Friday, December 24, 2004


The U.S.'s pricipled committment to democratic reform in the Arab world

You may remember the UN Development Programme report on the Arab world from a couple of years ago. It played an important role for many supporters of the war in Iraq, demonstrating as it did the terrible political, social and economic malaise suffered by the Arab countries and thus tied in with what Chris Young calls the Chomsky-Wolfowitz Root-Causes theory.

This is from Reuters:

"The United Nations has distanced itself from the Arabs who wrote this year's report on reform in the Middle East, after reports that the United States has threatened to cut funding to the U.N. agency which sponsored it.

The U.N. Development Programme said the writers did not express U.N. policies and the agency favours giving them an "institutional home" independent of the United Nations.

It was responding to reports that under financial pressure from Washington, which did not like what a draft version says about Iraq and Israel, this year's report will break with past practice by not carrying the U.N. logo.

The reports, known as Arab Human Development Reports (AHDRs), are the work of independent Arab specialists, mostly development experts, social scientists, liberals and reformers, but UNDP has financed and sponsored their work.

The lead writer of this year's report, Nader Fergani, said on Wednesday he no longer expected it to come out under the UNDP name because of a U.S. threat to deprive UNDP of funding. UNDP said in a statement received by Reuters on Thursday that reports of a U.S. threat to cut contributions to the UNDP budget were inaccurate and no government had asked for the suppression of the report.


This year's report, which criticises U.S. policy in Iraq and Israeli policy towards Palestinians, was meant to come out in October but it has been delayed because of the controversy. The UNDP statement gave no date for its release and did not say whether UNDP would let the report carry its name.


Fergani said on Wednesday: "My understanding is that the UNDP will not publish it under its logo, but they will not prevent it from being published under the names of the authors."

"It seems that the pressure that was put on the UNDP (by the U.S. and Egyptian governments) was too heavy to bear," he added. Egypt objected to the report's advocacy of complete freedom of expression and association in the Arab world, he said.

Ironically, the United States repeatedly cited previous reports, written by largely the same team, as evidence for the need for reform in the Middle East. Fergani said the United States had misused the reports."

Ironic indeed.

Thursday, December 23, 2004


Stealing heaven

A Gauche appears to have had a personal experience relating to the question of religious disillusion I discussed recently:

"The innocence of another is humbling. It feels damning to have torn the veil off another's heaven. But are not reassurances like, "the meaning and truth of Christianity doesn't depend on the historicity of Christ or the existence of God," in spite of their current importance as prophylactics against panic, ultimately dishonest? Truth punches a hole; it cuts. I understand why the psychoanalyst must be a stranger."

The question remains as to whether stealing heaven is a necessary step towards (a harbinger even?) of its storming, to allude to the wonderful rhetoric of this piece.


C'est bizarre

Well here's a new one in the way of odd Google searches bringing people DC-wards. From the French Google. Strange people the French, in many ways.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004



"I have my own disbeliefs, but I don't get in anyone else's way on such matters." - Norman Geras

When I read this I wondered: why not?

Marx described the criticism of religion as the beginning of all criticism. Christopher Hitchens ("the Dude" to Norm, though personally I've gone off him of late) describes himself as not merely an atheist, but an anti-theist. (I do still enjoy Hitchens' anti-religious riffs). Religious views are superstitious, thus anti-rational. My own atheism is important to me as a symbol of my committment to reason, truth and intellectual rigour. Isn't it a part of any rationalist project to disabuse people of false beliefs, whatever they may be?

Yet, being conscious of the epistemoligical and existential-psychological functions which religion performs alongside it's socio-political functions (i.e. that as well as being the "opium of the people" it is "the sigh of the opressed creature, the heart of a heartless world... the spirit of spiritless conditions" to acknowledge for once the dialectical ambiguity of that great passage, known in its more superficial abreviation by everybody), I too feel somewhat nervous about challenging, unprovoked at least, what I view as patently absurd, and usually only vaguely held religious views.

Enjoyable though gentle mockery of such views can be, I haven't yet the stomach to fully commit to a campaign of Nietzschean nihilism, destroying existing values the better to inculcate new ones.* Certainly there are alternative existential consolations to religion - politics, philosophy, literature etc. etc. But one must still recognise the dangers of a religion-shaped vacuum.

Is disabusing people of the religious illusion a necessary step, or at least a contribution to disabusing them of political mystifications (i.e. re: capitalism)? Or does it merely risk disillusion, in the popular as well as the literal meaning of the word? What if happiness and truth, at least for some people, come into conflict?


"For several days and even weeks the mother was able to see some good in books and dreaming. Wasn't it Tarry's romantic talk with Petey Meegan which had excited that man to want to make a liaison with the Flynns? For all that she was sometimes dim to the sense of it all and said so.
'I can't see anything in it at all. What does it mean?'
'What does anything mean' was his answer. 'What does Drumnay and Miskin and Dargan and the work day after day and year after year mean? Does that ever occur to you? Are any of these people going anywhere except to the grave?' For a moment he laid bare the myth of living and was filled with remorse for his sin. That was a real sin - to tear up the faith and show nothing but futility." - from Tarry Flynn, by Patrick Kavanagh .

*Perhaps someone who actually knows something about Nietzsche will correct me if this reference to his nihilism is nonsense.

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