Monday, November 30, 2009

Europe's Choice: Switzerland or Serbia?

Julien Frisch is very upset about the Swiss referendum banning minarets.

I disagree.

Julien says that a ban on minarets goes against the values of liberty, democracy and Europe. Now, I've said this before on AnTyx, but I'll say it again: as someone born in the Soviet Union, grown up in 90s Eastern Europe and now living in the EU, I think I can speak about democracy and freedom with some degree of authority. And there is an absolute, fundamental, irrefutable tenet of freedom:

Your freedom stops at the tip of my nose.

Switzerland did not ban Islam. Switzerland did not ban mosques. (And though I won't dwell on it, let's not forget that neither minarets nor even mosques are vital to the practice of Islam, that is a big part of why it's managed to thrive.) A minaret by its very intention is a thing that imposes itself on its surroundings. Not just architecturally, but socially: it exists as a platform for a cleric to call people to prayer. Five times a day, it saturates the neighborhood with sound that is unequivocally dogmatic. On that fact alone, a ban on minarets is entirely in line with European values of tolerance and coexistence. A secular state, particularly a European state, is obligated to protect its citizens from imposition of religion against their will.

I could leave it at that, but I won't. If there's a central message to everything I write on AnTyx, it is that you must know both cause and pretense; that you must not get bogged down in disingenuous arguments adopted by all sides because they are not willing to admit - often to themselves - what exactly it is that drives them.

I've done a Google search on Julien's blog for articles on Lithuania, and have found no mention of the country's deplorable anti-gay legislation. That's just one major issue I came up with, off the top of my head, simply because it's in my neighborhood. (Full disclosure: yes, Estonia isn't much better in this regard; I signed the recent petition in support of legal recognition of same-sex marriages, but I don't think it had any effect. But at least we don't have laws making it illegal to talk about LGBT in a positive light.) Another big issue that I can think of without really doing any research is the half of Cyprus that is currently occupied by Turkey. My point being: there are a lot of areas that threaten European values far more immediately than a non-EU country with a history of vehement direct democracy adopting a policy that can just as easily be implemented with a few administrative guidelines discreetly issued by whichever ministry oversees the urban planning commissions.

No, the reason why everyone suddenly cares about the Swiss referendum is because of the context, the discourse of Islam in Europe that is being actively promoted by the same caliber of activist that would torch cars and throw rocks at shop windows over a newspaper cartoon. Muslim punditry is, by far and away, the squeakiest wheel in Europe, and I dare Julien to prove me wrong.

Here is the question that critics of the Swiss ban have to ask themselves: Would you want these guys in your back yard?

European constitutions include, and European values are generally thought to contain, the protection of minorities against discrimination. I am continually astounded by how this is tragically misunderstood (and occasionally, criminally misconstrued). Democracy does not serve the interest of every citizen unequivocally. Democracy is the art of resolving conflicting interests, and it very rarely manages this to the satisfaction of all parties.

When the interest of the minority is so fundamentally at odds with the interest of the majority, the minority will simply have to be disappointed. (And when the interest of the minority is literally shouting religious propaganda from the rooftops, the minority really ought not be so surprised.)

And what is the alternative, exactly? When the double majority of the population is against something, enough to go and vote, then is it really the best course of action to condemn the un-European, discriminating bastards? Is it really so in line with the values of 21st century European civilization to force people to subdue their dislike of an ideology imposed by an aggressive minority? Do we take a nation where every adult male is legally required to own an assault rifle, and force them to live alongside the Muslims they want nothing to do with?

Because that happened, right here in Europe, less than two decades ago - and we've still got a bunch of judges in Strasbourg trying to figure out what happened.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Still Unconvinced

The conclusion of the Th!nk About It project. Check out the video at the bottom, it's hilarious, a much better execution of stereotypes than that "Union of Subsidized Farmers" crap.

Comments on that page please.

FWIW I'm going to vote for IRL; I'm not a huge fan of anyone, but at least I can respect Tunne Kelam for bothering to hang out at Tartu's main footbridge at 9am on a Thursday, handing out free coffee to passersby. (The coffee is horrible, but I did score a rather cute EPP-ED bottle opener.)

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Lazy Person's Vote

New article on Th!nk About It - this time, with video!

Not particularly bothered if you vote or not, but I would appreciate it if you commented. Oh, and this is a video post. Be gentle - it's more or less my first experience in editing video.

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Apathy is Not a Bug, It's a Feature

A lot more happy with this one. Hopefully it's worth reading, at least.

As usual, comments over there please.

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

New TAI post. Not my best work, but should count as an EP-themed entry for the month.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009


An interesting quote at Julien Frist's euroblog (original at EU Observer):

Perhaps the best news is that the outcome of the elections is not known. That is a huge achievement for a post-Soviet state. Pretty much everywhere in the region (with the exception of Ukraine, and to some extent Georgia) election results are known well in advance, and elections do not really matter.

My first reaction is, obviously, "ahem!". The Baltics have their troubles, but we are resolutely democratic; our electorate can be manipulated by populism and appealing to its darker instincts, but the elections really do reflect the will of the people. It is offensive to have Moldova looking down on us in terms of fair representation.

However, I honestly don't think it was malice on the author's part; rather, Estonia and its neighbors are no longer thought of as post-Soviet. Unlike Moldova, which is a semi-artificial nation resulting from the Soviet Union's annexation of a part of Romania and often (if unfairly) mistaken for a shard of Yugoslavia, we have now established an identity that is not dominated by our Soviet past. To the likes of Nicu Popescu - pundits from clear across the continent - we are the plucky little states that are scared of their Russian neighbours, but for some indecipherable reason don't just do the logical bit and become part of Sweden. Also really good with computers. But not really part of the whole mess of former Soviet republics trying to build a working society out of a tribal mentality and the rotting remains of imperial infrastructure.

Which is kind of the effect we've been going for, really.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Who Wants the Euro?

Even in the worst case scenario, we will be far better off as part of an isolated, devalued, hyperinflated market of nearly half a billion consumers, than a clever and prudent loner.

My 3rd post on the Th!nk About It website. Go, read it, comment on it, and vote 5 stars on that one and my previous posts! And, you know, have a look at what the other people are writing as well. Some of them are quite good.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Who Needs the Euro?

Everyone knows Iceland went bankrupt, but let’s face it: Iceland is three hundred thousand people who can’t grow any bread. More worryingly, large countries - those that make up the backbone of the EU - very much can go bankrupt; in fact they have before, and it’s increasingly likely that they will again; and soon. What hope do the smaller member states have?

My new post on Th!nk About It. Click, read, comment, and vote it up! I'm trying to win an iPhone here!

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Shakedown: Estonia

The Th!nk About It website is up, and so is my first post there. Go, check it out, post your comments over there.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Th!nk Again

Originally uploaded by Flasher T
Brussels itself is boring. Belgium has a fully lit motorway network, so the night-time scenery as you're landing is fantastic, but the city just feels uninspired. The hotel (with traces of grandeur, but a bit of a shithole these days) was in the vicinity of the train station, which is never good, but I stayed in the Termini region in Rome and that was far more interesting. The European Parliament building is, apparently, copyright under Belgian law - one is not allowed to reprint its likeness without paying the architect a licensee fee (and Tony Robinson, the spokesman for the Socialist group, claimed to have paid 400 Euro for the right to post on his blog a picture of the EP compound that he'd taken himself in 1983). I'd say the impression I got from the city was that the Belgians are sufficiently organized and orderly to keep it all running, but don't care enough to make it sparkle.

That sort of criticism cannot be levied on the conference itself, however. As sceptical as I am about the supposed power of the blogosphere - and even more so about the storyworthiness of the European Parliament - the gathered crowd made it an awesome experience. The organizers from the European Journalism Center were genuinely enthusiastic, and did a stupefying amount of work to bring together nearly 90 people from every member state in the EU. I now understand why people go to events such as PAX or SXSW: not necessarily for the cause and impact, but for the sheer buzz of being around so many interesting people. Some of these were bloggers, a lot were journalism students and various other activists who made an effort to get into the competition. It's difficult to describe the joy of being in a room full of individuals, where absolutely every person is guaranteed to be worth your time and attention; the ones I spent a bit more time talking to were downright fascinating.

The project will go public on Sunday, when the Th!nk About It website will begin to publish contributions. In the meantime you can check out the EJC's BloggingPortal, an aggregator of stuff on European politics with a far wider catchment area. Or you can click on the new badge in the sidebar.

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