Jamie’s Digest (2): Cool Bits From Books

Whenever I’m reading I always like to highlight phrases and passages that strike a chord with me, either because they’re emotionally or intellectually resonant, or because they’re exceptionally relevant to something that’s happening in the world today. I’d like to continue to share some of the these excerpts with you.

Catholic Tastes

In light of both the ascension of the DUP to the role of king-makers, and Germany’s recent parliamentary vote in favour of legalising gay marriage, I thought the below was exceptionally relevant. It’s an extract from a piece published in a gay newsletter in Southampton the late 1970s by a man named Paul, a volunteer for the Solent Gay switchboard. A copy of the full text (which speaks of his sorrow at the extent of anti-gay discrimination in the country), as well as appearing in the newsletter, was also sent to the Rev. Ian Paisley, Lord Longford and Mary Whitehouse, a trio he felt had lent credence to those who would level violence and abuse at gay people.

Many heterosexuals like to remark that if everyone were homosexual, the human race would come to an end. (The human race would suffer the same fate if the entire male population became Roman Catholic priests, but God in his infinite and unfailing wisdom ensures that only about 5% of us are homosexual and that even fewer are Roman Catholic priests.) In view of the acknowledged importance of sex in perpetuating the human race, it is strange that there are still those who regard it as something shameful, embarrassing or rather awkwardly special.”

Amazon link: Ban This Filth by Ben Thompson (p.347 – 349)

The Bondage of Work

The below extract is for those of us (most of us) who are unlucky enough to work for ‘da man’ in any of his multifarious guises.

Every time you go into your workplace, you leave a democracy and enter a dictatorship. Nowhere else is freedom of speech for the citizens of free societies so curtailed. They can abuse their political leaders in print or on radio, television and the Web as outrageously as they wish, and the secret service will never come for them. They can say that their country’s leader is a lunatic, their police force is composed of sadists and their judiciary is corrupt. Nothing happens, even on those occasions when their allegations are gibberish. The leniency of free societies is only proper. Freedom of speech includes the freedom to spout clap-trap, as regular surfers of the Web know. If employees criticise their employers in public, however, they will face a punishment as hard as a prison sentence, maybe harder: the loss of their career, their pension, and perhaps their means of making a livelihood.”

Amazon link: You Can’t Read This Book by Nick Cohen (p.149)

Mo’ Men, Mo’ Problems

As a humanist an atheist and a secularist (sometimes we all walk into a bar) I’m appalled at the prejudice frequently levelled at my fellow human beings on account of their skin-colour, country of origin or set of beliefs; I’m further appalled by the foreign policy measures and media hyperbole that has inflamed hatred in this country and abroad. However, I’m also appalled at the way in which our freedom to criticise religion, in all of its forms, is slowly being eroded, mostly – it has to be said – through fear: fear of violent reprisals, and also fear of being on the same side of the argument – albeit for vastly different reasons – as the nation’s execrable clan of right-wing racists. That being said, however incompatible I consider organised religion to be with a measured, rational view of the world, and however strongly I may wish mankind to move beyond the infantile and supernatural, it’s always a good idea to seek out differing and (especially) opposing views; to be as well-informed and educated as possible on the history, structure and practice of religions.

Below is an extract about the history of Islam that you may find surprising (or perhaps not).

The emancipation of women was a project dear to the Prophet’s heart. The Quran gave women rights of inheritance and divorce centuries before Western women were afforded such status. The Quran prescribes some degree of segregation and veiling for the Prophet’s wives, but there is nothing in the Quran that requires the veiling of all women or their seclusion in a separate part of the house. These customs were adopted some three or four generations after the Prophet’s death. Muslims at the time were copying the Greek Christians of Byzantium, who had ong veiled and segregated their women in this manner; they also appropriated some of their Christian misogyny. The Quran makes men and women partners before God, with identical duties and responsibilities. The Quran also came to permit polygamy; at a time when Muslims were being killed in the wars against Mecca, and women were left without protectors, men were permitted to have up to four wives provided that they treat them all with absolute equality and show no signs of favouring one rather than the others. The women of the first ummah in Medina took full part in its public life, and some, according to Arab custom, fought alongside the men in battle. They did not seem to have experienced Islam as an oppressive religion , though later, as happened in Christianity, men would hijack the faith and bring it into line with the prevailing patriarchy.”

Amazon Link: Islam – A Short History by Karen Armstrong (p.14)

Brazil Nut

Nemesis – an account of the rise of an ordinary man in one of Rio’s most infamous favelas and his rise to the rank of don of the criminal under(and over)world – is a wonderful book: fast-paced, exciting, shocking, thoughtful, well-written and meticulously researched.

The extracts below give shape to the idea that tackling poverty and inequality through state and welfare policies/spending is not only an essential component of our common humanity, but also makes sound long-term economic sense. Effective social policies and less poverty equals a society that has greater stability, greater contentment, less crime, less unrest and less violence across the board.

After decades of dictatorship and chaotic transition, renewal and optimism were surging out from the federal capital, Brasilia, towards the furthest reaches of the country’s body politic. Whole regions and classes were reviving after a long period of neglect and deprivation. The sudden arrival of a period of prosperity that saw unemployment fall to record levels and personal spending increase significantly is crucial in explaining why Rio was becoming less violent. Young men in the favelas were turning away from weapons and drugs in favour of education and settled employment.”

While China was lauded for pulling some 100 million citizens out of poverty from the mid 1980s, fewer noticed Brazil’s more monumental achievement flowing from [socially democratic political moves and social policies designed to eradicate the chronic, crushing poverty experienced by a significant proportion of Brazil’s citizens). In Brazil, 30-40 million people managed to cross the poverty line. Given the much smaller population of Brazil, this was an even greater feat than the Sino equivalent.

The consequences of this golden era for Brazil’s political personalities were immense. The primary beneficiaries were the poor, not least those who lived in the favelas of the south. This was especially true of Rochina. Its isolation from other favelas and its now well-established tradition as a large market, both for the residents and for those coming from outside looking for a bargain, enabled it to ride the wave of economic confidence with a swagger. This growth spurt offered alternative employment to its younger men and women, and so the drugs trade became a somewhat less attractive career path.”

What was the biggest obstacle to political reform? Well, surprise, surprise: “The vested interests of Brazil’s powerful, if numerically small, economic elite proved deft in constructing numerous barriers.”

Amazon Link: Nemesis by Mischa Glenny

Read books, motherfuckers. Read books.

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