I can’t breathe

Posted in Society with tags , , , on December 14, 2014 by shirhashirim

There’s been quite some upheaval in the US recently as a result of the killing of black people by white policemen, who subsequently do not get punished. I am not familiar enough with the cases themselves to have an opinion, but I did see the video that featured Eric Garners last minutes in this life. Something struck me that seems to have gotten less attention than it deserves.

The point that Eric Garner was the victim of racist violence may or may not be warranted, I simply do not know. But from watching the video it struck me that he is in any case the victim of unnecessary violence. It seems to me be another structural problem for the police in the US.

I’ll try to disregard the way US police is depicted in film and on TV, that may be an exaggeration of real life. But judging from what Americans have told me about attitudes of their police, and the attitudes of US civilians towards their police, it seems to me these attitudes are prone to cause violence of an unnecessary nature.

US policemen – I am generalising now for the sake of clarity – seem to expect that civilians obediently follow their instructions, without questioning. If that doesn’t happen, discussion is not what follows, but coercion. I’m not going to claim that my country does not know police violence, it does, but whenever I’ve seen our police handle ‘situations’, I’ve always been impressed by their tenacity in trying to solve the problem by discussion. I’ve never seen that happen in the US, nor heard about it.

I’ve seen the same tenacity depicted in US films, in hostage-situations or other occurences where the suspect had a position of power over the police. Where the police – in other words – had no other choice but to negociate. Again, I’m not sure whether these films reflect real life, but the fact that it’s depicted means that the concept of negociating between police and civilians is known.

Yet from what I know first-hand about US culture that concept is not applied with the same diligence as over here. I think this is a second, nay first, problem that needs to be solved.

Funny searches (2)

Posted in The odd post with tags on June 12, 2014 by shirhashirim

Time for an update on searches that get you to this blog. It seems the funny ones are less frequent nowadays, so let’s also have a look at the big-time hitters.

Sharia law, punishments, stealing

Several search-entries that got viewers to this blog have to do with sharia law, punishments in general or the punishment for stealing. They were all referred to this post about a picture of a child street artist who has his arm run over by a car without getting hurt. The picture is recycled on the internet by people who falsly claim the kid is being punished for stealing under sharia law in Iran and will never be able to use his arm again. It’s not Iran, it’s not the punishment for stealing, it’s not sharia law and the kid escapes unscathed (as planned), but that doesn’t prevent these people from lying to the world.

Geert Wilders

This infamous, virulently anti-islamic and by far the most untrustworthy Dutch politician is the subject of some of my posts, but it is not a big subject on this blog. Still, viewers get here to these posts by various search terms referring to said politician.

Inarah group

A fair amount of viewers were looking for information on this research group from Germany, that specialises in revisionist views on the origins of islam and seems to have gone off track. It’s explained here.

(Square) Kufic, Arabic calligraphy

The most favorite subject among my posts, even though only one actually deals with it.

Hijazi, old qur’an manuscripts

I blog regularly about old qur’an manuscripts, Hijazi being one of the styles in which these are written.

Hijazi women nude

I guess it’s a by-product of my blogging about old qur’anic manuscripts, so I’m really curious to which post this viewer, who was clearly looking for something else, was directed.

Canis lupus sapiens

The wise wolf? Seriously: people got to my blog by searching for this. It baffles me why…

Fucker photo 2010

This one may sound like someone who was looking for pornography and strayed to my blog. Actually it does get you to a totally different subject: my post about a World Press Photo picture from 2010 featuring some young jewish colonist on the West Bank throwing wine at a older Palestinian woman. The title of the post is the Ignorant Little Fucker.


Atheism & Christianity

Posted in atheism, Religion with tags , , on June 11, 2014 by shirhashirim

A long time ago my mom told me a story that had reputedly happened in a concentration camp. Prisoners were forced to watch the hanging of a man. But he was too light and the hanging didn’t work quick enough. The prisoners were forced to watch the poor fellow die slowly for the better part of an hour. While the man was still writhing, someone asked aloud: ‘Where is God now?’, and a voice from the back of the group of prisoners answered: ‘He’s hanging there, on the gallows.’

My mom told me this to illustrate a central point in Christianity: God suffers with those who suffer, quite literally. Whatever you do to your fellow-man, you do to God. Basically she told us a Midrash on Mat 24:40 and Mat 24:45. The story always impressed me, because it makes God so very human and because with an idea like this, you don’t need follies like voluntarism, or hollow phrases about God’s ways not being ours (a gross misinterpretation of Isa 55:8 by the way) to explain it all away.

More importantly, if my mom’s exposition were correct, then the idea of the incarnation was something far more magnificent than what I had hitherto understood about Christianity. ‘Magnificent’, however being a totally wrong choice of word. Compared to this Nietzsche‘s Umwertung aller Werte was just child’s play. Ever since my mom told me this story, I’ve considered the Christian idea of the incarnation a brilliant one.

It took me years until I finally found the original source of the story. It’s a passage from Eli Wiesel‘s Night, a book I consider required reading for everyone. The story is different in its details:

One day when we came back from work, we saw three gallows rearing up in the assembly place, three black crows. Roll call. SS all around us, machine guns trained: the traditional ceremony. Three victims in chains – and one of them, the little servant, the sad-eyed angel.
The SS seemed more preoccupied, more disturbed than usual. To hang a young boy in front of thousands of spectators was no light matter. The head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child. He was lividly pale, almost calm, biting his lips. The gallows threw its shadow over him.
This time the Lagerkapo refused to act as executioner. Three SS replaced him.
The three victims mounted together onto the chairs.
The three necks were placed at the same moment within the nooses.
‘Long live liberty!’ cried the two adults.
But the child was silent.
‘Where is God? Where is He?’ someone behind me asked.
At a sign from the head of the camp, the three chairs tipped over.
Total silence throughout the camp. On the horizon the sun was setting.
‘Bare your heads!’ yelled the head of the camp. His voice was raucous. We were weeping.
‘Cover your heads!’
Then the march past began. The two adults were no longer alive. Their tongues hung swollen, blue-tinged. But the third rope was still moving; being so light, the child was still alive…
For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still red, his eyes were not yet glazed.
Behind me I heard the same man asking”
‘Where is God now?’
And I heard a voice within me answer him:
‘Where is He? Here He is – He is hanging here on this gallows…’

The story is also very different in its intent. It does not show from this particular passage, but from what Eli Wiesel writes in the rest of Night, it is clear that this was one of the key events that turned him into an atheist. My mom had heard a rendering of the story that had been Christianised to the bone. The last quoted line above was definitely not ment as a confession of (Christian) faith, rather the very opposite!

Still, I think Wiesel – or my  mom – made a valid point about Christianity: where there is no humanity, God is dead, truly dead. ‘Truly dead’ in the exact same sense in which Christians confess that Christ is ‘truly God and truly man’.

I found this post- some four years old – among my many unpublished drafts, and thought I might as well post it…

Nobel prize 2013

Posted in Religion, Society, World politics with tags , on July 17, 2013 by shirhashirim

It’s a run race if you ask me…

But apart from that I want to draw attention to the speech itself, it is smart, very smart indeed, well written (text here) and very well delivered.

Malala starts her speech with the bismillah – which is a normal thing to do for Muslims – but she does it with ever so slight emphasis. She carefully and slowly recites the Arabic formula and then translates it into English. By doing so she not only presents herself as a believing Muslim, she also emphasises the prime qualities of the God she believes in: the most benificent, the most merciful.

Malala emphasises that Islam is a religion of peace and brotherhood, that it requires its adherents to get education for their children. Conversely she accuses those opposing education for all to misuse Islam for their own personal benefit. This way she claims Islam for herself: it’s hers, not the Talibans, it backs her up and what she does is Islamic to the core.

Just before that, she poses four important concepts that guide her: compassion, change, non-voilence and forgiveness. With all she mentions her inspirators. Mohammed, Jesus and Buddha stand for compassion, change she was taught by Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and for non-violence she looks towards Gandhiji, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. These nine inspirators – not counting her parents, whom she mentions with ‘forgiveness’ – come from various walks of life,  different nations and diverse religions.

This way she positions herself very much as a global citizen, as an heir to various religious and social traditions. On a smaller scale, by mentioning Jinnah and Bacha Khan, she also does not neglect the fact that she is a daughter of Pakistan and the links she has to Pashtun culture.

Her hopes and aspirations – in other words – are the hopes and aspirations of all: not just people of all religions and nations, but even God.

Dear Mr. Erdogan

Posted in Society with tags , , on June 26, 2013 by shirhashirim


May I be so bold to suggest an answer in response to your rhetorical question whether you should kneel to the protesters in Taksim Square (and other places)?

Without wanting to belittle your own personal achievements in politics, I would point out that greater politicians than you have done it, so why not you?

It would not end the protests. It would not solve any of Turkey’s problems. It would not even solve any problem any Turk might have. It would change nothing in Turkish politics of society. It would not even change or solve anything at all.

But it would do you a world of good. You personally. Seriously.


Posted in Religion, World politics with tags , , , on January 31, 2013 by shirhashirim


An old Quran from Timbuktu: the beginning of the first chapter of the Quran, written in Maghribi script and featuring the recitation of imam Warsh, which differs slightly from Qurans that are mostly used nowadays.

It seems we can sigh with relief: most of the old and invaluable manuscripts in the Timbuktu libraries seem to be safe. The rescue operation was already on it’s way last january. At this stage however nobody can mention any figures, so our sigh should not be too big yet. The manuscripts that are now missing, may actually not have been burned, but looted for trade. That is bad news of course, but at least they’re not totally lost for posterity.

Still, some burning of manuscripts seems to have taken place. If it weren’t for the rescue operation, more harm might have been done. It is this fact that made me wonder during the past few days. Apparently, among the books in the Timbuktu libraries, there are old copies of the Quran. This means that militant Islamists may have been willing to burn Qurans. And maybe they already have.

Of course, for the really religious, nothing is sacred, so we can expect things like this happening. My real wonder is the fact that nobody seems to worry about it, not even in the Middle East. Where are the enraged Muslims when you need them?

The pope’s address

Posted in Religion with tags , , on January 26, 2013 by shirhashirim

Half the world got angry at the pope for allegedly speaking up against gay marriage in his Christmas address to the Curia. Yet, I cannot find anything in his speech about gay marriage, not even obliquely. Am I the only one who’s puzzled?

I have two reasons for assuming the pope was nog speaking about gay marriage at all. This twelve-paragraph speech devotes two paragraphs to ‘family’ and the threats the pope sees to it. In the first paragraph he sketches the problem in a series of questions:

[…] the question of the family is not just about a particular social construct, but about man himself – about what he is and what it takes to be authentically human. The challenges involved are manifold. First of all there is the question of the human capacity to make a commitment or to avoid commitment. Can one bind oneself for a lifetime? Does this correspond to man’s nature? Does it not contradict his freedom and the scope of his self-realization? Does man become himself by living for himself alone and only entering into relationships with others when he can break them off again at any time? Is lifelong commitment antithetical to freedom? Is commitment also worth suffering for? Man’s refusal to make any commitment – which is becoming increasingly widespread as a result of a false understanding of freedom and self-realization as well as the desire to escape suffering – means that man remains closed in on himself and keeps his “I” ultimately for himself […]

If you ask me, questions like these might just as well apply to gay couples as straight ones. The problems the pope indicates are neither typical for gay couples nor do they occur more often among them. In fact, I think his speech is about divorce, broken families and the growing lack of commitment between spouses. I’m quite sure the pope is not including gay couples here. He may think gays too are a threat to the family, but what he’s talking about is a problem that might -if you share the pope’s views on the sanctity of marriage- actually be a real threat, given its much bigger size.

There’s a second reason why I think the pope cannot possibly be referring to gays. In the second paragraph he offers an explanation in the form of his ideas on gender. According to his diagnosis mankind is shifting its view on gender, and in the wrong direction.

According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.

The pope is describing the views of his opponents here. But if he were referring to the opinions of homosexuals or gay rights activists, there is nobody -literally nobody- to be found among them who claims that being homosexual is a choice. Instead the claim gay rights activists make all over the world is that homosexuality is drafted into the very nature of gay people. They are born with it. Their argument is exactly the same as the pope’s, it only points in the opposite direction. Homosexuality according to them is -in a religious sense- an ‘act of God’ that should be respected as such.

I find it hard to believe that the pope would be unaware of the fact that he and his opponents use the very same argument about ‘nature’ when discussing homosexuality. So when the pope comments on the idea that gender role is a matter of choice, I think he must be referring to something else: the choice people want or claim to have to release themselves from certain commitments.

Of course the pope’s views on gay marriage are well-known. I happen not share them and many others don’ t either. I won’t argue with those who claim the pope’s views on the matter are old-fashioned, outdated or backward. Yet Joseph Ratzinger is an intelligent and smart man. His holding on to backward views is no reason at all to assume he must be the village idiot, who is completely unaware of what people say. That’s too easy.


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