Review: Islamofobi, by Mattias Gardell

In a time when billboards scream at us about the Muslim threat, whipping up fear, Mattias Gardell’s book Islamofobi (Islamophobia) is a timely book and a book that deserves to get read. Gardell methodically shows how the fear of the Other have moved targets over the millennia, catching normally level-headed people inclined towards freedom of thought, speech and expression in it’s wake, making loud cries for control and inhibiting of human rights based on arbitrary and general criteria.
The history of islamophobia in the western world is only one part of the book. For most of the volume he details how Muslims are treated on a daily basis, both politically as a group, and individually, describing conditions I am sure no person would want their kin to endure.

There are those who accuse Gardell of silencing people who want to discuss the Muslim threat. In my opinion that is not what he does. What he says is Muslims are as diverse as Christians in their beliefs and practises, not to mention in interpretation of their holy texts, and that just like Christians are looked at and judged as individuals, so should Muslims.

I don’t agree with him throughout. As an atheist I find no religion inviolable – in fact, I find no religion agreeable but I find many people who believe in what for me is pure superstition to be not only agreeable but nice and kind people, as well as bad-ass egotists. Just like the rest of us.
And no one should be judged based on such superficial grounds as another person’s projection of his or her own fears for the unknown. Especially so when so much of the fear is based on actual falsities, as Gardell shows.

People truly need to read more science fiction, to learn to analyse their own reactions to the unknown. I hereby recommend a healthy dose of anything SF by Cherryh, as a start.
And yeah, I’m serious.
But prior to that anyone reading in Swedish should read this book. Of course.


Series review: Serrano Legacy/Familias Regnant series, by Elizabeth Moon

This series is the first I’ve read from Elizabeth Moon, and admittedly it’s aimed at a Young Adult segment of which I’m no longer a part of. Still, I think it was a very entertaining and worthwhile read, perfect for those days when you feel you need something that isn’t too hard a chew.

The books hold a high quality throughout, with each book connecting to the other, even when the story doesn’t really come together until the very end, and I get the general impression that either she’s a meticulous writer, or has a good editor. Or perhaps both? ;-)
This contributes to the reading experience. Consistency is nor easy to achieve over a series as long as this – seven books, all in all. And despite the general lightness this is, in the end, no shallow bubblegum.

One of the hidden aspects of the series is that it manages to depict a broad variety of cultures having a common root on Old Earth, ie with us as we is today, yet show how utterly different all those cultures are. It is easy to overlook but it’s also a reminder that no, just because we’re Homo Sapiens, all of us, it doesn’t mean we’re identical twins.
And what would happen to society if our Cult of Youth Eternal got help from Medicine, with the advent of rejuvenation drugs?
Certainly, rejuv is not the only theme but the exploration of our preoccupation with youth and the hunt for youth eternal is the main thread, and the series offers a close up examination of the consequences that follow. When this is done in a series aimed at young people it’s even more interesting, and it’s in that perspective the very ending, the closing chapter, should be seen – that you can’t have it all and that loss needn’t be the end of the world.

What does bother me a bit is the military ethos permeating the books. At times it feels like covert marketing promoting a military lifestyle. Over all this is something I can look past, especially as I don’t think she’s making it look overly glamorous – people actually DO die, sometimes, and there are selfish villains in flag rank ;-)

I think this is a series worth the time it takes reading all seven books. Perhaps not revolutionary literature but well written, entertaining and food for thought none the less, if you stop for it. Highly recommended for palate-cleansing, for anyone reading in the science fiction genre.

The series consists of –
#1 Hunting Party
#2 Sporting Chance
#3 Winning Colours
#4 Once A Hero
#5 Rules of Engagement
#6 Change of Command
#7 Against the Odds

EDITED (a couple of days later) TO ADD – On a fast reread I found that I’ll have to retract a statement from this post, namely the one where I say Moon had a good editor for these books. The second book – Sporting Chance – has more editing errors than most books that I’ve read, and given the quality of some that is no mean feat. The Guerni Republic gets named Golan, and sometimes the two names show in consecutive paragraphs, referring to the same place, and it doesn’t stop there.
All in all, though, this doesn’t change my verdict on the series – as a whole it stands to scrutiny and that is what matters.

Review: Blue Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Blue Mars, which concludes Kim Stanley Robinson‘s Mars Trilogy, continue in the tradition of it’s predecessors. The style is disconnected and rambling, telling a tale seemingly free of storyline or plot, through the eyes of a shifting gallery of protagonists. Sometimes it gets intensely detailed, sometimes extremely sketchy – a decade of someone’s life can be covered by one single sentence.

I had an extremely hard time getting through the opening chapters. They detail the formation of the Martian Constitution and legal system, which was a tedious (and not very interesting) process for the character through whose eyes we see it, and tedious for me as a reader. With about two thirds of the book left, but with the majority of the story behind me, I felt like I had trudged around on Mars forever, with no ending in sight. Add to that scientific speculations ranging from eyebrow-rising to outright incredible, and I think you’ll understand why this book took four weeks to get through – a true tour de force.

So. Was it worth it? Definitely. Because this is not a novel, or even a set of novels. It’s a document chronicling a hypothetical future, an epic chronicle on a grand scale, displaying how the here and now transforms into history, and how that history changes the now and the perception of what really did happen. It also sketches a future model society, one I guess Robinson himself favoured as his personal take on utopia when the books were written.

As utopias go it’s OK – ideal societies always get too bubblegummy for my tastes but here it is acceptable, much because the chronicle concerns the voyage there more than the final state of things.

This trilogy is recommended reading for anyone with an interest in the future, in economic and political systems and in societies and cultures. Endurance is a must, though, so not for everyone. And reading only one, or even two, of the books won’t do – if you’re in, you’re in for the whole three book journey. Because on their own these books aren’t much value. Epic. Epic. EPIC.

It’s not the State, it’s the Megacorp that watches you…

…and the big difference is in a democracy what State knows you can get it to release to you, or you can control what they control, by voting on different policies. In a democracy you can join a party, or start your own, and you’re allowed to have your thoughts.

What we now live in, and what we are watching emerge, most of us passively, some even in a sense of wonder about what science and technology can do, is something else.

Already the bank issuing my card knows what my purchase patterns are, even if they don’t know exactly what it is that I buy. And the large chains knows perhaps not your over all patterns but they know a lot of specifics, like if I shop lots of cat food (“probably has a cat”), or that I buy bread and milk and ecological fruits and veggies. Even if you’re not a member that can track this, as long as you don’t pay cash. Which fewer and fewer do, partly because the shops encourage the use of cards.
And if you’re a member of some chains, who owns not only grocery shops but book shops, shops for home electronics, for clothes… then they know A LOT about you – what you eat, what you read, what sizes you and your kids are.

Trends are more and more shops, or local/national chains, are bought by large multinationals. And then it’s not just the local chain who knows all about you – now some distant number counter with whole divisions devoted to analysis of all of this data, to predict when what to market to whom, when.

And when the rfid tag gets incorporated in products they can even track where you take that product. And it’s not some common interest but a purely economic one, unhindered by us humans.

Some might gawk in awe.
I for one am unable to.

And I think of the future Brazil, as described in Ian McDonald’s book Brasyl.

It’s not only integrity going up in smoke. It’s every thought of independence, of equal rights, of justice, and of a democratic state.

Not by means of any single little instance, but the waves chipping away at the foundations… they seem so innocent, and one day the house falls into the river.

And then it’s too late.

Way to late.

Confessional schools, and the future

Swedish law states that schools operating within the public framework has to be non-confessional. The reason for this is the state – in this specific case the municipalities – should not pay for religious schools. Schools operating within this framework are subsidised (I’ll not go into the technical details, this is just an intro for those who aren’t familiar with the background) and grades earned can be used to enter into higher education.

Recent years has seen an explosion in privately run schools, approved by the National Agency for Education, that features confessional elements. The schools are both Christian and Muslim (and others) and the whole gamut is present, from sectarians to people who barely would be accepted as Christian in an US context or as Muslims in Saudi Arabia. They aren’t allowed teach creationism. They have to promote equal rights. And they have to comply with the national grading system and the national tests. Confessional elements are allowed on the grounds but not inside what is considered the curriculum.

This leaves a lot of manoeuvring space. As an example saying the graces is allowed if it’s not compulsory. But what child wants to differ from everyone else?

The general state of the public schools differ. The ones where I live are generally very good. The parents are engaged in the education of their offspring, which I think is key to a good school, and most schools aren’t that big, which to me is another key.
In other places things are not as well – bullying is overlooked by the teachers, who feel ill used, and the quality of the education suffers from negligent parents who don’t help kids with their homework or manages to see to it that they get enough sleep and food to be able to handle school.
In cases like that people that cares moves their kids to a private but publicly endorsed school, in some cases even to a school founded on religious tenets the parents don’t support only because at least there their kids can get peace and quiet. This last thing, that what is needed is a good environment and that it isn’t the faith or the fact the school is private that makes it better, is generally overlooked (sorry, link in Swedish only).

My personal opinion is that it is gross negligence and bad strategies AND tactics, ultimately destructive for Sweden as a nation, that makes public expenses related to the school system ever tighter. And it is restricted funding that is one of the biggest problems for most schools – a scarcity of textbooks, with a lot of them dated and in pieces, low salaries, no money for equipment, no or few resources for kids with special needs.
The situation has made for a reality where a private school has begun to look like an acceptable alternative, not because parents wants a private school but because they want their kid to get a good start in life and the public school closest to them is in a bad state.
It should be noted that only people well off enough to actually be able to be away from work for extended periods, because private schools often have shorter hours than strictly public ones, or who have the freedom to work flexible hours.
Clearly not for those who works shift hours or who have set schedules.

We live in a world were most manual work, things that are made in factories, have moved to low-salary countries. Much as I oppose it this is the world as it looks like, right now and in the foreseeable future. If we in the western world want to avoid unemployment to surge we need to focus our resources on education and on creating a society that encourages research; we need to have schools that encourages kids to think, to learn methods for questioning and theorising. By cutting the funds to the public schools, and by encouraging confessional schools engaging in fostering mono-cultures, the opposite is what is happening. If this is allowed to go on I’m certain in 50 years time Sweden will be a highly segregated country with a huge portion of the people living in relative poverty and with now way out of it.

This is not the future that I want. In just so many words I think the portion of taxes that goes to funding the educational system should increase. Significantly.
After all, it’s our future. And an equal opportunity educational system is one of the few ways to ensure true social mobility but it’s also the key to a just politic society. Which is what I want.

Politicians can eat a few less tax funded dinners.

Where a rapist can go free if he offers to wed the victim

In today’s paper edition of DN a small note can be found in the International section. The headline is set to guarantee a small readership – “Karzai sanctions law hostile to women” (Karzai godk√§nner kvinnofientlig lag). I searched for the online version, but it isn’t important enough to have been published in the web edition.

The law only applies to shia muslims, and maybe that’s why it’s so unimportant. And – let’s not he shy about it – laws and customs like these are abundant around the globe. The extent is rather such that it’s amazing some of us can live in relative freedom. That don’t diminish the horrors of this new Afghan law as millions of women will suffer from it.

An example (and now I’m citing the article) is the one I used in the headline. Another one is that a husband now has the right to deny his wife food as punishment for her denying him intercourse.

A clause that has been deleted said a wife has to make herself pretty and to put on make-up for her husband. It would be worth a laugh only if it wasn’t a fact that somewhere on this planet, in this case in Afghanistan, a group of men think they have the right to demand such of women.

The politician who in some sense led the protests against this law, Shinkai Karokhel, has been faced with death threats and she lives surrounded by bodyguards.

The article says Karzai, the president, is opposed to the law but that political considerations have forced him to accept it. That he sacrifices the women to stay in power.

It’s unworthy of any human being, and unworthy of a society trying to become politic.

Fast, furious… and faulty

No, this is not about a film. It’s about trusting media channels that are partial while succeeding in appearing unbiased. And how that can turn out.

The day before yesterday – yes, I’m a bit slow, I do have a job to do, and don’t entirely live by word of my laptop /I like to use my brain as well, and analysis can take time/ – there was talk about the qualifications of the judge who had presided over the Pirate Bay trial. He is a member of three different organisations (link goes to a swedish language news site) involved in the copyright issue, two of which is pure professional interest and don’t promote a certain opinion or viewpoint, but a third could be interpreted to suggest disqualification… But long before anyone had had time to research those organisations the verdict was clear, official, and in the public domain – the judge was entrenched in pro-megacorp copyright, and thus disqualified.

At that point it don’t much matter what the objective truth is – the trial was equal to a lynch mob, and he was judged guilty.

Dismissing the question of actual guilt – is this how we wan justice to be made? Because this isn’t the first time public verdict has been given. A couple of days ago two persons were approached and shot in Stockholm Old Town. Next morning everyone knew who did it, only now, a couple of days later, when one of the victims have recovered enough to tell what happened, it appears some one else did it (also in swedish, sorry). Of course, the investigation is still on, and both persons are on the suspects list, or so I assume.

But I wonder how was life for that other person, during those days in between? He was fairly famous, well known within his niche. Now he’s famous for something else.

Just because everyone wanted a piece of the action, just because the blogosphere acted as lynch mob.
And a lynch mob has no place in politic society.