Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Open tabs

Although I'd much prefer to say something of my own, I need to paste some links into a post, because all the open tabs on my browser are eating too much of my computer's dwindling va-va-voom. So, here's this week's reading list, in the hope I can get back to substantive blogging soon.

9/11
I haven't really read many of the 9/11 posts and articles that poured forth yesterday. What else is there left to say eleven years on? But here are a couple: Norm with eleven persistent mythsKenan Malik's New York songs; Carl Packman on bin Ladenism.

Pakistan's Triangle Shirtwaist fire
The news from Karachi of a mounting death toll in the garment factory fire - 246 as I write, as well as  25 in a similar factory in Lahore - is horrific. The windows were barred shut, so the workers had no way of escaping. I have been trying unsuccessfully to identify what the factory produced, and who for. Much of Pakistan's garment manufacturing output is destined for Western the Western wholesale and retail market.
Judith Butler and the Adorno Prize
Kenan Malik: "INTELLECTUAL CHARLATANS & ACADEMIC WITCH-HUNTERS" (and a follow-up here). Ron Radosh: "The Anti-Semitism that Defines Today’s Western Left". Sad Red Earth: "Impenetrable: Butler's Hollow Rhetoric". Tod Gitlin: "The Trouble With Judith Butler—and Her Critics". Petra MB: "Defending Judith Butler in the Ivory Tower". Richard Landes and Benjamin Weinthal: "The Post-Self-Destructivism of Judith Butler". Bella Center "9/11 and How We Grieve".

Penis politics 1: Assange, Galloway, Yaqoob, Anti-imperialism and Respect
A fantastic post by Mhairi McAlipine on Socialist Unity ("the cesspit of the left") and its support for rape. I haven't yet read her follow-up, criticising Harry's Place and its ilk, which she defines (wrongly in my view) as "the imperialist left": "You can't fight misogyny with imperialism".  Also very good are Paul Stott on the obsequious nature of the last century left's support for Salma Yaqoob and HarpyMarx on the corrosive forms of "anti-imperialism"  which licence the misogyny of the Assange/Galloway campists. Not so current, but also on the Assange issue, Willard Foxton demolishes Glenn Greenwald here (as if he needs demolishing): "an embarrassment to the Guardian". And an earlier one I missed: Ellie Cumbo on Brendan O'Neill's Gallowayism about rape. If you are interested in these issues, the best source is the Soupy One, along with Am I Objective. The latter also brings us the fact-checking site WikiWatch. Meanwhile, Support Pussy Riot by all means. But support the Kazakh oil workers too.

Penis politics 2: Circumcision
Kristen Loveland & Yascha Mounk debate the circumcision ban, and Kristen adds a little more. Toby Lichtig: "Time to cut it out".

Antisemitism and conspiracy theories
Chip Berlet interviews David Hirsh on this, and Joel Braunauld blogs about the same topic.

Also (including some older stuff I'm not sure if I ever linked to)
Peter Risdon asks "Are We the Bad Guys?" Gilbert Achcar illuminates the Syria crisis. Rob Marchant says Comment is Free is eating the Guardian. Carl Packman nominates Stella Creasey as the most influential left-wing thinker of the past year.

16 comments:

modernity's ghost said...

I enjoyed HarpyMarx's contribution, in particular when she said:

"I have been accused of being “pro-imperialist”, “Zionist” (!!!!) and “Islamophobic” (!!!!) by individuals who are sloppy thinkers and don’t provide evidence to back these assertions up. It pisses me off beyond belief. It also represents the politics of desperation and weakness."

Years back, I remember such an attitude whenever I brought up the issue of anti-Jewish racism.

But more seriously, I do hope that in the past few years she has changed her views:

http://socialistunity.blogspot.co.uk/2007/02/zionism-racism-and-apartheid.html

Saying "Louisefeminista said...
AJ: I am in the process of reading his bk 51 Documents and it is impressive so far.

Lenni is a very good speaker as well and fascinating to listen to.

February 07, 2007 2:29 PM "


http://www.socialistunity.com/why-we-need-the-boycott/

kellie said...

The anti-war movement has been misogynist "in effect" for over a decade. It's interesting that some who have been so vocal about Western imperialism are now more able to recognise misogyny in the movement when it concerns events in Sweden and Britain than they were when it was about events in Afghanistan.

bob said...

Thanks both.Kellie, that's a really important point. Yes.

kellie said...

I've only just got round to reading the circumcision links above, prompted by a further thought on the question. The Toby Lichtig article is a tough read as it gets into the bad cases. The pair by Kristen Loveland and Yascha Mounk I found frustrating, though Kristen's follow-up I thought very useful. Yascha Mounk seemed to focus, as others have done, on divining the motives of those supporting the Cologne court decision.

Towards the end of the very long earlier thread on the topic here, I argued that trying to divine motive was a mistake, both because absolute knowledge of motive is impossible, and the morality or otherwise of a motive doesn't necessarily determine the morality of the action it leads to. I prefer the idea that likely consequences determine the morality of an action. The thought that occurred to me today was that this separating of motive from likely consequences might point towards a clearer way of resolving religious freedom on circumcision with child protection.

To go back to the Cologne court decision, the essence of it as I understand was that the religious conviction of a parent did not legally justify circumcision of a child, but that medically prescribed circumcision was legal.

In line with my earlier thinking, I agree with this, but there's more that follows that isn't explicit in the judgement, at least as reported.

Firstly, legal justification has to be based on likely consequences. If the action carries a likely injury or risk of harm to the child, and no evidence is presented for a likely benefit to the child outweighing that harm, then there is obviously no legal justification. The religious freedom of the parent can't be weighed against any likely injury or risk of harm to the child. To do so would contravene the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, articles 2 and 19. However, if medical evidence is given that likely benefits will outweigh likely harm, then the action can be legally justified.

Now note again that the preceding paragraph is wholly concerned with likely consequences. Motive doesn't matter, shouldn't matter for legal justification. So what about someone who is religiously motivated to have their child circumcised? Nothing changes; if they have medical justification, legal justification must follow, and their motive should make no difference. Religious motive should not grant the right to circumcise a child, and likewise and symmetrically it should not bar the circumcision of a child.

This might seem an argument for encouraging hypocrisy, but it shouldn't. Religious freedom includes freedom of religious motive in such a case, and there should be no need to conceal a religious motive in seeking such a medical prescription. The legal duty of the medic requested to provide it is to wholly ignore the motive and judge the case on medical grounds alone, that is to say: on likely consequences.

kellie said...

Via a post at The Duck of Minerva, here's a New York Times story on the proposed new legislation in Germany, with a mention of motive:

The ministry specifically avoids making any special provisions for circumcision for religious reasons, choosing instead to cover the matter in legislation governing the rights of children to avoid requiring steps to determine the motivation of parents’ decision to have their children circumcised.

bob said...

Kellie, I've composed the full and persuasive reply to your comment in my head, but haven't had the time to type it out - but I haven't forgotten you!!

Sarah AB said...

I think the single best argument I've heard in favour of allowing circumcision relates to the way in which majority cultures in a country benefit from the way in which their practices are allowed and condoned, often in defiance of logic and consistency. Thus it could be argued that tobacco and alcohol are more easily available than they would be if they had just been discovered. I find it difficult to agree with many of the arguments about making a 'special case' for circumcision, arguments which could be used to support fgm too (and I do realize it's completely different). I also don't see the rulings against it as (necessarily) antisemitic.

kellie said...

This argument has been rather unexpected for me. The issue has only once come up in my own life, years ago, but writing anything on that would intrude on the privacy of others. It's not something I've often thought of since, and I didn't pay much attention to the first post here on it.

I have found the split on this disturbing, as I think much of the attack on the Cologne court decision has been without proper regard for basic principles of human rights and medical ethics.

As I've read a little more on the German Justice Ministry's proposal for legislation in reaction to the court decision, I am not confident it balances the issue properly. If I've understood the proposal properly, then I doubt it will be the last word the matter.

Here's a reported line from the proposal: "Die Personensorge umfasst auch das Recht, in eine medizinisch nicht erforderliche Beschneidung des nicht einsichts- und urteilsfähigen männlichen Kindes einzuwilligen, wenn diese nach den Regeln der ärztlichen Kunst durchgeführt werden soll."

Relying heavily on Google's translation this seems to mean: "Custody rights of the child include the right to consent to a non-medically necessary circumcision of a male child incapable of insight and judgement, if carried out according to the rules of medical science."

This seems on the face of it incredible nonsense - a non-medically necessary circumcision carried out according to the rules of medical science? To accord with basic medical ethics wouldn't there need to be a justifiable expectation of medical benefit outweighing the injury? Perhaps there is some distinction intended here between non-medically necessary and non-medically beneficial, but otherwise the sentence seems an unsustainable paradox.

The same article reports that the Kindschaftsrecht (Children's Law) will be amended to say that a circumcision carried out lege artis (according to the law of the art of medicine) can't be punished as assault and causes no liability for damages. If lege artis refers here purely to proper surgical procedure, the law means religious circumcisions so carried out are protected, but if lege artis includes medical ethics then that would seem to leave medically unjustified circumcisions open to legal prosecution.

Again from the same article, the Berufsverbands der Kinder- und Jugendärzte/Professional Association of Child and Adolescent Physicians (BVKJ) objected to the Federal Ministry of Justice proposal having cited the recent report by the American Academy of Pediatrics finding that health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks. The BVKJ holds the opposite view, as, they claim, do 30 pediatric associations worldwide.

Not being a medical specialist, I have no view on which side is right on that, but it would seem important that legislators should not be able to prejudge a scientific medical question, and that the law should remain open to evidence and argument.

bob said...

1. The debate has been unexpected for me too, and this is not a topic which I had really given any real thought to prior to this summer.

I am interested in what it reveals in terms of some of the political alliances we are enmeshed in. I guess that the related struggles against Islamism, for freedom (including women's freedom) in the middle East, and against anti-Zionist forms of antisemitism have created a kind of common front that includes a range of people from neoconservatives to trad Marxists. In several conversation threads at this blog, we have spoken about policing the edges of that alliance where it shades into Islamophobia and right-wing Zionism, etc (most recently, the Robert Spencer question).

But the circumcision question exposes another line of fracture in the coalition: between hardcore secularist universalists and those who are, as Will Rubbish often called me, "soft on god" and more amenable to cultural relativism. So, the broad consensus from Shiraz Socialist, Marko Hoare, Kellie and other secularist universalists is lined up in this instance against those closer to a kind of Jewish particularism, perhaps.

This latter group might also be more likely to have more experience (first hand or otherwise) of male infant circumcision, which perhaps inflects the views of some of us.

As I think I already said, though, the main thing that makes it impossible that we are ever going to see things from each other's perspective, is that to me and most of circumcision's defenders, the concepts like "harm" have absolutely no bearing on the reality of male infant circumcision as we know it. It just seems incomprehensible to us to use that word for something that we perceive as so un-harmful.

We probably also tend to see a greater harm as implicit in the banning of circumcision: the ending of Jewishness in a meaningful sense, or at least in the sense it has survived so far. And this relates to the second unbridgeable cognitive gap between us and the secularist universalists: the devotion to the cultural content of Jewishness as an ethnicity anchored in Judaic religious practices (and not in either biological blood or religious faith). In know this conception of Jewishness seems "tribal" and perhaps barbaric to the children of the Enlightenment in the secular universalist camp, and I understand that.

As there seems no way of bridging these two huge gaps in worldview, I think it is unlikely we will reach an understanding of each other's positions - but I have found the discussion rewarding.

bob said...

2. Re the specific and very interesting points Kellie makes at the 30 September comment above:
trying to divine motive was a mistake, both because absolute knowledge of motive is impossible, and the morality or otherwise of a motive doesn't necessarily determine the morality of the action it leads to. I prefer the idea that likely consequences determine the morality of an action. The thought that occurred to me today was that this separating of motive from likely consequences might point towards a clearer way of resolving religious freedom on circumcision with child protection.

In relation to the decision of the court, the context in which the point initially referred, I mostly agree. As I've said many times before, I don't think it is helpful to attempt to divine antisemitic/Islamophobic/etc intent behind actions; rather, we should concentrate on antisemitic/Islamophobic/etc effects, and determine where they are or aren't present. (In this context, then, for me the antisemitism or otherwise of the judges is not important, but rather that the victims of the ban would be only those religious minorities who practise male infant circumcision, and thus constitute indirect religious discrimination. I mostly rather than wholly agree because the language of blood libel surrounding the debate - the focus on sucking blood, a discourse of barbarism and savagery etc - must also have a bearing on how we judge the situation.

[continued]

bob said...

[continued]

But in relation to judging the morality of circumcision, I think the issue is different. We are moving now from a discussion of racism - a political rather than moral issue - to a discussion of potential harm to infants - a moral and now jurisprudential issue.

In morality in general (except for the most hardcore Victorian utilitarians), and certainly in jurisprudence, intent matters a lot and not just consequence. This is obvious when you compare how we judge murder to how we judge manslaughter, or if you think of the weight word like "premeditated" or "cold-blooded" carry. If I push a male infant on to a train track out of malice, you'd judge me very differently than if I pushed a male infant onto a train track while trying to protect a pregnant woman on the platform from a knife-wielding mugger, even if the effect was equally tragic.

Further, you're not actually talking about effect, you're talking of prior calculation of effect:
"If the action carries a likely injury or risk of harm to the child, and no evidence is presented for a likely benefit to the child outweighing that harm, then there is obviously no legal justification. The religious freedom of the parent can't be weighed against any likely injury or risk of harm to the child. To do so would contravene the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, articles 2 and 19. However, if medical evidence is given that likely benefits will outweigh likely harm, then the action can be legally justified."
A religiously-motivated parent who gets their child circumcised under medical conditions and it goes wrong should not be judged more harshly by another set of parents who go through exactly the same processes for exactly the same reasons and it doesn't go wrong. It's not the effect, the after, that makes the difference; it's the before: they're either both in the wrong or both in the right (or both in the exact same grey area). In other words, the prior calculation of likely harm is a dimension of intent, not a dimension of effect.

(This is not to say, of course, that only intent matters and effect is irrelevant. If the scientists concluded unambiguously that there was a certain level of harmful effect in male infant circumcision, then the balance against religious and cultural freedom etc would shift considerably, and the knowledge or otherwise of the parents of this scientific evidence wouldn't matter in assessing that balance.)

Finally, in thinking about effect, we also need to think about the collective effect on the cultural survival of the Jewish people. Which is not to say that this trumps harm against an infant, if there was harm involved, but simply to say that it is a consideration along with the infant's rights.

bob said...

P.s. I am unhappy with my wording a couple of comments up "indirect religious discrimination". For me, it is not the religious discrimination that matters too much, but the cultural discrimination, against Jews, Muslims, Yezidis and others who practise circumcision as part of their culture. While not an absolute cultural relativist, I do see cultural discrimination as a form or at least close cousin of "racial" discrimination.

For the same reason, I am unhappy with Kellie's (and my) framing of the right balanced against the child's in terms of "religious freedom" and "religious motive", when actually we are talking about a larger cultural freedom and cultural motive of which these form a part.

kellie said...

I'm happy to read "religious" as "religious/cultural" in most of these instances. The atheist view is after all that organised religion is cultural and political rather than divine. Further, the question of whether someone acts according to religious doctrine because they're motivated by true religious belief or they're motivated by familial or cultural ties falls under the rule of judging likely outcome rather than motive.

Of course there are normally great benefits to individuals in preserving familial and cultural ties which demand proper consideration. In children's rights law however, the child's needs trump the parent or carer's needs on this. Here's Article 2 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in full:

Article 2

1. States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child's or his or her parent's or legal guardian's race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.

2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child's parents, legal guardians, or family members.


The language is quite wide: "or other opinion" and "expressed opinions". So one can't limit a child's rights under the convention on the basis of religious beliefs or any other beliefs of the carers, or the ethnic or social origin of their family. The carer's duty is to care for the child. The child can't be made to surrender rights in order to help bind family or ethnic ties. Carers have a duty to give children the benefits of family life without infringing on their rights.

kellie said...

On intent, yes, my use of "likely" was very deliberate. It's not immoral to suffer an accident, but one can legislate against recklessness and for due diligence, and the same rules on recklessness and due diligence must apply whether or not religious motivation is present.

At the same time, if a good intent is irrational or contrary to evidence of likely risk, then it isn't adequate justification.

bob said...

Just on that last point: if a good intent is irrational or contrary to evidence of likely risk, then it isn't adequate justification.

I don't think rational or irrational is relevant. If something harmless is irrational, that's fine. We can't protect children against irrationality.

I agree that intent does not trump effect, so have no problem agreeing that if a good intent is contrary to evidence of likely risk, then it isn't adequate justification - so long as it is clear we are talking about a certain level of risk, or rather of a certain level of risk of a certain level of harm. Everything has some risk of some harm, I think. The problem is defining that certain level. This is where the chasm between us lies, I think, as for you male infant circumcision is necessarily over that threshold (and therefore only justifiable, I think, when there is a positive effect in the balance, such as a medical indication) while for me it is not necessarily over that threshold, and I'd need a huge amount of convincing to be persuaded it might be.

kellie said...

You're right, I wouldn't want to outlaw irrationality! And an irrational motive is fine . . . but an irrational justification? Hmm.