Saturday, December 31, 2011

Carving combs from yew wood

A friend asked me to make her a wooden comb because she said they don't build the static electrical charges in hair that plastic combs do. I sawed a thin slice of yew wood and began to saw a series of teeth, so thin that the comb promptly snapped in two. Some dismay and rage followed, before I began again, with a larger and stronger chunk of yew.
This time I left a wide section at the base of the comb uncut to add strength. You can see in this picture that I had begun to shape and sharpen the teeth on the right. On my first, abortive project I simply slotted a chunk of sandpaper between two of the teeth and rubbed them back and forth at an angle, slowly wearing down the roughly squared edges. This was very slow and inefficient work. Here I was experimenting with files; later I would use a sharp gouge to cut diagonal chamfers along the sides of the teeth so that they were already well worn down from square by the time I applied sandpaper.

A huge amount of filing, carving, and especially sanding later, I had a pleasingly smooth yew comb. This promptly broke in half. Fighting my dismay and irritation, I glued the project back together along the split, and then reinforced the comb with two slim sections of teak. You should be able to make out the split on the left here, looking at the underside of the comb, and the teak sections sandwiching the yew.
The teak greatly improved the strength of the comb so I could relax a little! At this stage the comb looked quite nice, the natural swirling cream and red of the yew beautifully exposed by the parallel lines of teeth.

One problem was that I had sawed the combs teeth by hand, using a large and rough crosscut saw that left horizontal scars on the insides of the teeth. This meant lots of extra sanding or, as at the bottom of the teeth, eventual abandonment, leaving annoying scars on the wood.
By the time I felt happy enough to cease sanding I was wondering what kind of finish I should apply. I liked the idea of French polish or beeswax polish that would bring out a brilliant natural colour from the wood without creating a heavy or glossy surface. I experimented with beeswax and with linseed oil on the broken remains of my first abandoned project. This looked pretty good but I was conscious that the comb would be dragged through hair, and I worried that oils and polishes might come off and stick to the hair.

I wanted something tough and inert, so I ended up applying two layers of clear satin varnish. Annoyed at first that the paintbrush was leaving streaky lines on the wood, I swapped it in favour of a soft cloth: an old (washed) pair of cotton boxing shorts! This allowed me to control the flow of varnish, rubbing on two thin layers of even consistency and no streaks. The final project:

Encouraged by this, but annoyed by some little mistakes I had made, I decided to have another go, and sawed another sliver of beautiful yew wood. This time I used the electric bandsaw to cut much neater teeth, so there were fewer unsightly scars to sand away. I also decided to include a teak reinforcing bar early in the project to provide extra strength before all the vigorous filing and sanding took place. This time I recessed the teak bar into the yew wood on one side, making the final comb much leaner and very satisfying to hold. A little more elegant than the earlier project.

I wondered for a long time how I should finish this. Finally I gave it without any varnish as a birthday present to my sister, offering to varnish and polish it if she preferred. She was happy with the simple wood surface, so that was that. Another comb in the bag!

It is quite labour-intensive work but I was pretty pleased with these projects. Hope you've enjoyed it too, Happy New Year all, and best of luck in 2012.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Muslims, Islam, Google and Books

See the occurrence of the words "Muslims" and "Islam" in the millions of English-language books scanned by Google, as a percentage of all published words, between 1960 and 2008:
Straight away we see a spike in 1975 for "Islam". I guessed at first that this must be related to the Islamic Revolution of Iran, but that was in 1978-79. Then I wondered if it might be the Black September's Munich Massacre, but that was 1972. Elijah Muhammad, founder of the US-based Nation of Islam, died in early 1975. Boxer Muhammad Ali converted from the Nation of Islam movement to Sunni Islam in 1975. Lebanon descended into a civil war in 1975, featuring conflict between Christians and Muslims. I'm not sure that any of this explains the 1975 spike, or if there is any real cause at all - perhaps this is just a one-off fluke. Any suggestions?

A second trend is rising results for "Muslims" in the 1980s, seeming to peak in 1983 and 1988. I wonder if this may be related to Anglo-American awareness of the Afghan Muslims fighting the Soviet Union. "Afghanistan" peaks twice in the 1980s also, fairly close to the peak for "Muslims".
When Afghan Muslims were allies to the US, I can imagine that there may have been a down-playing of religious differences (and, therefore, references to Islam) along with an increased sense of Muslims as fellow freedom-lovers struggling against communism. All speculation, of course.

Finally, "Muslims" relatively decreases while "Islam" increases since 1990. "Islam" shoots up in 2002, probably because of the interest in radical Islamism due to the September 11 attacks and the invasion of Afghanistan.
There might also be a rising sense of cultural discord between Europeans and Muslim immigrant groups. A hint:
So my guess is that there has been a growing consciousness of Islam as a religious and cultural issue. Yet if Islam has been a rising issue it may still be dwarfed by older ideological concerns:
I may be reading too much into these trends. Any other interpretations?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas in Japan: borrowing foreignness

I heard a brilliant anecdote once about a rural Japanese community who decided to give the Irish man working in the town a nice surprise for Christmas. They pieced together the bits of Christmas they had seen in American films with their own knowledge about Christianity, and when they were finished they thought they had put together a fine treat indeed. So they brought the Irish man into the town square and there was Santa Claus...

...Nailed to a cross.

It tells us a lot about Japan's rapturous yet uneasy adoption of foreign cultures. I have heard commentators argue that when Japan accepts foreign influences Japan stays the same and the foreign thing changes. They took the entire Chinese writing system and turned it into simplified hiragana and katakana. They took European military technology and created kamikaze suicide pilots. They took America's Ford and gave the world Toyota. This ability to transform and reinterpret outside influences has been called the essence of Japan.

Now and then, though, the result of the transformation is a weird mutation, more parody of the foreign import than honest reinterpretation of it. Christmas in Japan is really weird.

A few weeks into December 2007, when I was teaching English in a small town in the south of Japan, an American woman teaching in a neighbouring town asked me to dress up as Santa for a Christmas party she was throwing for her students. The party consisted of scores of hyper children and a handful of foreign English teachers. When the children were brought up to do some carol-singing I, the sole blue-eyed, brown-haired, white-skinned person in the building, was smuggled out to get changed into the Santa suit. And when Santa arrived – what a coincidence! For he too was blue-eyed, brown-haired and white-skinned!
I pulled on the suit. It was massive and I had to jam the pillow in front of my belly just to keep my pants from falling off. The material seemed to be made of some kind of light cotton that would probably tear with a gentle tug. My American friend seemed apologetic and amused when she handed me the beard, which was made of cotton wool. I pulled it on along with the hat and caught a glimpse of myself reflected in the window. My brown hair was sticking out around the back of my hat. I looked less plump and jolly than suffering from severe and unusual malnutrition that had blown my torso and upper thighs into a rectangular paunch, but drained my skinny face and hands back to the bone. Ho. Ho. Ho.

I walked back in towards the main hall. A little girl lingering near the entrance caught a glimpse of me and gasped. For a moment my doubts about the cotton wool beard were allayed as she froze in awe. Here goes.

'HO, HO, HO!' I boomed, trying to wink roguishly. (Months later a Japanese friend asked me what a wink implies. Apparently it doesn’t have the same merry suggestive connotations in Japan as it has in the West. The little girl probably thought I had spasms.)

I reached the door and then all children were staring at me, some breathing awed 'Santa-san's', others shouting and running for me.

'HO, HO, HO! MERRY CHRISTMAS!' I found myself jutting forward my pillow belly and pretending to be tired from the weight. Children gathered in a ring around me, warily at first and then with more and more excited courage. They began touching my clothes and patting my belly.

Then suddenly I was being gestured towards the stage.

'Come up and dance, "Santa", sniggered one of the American teachers, standing now on the stage with a group of students, every one of them wearing traditional Japanese robes. Music started and the foreigners and I tried to mimic the perfectly-choreographed dance the children were performing in the front line, presumably expected to employ our Gaijin Telepathy to already know the moves. Then at the climax of the dance, suddenly the children were gesturing to me, pointing in towards the middle of the group. I walked in to the centre with everyone’s eyes on me and improvised a wild (and uncharacteristically youthful) dance for weary old Santa.
The parents had arranged two sacks of small presents for the children and they were then surreptitiously transferred to me to give out. When the children realised what was happening, all hell broke loose. Children were everywhere, dozens of pleading hands stuck in my face and grasping the presents faster than I could deal them out. The kids at the front were getting squashed from the kids pushing in from the back, everyone shouting, 'SANTA-SAN! SANTA-SAN!' The other teachers, a little alarmed, started pulling out presents and pushing them into hands to take the heat off me.

After the presents were dealt out, I made a merry exit, only to be followed by a bunch of hyper boys who started punching my pillow stomach, tugging my beard and stealing my hat. Brats. In another occasion a mighty bellow would have sent them scampering in fear but I guessed this was out of character for Santa-san so I put up with it for a few minutes until I found a quiet room to quickly get changed. I spat out the bits of cotton wool stuck in my mouth, strolled back into the room in my t-shirt and jeans and looked around like Clark Kent turning up just after Superman saved the day yet again, asking, 'What did I miss?'

If not the perils of cotton wool beards, the experience showed the strange incorporation by Japan of another foreign culture – embraced wholeheartedly but not quite getting it. As Santa I had to forego the traditional black boots since one does not wear shoes indoor in Japan. This Santa went in black socks. The children mobbed me, but on Christmas day their parents would go to work as usual.

In Japan, young couples view Christmas as a romantic occasion for a meal out. Japan's Christmas is the natural conclusion of the process conservative-minded Christians in the West have complained about for centuries, with corporations competing to cash in on a meaningless celebration and, if necessary, totally reinvent it.

The week before my Santa experience I found myself visiting the big Nagasaki Amu Plaza shopping centre to get some winter clothes. Every floor had a glittering fake Christmas tree, decorations hung from the ceiling and tinny Christmas tunes played over the intercom. Near the exit a pretty girl in a skimpy Santa costume was handing out advertisements and outside a vast fake Christmas tree attracted Japanese people to pose with the inevitable two-fingered peace salute for photos. It looked like Christmas, it sounded like Christmas but with absolutely no pretence of it having any cultural or religious significance – it wasn't Christmas.

Strangest of all, Kentucky Fried Chicken has managed to hijack the confusion over Christmas in Japan with a clever marketing campaign which advertised fried chicken as a special Christmas treat. Of course nobody in the West eats KFC at Christmas, but the Japanese weren't to know this and KFC managed to present itself as the natural choice for Christmas dinner. It is so popular now that customers need to order days in advance to be served.

I travelled to Tokyo for Christmas itself, spending my first evening exploring a trendy area called Shibuya, where Tokyo's young and beautiful were lounging around in the December dusk, posing and smoking. Flatscreens the size of houses beamed crystal-clear video advertisements high above our heads. Hundreds of sexy youngsters swaggered about in shiny gold bomber jackets, over-sized white-rimmed glasses, long blonde-dyed hair swept into elaborate halos around their heads.

This is the men I'm talking about. The women were stumbling along in high-heeled boots and skimpy skirts, while I shivered in the cold.
I walked away from the subway station and passed through a pedestrian crossing with hundreds of beautiful young people converging from all four sides at the same time. Everyone who walked did so very fast and it was an adrenaline rush just crossing the road under the vast glowing ads.

I followed my nose down side streets, still ablaze with advertisements and lights. Every form of bar and restaurant was here, along with hundreds of shops doing business late into the evening before Christmas Day. A satellite photograph of Japan at night shows Tokyo as a vast white blot of light pollution, running seamlessly into the smaller cities that make up the east coast of Japan. Cities like Yokohama, which alone has 3.6 million inhabitants, yet fits snugly within the Greater Tokyo Area. Imagine: that is almost the entire population of Ireland squeezed into a city that is just a single part of another city.
The Greater Tokyo Area has about 35.7 million people. That's like cramming the entire populations of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Switzerland and Ireland into a single monstrous metropolis. It is endless, and exhausting. I explored Shibuya for hours, thrilled by the stimulation of the place, before returning to the grim little hotel I had booked in Ikebekuro, surrounded by love hotels, stinking of cigarettes and with 12 channels of static snow on the television.

It was a strange way to spend Christmas. The next morning I rose to another business day in Tokyo; shoppers and workers hurried between perfect conical Christmas trees and the shops were ringing with Christmas tunes. In the evening I joined some Japanese friends for dinner and walking around afterwards, passing through a line of red tori gates at a Shinto shrine. One of the Japanese people asked if I was scared.

'Not really.'

'Japanese people think this kind of place has lots of ghosts,' she explained. Japan mimics the red and gold glow of Western Christmas but its enchantment – even in the heart of that giant concrete city – is of another kind.

Historian agrees: 1848 revolutions once more

Back in February I noticed similarities between the Arab uprisings and the popular revolutions of 1848 Europe. Both were sparked by an economic crisis that briefly united middle class liberals with the underclasses. Both featured tensions between the victorious rebels after their success, pitting liberalism against socialism and nationalism in Europe, and against Islamism in the Arab countries. The European revolutions quickly collapsed under the weight of these contradictions, leading to the restoration of the monarchs, and I wondered if the Arab countries would suffer a similar fate.

Today the historian Eric Hobsbawm is interviewed by BBC, saying the same thing: it's like 1848 all over again.
"Two years after 1848, it looked as if it had all failed. In the long run, it hadn't failed. A good deal of liberal advances had been made. So it was an immediate failure but a longer term partial success - though no longer in the form of a revolution."

However, with the possible exception of Tunisia, he sees little prospect of liberal democracy or European-style representative government in the Arab world.

Not enough notice has been taken, he says, of the differences between Arab countries in the throes of mass protests.

"We are in the middle of a revolution - but it isn't the same revolution."

"What unites them is a common discontent and common mobilisable forces - a modernising middle class, particularly a young, student middle class, and of course technology which makes it today very much easier to mobilise protests."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

How interest in prejudices rise and fall in fashion

Below is a Google Ngram Viewer graph showing the relative popularity of the words racism, sexism, homophobia, and Islamophobia since 1930.
We see that there have been successive waves of interest in forms of bigotry or prejudice. First, racism, which rises unsurprisingly during the late 1930s after Adolf Hitler began to put his explicit racist ideology into practice. A zoomed-in graph shows a rapid increase in mentions of racism over this period:
Mentions of racism peaked in the early 1970s, presumably following the great civil rights anti-racism movements of the 60s, and then rose again during the late 1980s and 1990s. It is on its way down now. Why? Perhaps there is a sense that the worst racism issues have been solved in English-speaking countries already. Or it may just be out of fashion as people have wearied of the angry protests of the past.

The next wave of interest is sexism. The first chart makes it look like nobody was writing about sexism before the 1960s at all. In reality there were periodic bursts of interest in sexism throughout the early 20th century:
But mentions really took off around 1966, peaking, like racism, in the 1990s. Remember that Ngram looks at mentions as a percentage of all words, so the fall after the 1990s could be due to rising interest in some other topics, rather than a real fall of interest in sexism or racism. This is a difficulty for interpretation.

The third form of prejudice is homophobia, which lags sexism by a few years, beginning to increase in mentions in the 1970s, peaking around 1996. In 2008 homophobia made up around the same proportion of all words published in Google's massive book database as it made in 1990.
Finally Islamophobia. It seems to score no mentions at all in the first graph. But if we zoom in a little further we see a consistent rise in the mid-1990s.
As late as 2008 Islamophobia was still rising. Will it peak soon like the others? No idea.

What does all of this mean? Perhaps these waves of interest indicate real public awareness of racism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-Muslimism. Perhaps the eventual decline in mentions indicates a public sense that the discrimination has begun to decline and society is now past its problem. Islamophobia, then, continues to rise because anti-Muslim sentiments may not have been challenged or settled enough for the public to feel the issue is over.

Or it might mean none of that, interpretations are tricky here. Any thoughts?

Google Ngram: Democracy versus Republicanism

Google Ngram Viewer creates a graph depicting the popularity of words used in a database of 5 million books scanned by the company, dating back to 1500. A paper published in Science this year explains the massive scale of the project:
The resulting corpus contains over 500 billion words, in English (361 billion), French (45 billion), Spanish (45 billion), German (37 billion), Chinese (13 billion), Russian (35 billion), and Hebrew (2 billion). The oldest works were published in the 1500s. The early decades are represented by only a few books per year, comprising several hundred thousand words. By 1800, the corpus grows to 98 million words per year; by 1900, 1.8 billion; and by 2000, 11 billion...

The corpus cannot be read by a human. If you tried to read only English-language entries from the year 2000 alone, at the reasonable pace of 200 words/min,without interruptions for food or sleep, it would take 80 years. The sequence of letters is 1000 times longer than the human genome: If you wrote it out in a straight line, it would reach to the Moon and back 10 times over.
So Ngram can be used to spot very long term trends, across centuries instead of the Google Insights for Search trends that rise and fall over years or weeks. I put the words 'democracy' and 'republic' into Ngram, searching from 1500 to 2008:
An initial observation is that both words peak early in the 1640s. This was the same period as the English Civil War, when the parliament overthrew (and decapitated) King Charles. It was a time of political turmoil and debate, with liberals pushing for democracy, monarchists pushing for absolute rule, and thinkers like Thomas Hobbes trying to reconcile the two.

That republican experiment would peter out with the restoration of the English monarchy. A second wave of interest in republicanism arises in the 1750s, perhaps coinciding with early American anti-British agitation? I'm not sure if there were other important republican movements in this period, but certainly writings over the rest of the 18th century show high levels of interest while Americans, French and Irish republicans put their thoughts into violent action. A third, smaller, peak appears to coincide with the republican revolutions of 1848.

So why do we see republicanism fade from importance as democracy rises? Democracy seems to coincide with the world wars, perhaps as idealists sought to replace the discredited autocratic monarchies and dictatorships with new representative alternatives. Perhaps it is also related to the rise of female suffrage and democracies that finally allowed all adults to vote regardless of sex or race?

Still, I don't see clearly why republicanism fell out of fashion in books while democracy increased. Is it just a shift in language, with the two meaning the same thing? Or does it indicate a more serious change in preferences, perhaps emphasising collective engagement in the political process (democracy) over individual liberty from oppressive government (republicanism)?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A sex-worker embraces sexual objectification

I wondered on this blog before if there is any real difference between the sexual objectification of women in pornography and the intellectual objectification of writers. I pointed out that readers do not worry themselves about the author as an individual, using the writing only as a way to get information. When I was researching for a social research project recently I barely even registered the sex or nationality of the authors I was referencing, caring only about the knowledge they were giving me. I was objectifying them.

Almost all workers are objectified. It struck me as odd that a woman who is paid to pose for sexual photographs is considered a victim, while a man or woman who enters a boxing ring and risks brain damage by being battered about for the pleasure of an audience is considered a sports star.

So I was fascinated to come across this argument by 'Furry Girl', the pseudonym for a self-described sex-worker who runs the blog Feminisnt. Furry Girl runs four pornographic websites, to which she links on her blog, and stars in some pornographic photography and video. She also bitterly rejects the complaint that pornography objectifies women:
Firstly, as a porn model and cam girl, it's my job description to "be a sex object", (as the anti-sexers would define it), and it's a job with which I'm very happy....

I have never met a sex worker who was unaware of that their job entailed before taking it. When asked why she got started, not one replied, "I became a stripper because I was looking for the true love of an intellectual partner who appreciates my inner beauty and doesn't oggle my body." Those types of people answer romance ads on, not ads in weekly papers for "B/G anal scene $500 cash". It's not as though this whole thing is sprung upon random unsuspecting victims- it's the definition of the work.

"Being objectified" by customers is not something that sex workers themselves are railing against as an injustice they seek to overcome. It's a half-baked analysis being imposed upon our work from outsiders- outsiders who presume to tell the world what we experience and how we feel about it, without ever having asked us.
She then makes the point I made last year on The Harvest:
Secondly, everyone at their job is "objectified" in their roles. I don't profoundly care for the cashier at the grocery store, but no one's ranting online about how he's being oppressed and "objectified" because, at work, most people see him as "a cashier". I don't care to delve into the inner intellectual passions of the woman who made me tea at a cafe, but I'm not aware of any college courses being taught on the "objectification" of baristas. I have never fallen into deep romantic love with a nurse who's weighed me and taken my blood pressure at the doctor's office, but if there are protesters outside the clinic that day, their signs don't read, "Stop the exploitation of women! Planned Parenthood objectifies nurses as mere one-dimensional healthcare workers!"

We can't have a genuine connection with everyone we encounter in our lives, whether they are strippers or bus drivers or sales clerks at a shoe store. To say that "being objectified" as a sex worker is somehow so vastly different than "being objectified" in any other role is telling about the accuser's personal issues with the sex, not the work.

Some people try to "take a step back" and use this as a part of a broader critique of capitalism, but I disagree with that, too. So, under socialism, anarchism, or what-have-you-ism, every human will express heartfelt interest in the well-being of every single human they come into contact with over the course of a day? I find that quite silly.
I have quoted a large chunk of her words here but she says what I have been thinking well. Her blog is fascinating, this is an insider's view of the porn industry. And she loves it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

One more reason not to tidy my room

I suffered quite a bad head cold not long ago, and was then cramming to finish some large college assignments, so I didn't get around to tidying my room for ages. My room is small and clutters easily, so within a fortnight the place was in complete chaos.

I was about to leave the house for a short time today and wasn't locking my bedroom door. Wondering for a moment if this would make my room more likely to be burgled, in the case of burglars breaking into our house, I poked my head back into the room before leaving and looked at the anarchy within.

Nah, I thought. Even I can't find anything I want in this mess. It looks burgled already. Surely a burglar would despair on seeing this madness and give up. It made me laugh, and wonder. Would a really messy room deter burglars? Are tidy rooms more easy to burgle since it is presumably easier to find items of value there?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Graham Norton's missing evidence on failing

Watching The Graham Norton Show moments ago, I saw Jude Law, Eddie Izzard, Robert Downey Jr and Alesha Dixon discussing the extent to which they were encouraged or discouraged, as children, to enter show business. Several of them said that they were very discouraged, or laughed at, or mocked, for wanting to get into show business. Eddie Izzard mentioned that he worked in one restaurant where a colleague said there was no point in trying to be an actor because he'd certainly fail. Izzard left, disgusted with someone with such a closed, pessimistic world view.

I thought, watching this, that there was a message coming out of it. Four successful people, remembering being discouraged in their youths and finally proving the pessimists wrong: so success in show business is possible, and people who want to succeed should keep trying.

But surely many more people try to become film or TV stars than actually succeed. Where are the failures? All those people are working in ordinary, unremarkable jobs, or unemployed, and nobody interviews them.

That is understandable of course, and I don't want Graham Norton to go interviewing ordinary folk (unless they're in his red chair). But the fascination in hearing the lives of only successful people means we miss the evidence of the unsuccessful majority. We never hear: 'They told me I'd never make it as a pop star, so I gave up and just studied hard and got a decent job. Best advice I was ever given.'

Friday, December 16, 2011

Goblin Market and Japan's Yokai spirits

I was led by a BBC In Our Time podcast to a wonderful poem by 19th century poet Christina Rossetti, Goblin Market. The poem describes two sisters struggling against the temptation to devour luscious fruits offered to them by goblins. I was struck by the description of these 'little men':
One had a cat's face,
One whisked a tail,
One tramped at a rat's pace,
One crawled like a snail,
One like a wombat prowled obtuse and furry,
One like a ratel tumbled hurry-scurry.
Lizzie heard a voice like voice of doves
Cooing all together:
They sounded kind and full of loves
In the pleasant weather.
I was reminded of Japan's yokai, monsters of folklore, many of whom are humanoids with animal or monstrous heads. The kitsune, for example, are fox spirits and often tricksters, delighting in fooling humans. In some stories the foxes transform into beautiful women and seduce human men; this 19th century print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi shows that the woman casts a humanoid shadow with the face of a fox:

Below are many more anthropomorphicised animals and demons from Japan. In many cases these are spiritual explanations for natural phenomena, or justifications for social taboos. I wrote here before about how most early human societies seemed to be broadly animist. Perhaps this is why I found Japan's yokai at once alien and familiar: the wild imagination applied to the same kinds of natural and social challenges we face in Europe. As Rossetti's fruit-selling goblins may have represented the risks of disease from lingers in the cooling twilight to feast on wild fruits, or the darker dangers of accepting gifts from malicious strangers, Ireland had its pĂșca who, I was warned as a child, would race about the countryside on Halloween night, spitting on fruit to make it poisonous. Japan, meanwhile, has its kappa water-dwellers that drag careless people in to wrestle and drown in lakes and pools or, as in this image, to rape women beneath the water.
I am charmed by our common humanity here: distant folk at far ends of the earth suspecting mischievous unseen deities of the troubles that nature and society burden us with.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Islam Issue

Writing about the anti-Muslim movement that Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik supported, I mentioned that anti-Muslimists and Islamists online tended to agree that Islam is a critical concern:
Islamists needed to feel that Islam was about to swamp the world and establish a magnificent pan-Islamic caliphate. Anti-Muslimists needed to feel that the West was already jammed with traitorous Muslims, ripe for jihad. Both wanted Islam to seem an urgent issue.
So I was interested to see this weird observation from Britain's 2008-09 Citizenship Survey:
People who said that they thought there was more religious prejudice today than there was five years ago were asked which groups they felt there was more prejudice against. The majority (88%) of people who said that religious prejudice had increased said that this was associated with Muslims.
The belief that Muslims were being discriminated against was shared by diverse British groups: white (88%), Indian (89%), black Caribbean (89%) and so on. But there is more. Those respondents who said that there is less religious prejudice today than there was five years ago mentioned the following religions:
Islam again. The best is to come, though. Respondents were asked if they thought the government was giving too much or too little protection to religious groups. Guess which religious group was considered to be given both too much and too little protection?
No matter what, Islam seems to be considered an issue in Britain. Improving, worsening, too much support, too little. I don't have time right now to go through the study to see if Muslims really are unique in some way from the other religions. Perhaps, though, this is all indicative of recent excitement from the extremists, their determination to focus on Islam above all other faiths.