Friday, December 19, 2014

Yes, it is Islam (and all the Other Religions)

It is hard to conceive what motivates the minds of men who would take over a school and set out to systematically kill all the children and staff within it over a period of many hours, such as happened this week in Peshawar, Pakistan. The Peshawar massacre was like a monumental rebuttal of the likes of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott who rushed to appease the Islamic community by claiming that the Sydney café attack by an Islamic cleric a day earlier was nothing to do with Islam. 

Abbott's absolution of Islam has been echoed again and again by the likes of Barack Obama, David Cameron and other Western leaders following similar attacks on their soil. But I'm afraid such disavowals are starting to wear a little thin, particularly when the perpetrators of these acts make it abundantly clear (as the Sydney attacker did with his use of an Islamic slogan flag) that they are acting in the name of Islam. I'm sure it will be revealed that the monsters who perpetrated the Peshawar massacre were making some sort of statement about the education of girls and the teaching of non-Islamic disciplines such as modern science, just like the Boko Haram (literally 'books forbidden') group in Nigeria and the man who shot Nobel Peace Prize-winner Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan.

Religion is at the heart of all these acts, as it is at the heart of much of the violence in the world today and throughout history. Fortunately for those of us who live in the originally-Christian West, Christianity has lost its potency as a motivator for violence, but Islam has certainly stepped into its shoes as one of the primary forces for evil-doing in the world.

The problem with religion is that it can justify any extreme of behaviour in the name of its gods. The scriptures of most religions include plenty of material to justify all manner of violent acts. Anyone who is seen as not being a sufficiently doctrinaire adherent to a particular faith can be struck down with little compunction on the part of the perpetrator. There is no compassion, empathy or guilt when you are acting in the name of the supreme being, for what is the worth of the life of child against the majesty of the creator?

Religious people believe they are moral, but really they are completely amoral. They substitute their interpretation of the words of an old book for the rational thoughts of their own mind. True morality is rationalism. True morality is about taking personal responsibility for, and thinking through the effects of, the actions you take. The rational person understands the horrible misery that killing a child brings to everyone who loved or cared for that child and thinks about how he or she would feel in the place of the victim. The religious person thinks only of whether their action will bring them distinction in the eyes of their god. I concede that evil is not confined to the devoutly religious, but religion enables its adherents to escape personal responsibility for their acts and in doing so makes it easier for them to commit evil.

On that rather depressing note, I would like to wish those who have read my blog posts this year a very happy holiday season. I intend to write more next year and hope that some of what I write interests and entertains you.

Thank you for reading and thank you most of all for your rationalism. It is a rare commodity.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Biased BBC Typical of State Broadcasters

British Prime Minister David Cameron and his finance minister George Osborne this week attacked the BBC as biased, accusing it of systematic exaggeration in its coverage of the Cameron Government's mini-budget, known as the Autumn Statement. What seems to have particularly riled the Tories is the claim by a BBC political reporter that the budget would take Britain back to the economic conditions described in George Orwell's novel, The Road to Wigan Pier. The only thing about this that surprises me is that Cameron and Osborne are surprised by the obvious left-wing bias of the state broadcaster.

Here in New Zealand the media, and in particular the state-owned broadcasters, show similar political partisanship. A few days ago I was in a taxi and the cabbie was listening to Radio New Zealand National's Morning Report programme, which has a heavy focus on coverage of local political affairs. Now, I stopped listening to National Radio during the 2008 election campaign when the station made no attempt to hide its hugely biased coverage in favour of then Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark over (successful) centre-right National Party challenger John Key. I was tempted to ask the cabbie to turn it off but decided it would be interesting to see whether National Radio's coverage of politics had become any more even-handed. There followed the most appalling radio interview I have heard in a long time. The reporter, unable to bait her cabinet minister interviewee into conceding what she wanted, resorted to the sort of petulant hectoring one would normally only hear in a drunken pub debate. This endured for five minutes with the cabinet minister maintaining her position calmly and the reporter becoming ever more belligerent.

Of course there is a very logical reason why state broadcasters should be biased towards left-wing political views and that is that state ownership and forcible tax-payer funding of broadcasting services only makes sense to those with Socialist views. It is simply self-interest and self-preservation.

There was perhaps a legitimate economic argument in favour of the state getting into broadcasting in the early days of radio and television, when the entry costs were a high barrier to the private sector, particularly in small countries like New Zealand. It could be argued that if the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation hadn't established a television network in New Zealand in 1962 then this country may have gone without television for many years after that. Personally I think this is doubtful and in a free market it wouldn't have taken long for small, local television broadcasters to become established (and deregulation in 1989 proved this by quickly leading to the establishment of the privately-owned TV3). But even if such economic arguments had some legitimacy years ago, in the current environment when anyone with a personal computer can set up their own Youtube channel or streaming radio channel, such arguments are ridiculous.

The answer for David Cameron is that he should privatise the BBC. It is the dominance of the BBC and Radio New Zealand through state funding and protection that gives them their political power. In a highly competitive market, the biases of one broadcaster would not matter.