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Funny thing this thing called “life”. After five years I’ll be back in Cambridge this summer, working for two months for the evil empire.

I’ll even be staying in my former college. Room 52L to be precise, which is just a few meters away from my old room.

Especially, given the expectations built up surrounding the Wilders’ film, I have to admit that, at the end, I was pleasantly surprised by “how mild” it was.

People, including myself, were expecting scenes with a burning Koran or even someone urinating on it. Fortunately, this did not happen. So, although it is still insulting as (i) it again shows the famous Muhammed cartoon and (ii) it tries to imply that all Muslims are brain-washed terrorists, it might not create as big a stir as feared.

The biggest danger I see now is “from the other side”, i.e., not from islamistic terrorists but from people abusing the film as a justification to spread a general fear of Islam along with the feeling that “there are too many Muslims in the Netherlands” and “something must be done about it”.

Even given its “mildness” (which I only fully realized today, as all the hate propaganda upset me so much last night) I still maintained it should not have been shown. I’ll just quote a comment from the BBC site which summarizes my view.

“As a law abiding Muslim being born and raised in the West I think this film is appalling. I am all for freedom of speech, every human being has the right to be heard but as the saying goes with power comes responsibility. This film has no other purpose but to perpetuate a growing sense of division in an already deeply divided world. ”
Lena, Luton, UK

Today, Wilders’ 15-minute “documentary” called Fitna was released on liveleak. You can watch this piece of one-sided hate propaganda here.

If you actually want to know how Muslims think, then I’d suggest you use the 15 minutes for something more useful and either ask some of your colleagues/friends directly or read the report about the recent Gallup poll, which is available here. They talked to 50,000 Muslims worldwide. The most interesting findings are probably summarized in this 3-page document titled: “The Battle for Hearts and Minds: Moderate vs. Extremist Views in the Muslim World”. I’ll just quote a few bits.

“Perhaps most surprising to many Westerners, the two groups [moderates and extremists] showed little difference in religiosity as measured by the frequency of religious service attendance and the affirmation that religion is an important part of their daily lives.”

“However, it’s important to note that political radicals were also more likely than moderates to say moving toward greater democracy will help Arab/Muslim societies’ progress.”

“And while radicals had (by definition) unfavorable opinions of the United States, they had relatively neutral to favorable opinions of Germany and France. This again suggests that extremist views are motivated less by cultural opposition to Western values, and more by specific policies that seem to threaten Islamic ways of life.”

I’m afraid of what the next days and weeks will bring. I wish this film had never been released. It will only make radicals more radical and it will not help in any way to change the world for the better.

Oh, and for those of you that like to double check facts/quotes: Please have a look at the Koran yourself! It is available in English here. Needless to say that Wilders picks the most extreme translations. An example?

The first quote from the Koran in the film is Surah 8, Verse 60. The film quotes this as follows:

“Prepare for them whatever force and cavalry you are able of gathering, to strike terror, to strike terror into the hearts of the enemies of Allah and your enemies”

The source above gives the following translation:

“And prepare against them what force you can and horses tied at the frontier, to frighten thereby the enemy of Allah and your enemy”

The third quote from the Koran in the film is Surah 47, Verse 4. The film quotes this as follows:

“Therefore, when ye meet the unbelievers, smite at their necks and when ye have caused a bloodbath among them bind a bond firmly on them”

The online source gives the following translation:

“So when you meet in battle those who disbelieve, then smite the necks until when you have overcome them, then make (them) prisoners, and afterwards either set them free as a favor or let them ransom (themselves) until the war terminates.”

Oh, and also search the Koran for “love“. You will find a LOT more hits than for “enemy” or “kill”.

I can’t believe this was advertised as a “documentary“!! It has 5 (yes, five) incomplete verses quoted from the Koran with dubious translations. The rest are cut-outs from propaganda newspapers and pictures of victims from 9-11 and other terrorist attacks.

If I’m allowed to choose 5 (incomplete) quotes freely, I can probably even make a Donald Duck cartoon look like it is inciting religious hate. [… not to mention the Torah or the Bible ….]

I’m not a big fan of any institutionalized form of religion, and I’m certainly not a fan of the Catholic pope. So every year at Easter I notice with an ever so small annoyance how even some of my preferred German news portals spend time reporting about how long or for how many stations the pope carried the cross. Personally, I find it more interesting that the flowers for the decoration of the Saint Peter’s Square are donated by Dutch florists. [The florists themselves are actually not very Christian, but it is simply excellent advertisement when the pope thanks the Dutch florists during his address which is broad-casted to hundreds of millions of people.] I’m also partly conciliated by the fact that there was still more media attention (at least in Germany) given to the pope’s anti-semitic reintroduction of an ancient form of the “Good Friday Prayer for the Jews“. Here’s a small excerpt from this prayer:

“Let us also pray for the Jews: That our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men.

Anyways, these are just the usual doings of the pope, clearly aimed at a better understanding and mutual respect between the religions. This together with his constant effort in the struggle against HIV, and his efforts in the struggle against homophobia are some of the reasons why I respect and admire him so much. All of this I’ve long gotten used to.

What really bothered me during this Easter was another conspiracy, which did not have its roots at the Vatican. It was a conspiracy of all the public swimming pools in and around Lausanne to close over the Easter holidays. I was really, really in the mood to go swimming but I found myself locked out at four different pools.

Racism in cartoons. That’s the theme of the current “Alter Egaux” exhibition in the foyer of the town hall of Lausanne.

The Adventures of Tintin are already famous for possibly the most prominent example of racism in cartoons in the episode “Tintin in the Congo“. Interestingly, after getting a lot of (negative) attention in the media in 2007, the sales of the cartoon on amazon temporarily skyrocketed.

But there are are also other examples of racism, both among Africans (surrounding the genocide in Rwanda) and among other ethnic groups.

It’s a small exhibition and it’s free. So go and see it if you’re in the city center.

It surprises me how many people are surprised when you tell them about censorship of the internet in Germany.

Most Germans are aware that certain books, such as “Mein Kampf“, written by a person (?) responsible for the horrible deaths of millions of innocent children, women and men, is not available in Germany, though you can easily obtain it from websites abroad (which can be found through Google). But the number of people who know about Google’s active role in censoring the German internet is significantly smaller.

Just try the following:

1. Search for “hitler” on the international google.com (direct link). Note that the top 10 contains one result from the domain hitler.org. [I don’t want to link to this domain as I certainly do not want to boost the pagerank of such a site.]

2. Search for “hitler” on the German google.de (direct link). Note that the top 10 does not contain the previous result.

Now you might think that the result has just been moved further down the list. Wrong. To prove this try the following:

3. Search for “site:hitler.org” on the international google.com (direct link). The “site:” command limits the search to the particular domain and shows all the pages indexed from that domain. As you can see, there are quite a few.

4. Search for “site:hitler.org” on the German google.de (direct link). No results. To be sure that the query syntax is correct, search for “site:tagesschau.de” (direct link) instead.

Please don’t get me wrong. In this case I support the censorship which Google is required to do by the German legislation. I just find it important to know that these things exist.

On a somewhat related issue: It’s also worth knowing that even at the Speakers’ Corner there is no full freedom of expression and that the police will intervene if things are taken too far.

Today or tomorrow we will have the first incidence of a missile “shooting down” (or rather disintegrating) a satellite.

This satellite is a spy satellite under the name “USA 193“, which lost all radio contact shortly after being put in orbit. Left alone, it would hit the earth in the first week of March. The satellite has tanks filled with hydrazine as a propellant. Hydrazine is highly toxic and, if the tanks do not explode during reentry, the material would be enough to contaminate about 2 football fields with a lethal dose.

Now all the scientists involved in the project thought: Who cares. Chances that it would hit land, let alone any populated area of the earth are just ridiculously small. The tanks will probably explode during reentry anyways.

But the military thought: Let’s shoot it down! We cannot let this hydrazine injure innocent people or pollute the environment.

I know, I know. The US military if famous for saving mankind and in particular the environment. But I, as a paranoid skeptic, have to agree with this scientist who thinks that they are just keen to have a chance to test their anti-satellite weaponry. I wonder why so far nobody has claimed that the satellite was even supposed to fail.

Needless to say that the power to destroy the enemy’s satellites gives an enormous strategic advantage.

Today I went to Bern. This was planned.

There was a loooong carnival parade. This was not planned, at least not by me, but probably by the participants. You can see some pictures here (at the bottom). [Actually, I still don’t quite understand why this carnival is held during Lent, the season of fasting and prayer in the Christian calendar. At least in Germany carnival is held just before.]

So far the only time I had seen a carnival parade in my life was in Mainz last year. (And this I how I looked then.) So I’m certainly not a carnivaligist, or whatever carnival experts are called.

Overall, it was fairly similar: Lots and lots of people in costumes parading. Still, it was interesting to try to spot the differences.

What I liked in Bern was that there were more carnival groups with music, actually at least 60% of the groups were marching bands in costume. [Btw, there seems to be a serious niche market for easy-to-play marching bands songs. The 30 bands or so which we saw shared a repertoire or about 10 songs, including Marmor, Stein und Eisen bricht.]

But two things were certainly missing: The Tanzmariechen and the Kamelle.

Two costume ideas I liked best:

First, a dress with a train which could be lifted up just like the tail of a pheasant. Pretty strong and surprising effect.

Second, well, that was actually not so much the costume but the “meta idea”. Most carnival groups try to dress up in identical costumes. All “individuality” is lost in favor of the group identity and the combined visual effect. But one group had found a good compromise. From the front they were all identical, but on their back they had personalized messages. Anything from a simple smiley to “Your ad could be here”. [… actually this gave me the idea of printing a t-shirt with the slogan “A clever slogan could be printed here” … A phrase which denies its own existence …]

Another small difference was that they had lots of confetti which you could also buy in plastic bags to throw at your fellow bystanders, or maybe to mark the way back to your home ala Hansel and Gretel.

So, all happy, happy, joy, joy? Well, mostly.

Except for one hate-fomenting group who, not surprisingly, was run by my favorite Swiss party, the SVP.

In case you’re not familiar with the whole “kick the black sheep out” hate campaign of the SVP, this picture might not evoke any immediate strong feelings in you. It shows a slaughtered black sheep, served as a dinner to a happy white sheep.

“Of course”, the “black” in “black sheep” is just a metaphor for illegal doings, and any associations with skin colors would be purely incidental. [That’s what the party claims.] Just as the severed head is probably to be taken as a metaphor for the spiritual problems caused by a separation between mind and body.

I know what a sekt is, but I’m still not sure what a sect is. What I do know is that the non-profit organization “New Acropolis” is considered a sect in some countries, including France and Belgium.

This organization runs courses about philosophy and the (free) introductory meeting for one such course took place yesterday, here in Lausanne – a great chance to see what a sect is really like!

Given the large number of posters spread all around the city, I was surprised to find myself in a room with only 5 other “students” along with the teacher. My fellow students spanned the whole age spectrum between 25 and 75 years. The teacher appeared to be in his 50s. If I had even the slightest talent for visual memory, I’d describe the whole scenery in far more detail, but people who know me will understand that I’ll have to leave more or less everything to your imagination.

Anyways, the teacher started with explaining the structure of the course and the teaching method. The program you can find here. The method … well, it claims to be heavily based on comparative studies between various schools of philosophy, spanning the last 4000 years and all continents (… except the Arcticas). The official aim of the course is “to produce philosophers and not philosophy teachers”, meaning that it is supposed to be of very practical use and not academic philosophy for its own sake. So far nothing conspicuous. It was made clear that the organization (and the course) were both apolitical and secular.

Actually, nothing that was mentioned during the first 60 minutes gave even the slightly hint of any lurking danger. There was just an obviously very well-read person outlining methods and contents which would appeal to any curious person.

So finally, after all the nice chit chat,  I asked the teacher, why he thought that the organization was considered a sect in some countries.

Some points from his answer were that:

(i) Any way of thinking which is not in line with the “regime” tends to be regarded as potentially dangerous. E.g., the  comparative approach which also takes positive examples from the Arabic culture could cause some mistrust.

(ii) As the organization is secular it is regarded with disdain by the established churches.  For these powerful organizations it is a very effective way to get rid off competitors by simply branding them as “sects”.

(iii) [Not directly an answer but still interesting:] He said that he’d much rather follow a supposed “dangerous cult” than following the mainstream thinking.

(iv) He also said that he’d like to talk to anybody who has worries/concerns and who is thinking about dropping the course.

One thing which he said at the end (and in an apparent attempt to label me as a coward), and which I found rather cheap, was that they only want people who have enough courage to join and to live with occasional scornful comments by outsiders.

So, is it a sect? Well, according to the overall impression I got (also from other helping volunteers) the group certainly has a strong sense of identity and I could see, how there’d be a lot of peer pressure put on anybody who wants to leave. But then this characterization also holds for the local football club.

In the end, I still don’t know what really constitutes a sect. Maybe the best way to find out is to start my own sect. Any faithful apostles among you?

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