Saturday, January 31, 2015

"The Mind Unleashed" and Fluoridation of Water

I've been getting a few comments on my post about why you should not repost articles from The Mind Unleashed. One of the things I noted was that "The site publishes many articles arguing that fluoride is an evil substance that should not be added to our drinking water." The comments I've received inveigh against the supposed dangers of fluoride in the drinking water, which was added in order to combat dental cavities. The latest post quoted an article from a website called "Culture Change" which claims that the Nazis used fluoride in concentration camps "to keep the inmates passive." This was because, "The poison serves to decrease resistance to authority." How fluoride accomplishes this is not described (or supported by any evidence) in the article.

I know that there have been campaigns in the US against fluoridation of water since at least the 1960s - as I recall this was something that upset the John Birch Society because they thought it was a communist conspiracy. These campaigns apparently still exist, as evidenced by my correspondents.

The American Dental Association has a statement on its website supporting fluoridation because it reduces cavities (Fluoride and Fluoridation):
On January 25,1945 Grand Rapids, Michigan became the world's first city to adjust the level of fluoride in its water supply. Since that time, fluoridation has dramatically improved the oral health of tens of millions of Americans. Community water fluoridation is the single most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has proclaimed community water fluoridation as one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century. Approximately 74.6% of the U.S. population served by public water systems receive the benefit of optimally fluoridated water. 
Fluoridation of community water supplies is simply the adjustment of the existing, naturally occurring fluoride levels in drinking water to an optimal fluoride level for the prevention of tooth decay. Water that has been fortified with fluoride is similar to fortifying milk with Vitamin D, table salt with iodine, and bread and cereals with folic acid. 
For nearly 70 years, studies have consistently shown that fluoridation of community water supplies is safe and effective in preventing dental decay in both children and adults. Simply by drinking water, children and adults can benefit from fluoridation's cavity protection whether they are at home, work or school. 
Today, studies prove water fluoridation continues to be effective in reducing tooth decay by at least 25%, even in an era with widespread availability of fluoride from other sources, such as fluoride toothpaste. 
Fluoridation is one public health program that actually saves money. An individual can have a lifetime of fluoridated water for less than the cost of one dental filling. 
The American Dental Association continues to endorse fluoridation of community water supplies as safe and effective for preventing tooth decay. This support has been the Association's position since policy was first adopted in 1950. The ADA's policies regarding community water fluoridation are based on the best available science. The ADA, along with state and local dental societies, continues to work with federal, state and local agencies to increase the number of communities benefiting from water fluoridation.
A science blogger, Skeptical Raptor, has recently blogged on the claims against fluoridation of water in Fluoridation, the 47 millionth blog post issue.

Orac, at Respectful Insolence, also blogged on the 2013 referendum in Portland, Oregon, which resulted in a decision not to fluoridate water there. He has a good discussion of the scientific issues.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Stephen Sizer is being investigated by the Church of England

On the Stephen Sizer front, it appears that the Church of England is going to investigate his latest infelicities: "Church of England to investigate Stephen Sizer over 9/11 Israel post."
The Church of England is investigating one of its clergy after he posted a link on Facebook post to an article entitled "9-11/Israel did it". 
In the week in which Prince Charles led commemorations at Holocaust Memorial Day marking 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Rev Stephen Sizer's link was condemned by the Church as "unacceptable" and a matter of "deep sorrow and shame".... 
When Jewish News contacted Sizer about the 9/11 link, he asked the weekly newspaper to show him articles refuting such claims. 
The article he linked to attempted to make connections between wealthy American Jews and the 9/11 attacks. Sizer asked online: "Is this anti-Semitic?.. It raises so many questions."... 
In an email to the Jewish News, Sizer said: "I would welcome articles you can recommend refuting the allegations." Noting that many Americans feel 9/11 was "an inside job," Sizer added: "It is essential the public become convinced of what happened before and after 9/11. Inevitably the truth will upset many people if it is shown by further investigation that the official explanations are shown to be deficient." 
He added: "Encouraging research and debate on all aspects of [9/11] is not anti-Semitic... Suppressing discussion on such grounds will fuel suspicion, not remove it."
He just posted the following statement on his blog:
Statement from Revd Dr Stephen Sizer

"I very much regret and apologise for the distress caused by the reposting on Facebook of a link to an article about 9/11 from Wikispooks. It was particularly insensitive in that last week coincided with Holocaust Memorial Day. I removed the link as soon as I received adverse feedback, and realised that offence had been caused. I have never believed Israel or any other country was complicit in the terrorist atrocity of 9/11, and my sharing of this material was ill-considered and misguided. At the request of the Diocese, I will be suspending my use of all social media and blogs with immediate effect and until further notice.”
He has, however, not removed the whitewashing article on his blog about his participation in the Iranian government's "New Horizons interfaith conference" in Teheran in October, which I wrote about then - Stephen Sizer hanging out at an antisemitic conference in Iran. This is where he issued a threat to those who criticize the Iranian government: "Critics of conferences such as New Horizons should think more carefully about how their inflammatory words will negatively impact on their own communities in Iran." Apparently Sizer believes that Jews and Christians living in Western countries, where we have freedom of speech, should refrain from criticizing the Iranian government because our co-religionists might be attacked by the government because of our words. There's a word for that: blackmail.

At that conference he gave a speech called "Christian Jihad," where he equates the Zionist movement with ISIS: "I hope that we would all agree ISIS is no more representative of Islam than Zionism is of Judaism, or the Crusades and Inquisition are of Christianity."

For more on Sizer's deep connections to Iran and an Iraqi Shi'ite militia called Kata'ib Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades), see an article on Harry's Place, "Sizer presents TV show for channel linked to Hezbollah Brigades." The network is called Al-Ejetah, and it is an Iraqi station sponsored by the Kata'ib Hezbollah and paid for by Iran. His program is called "Enlightenment." An article on The Arab Digest, January 30, 2012, reports that, "The first is the Aletejah TV, an Iraqi channel for the pro-Iranian 'Hezbollah Brigades', a small military organisation that is diverting its attention to "social issues" after the American withdrawal."
Kata'ib Hezbollah is one of the Iranian-backed "Special Groups" of Shi'a militias that carried out attacks on coalition forces during the Iraq war. Since the U.S. withdrawal, the group has deployed fighters to Syria and has also set up a front group in Iraq, Saraya ad-Difa' ash-Sha'abi ("Popular Defense Brigades"), to assist Iraqi government forces to roll back Sunni insurgent advances, most notably in the Tikrit area, where security sources speaking to pro-government outlets have readily admitted coordination. Kata'ib Hezbollah, as an Iranian proxy, espouses the Khomeinist ideology of Wilayat al-Faqih ("Guardianship of the Jurist").
Kata’ib Hizballah is a radical Shia Islamist group with an anti-Western establishment and jihadist ideology that has conducted attacks against Iraqi, U.S, and Coalition targets in Iraq. Kata’ib Hizballah has ideological ties to Lebanese Hizballah and gained notoriety in 2007 with attacks on U.S. and Coalition forces designed to undermine the establishment of a democratic, viable Iraqi state. The organization has been responsible for numerous violent terrorist attacks since 2007, including improvised explosive device bombings, rocket propelled grenade attacks, and sniper operations. Kata’ib Hizballah also targeted the International Zone in Baghdad in a November 29, 2008 rocket attack that killed two UN workers. In addition, KH has threatened the lives of Iraqi politicians and civilians that support the legitimate political process in Iraq. 
On June 24, 2009 Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg designated Kata’ib Hizballah (KH) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended (INA). Deputy Secretary Steinberg also designated KH under section 1(b) of Executive Order 13224, as amended. The Department of Treasury has also designated Kata’ib Hizballah under Executive Order 13438. The Department of State took these actions in consultation with the Attorney General, the Secretary of the Treasury, and other relevant U.S. agencies.
The Al Ejetah network has also hosted Gilad Atzmon on its Panorama program, speaking on the Jewish lobby. On Atzmon's webpage the content of the program is described in these terms:
In this Al Etejah's Panorama program Gilad Atzmon elaborates on the dominance of Jewish lobby in the UK and America and the weak resistance it meets in both Britain and the USA. The activity of the Lobby clearly undermines the notion of Western democracy. We also spoke about the collapse of Left politics and future of Western thinking.

The Harry's Place article details Sizer's contacts with Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Iranian regime:
This is not Sizer’s first experience doing PR for Iran’s Shia network. 
Sizer has previously toured South Lebanon as a guest of the Lebanese Hezbollah’s TV network Al Manar TV. ... 
Last year he made a tourism video for Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator who has overseen the deaths of 200,000 of his own people, in a civil war in which Assad has bombed his and gassed own people repeatedly – not that this deterred Sizer. 
Sizer has worked before with the Iranian regime. As you can see in this document, he worked with Khomeini’s daughter Zahra Mostafavi to translate his book Christian Zionism into Farsi.... 
The Iranian regime, remember, jails pastors distributing New Testaments, whilst sponsoring a translation of Sizer’s book, which shows the cross locked in by a giant Star of David on its cover.
Last year, Sizer spoke at an antisemitic conference in Iran, which included Holocaust deniers as speakers.
This ought to trouble the Church of England, every bit as much as his 9/11 conspiracy theory.
Daphne Anson has an excellent article about Sizer on her blog, with a screenshot of his Facebook post linking to the article arguing for Israeli/Jewish responsibility for the 9/11 attacks.

Further articles on Sizer:

Betsy Childs at First Things writes about Sizer as the "Master of Apologies." She concludes:
While Stephen Sizer has shown himself ready to apologize, he has been unwilling to alter his behavior. It is past time for his church to stop allowing him to plead carelessness as his excuse. His continual posting of anti-Semitic content, as well as his disingenuous apologies, brings dishonor to the name of Jesus and the body of Christ.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Holocaust Memorial Day, January 27, 2015

I am finding living in Bochum to be very emotionally difficult at times. Today is one of those days. Most of the time I focus on the present day - my research, making friends, going out to dinner, reading, traveling to visit museums, but sometimes I find it impossible to avoid thinking about the Holocaust. Sometimes that occurs because of a conversation with colleagues or friends, or because of a place I visit. For example, before Christmas, I went to downtown Bochum with a friend to go to the town's Christmas market (one of the things I really enjoyed doing was visiting several Christmas markets in the area). As we were walking among the shops and waiting to buy some Glühwein (warm, spiced wine), my friend noticed two Stolpersteine ("stumbling stones") on the ground - these are small plaques set into the sidewalk that give the names and birth and death dates of Jews who used to live nearby. They can be found all over Germany, and also elsewhere in Europe. There are about 30 of them in Bochum. People in Bochum researched Jews who lived in the city and perished at the hands of the Nazis. The website of the city of Bochum has a complete list of the Stolpersteine and the presentations made by local citizens.

These are the two plaques for Hanna Wittgenstein-Meyer and Bertha Wittgenstein, who were deported to Riga and presumably murdered there. This is a link to the presentation about them (in PDF form). These two were placed in the ground in May, 2005.

Primo Levi

Seventy years ago today, the Red Army entered Auschwitz-Birkenau and freed the few thousands of starving prisoners who remained there. Primo Levi, in the last chapter of Survival in Auschwitz, describes the experiences of the prisoners in the infirmary who were left behind by the SS guards who drove the rest of the prisoners west to Germany.  For ten days the prisoners were in the camp before the Red Army arrived. He survived thanks to two friends, Arthur and Charles. This is what he wrote about January 26 and 27 (pages 170-172):
We lay in a world of death and phantoms. The last trace of civilization had vanished around and inside us. The work of bestial degradation, begun by the victorious Germans, had been carried to its conclusion by the Germans in defeat.
It is man who kills, man who creates or suffers injustice; it is no longer man who, having lost all restraint, shares his bed with a corpse. Whoever waits for his neighbour to die in order to take his piece of bread is, albeit guiltless, further from the mode of thinking man than the most primitive pigmy or the most vicious sadist. 
Part of our existence lies in the feelings of those near to us. This is why the experience of someone who has lived for days during which man was merely a thing in the eyes of man is non-human. We three were for the most part immune from it, and we owe each other mutual gratitude. That is why my friendship with Charles will prove lasting.
....The Russians arrived while Charles and I were carrying Somogyi (a fellow prisoner who had died in the night) a little distance outside. He was very light. We overturned the stretcher on the grey snow.
Charles took off his beret. I regretted not having a beret. 
On January 28, 1945, the New York Times reported on the Soviet military advance through Poland into Germany. The article has a brief notice of the taking of Auschwitz (called Oswiecim in Polish).

This same article is accompanied by a map that shows the Russian troop movements.

Auschwitz is at the lower right corner of the map, very close to Cracow.

The New York Times published a very short article on February 2, 1945, about the liberation of Auschwitz.

The current estimate of those killed at Auschwitz is 1,100,000 people, of whom a million were Jews, so the number given in this article is close. Subsequently, later in the year, there were claims that 4 million to 5 million people were murdered in Auschwitz, but later research showed that this figure was wrong.

May their memory be for a blessing.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Anti-Muslim and Anti-American demonstrations in Germany

Pegida demonstration in Dresden January 25, 2015 (from Deutsche Welle)
The anti-Muslim PEGIDA demonstrations in Dresden have gotten a lot of attention both in Germany and other countries. The acronym stands for "Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West" (In German: "Patriotische Europäer Gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes" - the word "Abendland" literally means "lands of the evening," meaning in the direction of the setting sun. It is not the usual modern German word for Western countries). The demonstrations started early in the fall and until a couple of weeks ago seemed to be increasing in size each week.

The demonstration last Monday, however, was cancelled because of Islamist threats to one of the chief organizers of Pegida, Lutz Bachmann. Then he was forced to resign from his leadership of the organization because it was discovered that he had posted a photo of himself looking like Hitler on his Facebook page. The leaders of Pegida have claimed that they have nothing to do with Neonazis but now their assertions seem kind of hollow.

The latest Pegida demonstration was held today in Dresden, instead of Monday, because tomorrow night there's going to be a big free anti-Pegida concert in the city tomorrow. The Pegida website reported that between 20,000-25,000 attended today's demo, but Deutsche Welle reported that the police estimated attendance of about 17,500 people.

Pegada demo in front of the main train station in Erfurt.
Another demonstration, inspired by Pegida but with a different target, occurred in Erfurt yesterday. This one is anti-American, with the slogan of "Ami! Go Home!"  Between 800-1000 Pegada demonstrations were opposed by about 600 people from Antifa (anti-fascists), who as far as I could tell, were waving an American and an Israeli flag. The Antifa posted a short video to Youtube that they headlined "Nazi Assault," and captioned it
 "At the beginning of the demonstration of Pegada-march there was a Nazi assault. It was not the only attack by Nazi hooligans from Erfurt, Gera. The marshals of Pegada demonstration hand in hand with Nazi-hooligans. A taste of the HoGeSa demo in March in Erfurt." 
HoGeSa is another group that coalesced in the fall. The acronym stands for "Hooligans Gegen Salafisten" - in this case right-wing (football) Hooligans against Salafists. In October, 4,000 people came to their demonstration in Cologne and battled the police. The Facebook page for Pegada mentions HoGeSa with approval.
Over 1,000 people gathered this Saturday in Erfurt, the capital of the eastern state of Thuringia, to protest against the "Americanization" of Europe, amid a groundswell of xenophobia in eastern Germany and ongoing social movements in cities around the country directed against what's been called an "Islamization of the occident." 
The Erfurt police told DW that the situation in front of the central train station on Saturday was "outright aggressive," as protesters held posters and chanted anti-American slogans abreast with some 600 counterdemonstrators who attempted to break police lines
One of the main messages one could hear chanted by the mob was, "Ami! Go HOME," which translates roughly as, "Americans! Go HOME." A series of speakers attempted to deliver addresses to the crowd, but their speeches were drowned out by whistling from counterdemonstrators.
Journalists on the ground in Erfurt confirmed to DW that the mood was characterized by an aggressive anti-Americanism, coupled with violence between demonstrators and counterdemonstrators. A brawl nearly broke out at one juncture as counterdemonstrators, mostly young members of the left-wing anti-fascist Antifa group, attempted to block the anti-American protesters.
Conspiracy theorists and hooligans 
The anti-Americanism group is an apparent offshoot from the PEGIDA movement that has been holding weekly demonstrations for three months now. Its self-proclaimed founder, Frenchman Stephane Simon, explained the reasons behind the group's formation in a YouTube video posted this week
"We will no longer watch on as German and European politicans pull the wool over our eyes," said Simon in a video lecture during which he wrote his main theses on a whiteboard behind him. "We cannot continue to support our governments, under NATO dictates, as they pursue and further nothing other than US interests: With our money, our soldiers, and our weapons." 
The group has two names, both acronyms in nomenclatural imitation of the PEGIDA movement. Simon said he and his followers were tired of the concentration on Islamization, referring to this as a mere symptom of the more fundamental influences robbing Germany of its autonomy. PEGADA, namely, the Patriotic Europeans Against the Americanization of the Occident is more fitting. The second name, ENDGAME, or "Engaged Democrats Against the Americanization of Europe," serves to clear up ongoing qualms with the cumbersome concepts of "patriotism" and the "occident," endemic to the first name. What's clear, however, is the new focus on the United States as a motivating factor for social protest. 
A number of posts on the group's facebook page purport the explicitly bellicose nature of US administrations past and present. One warns against Washington's involvement in Ukraine as a "push for a Third World War at the expense of Germany and Western Europe in the hopes of engendering a US economic boom," publishing a video that claims to prove that Washington is pushing for a global war to rejuvenate its "dying economy." 
Also on the PEGADA facebook site one can see a number of posts expressing the support of the right-wing, anti-Islamist hooligan group HoGeSa (Hooligans against Salafists). The violent group has distanced itself from the widespread anti-Islamization PEGIDA movement in favor of anti-Americanism, because it also accuses the United States of having played a role in the formation of the "Islamic State" (IS).
As you can see, both Pegada and HoGeSa are advocating nonsensical conspiracy theories - the US certainly had no role in forming Daesh (ISIS), nor is the US pushing for a "third world war" in the Ukraine.

It seems pretty clear also that all of these groups are connected with the German far right, even if not all the people who go to Pegida marches are members of far-right groups. An article in Deutsche Welle describes the Neonazis who go to the Pegida marches.
PEGIDA, neo-Nazis, and organized rage 
Germany's well-organized neo-Nazi scene is merging with the Islamophobic PEGIDA movement. They've become an integral part of the group's weekly marches - and they appear to be tolerated by organizers. 
André E. is a highly conspicuous man. His earlobes have large holes widened over time by black rings. The backs of both his hands are covered in tattoos, one with a skull. If you don't know André E., at first he comes across as intimidating. But if you do know him, you know he's dangerous. 
He has been on trial in Germany since 2013 on charges of helping the far-right terrorist group National Socialist Underground (NSU), together with group member Beate Zschäpe. He is said to be one of her closest associates. The two are bound together by their hate - for immigrants and for Muslims. 
André E. isn't afraid to show his attitude publicly. In mid-January, right after the NSU trial in Munich, he went straight from the courtroom to a demonstration held by the anti-Islamic PEGIDA movement together with his comrades from the Bavarian neo-Nazi scene. 
PEGIDA, an acronym which translates to "Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West," sprung up in the eastern German city of Dresden, and has been organizing weekly demonstrations since October 2014. 
Over the past several weeks, well-organized neo-Nazi networks have established their own powerful block within the marches. Officials from far-right parties, neo-Nazis from violence-prone regional groups, and convicted right-wing terrorists are among them - people such as Karl-Heinz Statzberger, for instance, who planned to carry out a bomb attack on a Munich synagogue in 2003. 
A common cause 
When the marches get underway each week, the neo-Nazis form a kind of rearguard. They scream far-right battle cries with a gutteral roar: "If you don't love Germany, leave Germany!" And many regular citizens join in enthusiastically. Evidently no one seems to feel disturbed by their presence. 
And so it plays out again and again at PEGIDA marches in cities around the country. In northern Germany, the leadership of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) participates in the demonstrations. In Berlin, neo-Nazis march with Nazi symbols on their clothing, clearly showing off their beliefs. And at the home of the PEGIDA protests, in Dresden, members of far-right hooligan groups serve as leaders. None of the protest organizers seem to object to their participation. 
So why has the extreme right been so successful in merging with the PEGIDA movement? A recent study by the Technical University in Dresden indicates that the neo-Nazis and the "furious citizens" who participate have many beliefs in common. Both groups share a general dissatisfaction with politics, both have racial prejudices, and both reject Islam. 
The far-right scene tries to use that to its advantage, and so far it's been successful. Its alliance with the middle classes is, however, fragile, because most of the people who support the anti-Islamic PEGIDA movement reject the use of violence as a political tool. Violence, however, is one of the key features of the organized neo-Nazis. 

A Visit to the "Deutsches Bergbau Museum"

The Deutsches Bergbau Museum. Notice the huge structure above it - the headframe.
Today I went to another museum, this time in Bochum itself - the Deutsches Bergbau Museum (the German Mining Museum). We went down the "Visitor Mine," which simulates a real mine, but was built to show mining technology from various eras. Since it's a Sunday, there was no guided tour, and we just wandered around by ourselves, not understanding most of what we were seeing. (To be honest, I'm not sure that going on a guided tour would have added much to my knowledge - there were a couple of places where we listened to recorded explanations of what we were looking at, but they were often too technical for me to understand). It was a rather strange, claustrophobic experience. The museum's website has an explanation of the various machines in the mine, for the technically minded: the Visitor Mine. The visitor mine is about 20 meters down, while a real mine would be much deeper - they have installed a simulation of a pit cage that goes down 1200 meters, which we went on.

The history of the museum itself is interesting. It wasn't built on the site of an old mine, but of an old slaughterhouse. It was founded in 1930.
The appearance of the museum today is largely shaped by the new, prestigious museum building based on plans by the renowned industrial architect Fritz Schupp. The decision to build was made in 1935. To give visitors as realistic an impression as possible of working life underground, the construction of a visitor mine was planned right from the start. At the end of June 1937 a shaft was sunk so that the first gallery could be excavated. In 1940, 600 metres of galleries and cross-cuts had already been excavated in the visitor mine, around 17 metres under the ground, and most of this had been fitted with permanent supports. 
Before it was fully completed, the museum building was badly damaged by Allied air raids, and in 1943 the museum had to be closed because of the war. The few remaining members of staff moved valuable items from the collection to safe places, and converted the visitor mine into an air-raid shelter. This became the most heavily-used air-raid shelter in Bochum, with between 580 and 760 people per day seeking refuge here in 1945.
After the war, the building was cleaned up, and eventually greatly expanded. We mostly went to the underground mine and then wandered around the other exhibits. There's something we didn't see, which I think would be interesting - the "treasure chamber" of objects made of mined materials, as well as an exhibit about the cult of St. Barbara, who is apparently the patron saint of miners. Inside the Visitor Mine we saw a couple of small statues of her.

Some photos of old mining machinery.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Roman-German Museum in Köln, January 18, 2015

Roman-German Museum in Köln, January 18, 2015

Today I went to Cologne and visited the Römisch-Germanisches Museum there. Cologne was a Roman city and many artifacts have been found from that era. (These are only a few of the photos - click on the link to see the whole set).

There were two very nice mosaic floors, one on the floor of a Roman villa. It was exposed in the early years of WWII when the authorities were building air raid shelters. It's called the Dionysus mosaic because of the mythological figures depicted, but what I really liked were the animals.

Another mosaic floor is called the "Philosopher's Mosaic" because it depicts several ancient Greek philosophers.
This is Plato.

And this is Socrates.
Here's another mosaic floor, called a "lithostroton." 

Another example of the same style.

Another mosaic, partially restored, of the gladitorial games.
These ladies below are Germanic mother goddesses. The Latin inscription reads: "For the Matrones Afliae. Marcus Marius Marcellus established the altar for himself and his family on the order of the Matrons."

This is a gravestone for the cavalryman Longinus. The inscription, not shown here, says
"Longinus Biarta, son of Bisa, from the tribe of the Bessus, cavalryman
 in the (regiment) of Ala Sulpicia (in Bulgaria). Died at age 46 years."

Another dedicatory inscription: "For the goddess Vagdavercustis,
Titus Flavius Constans, Commander of the Imperial Guard."

Depiction of a river god, perhaps of the Rhine.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

On Charlie Hebdo, Islamophobia, and Racism

One response to the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo that killed 12 people has been to attack Charlie Hebdo itself as racist or Islamophobic. I've seen articles that have condemned the murders, of course, but then have gone on to argue that the newspaper should not be held up as any paragon of virtue because the cartoons it printed were anti-Muslim and racist. (Interestingly enough, the people who make these criticisms never seem to accuse Charlie Hebdo of being antisemitic - even though the newspaper did print cartoons that mock Judaism as well as the Pope and Muhammad). As I've said before, I don't think that cartoons that mock religion or religious figures (like Moses) should be seen as antisemitic, racist, or anti-Muslim (unless, of course, they go beyond the mockery of religion and attack Jews, Muslims, people of African descent, etc.).

Joe Sacco, in the Guardian, posted a cartoon that was very critical of Charlie Hebdo, essentially accusing the newspaper of printing racist cartoons and engaging in a double standard. (I've provided small version of his cartoon below).  He seems to consider the cartoons that were aimed at Muslim religious figures (like Muhammad) as being equivalent to two racist caricatures that he himself drew - one of a Black man falling out of a tree with a banana, the other of the stereotypical Jew counting money. In between those two panels, he wrote about a cartoonist that Charlie Hebdo had fired because he had written an antisemitic column. This, to me, signals his confusion - he conflates mockery of religious ideas and holy figures with attacks on Jews or Muslims. I don't feel attacked by cartoons that mock Judaism (even if I don't like them) - I do feel attacked by cartoons that attack Jews.

And why is the third to last panel a "gratuitous drawing of a true believer doing God's work in the desert"? It's not so gratuitous, since Da'esh terrorists have in fact cruelly decapitated people in the desert. Then, in the next panel, Sacco lumps all Muslims together as having one opinion - "And what is it about Muslims in this time and place that makes them unable to laugh off a mere image?" - illustrated with a drawing of one of the victims of American cruelty at Abu Ghraib. It's simply not true to assume that all Muslims had the same reaction to the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. And even for those who felt insulted by the cartoons, how many decided first to firebomb the Charlie Hebdo office and then to murder the people who worked there? I don't know if the police ever found the person who threw the firebomb at the office in 2011, but it was only two men who perpetrated the murders last Wednesday. And Sacco's last panel assumes that those who disagree with him (which would include me) think that there is something "deeply wrong" with all Muslims and that we want to "drive them from their homes and into the sea."

That is certainly not true of me. What Sacco avoids dealing with entirely in this cartoon, and what I think is very important to think about, is the ideology that motivated the two murderers - that espoused by Al Qaeda and Da'esh. One of the two brothers who killed the people at the Charlie Hebdo office had gone to Yemen and trained at an Al Qaeda training camp there. Sacco blames the murders of the cartoonists, ultimately, on the West - the US invasion of Iraq, symbolized by the drawing of a prisoner at Abu Ghraib. Why doesn't he blame the people who actually committed the murders and ask what about their ideology convinced them that this was the right thing to do?

For another critical view of Sacco's cartoon, see the article in Harry's Place, A Response to Joe Sacco.

A critical article on Charlie Hebdo's secularism (laïcité), by Scott Sayare in The Atlantic.

"On Charlie Hebdo: A letter to my British friends," by Oliver Tonneau in his blog for provides more context for the politics of Charlie Hebdo. Here is an excerpt - it's worth reading the whole thing.
Three days ago, a horrid assault was perpetrated against the French weekly Charlie Hebdo, who had published caricatures of Mohamed, by men who screamed that they had “avenged the prophet”. A wave of compassion followed but apparently died shortly afterward and all sorts of criticism started pouring down the web against Charlie Hebdo, who was described as islamophobic, racist and even sexist. Countless other comments stated that Muslims were being ostracized and finger-pointed. In the background lurked a view of France founded upon the “myth” of laicité, defined as the strict restriction of religion to the private sphere, but rampantly islamophobic - with passing reference to the law banning the integral veil. One friend even mentioned a division of the French left on a presumed “Muslim question”. 
As a Frenchman and a radical left militant at home and here in UK, I was puzzled and even shocked by these comments and would like, therefore, to give you a clear exposition of what my left-wing French position is on these matters. 
Firstly, a few words on Charlie Hebdo, which was often “analyzed” in the British press on the sole basis, apparently, of a few selected cartoons. It might be worth knowing that the main target of Charlie Hebdo was the Front National and the Le Pen family. Next came crooks of all sorts, including bosses and politicians (incidentally, one of the victims of the bombing was an economist who ran a weekly column on the disasters caused by austerity policies in Greece).  Finally, Charlie Hebdo was an opponent of all forms of organized religions, in the old-school anarchist sense: Ni Dieu, ni maître! They ridiculed the pope, orthodox Jews and Muslims in equal measure and with the same biting tone. They took ferocious stances against the bombings of Gaza. Even if their sense of humour was apparently inacceptable to English minds, please take my word for it: it fell well within the French tradition of satire – and after all was only intended for a French audience. It is only by reading or seeing it out of context that some cartoons appear as racist or islamophobic. Charlie Hebdo also continuously denounced the pledge of minorities and campaigned relentlessly for all illegal immigrants to be given permanent right of stay. I hope this helps you understand that if you belong to the radical left, you have lost precious friends and allies. 
Read the rest at Letter to My British Friends

Unity march in Paris today

I'm watching the massive march in Paris today on the BBC online, and I wish I had just gotten on the train this morning and joined it! Here are some screen grabs that I took:

BBC reporter speaking with a woman from Gabon (holding the newspaper), who spoke about repression in her country.

Journalists from Gabon who have been suppressed by the Gabonese government.

"Police in mourning"

A French rabbi speaking about his community.

"I am Charlie"

A woman with English/American parents who now lives in Paris, whose husband was in Boston during the terrorist attack on Patriot's Day.

The BBC reporters are saying that there are more than a million people on the streets of Paris today.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Good night and sweet dreams

Jerusalem snowfall, January 9, 2015

And finally, because it's always good to post photos of Jerusalem in the snow (from a friend in the city).

על אלה אני בוכיה - On the murders in Paris

Some reactions to the murders at Charlie Hebdo and at the kosher supermarket in Paris today.

First, from a friend of mine who fled Vienna with her family before WWII:
What is the world coming to? The great synagogue of Paris has been closed for Shabbat services for the first time since WWll ! 
Some Tweets:

From the Times of Israel:
Amedy Coulibaly, the Islamist gunman who allegedly killed four people and held others hostage before he was killed by French security forces at a kosher store in Paris on Friday, reportedly told a French journalist at the height of the siege that he had deliberately chosen to target Jews.   
“He explained his target, why this kosher store: because he was targeting Jews,” French BFM-TV journalist Sarah-Lou Cohen said. She said Coulibaly called the TV station soon after 3p.m. Paris time. 
“We got a phone call” from Coulibaly, Cohen said. “He called us because in fact he was looking to contact the police.” Coulibaly spoke to BFM journalist Alexis Delahousse, she said, and told him that he and the Kouachi brothers had planned their attacks together. “He explained also why he did this: to defend oppressed Muslims, he said, notably in Palestine,” Cohen continued. “And finally he explained his target, why this kosher store: because he was targeting Jews.”
More Tweets:

Mistaken assumptions about the murders at Charlie Hebdo

Tehmina Kazi wrote a good article on Charlie Hebdo: Dismantling nine mistaken assumptions about the Paris atrocities.
False Assumption One 
‘Charlie Hebdo magazine was needlessly provocative’ 
Manufacturers of outrage and assorted agitators do not need any kind of ‘provocation’ for their actions. When Jyllands-Posten published the Danish cartoons in September 2005, protests in Muslim-majority countries did not start until four months later. 
Mona Eltahawy’s interview with Jytte Klausen, the Danish-born author of the Yale Press’s forthcoming book, Cartoons That Shook the World, recognised that lag. According to Yale Press’s Web site, she argues that Muslim reaction to the cartoons was not spontaneous but, rather, that it was orchestrated “first by those with vested interests in elections in Denmark and Egypt”, and later by “extremists seeking to destabilize governments in Pakistan, Lebanon, Libya, and Nigeria”. 
Further, Quilliam Foundation director and Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate Maajid Nawaz re-tweeted a ‘Jesus and Mo’ cartoon on 12 January 2014. Most of the people who called for his de-selection – and helped to whip up the resultant furore – conveniently ignored his earlier mention of the cartoons on the BBC’s Big Questions programme. The broadcast itself attracted barely a whisper on social media.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Mocking religion

In 2006, when the Danish cartoons of Muhammad were first published, I wrote a post about the violent reaction against them: Violence and cartoons.

Here's one paragraph:
The other thing that offends me is the idea that religion and religious people should be shielded from mockery or otherwise offensive speech. As I've said before, religion, like anything else, is open for criticism, mockery, etc. I don't like it when people mock practices and beliefs that I consider sacred, but that is part of what it means to live in a free society. If Christopher Hitchens writes an article denouncing a particular practice associated with Jewish circumcision, I don't think he should be told to shut up because it might offend my religious sensibilities. Why has religion come to acquire this quality that it is above criticism?

Kristallnacht and Charlie Hebdo

A respondent wrote:

I was in Frankfurt this week and visited the site of one of the synagogues destroyed by the Nazis on Kristallnacht. I thought about this comparison also. In fact, the Charlie Hebdo office was firebombed and completely destroyed in 2011. Yesterday the cartoonists were murdered.

My photographs below are of the memorial for the synagogue on Friedberger Anlage, which was built in 1907 and destroyed on November 9, 1938.

This is from the website "Jewish Sites in Frankfurt am Main" - "The Place of Remembrance at Friedberger Anlage 5-6 documents a facet of National Socialist perfidy: In 1942 a civil defense bunker was erected by French prisoners of war on the foundation of the Israelitische Religionsgesellschaft synagogue that was dedicated in 1907 and destroyed during the November pogrom.1 Boasting 1600 seats, the synagogue was Frankfurt’s largest. It belonged to the breakaway Orthodox community founded in 1851 by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. Landscape architect Jeanette Garnhartner won the 1985 competition for redesigning the forecourt, commissioned in commemoration of the former synagogue."

"Here stood the synagogue of the Israelite Religious Community.
It was set on fire and destroyed on the Pogrom Night of 9 November 1938."