The story of two rival bagel makers in Montreal who have joined forces to oppose the demands of “anti-bagel radicals” — those local residents and policymakers who want to ban their wood-burning ovens because of the environmental risks they pose — sounds like something straight out of an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” or “Seinfeld.” But it’s no laughing matter.
While wood-burning ovens help make Montreal bagels the best in the world (sorry, New York), the scientific consensus is demonstrably clear: Wood smoke, whether from an industrial oven or a home fireplace, is a major health hazard and contributor to urban air pollution.
Because of this unhappy truth, I now know what it must feel like for religious people to be told that their cherished beliefs collide with reality. The alternative — in this case, making Montreal bagels in non-wood-burning ovens — is sacrilege.
The “tragedy of the commons” — the term used to describe a situation in which individuals act in accordance with their own self-interest at the expense of the common good — is often used to explain the persistence of modern environmental problems. If only we had more data, facts and knowledge of the unintended consequences of our actions, the thinking goes, we would make better choices that would benefit everyone.
I’ve come to realize that this is wishful thinking. Even with a clear understanding of the consequences of our actions, a vast majority of people will still seek to have their desires satisfied rather than extinguished. The desire for travel is no different.
In his “Confessions,” St. Augustine prayed to be delivered from his lustful desires. “Grant me chastity and continence,” he pleads with God, “but not yet.”
To put this into modern terms, most environmentally minded people (me included) are living as if to say, “I want to reduce my carbon footprint, but not yet.”
It is absurd, naïve, and wholly insufficient to place blame for the Manchester terrorist attack on a “feeling of cultural dislocation”, particularly when the suspect in question was a British citizen who was born, raised and educated in Manchester. Cultural dislocation is a genuine phenomenon, no doubt. But to connect it to the coordinated and preemptive slaughter of innocent people is the height of intellectually dishonesty.
Like many jihadis before him, the Manchester bomber was a middle-class, university-educated, soccer-loving European citizen. These facts alone prove the point that Islamist terrorism isn’t a matter of poverty, education, or lack of economic opportunity. Rather, it is the direct result of a person’s specific beliefs about specific doctrines, particularly those related to jihad, martyrdom, and Paradise. Furthermore, the jihadis are themselves telling us this, ad nauseam.
Until this fact is fully absorbed, any attempts to counter Islamist terrorism will be futile.
Note: An edited version of this appeared as a letter to the editor in The Globe & Mail
Re Saudi, Canadian Meeting Draws Criticism (Nov. 3): It’s no secret that Saudi Arabia is a pariah state. It practices institutional apartheid (against women and non-Muslims). It violently suppresses not only free speech but also free thought; in 2014, it brought in laws that equate “atheist thought” with terrorism, which is punishable by death.
For Canadian officials to have met with a Saudi state-backed “human rights” commission on Parliament Hill, and to have flown the Saudi flag, is an affront to liberal values.
Once again the United States needs to have a serious discussion about gun law reform. But in addition, there needs to be honest talk about the consequences of specific intolerant beliefs.
For example, the Charleston church shooting a year ago was fueled by an individual’s racist beliefs, so it was entirely appropriate for the national conversation to focus on the behavioral consequences of systemic and entrenched racism.
Similarly, after the countless Islamist terrorist attacks around the world — from Paris to Brussels to San Bernardino to Orlando, not to mention the daily atrocities in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere — it’s entirely appropriate to have a conversation about the behavioral consequences of specific religious beliefs.
Intolerant and illiberal doctrines related to martyrdom, blasphemy, honor and apostasy reliably lead to oppression and violence against women, homosexuals, freethinkers, liberals and even other Muslims.
An honest and mature public conversation about the consequences of specific beliefs, religious or otherwise, is not “Islamophobic,” nor is it bigotry against individuals as people. It is intellectual honesty. And, at this point, it’s also essential for the maintenance of civil society.
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.
“The Witness”, by Paul Kingsnorth, was sheer brilliance. Not because it provided good answers but because it asked deep and important questions: What is the nature of nature? Who decided that the planet should remain in a state that only humans find conducive? Is this not a form of clinging to something that is not fixed?
Once we remove illusions and see things as they are, we come to understand that the nature of reality is change. All “things” are actually just processes with no real ground to stand on. Nature is not only in flux, it is flux. Everything—from wind to cabbage to humans to dinosaurs to entire continents—is impermanent, interrelated, and empty. Continue reading →