preparedness both can be defeated.    

The two main characters emerge, then, as symbols of  this drive. 

The boy comes to represent the virtues of principle and idealism.  He nudges his father’s conscience and repeatedly forces him to face the prospect of his own descent into inhumanity.   The father, on the other hand, represents deep faith tempered by experience. He presents as a model of human resilience in the face of catastrophe. It is, after all, his unflinching vision of a better life which drives the two onward toward their uncertain, obscure future. 

But even more impressive than this is the deep bond of love that binds father to son as they grapple with the exigencies of survival.  It is evident in the final moments of both book and film, in one of the most touching scenes I have ever read on a page or viewed on screen.  When everything is lost, when there seems little reason for either hope or faith, can love survive and become a source for both?  Countless anecdotes from the Holocaust have suggested that it can.   

It is a question to which The Road seems to respond resoundingly in the affirmative. 

At a time in history when man’s failures to maintain peace are wrathfully condemned by our elites and human interference with nature regarded as a blight on earth, it is good to see a film which pulls no punches in exploring the potential for human goodness and celebrates the cause of human exceptionalism.


December 9, 2009

Anyone who wants to obtain a sense of the havoc that architecture can wreak on a nation’s identity, need only visit Moscow.  In the many churches and public buildings surviving from the 13th century onwards, you can gaze upon the ghost of the Mongol conquest of Russia, characterized by the bulbous and ubiquitous onion dome.   The prevalence of the dome has left such an eerily Asian stamp on the landscape, that looking at it you can easily forget that you are standing on European soil. Indeed, Russia’s historic defensiveness and traditional resistance to be being brought within the European ambit is at least partly attributable to its connections to Asia, cemented during the 200 years of Mongol rule.

No one can dispute that conquerors usually have the last word on architectural style in their vanquished realms.  The Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Moorish empires all left their permanent architectural mark on the nations they conquered and there is little doubt that the manner and style of their constructions also had a significant impact on the way the people of those conquered territories thought of themselves.

Perhaps that’s what the Swiss citizenry remembered when they voted November 29, so decisively, to ban the further construction of minarets in Swiss towns and cities.  One can understand the resistance to the encroachment of Muslim architecture.  It is, after all, difficult to imagine a Swiss chalet, nestled in one of those pleasantly verdant Alpine villages, forced to compete with a minaret for the domination of its skyline.  

But there is much more than aesthetics involved in the Swiss decision.  It represents a turning point in European awareness of the threat to national identity encouraged by relentless Muslim encroachment.

This was expressly recognized by a report from The Egerkinger Committee – an alliance of the conservative Swiss People’s Party and the Federal Democratic Union of Switzerland, responsible for placing the initiative on the ballot.   The committee reported that “the construction of a minaret has no religious meaning. Neither in the Qur’an, nor in any other holy scripture of Islam, is the minaret expressly mentioned. The minaret is far more a symbol of  a religious-political power claim.”

The initiators justified their point of view by quoting parts of a speech made by the would-be Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 1997: “Mosques are our barracks, domes our helmets, minarets our bayonets, believers our soldiers. This holy army guards my religion.”  Ulrich Schluer, who is one of the Egerkinger committee’s most prominent exponents, states in this respect: “A minaret has nothing to do with religion: It just symbolizes a place where Islamic law is established.”

The success of the initiative is even more startling when we appreciate the alliance of forces that were arrayed against it. The Swiss Federal Council, the seven-member executive council which serves as the Swiss collective head of state, rejected the initiative.  The Federal Assembly, (the Swiss Parliament) voted 129-50 in  the spring of this year to advise Swiss citizens to spurn it. Both the Catholic Church and the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities came out adamantly in the negative.  Advocacy groups such as the Society for Minorities in Switzerland and Amnesty International decried  it  “as an assault on human rights.” Swiss labor unions such as the influential Economiesuisse claimed it would affect Swiss foreign interests and would cause turmoil in the Islamic world.

These elites, some of whom are now plotting to have the ban overturned, see in the approval of the initiative an atavistic tribalism which threatens their multicultural ethos. They see no problems associated with the spread of Islam in Europe, have no fear of Europe becoming Islamicized, and seem full of confidence that minarets, blaring amplified calls to prayer and set in the middle of suburban streets, can only add to the blessed polyglot magic that is Switzerland.

But it is more likely fear which drives them. Perhaps they all remember the Danish cartoon riots of 2006 and its result – how the Danish government cravenly fell to its knees begging forgiveness from its Muslim population as its embassies in Muslim lands were torched and Danes the world over vigorously denounced.

With such deep seated fear driving opposition, the obvious question remains:  how did this initiative pass? If we read deeply enough into the debate and the final vote, we might arrive at the conclusion that the Swiss people have begun to recognize what the emergence of the true ‘multicultural state’ really portends:  Perhaps it means the surrender of a united national culture;  or maybe the acceptance of values that are at odds with the general thrust of Western humanism; Or, with the confirmation of Muslim power, an ultimate capitulation to Muslim intolerance and its abiding contempt for democratic values.

Awareness of this threat is growing in other parts of Europe.  This year the French were convulsed by a debate on whether the burqa, or Islamic veil, should be banned for women in public – a reaction to its ubiquity in certain parts of that country. The initiative did not pass, but the debate itself underlines the discomfort many in France feel about the insistence of Muslim leaders on social separation and their rejection of the majority culture. 

Today those who led the successful initiative are being accused of racism, bigotry and prejudice. Yet we must see it all in context.  Muslims the world over routinely declare Europe ripe for conquest. They understand that multicultural sensitivities offer them an effective tool to pry open European society, exposing the weakness and lack of self belief at its heart.

Last week, the citizens of Switzerland proved them wrong.   Despite the opposition of their elites and despite the unrelenting denunciations of human rights groups, the Swiss declared their commitment to preserving their own and Europe’s heritage.  Other European nations may quickly follow suit , confirming the growing consciousness that tolerance of the intolerant is not a recipe for integration but a prescription for the almost certain collapse of national identity.


December 3, 2009

In Australia, six months ago, I had dinner with a couple whom I have known for nearly thirty years.  The husband is a renowned physicist at one of the country’s leading universities.  At a point in the dinner, somewhere over roast chicken and potatoes, the conversation drifted onto the topic of global warming.    I proceeded to state my opinion  that the whole issue is guided far more by a political agenda than good, hard science.   The husband looked at me as though I had just burst into the Ave Maria in the middle of of a Yom Kippur service.

“What are you talking about?” he growled, a chill penetrating our otherwise warm exchange.   “Politics has no bearing on science. Scientists base their observations solely on a solid methodological approach and empirical data. As for man-made warming, it has the near universal consensus of climatologists around the world and it is absurd to suggest that the evidence is cooked.”

I remembered the conversation last week when ‘Climategate’ cracked open the records of some of the world’s leading climatologists and impugned their reputations, perhaps beyond reprieve.   The climate scientists at the world famous Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the U.K were revealed as palpable hucksters with email trails leading back as far as 15 years, suggesting that they had doctored climate records, administered collective punishment to dissenters, colluded to subvert the work of climate change skeptics and sought to shut down a magazine that had begun to publish the work of climate change doubters.  

Modern science was and is meant to be the expression of all that is rational in the human mind. Flowering in the late 16th Century, in the throes of the Renaissance, it has, since that time, offered us a system for acquiring knowledge about the natural world and through observation and experimentation, describing and explaining natural phenomena.

Over the centuries we have come to expect more and more from our scientists as their discoveries and inventions have led the way to an understanding  of space and time, the building blocks of matter, the harnessing of natural forces and life-changing breakthroughs in communication, transportation, sanitation and the prolongation of human life.

Revered for their assumed devotion to the cause of human progress and the quest for truth, scientists have come to represent a standard of intellectual inquiry which is generally believed to be unsullied by politics, religion, ideology or dogma of any kind.

Most of us find it hard to accept, then, that our scientists have biases, that they can indeed display a high level of prejudice and often exhibit a chauvinism that skews their reasoning and which can drive them, in a herd mentality, toward the brink of intellectual fascism. No one expects such men and women, who are, we believe, committed to truth, to erect deliberate hurdles or barriers to others with alternative or contrarian theories which could have a bearing on the ascertainment of truth.

Yet it happens.

It certainly did  in the case of Richard Sternberg.  In 2005, Dr. Sternberg, the recipient of two Ph.Ds – one in molecular biology and the other in systems analysis – was a research associate at the Smithsonian Institute, widely acknowledged as this country’s most prominent scientific institution.  As the volunteer editor of one of the Institute’s publications The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington,

he regularly received submissions for the journal.  Similar to any editor of a scientific journal, if he deemed a submission worthy for publication, he would send out the piece to a group of anonymous scientists for peer review.  If the returned general consensus was positive, he would publish the article.

One such paper arrived from Dr. Steven C. Meyer, an academic with high credentials (a Ph D. from Cambridge University and a host of articles published in peer review publications). The article was titled  “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories.”

Sternberg liked the piece and therefore submitted it for review.  

The returned consensus was positive.  Thus, in August, 2005, the article appeared.

All was quiet for a month, before a storm of protest howled forth from the ranks of the Smithsonian Institute.  The events which followed were deeply reminiscent of the kind of treatment Jewish professors received from their non- Jewish colleagues following the rise of Nazi Germany.

Complaining about a paragraph at the end of the piece which offered intelligent design as  alternative theory to evolution, Sternberg was systematically demoted from his position as a Research Associate . He was thereafter became the victim of a rampant campaign of harassment by both the  Smithsonian administration and his colleagues; his religious and political views were investigated; his library privileges were revoked and he was forced to move his office. His professional reputation, his private life and his ethics, were repeatedly impugned and publicly smeared with false allegations by government employees working in tandem with a non-governmental political advocacy group, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE).

The environment became so hostile that Sternberg was unable to conduct his research and felt no other option but to resign.

Sternberg’s plight did not go unnoticed.  Articles and editorials in the Wall Street Journal and Washington Times, highlighted his case and eventually it was brought to the attention House of Representatives Commission on Government Reform which proceeded to launch an investigation.

The results of that investigation was a report with a scorching condemnation of the scientists at the Smithsonian Institute.  The email trail it uncovered produced incontrovertible evidence of group harassment, private and public humiliation and character assassination, condoned and sometimes even led by the Smithsonian administration itself. 

And all because Sternberg had allowed an article to be published in an Institute journal which challenged Darwinian orthodoxy.
This Kafkaesque drama has played out repeatedly in academic circles in recent years, but no more so than the case of Guillermo Gonzalez, denied tenure at Iowa State University in 2006.

In 2004, Gonzalez had co-authored a book The Privileged Planet The book’s thesis supported the theory that the Earth is uniquely placed in the universe for the development of life and that the emergence of such life elsewhere should be exceedingly rare to find, given the combination of factors needed to support it.   This idea rebuts the popularly accepted Principle of Mediocrity, made popular by the late Carl Sagan – that the earth has no special function or purpose and is certainly not unique in the universe in supporting life.

The implicit implication of Gonzalez’s book – that the universe itself reveals aspects of intelligent design – is anathema to many ideological astrophysicists who support Mediocrity and so it was to Gonzalez’s colleagues.  When Gonzalez’s nomination for tenure came up for review, they launched a furious campaign of denunciation and defamation, successfully derailing his application.Nothing further would have occurred if the main actors in the tenure process had not been forced to produce their email exchanges under the Freedom of Information Act.   What the email record reveals is a secret cabal of vilification and ridicule by colleagues in the Department of Physics and Astronomy who explicitly wanted Gonzalez removed because of his pro-intelligent design views. In voting to reject tenure for Dr. Gonzalez, members of the faculty at Iowa State had all but ignored recommendations made by the majority of their own outside scientific reviewers, who clearly thought Gonzalez deserved tenure.

 In October of this year, AFA itself learned first hand how this system works.  

After contracting with the California Science Center in Los Angeles to screen two films, one pro- evolution and  the other pro-Intelligent Design, as part of its event series, The Darwin Debates, our organization was informed that we had violated the contract and that the screening in the Center’s IMAX Theater was to be cancelled.

The supposed violation of the contract did not occur as alleged and a Freedom of Information Act Request (since CSC is a public institution all its email records are regarded as public domain) revealed that the allegation was merely a pretext.  The email trail shows dozens of scientists from all over the country weighing in on the issue and applying inordinate pressure upon the CSC to cancel the event.  In addition, an email from a representative of CSC, in what was almost certainly an inadvertent admission, was sent  to us claiming that the screening of the pro-ID film was likely to affect the Center’s relationship with its affiliate, the Smithsonian Institute.  That, for all appearances, seems to be the true reason for the cancellation of the contract.

In all three cases the email trail shows ideology trumping both intellectual integrity and academic freedom.  Now has it seemingly done the same thing in “Climategate.”  Information, vital to an assessment of the extent of anthropogenic global warming was dismissed and its proponents vilified and harassed for no other reason than that that they opposed the consensus view.  The whole episode has reinforced the notion that science is not immune from the pressures of either politics or ideology and that sometimes it will bend itself to accommodate both.

This has troubling implications for our society and civilization.  If we cannot rely on the integrity of our scientists to allow unfettered discussion of issues of global concern, free of ideology or politics, what value is there to the notion of open inquiry?  If scientists are revealed to be petty, vengeful antagonists who care less about the veracity of their own scientific ideas and theories than about the protection of their careers and reputations, what value are we to place on their pronouncements and claims to expertise?

The email trail of the global warming alarmists will, I predict, lead to some genuinely alarming revelations.  It will display the complicity of the scientific community in a fraud perpetrated by some of the world’s top climatologists in league with the leaders of  the U.N.’s International Panel on Climate Change ( IPCC) –  all of whom have vouchsafed the reliability of the calamitous climate figures.  In this event the whole edifice of the global warming movement is likely to collapse, revealed as a hollow shell with false, doctored science at its core.

This may well vindicate those among the climate skeptics who have railed for years against the scientific hogwash and the political gamesmanship behind claims of anthropogenic global warming.  But where will it leave humanity’s faith in the authenticity of science? 

That should be our most pressing concern in the weeks and months ahead as the reptilian carcass of ‘Climategate’ is slit open and spills forth its bundle of secrets.

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