LGBTQ activists in Halifax need to learn to love corporate Pride: Teitel | Toronto Star

Teitel’s commentary, while made in relation to LGBTQ activists, is also more broadly to activists in general.

Her comment about the importance of symbols and recognition to the more vulnerable compared to the privileged worthy of note:

Or, if like a number of LGBTQ activists in this country you’re determined to be miserable until the day you die, you can lament Trudeau’s presence at Pride instead, and label it “pinkwashing” — the LGBTQ equivalent of “whitewashing.”

Not everybody thinks Trudeau’s planned attendance at the Halifax parade this Saturday is a wholly positive thing. Some, such as Kehisha Wilmot, head of Halifax’s Mount Saint Vincent University Queer Collective, believe Trudeau’s participation is a distraction from the event’s more marginalized participants.

“We have people of colour doing things in this parade,” Wilmot told Halifax magazine The Coast this week, in a story headlined “Trudeau Pinkwashing Pride parade.” “And the big thing we’re currently now looking at is we brought down a white guy in a high-position role to be our focus.”

I don’t want to diminish the work done by groups such as Wilmot’s because it is important work. Yet a reminder is in order that a world leader’s presence at an event does not impede activists from making their voices heard.

Trudeau was in attendance at Toronto’s pride parade in 2016, where Black Lives Matter Toronto managed not only to stage a successful protest that effected tangible change, but to dominate media coverage in the event’s aftermath.

But Trudeau’s presence isn’t the only thing irking some of Halifax’s LGBTQ groups, and similar groups across the country, several of which have boycotted official pride events in their respective cities in recent years.

The corporatization of pride is perceived as a big problem, too: corporate sponsors preaching equality atop enormous company floats, cheesy guys in logo-embroidered thongs handing out coupons for various discounts. “Happy Pride! Here’s five dollars off your next souvlaki platter!”

The corporatization of pride is a fact lamented by many queer activists in the west who appear to yearn for the good old days when the businesses we frequented and services we used didn’t want anything to do with us.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that corporate interests should share the stage with grassroots organizations, but the refusal by some in my community to see the upside of corporate involvement in pride leads me to believe that a number of LGBTQ activists are completely out of touch with reality.

Moreover, these activists are ever eager to identify privilege in other people but they are utterly blind to the privilege they enjoy themselves: they have integrated into a community of like-minded people. Yes, they are marginalized in society at large, but they have found a place where they belong.

Not everyone enjoys this privilege. Take, for example, my friend Yvonne Jele, a gay refugee from Uganda, who is practically brand new to Canada (she fled her native country last year). Jele, who lives in Toronto, was overjoyed when she learned that the leader of her new home was marching in her city’s pride parade.

“People who are mad (that Trudeau participates in pride events) don’t know what it’s like to not be accepted by your leaders and government,” she told me recently.

Jele has some thoughts about corporate interests in Pride, too: “I think everyone can show support during pride,” she said. “It’s important for businesses to do so because it shows that the business is inclusive.”

These broad gestures of support by politicians and businesses matter a great amount to people who aren’t yet integrated into a tight-knit queer community, and they matter to closeted kids who are watching and reading about Pride from a distance, absent the support of such a community.

It’s a very good thing for these kids to know that their banks, hardware stores, coffee shops, internet providers and, yes, their leaders, take a public stance in favour of their rights.

No, these businesses and politicians aren’t by any means perfect. Yes, some of them make errors and false promises. But their participation in pride parades across the country is a gesture of goodwill felt deeply by those who have not yet found their home away from home.

The Prime Minister’s presence at Halifax pride this Saturday will not matter most to the out and proud, but to LGBTQ people who are neither. And the activism of the former should not extinguish the hopes of the latter.

Source: LGBTQ activists in Halifax need to learn to love corporate Pride: Teitel | Toronto Star

Langevin, Ryerson, Cornwallis: Is our past unfit for the present? – Peter Shawn Taylor

More good commentary by Peter Shawn Taylor (The case for keeping ‘Langevin Block’ – Peter Shawn Taylor, Begbie’s Statue – Bill McKee) and useful citing of historian Witt’s test questions on renaming:

Yale University has long wrestled with similar complaints about Calhoun College, named for benefactor John C. Calhoun, a U.S. senator from South Carolina and outspoken proponent of slavery during the pre-Civil War era. Last year, Yale asked historian John Fabian Witt to resolve the controversy. His response was a unique series of questions meant to gauge the validity of renaming demands. It’s a first stab at a coherent, standardized system for settling commemoration disputes, and other U.S. institutions have quickly grasped its significance. Last month, the University of Mississippi employed Prof. Witt’s test in removing some controversial names from its campus, while letting other remain. In the absence of anything similar in Canada, we should adopt the Witt test to settle our own namesake dilemmas.

Prof. Witt begins with the overarching principal that name changes should be considered “exceptional events” and not frivolous or political acts. “Renaming has often reflected excessive confidence in moral orthodoxies,” he observes, pointing with caution to the Soviet Union. Then again, not every urge to rename is Orwellian: post-Apartheid South Africa or post-Nazi West Germany, for example.

To decide what deserves to be removed and what should stay, the Witt test applies four questions, modified here for domestic use, that weigh the actions and time periods of commemorated individuals.

  • First: Is the principal legacy of the namesake fundamentally at odds with Canadian values? This requires a broad understanding of the life’s work of the individual in question.
  • Second: Was the relevant principal legacy significantly contested during the namesake’s lifetime? Isolated statements or actions considered controversial today may have been conventional wisdom at the time. Context matters.
  • Third: At the time of the naming, was the namesake honoured for reasons fundamentally at odds with Canadian values? Why was this person commemorated?
  • Finally: Does the building play a substantial role in forming community? The more prominent the edifice, the greater the casefor retaining names of historical significance, Prof. Witt says.

Using the Witt test, Yale announced in February the removal of Mr. Calhoun’s name. White supremacy, it concluded, was his principal legacy. Mr. Calhoun claimed slavery was “a positive good” and that the Declaration of Independence erred in stating all men are created equal. For this, he was criticized in his own time and today.

Applying these same standards to Mr. Langevin, however, yields a different result. As an important French-Catholic Conservative federalist in the Confederation era, Mr. Langevin’s principal legacy was building a bicultural Canada, something once considered a great virtue in this country. This is why his name was placed on an important building in Ottawa. Though his name is today often paired with residential schools, Mr. Langevin was primarily involved with constructing the buildings, not championing the policies. The infamous speech he gave in Parliament on the subject was actually parroting what his boss – Sir John A. Macdonald – had said days earlier. While his comments are grating to modern ears, he was merely repeating widely accepted views from his time. The Witt test exonerates Mr. Langevin.

The legacies of Mr. Begbie, Mr. Ryerson, Mr. Cornwallis and the rest of Canada’s historically accused deserve a fair trial as well.

Source: Langevin, Ryerson, Cornwallis: Is our past unfit for the present? – The Globe and Mail

Google is funding a new software project that will automate writing local news – Recode

More white collar jobs at risk – other professions will likely face similar partial replacement (e.g., lawyers, accountants):

Google is awarding the Press Association, a large British news agency, $805,000 to build software to automate the writing of 30,000 local stories a month.

The money comes from a fund from Google, the Digital News Initiative, that the search giant started with a commitment to invest over $170 million to support digital innovation in newsrooms across Europe.

The Press Assocation received the funding in partnership with Urbs Media, an automation software startup specializing in combing through large open datasets. Together, the Press Assocation and Urbs Media will work on a software project dubbed Radar, which stands for Reporters And Data And Robots.

Radar aims to automate local reporting with large public databases from government agencies or local law enforcement — basically roboticizing the work of reporters. Stories from the data will be penned using Natural Language Generation, which converts information gleaned from the data into words.

The robotic reporters won’t be working alone. The grant includes funds allocated to hire five journalists to identify datasets, as well as curate and edit the news articles generated from Radar. The project also aims to create automated ways to add images and video to robot-made stories.

“Skilled human journalists will still be vital in the process,” said Peter Clifton, the editor in chief of the Press Assocation in a statement. “But Radar allows us to harness artificial intelligence to scale up to a volume of local stories that would be impossible to provide manually.”

The Associated Press, a major U.S. news agency, started using automation software to generate stories about corporate financial quarterly earnings in 2014. The AP now posts thousands of stories every quarter with the help of its robotic reporting tools.

But the AP generally automates the generation of stories that don’t require investigation. Quarterly earnings are essential to cover for business journalism, but it often amounts to essentially sharing and comparing new numbers from the company with past earnings reports. That requires crunching numbers quickly, which might make more sense to be done by a robot.

The Radar project, on the other hand, plans to cover issues of local importance, digging into government datasets to find stories that matter. That kind of news judgement takes a deep understanding of social, political and local contexts, which humans are better suited to determine than software. The team of journalists who work on the project will likely be key to making it a success.

Still, Clifton says that this type of automated reporting can go a long way at a time of extreme financial pressures on media outlets, helping to cover important local stories — albeit with fewer people involved in the process.

Source: Google is funding a new software project that will automate writing local news – Recode

Godwin’s Law: What the Creator Thinks of Hitler Comparisons | Time.com

Excerpt from an interview with Mike Godwin, the inventor of Godwin’s law (invoking Hitler means losing an argument):

It’s obvious you have a pulse on social media where the Hitler comparisons you predicted are rampant. You can’t just chalk that up to Trump right?
As far as I know, every President who has been President from the time I got on the internet has been compared by someone to Hitler. People compared President Obama to Hitler. People have forgotten there were pictures of Obama with a Hitler moustache. That talk was crazy.

I’m not going to tell people whether to compare Obama or Trump to Hitler. It’s the government of the United States, and that’s very hard to destroy with a cult of personality because we have a lot of institutional inertia by design.

Would you say Trump’s impact makes the comparisons to fascism online more frequent?
I think so. There’s always been a general upward trend, peaking at election times. I think President Trump’s campaign was so populist and so outside the political establishment that it inspired people to reach for the comparisons because we’ve never had a President like this come in as a media personality outsider.

Isn’t it lazy to go there?
Of course it is. If you want to say something more powerful than the last person who disagreed with you said, people volunteer the rhetorical comparisons because they haven’t thought hard about history and what’s different between now and Germany in the 1930s or Cambodia in the 1970s.

When do you believe it’s a fair shake?
I urge people to develop enough perspective to do it thoughtfully. If you think the comparison is valid, and you’ve given it some thought, do it. All I ask you to do is think about the human beings capable of acting very badly. We have to keep the magnitude of those events in mind, and not be glib. Our society needs to be more humane, more civilized and to grow up.

Any idea how to stop the glib references?
A lot of education reform. If I ran the world, I would strengthen both history and scientific education in the United States. If we fostered more self-criticism and self-skepticism, I think that would do much to prevent rhetorical meanness and mean spiritedness on the internet, of which Hitler comparisons are only a tiny part.

We are in mid-adolescence culturally. When you reach adolescence, you’re not fully socialized. If we’re more self-aware, we can use social media with newfound growth and muscles.

Source: Godwin’s Law: What the Creator Thinks of Hitler Comparisons | Time.com

Russell Smith: Feverish reaction to Wonder Woman is art criticism leaving the art behind

Good commentary by Smith:

There is only one consensus: Wonder Woman is a political manifesto. This manifesto is either good or bad, and its value is determined solely by what side of righteousness it falls on.

The interpretation of this entertainment has gone in waves. First, it was wildly praised by feminists for its strong female character. “Wonder Womanis a masterpiece of subversive feminism,” a Guardian headline read. This is the “role model” school of art criticism.

Role models are indeed great for children, but generally, criticism of grown-up art does not revolve around this criterion for evaluation (otherwise, most of Nadine Gordimer and Edith Wharton and Virginia Woolf and Margaret Atwood would by now have been dismissed).

Then came the intersectionalist backlash: This strong female character cannot be feminist because she perpetuates racism, because she is unself-consciously white and beautiful in a conventional way. In a particularly blistering essay on the site The Unpublishables, Canadian novelist Doretta Lau excoriated the movie as “white feminism.” The protagonist is a “self-righteous hubristic do-gooder,” she wrote. Particularly galling is a joke the Amazon princess makes about feminine work being “slavery” – an offensive joke because, of course, it’s nothing like real slavery.

Then came the anti-Israel response. The film’s star, Gal Gadot, is Israeli and was once in the army and once, in 2014, tweeted her support for colleagues in the military forces. Lebanon and Tunisia have declared a ban on the film, and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement supporters are urging a boycott. This creates a tricky situation for the politically conscious art consumer.

“Declaring the film an empowering message for women while ignoring Gadot’s support of the Israeli policies that leave Palestinian women disempowered is a bitter pill to swallow,” a critic wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald.

The Toronto Star published a lengthy piece ostensibly about the movie that was mostly about Israeli atrocities in Gaza. The movie is apparently in support of these. “The reaction to Wonder Woman highlights the perversity and partiality of a feminism that celebrates the cinematic representation of a fictional, purportedly anti-war female superhero, but ignores the non-fictional women (and men) who experience the real brutalities of war and occupation,” Azeezah Kanji wrote. The movie does not mention contemporary Israel even indirectly.

A journal called Middle East Eye agonized over the pressing question of whether or not to like this movie, explaining, “[Gadot] is Israeli, with little appreciation for the fact that, as an Ashkenazi Jew, she belongs in the upper crust of Israeli society, with no experiential understanding of what it means to be a person of colour.” After a long analysis of the movie’s feminist virtues and errors, writer Nada Elia concluded that it should not be watched: “One does not wish to view Wonder Woman because the central character, a hero out to save the world, is played by a woman who cheers on genocide.”

Here is the simplest form of art criticism: one that need not address art. It makes no effort to discuss a movie. What’s in the movie is irrelevant. All participants in the spectacle, even if they are not the writers of it, must be screened for ideological purity before the entertainment is to be evaluated.

Whether Wonder Woman will be recorded as an important piece of art 50 years from now is impossible to foresee, but I would be willing to bet $100 on “no.” But the movie has long been left behind in these non-reviews anyway – we are just arguing about Israel and Palestine again.

At any rate, this set of criteria certainly makes art criticism easier. Critics need to spend a lot less time on structure or cinematography. All they need do is consult their ideological guidelines, determine whether it exemplifies the correct moral tendencies and issue a simple yes/no verdict. They could start to use codes: CR for “correct representations”; NR for “needs re-education.”

The left and the right support this approach with equal enthusiasm. The fury over Shakespeare in the United States since the Donald Trump-like representation of Julius Caesar in New York is an exemplar. “Liberal hate kills,” shrieked protesters disrupting the play. In the past week, the anger at one company’s interpretation of the play has spread to the whole country, with repertory theatre companies in Massachusetts and Texas reporting angry protests and even threats from Trump supporters, just because they have performed any Shakespeare play. It has been suggested that the denunciations are the result of careless googling (“Shakespeare in the park” will return quite a few cities). But it is also possible that Shakespeare himself, since he has been seen to be a tool of liberal violence, has now been deemed ideologically opposed to conservative American values. It’s over for Shakespeare in the heartland: He’s liberal.

Again, the play itself is left in the dust. We are just arguing about affiliations, about badges. Amusingly, the play itself makes reference to this human propensity: the character Cicero says, “Men may construe things after their fashion, Clean from the purpose of the things themselves.”

Source: Russell Smith: Feverish reaction to Wonder Woman is art criticism leaving the art behind – The Globe and Mail

The casual indifference of Dachau’s selfie-taking Holocaust tourists: Mark Milke

We did not have the same experience as Milke at Dachau during a fall visit.

However, his points are valid, as selfies and other photos are about the person visiting, not about the place and history, whether it be a concentration camp, great works of art at the Louvre or other galleries etc:

So how to explain this unfortunate phenomenon? I’d like to hope it was only the day I visited: it was sunny that morning which can produce a parallel optimism; perhaps overcast or rainy weather would better provoke a somber mood in those walking around the first Nazi death camp. Or maybe it’s the camp’s proximity to Dachau, the town. Neatly arranged townhouses overlook the bunker, with only a fence and a few metres separating them. Normality long ago returned to Germany, including Dachau, and perhaps it is difficult to sustain a sense of unique horror when everyday life continues around the 84-year-old camp, and when so many of those with direct memories of the horrors are no longer with us.

Whatever the explanation, the casual indifference at Holocaust sites is something others have also begun to notice. Last year, Ukrainian filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa set up cameras at Dachau and also at Sachenhausen (near Berlin) and let them roll. He recorded selfie after selfie, along with all the other self-obsessed behaviour all too common in what he labeled “Holocaust tourism.”

One Guardian columnist, reviewing Loznitsa’s documentary, Austerlitz, suggested selfies be banned at concentration camps, though not photography. That’s a sensible proposal, though I found myself unable to even take my camera out of my backpack; to snap a photograph seemed too casual.

Another approach to confronting self-absorbed selfie tourism: shame. Earlier this year Israeli artist Shahak Shapira superimposed cut-outs people had taken at the Berlin Holocaust memorial (including people engaged in yoga and rap poses) over ghastly Holocaust images of starved camp prisoners and corpses in trains. It helped show the disrespect that Holocaust tourism communicates to the dead and to those who were fortunate enough to survive.

It would be too easy though, to blame the young and engage in generational stereotypes. To complain of the ignorance of youth is to engage in circular reasoning—why should young people be expected to know that which they have not been taught? Or that which has not been emphasized? Fact is, if some children or young adults lack historical knowledge and awareness of why such sites should be treated as akin to holy shrines, with the greatest of reverence and respect, the blame falls elsewhere: on adults who by a lack of instruction, presence or example, fail to signal the importance of sober, even somber, remembrance.

Thus, examples matter: As I exited Dachau, walking along a path from the main gate back to the visitor centre, a forty-something fellow trotted by in the opposite direction. He walked casually, licking a fudgesicle, or popsicle or some similar frozen creation. His gait and casual cluelessness said it all: he was approaching just another “attraction” of sorts, as if he were about to enter Disneyland and not Dachau.

Source: The casual indifference of Dachau’s selfie-taking Holocaust tourists – Macleans.ca

Yes, Donald Trump is making xenophobia acceptable: Cass Sunstein and “preference falsification”

Good piece and interesting study cited by Sunstein:

In the U.S. and Europe, many people worry that if prominent politicians signal that they dislike and fear immigrants, foreigners and people of minority religions, they will unleash people’s basest impulses and fuel violence. In their view, social norms of civility, tolerance and respect are fragile. If national leaders such as U.S. President Donald Trump flout those norms, they might unravel.

The most careful work on this general subject comes from Duke University economist Timur Kuran, who has studied the topic of “preference falsification.” In Kuran’s view, there is a big difference between what people say they think and what they actually think. Sometimes for better or sometimes for worse, people’s statements and actions are inhibited by prevailing social norms. When norms start to disintegrate, we can see startlingly fast alterations in what people say and do.

Kuran’s leading example is the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, which, he says, was long sustained by the widespread misconception that other people supported communism. Once prominent citizens started to announce, in public, that they abhorred communism, others felt freer to say that they abhorred it too, and regimes were bound to collapse.

Kuran’s theory can be applied broadly. Writing in the late 1990s, he predicted the backlash against affirmative action programs, contending that a lot of people opposed such programs even though they weren’t saying so. Millions of people favoured same-sex marriage before they felt free to announce that they did. When professors keep quiet after left-wing students shut down conservative speakers, it may not be because they approve; they might be capitulating to social norms on campus. There is a strong taboo on anti-Semitism, which limits its public expression.

It’s hard to test these kinds of ideas rigorously, but in an ingenious new paper, a team of economists has done exactly that.

Leonardo Bursztyn of the University of Chicago, Georgy Egorov of Northwestern University and Stefano Fiorin of the University of California at Los Angeles designed an elaborate experiment to test whether Trump’s political success affects Americans’ willingness to support, in public, a xenophobic organization. They find that it does — big-time. It’s a little finding with big implications.

The experiment is pretty complicated, so please bear with me. Two weeks before the election, Bursztyn and his colleagues recruited 458 people from eight states that the website Predictwise said that Trump was certain to win (Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Mississippi, West Virginia and Wyoming). Half the participants were told that Trump would win. The other half received no information about Trump’s projected victory.

All participants were then asked an assortment of questions, including whether they would authorize the researchers to donate $1 to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, accurately described as an anti-immigrant organization whose founder has written, “I’ve come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.” If participants agreed to authorize the donation, they were told that they would be paid an additional $1.

Here’s where things get interesting. Half the participants were assured that their decision to authorize a donation would be anonymous. The other half were given no such assurance. On the contrary, they were told that members of the research team might contact them, thus suggesting that their willingness to authorize the donation could become public.

For those who were not informed about Trump’s expected victory in their state, giving to the anti-immigration group was a lot more attractive when anonymity was assured: 54 per cent authorized the donation under cover of secrecy as opposed to 34 per cent when the authorization might become public. But for those who were informed that Trump would win, anonymity didn’t matter at all. When so informed, about half the participants were willing to authorize the donation regardless of whether they received a promise of anonymity.

As an additional test, Bursztyn and his colleagues repeated their experiment in the same states during the first week after Trump’s election. They found that Trump’s victory also eliminated the effects of anonymity — again, about half the participants authorized the donation regardless of whether the authorization would be public.

The upshot is that if Trump had not come on the scene, a lot of Americans would refuse to authorize a donation to an anti-immigrant organization unless they were promised anonymity. But with Trump as president, people feel liberated. Anonymity no longer matters, apparently because Trump’s election weakened the social norm against supporting anti-immigrant groups. It’s now OK to be known to agree “that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.”

Nothing in these findings demonstrates that Trump’s election is leading to an erosion of social norms against incivility and hatred, let alone against violence. But they’re suggestive. Sometimes people don’t say what they think, or do as they like, because of their beliefs about the beliefs of their fellow citizens. A nation’s leader can give strong signals about those beliefs — and so diminish the effects of social norms that constrain ugly impulses.

Source: Yes, Donald Trump is making xenophobia acceptable | Toronto Star

ICYMI: Safeguarding Islam’s past for future generations – BBC News

Worth noting (but uneven, as Saudi Arabia’s development of Mecca and Medina illustrates):

A recent conference in Bahrain brought together experts in Islamic archaeology to discuss the lessons of the past and how to safeguard Muslim heritage for future generations.

Under the blistering Bahraini sun archaeologist Salman Al Mahari and his team are excavating a section on the western side of the Al-Khamis mosque site.

With its twin minarets the mosque used to act as a landmark for ships at sea guiding them to land in the 14th century.

But today, excavating the mosque has a far more important function as Islamic archaeology takes on the extremists at their own game.

At a recent conference in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, archaeologists working in over 14 Islamic countries around the world participated in a first of its kind conference.

Islamic Archaeology in Global Perspective brought together some of the most distinguished scholars working in the field of Islamic archaeology to share first hand their recent practical experience in countries torn apart by war, and to investigate the various influences on the science of archaeology.

New Zealander, Alan Walmsley, Professor of Islamic Archaeology and Art at the University of Copenhagen says his investigations aim to disseminate a fuller account of social, cultural, and economic developments in Arab and Islamic history. “I interrogate faded and misinformed historical narratives,” he explains.

He begins by unpicking past Western interest in Bilad Al-Sham, an historic region of the Middle East known as Greater Syria.

“Islamic discoveries were incidental to the objective of archaeological interest in Greater Syria,” he says.”The focus of digs were on the Biblical, Hellenistic and Classical past. These earlier periods took precedence in research.”

VolubilisImage copyrightRICHARD DUEBEL
Image captionThe site of Volubilis in Morocco is a Roman and Islamic site

Animosity between Islam and the West compounded the lack of interest in Muslim remains according to Alastair Northedge, professor at the Universites de Paris 1.

He spoke in the context of his recent trip to Iraq, about the West’s overwhelming concerns with their own past. “There is quite a good example in Iraq,” he says. “Babylon seems to belong to the West.”

Corisande Fenwick, a lecturer in Archaeology of the Mediterranean at University College London (UCL) took time to describe painstaking research into food remains indicating when pork was no longer consumed and so revealing the pace at which Islam was established across the Maghreb region.

She attributes the Western assessment of archaeological finds prior to the mid-1950s to a colonial interpretation.

“If you go back before independence, archaeology is all driven by colonial scholars,” she says.

“They were attracted by the exotic nature of their finds. That reinforced the idea that the Islamic world was somehow different and needed to be controlled by colonial powers,” she adds.

But it is not just a Western agenda that has shaped excavations in the Muslim world. Alastair Northedge also notes that Muslims themselves have not always been concerned with protecting the material heritage of the great spiritual sanctuaries.

“It is not just Mecca and Medina, but also Shia shrines in Najaf and Karbala in Iraq” he says.

“There seems to be a preference for building something new rather than conserving the old because the emphasis is on the spiritual nature of these places not their materiality.”

But a wider vision is coming and the rise in the number of excavations throughout the Gulf area attests to a burgeoning interest in the material past. St John Simpson, archaeologist and senior curator at the British Museum, says that a revival of interest in Islamic archaeology is long overdue.

“It’s part and parcel of a search for Muslim cultural identity,” he explains. It is also an opportunity to redress earlier misconceptions.

“Since the 19th century and continuing though much of the 20th century commercial excavations led by dealers have in parts of the world flooded the market with objects which were traditionally celebrated by art historians,” Dr Simpson says. “They celebrated the beauty of those pieces and therefore reconstructed material cultures on the basis of those objects.”

Source: Safeguarding Islam’s past for future generations – BBC News

Sullivan: Why the Reactionary Right Must Be Taken Seriously

The conclusion of Andrew Sullivan’s exploration and conversations with some thinkers of the reactionary right. A good long and thoughtful read:

This, of course, is not to defend the neo-reactionary response. Their veiled racism is disturbing, and their pessimism a solipsistic pathology. When Anton finds nothing in modernity to celebrate but, as he put it to me, “nice restaurants, good wine, a high standard of living,” it comes off as a kind of pose, deliberately blind to all the constant renewals of life and culture around us. When Houellebecq has one of his characters sigh, “For a man to bring a child into the world now is meaningless,” I chortle. When Dreher hyperventilates that today’s youngsters “could be one of the last generations of this thing called Western civilization” and that American Christians today must “live lives prepared to suffer severe hardship, even death, for our faith,” I take my dogs for a walk. When Yarvin insists that “if the 20th century does not go down in history as the golden age of awful government, it is only because the future holds some fresher hell for us,” I check my Instagram account. There is something hysterical here, too manically certain, bleaker than any human being can bear for long.

And how can you seriously regard our political system and culture as worse than ever before in history? How self-centered do you have to be to dismiss the unprecedented freedom for women, racial minorities, and homosexuals? Or the increased security for the elderly and unemployed, and the greater access to health care by the poor and now the working poor? Compare the air we breathe today with that of the 1950s. Contrast the religious tolerance we take for granted today with the enmities of the past. Compare the racial integration of today, incomplete as it may be, with Jim Crow. Observe the historically low levels of crime compared with the recent past — and the absence of any world wars since 1945. Over the very long haul, too, scholars such as Steven Pinker have found convincing evidence that violence among humans is at the lowest levels since the species first emerged.

If the neo-reactionaries were entirely right, the collapse of our society would surely have happened long before now. But somehow, an historically unprecedented mix of races and cultures hasn’t led to civil war in the United States. In fact, majorities welcome immigration, and enjoy the new cultures that new immigrants bring. A majority backed Trump’s opponent last November. America has assimilated so many before, its culture churning into new forms, without crashing into incoherence. London may be 40 percent nonwhite and repellent to much of rural England — but it works, its inhabitants seem unfazed, its culture remains world-class. The European Union massively overreached by mandating a common currency and imposing brutal austerity, but its conflicts have not led to mass violence, its standard of living remains high, and its achievement of Continental peace is far preferable to the carnage that destroyed Europe in the last century. It may well stagger on, if it can only moderate itself.

It is also one thing to be vigilant about the power of the administrative state and to attempt to reform and modernize it; it is quite another to favor its abolition. The more complex modern society has become, the more expertise is needed to govern it — and where else is that expertise going to come from if not a professional elite? For that matter, the liberal media has nothing like the monopoly it once enjoyed. There are two “Cathedrals” in the 21st century — and only one has helped produce a conservative Supreme Court, a Republican Congress, a Republican president, and near-record Republican majorities in statehouses around the country. Non-leftist thought is suppressed in the academy and is currently subjected to extreme intolerance and even violence on many campuses. That has to change. But some ideas from the neo-reactionary underground — like the notion that carbon has little to do with rising world temperatures — are in the underground for a reason. And still, climate-change denial is the de facto policy of the American government.

Beyond all that, neo-reactionaries have a glaring problem, which is that their proposed solutions are so radical they have no chance whatsoever of coming into existence — and would be deeply reckless to attempt. Their rage eclipses their argument. The notion that public opinion could be marshaled to effect a total reset of American government in favor of a new form of monarchy, as Yarvin suggests, is, to be blunt, bonkers. And is America seriously going to remain a white-majority country? How, exactly? Can the U.S. economy suddenly unwind global manufacturing patterns? Can America simply abandon its global role and its long-standing commitments to allies?

Of course not. And the Trump administration is, day by day, proving this. An isolationist foreign policy collapsed at the first gust of reality. A thinly veiled Muslim immigration ban would have accomplished nothing — most Islamist terrorism is homegrown — and went nowhere. The communities that once thrived off manufacturing or coal mining are not coming back. Even the most draconian mass deportation of undocumented immigrants will not change the demographics of America — or suddenly raise wages for the working class. Global trade has become too entrenched to be reversed. The dismantling of Obamacare dismantled itself — not because of an elite plot but because, when confronted with its being taken away, a majority of Americans balked.

There is, perhaps, a way to use reactionary insights and still construct a feasible center-right agenda. Such a program would junk Reaganite economics as outdated but keep revenue-neutral tax reform, it could even favor redistribution to counter the deep risk to democracy that soaring inequality fosters, and it could fix Obamacare’s technical problems. You could add to this mix stronger border control, a reduction in legal immigration, a pause in free-trade expansion, a technological overhaul of the government bureaucracy, and a reassertion of Americanism over multiculturalism. This is not an impossible direction for the Republican Party to go — though it would have to abandon its know-nothing narcissist of a leader and its brain-dead congressional leaders. The left, for its part, must, it seems to me, escape its own bubble and confront the accelerating extremism of its identity politics and its disdain for millions of “deplorable” white Americans. You will not arrest the reactionary momentum by ignoring it or dismissing it entirely as a function of bigotry or stupidity. You’ll only defuse it by appreciating its insights and co-opting its appeal.

Reaction can be clarifying if it helps us better understand the huge challenges we now face. But reaction by itself cannot help us manage the world we live in today — which is the only place that matters. You start with where you are, not where you were or where you want to be. There are no utopias in the future or Gardens of Eden in our past. There is just now — in all its incoherent, groaning, volatile messiness. Our job, like everyone before us, is to keep our nerve and make the best of it.

Source: Sullivan: Why the Reactionary Right Must Be Taken Seriously

How the alt-right weaponized free speech

Refreshing and needed historical perspective on the free-speech movement and its co-opting by the right:

Indeed, Berkeley’s far-right agitators routinely invoke the memory of activist Mario Savio, the standard-bearer of the FSM, going so far as to declare themselves “the new Free Speech Movement.” This, while boasting of the endorsement of America’s highest office: “The more abuse and harassment we suffer,” warned the Berkeley College Republicans in a joint op-ed following Yiannopoulos’s cancelled appearance, “the more controversial speakers we will invite to campus. We proceed fearlessly because we know we have the president of the United States on our side.”

Indeed, in February, President Trump implicitly threatened to withhold federal funds from the university for failing to cater to Yiannopoulos who, amid the renewed controversy involving Coulter, has announced a comeback, sensing an opportunity to regain status and rehabilitate his ego—not to mention, profit mightily.

“We will give out a new free speech prize—the Mario Savio Award—to the person we believe has done most to protect free expression at UC Berkeley and its surrounding area,” proclaimed Yiannopoulos in promoting Milo’s “Free Speech Week.” “Each day will be dedicated to a different enemy of free speech, including feminism, Black Lives Matter and Islam.”

This co-opting of Savio’s legacy is a calculated provocation, one that his son Daniel calls “some kind of sick joke.” Savio led the FSM to victory in ending all restrictions to political activity on campus, which included the rights of orators from all political perspectives. “Rather than ban speakers he disagreed with, Savio debated them, whether they were deans, faculty, the student-body president, or whoever,” wrote Robert Cohen, author of Freedom’s Orator: Mario Savio and the Radical Legacy of the 1960s. “And this was the spirit not only of Savio but of the FSM, which had an almost Gandhian faith that through open discourse anyone had the potential to be won over” to a cause.

Savio was a veteran of the civil-rights movement, and as Cohen details, “sought to convince the editors of the student newspaper there that their use of the term “n—-r” in the paper was hurtful and irresponsible … Savio did not deny students had the right to print what they chose, but asked that they reach out to their black classmates and reflect on whether in the future they could be more thoughtful about the impact their words had on the campus community.”

The FSM’s quest was decent and honest—it was about engaging in open, rigorous debate and the exchange of ideas, no matter how inflammatory or loathsome, with a goal of making progress. What’s happening now isn’t about discussion: it’s pure political tribalism. People like Coulter and Yiannopoulos aren’t brought to campus to contribute substance—hearing either speak for a few minutes quickly puts lie to claims of their brilliance. They are skilled antagonists who can reliably incite backlash from a perceived enemy; they are, as Dorian Lynskey of The Guardian describes, the “outcome of a grotesque convergence of politics, entertainment and the internet in which an empty vessel can thrive unchecked by turning hate speech into show business.”

Where trauma, real or perceived, has become a sort of morbid currency in some circles of the left, often used to justify unworkable demands of individuals and institutions, the self-described “politically incorrect”—adults who consider childlike behaviour to be heroically subversive—are in the grievance trade. Because each provocation inflates the value of a carefully-crafted persona, victimhood is actively—and ironically—sought; they prey on the vulnerable, ridicule targets of well-documented discrimination, then cry persecution when met with resistance.

While it’s vital to uphold and protect the right of all speech on campus—even the most abhorrent rhetoric from the ranks of the alt-right—it’s crucial to identify this new game being played and, as Savio desired, critically judge “whether the speech … is really free, or merely cant.”

And it matters that influential voices, while rightly demanding institutions uphold free speech norms, explicitly make that distinction.

Source: How the alt-right weaponized free speech – Macleans.ca