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Secularist of the Year Award

Oct 9th, 2005 | By Keith Porteous Wood, Maryam Namazie

Maryam Namazie wins the NSS Irwin prize for Secularist of the Year award

Yesterday, October 8, 2005 Maryam Namazie, adjudged to have made the most significant contribution to the promotion of secularism in the preceding year, was awarded the National Secular Society’s (NSS) first Irwin Prize for “Secularist of the Year” in London. The £5,000 annual prize, sponsored by NSS member Dr Michael Irwin, was presented by Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee at a lunch at the Montcalm Hotel in London. The event also featured cutting edge cabaret from stand-up comedian Stewart Lee, who is also co-author of the controversial “Jerry Springer – the Opera”.

In introducing Namazie, Keith Porteous Wood, NSS executive director stated: ‘Maryam is an inveterate commentator and … Read the rest

Freud and his Critics: a Discussion

Oct 1st, 2005 | By Allen Esterson, Richard Warnotck, Paul Power

From B&W’s Letters page, a discussion of Freud, Webster, Masson, the unconscious, the seduction theory. Allen Esterson is the author of Seductive Mirage: an Exploration of the Work of Sigmund Freud.

Richard R. Warnotck, 25/09/2005

Understanding history may not be absolutely essential to understanding psychology but it is at least very helpful. The truth is that Webster gets some of Freud’s ideas just wrong, so his arguments are directed not so much against Freud as against his caricature of Freud. Consider the issue of ‘unconscious emotions’.

Here is Webster, page 250:

“One of the central objections to Freud’s methodology, however, is that by positing the existence of an Unconscious he effectively deepens the very mysteries which he claims to … Read the rest

French Connection III?

Sep 28th, 2005 | By Robert Wilcocks

A year and a half ago Catherine Meyer, a bright young Normalienne who had served her publication apprenticeship with the small and daring independent firm of Odile Jacob (their offices are a stone’s throw from the French memorial mausoleum to great writers, Le Panthéon – they braved the French politically correct and intellectually ridiculous classes by daring to publish the decisive opening of the French mind to critical inquiry, Alan Sokal’s and Jean Bricmont’s Impostures intellectuelles) … as I was saying, Catherine Meyer served her apprenticeship at Odile Jacob. The lessons were learnt. She is today a Senior Editor at the newly established adventurous publishing house, Les Arènes and a year and a half ago she conceived the idea of … Read the rest

Political Spirituality

Sep 26th, 2005 | By Sean McCann

I’ve been reading Foucault and the Iranian Revolution by Janet Afary and Kevin B. Anderson, and the picture it paints is not pretty.

As Afary and Anderson note, although Foucault’s particular fascination with the revolution is well known in France, the full range of his writing about it has never been translated into English. In fact, since much of that writing was originally published by the Italian daily Corriere della sera, and until now was not republished, the full extent of his thoughts has rarely been taken into account even by Foucault’s French readers. Foucault made two, week long trips to Iran in the fall of ’78. He interviewed a number of prominent political actors, wrote nearly a dozen … Read the rest

Open Letter: Don’t ghettoize women’s rights

Sep 11th, 2005 | By Margaret Atwood, Maud Barlow et al.

In support of the “No Religious Arbitration Coalition”

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Dear Mr. McGuinty:

An important tenet of Canadian democracy hangs in the balance of your response to the matter of religious arbitration in the province of Ontario. While many Canadians may assume that we are all governed by one system of laws, created by publicly elected officials who are accountable to the electorate, your government is poised to shift the ground under this cornerstone of liberal democracy.

While our public system of law is not always perfect, it is designed to recognize the realities of all citizens and is open to public scrutiny and improvement. Such is not the case with private systems of law, such as religious … Read the rest

Islamic [In]Justice

Sep 2nd, 2005 | By Maryam Namazie

The ‘Islamic Institute of Civil Justice’ or what has become known as the Sharia Court has been heralded by proponents as a multi-cultural way of determining personal and family disputes for those who ‘choose’ to abide by Sharia law in Ontario, Canada. We are told it will promote ‘minority rights’ and that it is equitable, tolerant, and fair. We are told that if it is not established, the ‘Muslim minority’ will be marginalised and discriminated against. That anything less is racism pure and simple.

This is not the case.

Deceptively sugar-coating an Islamic Court in civil rights terms cannot and will not conceal the stark realities of Sharia law and its regressive implications for human beings and Canadian society.

To … Read the rest

Women Victims of Islam

Aug 25th, 2005 | By Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Due to the sensitivity of this subject I will start by making a distinction between Islam and Muslims. Islam can be described as a civilization, as a source of spiritual guidance, as a way of life and so on. Most of all Islam is a moral framework, and central to this moral frame is the decree that a believer or follower submit his will to Allah. How this submission should be practiced is worked out in the Qur’an and hadith.

A Muslim is any one – regardless of race or sex – who subscribes to or testifies to believing, among other things, that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is his prophet. Besides accepting god as Allah, … Read the rest

Sharia Law and the Globalization of Political Islam

Aug 23rd, 2005 | By Homa Arjomand

I am very pleased to be here amongst you all, next to Ayaan Hersi Ali and Irshad Manji. It is hard to find opportunities such as this; to be able to share the idea of having a better life for all and identify with the supporters in an audience such as yourselves. So I will make the most of these moments by giving the focus of this discussion to the topic of this conference, Sharia Law and the Globalization of Political Islam.

I need to emphasize that I am talking about political Islam as a movement. As a movement it is very active in politics and is after its own state. Other aspects such as culture and laws serve its … Read the rest

Toronto Sharia Conference

Aug 16th, 2005 | By Homa Arjomand

TORONTO – Canada, August 12th, 2005 – Over 400 people filled the ‘Earth Sciences Centre’ at the University of Toronto on August 12th. Despite three changes of venue leaving less than a week to sell tickets with no proper ticket selling process, people eagerly came to hear three brave women speak about how Sharia law is used to oppress Muslim women in Canada, Holland and around the world.

Sixty-six media people attended the press conference. Some of the news organizations present were CBC, CTV, Global TV, Omni TV, PBS, Globe and Mail , NOW magazine, Reuters, Toronto Star and Vogue.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who must live under police protection in a safe house in the Netherlands, took the risk of … Read the rest

Who is William T. Vollman and Why Did the NY Times Invite Him to Write about Nietzsche?

Aug 15th, 2005 | By Brian Leiter

A review of a Nietzsche book in The New York Times is rare, and even rarer, it seems, is the decision to enlist a reviewer competent in the material. Although Curtis Cate’s biography of Nietzsche appeared nearly two years ago, just today the Times has run a lengthy review of the book by the writer and novelist William Vollman, who, best I can tell, has no expertise in the subject, and who certainly displays none in the review.

The review – predictably, I suppose, for the Times – concentrates mostly on gossip about Nietzsche’s personal relations, and although there are breathless references to Nietzsche’s “bravery,” his “savagely independent intellect,” and “his incomparable mind,” there is almost no actual discussion of … Read the rest

IT Giant India Has Feet of Chalk

Aug 9th, 2005 | By Rajesh Kumar Sharma

Has information technology arrived in India? I doubt it has.
Notwithstanding the booming software exports, burgeoning BPO services
and mushrooming software parks.

Let us climb out of our fantasy balloons and do a reality check.

Information technology has not affected people’s lives in any
significant way. Apart from a small e-lite segment of the digirati,
most people have no access to a PC and the internet. Nor has
information technology enhanced the quality of their lives. Other than
remix music, Bollywood stunts and special effects, online train
reservations and a few pilot projects in telemedicine, precious little
has happened that touches people’s lives. E-governance has just not
taken off. Public servants and services remain as inaccessible as they
were two … Read the rest

Darwin and Design: The Flawed Origins of a Critique

Aug 4th, 2005 | By Paula Bourges-Waldegg

I agree with Frederick Turner on what he writes about creationists in his article “Darwin and Design: The Evolution of a Flawed Debate”. However, his critique on evolutionists seems rather unfair. My impression is that his opinions were built on several myths and false assumptions. Since most “evolutionists” are scientists, or at least science supporters, and since most scientists are atheists (Larson J. E. & Witham L. 1999), these myths and assumptions can be characterized as follows:

Scientists are dull people who lack imagination and creativity.

Turner writes:

The evolutionists’ sin, as I see it, is even greater, because it is three sins rolled into one.
The first is a profound failure of the imagination, which comes from a

Read the rest

How to Make a Revolution in Historical Linguistics

Jul 28th, 2005 | By Merlijn de Smit

Pick your myths carefully. Your battles won’t be won in the scholarly community as much as on the opinion pages of the Sunday newpapers, so you will need to develop a fine nose for the political relevancy of your “research”. Particularly historical linguistics is interlocked with identity politics to such an extent that you might consider making this your stomping ground. But choose the right kind of historical linguistics. A solid piece of research that draws theoretically interesting conclusions about the semantics of the perfective aspect of Old Church Slavonian will have people questioning the wisdom of financing academia with taxpayers’ money. A piece of total junk connecting nation A with glorious past civilization B will, if you play your … Read the rest

Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman

Jul 13th, 2005 | By Nick Cohen

This article was first published at Normblog in the continuing series ‘Writer’s Choice’. It is republished here by the kind permission of Norm Geras and Nick Cohen.

[Norm Geras]:Nick Cohen is a columnist for The Observer and The New Statesman. He has also written for The Guardian. He is the author of Cruel Brittania and Pretty Straight Guys, available in a fine bookstore near you. Here Nick writes about Paul Berman’s Terror and Liberalism.

Although I like to present myself as an open and rational chap, I can remember very few times when I’ve admitted being in the wrong. Not wrong in detail, but wrong in principle. In my experience the politically committed rarely do that. … Read the rest

Political Islam in the heart of secular Europe

Jul 9th, 2005 | By Maryam Namazie

The following speech was given at the International Humanist and Ethical Union Congress on July 6, 2005 in Paris, France, at a parallel session entitled ‘Women’s rights in religious and secular societies’.

  • Sixteen year old Atefeh Rajabi was publicly hanged in the city centre in Neka in Iran on 15 August 2004 for “acts incompatible with chastity”.
  • In April this year, Amina was publicly stoned to death in Argu district, Afghanistan after being accused of adultery by her husband.
  • This month, physicians have been beaten for treating female patients and women have been brutally attacked for not being veiled in Basra, Iraq.

The list is endless.

These examples are only some of the most visible and heinous aspects of the … Read the rest

Pulling Down the Moonshine

Jun 28th, 2005 | By Geoffrey Dean

Astrology, Science and Culture: Pulling Down the Moon By Roy Willis and Patrick Curry. Berg, Oxford 2004. ISBN 1-85973-687-4. 170 pages including bibliography and index. GBP15.99 paperback.

The subtitle “Pulling Down the Moon” refers to the women diviners of ancient Thessaly who, Plutarch said, can pull down the moon. Roy Willis is a social anthropologist at the University of Edinburgh. Dr Patrick Curry is a social historian and Associate Lecturer at the Sophia Centre for the Study of Cultural Astronomy and Astrology, Bath Spa University College.

In order of increasing controversy, astrology has been seen as a topic of great historical importance, a useful fiction to promote therapy by conversation, a cloud in which meaningful faces can be seen, an … Read the rest

Planet of the Hats

Jun 19th, 2005 | By PZ Myers

I know you will not believe me, but I swear it’s true: I’m not of this earth. I fled here years ago because my home planet was driving me crazy. Let me explain.

My home world is very much like this one. It’s populated by billions of bipedal primates, who are just like people here: sometimes foolish, sometimes wise, sometimes hateful, sometimes generous. They are grouped into cities and nations, and sometimes they have wars, and sometimes they cooperate. You really would have a hard time telling our two planets apart, except for one thing.

The hats.

My people are obsessed with hats. Almost everyone wears them, and a lot of their identity is wrapped up in their particular style. … Read the rest

Magic vs. Modernity

Jun 18th, 2005 | By Thomas R. DeGregori

In the European Enlightenment, the belief was that science and reason
would soon sweep myth and magic into oblivion. For some, myth included
religion while others operated in terms of some variant of Deism or even
Theism, believing that there was an unknown power beyond what was known and
knowable to humans. In fact, many scientists, then and now, could fully
exercise their religious convictions and interpret them in such a way as
not to allow them to interfere with scientific understanding. For those for
whom there was no conflict between science and religion, it was because
particular statements or religious beliefs about the way the things work
always gave way to emerging facts and theories of scientific inquiry.
Science … Read the rest

“Theory’s Empire”

Jun 15th, 2005 | By Mark Bauerlein

This spring, Columbia University Press published an anthology of literary and cultural theory, a 700-page tome entitled Theory’s Empire and edited by Daphne Patai and Will Corral. The collection includes essays dating back 30 years, but most of them are of recent vintage (I’m one of the contributors).

Why another door-stopper volume on a subject already well-covered by anthologies and reference books from Norton, Johns Hopkins, Penguin, University of Florida Press, etc.? Because in the last 30 years, theory has undergone a paradoxical decline, and the existing anthologies have failed to register the change. Glance at the roster of names and texts in the table of contents and you’ll find a predictable roll call of deconstruction, feminism, new historicism, neopragmatism, … Read the rest

On Being a Mitigated Sceptic

Jun 9th, 2005 | By Philip Stott

To be a sceptic is a difficult and dangerous business. To be what the philosopher, David Hume, called a “mitigated”, or moderate, sceptic is, in addition, deeply frustrating. In the first case, sceptics are seen as enemies of ”religion”; in the second, the moderate sceptic is constantly misunderstood, because one is dealing with carefully-modulated degrees of questioning and doubt that do not conform easily to the modern world of sound bites, shallow interviews, and pressure-group action. The media inevitably favour the religious fanatic who can encapsulate into a single sound bite simple articles of unquestioned faith that mesh readily with the prevailing public mood, which they themselves so often – too often – share.

In the UK, ”global warming” is … Read the rest