Friday, August 31, 2007

Garda Turban ruling

A member of the Garda Reserve has been told he cannot wear his turban while at work. This has led to controversy.

Kevin Myers was interviewed on radio, claiming that adapting the uniform so Sikhs could wear a turban was an example of "multiculturalism" which had "failed" in the UK. He didn't elaborate on what he meant, but took it as read that people understood what he said. (Isn't it amazing how many people assume that once the dread word "multiculturalism" is used against their opponents, that they've won, no matter how vague they have been?)

Others claimed that the turban shouldn't be allowed on the grounds that it would somehow be a violation of secularism - this argument claims that this religious item of wear is a violation of separation of church and state. However, this is just one interpretation of secularism.

If secularism is that the state stays as neutral as possible in matters of religion, then it should treat all members of the Garda Reserve (or candidates for same) equally. To ask a Sikh man to give up wearing a turban is to ask him to either not practice his faith or to not work for the Garda Reserve. It is an act of indirect discrimination - rather than having a direct ban on someone of a given religion, it bans a practice - wearing a turban - that is essential to being a practicing Sikh man. This is against my understanding of secularism.

Fintan O'Toole recently wrote a column, saying that we should have a more secular society (I agree) but that he leans towards not allowing a turban as part of a uniform (this is one place where I disagree).

The turban doesn't prevent someone from carrying out their job, doesn't conceal the identity of the person in question (unlike the bizarre comparison some have made with the Burqua). Therefore, in the name of a more equal society, we must accept the turban, otherwise we exclude some people who are qualified for the job.

Discrimination must not be part of society, especially government institutions.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Is this dingbat day?

After posting about Sam Harris, I read on Pharyngula that Fred Phelps is going to picket funerals of those killed in the recent bridge disaster.

I know there's just under 4 and a half hours left of today, but I'm wondering how many dingbats I'll encounter in that time...

Sam Harris isn't making friends, fortunately

I once browsed Sam Harris' book, The End of Faith, in Waterstones' of Dawson Street. I wasn't impressed, seeing as he he advocated "conversational intolerance", which seemed to be just challenging religious claims at every opportunity. (Granted, I find challenging most views in conversation difficult, being rather introverted, but this approach seems to be just counterproductive - a good way to get a reputation as argumentative.)

One of the other things I noticed was a particular hostility to Islam in his book - "atheism for neocons" was what occurred to me.

Apparently, I missed his apologia of "limited" use of torture in the book, which he has also advocated in an article, In Defence of Torture in which he invokes the ticking time bomb scenario to justify torture. The scenario was used by some French to justify the use of torture in Algeria - it frequently featured in 24 as a plot device, but in the most recent series was cut back. Bob Cochran, co-creator of the show, admits that the ticking timebomb scenario occurs rarely if at all in real life, though it occurs regularly in the show.

In the article, he says "While many people have objected, on emotional grounds, to my defense of torture, no one has pointed out a flaw in my argument". Curiously, this comes a few paragraphs after some very emotive examples of atrocities clearly chosen to manipulate the reader into supporting his view. Apparently the victims of torture are just "collateral damage".

Rafi Aamer analyses the flaws in Harris' arguments in quite some detail - it's well worth reading.

Apart from being a neocon apologist for torture, Sam Harris has defended pseudoscience.

I agree that Harris is a dingbat, but worse, an advocate of torture.