September 23, 2006

The West and the East: a view from Turkey.

If I had not discovered modern literature, I would have become a bard, a singer of epic poems. I was on the verge, but then I started elementary school in a village near mine. I went on to read the classics of Russian, French and British literature, as well as of the East and West and so it was that I came to have masters such as Stendhal, Chekhov and Charlie Chaplin.

So says the great Turkish novelist Yashar Kemal in his preface to Mehmed my Hawk- seems like the Middle East isn't so far away as we might think!

Eating out in Manchester

Most of us haven't even got there yet but the conference has already produced its first scandal. According to the Times Peter Bingle, Head of Bell Pottinger Public Affairs has been caught selling seats at tables with Labour Ministers during conference for £1,500+. But surprisingly, given the politica mood, the uproar that this has produced has not come from the opposition but rather the lobbying industry itself.

Why? Well every political party knows that conference is a great opportunity to fundraise- there are dinners that need sponsoring, fringe events that need corporate speakers, the list goes on. No (sensible) politician would dare criticise this behaviour in fear that the media's spotlight might focus upon their own party's record.

The industry however is in a compleletly different boat. It is desperate demonstrate its credibility to the wider public against a backdrop of popular suspicion around its activities. But a more pressing matter is probably to distance itself from any of its rival's acitivities that make the front page in order to reassure its own clients.

Has Bingle done wrong? Business needs to talk to Government, just as Government needs to talk to business. Good policy depends upon it. Neutral platforms, such as fringe events or sponsored dinners, allow this to happen. Moreover conference can provide the opportunity for business leaders to express genuine concerns about Government policy to Minsiters during a quick cup of coffee or pint of beer.

Needless to say this all costs money. Corporate passes to conference don't come cheap neither does entry into Labour's 1000 club.

However there is a distinction to make between this behaviour and what the Times alledges Bingle was doing. If we are to believe the paper, he was booking tables with Ministers and then flogging those having secured the Minister's participation. On what basis did these Ministers agree to attend? And since when could an intermeditary buy and sell access to HM's Government?

Believe me, this is a world away from booking your place at Conference and bumping into Tony in the hotel bar. The industry is right to distance themselves from the activities Bingle is alleged to have carried out, even if its motivates are not quite what it makes out, but politicians too should have the courage to stand up against this sort of behaviour. Life would be much easier for all concerned if they could be a little more up front about what goes on at conference, and the justification for it.

Musing on Hizb Al Tabir, relativism and the status of morality (DISCLAIMER this article is no more philosophical than a Guardian leader)

Just now a spokesman from Hitzb Al Tabir came on the World Service. He argued that secularism was more violent than Islam because it sought to dominate Iraq and Afganistan and insert democracies there. This point is worth exploring because in a very real sense the spokesman is right- we are involved in spreading democracy in Iraq and Afganistan by force. What therefore stops us from being classed in the same class as the terrorists who do the same thing? Or is as Noam Chomsky has argued the United States the greatest terrorist power in the world?

The word 'terrorist' here is a red herring. What we are actually discussing is the concept of just war, a concept which goes back through the history of Western Philosophy to Augustine and beyond. Most theories of just war accept a simple ground for war- defence- and consequently most political leaders who go to war are guided by fear. One of the most interesting aspects for instance of Ian Kershaw's recent biography of Lord Londonderry, a prewar appeaser, is his depiction on the insanity of Hitler, who beleived at the time of the Polish guarentee, that he not the West was threatened.* The wars in Afganistan and Iraq were not wars of defence: there is no evidence that there were weapons of mass destruction in either place, and any operation against Al Quaeda was not an operation therefore in which the defence of the realm was at stake but more akin to the rounding up of the Aum Cult in Tokyo in 1995 after they had gassed the subway. So is our source from Hizb Al Tabir right?

The other justifications of war are always more difficult- the spread of democracy invites two related questions- why here? and in particular why democracy? The problem of abandoning our objective values and ceding all in a flight to relativism appears most fully here. But it is here also that I think we can answer the spokesman. Because the West has not abandoned objective values. It has abandoned any idea that values and facts are the same thing, or that values derive from facts. The fiat of an omnipotent God still seems attractive to some- but most would admit that it does not give a good ground for a moral statement (after all why should God be obeyed? His power- surely that is an illegitimate answer). Rather Western philosophers since Kant have seen morality as resting in the will of the individual. The individual is able to will into existance moral norms which bind him. The only requirement upon the individual in willing these morally is that they must be consistent. The other requirement, sketched out most fully by the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, is that the individual must recognise that if he creates his own morality so does everyone else and that there must be a process to reconcile them into a polity. Consequently the individual has to allow for a process of election and also a process of law- the one resolves disputes, the other ensures that the principles resolved on are implemented consistently to all individuals.

The spokesman of Hizb Al Tabir therefore is wrong to compare the imposition of Western moral norms of secularism upon societies. Those norms are not being imposed, what is being imposed is the autonomy of the individual moral will, what is happening in that sense is a liberation. What we therefore have is the imposition of the objective part of the Western idea of morality- the process and consistency- but and this is crucial the rest of morality, marriage, children, manners and all are left to the electorate to discuss. What Hizb Al Tabir doesn't recognise is that there is a very precise difference between the theology of the terrorist and the will of the West- one refuses to recognise the role of individual conscience, the secular view allows it. Consequently though all things are relative, it cannot be said that an invasion to spread democracy has the same status as a terrorist attack to spread theocracy.

In a world where God is dead, it is not true that all things are relative- rather it is true that as in the world with God there are absolutes- it may come as a surprise to Hizb Al Tabir that those absolutes may well be exactly the same and that God's rule itself might violate the rules established earlier in this post.

Therefore we have arrived at a position where we can state that the invasion of a country to install a democratic secular regime is not the same as a terrorist action, that is not to say that it is a particularly wise action- nor is it neccessarily to say it is a right action but it is to say that the equivalence drawn by our spokesman was false.

*Unfortunately I have not yet read Kershaw's biography of Hitler- a truly magnificent effort according to all my sources- a leading feature of Hitler's personality like that of many tyrants is what Sir Humphrey in Yes Prime Minister calls an advanced case of paranoia. Perhaps as Humphrey argues this is a neccessary aptitude of all rising politicians to various degrees, if so it rather bodes badly for the reality of war upon Augustinian grounds if those declaring war for defensive reasons are all paranoid and terrified of being attacked!

September 22, 2006

Iain Dale's Diary: Should BBC Current Affairs Entertain or Inform?

Sunny Hundal and Iain Dale have both questioned the ability of the BBC to inform rather than use its Current Affairs programs to educate. Both are relatively too sanguine in my view about the BBC and its willingness to really present proper debate. I worked on a BBC documentary on Oliver Cromwell a couple of years ago as a researcher and was furious with what happened because the producer and his mates were less interested in the way that people in the seventeenth century thought about the world than about how they dressed. We spent hours on buttons and dogs, and no time explaining what Cromwell wanted out of the civil war, that my producer explained was too complicated. We missed aspects of the civil war like the clash between soldiers over democracy during the Putney Debates, missed out the whole of the conflict in Scotland and Ireland. What we presented to the public was a caricature in which twentieth century personalities with twentieth century beliefs and motivations were put in seventeenth century costume

Having said that when it comes to factual programming the real places where it is still done well seem exclusively to be in connection with radio- programs like In our Time. There is another problem which is the ego of presenters like Kirsty Wark on Newsnight Review who want to dominate people who know much more than they do about a subject. That is a feature of the corporation's news output as well- the unwillingness to realise that there are people more expert than they are and the arrogance of journalists.

See also Iain Dale's Diary: Should BBC Current Affairs Entertain or Inform?

Comrades!

Monday I'm off to conference- what can we all look forward on the train to Manchester?

Well firstly one has to say that the terf warfare in recent weeks has somewhat died down (even with Charles Clarke's "after lunch" outburst). Certainly there will be a few rogues on the left still looking for a fight, but the messages coming out from the top is to stay stum.

Moreover one has to wonder if a little of the old New Labour (apologies...) magic is not still at work when one reads the dire predictions circulating in the media. When I spoke to a senior journalist from a left looking quality sunday recently she was of the opinion that conference was bound to a be disappointment, in the sense that it would lack the necessary intrigue to fill column inches, because of the extent to which it had been built up.

It reminded me of the days when Campbell & all, ahead of any potential bad news days, would brief any journalist who would listen that the news was worst then anyone could possibly expect("Could it be the worst week in New Labour's history?" the headlines would read... ) When the bad news finally broke all those "in the know" would tell us that the news had not had been as bad as expected.

My guess? Both Blair's and Brown's speech will be barnstorming but both will be over analysed. Watch out too for Alan Johnson's, who if he is serious about challenging Brown for the leadership will be looking to make a real impression on delegates.

Mahfouz The Search

Naghuib Mahfouz was one of the greatest Egyptian novelists around- but like many other middle Eastern novelists, like Orhan Pamuk for example, what he writes has more than a regional importance. To take for example his novel the Search, elements of the plot remind a western reader of the Postman rings twice (the James Cain novel later made into two Hollywood films) but is actually more complicated. Mahfouz's novel is narrated by the drifter himself, in the manner of a film noir, but Mahfouz's narrator is more subjective even than that. His narration is exceptionally atmospheric- dwelling on the circumstantial details of existance especially the disorientating feeling of being alone which seizes any traveller on their own in a new city- his most powerful technique in doing this is that he switches very often from the third person to the second, instructing the reader to use empathy. This disorientation makes the extremity of the characters more beleivable- the frenzy of their existance is conveyed in part by the concentrated solitude of the main character.

What is Mahfouz communicating though in this intense and atmospheric story of 1950s Cairo? Many people before this have discerned a thread of concern about post revolutionary Egypt in the 1950s and 1960s, rightly they have seen the same anxieties about city life as emerged elsewhere swaying through Mahfouz's cities. The traditional authorities whether Sheikhs or proffessionals seem uncaring and useless. The power of the call of the Muezzin fades into the atmosphere of the city rather than being an integral part of life. More crucially though to Mahfouz's story and perhaps an interesting point for this blog is the universal message that it contains about industriousness.

Mahfouz's central character Saber suffers from a common delusion- he wishes merely to stretch out his hand and reach for the goods available within life. Saber has the choice of two women in his life- one Karima who he uses for instant sexual gratification, the other Elham who he loves sincerely. His choice of women mirrors the choice of career he faces- an easy amount of money obtained by a crime and a difficult struggle to work hard through the world. The choice he and Karima take guides them to their dooms- Mahfouz holds up the other woman Elham who has a Sonya-like presence in the narrative, an angelic influence if you like, as an example of the way that work can set people on the way to security and to love. This theme, which is not merely Mahfouz but echoes through American and European literature is strengthened by the intensity of the atmosphere. What Mahfouz depicts though is a cosmopolitian world of abandoning striving for strife.

In a sense as well the last sense in which Mahfouz's protagonist is typical is in the way that he is really searching for meaning in a world without it. If he stands in the tradition of James Cain, he also stands in the tradition of Dosteovsky. Saber has no particular ideology, when asked whether he is for East or West he replies that he is for war. Despite an obvious liking for luxury, the only desires that Saber expresses are sexual. His search for a father is a search in a way for purpose- a purpose that Elham offers him- but unlike in Crime and Punishment there is no happy ending- Raskolnikov in this case sees the opportunity only when its too late and his search for his father finishes at the moment he is to be hung which is also the moment he realises he should have taken Elham's offers not Karima's.

September 21, 2006

Elif Shahak

Good news from Turkey

http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,,1877748,00.html

After the Pamuk prosecution the media coverage of these cases where novelists are intimidated by the Turkish authorities about the Armenian massacres is having some sort of an effect. The Turkish Prime Minister has even made it clear that the part of the law which was used to prosecute on this occasion may be withdrawn. Presumably the temptations of EU membership are seducing even the rigourous Islamic government of the former Virtue party and its Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan.

These cases confirm the successful nature of the process of EU membership- by dangling it in front of Turkey the government and Turkish judiciary are being intimidated into making more progressive steps. How long this will last after the prize is given is a more unsure prospect? The thing that we lack is a kind of intermediatory membership- say free trade but not free movement- a second class of EU membership or an EU escalator which could go down as well as up. This victory for the novelist, Elif Shahak, is an acheivement of EU membership but also demonstrates to me the care that we need to take with Turkey- neither opposition nor proposition of their membership but a conditional acceptance seems here the way forwards.

Women in Hollywood in Noir

Just heard a noir historian say that in Noir films from the forties you can almost immediatly say that a woman who works is going to be the nicest person in the picture, the woman who doesnt but wants to make her way up by her sexual attraction to men is going to be the nastiest.

This probably reflects the consistant fear of people in this case men of a loss of independence through their desire for sex. The kind of fear that arises in all of us, a sort of suspicious jealousy- and maybe that has as in film noir an occasional political overtone where the position of the sexes in a sexist view of the world (either way) is one of the dependance of the inferior on the superior to avoid the ultimate terror- the dependance of the superior on the inferior, which may as we conventionally think be economic but might also be sexual. It probably explains the huge animus say that fundamentalism has not merely towards work, but also more visibly and more emotionally towards women behaving as coquettes.

September 20, 2006

Jenny Tonge and the anatomy of radicalism

Iain Dale has brought to my and probably many others' attentions the recent comments of Jenny Tonge-

The pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips. I think they have probably got a certain grip on our party
Iain Dale's Diary: Jenny Tonge Returns to the Gutter

After reading Iain Dale's blog, I don't think that this one can add much to Dale's right condemnation of Tonge's comments, nor do I think in justice to Tonge should it be forgotten that Tonge is quoted here from one line of what I presume was a long meeting- context may (though I struggle to see how) be important here.

However bearing all that in mind, this is interesting in the way it reveals the psychology of those Chomskyans who I described in a previous blog. For Tonge there is no argument that she is right- no reason why anyone else would take another view- so the only coherent reason why someone would take another view is that they have been blackmailed in some way. Consequently an intelligent and sensible person ends up proposing an idiotic and dangerous idea simply because they cannot cope with the opposition that they encounter.

Never have Isaiah Berlin's warnings against the dangers of those who see politics as a subject to study to find a final answer seemed more apt. Berlin warned that such a view ended in the chaos of the twentieth century and proposed another model of politics- the pluralist- which recognised the incompatibility of human desires and impossibility of the task of reconciling them, a task which Jenny Tonge in her desire to be morally upright seems to have abandoned.

Clare in a spin

The court at Westminster opened early this week to hear unfounded allegations and unscrupulous inuendo, in the chair the scourge of the Sun, the hanging judge her honour milady Clare Short, and the case, why the handling of the pre war Iraq invasion.

You see rumours have reached the Gracchi, unsubstantiated and inaccurate, scurrulous and ill informed speculation- that Clare Short, soon to be late of this parish, was so interested in her resignation, so consumed with fury against our dear leader Tony, so convulsed with indecision about whether to resign or not that she may have spent so much time deciding what to do that she forgot to plan for the reconstruction of Basra. You see civil servants have begun wondering if instead of endlessly thinking about whether Miss Short was dispensable or indispensable to the government, it might have been wise to think of the houses in Basra.

The case was dismissed, Miss Justice Short concluding that the case was based upon immature speculation and a compulsive need to find the government guilty no matter what-

Next week, Miss Justice Short on whether Tony Blair was worse than Hitler and Stalin put together.

Turn down the volume

Say it quietly but the chinless wonders at conservative central office are scowling into their herbal teas- the quiet man is whispering at the Labour conference about social justice. Duncan-Smithy-Smith-Smith (the Puff Daddy of social conscience) is trying to persuade Labour that the Tories have a social conscience, Labour is trying to recognise what a social conscience looks like- either way it probably won't worry the Camekids- nobody afterall has heard Duncan Smith, or Smithy Smith- we didn't actually catch his name.

Born to Kill

Born to Kill was a Hollywood film from 1947, a rather minor noir film which few people know of, it merits only six reviews and only one of them positive on the movie review website, http://www.mrqe.com/lookup?^Born+to+Kill+(1947) and only two pages of comments on imdb. But it is a very good film of its type.

What is interesting about Born to Kill is the way that it reverses the typical film noir stereotype- here it is the man who is irresistible and guides the women down into disaster through their sexual desire. The fascinating thing that ripple through this noir though is the influence of class- our male character, a drifter like the principal of Detour, is violent and uneducated as well as having undoubted sex appeal. His brutality and violence comes out of a sense of being cheated by the world and a need to maintain what he haves- again and again he furiously shouts that he will not be made a monkey of, not be tricked out of the women he owns (the homme fatale in this film owns his women, every women and murders those who turn him down). There are unpleasant notices of sexism throughout this film but the central character whose agonies and agonisations we perceive in all their horror is a woman- in three consecutive scenes she is accused of being without a heart, rotten to the core- firstly by a casual acquaintance, then by her boyfriend, then by a detective- but the concentration is on how she reacts, how she can't bear it and how her heartlessness is a consequence of her poverty. She has to supress the fact that she doesn't love her fiance and feels guilty about taking her sister's money because without that supression, that heartlessness she would have nothing. The ripple of class which rears like a wave through this picture is fascinating- every character bar the wealthy is corrupted by their desire for wealth- they have 'shiny surfaces' which mask a craving for respect and the security to have what they want. But this concentration on class is not snobbery- again and again the poor talk of their personal battles to confront the fact that they are poor- that they are the recipients of charity. It even corrupts the love between sisters- leading to a horrifying moment. Perhaps the most shocking moment of the film is the end, where the corrupt and sleazy police detective turns and reads the paper and says 'the way of the transgressor is hard more's the pity, more's the pity'- he thrives by being a successful transgressor, abandoning any feeling for personal gain, the other characters swayed in different ways by emotion either live by wealth or die by poverty.

In the end, that humiliation produces its rewards- sexual desire, effectively suicidal behaviour, abasement, masochism and ultimately murder to make this one of the blackest and most sociological of the noir films.

September 19, 2006

Conservative History Journal: Tories on defence

Conservative History Journal: Tories on defence

An interesting article from a fascinating and timely blog. The Tory Historian here argues on the basis of Jeremy Black's recent book about Tory foreign and defence policy. He presents a lucid account of early Tory attempts to bring in non interventionalism in Foreign and Defence policy which were the realm of the Tory or Country Party in Eighteenth Century. The Tory Historian slightly elides one point because the Tories or Countrymen viewed the navy as being a servant of liberty, armies in the eighteenth century were seen as instruments of despotism and went together with large spending on patronage which increased the power of the executive.

What the Tory Historian and Proffessor Black though have missed is that the origins of the Tory party themselves lay very much in foreign policy. As Tony Claydon from the University of Bangor recently argued at Cambridge the early Whig and Tory parties were formed out of a central problem of seventeenth century English history- what to do about the continent. To be clear, the squabble was about what Anglicanism meant- the Whigs thought that the key bit of Anglicanism was its Protestant nature and therefore said the people on the continent in communion with us are the Protestants in Germany and Holland- the Tories thought that the key bit of the Church was authority and episcopacy and therefore argued that Anglicans were in communion with Catholics. Hence the earliest formation of the Tory party, and we are talking here about the 1670s and 1680s, dealt with the question of which European alliance to deal with- and they chose monolithic Roman Catholicism over the exponents of religious subsidiarity in Calvinist Holland and Germany.

Orwell vs Chomsky

So the London Review of Books clashes with a leading blogger this Week. The article in the London Review of Books written by Tony Judt accuses pro war Liberals of being useless idiots in the march of NeoConservative ideology- actually Judt puts it better than that:

In today’s America, neo-conservatives generate brutish policies for which liberals provide the ethical fig-leaf. There really is no other difference between them.
http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n18/judt01_.html

Norman Geras is outraged on his blog by Judt's lack of principle in attacking a principled foreign policy and accuses him of being amongst

those good liberals and leftists of anti-war conviction to whom none of this applies, but for whom, nevertheless, there has been only one truth and one virtue, to be the same as them; and the main object of whose animus, whose almost daily passion, has been - what? - not 'malign regimes', not apologists for terror, certainly not the denizens of the aforesaid Hizbolleft; no, as demonstrated again here by Tony Judt, that main object has been the segment of the liberal-left (when they allow that we do actually remain liberal or left) which has taken a view on current international conflicts that is opposed to theirs. What a sorry debacle.
http://normblog.typepad.com/normblog/2006/09/liberal_debacle.html

What is so fascinating about this is watching the clash of two archetypes of a liberal intellectual. Judt obviously works out of the template provided by Noam Chomsky, for Judt liberal experts provide the cover for rightwing regimes to follow and he views the role of a principled intellectual as the unmasking of rightwing motives and actions and the discrediting of the ethical figleaf which covers them. Geras on the other hand takes an Orwellian model- for him the real enemy is the rightwing regime, consequently sometimes he is willing to ally with a rightwing regime to take down one that is worse- anti democratic or genocidal. Judt maintains a kind of ideological purity- Geras rightly says that Judt has no truck with Hizbollah- but exchanges that for lacking any influence over any policy save the one introduced by an ideal government- like Chomsky he psychologically withdraws into the camp of a perpetual opposition. Likewise Geras and Hitchens and others, like Orwell, revell in the status of being hated by both sides- yet actually have influence upon the real world. In a sense these two opposed models- Chomsky and Orwell- of what it is to be a leftwing intellectual have dominated the present leftwing discourse about the Iraq war. Some choose one, some choose the other but like it or not many who propose war see themselves as Orwells of the modern world, many who oppose see themselves as modern Chomskys.

Iain Dale's Diary: Ming Needs to Avoid Vacuous Generalities on Cuts and Coalitions

As Iain Dale has already commented this morning, Iain Dale's Diary: Ming Needs to Avoid Vacuous Generalities on Cuts and Coalitions, the story of the day are the problems facing Ming Campbell. What noone can work out is what Ming hopes for at the next general election. If he wins big, then chaos is unleashed- he must choose between being Simon Hughes or David Laws- and yet if he loses the grizzled laird of liberalism may find his blood strewn over the floors of the house of Commons. Looking at the liberal Party the number of potential leaders and those agreived at failing to be leader is becoming equivalent with the number of MPs, Charles Kennedy, Matthew Taylor, Simon Hughes, Chris Huhne and others all have reasons to wish to end their senior's reign. Watch out too for young Nick Clegg, the LibDem's Cameron.

But who can resolve the ultimate strategic dilemma- having prayed for years for a hung Parliament could it be that that kills the Libdems.

September 18, 2006

The foundation of British government

I'm glad British Government can function- everyone gets free tea according to this

http://kerroncross.blogspot.com/2006/09/charge-of-cha-in-parliament.html

I think Kerron Cross underestimates the importance of free tea to the functioning of a free Parliament- afterall given the times that Westminster is sometimes open until restraint of caffeine could constitute restraint of trade. And if you think that's a bizarre use of trade unionist rhetoric about the production of tea in Westminster, just survey the comments- in particular the suggestion that a free cup of char is an evil bourgeois plot to undermine the proletariate- as capitalist basterds,we stand firmly in favour of free tea.

Balls needs home

Whilst the gentle thud of hats being thrown into the ring for the honourof succeeding John Prescott turns to a deafening chorus, spare a thoughtfor the future de-facto Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Ed Balls, whocould be without at seat come 2009. Balls wrote (link:http://www.edballs.com//assets/Boundary_Commision_Letter.pdf ) to the boundary commission in February in an attempt to get them to reverse their decision to abolish his Normanton constituency. Whilst the letter ran into 14 pages there is little sign that the boundary commission will change their minds. Nor despite his efforts are the courts as likely as the Parliamentary Labour Party to yield to Gordon's golden son but circumstances may yet protect our brave boy, the rising hope of Brownite Britain. One theory doing the rounds before recess was that Balls would inherit Sedgefield completing the "stableandorderlytransition". However the last week has brought troubling dark clouds to hang over our hero's head- if Gordon forces Tony out, would Ed not have a seat for next time to take up his cabinet post from... read next time for further installments on how the young prince of Brownism fares in the dark and dusky caverns of the constituency parties.

Other rumours http://dizzythinks.blogspot.com/2006/09/ed-balls-to-get-prescotts-seat.html have our brown eyed boy setting off to sit midst Prescott's mighty empire. And Boris Johnson is offering marriage counselling for Yvette Cooper and Ed Balls, fighting now for the same seat http://www.boris-johnson.com/ (the last link was too good not to include).

Benedict creates a stir and the media misses a trick

During all the noise from the usual suspects, the actual point of the Pope’s speech has been missed, just read this extract to get a flavour of our Pontiff’s thoughts:

In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. (Source http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1873278,00.html)

What did he mean by this and is he right to argue that it has political consequences?The Pope’s meaning if you unravel it becomes fairly clear. What Benedict was talking about was the fact that in the West there is one way of thinking which everyone considers to be legitimate. That way is scientific. If I say that every apple I have ever seen falls from a tree and therefore that a general law states that apples fall from trees, I can’t be criticised unless it is shown by someone else that they’ve seen an apple flying off from a tree. The Pope doesn’t say that’s wrong. All he wants to do is give other statements the same validity. He wants the data- the fact of the apples falling- to include other kinds of statement, the fact that I have a faith in God, and he argues that the process by which I get from my apples to my law of gravity is the same process by which I get from my faith to a particular understanding of Christianity or Islam or Hinduism.

Benedict elsewhere argues that the narrow, only apples, explanation doesn’t philosophically make sense. But here he makes a further step to argue that this misunderstanding his broken down political dialogue. Too often and here Benedict is seizing upon a reality which this blog means in part to address the words of religious people are interpreted in the vague fog of atheist spirituality- religion for the religious is no life choice and no spiritual fog rather it is the reality they ground their lives upon. To neglect that, to explain away religion in other terms- to offer Muslims a way out of their present condition which involves conversion to a secular or Christian way of thinking is as false as to accept that the way out of our difficulties is to convert atheists to Islam or Christianity. If Benedict means, and in part he does, that we should start arguing with Muslims and Christians in their own terms- start listening to why the vocabulary of a loving God can be used to sanction violence then we may just get somewhere. We patronise if we deign to ignore the thoughts of the religious in accounting for their actions.

There is a further step involved in what Benedict says and that is he is not merely advocating understanding but adoption. He says he wants us to broaden our own concepts of reason in this way, not merely acknowledge the thinking of our fellow citizens. Here however he directs us down into the ghettos that he is so willing to leave himself. As so many commentators have said of Islamic fundamentalists understanding is a two way street. Benedict here seems to be saying though that the only way to argue with the religious is to become religious- to acknowledge this broader reason. That kind of absolutist idea about debate leads down some very dangerous roads, I hope that the Pontiff is aware of that- and that the media becomes aware of it.

The implications of that might be more radical than the idea that the Pope isn’t a Muslim.