A Muslim – an Irish man, not a furriner – was talking on the radio about a hold-up with the new Muslim graveyard in Dundalk. They’ve been campaigning for this for six years, and thought they had secured it – only to be told by the local authority that, according to a law of 1888, all burials are supposed to be in a coffin. Islamic practice is to bury a person directly in the ground.
It should be a human interest story about a community unable to bury their own family members in the town where they live. But, someone has to phone in to complain that Muslims “Always want things their way”. Ireland’s Mr. Creeping Sharia.
Now don’t get me wrong, I revile Islam. The religion is anathema to me because… Well, because it’s a religion. I pretty much despise them all. Religions are dangerous confusions of morality and mythology, systems of absolute authority founded on fear of the different and the unknown.
Which you have every right to believe in. A right, what’s more, that I will defend to the death. This is what religious activists pretend not to understand about secularism. We don’t want to stop you doing your religion. We want to stop you stopping other people doing their religion. The law should not impose one person’s faith on another. Freedom of conscience is sacrosanct. I might think that what you believe causes a great deal of harm to you, but as long as it doesn’t cause you to harm others I have to respect your right to believe it.
Of course there will be times when beliefs and the law conflict, and it goes without saying that the law of the land has primacy – whatever the Catholic Church chooses to believe. But the entire point of democracy is that law can be changed. It is not holy writ, it is decided by people to suit their will and their changing needs. So we can accommodate other people’s traditions – if we want it to.
It would be different if the tradition could harm others, if say there was a danger of disease associated with coffinless burial, but I don’t think anyone is seriously suggesting that. The law of 1888 serves no function now except to make life that much harder for a small minority. And it seems only to be supported by the sort of bigoted zero-sum shithead who phones into radio programmes to advocate making life harder for minorities.
So nature has provided us with a year and a month that refuse to divide evenly into each other. To make it worse, neither is a whole number of days. At the same time it has given us the unquenchable desire to find order and symmetry in this mess. How are we to square the wobbly ellipse?
Well I thought long and hard about this a couple of years ago, and something struck me. The real lunar month is very close to being 29.5 days long. If we had 29.5-day months, every other one would begin at midday rather than at midnight. And while that would be kind of cool, I predict it would quickly drive people nuts.
So why not have alternating calendar months of 29 and 30 days? That way they’ll stay in step with the real ones – starting when the moon is new, ending as it fades out – without being too different from our current system.
But twelve of those only add up to 354 days, falling short of a full solar year. That would leave us with a situation not unlike the Muslim lunar-only calendar, with annual events coming around eleven days earlier every time. Which may be all right in climates without a lot of weather, but we want a calendar that stays in time with the seasons.
For this, we need an extra month. Not a silly mini-month like February, but a full-length one so that we stay in sync with the lunar cycle. What will we call it? Well, modesty forbids I suggest you name it after me. So until someone else suggests that, let’s just call it Etc. As in November, December, Etc. The trick is that this month doesn’t occur every year, but only as necessary – which will be almost (though not always) every third year. Its insertion will make sure that the other months keep falling at the same time of year, and so have the same weather, as we’re used to. Not precisely of course, but weather is not precise.
Thus we get all the advantages of our current solar calendar, plus the natural rhythms of the moon, and everything stays in tune. Quite brilliant, eh? More details tomorrow.
One day I’m going to take a stand against the division of time into arbitrary regular periods. It’s a delusion anyway. The periods aren’t regular – I’ve noticed throughout my life that they grow consistently shorter. A year is a trivial amount of time now. On current trends, by the time I’m 80 one will last about as long as a summer’s afternoon did when I was five. No doubt it’s healthy to stop and take mental stock every so often, but marking every single year that comes along feels like indulging them.
But then again, without this end-of-the-year show it could easily have escaped my ephemeral notice that 2011 was an extraordinary one. I doubt if we’ve had so much change – especially so much hopeful change – since at least 1989. In some ways we’ve seen the anti-2001; the greatest act of terrorism was carried out by a Christian extremist, the people fighting for democracy were Muslim. It went a long way towards repairing the damage perpetrated during the miserable presidency of George W. Bush.
Except of course that done to the world economy, which is still utterly buggered. At least people rioted in the UK. Yeah, I see that as a positive. If we create a society where the rich can blow it all gambling yet somehow still stay rich, meanwhile telling the poor that they have to be poorer now, then it is a good thing that some people say “OK, we’re not playing by these rules anymore”. This isn’t justifying theft, it’s pointing out that societies are made out of people and you can’t keep taking the piss.
Similarly I think the riots against austerity in the Eurozone were on balance a good thing. I’d sooner peaceful civil disobedience like the Occupy movements, but a riot is the next best thing. Certainly, either is better than the supine attitude we seem to have adopted in Ireland.
This then is my greatest hope and fear for 2012. How will we channel our anger? Here in Galway, city councillors are trying to close the little Occupy encampment that we have on the grounds that it’s bad for business. That is how much our politicians care for actual politics. Every challenge to the system in the last ten years, from organised terrorism to music downloading, has been used by the powerful as an excuse to give themselves yet more power over the individual. There are real threats in the world to democratic capitalism, it is true. The greatest is from undemocratic capitalism.
He signed his murder manifesto ‘Andrew Berwick’. Why an English name?
Perhaps because England has a ready audience of hate groups and neo-nazis. He denies he’s any sort of nazi, but the manifesto is an appeal to the same old foreigner-hating urges. Though if anything, he’s too conservative even for the British far right. The rant really is a form of Christian conservatism, but taken well past the point of parody. He’s against sex outside marriage – and marriage for love. It sounds like he’d be happier under a traditional Islamic regime than most Europeans.¹
When it comes down to it though, I believe he took this English name for no deeper reason than that it was his fantasy. To be a mediaeval English Knight Templar. A bizarre image of himself as semi-mythical hero that he took far too far. I have to be clear here; I’m not casting aspersions on genuine fantasy roleplayers. Those people dress up and act out fantasies for fun, they know they’re doing that. Berwick dressed up and acted out his fantasy for hate and evil. He was willing to commit murder based on stuff that he had basically just made up.
This is tragic. Innocent people died over stuff that Dan Brown wouldn’t use in a novel. Stuff that is, to be blunt, just silly. A Marxist plot to make Europe Islamic.
Has there never been a Muslim plan to take over Europe? Of course there has. Loads of them probably. Muslims have their fantasists too. There are no doubt counterparts to Sir Andrew composing their unhinged manifestos about how they will reconquer Spain or personally lay siege to Vienna right now. And though his claim to be a member of a covert organisation is in all probability self-delusion, there will be other Berwicks too. Hopefully none of these assholes is quite deranged enough to launch another act of pointless barbarism, but it’s not something we can bet on.
What I am willing to bet on is that Europe right now faces more danger from its racist, far-right murderers than it does from their pro-Islamic equivalent.
In passing, his manifesto also contains a surprising amount about the the cultivation of sugar beet. It’s in the context of course of using it as a cover to obtain nitrates for explosives, but the level of detail seems excessive. I think he kind of got into it.
The extremists of all flags, whether they laughably describe themselves as Christians, Muslims, nationalists, or what they will, have far more in common with each other than with those they claim to represent. They can hate and kill who they choose because they cannot or will not identify with them as people. This is not fighting for a cause, this is failure of humanity; self-involvement on a horrific scale.
You have to wonder about their mental processes. What does a man think he will achieve by murdering cold-bloodedly? Did he seriously believe that Norway could be terrorised out of allowing immigration? Maybe he thought he could spark a nationalistic uprising by the heroic shooting dead of teenagers.
It seems he wrote a 1,500 page document to explain his actions, but I doubt it will tell us anything – except the incredible lengths an insecure man will go to, to justify himself.
In 2003, the USA, UK and sundry allies invaded Iraq on the pretext of bringing democracy, while simultaneously supporting regimes throughout the Near and Middle East that wouldn’t know democracy if they buggered it with an electric cattle prod. And they did. Egypt was one such of course.
The West had been happy to turn a blind eye to this during the Cold War because previously Egypt had been getting awful close to Russia. Better it be one of our oppressive failed states, right? That stopped making sense after the fall of Communism, but Egypt was somehow converted into a bulwark against revolutionary Islam. Hell, dictatorship is pretty much a bulwark against any sort of change, right? And change is scary. Scary is bad, so therefore dictatorship is good. The logic is watertight. Mad, but watertight.
What we are seeing today in Egypt and across the region is a movement comparable, in both scale and moral significance, to the revolutions of 1989 in Eastern Europe. Social media told the people what the conventional media was forbidden to tell: That they were many, and the government’s minions were few. If we ever needed an argument against allowing censorship of the Internet, there it is.
These people who are angry in Egypt are people like us. They have Twitter accounts. They’re on Facebook. Our governments may have colluded with their government in the past, but we must tell our governments to stop being stupid. You can’t bomb people into freedom. Freedom rises upwards.
We are either on the side of freedom or we’re on the side of oppression. In Egypt right now, Christians are standing guard to protect Muslim protesters at Friday prayer from the police. Check out #Egypt on Twitter. Express your solidarity.