Mixing Islam and politics

Re “How Politics has poisoned Islam” (Opinion, Feb. 4): Blaming “politics” for the conflicts we see around the Middle East and beyond is far too vague, simplistic and insufficient. It fails to explain the true nature of jihadist violence. Its root cause is an ideology that is steeped in theology, knows no borders, and extends across the entire socioeconomic spectrum.

Beliefs matter. When jihadists and their supporters tell us that they are compelled to act based on their beliefs about the metaphysics of Paradise, martyrdom, apostasy, blasphemy and honor we should take them at their word.

Countering jihadist violence requires intellectual honesty. Secular and moderate Muslims need to reform the faith by first being honest about the very doctrines that are in need of reform. They need to stand up for liberal and pluralistic values, not by obfuscating Islamist ideology, but by publicly acknowledging the central role that it plays in the worldview of the jihadists and their supporters. Furthermore, my fellow secular liberals must not conflate criticism of specific ideas with bigotry against people.

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Note: This was published as a letter to the editor in The New York Times.

Environmental aesthetics and the meaning of value

Mountain view with small houses or huts at sunset on Patagonia

We need to reassess our aesthetic sensibilities and mourn not so much our culture’s loss of beauty itself, but our culture’s loss for the appreciation of beauty.

As David Brooks of The New York Times explains in “When Beauty Strikes”, it is beauty — particularly of the unexpected kind — that has the ability to expose the limitations of the normal, banal environments we take for granted every day. “The proper goal of art and maybe civilization itself.” Furthermore, “this humanistic worldview holds that beauty conquers the deadening aspects of routine; it educates the emotions and connects us to the eternal.” Continue reading

Building Partnerships for a Low-Carbon Future

Creating a low-carbon society will require public-private collaboration related to buildings and cities

Tokyo Skyline (Credit - Sean Pavone)

[Note: This is my response to this year’s Masdar blogging contest which asks the following question:

“In your view, what are the policies that governments should adopt to encourage public-private partnership and enable the private sector to develop the goods and services necessary for a global transition to a low-carbon economy by 2030?”]

In 1800, only 10% of the world’s people lived in cities. By 1990, it jumped to 40%. Today, over half live in cities. It’s estimated that by the end of this decade, 60% people will live not only in cities, but in megacities (cities with population of 10 million or more). By 2030, a staggering 80% will live in cities. This has had — and will continue to have — huge environmental and social consequences.

Therefore, while the transition to a low-carbon society will require action by various sectors and at multiple scales, the most important actions — and most pragmatic — will be those related to cities, in general, and buildings, in particular. As the world is quickly becoming more urbanized, if we are to transition to a low-carbon society we must not merely make this the century of the city, but rather the century of the low-carbon city. Continue reading

Schtick Handling

JON-STEWART 1

Globe & Mail columnist Konrad Yakabuski laments the fact that Daily Show host Jon Stewart “skewered only one-half of the political spectrum.” Mr. Stewart’s whole schtick, however, wasn’t to direct his satire equally across the political spectrum—it was to mock and deride idiotic ideas, wherever they came from. As it turns out, the conservative/Tea Party/Fox News/GOP side of the spectrum has had more than its fair share of them. Just because there are “two sides” to a debate doesn’t mean that criticism needs to fall halfway in between: it’s possible for one side to just be wrong and deserve more criticism than the other.

Terror Trending

Re “Brand ISIS” by Naheed Mustafa:

Naheed Mustafa is correct in that the Islamic State has created a slick social-media propaganda machine that appeals to a certain type of religious fundamentalist. But she’s put the cart before the horse: ideology isn’t the result of the propaganda; it’s the cause of it.

To win the war of ideas, a compelling counter-narrative must focus not on ISIS itself, but rather on its root cause—Islamist ideology.

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Note: This appeared as a letter to the editor in The Walrus.

The pull of Islamic State

Re: Islamic State Is A Far Larger Problem For The Muslim World

We’re told young men are joining Islamic State because it provides “jobs, additional stipends and sometimes cars” and that Arab nations must offer “greater economic opportunities”. These thugs aren’t beheading people because of the allure of a pickup truck. Men from the West aren’t joining because of a career opportunity. Beliefs actually matter.

It’s not hard to see how their behaviour is the direct result of their beliefs about the contents of a particular religious book.

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Note: This appeared as a letter to the editor in The Globe & Mail.