Just Cut the Compensation Cheque Now, Part III / The New Atheism, Part 2

Say what you want about Omar Khadr (and the small matter of his rights and prerogatives internationally and as a Canadian citizen) – and plenty in Canada do* – but if you don’t find something just a tad Kafkaesque and seriously alarming about his trial and his treatment, well, I don’t think you and I could even agree in a discussion of the weather.

The obscenity of the show trial was reinforced by the testimony of the Prosecution expert Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist who basically said that Khadr is a feral jihadi whose reintegration into life among the civilized and law-abiding is improbable.

However, as the G&M reports:

Under cross-examination by defence lawyers, Dr. Michael Welner said he talked to Nicolai Sennels before coming to the conclusion that the Canadian-born Khadr was “highly dangerous.”

And what’s the bedrock of Dr. Sennels knowledge of Islamic radicals?

Massive inbreeding within the Muslim culture during the last 1,400 years may have done catastrophic damage to their gene pool. The consequences of intermarriage between first cousins often have serious impact on the offspring’s intelligence, sanity, health and on their surroundings.

Sure, the studies cited by Sennels about the fruit of consanguineous unions make one go hmmmm.  Still, cautious sort that I am, I’d like to see a 2nd body of opinion: what do the phrenologists have to say?

If Edward Said had lived into the era of Twitter, he might have said, OFFS theyre radical cuz theyre INBRED? AYFSM!!! deja vu all over again!!!!

In 2010, not only do the endless, um … insights … into the Muslim mind by self-proclaimed experts go unchallenged, but the perennial dig, that the mooslims are a bunch of depraved behnchods, undergirds testimony allowed in what passes for a legal proceeding.

We’ve seen this movie before.  Jews and Gypsies, you know what I’m talking about.

Oh, there’s lots of dark corners into which I could peer to highlight what kind of pathological pseudoscience we’re dealing with here.  But where this – and the essentialism of the New Atheists – takes me is back to a bit of research I abandoned a few years ago,** the meat of which indicts not only the actions of British colonial authorities, but the whole of the intelligensia and activism that served it.

Long-short.  After the British fundamentally altered land tenure in India in the late 18th century, boodles of people were displaced, tons of peasants but also all the formal and informal militia types who’d worked for landlords across North India.  In the next couple of generations crime became rampant, especially highway robbery.  One William Sleeman (who was also a great believer in phrenology) gathered evidence on crime in the territories he oversaw and drew the erroneous conclusion that a criminal cult which sacrificed its victims to the goddess Kali was largely responsible.  Convincing the colonial administration, and the British and Anglo-Indian public, of the grave threat posed by this cult – in no small measure thanks to a media campaign he’d propagated – he was given the authority and resources to hunt down these devotees of thuggee.  Small problem.  There’s not a shred of reliable evidence that such a cult ever existed, as Radhika Singha et al. have firmly established.***

No, I’m not heading towards the thesis, Islamic terrorism does not exist.  Here I’m interested in the precedents in jurisprudence established for the thugee hunt, and the legistlation inacted by the British for its prosecution, which morphed into sweeping powers to confine swathes of Indians identified as belonging to criminal tribes and castes, groups congenitally uncivilized and prone to petty and heinous criminality.  To be convicted of thuggee all that was required was the testimony of an accomplice, driven to rat out someone else by a plea deal that granted him life in prison over the probability of a hanging.  To be sure, this was (probably) insufficient to get you convicted of anything, never mind hanged, at the Old Bailey in the 19th century and, curiously enough, it’s inadmissible in any proceeding under Islamic law, which the British had otherwise bent over backwards to accomodate in the colonies.  Subsequent law, as I’ve indicated, allowed for the rounding up of whole families, detaining them in isolated camps indefinitely, simply because they were born into groups imagined to be genetically predisposed to lives of crime.

Religion doesn’t poison everything, but for the sake of argument I’ll grant that it may posion some things.  But sometimes when experts, amateurs, and a bunch of partisans diagnose religion as the social pathogen behind an array of symptoms, they become far too ready to prescribe a cure at least as harmful as the disease.

So, I’ll play my hand and assert here my biggest claim, though I’m well aware that I’m still a long way from presenting a compelling case.  I assert that the New Atheism, in addition to the myriad of other problems with it, stands in the service of the Neo-conservative agenda which has run rampant since 9/11.****  Far from doing in all religion, it merely casts chaff upon the wind for teabaggers et al. to catch and try to make hay with, while the wheat nourishes only the converted (eeww, that metaphor was a little rich).

But to get back on point, I don’t give a rat’s ass what Omar Khadr’s present state of mind is or what hijinx he and his family might get up to in future, specially once he returns to the bosom of that family.  The law, Canadian, American, and International, has been used and abused to manage a constructed class of accused.  Racial, ethnic, and religious bias have led Canadians to abandon any fundamental sense of justice they might have had.  And Canadians will pay for it.

On the CBC as I write: “Ivan Henry has been acquitted of all 10 sex-related charges that sent him to prison for 26 years,” with the evocation of Donald Marshall, David Milgaard, and William Mullins-Johnson.   I sometimes forget that Canada has a grand tradition of railroading the marginalized.

*Ezra Levant was all over print, blog and teevee (here’s Levant on Connect with Mark Kelley, jump to 11:05) this week to decry Khadr’s likely return to Canada.  EL’s column and the comments on it have really increased my dread.  As I wrote to a very famous blogger after I watched Connect:

Sure I’m happy to be considered a bleeding heart ala Rebick and all those others at the public broadcaster.  Nonetheless, Canadian authorities were complicit in Khadr’s illegal interrogation and torture, he has a right to repatriation, he was a child soldier, etc., etc.  And he’ll sue and he’ll win.  This is how the rule of law is manifest in Canada and elsewhere (most of the time).

What alarms me the most is the stuff of the comment threads – it seems that a swath of my countrymen and women are content to see the rights of another citizen shredded, proper consular services denied, return to Canada blocked, and innumerable other international agreements of which Canada is a signatory ignored in such a case (one so wrapped up in long list of American war crimes).

**For want of the conviction that the evidence bore out the thesis.

***And that thesis was that no less than Mark Twain, in Following the Equator, saw thuggee and the construction of other 19th century Indian criminality for what it was.  Dare I revisit this for the 3rd time?  Still, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Deceivers are entertaining camp, no?  Sadly, I know too much to enjoy them fully; Twain, I’d argue, shared a similar hint of gloom.

****In my defense at present, grant me this polemical flourish: remember C. Hitchens early position on the invasion of Iraq?  (I’ll be back soon with some weightier consideration of some of the New Atheists’ 19th century heroes including JS Mill, who died with plenty of Indian blood on his hands.)

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