Much vain speculation

The breaking of the levees in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina has also unleashed the usual flood of stupid speculation as to the causes of the disaster from the ill-informed religious lunatic fringe. The same fringe claimed that the Sept 11 attacks were Divine revenge on America for its tolerance of abortion, homosexuality and feminism, and similar things were said of last year’s Boxing Day tsunami. This time, an outfit called Repent America, run by one Michael Marcavage and based in Philadelphia, PA, has issued a press release relating the destruction of New Orleans to an event called “Southern Decadence”, a gay celebration which was due to start this Wednesday.

Here is an extract:

“Southern Decadence” has a history of filling the French Quarters section of the city with drunken homosexuals engaging in sex acts in the public streets and bars. Last year, a local pastor sent video footage of sex acts being performed in front of police to the mayor, city council, and the media. City officials simply ignored the footage and continued to welcome and praise the weeklong celebration as being an “exciting event”. However, Hurricane Katrina has put an end to the annual celebration of sin.

On the official “Southern Decadence” website (, it states that the annual event brought in “125,000 revelers” to New Orleans last year, increasing by thousands each year, and up from “over 50,000 revelers” in 1997. This year’s 34th annual “Southern Decadence” was set for Wednesday, August 31, 2005 through Monday, September 5, 2005, but due to massive flooding and the damage left by the hurricane, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco has ordered everyone to evacuate the city.

The past three mayors of New Orleans, including Sidney Barthelomew, Marc H. Morial, and C. Ray Nagin, issued official proclamations welcoming visitors to “Southern Decadence”. Additionally, New Orleans City Council made other proclamations recognizing the annual homosexual celebration.

As a Muslim, I have no objection whatsoever to preachers saying that natural disasters are acts of God (which I believe they are) and warning their flocks to fear God. The problem here is that someone thinks he knows that this was a manifestation of Divine Wrath and what exactly attracted that wrath.

While I myself lay no claim to be able to speak for God, the facts on the ground are that both the Boxing Day tsunami and Katrina struck areas prone to natural disasters. In the case of the tsunami, a cursory look at a map will show that this is an area prone to earthquakes: that’s how island chains are formed, by the plates of the earth’s crust pushing up at their boundaries. The whole of Indonesia, like Japan, the Phillipines and New Zealand, consists of such a chain. The cause of earthquakes is well-known and that one, while of unusual magnitude, happened in a part of the world notorious for them. (I wrote two articles on my blog about that, and about a certain right-wing blogger’s comments on it: here and here.)

New Orleans was built below sea level behind inadequate defences in a part of the world which is, and was, known to be prone to hurricanes and floods, as my fellow Muslim blogger Kelly “Izzy Mo” Crosby explains:

New Orleans was founded by explorers Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville and John Law in 1817. They decided that it would be a good idea to establish a city on a swamp. And while living on a swamp has been great for our agricultural industry, hurricanes and outbreaks of yellow fever plagued this city for years. We are below sea-level, shaped just like a bowl so that the Mid-city area always gets the worse flooding. No matter where you live, you are surrounded by water, you live by the river or the lake [Ponchartrain] and sometimes both. I live by the lake and I’ve seen the lake on a windy day. It’s puts the fear and awe of God in you. We have the best pumping and sewage system in the world–even better than the systems of Venice, Italy. We pump out water everyday continously during normal times so now we are wondering how our drainage systems are going to hold up. Can they handle 12 inches of constant rain fall? And there are the millions of trees that have been eaten away by termites during termite season–will they say in place, fall safely or fly into some buildings? Allahu ‘alim [God knows best].

I pointed out in Izzy Mo’s comments that Mexico City was founded on a similarly stupid location, so that when earthquakes hit, the ground turns to mush (liquefaction). David Usborne in today’s Independent points out that New Orleans’ defences have been weakened further by the removal of wetlands:

Arguments are already breaking out over the connection between global warming and Katrina. Most agree the rising sea levels and temperatures may have contributed to the damage it caused. But many scientists say the real problem is what has been wrought on the ground in the Gulf Coast region itself. And most serious of all may be the loss of the wetlands. Wetlands, along the edges of rivers and near the coast itself, are vital for absorbing and storing floodwaters. As such, they provided New Orleans with a natural defence against storm surges such as the one generated by Katrina.

But, according to the US Geological Survey, Louisiana has lost 1,900 square miles of wetland in the past seven decades – an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.

The draining of the wetlands to make way for roads, malls, beach communities, marinas and condominiums has also meant shrinkage of the shoreline. Louisiana, in fact, loses 25 square miles of coast every year.

So, a natural disaster (which would in any case have been terrible) is worsened by the stupidity of the rich and powerful, but of course certain preachers don’t want to draw attention to that. They don’t want their rich friends to be open to criticism, and anyway, attacking the rich leads to socialism, doesn’t it? So they blame the usual suspects – the homosexuals, the people cavorting in the streets during Mardi Gras, the poor women who have abortions, and the Hindus and Muslims who just happen to be the majority around most of the Indian Ocean.

It just so happens that similar displays of decadence happen in cities the world over – we just had one in west London, of which attendee Darcus Howe wrote in this week’s New Statesman:

Muscles unused for a year were overburdened with the prance and the dance of the streets of Notting Hill. I make the special effort this year, to join in the collective stand of Londoners against the murderous attacks of suicide bombers.

Carnival is the direct opposite of what Islamists claim is good social practice. Alcohol flows in abundance. In almost all the costumed bands the women are barely covered. Bacchus reigns in the expression of all that is openly lewd, suggestive and bawdy – in short, it is a gathering of infidels that must be a prime target for jihadists.

The revellers of Notting Hill, however, were spared the fate of New Orleans. Admittedly homosexuals are not a major part of the carnival (they have their own so-called Mardi Gras, held – horror of horrors – in central rather than west London), but in both cases the decadence takes place in a part of London where, barring an actual miracle, it would take a very large tsunami for it to flood! I presume Michael Marcavage is not so stupid as to say that this sort of behaviour is not a sin if you do it on high ground? Hurricanes are the norm on the Gulf Coast; this organisation has no authority to say that the disaster was anything more than what it looks like, namely the predictable destruction of a city which should never have been built in that location in the first place.

On the subject of stupid speculation, today was the eighth anniversary of the death of Lady Diana and Emad “Dodi” al-Fayed, which has of course been the subject of a lot of conspiracy theories over the years. Vanessa Feltz, on the morning phone-in on BBC London Radio, interviewed a journalist who had had access to a French police report on the death which concluded that there was no conspiracy.

The conspiracy centres around the fact that Diana, the mother of the heir to the British throne, was seeing a Muslim, might have married him and given a future king a Muslim half-brother. It’s an idea I first heard on Usenet newsgroups in the months after the crash; one thread to which I contributed was entitled “Princess Diana assassinated – was she a Muslim?”. I have never believed them, because as I pointed out at the time, “conspiracy theorists are always hot on motives, but short on proper evidence”. The journalist on the show today listened to someone who came out with three commonly-offered pieces of “evidence” for a conspiracy to assassinate Diana, and debunked all of them.

Another reason I don’t believe the theories about Diana’s death is because the only royal who gives anyone serious cause for concern about the future of the monarchy is Prince Charles himself, because he has opinions of his own, generally quite conservative, which he expresses. Royals are supposed to be uninvolved in politics except for purely ceremonial purposes; their “prerogative” is in practice exercised by the Prime Minister. While Charles has never actually expressed support for one party or another, I’m sure his activities give the establishment far more disquiet than Diana’s dalliances would have done.

While I had been under the impression that most of the people who believed these theories were Muslims (and in some Muslim countries, including Egypt, conspiracy theories are often popular), it seems a lot of her sentimental British supporters feel the same way, and have added grievances against the Royals for the way they treated her. They rightly claim that she was the victim of a deceptive marriage to a man who always loved someone else, and insist that her death couldn’t have been an accident; of course she had brought bad publicity on the royal family, and had to be got out of the way. As ever, long on motive, while the evidence they offer is flimsy.

(Feltz also pointed out that the anniversary was covered only in the Express; the other papers did not even mention it. I’m sure that if the anniversary was the tenth, it would have received a lot more coverage, but eighth anniversaries are never big, are they? Except perhaps to the Chinese, in whose language the word for “eight” sounds like the word for luck – not a connection many would see in this particular anniversary.)

  1. Izzy Mo said:

    Salaam alaikum,

    I guess such theories come about when something horrible happens without any explanation. The question of “why” will drive anyone mad. What matters now is the response. How will we react? How will we behave? Will we be righteous people giving as much help as we can or will we be driven into insanity by conspiracy theories and speculation.

    So many of these theories are based on blatant hatred of “The Other” wherever the others are Muslims, Americans, homosexuals, immigrants, Jews, etc. Quite ridiculous. As a New Orleanian and Muslim who just escaped the chaos, let me state that ALL have been affected–this Hurricane Katrina was an equal opportunity offender. We are one humanity, right? Thank you for this post Brother Yusuf.

  2. George Carty said:

    Regarding the Diana conspiracy theories – could YOU imagine Lady Diana wearing a hijab?? I couldn’t…

  3. M. A. said:

    God knew they would sin. He made them build their city in such a dangerous place so that they would be punished for their sins. One of the effects of sins is that a person loses his wisdom, and then he does what is clearly not good for him like draining wetlads and building houses on them.

  4. Yet the people who drained the wetlands and built the houses are not the ones who were punished. Unless you consider people living in New Orleans as “the tribe of New Orleans” or something, to make it feel Biblical. Which is, IMO, silly.

  5. dearieme said:

    “We have the best pumping and sewage system in the world”: what, better than Amsterdam? Chap on the telly yesterday evening said that A’s flood defences permit an inundation once per 10,000 years, NO’s once per 100 years. Hire Johnny Dutchman, that’s my advice.

  6. Jim B said:

    dearieme, in fairness Amsterdam isn’t in a hurricane zone.

  7. JT said:

    I congradulate and honor your level headedness and intelligence. It is the only way the world (all of us) has a future.

  8. Alex said:

    In fairness, there’s nothing at all stupid about the location of NO: it’s where the river that connects the US’s farming and industrial heartland to the world reaches the sea, and also where the east-southwest railways (and the Intracoastal waterway) cross it, as well as being just between the Texan and Gulf oilfields and their routes to market. If it didn’t exist they’d build it, which is also why they will rebuild it.

    Sometimes, it’s just worth taking the risk…

  9. Who’s this god person that some seem to be saying is the author of the damage/hurricane/catastrophe in the Southern U.S.A.?

    Hurricanes are natural phenomena, brought about by conflicting atmospheric conditions ove large expanses of ocean!

    The damage is the result of man-made levees breaking down, combined with massive influx of rain and tidal effects!

    Apart from the frail and medically infirm, the majority of the blacks in New Orleans apparently couldn’t see the need to get off their knees, stop calling out for help, and decide to do something about their situation!

  10. Glingle said:

    Mr Cunningham,
    The residents of New Orleans and the Gulf who did not leave, could not leave. Where were they to go? They live in poverty, paycheck to paycheck with no form of transport to get them out of the city and nowhere to go if they could. It’s not as though they could afford to check into a motel for the next couple of weeks. I know in that situation I couldn’t–could you?
    What exactly do you mean by “get off their knees … and do something about their situation?” I’d love to know what you think they should have done.
    Because, of course, you’d have done so much better.