New outrage scale needed

Turn the dial to 11. These news items show the inadequacy of any existing conceptual scale to the task of measuring your daily justified-outrage level.

(1) The pastor and congregation of the Dove World Outreach Center have engaged in an Al Qaeda recruitment campaign. I doubt that they know enough French to translate the phrase agent provacateur but they seem to understand the concept well enough to to play this role. Albeit, well out of reach of the actions they plan to provoke.

Charitably, I will assume it is just a bid to put Dove World Outreach Center in every standard dictionary, whenever there’s a need for an instant definition of “unbelievable stupidity”, “religious bigotry”, or “armchair warrior”. (Plus a few other words and phrases that wouldn’t make it into a school dictionary. )

Maybe they think their god is too slow in hastening Armageddon and needs a helping hand.

The guardian had a ludicrous anti-Dawkins piece the other day, with the writer claiming that:

He has become the mirror image of the theological dogmatists he despises.

There’s nothing like the Dave World Outreach Center to show that – if anything – Dawkins has been pulling his punches.

(You don’t need a link from me. This story is everywhere as they clearly planned.)

(2) And this story that seems equally designed to boost the membership of fundamentalist armies by a factor of several thousand. The Guardian headlines:

US soldiers ‘killed Afghan civilians for sport and collected fingers as trophies’
Soldiers face charges over secret ‘kill team’ which allegedly murdered at random and collected fingers as trophies of war

Dare I hope there’s a holdall somewhere with the names of these soldiers and the Gainesville pastor on it?

A lie goes round the world before the truth has put his boots on

(A Terry Pratchett quote, from the Truth, possibly an old saying, possibly invented on the spot.)

A BBC article said that Birmingham City Council has banned atheist websites.

I read this news in my workplace (which seems to randomly ban or allow even this site. There is absolutely no discernable difference in cussword quotient or possible offensiveness between this site on the days when it throws up threatening warning messages that I’ve tried to access a forbidden site and should instantly alert my line manager from the days when it works normally.)

I was shocked. Bloggably shocked, even.

I didn’t – for more than a minute or so – think that Birmingham Council actually wanted to ban atheist sites. The BBC article made it pretty clear it’s some useless off-the-shelf netnanny software that they are using. (In comments on Pharyngula, Cronan, Quidam and Armchair Dissident made excellent points, about the software and way it is set up and used, suggesting that this isn’t a deliberate city council policy, so much as the unthinking use of disturbingly set-up software.)

Well, duh. It’s a local government office. Almost by definition, its software buying decisions are made by people who can’t even use a spreadsheet package. Who are suckers for any sweet-talking sales people on their Preferred Suppliers lists. Who would think it was wildly outside their purchasing remit to pay attention to the details of what the software actually does. And who would rather insert a parking permit into their own left nostril than consult the people who might actually use a program.

But, still, it’s outrageous and the National Secular Society is absolutely right to object to this.

However, tracing the evolution of the reporting of this story in the atheosphere made me aware how easily a news item becomes a myth.

Pharyngula – blogged the story. He had a link to the BBC story but there was no evidence in his text that indicated that this was Birmingham, England.

Some of the 80-odd commenters who responded to this brief reference to a BBC article clearly took it that Pharyngula was talking about Birmingham, Alabama. An easy mistake to make. (I make it in reverse whenever the BBC refers to Birmingham, Alabama.) If I had read the Pharyngula piece without reading the BBC source, I would have automatically assumed this took place in Alabama.

Quintessential Rambling obviously assumed it was Birmingham Alabama and delivered a classic rant then showed an amazingly good grace and regard for the truth by admitting his error. That is my kind of human being.

A fair number of people will now believe that Birmingham, Alabama, has banned atheist websites. That’s fair enough. It’s a mistake based on an error of fact. No blame.

It’s the way that the facts of this incident contribute to a general level of atheist myth-making that disturbs me more. Wouldn’t you expect atheists to be a bit better at processing information than the average moron? Maybe that’s wishful thinking. Well, OK, it is definitely wishful thinking, but I am going to persist with it, in the face of the evidence.

A Richard Harris comment on Pharyngula says:

I bet the feckin’ Submissionists (followers of the prophet Muhammad, piss be upon him) are behind this.

Well, no. That seems like yet another attempt to demonise muslims to me. Is there some knee-jerk hate response that is stirred up every time the word islam is mentioned in any context? Oh, yes, silly me, Of course there is.

Leki is more rational but still manages to throw in a social disorder theme, expressed in terms of religion. S/he strings together a lot of completely disparate incidents to support a characterisation of Birmingham people as almost engaged in some sort of inter-ethnic, inter-religious war.

Birmingham is always in the news for something or another. A few years ago there were riots at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre over a play that depicted a rape in a sikh temple; there have been issues with honour killings; gun crimes have doubled (highest concentration of guns in the UK is Birmingham).
Remember the raid of January 2007? Birmingham police rounded-up a bunch of folks who were planning to kidnap a British soldier (muslim group, muslim soldier). That was big, big news.
I’ve visited Birmingham several times and there is this huge chasm between ethnicities. People are screaming on all sides about what language to teach in schools, how many mosques are allowed per block, whether or not the ‘english’ way of life is disappearing.

Well, yes, Birmingham IS always in the news for something or other. It’s England’s second city. Even the London-centric British media must mention what happens to a few million people every now and again.

Huge chasm between ethnicities? I assume you have never visited a US city? People screaming on all sides about what language to teach in schools, etc? Admit it, this is just made up.

OK, there’s nothing wrong with hyperbole in a blog comment. My point is that a casual reader of Pharyngula – who’s read the comments far enough to realise that a US city hasn’t banned atheist blogs – will be left with a vague, but probably lasting, impression that Birmingham, England, is under siege by extremist mullahs who have banned atheism.

Now, I expect the gutter press to leave this subliminal hate-residue in the back of the minds of its readers. That seems to be what it’s for. Keeping the population in a generalised low-level state of xenophobia, to make it easy to manipulate. It’s hard to understand the rabble-rousing tricks when they crop up in the atheist blogosphere.

There are some real concerns in this Birmingham situation. For instance, it’s disturbing that the effects of decisions made by blocking-software providers – with their own illiberal agendas – can be unthinkingly transmitted to become public policy. These issues are a bit boring. They don’t produce the visceral kick that seems to come with identifying an alien scapegoat. But trying to find out the truth must be the truly “rational” response.

The enemy of my enemy is not my friend

There are blogs for which the phrase “deeply unpleasant” might have been coined. Jihad Watch and Dhimmi Watch are among them. I’m making a pre-emptive reference to Godwin’s Law (hat tip: Black Sun Journal) and suggesting that you only have to replace the references to “Muslims” with “Jews” to be mentally transported straight back to 1930s Germany.

But beautiful irony amongst the emetic dross The title is “Wall of silence broken at state’s Muslim public school”:

……Amanda Getz of Bloomington is a substitute teacher. She worked as a substitute in two fifth-grade classrooms at TIZA on Friday, March 14. Her experience suggests that school-sponsored religious activity plays an integral role at TIZA.
Arriving on a Friday, the Muslim holy day, she says she was told that the day’s schedule included a “school assembly” in the gym after lunch.

Cleverly apostrophised. The reader is supposed to see “school assembly” as a cover for some unspeakable events.

Before the assembly, she says she was told, her duties would include taking her fifth-grade students to the bathroom, four at a time, to perform “their ritual washing.”
Afterward, Getz said, “teachers led the kids into the gym, where a man dressed in white with a white cap, who had been at the school all day,” was preparing to lead prayer. Beside him, another man “was prostrating himself in prayer on a carpet as the students entered.”

Oh. It’s prayers in a schools assembly, then. Well, I’m certainly against that. But I thought the whole point of these people was that they were all for it? Religious leaders in odd ritual clothes, silly rituals. Not unlike Christianity or Judaism then.

“The prayer I saw was not voluntary,” Getz said. “The kids were corralled by adults and required to go to the assembly where prayer occurred.”

Let me commit an breach of blogtiquette here. ROFL. LOL. LMAO 🙂 and any other net-words for pissing oneself laughing. (Get lectured about overuse of this by a middle class English youth on You-tube)

School prayer ~= a voluntary thing. Ever.

If it was a matter of choice, kids wouldn’t do it. Kids go to church or the mosque or the synagogue because their parents choose to make them. Similarly, schoolkids (in places such as England) attend prayers in assembly because they have to.

I abhor spending public money on religious schools. I hate to see school students segregated by religion. All carried out by politicians who think that winning the support of a few religious “community leaders” is worth paying for in future communal division. I pretty well abhor religion of any kind.

All the same, there is hardly a non-faith agenda at Dhimmi Watch. It’s just seizing on an issue which it would happily support if it were a conservative Christian school.

Don’t ask me what “Dhimmi Watch” means. I can only guess from the context. No, sorry. I can use wikipedia which says that dhimmi means

“a non-Muslim subject of a state governed in accordance with sharia law.”

Well, there is a huge danger of the US falling under shari’a law, Not.

This site links to Frontpage Magazine along with Jihad Watch. And from this bastion of liberal rationality (*heavy sarcasm alert*) I learn that it’s Islamo-Fascism Awareness week.

For a moment, I assumed that was am uncharacteristically clear-headed vision (given the source) that hatred of Islam was fuelling new forms of Fascism. No such luck. It is of course an attempt to fan the flames of that very monster.

It conflates every wrong ever done by any Muslim anywhere in the world into a monolithic “Islamic Jihad.” It ignores the enormous differences – even conflicts – between countries, sects, individuals. It sees all Muslims as Al-Qaeda terrorists.

These sites present a pure conspiracy-theory style world view. Please, stick to alien abductions, conspiritards. This stuff is a lot more dangerous than looking into unexpected anal probes carried out by ETs. It’s also a lot more prevalent sadly. The JihadWatch blog has Technorati authority of 1,798 and 43,277 links. (If you think of how feebly Technorati catalogues blogs recently, it’s probably got a third as many again.) That blog gets probably a few thousand hits a day.

This is the sort of crap that’s supporting the waterboarding and the Gitmos and the endless attempts to spread the war even further until the Middle East is a crater.