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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

Gravity, or Paranoia II

May 30th, 2005 | By David Hadley

Here it is, another day. Well, I must admit, we were all quite surprised. None of us expected it. For quite a while now all the old certainties have been collapsing – as you well know. After all, none of us is ever likely to forget that day when it was realised that gravity was merely a part of that Social Construct of the Western Male Patriarchy called ‘Science’.

Now, things no longer fall to Earth as they used to in the bad old unreformed days and everything floats as freely as possible. We are no longer bound to the Earth by the patriarchal dictates of the White Male Industrial-Military-Scientific Hegemony and all float free in perfect equality, whatever our … Read the rest

Wallification, or Paranoia I

May 29th, 2005 | By Ophelia Benson

Bottom in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ playing Pyramus says, more shrewdly than he or Shakespeare had any idea of, ‘O wicked wall, through whom I see no bliss,/ Curs’d be thy stones for thus deceiving me!’ Shakespeare surprisingly often anticipated the insights of postmodernism in this way; it is quite poignant and heart-rending to realize he wasn’t in a position to know he was doing so. We are more fortunate.

We are in a position to understand the insidious sublimated power of the wall in all its forms and manifestations, we can problematize its taken for granted status in our culture, we can interrogate the way it does its work, and thus come to an understanding of the regimes of … Read the rest

We expect that Ontario should do the same

May 28th, 2005 | By Homa Arjomand

TORONTO, Canada – “We are very pleased, and to be honest it’s a cause for celebration when we heard that Quebec has upheld human rights for all its citizens… we expect that Ontario should do the same”, said Homa Arjomand, Coordinator of the International Campaign Against Sharia Court in Canada.

“Quebec has taken a brave, bold and necessary step, a step that assures all Quebecers will now enjoy not only fair and equal treatment under the law, but also the right to be governed by the same laws as other Canadians.” said Ms. Arjomand.

This decision was a positive move towards elimination of interference of religion in the justice system.

We thank all progressive organizations and individuals that supported us … Read the rest

Separation of god & science

May 26th, 2005 | By Azar Majedi and Bahram Soroush

In January 2005 David Bell, a School Inspector, delivered a speech which was published in The Guardian about the rise in the number of religious schools in the UK. His comments have raised opposition by the Institute of Islamic Organisations in the UK. This interview aired on TV International. Bahram Soroush hosted the programme whilst Maryam Namazie was away.

Bahram Soroush: You may have heard statements by David Bell and also the response by the Institute of Islamic Organisations in the UK. They have said he is picking on Islamic schools. Do you think this is discrimination?

Azar Majedi: No I don’t. Actually my position is to ban all religious schools. I think education must be separate from religion and … Read the rest

Mayor of London, Political Islam, and Us

May 14th, 2005 | By Maryam Namazie

Maryam Namazie: Ken Livingston, the Mayor of London, has published a dossier called ‘Why the Mayor of London Will Maintain Dialogues with All of London’s Faiths and Communities’. Basically, this report is in response to a criticism of his love affair with Qaradawi – a so-called Islamic scholar – by a coalition of several individuals and organisations, including the three of us. We have spoken a lot about this issue, so we won’t go into details here. But I do want to briefly, as an introduction for people who haven’t heard our other discussions about Qaradawi, ask both our guests why they are critical of Livingston’s relationship with Qaradawi? What’s wrong with having a dialogue with him in the … Read the rest

Apostasy, Human Rights, Religion and Belief

May 2nd, 2005 | By Ibn Warraq

The very notion of apostasy has vanished from the West where one would talk of being a lapsed Catholic or non-practising Christian rather than an apostate. There are certainly no penal sanctions for converting from Christianity to any other religion. In Islamic countries, on the other hand, the issue is far from dead.

The Arabic word for apostate is murtadd, the one who turns back from Islam, and apostasy is denoted by irtidad and ridda. Ridda seems to have been used for apostasy from Islam into unbelief ( in Arabic, kufr ), and irtidad from Islam to some other religion.(1) A person born of Muslim parents who later rejects Islam is called a Murtadd Fitri – fitri meaning natural, it … Read the rest

We Need to Fight the Battle for Enlightenment

Apr 27th, 2005 | By Azam Kamguian

I am delighted to be here today to speak at such a wonderful conference. Here, I talk as an apostate, an atheist who left Islam and religion altogether at the age of 15, a veteran activist of women’s rights who survived the atrocities committed by political Islam in Iran.

My being a Muslim, like all other children who are accidentally born into Muslim families, was hereditary. My parents were ordinary Muslims. My father was relatively open-minded but my mother indoctrinated us and used religious rules for protecting her children. In my childhood, faith meant that I had an all powerful all knowing father figure watching over me. Anything bad that happened to me – he’d take care of me. To … Read the rest

Campaigning against the Sharia Court in Canada

Apr 25th, 2005 | By Homa Arjomand

The reasons given for a Sharia Court in Canada by Islamists and their multi-culturalist supporters are not what they seem. They say Muslims do not want their family problems to be made public; these tribunals will deal with civil disputes not criminal matters; one can choose not to go before the Sharia tribunal; and that it will take less time than a Canadian court and cost less.

Let me address each one separately. Why do the initiators of the proposal not want family disputes to be publicised outside of their ‘communities’. In communities where Sharia law interferes with people’s lives, family problems are not simply disagreements between a man and a woman and who gets what. In fact, private matters … Read the rest

Different Ways Of Thinking And Thinking In Different Ways

Apr 22nd, 2005 | By Paula Bourges-Waldegg

We all have different ways of thinking but do we actually think in different ways? In other words, is cognition universal? The question of what is universal and what culturally specific is a classic issue in the nature vs. nurture debate. Those on the side of nature tend to see everything as universal and those on the side of nurture think that people from different cultures are fundamentally distinct. However, beyond this already tedious and sometimes artificial polarization, the reality is that both nature and nurture have some bearing on most of the things we do and the extent to which a phenomenon is universal or culturally specific can often just depend on how you define it.

When psychologist Richard … Read the rest

No, No Way, You Mooks

Apr 15th, 2005 | By Nick Slater

A furore was set off here last year with the news that parts of New Jersey’s sizeable but non-homogenous Wise-guy community intended to use an obscure law to set up arbitration tribunals for disputes involving hoodlums’ ladies running numbers, shaking down and generally behaving like low-bred mooks when they should be attending to the kids.

Wise-guy and non-Wise-guy critics alike protested that the 140-year-old body of Cosa Nostra-inspired laws considers Non-Sicilian broads inferior to Goodfellas and would infringe their equality rights as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

However, a six-month study by former Teamster’s Moll Maria Pantonello concluded in December that, with new safeguards in place, Wise-guy women would still be protected by the ‘Mob law’. Her … Read the rest

A fresh breeze in the labour movement in Iran

Apr 11th, 2005 | By Fariborz Pooya and Bahram Soroush

Fariborz Pooya: What’s the news in the labour movement in Iran?

Bahram Soroush: There are many strikes that are taking place. They follow the recent successful textile workers’ strike in the city of Sanandaj, western Iran, which we have talked about on the TV previously.

Fariborz Pooya: What were the demands of the strikers?

Bahram Soroush: They had a series of demands: reinstatement of six sacked workers; payment of overdue wages, improvement of health and safety, an end to contract work, and the revoking of the disciplinary rules. Those were the main issues around which the strike took place. An important point to bear in mind is that this was a long-running strike; it went on for 17 days. It … Read the rest

The University of Minnesota is Touching

Apr 5th, 2005 | By PZ Myers

Yesterday, I was alerted by my wife about some announcements on the state of the University of Minnesota. We are a public institution, you know, which is synonymous with “cash-strapped and struggling to make ends meet” in these days of Republican antipathy to higher education. The university is cutting some substantial programs to save money, which is bad news, but what caught my eye was a related news item in the Star Tribune: the University of Minnesota is being sued for promoting religion.

As you might guess, my interest was pricked. It seems we are being sued by Wisconsin’s Freedom From Religion Foundation for mingling religion with our health care.

The lawsuit was filed on Friday, March 25. It

Read the rest