Can religious discrimination be justified?

By skepticlawyer

James Farrell’s thought-provoking post at Club Troppo got me chewing over this question, and to that end I thought I’d share one of the papers I wrote last term for Oxford Jurisprudence. In brief, it’s a serious engagement with the ideas of John Finnis, who argues (among many other things) that discrimination on the basis of both religion and nationality – but not race – is justified.

Finnis’ justification is not, however, one that has its origins in a form of political liberalism (unlike that which enlivens James’ thinking at Troppo). Rather, Finnis is a very special kind of political perfectionist: his philosophy is grounded in the ideas of Thomas Aquinas and, ultimately, Aristotle. This strain of thinking holds that governments are instituted among men to make men good (and to pursue the good). They are not a ‘community’ as such, or a social contract intended to avert the depredations of man in the state of nature.

As Ken Parish has noted on a couple of occasions, I am not particularly fond of many of John Finnis’ ideas. That said, the man is on the Pontifical Council, and has probably forgotten more about theology than the rest of us know in aggregate. Coupled with this is his care and skill as a legal scholar. In other words, if he makes a pronouncement on religious matters – particularly on the Abrahamic faiths – we should take him seriously. I realise that this is something of an argument from authority, but having sat though nearly a year of his classes, I can vouch for how smart and thoughtful the guy is.

All that is by way of introduction. As you’ll see, Finnis takes the objections of people like those in Camden seriously. He thinks they have – to use a favourite word of his – ‘point’. I’m at most a weak perfectionist – my only substantive non-neutral values are ‘framework’ ones, like free markets, personal autonomy and the various forms of negative liberty. If I were to give any credence to Finnis’ thought, I simply could not do so solely on his terms.

I asked myself, then, can a classical liberal justify religious discrimination? I’m not at all sure of my answers, although writing the essay made me simultaneously (a) surer of my libertarian views and (b) even more careful than I have been in the past to avoid giving the label ‘bigot’ to persons opposed to religion and/or religious schooling.

The question as set was ‘can discrimination between nationals and non-nationals be justified?‘, but it was clearly framed as a discussion starter around Finnis’ arguments with respect to both immigration policy and religious belief. The piece is over the fold.

Liberalism is also a fighting creed
– Charles Taylor

In a sense, this question is misconceived. Discrimination against non-nationals in most western states is a truism, occurring most commonly in the form of restrictions on the franchise and employment. New arrivals must wait for some time – or take out citizenship – in order to vote or stand for parliament. The US President must be a ‘natural born’ citizen, thus excluding from the nation’s highest office not only non-citizens, but also citizens with a particular characteristic. Arnold Schwarzenegger supporters probably stand to lose most from this arrangement.

I therefore take ‘discrimination’ and ‘non-nationals’ to be terms John Finnis discusses in a serious of important papers on the ability of western liberal states to accommodate large numbers of Muslim immigrants. Finnis challenges two common liberal pieties. First, he argues for a discriminatory immigration policy that halts certain would-be residents at the border and repatriates others. Second, he criticises the policy – common in many western liberal states – of multiculturalism.

Finnis correctly notes that public deliberation on these issues is increasingly difficult, so I wish to state at the outset that I take his arguments – particularly about illiberal aspects of the Islamic faith – seriously. However, I take them seriously as a libertarian. That is, as a species of liberal far fiercer than the liberal who – in Robert Frost’s memorable phrase – couldn’t take his own side in an argument. Classical liberals often observe that the First and Second Amendments are equally representative of ‘liberalism’. People tend to forget the second, to forget that liberalism can also fight.

Justification and necessity

In this piece, I argue that it is possible for a liberal to justify discrimination in the sense Finnis describes, but it may not be necessary to do so.

First, I outline Finnis’ concerns with Islam and his arguments against multiculturalism, and take particular note of his debate with Joseph Raz on the latter. Next, I discuss how liberalism enjoins the defence of personal autonomy, including the use of coercion against religious (and other) traditions that undermine it. As part of this account, I discuss the distinction between weak and strong perfectionism. I argue that what looks like anti-perfectionism – at least in the case of Hayekian classical liberalism – is actually a species of weak perfectionism, in that it presupposes certain non-neutral values such as individual liberty, the primacy of free markets and personal autonomy. Finally, I suggest that Finnis’ specific policy proposals would at best form only part of a total package designed to assuage the problems he enumerates. I argue, for example, that it is possible to address some concerns by abolishing multiculturalism as a state-funded policy. This proposal is not discriminatory at all, although it may be controversial.

Islam, immigration and multiculturalism

Finnis founds his arguments for a discriminatory immigration policy in large part on his view that Islam – even in ‘moderate’ forms – is inimical to the common good. He makes this argument even though Western states themselves have moved away from endorsing many objectively valuable goods, even to the point of ‘embrac[ing] moral evils with at least as much complacency as Roman jurists preserved when contemplating slavery’.

It is important to realise that he does not argue that states should refuse to tolerate the intolerant. Finnis has long questioned the ‘ship of state’ analogy, with its underlying insistence that there is a ‘determinable set of life plans’ towards which the state should direct its citizens. Rather, the state’s role is to set the background conditions that allow people to live valuable lives for themselves. Finnis’ concern with Islam springs from his view that many of its core tenets actively inhibit the possibility of living a good life, for both its own adherents and others.

He finds the routine intimidation of apostates particularly distressing, along with totalising aspects of the Islamic Ummah and the use of taqiyya to undermine proper public concern. The latter involves concealing one’s true objectives until achievement of a given goal. In Refeh – a case Finnis considers at length – this involved an Islamist political party that professed adherence to the rule of law and multiparty democracy until it became possible to overthrow both. Those who give their allegiance to the Ummah, Finnis argues, sometimes see their nationality as a ‘form of alienage’ and seek to undermine Western states of which they may already be nationals. This last point is particularly important in light of Finnis’ discriminatory immigration policy proposals: these would not succeed against, say, the perpetrators of the 7/7 attacks, all of whom were British born or British nationals.

Finnis also finds Islamic attempts to propagate the faith by force troubling, citing Benedict XVI’s explicit repudiation of violence in Christianity’s cause. He also raises concerns with arranged marriages and denial of women’s educational opportunities. Public threats to apostates like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Ibn Warraq are now a commonplace of global politics. These exempla are indicative, Finnis argues, of a general tendency to intimidate opponents. Of course, critics may argue that Finnis presents a monolithic Islam, and they may be right. That does not detract from the point that a state’s ability to distinguish between Muslims when it administers an immigration policy is limited.

Although both Raz and Finnis argue that the state has a duty to promote valid ideas of the good, they fall on either side of contemporary debates on multiculturalism. That said, Raz’s arguments are more nuanced than his essay in Ratio Juris appears to admit. His support for state funded multiculturalism has origins in his view that human well-being is linked to ‘social forms’, which he describes as ‘forms of behaviour which are in fact widely practiced in […] society’. These social forms ‘pervade important dimensions of one’s life’. He sounds almost communitarian when he defines them:

I have in mind the public perception of common forms of action, each of which has the internal richness and complexity which makes it into a possible comprehensive personal goal.

Raz is careful not only to note the extent to which people enjoy ‘the good life’ in company, but also to note that morality is not in conflict with well-being as often as commonly assumed. He points out, too, that certain lives are not possible without certain social forms developing – a university teacher, to take an obvious example, needs the presence of ‘social forms’ that value not only education, but the social and institutional structures that support it. However – for Raz as for Finnis – all this is ‘provided those social forms are morally sound’. When it comes to multiculturalism, Raz argues that it is a ‘normative precept motivated by concern for the dignity and well-being of all human beings’ and calls for a radical reconceptualization of the state as ‘constituted by a plurality of cultural groups’.

Raz argues for generous state funding of multicultural education for groups beyond a certain size threshold, a toleration regime for varied cultural practices, and a recognition and acceptance that public spaces will change in the face of large-scale migration. He does this on the basis of dignity and self-respect, the lack of which undermines peoples’ well-being. Most crucially, he thinks that states that do not endorse multiculturalism in a form akin to his proposal ‘ha[ve] no respect for their culture, find[] it inferior and plot[] its elimination’. It is on this issue in particular that Finnis takes issue with Raz’s support for multiculturalism.

First, Finnis notes that Raz is happy to have non-viable (read small) immigrant groups excluded from the ambit of state support. For some reason, Raz does not construe this as cultural elimination, but the effect is identical. Next, Finnis reiterates Raz’s point that ‘the willingness to share is not purchased easily’, and argues that multiculturalism can be as or more divisive than many other redistributive policies. He also reminds us that regarding a given culture as inferior does not mean regarding the person who adheres to that culture as inferior.

Although not sketched out in detail, Finnis also criticises Raz’s view that lack of a common language is merely a ‘nuisance’, making an argument for assimilation. He thinks that such a policy is not ‘motivated by judgments of disrespect for persons or their cultures, [nor does it] have a purpose of eliminating those cultures, even if the withering away of those cultures in this country is expected to be a side-effect of assimilation’. He argues that to hold otherwise involves ‘loosely extending the categories of “disrespect” and “offensiveness”.’

To be fair, Raz confines his support for multiculturalism to those cases where the cultures in question maintain a reasonable measure of liberality: they should abjure intolerances like homophobia and female genital mutilation, and allow their members ‘rights of exit’. They should also abandon historic racial prejudices. This is a weaker version of his earlier comments on illiberal cultures:

One particular troubling problem concerns the treatment of communities whose culture does not support autonomy. These may be immigrant communities, or indigenous peoples, or they may be religious sects. It is arguable that even the harm principle will not defend them from the ‘cultural imperialism’ of some liberal theories. Since they insist on bringing up their children in their own ways they are – in the eyes of liberals like myself – harming them. Therefore can coercion be used to break up their communities, which is the inevitable by-product of the destruction of their separate schools, etc?

If Raz’s arguments in Morality of Freedom are more representative of his ideas, then it may be that he and Finnis are closer than they appear. Even so, Raz’s mistake is the familiar one: in arguing for state funding of a particular conception of the good (multiculturalism), he forgets that it is almost impossible to ensure that the funding will actually lead to the creation of morally valuable opportunities, and the elimination of repugnant ones.

Liberalism and justification

Political anti-perfectionism has its origins in John Stuart Mill’s famous ‘harm principle’. That is, the only reason for governments – and individuals – to interfere with the liberty of any other person is self-protection:

The only purpose for which power can be rightly exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right.

Despite its familiarity, the principle is subtle. Mill recognised that tyranny ‘operating through the acts of public authorities’ is only one sort of oppression. He long thought that facilitating government power over the individual made it easier – legitimised, in a sense – other members of society in imposing ‘a tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling’. Finnis’ worries about Islamic intimidation – of apostates and those less serious about their faith – is an echo of this aspect of Mill’s harm principle.

While Raz does not go so far as to argue that ‘the legislator must labour to ensure that his citizens become good men’ (Aristotle), he thinks that the state has a duty to promote valid ideals of the good. By contrast, libertarian thinkers traditionally focus on the importance of autonomy – personal, individual choice. That is, the ‘good society’ and individual happiness depends on people pursuing life goals independently selected from a range of alternatives. Inevitably, some of these alternatives may be valuable to the person making the choice but not valuable per se. It’s highly likely that many such individual choices won’t be good in the moral sense Raz adumbrates. They will do no harm to others, however, which makes them none of the state’s business.

Raz, by contrast, is explicit about defending autonomy, not merely making it available. He describes this process as follows:

Inasmuch as the liberal concern to limit coercion is a concern for the autonomy of persons, the liberal will also be anxious to secure natural and social conditions which enable individuals to develop an autonomous life. The liberal will seek […] to regulate the non-coercive effects that one person’s acts have over others in order to secure an environment suitable for autonomous life. In pursuing such goals the liberal may be willing to use coercion.

Interestingly, the above quotation amounts to a ‘weak’ or ‘thin’ perfectionism, and has strong parallels in libertarian thought. It is quite possible to accept it without also accepting the ‘strong perfectionist’ aspect of Raz’s argument: that in addition to securing autonomy, the state should endorse, support and provide morally valuable choices, and eliminate bad ones.

F. A. Hayek – while enjoining very great caution – makes a related weak perfectionist point:

There is a need for certain common standards of values, and, although too great emphasis on this need may lead to very illiberal consequences, peaceful co-existence would be clearly impossible without any such standards. If in long-settled communities with a predominantly indigenous population, this is not likely to be a serious problem, there are instances, such as in the United States during the period of large immigration, where it may well be one.

He goes on to note that the US could never have become such an effective ‘melting pot’ without a degree of ‘Americanization’ through its education system. He also argues persuasively that much of the bitterness attending race (Hayek was writing shortly after Brown v Board of Education was handed down) arose thanks to racially separate schooling.

For a weak perfectionist (such as a classical liberal), many Islamic values are strongly antithetical to personal autonomy. This is particularly notable with respect to homosexuality, for example, and at least in some versions, to women. Some values abrogate not only Raz’s ‘rights of exit’, but also endorse a degree of political dishonesty that goes far beyond mere ‘spin’. Of all systems of governance, liberalism (like the free market) depends on the provision of accurate information. Taqiyya virtually ensures information asymmetry. Thus, to the extent that large numbers of Muslim immigrants undermine essential elements of liberal governance, then discrimination may be justified. Of course, the discrimination need not be in the form Finnis proposes, but it could be.

Necessity, rent-seeking and empirical policy

Are Finnis’ policy proposals likely to be effective? His interpretation of UK immigration law in favour of deportation or detention of non-nationals would only solve part of the problem. The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain has repeatedly made the point that state-funded multiculturalism offers those who want a platform unparalleled access to one. When the state funds community bodies, it exposes itself to the problem of ‘rent seeking’, whereby the community leaders in question respond to non-market incentives in order to collect ‘rents’. In the case of ‘Islamic community leaders’, obtaining status as an ‘official spokesman’ is like obtaining a taxi licence, in that it walls out competition and allows for wealth transfers from both the interest group in question and the taxpayer. It is entirely consistent with liberalism to end multiculturalism’s access to taxpayer funds, and yet it is not discriminatory in the sense Finnis adumbrates. This would simultaneously undermine the capacity of groups (comprising both nationals and non-nationals) to advocate illiberal and coercive religious values and encourage assimilation to the host culture.

Other policy suggestions may well be discriminatory, albeit in a less radical sense. Adoption of immigration quotas – as in Australia – will dilute the existing population with immigrants who assimilate more readily. Discouraging or preventing the immigration of persons with few or no skills takes the sting out of resentment common in areas where poor whites and low-skill immigrants compete for jobs at the market clearing rate. Constricting access to welfare entitlements discourages the immigrant equivalent of ‘forum shopping’. While discrimination may be justified – and may even be necessary – there are many ways to alleviate the problems Finnis outlines.

Concluding comments

As a concluding empirical point, I wish to point out that strong perfectionism – of the type endorsed by both Raz and Finnis – is vulnerable to government failure. State funded multiculturalism is a signal example. Multiculturalism’s supporters had a clear conception of the good, and successfully recruited the state in its support. Raz in particular has long argued that the general risk of failure cannot lead to anti-perfectionism: instead, it should lead only to general caution. His endorsement of state-sponsored multiculturalism, then, must count as incautious. This is not to argue that it is impossible to conceive of an objective account of the good, or to suggest that it is appropriate for states to abjure all promotion of any goods. Rather, it is to note that even if it were possible to give objective content to the common good, this is not an argument for the state to support it, especially in the form of taxpayer subsidy. States fail far too often, in ways so spectacular as to be almost inconceivable. I do not want to be the government official who paraphrases Star Trek when she tells Finnis ‘it’s the good, Professor, but not as you know it’.


  1. Posted May 29, 2008 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    While I find Finnis’s views (as you portray them – I would not otherwise know them) superficially attractive it is founded on what I would regard as a fundamentally illiberal concept – that you can classify people by their religion / race / creed / colour.
    To me at least everyone is an individual, whether a Muslim, a Christian, a blackfella, a whitefella or anything else. Some of the most tolerant, peaceful people I know are Muslims. Some of the most intolerant have been atheists or (pace Finnis) Roman Catholics. Some self proclaimed libertarians (one in particular) might be regarded as a one person intolerance machine.
    I would also agree with your last paragraph. Any scheme of this nature relies on those enforcing it – and who gets to choose whether a group is, or is not, a threat to society.
    As I said, and as is true of many of these sorts of ideas – superficially attractive, but wrong.

  2. Posted May 29, 2008 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    The problem with discriminating against Islam is that it is a faith of 1.2 billion people with enormous cultural, theological, interpretative and other variations. Which Islam are you planning to discriminate against?

    Could one argue that we should discriminate against Christianity because of the political theology of Francis Schaffer? After all, his ideas are regarded by many as forming the basis of evangelical Christianity’s engagement with neo-Conservative politics.

    (His ideas also led me down the track of flirting with political Islam.)

    When I read alleged liberals talking about taqiyya, I know it’s time to switch off. Taqiyya is not a practise of habitually lying about one’s real intentions. If it was, liberal democracy should ban politics (or at least politicians) altogether!

    Rather, taqiyya is a facility that allows one to pretend to renounce one’s faith when one is faced with certain death if one were not to so act.

    I have read theological texts where Shia Muslims are accused of treating taqiyya as a license to lie generally about their beliefs. However, these are polemical texts where Shia Muslims are accused of lying about the extent of their hatred toward a number of key religious personalities (as in certain companions of the Prophet) who Sunnis regard as sacred.

    The only other people rabbiting on about taqiyya are Christian and Jewish polemicists who wish to present Muslims as some nefarious influence on Western societies. The other category are allegedly conservative economists and former National Party senators whose work regularly appears on the pages of publications like Quadrant.

  3. Posted May 29, 2008 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    Taqiyya came up in Refah Partisi, which is a leading decision of the ECHR. It provided the basis for the UKHL decision in Begum. Perhaps this organisation had adopted it as a strategy in order to facilitate control of the Turkish government independently of its religious origin.

    There’s a brief summary of Refah here.

  4. John Hasenkam
    Posted May 30, 2008 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    Just recently the USA(Texas) had an example of the State deciding what was good for the children. One level of the State decided the children had to be removed and this it appears was on the basis of an anonymous phone call asserting that in the community which practiced polygamy child sexual abuse was occurring. This decision was latter over ruled in two courts.

    The problem with allowing religious freedom is that it also encourages religious intolerance. People become locked into enclaves of thought and so have a very limited world view. Some people in bible bashing Texas were obviously convinced that terrible things were happening to the children. One anonymous phone call was all it took to send in the State to save the children.

    To criticize a belief is not to discriminate against it. If I think an idea is stupid is it not necessarily because I have an discriminatory attitude it could be that it really is a stupid idea or I am just a stupid person who doesn’t understand the idea. The onus should be on the aggrieved to demonstrate that the actions and\or statements clearly arose from a discriminatory stance. For example, I regard aboriginal dreamtime stories as stuff and nonsense, no better or worse than the biblical stories. Actually better, the biblical stories are way out there but anyway … . I regard the “spiritual attachment to the land” as a very dangerous idea because it presupposed that the future of aboriginal welfare was somehow contingent on the this spiritual attachment. Religious ideas are very good at misdirecting our efforts towards solving problems.

    In Islam, the way women cover themselves is bad for their health. There is very good data pointing to widespread deficiency of vitamin D, which has serious implications for pregnant women (faint statistical association with schizophrenia onset and vit D levels and much stronger for Multiple Sclerosis and some other autoimmune diseases), and growing bodies need the sunlight for vitamin D production.

    In the USA the prevention of sex education teaching is\should be regarded as a lunacy driven by the fundiechristonuts and is deserving of every ridicule it gets.

    Religions are allowed to proselytize here, there and everywhere. Speak out against religion and you risk censure. Religious leaders daily lament the “sinfulness”of the world at large and demand new moral principles for society. They are free to attack secular society in any which way they so choose. So be it, if my way of life is anathema to them and their values and beliefs condemn my way of life then I am perfectly entitled to tell them to shove their beliefs where the sun don’t shine.

    So what exactly does it mean to discriminate against a religion?

  5. Posted May 30, 2008 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    In Finnis’ case, it means restricting immigration from that group, along with adopting an assimilationist policy for those immigrants who do enter the country.

    From a libertarian perspective, these (illiberal) ideas gain purchase in large part because immigrants receive welfare from the state, and we all know who pays the state. People want value for their taxes.

    However, the common libertarian solution – open borders subject only to health checks coupled with the abolition of welfare for new arrivals – is also problematic.

    In countries like Australia and the UK, the presence of free education and health care means that new immigrants are the beneficiaries of large transfer payments that don’t manifest as ‘money’. Very few classical liberals would support the idea of denying large groups of people access to education and health care (the latter would need to be completely privatised for the libertarian position to work properly, imho).

    This means we are back to people turning up uninvited and asking for money, and the perfectly reasonable taxpayer response – ‘if I give you money, you have to do x

    To my way of thinking, this is at the root of much anti-immigration rhetoric. It’s not racism per se, but an irritation at being played for a sucker. This is particularly bad in the case of refugees, who compete in the job-market with poor whites/Aborigines at the market clearing rate, and is made even worse by the presence of minimum wage legislation.

    [That said I agree with you on religion – I think it’s a load of irrational bollocks, but then I would say that, I’m a skeptic!]

  6. John Hasenkam
    Posted May 31, 2008 at 3:48 am | Permalink

    History strongly suggests a significant benefit to enhanced migration. The Melting Pot of the USA is an argument for immigration. As is Australia. In Gums, Germs and Steel, Diamond argues that one factor that allowed Europe to progress is because of cross cultural pollination. In genetics there is the concept of “hybrid vigour” and sexual selection research indicates that some mammals are attracted to potential mates by body odours as these indicate differing immune properties, the implication being mixing and matching of different alleles for adaptive immune responses confers greater protection against disease.

    At a “socio-genetic level” I can perceive benefits from immigration because immigrants, almost by definition, even refugees, are people prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to improve their lives. This argument could probably be applied to many religious people, who typically come up in studies as being happier, healthier, more productive, and more involved with the general community. A big plus for believers but please don’t proselytize here … .

    Some in anthropology and cognitive psych would argue that xenophobia is intrinsic to human behavior. There is both historical and research evidence that makes such a reality all too painfully obvious. Indeed it is often our natural inclinations that we must rebel against. As Richard Dawkins eloquently and somewhat defensively states:

    My own feeling is that a human society based simply on the gene’s law of universal ruthless selfishness would be a very nasty society in which to live… Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish
    > (Dawkins, 1989, p. 2-3).

    Finnis is being discriminatory because he is making a common logical error: mistaking the person for the group.

    I accept your argument that immigration becomes problematic when jobs are threatened. I vaguely recall studies showing that “racism” tends to aimed at those who are lower on the socio-economic scale and have the potential to take away our jobs. In this globalised economy that may become academic. Jobs are now lost over the internet so I suppose we’ll just have to ban that.

    PS: if people want value from their taxes then why do we keep electing the mediocre? Was that old Greek Heraclitus right? People get the government they deserve. So Skepticlawyer, after your successful legal career think about ….

  7. Posted June 1, 2008 at 12:29 am | Permalink

    In what context did the Refah Party case mention the notion of taqiyya? How was taqiyya defined? Was it used as a religious concept or as a political tool within a peculiar political context?

    My own background is South Asian. 1 in 4 Muslims in the world has South Asian ancestry. The first time I read about taqiyya was when I was around 16 years old (1985). I read about it in an anti-Shia polemical text written by an Indian Sunni Muslim scholar. The book attacked the Iranian revolution and Khomeini, alleging that Shias were heretics who deliberately lied to hide the true extent of their hatred toward the companions of the Prophet Muhammad. That lying was called “taqiyya”.

    Some years later, I asked some Shia friends of mine about taqiyya. They said that the term refers to one’s pretending to have converted out of Islam where the person is given a choice between expressing conversion or death.

    “In Islam, the way women cover themselves is bad for their health”. None of the women in my family wear anything on their heads except on special religious occasions when they wear loose-fitting shawls. No research has been done on this point, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the vast majority of women in Australia do not wear a hijab (head scarf) or niqab (face veil). In many cultures commonly practised by Muslims, the wearing of anything on one’s head is frowned upon.

    We need to remember that not all the followers of a particular faith actually practise all the precepts of that faith. To give you an example, on the main feast days, you will find at least 25,000 people attending the Imam Ali mosque in Lakemba, Sydney. But go there for weekly Friday prayers and you’ll be lucky to see a thousand.

  8. John Hasenkam
    Posted June 1, 2008 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    The fact that various people of faith choose different interpretations is irrelevant to my argument. If any belief system encourages or suggests that lifestyle factor X is preferable and that X is known to be bad then that particular X should be attacked for its dangers.

    So I don’t really care about individual practices, if a belief system encourages even a small percentage of people to engage in dangerous practices then that component of belief should be attacked.

    As for all the interpretations of faith X, that just demonstrates how problematic it becomes when one starts reading ancient texts or even modern texts for that matter. If God can’t reveal himself more clearly then he only has himself to blame for all the differing beliefs about him. Yes, in this context God must be male because females are better communicators and probably woudn’t go around telling her followers to kill those people over there, except perhaps to just talk them to death.

    Now this is where my argument comes undone:

    Bertrand Russell once wrote: “In theory we are agnostic in practice we are atheists.” I concur, strictly speaking one cannot prove the existence of God. Atheism, however, is a great terror to most people. The idea that you just live then die is too hard for most people, we all want to believe there is something else.

    Health research indicates that religious individuals are happier, live longer(nice paradox!), are more productive, and generally better citizens. I even entertain this idea that our physiology and neurological structures are geared towards beliefs. So some religious people may argue that being atheist is bad one’s health.

    When the apostle Paul wrote – death is the final enemy – he was wrong. The enemy is belief and atheism is a belief.

  9. John Hasenkam
    Posted June 1, 2008 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Thanks Legal Eagle,

    You touched a nerve of mine with the reference to indigenous practices. A recent example. An Aussie researcher found very high levels of cadmium in two favourite traditional foods: turtle and dugong. Cadmium can cause kidney damage, aborigines have extraordinarily high rates of kidney disease …. Of course cadmium is not the only causative factor here but realistically aborigines who eat lots of these traditional foods should be tested for cadmium levels.

    I feel sorry for the aborigines, neglected by the Right and led astray by the Left. It would please me no end if aboriginal issues were approached from an environmental – behavioral framework rather than a political – ethical framework but that is not going to happen.

  10. John Hasenkam
    Posted June 1, 2008 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Oh dear Legal Eagle I just browsed your article on cultural relativism. I don’t know how you wrote that without steam emerging from your ears. Tragic situation re aborigines and sex abuse but I read reports going back 20 years (S. Aust study) showing the problem was big way back then. Maxine McKew once stated in an interview how when she was at Cherbourg there were rumours of the same but no-one was going to report it.

    That’s cultural relativism for you, it has allowed this problem to persist for decades, destroying whole generations of aborigines. How about some interviews with aboriginal survivors or sexual abuse in their own communities instead of this continual stream about from those of the Stolen Generation? That would have a great impact on aborigines in general and probably be very effective in curbing ongoing sexual abuse.

    The Left psychologically crippled too many aborigines by imparting to them the belief that their problems were our making and it was up to us to fix those problems. Yes, we most certainly did do great harm but at the end of the day you get up and walk towards the future on your own two legs instead of waiting for someone to put you in a wheelchair and saying they’ll take care of you. Fortunately many aborigines have realised the folly of such paternalistic attitudes. It is these people who should be leading aborigines. Noel Pearson is a good example and I’m sure there are many others, I just wish they would have much wider media exposure because they, not us, are the best hope for aborigines.

  11. John Hasenkam
    Posted June 1, 2008 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Hey Legal Eagle,

    I probably overstate the “stand on your own two feet” argument because my own life experience has required me to overcome a great many hurdles and typically without any real support. At four years of age I was left half blind, disfigured, and brain damaged by a clumsy neurosurgeon. No support and most people around me have no idea just how hard I have had too struggle, and continue to struggle, just to keep my head above water in this crazy world.

    So when I hear aboriginal representatives, and anyone for that matter, claiming that this or that is the cause of their problems and someone else must solve their problems I tend to have a short fuse.

    Your point is entirely valid and important, we must find ways to help aborigines and all disadvantaged people to find their way in the world. Intelligence is easy, kindness is difficult.

    I just wish more had gone out of their way to help me but hey I’m not complaining! Well, sort of, maybe … .

  12. John Hasenkam
    Posted June 1, 2008 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    I am currently preparing a blog on Neuro Health, data mining and writing while returning to this. Anyway, below just came up in relation to eating turtles. They go much further than me and advocate abstaining from eating the same.

    Who in this country has the courage to say to aborigines: stop eating turtles???

    Abstract Sea turtle products (e.g., meat, adipose tissue, organs, blood, eggs) are common food items for many communities worldwide, despite national regulations in some countries prohibiting such consumption. However, there may be hazards associated with this consumption due to the presence of bacteria, parasites, biotoxins, and environmental contaminants. Reported health effects of consuming sea turtles infected with zoonotic pathogens include diarrhea, vomiting, and extreme dehydration, which occasionally have resulted in hospitalization and death. Levels of heavy metals and organochlorine compounds measured in sea turtle edible tissues exceed international food safety standards and could result in toxic effects including neurotoxicity, kidney disease, liver cancer, and developmental effects in fetuses and children. The health data presented in this review provide information to health care providers and the public concerning the potential hazards associated with sea turtle consumption. Based on past mortality statistics from turtle poisonings, nursing mothers and children should be particularly discouraged from consuming all sea turtle products. We recommend that individuals choose seafood items lower in the food chain that may have a lower contaminant load. Dissemination of this information via a public health campaign may simultaneously improve public health and enhance sea turtle conservation by reducing human consumption of these threatened and endangered species.

    Keywords sea turtle – human health – contaminants – bacteria – parasites

    PS: I have applied to put my future blog up here but no reply has been forthcoming. I understand the webmaster has some issues at present but am just wondering if at some point I can put my blog up here. So if anyone can reach Jacques please let him know ….


  13. Posted June 1, 2008 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    You’ll need to go to the Ozblogistan home page (, John – I think Jacques has a contact there. He has been having a few technical problems, which he’s posted about here and at Troppo.

    I’ve downloaded Refah No 1 and Refah No 2 for Irfan’s benefit, and will go through and strip out the relevant quotations when I get time. That said, I got both cases from the UK Westlaw database, which from what I can recall is pretty similar to the Australian Westlaw case.

    I read them while preparing this piece, but that was several months ago, so I’ll need to go digging again. I’m now at the stage where other study has to be attended to (exams start June 26), so it may wait a while 🙂

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