Jason Morrison on freedom of religion

Jason Morrison is a presenter for Sydney radio station 2GB, and he has a regular slot on the Sunrise program with Neil Mitchell. On Wednesday morning, he expressed his view on Pauline Hanson’s intention to not sell her house to a Muslim buyer. Note that this transcript was taken from a dodgy online clip, so may not be completely verbatim:

JASON MORRISON: I do care about who moves in, I care like anyone in a neighbourhood who ends up in the place that I’m at. And look I imagine if we substitute the word that she’s chosen there – “Muslim” for “developer”, people would say “oh, good for her, she’s stopping”…

Look she can make her own judgements – I don’t necessarily agree with that, but hey uh, this woman has principles.

NEIL MITCHELL: [starts interjecting]

JASON MORRISON: They might be obnoxious principles, they might be things that Neil you find despicable or whatever else, but at least she’s putting her- not just her heart where it is but she’s actually saying here, look “money where the mouth is” – she’s actually saying I wouldn’t sell. If the offer is there, I wouldn’t sell. I mean I think its silly, but that’s- she’s got the money and everything to do it.

NEIL MITCHELL: But if you’re refusing to sell to a developer, it’s because of what they’re going to do on that block – to build something. How can you disqualify someone on the basis of their religion? It’s immoral. You can’t do it – its just wrong.

JASON MORRISON: But, but, see- Neil, you miss it. It’s her house. I- I find what she is suggesting to be wrong – I wouldn’t have that kind of level of principle, but it’s her house. She can make that choice. I mean-

NEIL MITCHELL: It will be interesting to see whether she can. Theoretically, you might be right, but is she in fact liable for some sort of action under anti-discrimination legislation – I don’t know if anybody would want her house, but-

JASON MORRISON: She could reject the offer.

What a load of uninformed flim-flam dressed up as reasoned argument.

For the record, Mitchell’s rejoinder towards the end appears on the money. Acting Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Neroli Holmes has confirmed her view that any discrimination against buyers on religious grounds would put Hanson at risk of breaching the state’s anti-discrimination legislation.

In other words, it is highly likely that Morrison’s purported position, as expressed above, is not only discriminatory, but at odds with Queensland law.

So does Jason Morrison believe in freedom of religion, or not?

The bold and the belligerent

Q and A’s new Monday night timeslot (9:30PM) on the ABC does not really suit me, hence I regularly miss the program. Fortunately, the ABC provides both transcripts of previous programs and the full freely downloadable programs, which means I can catch-up very easily.At the moment I’m about a week behind. I haven’t seen this week’s episode yet (featuring Miranda Devine, Catherine Deveny, Waleed Ali, Bill Shorten, and Peter Dutton), but I have managed to retrospectively watch last week’s episode, which featured Richard Dawkins, Patrick McGorry, Rabbi Jackie Nino, Steve Fielding, Julie Bishop and Tony Burke. Predictably, the discussion focused on topics amenable to the international visitor, the renowned author, scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins. The majority of questions were indeed directed at Dawkins, and undoubtedly the producers of the show derived great enjoyment from seating their international guest next to Family First’s paleolithic christian Steve Fielding.

Of course, I am an atheist. I’ve read The God Delusion, and I thought it was a pretty compelling book. I think the gist of what Dawkins says is correct. On Q and A, however, I think he came across as being quite belligerent; this seems to be his style. He is not interested in finding common ground with religious followers and trying to advance the cause of atheism – in actual fact, it seems that he delights in being blunt to the point of being belittling.

I suppose it is arguable that the cause of atheism needs people like Dawkins – people who are not afraid to call it as they see it and do not attempt to hide the fact that they think people who believe in religion are stupid. Dawkins is certainly right that the peculiarly special level of “respect” that society believes needs to be granted to people’s religious beliefs is anachronistic when compared to other facets of mainstream public debate. My view on education policy, for example, no matter how strongly felt, is somehow not in the same class as Joe’s belief in God, because it is not religious. Dawkins seems to be keen to represent himself to the world as a living, breathing personification of this mode of criticism.

When it comes down to it though, I don’t believe that Richard Dawkins is really doing the cause of atheism a great deal of good by slagging off the religious. The publicity he brings to the cause is impressive, but being abusive to people who at their core, are often fundamentally decent people, strikes me as counter-productive.

Consider for example, the transcript excerpt from over the fold. I agree with the point Dawkins tries to make, but the means by which he conveys it just serves to make Julie Bishop and Tony Burke’s counterpoints seem more reasoned, rational and considered. This is an odd and unhelpful look, when Dawkins is purportedly the super-rational one waving the torch for cold, hard science.

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Glory be to secularism in an unpredictable land

Booker Prize nominated writer Mohsin Hamid has a nicely written piece in the Guardian that sums up his feelings about the election results in Pakistan. What is truly wonderful about the result, as he points out, is that it does seem to offer credence to the idea that Pakistan has a secular heart:

Instead, Pakistan managed a relatively free and fair election that delivered a crushing defeat to the ruling party of Pakistan’s unpopular President Musharraf. More than that, the country’s religious parties were assigned to the electoral dustbin, with voters even in the supposedly conservative Northwest Frontier province that borders Afghanistan flocking to secular candidates. The winners were moderate, centrist politicians – suggesting perhaps that Pakistanis, notwithstanding acres of newsprint to the contrary, are at heart a moderate centrist bunch.

There’s more detail on that point over at OpenDemocracy:

The MMA, the major alliance of Islamist parties, won only three seats in the National Assembly. In 2002, the MMA won 63 seats in the country’s parliament. Tellingly, the godfather of the MMA and the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Islam, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, lost in his constituency.

Assuming that President Musharraf goes soon and goes quietly, one wonders if there is a lesson to be learnt for the West from these election results. If Musharraf had not been so amenable to the West during his time as dictator, his administration would surely have been targeted by the Bush Administration for a spot of regime change during the heady period immediately following 9/11. It is hard to imagine secular elements within Pakistan achieving the same levels of support today if a more hawkish approach to Pakistan was taken back then; disliking America and the West would have been all too easy a trend to create for extreme fundamentalist groups around the country.

Instead, democracy has been allowed to run its course in Pakistan, and although it is perhaps too early to be sure, the results are promising.

How to paint a political target on your chest

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has unsurprisingly attracted media attention overnight for suggesting that sharia law should be introduced into the United Kingdom. The vast majority of commentators have condemned the idea, and not without reason given the barbaric practices associated with implementations of the doctrine in some Islamic nations. Certainly the temptation to immediately think “sharia law = bad” is overwhelming in the modern Western political climate, and I am quite sure that the phrase is regarded as anathema to the major parties in both the United Kingdom and Australia.

Having said all this, some of what Williams argues would seem to make a great deal of sense. In practical terms, it is certainly the case that customs associated with sharia law are being actively practiced by Muslims in both the United Kingdom and Australia. In the majority of cases, one would expect that these customs are only being adhered to in circumstances where they do not contradict the legal system of the country in question, although it’s almost certain that this is not always the case. Williams is obviously not arguing draconian measures to be created in the legal system to keep the Muslim community happy; quite to the contrary, he is arguing for plurality:

“If what we want socially is a pattern of relations in which a plurality of diverse and overlapping affiliations work for a common good, and in which groups of serious and profound conviction are not systematically faced with the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty, it seems unavoidable,” he said.

The first retort of the “patriot” when somewhat controversial questions like this are raised is that national loyalty comes first, and that if there are Muslims or anyone else in the country who don’t like it, they should go live some place else. Of course there is a religious element to this sort of nationalism – “foreign” religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism are regarded as alien to the national bodypolitik. In Australia in particular, as was revealed last year during the course of the citizenship test debate, it would seem that some people think we are a nation in the “judeo-christian” tradition (whatever that is), whereas others believe the nation to be more secular. One would have to think, given modern patterns of human movement and the capacity for countries to absorb people of different belief systems, that secularism is the long-term reality for most civilised nations of the world.

If we accept that this is the case, if there is some means for making the choice between cultural and state loyalty for people slightly easier (without fundamentally undermining the existing legal systems of the nations in question), doesn’t this at least represent a topic worthy of discussion and debate?