A quick dissent

I read Susan Jacoby’s Spirited Atheist column in the Washington Post every week. Two of the best books I read last year were Jacoby’s, Freethinkers and The Age of American Unreason. I look forward to seeing her name in print because it means one of our most well-informed, courageous voices is taking the stage against the almost endless stream of idiocy clogging our newspapers and television sets. So it is with slight displeasure that I feel the need to dissent from her on her reading of the Gaza flotilla raid.

In an otherwise well-balanced column on the dangers of religious extremism (she rightly slots radical Islam at the top of her list), Jacoby falls into the Israel Derangement Trap. She feels – I suppose – that to be even-handed she must say something about Israel while going through the list of religious fanaticisms plaguing our world. Instead of honing in on actual Jewish fundamentalists, both ultra-Zionist and anti-Zionist, she rides the wave of international condemnation of the IDF for its bungled operation on the Mavi Marmara ship in which nine people died and various soldiers were wounded. Here’s Jacoby:

The combination of religious and tribal entitlement is constantly on display in the Middle East, most recently by Israel in its crude attack on the relief flotilla headed for Gaza.

You could call the incident almost anything, even a complete failure, but “religious and tribal entitlement” doesn’t sound right to me. That would apply to the settlers on the West Bank, who definitely fit the bill. That would apply to Hamas, who wish to turn present-day Israel into an Islamic waqf. The IDF was, rightly or wrongly, enforcing a naval blockade designed to protect Israel from further attacks on its civilian population. That Jacoby should make no reference to the actual intent of the Marmara ship and its “peace activists”, and their brutal attacks on the Israeli commandoes, seems lazy. This was not a religious intervention, but a military one. That some of the passengers of the Mavi Marmara appear to have envisioned the confrontation as a religious one, and some were even filmed desiring to die as martyrs, goes unchecked. If the intent of the IDF was “religious and tribal entitlement,” then why did the other five ships go to port without incident, including the Rachel Corrie just days later?

That sounds like a military operation gone wrong, not Jewish fundamentalism, to me.

Eric Kaufmann: Inheriting the Earth

The Friendly Atheist has an interview with Eric Kaufmann, author of the just-released book Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?: Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century. Kaufmann’s book appears to be an attempt to persuade us, using demographic statistics, that secularism and liberal democracy are soon to be a thing of the past. Religious fundamentalists simply have more children than the rest of us, and nobody has fewer children than atheists and secularists. This is bad news because, any way you look at such a future, you lose.

One obvious remedy would be for secularists to play the game of demographic warfare, tripling the number of children they currently are having and indoctrinating them in a fundamentalist-style secularism. But that would make us just like the religious fundamentalists. Indeed, secularists more or less agree on the fact that secularism relies heavily on critical thinking, individual liberty and the rule of law, not dogma and zealous indoctrination. So that is an unlikely solution. Kaufmann has another suggestion.

FA: Should atheists start having more babies?

EK: Tough question. My instinctive answer would be ‘yes’, but this would only be effective if immigration were reduced and religious fundamentalists responded to calls for smaller families, which is unlikely. There is also the matter of global warming to worry about — we don’t want a population footrace with fundamentalism. So in the end, the most promising course is to somehow attract more people away from fundamentalist religion, no easy task.

I’m looking forward to the critical reception of Kaufmann’s book. So far, the only other article I found is this one from the Telegraph, gleefully (almost) herlading the demise of modern secular democracy (“Atheism is doomed,” etc.)