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Reflections on John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty

Jan 9th, 2010 | By Eric B. Litwack

There is a limit to the legitimate interference of political opinion with individual independence: and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against political despotism.

J.S. Mill, On Liberty, Chapter One.

It can be said of only a very few texts that they are touchstones for important discussions across many generations. John Stuart Mill produced such a text in 1859, and friends of freedom would do well to celebrate the sesquicentennial of On Liberty. At a time when challenges to human rights and freedom of expression continue around the world, the message of this relatively short work remains a clarion-call for liberty and the … Read the rest

This Nonsense Must Stop

Jan 7th, 2010 | By Leo Igwe

On Tuesday January 5, at about 7.00am some police officers and soldiers led by two crime merchants in my community, Edward Uwah and Ethelbert Ugwu stormed my family compound in Mbaise in Imo state in Southern Nigeria. They arrested me and my aging father. We were detained briefly at the local police station in Ahiazu before we were transfered to the zonal police headquarters in Umuahia. The officers threatened to beat us when we asked them to allow us to clean up and change our clothes. One of the soldiers brought out his gun and threatened to shoot my father when he wanted to make phone calls to alert other family members of our arrest. The police held us throughout … Read the rest

‘Islamophobia’ and the Abuse of the Discourse of Anti-Racism

Jan 6th, 2010 | By Edmund Standing

‘Islamophobia’ has many definitions, but it is generally understood to incorporate an irrational bigotry towards Muslims and a view of Islam which is based on prejudice. While anti-Muslim bigotry is undoubtedly a problem that needs to be confronted, the elasticity of the concept of ‘Islamophobia’ is dangerous, for it is open to abuse by those who seek to silence legitimate criticism of Islamism and Islamic beliefs and practices. Arguably, for many who push the idea that the West is in the grip of rampant ‘Islamophobia’, silencing criticism of Islamist politics or Islam itself is their true intention. The most disturbing aspect of the rise of the discourse of ‘Islamophobia’ has been the deliberate conflation of opposition to a religious ideology … Read the rest

The Many Ways Africans are Dying

Dec 10th, 2009 | By Leo Igwe

The Nigerian author, Ben Okri in his book, A Way of Being Free, said, “There are many ways to die, and not all of them have to do with extinction. A lot of them have to do with living. Living many lies. Living without asking questions. Living in the cave of your own prejudices. Living the life imposed on you, the dreams and codes of your ancestors.” I quite agree with him. The author did not make specific reference to any nation, race or continent. But any time I read this piece, it seems to me as if he is addressing Africans. Because I think Africans are dying in so many ways, in ways that many of them do … Read the rest

Witch Hunter Sues Humanist Activist in Attempt to Quell Criticism

Dec 9th, 2009 | By Nathan Bupp

New York, NY December 4, 2009—The Center for Inquiry (CFI), an international organization that fights for science and reason, launched an anti-superstition campaign in May 2009 to highlight and combat the abuse of alleged child witches throughout the African continent. Now witch hunter Helen Ukpabio, head of the Liberty Gospel Church in Nigeria and a frequent target of criticism by CFI, has filed a lawsuit in Nigerian federal court against Leo Igwe, CFI’s representative in Nigeria.

A mob of about 150 members from Ukpabio’s Liberty Gospel Church attacked Igwe and others during a “Child Rights and Witchcraft” event in Calabar, Nigeria on July 29, 2009. At the end of the frightening event, Igwe found his eyeglasses smashed and his bag, … Read the rest

A Deal-breaker

Dec 2nd, 2009 | By Ophelia Benson

One compelling reason not to believe the standard-issue God exists is the conspicuous fact that no one knows anything at all about it. That’s a tacit part of the definition of God – a supernatural being that no one knows anything about. The claims that are made about God bear no resemblance to genuine knowledge. This becomes immediately apparent if you try adding details to God’s CV: God is the eternal omnipotent benevolent omniscient creator of the universe, and has blue eyes. You see how it works. Eternal omnipotent benevolent omniscient are all simply ideal characteristics that a God ought to have; blue eyes, on the other hand, are particular, and if you say God has them it suddenly becomes … Read the rest

Ashis Nandy and the Postcolonial Trap

Dec 1st, 2009 | By Joshua F. Leach

Had William Hazlitt written his essay “On Persons with One Idea” today, he would surely have found room for the field of postcolonial studies. It is a field with only one idea: namely, that imperialism and racism are such dominant features of modern life, and had such a foundational role in the construction of our present society, that they inform every aspect of our ideas, culture, and history. Postcolonialism is, in theory, anti-hierarchical and anti-oppressive. But because it has only one idea, it can easily become oppressive in practice, and to quite a large extent. To show that this is true within the context of one postcolonial scholar’s book, The Intimate Enemy by Ashis Nandy, is the purpose of this … Read the rest

Why Do We Believe in Witches?

Nov 30th, 2009 | By Ikechukwu Okechukwu

“It is not the belief in witchcraft that we are concerned about…..we acknowledge people’s right to hold this belief on the condition that this does not lead to child abuse.” Gary Foxcroft

I get the sense that some of us in the humanist and human rights communities try hard to placate religious people amongst us by insinuating that it is okay to believe in witches and witchcraft, so long as no one gets hurt. While this may be considered reasonable to some it does seem to suggest a certain level of patronisation towards people who hold superstitious beliefs, to the effect that they simply cannot be convinced of the folly of their convictions. Our assumption that others are unable to … Read the rest

Rally Against Sharia London November 21

Nov 15th, 2009 | By Maryam Namazie, One Law for All

One Law for All campaign is organising a rally on Saturday 21 November 2009 at 1200pm in London’s Hyde Park. The rally aims to oppose religious laws in Britain and elsewhere, show solidarity with people living under and resisting Sharia, and to defend universal rights and secularism.

Simultaneous acts of solidarity and support for the rally and its aims will take place in countries across the world including Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Kenya, Nigeria, Serbia and Montenegro and Sweden.

Moreover, winners of the campaign’s art competition exposing the discriminatory nature of religious law and promoting freedom and equal rights will be announced at the event.

One Law for All Spokesperson, Maryam Namazie, commented, ‘Sharia law is becoming a … Read the rest

Why Prohibition Fails and What We Should Do Instead

Nov 14th, 2009 | By Colin Brewer

After the sacking of its chairman, Prof David Nutt, it seems likely that many of the remaining members of the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) will resign in sympathy and that nobody of any standing will serve on it unless the government repents. This it is unlikely to do for reasons that, I believe, have more to do with Britain’s relationship with the USA than with more strictly national considerations, never mind pharmacological or scientific ones.

Prof Nutt is one of our most distinguished neuroscientists, and the views for which he was dismissed are founded on good evidence. They are also neither new nor particularly radical and he has been expounding them for several years. I know … Read the rest

‘A Road Which Eventually Can Lead Only to Success’

Nov 13th, 2009 | By Colin Brewer

Following the defenestration of Professor David Nutt, earlier in the month, from the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs for allegedly intruding on politics in making public his views on the relative risks of legal and illegal drugs, I was moved by simple exasperation to write something in response. This is part of what I wrote and tells the little-known and rather bizarre story of how cannabis came to be prohibited. It also discusses the relative toxicity of cannabis and alcohol and describes what I call the Avocado Theory of illicit drug use.

Many people will have heard of (or even seen) the hilariously alarmist 1930s American anti-drug film ‘Reefer Madness’ which implied that cannabis led inexorably to degradation, … Read the rest

Humanism and Witch Hunt in Nigeria

Nov 12th, 2009 | By Leo Igwe

A conference introductory speech presented by Leo Igwe, Executive Secretary, Nigerian Humanist Movement at the Nigerian Humanist Movement’s National Conference on Witch-hunt, Christian Fundamentalism and Child Abuse
Date October 21, 2009. Venue: University of Uyo Community Centre, Uyo Akwa Ibom State
The Guest Speaker, Dr Nkopuduk Etuk
The Executive Secretary of NAPTIP represented by its Uyo zonal head, Mrs Elizabeth Ekaette,
Other governmental and non governmental agencies
Members of the Press

Fellow Humanists, Ladies and Gentlemen

It is my honour to welcome you all to this national conference of the Nigerian Humanist Movement taking place here at the University of Uyo Community Centre. This is the first humanist event to be organised by the Nigerian Humanist Movement in Akwa Ibom … Read the rest

Putting Human Rights First

Nov 6th, 2009 | By Joshua F. Leach

Judith Shklar, the American political theorist, wrote a famous
essay entitled “Putting Cruelty First.” The contrast with my
own title will be immediately obvious, but I would insist that
the worldview which proceeds from both is essentially similar.
What Shklar intended was that prior to any question of
positive virtues and utopian ideals—before we throw around
grand ideas about love and brotherhood—we need to achieve the
seemingly simple yet nearly impossible task of protecting
living beings from cruelty and injustice. As for my title,
human rights may sound like a positive ideal, the sort of
sweet nothing that ought to be anterior to the goal of saving
the world from cruelty, but I would say that it is, in
reality, … Read the rest

Debate or Change

Nov 4th, 2009 | By George Taylor

It is over 200 years since the Enlightenment offered the dream of freeing the Western world from the dead hand of the God of Abraham (TGOA), yet we still go round in circles debating his existence. “You cannot prove the existence of God.” “You cannot disprove it.” And so on ad nauseam, while the uncommitted and uninterested shrug their shoulders and say the jury is out, so forget it. One or other church still has its hooks into the fabric of most states in the Old and New Worlds, militant Islam has become a rallying point for protest against real or perceived Western imperialism in the Middle East, epitomised by the creation of the state of Israel, itself a permanent … Read the rest

Sketching faces for the faceless, giving voices to the unheard

Nov 3rd, 2009 | By Tasneem Khalil

The best place to sell copies of the Quran is in front of the mosque, my grandfather once told me. I begin this piece with that advice in mind. To borrow a phrase from Ophelia Benson, this is not about a donation from a deity, but this is about a congregation of the faithful. This is about introducing a new independent magazine of human rights journalism to one of the largest forums of humanists online – Butterflies and Wheels. If you are a regular at B&W, I take that your faith in humanity, freedom and liberty counts above everything else and that is why you might be interested about this new magazine we have launched.

I am sure some of … Read the rest

Five Scheduled Executions in Iran

Oct 21st, 2009 | By Jahanshah Rashidian

Appeal to U.N. for Stopping Execution of Political Prisoners in Iran
To Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, the General Secretary of the United Nations
(Also to all freedom-loving people and all governments of the Free World)

Five prisoners are scheduled to be executed in Iran on charges of taking part in protests following the fraudulent presidential election in June. All freedom-loving people, free-world governments, and particularly the U.N. must intervene in this gross violation of human rights by the Iranian Islamic regime.

Following the fraudulent presidential election in Iranian, Tehran’s Revolutionary Court has recently sentenced five political activists to death, and their execution has been scheduled. With all due respect, we all freedom-loving Iranians expect you, the people and authorities of the … Read the rest

The Mortal Coil

Oct 20th, 2009 | By Colin Brewer

In the 1970s and early 1980s, Colin Brewer was a Birmingham University Research Fellow attached to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and also its psychiatric advisor. He published several papers about various aspects of abortion in peer-reviewed journals, including the British Medical Journal and also wrote articles about abortion for the better class of newspapers and weeklies. In retirement, he maintains an interest in abortion politics.

If anyone wants to set up a Museum of Irony and Paradox, the main exhibit ought to focus on abortion because it attracts so much of the stuff. There’s the capital punishment paradox – the fact that among ‘pro-life’ anti-abortionists, with their often traditional set of moralities, are quite a few hangers and floggers. … Read the rest

The Christian Right: Giving Conservatism a Bad Name

Oct 17th, 2009 | By Edmund Standing

The Butterflies & Wheels news round-up has linked to an article about the American ‘conservative’ alternative to Wikipedia, a site called ‘Conservapedia‘, which boasts of being  ‘The Trustworthy Encyclopedia’.

Conservapedia, it transpires, has started a ‘Conservative Bible Project‘, which aims to correct what it sees as liberal bias in Biblical translation and scholarship. The article reports:

The folks behind Conservapedia, a right-leaning version of Wikipedia, have launched the Conservative Bible Project, aimed at getting rid of what they call liberal bias, wordiness, emasculation and a general dumbing down of the Old and New Testaments.

A dozen or so users, led by Conservapedia founder Andy Schlafly – the son of conservative political activist Phyllis Schlafly – are

Read the rest

An Open Letter to Sen. Jeff Sessions and the 29 Other Male Republican Senators

Oct 16th, 2009 | By Phil Molé

Dear Male Senators:

All of you recently heard testimony about the case of Jamie Leigh Jones, a young woman who was sexually assaulted in 2005. Ms. Jones had been working for defense contractor Halliburton/KBR in Baghdad, Iraq when she was drugged and raped by seven co-workers. After reporting her rape to the company, she was kept locked in a shipping container without food or water for approximately one day and warned that if she left Iraq to receive medical treatment, she would lose her job.

Halliburton later informed Ms. Jones that her employment contract prohibited her from bringing sexual assault charges to court, and would require her to settle her complaints through private arbitration. Although the 5th Circuit Court of … Read the rest

Confound the Unbelievers

Oct 15th, 2009 | By Paula Cerni

Dinesh D’Souza is a bestselling conservative who in previous books has praised Ronald Reagan and blamed the left for 9/11.[1] In his latest he answers the atheists, humanists, materialists and rationalists who are knocking religion down. Why bother, if, as he believes, ‘God is the future, and atheism is on its way out’? (:11). Because, as he explains in a recent interview, atheism is for the first time a serious option for young Americans.[2]

The God option, on the other hand, involves thoroughly confusing one’s readers. Take for example the argument that moral laws are ‘absolute’. According to D’Souza, this corresponds to the Christian idea of heaven and hell, places where we will be measured against a common standard and … Read the rest