Monday, January 23, 2012

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The trouble with Pat Condell

Pat Condell is very popular among atheists who like to think that religion is the cause of all our ills and if everyone thought like them, we'd all be better off. His YouTube channel has 173,612 subscribers at the time of writing, and his videos are viewed millions of times. Apparently Richard Dawkins is one of his fans; he's reported to have said, "Pat Condell is hard-hitting, but always quietly reasonable in tone". It wouldn't be the first time that Dawkins' judgement has been suspect; if you don't understand what I mean by that, ask me to explain.

Condell always has something to say about religion, especially Islam, and it's always in negative terms. Sometimes he might be right, such as saying that Sharia law shouldn't be tolerated in British society or that women are discriminated against in Islamist societies, but I stopped watching his videos ages ago because of his hectoring tone and scatter-gun approach. I don't like him, so I won't waste my time listening to him. Unfortunately, many people do, and many of them might imagine that he's usually right. He isn't. He's probably wrong at least as often as he's right, which sort of cancels out the latter.

Condell is xenophobic and Islamophobic. He might deny it, but the evidence is there. One of his pet hates is multiculturalism, which he blames for all manner of ills. He campaigned for UKIP in the last UK general election, a party that includes plenty of xenophobes and Islamophobes but doesn't get as nasty as the BNP. It's OK to discriminate on nationalist grounds in UKIP, and it's OK to discriminate on religious grounds if you're Condell.

One of the issues that Condell got famously wrong was the 'Mosque on Ground Zero'. Like many others, he got very hot under the collar about reports that a mosque was to be build on or near the site of the 9/11 atrocity. It wasn't true. The Ground Zero Mosque wasn't a mosque and it wasn't on Ground Zero. Condell simply jumped on a very ill-informed band wagon and let rip (Google his video).

Why am I writing about this now? A humanist contact emailed me and a bunch of other people yesterday with a link to one of Condell's videos, The Final Destruction of Sweden (note the melodramatic title), saying "I find this quite shocking" and inviting comments. I replied, "You shouldn't be shocked. Condell is a ranter who exaggerates issues to suit his prejudices. When it comes to Islam, he's repeatedly demonstrated his ignorance, portraying all Muslims as a stereotypical fundamentalists. I doubt he knows many, if any." There followed an exchange, during which I said I'd ask a Swedish Twitter contact what she thought. She looked at the video, and replied, "Impression from the first minute: I suspect that guy doesn't know much about Sweden." I think she's right.

The video is about Sweden's recent constitutional changes, mainly these:
  • It will be written in the constitution that the ability of Sami- and other ethnical, linguistic and religious minorities to keep and develop their culture shall be promoted.
  • The current requirement regarding Swedish citizenship for some higher state positions is removed. One such position is the national prosecutor (riksåklagare) which might be held by non-citizens in the future. The requirement on Ministers to have been Swedish citizens for at least ten years is removed….
The Sami people are Arctic indigenous people who inhabit Northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.

Condell rants in the video about the high incidence of rape in Sweden and falls into the trap of blaming immigrants for this. However, there doesn't appear to be any evidence that Sweden's immigrants are the main reason for its rape problem. Some perpetrators may be immigrants, but Sweden's biggest problems seem to be old-fashioned sexism and the inefficiency of its police and judiciary.

My email correspondent has been in touch with a gay Swedish humanist who wrote,
I think that the man who speaks in the film - who is he? - cannot be taken seriously when he says that it is just a matter of time before Sweden becomes an Islamic state. Muslims are just a small minority - at most 400,000 of a total population of about 10 million. I do not know if the number of rapes has increased as much as the speaker says. But it is true that the authorities do not register which religion criminals have, and the press generally does not report their nationality or ethnicity. It is also true that the Norwegian police says that very many rapes in Oslo are committed by immigrants. And in Malmö, there have been Muslim attacks on Jews, and the mayor has made strange statements about Jews. But there have also been attacks on Muslims by people hostile to foreigners, both in and outside Malmö. And in various places in Sweden, mosques have been vandalised and even set on fire.

Many Iraqis have been deported back to Iraq, although it was not safe. But Sweden has also received more refugees from Iraq than most countries. I think the town of Södertälje, which had many immigrants from the beginning, received more refugees from Iraq than the whole of the USA! American delegations came here to study the town.

A disturbing phenomenon is the cultural relativism that has spread in Sweden, especially in the left, but not only there. Muslims and people from "foreign" cultures are not measured by the same standards as others, and they are more easily excused, when they violate human rights.  And there is widespread "phobia of Islamophobia" in the media. Religious movements, both Christian and Muslim, get a lot of money from the state, even when they are homophobic and misogynist”
The last paragraph refers to confused and confusing attitudes towards people from foreign cultures (a problem that we have in the UK too), which is due to a failure to think sensibly about the values we should expect from all our citizens. This works against some people from ethnic minorities, especially women, but the fault lies with politicians who are reluctant to challenge so-called "community leaders" who exert too much influence.

Naomi Wolf wrote an interesting piece about Swedish rapists and the Assange case (another egotist who gets far too much attention), which led me to a report by Jennifer Heape that refers to Amnesty's report on Sweden's rape record. It ends: "Amnesty blames 'deeply rooted patriarchal gender norms' of Swedish family life and sexual relationships as a 'major societal flaw' and a reason for the continued prevalence of violence against women in Sweden." Heresay evidence apparently from the Swedish police that immigrants are behind the rape crisis might be about finding non-Swedish scapegoats, rather than facing up to their own inadequacies.

Condell's diatribe is typical. He gets it wrong because he can't see further than his own prejudices. Don't pay any attention to him. He's a trouble-maker. Use your brain and work things out for yourself.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Atheists, use your brains!

So tired of atheist critics of religion, particularly Islam, talking about it as though all its followers were an homogeneous mass. Can't they see that's no better than religious people banging on about stereotypical atheists, as though we're all the same? Happy to say we're not.

Criticise how people behave, but don't judge them by their labels.