Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Geopolitical let's-pretend

When secular types think of instances of the religious demanding that we treat counterfactual beliefs as if they were real, the first thing that comes to mind is usually the ongoing non-debate over creationism being taught in public schools.

I call it a "non-debate" because there really is no basis for argument.  Either you accept the scientific method -- in which case the evidence for the evolutionary model is overwhelming -- or you don't.  If you don't, then debate is fruitless, because the two sides aren't even accepting the same basic ground rules for how we know something is true.

But this is hardly the only example.  We just got another striking case of the religious claiming that the world is other than it is, and demanding that everyone else simply play along, in the decision by Collins Bartholomew, a subsidiary of Harper-Collins, to publish maps of the Middle East without including Israel.

I'm not making this up, although I wish I were.  A representative for Collins Bartholomew said that if they included Israel on maps in atlases destined for classrooms in the Middle East, it would be "unacceptable to Muslim customers" and "not in line with local preferences."

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

In other words: because the majority of Muslims in the Middle East would like it if Israel didn't exist, they not only get to pretend it doesn't exist, they have a major book publisher playing along in the charade.

Apparently, Collins Bartholomew's defense for the decision was that if they'd included Israel, no one in the Middle East would have bought the atlases.  Or else, they would only have allowed them in the country if each one of them had the name "Israel" crossed out with a black marker, a practice that apparently really happens.

The first group to object to the expectation that everyone pretend that the world is other than it is was the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, which should make it an odds-on contender for the Irony Award 2015.  "The publication of this atlas will confirm Israel’s belief that there exists a hostility towards their country from parts of the Arab world,” said Bishop Declan Lang, chairman of the Bishops' Conference Department of International Affairs.  "It will not help to build up a spirit of trust leading to peaceful co-existence."

Which could be a direct quote from the writings of St. Obvious of Duh.  I think the Israelis already know that, Bishop Lang.

The question, of course, is whether people in other countries are willing to play along.  Yes, we get that a lot of you people in the Middle East don't like Israel.  Yes, you can put your hands over your eyes and play let's-pretend.  But the rest of the world doesn't have to pat you on the back and say, "Of course, dear, of course bad nasty Israel doesn't exist.  I checked under the bed and in the closet, and I didn't see it anywhere.  Don't pay attention to the big black mark on the map.  It doesn't mean anything."

Now, understand me; I'm not making a statement one way or the other about who is right and who is wrong in the perpetual state of conflict in the Middle East.  My general feeling, non-political-type that I am, is that the situation is so complex that assigning blame would be a fruitless task.  The whole area is so rife with issues of poverty, territorial claims, religious frictions, ethnic frictions, militarism, and arguments based on hereditary rights, that any attempt to divide the players into Good Guys and Bad Guys is doomed to failure right from the outset.

But the Catholic Bishops' Conference is right about one thing; the situation isn't going to be helped by publishing companies pandering to people's desperation that a counterfactual worldview be reality.  The proper response -- both to the Muslims who object to Israel being in atlases, and to the creationists who object to evolution being taught in public school science classes -- is "suck it up and deal."

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