Notes and Comment Blog

Coddling the killers and chastising the dead

Apr 23rd, 2016 10:38 am | By

Paul Fidalgo and Michael De Dora wrote a piece for CNN the other day on the murders of atheists in Bangladesh. It’s good to see them on such a mainstream site.

An innocent young man is brutally hacked to death in the street by marauding thugs with machetes, and the government’s response is to effectively blame the victim. This is the outrageous and absurd situation in the supposed democratic state of Bangladesh, where a bloody campaign of terror is being waged against secularists and atheists who have criticized radical Islam. But rather than act to protect the rights and safety of its people, Bangladesh’s leaders are coddling the killers and chastising the dead.

One would expect in a civilized world to see the government stand up for the rights of its people and unify the country against this kind of violence based on religion. But that’s not what has happened. Rather than condemn the killers, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan scolded the victims, telling CNN: “The bloggers, they should control their writing. Our country is a secular state. … I want to say that people should be careful not to hurt anyone by writing anything — hurt any religion, any people’s beliefs, any religious leaders.”

This is only the latest shameful example of the Bangladesh government doing exactly what the terrorists want: to make people terrified that if they have something critical to say about religion, they could pay for it with their lives.

And lest we feel smug – the US and UK governments have done the same thing in the past, especially during the uproar over the Motoons. Both of them talked nonsense about respecting people’s cherished beliefs.

And now we have Nazimuddin Samad, a bright, promising young law student, brutally slaughtered in public for exercising his basic human rights to freedom of belief and expression. Appallingly, as Samad’s blood still stained the street, Home Minister Khan said that part of the investigation would be “to see whether he has written anything objectionable in his blogs.” This is not how a democratic state should respond to the killings of innocent civilians.
Since the beginning of this emergency, our organization, the Center for Inquiry, has been working with the U.S. State Department, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and other nongovernmental organizations to find ways to protect or bring to safety at least some of the secularists who fear for their lives, and urge the Bangladesh government to stand strong for human rights. We have also worked to see pressure placed on Bangladesh by the United Nations, and supported a U.S. House resolution introduced by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, that demands Bangladesh affirm its secular constitution, protect minorities, and prevent the growth of extremism.
Do it, Bangladesh. Do the right thing.


Apr 23rd, 2016 9:10 am | By

A mosaic dating to 2,400 years ago was dug up in what was Antioch in Turkey in 2012.

AA Photo

The inscription translates as “Be cheerful, enjoy your life.”


Rezaul Karim Siddique

Apr 23rd, 2016 7:57 am | By

Another one – except that this time the murdered person is not an atheist.

A university professor has been hacked to death in Bangladesh, in an attack police say is similar to killings of secular bloggers and atheists by suspected Islamist extremists.

AFM Rezaul Karim Siddique, 58, was a professor of English at Rajshahi University in the country’s north-west.

He was attacked with machetes as he left home to go to work.

So-called Islamic State militants say they killed him for “calling to atheism” in Bangladesh.

The claim was made by IS-linked Amaq Agency, cited by US-based SITE Intelligence Group which monitors jihadist groups.

But Siddique’s colleagues say he was not an atheist and did not write on controversial subjects. (In Bangladesh I suppose “controversial” means anything that will annoy religious fanatics.) Police think he was chosen for the machete treatment because “he was involved in cultural activities.” I’m guessing that anodyne phrase could apply to a huge number of people in Bangladesh. Siddique founded a music school and edited a literary magazine.

Hundreds of students at Rajshahi University are reported to have protested on campus against their teacher’s death and demanded the immediate arrest of the perpetrators.

Siddique is the fourth professor at the university to be have been killed in the past 12 years. It is not clear why they have been targeted and no culprits have been punished.

There have also been attacks on members of religious minorities including Shia, Sufi and Ahmadi Muslims, Christians and Hindus.

When in doubt, destroy everything.

Taslima in action

Apr 22nd, 2016 5:15 pm | By

Taslima spoke to the European Parliament on Wednesday.

I spoke at the European Parliament today about how freethinkers getting killed,& govt remains silent in Bangladesh.

Then it was lunch and discussion with the Human Rights Action Unit of the Parliament.

And a meeting with Elmar Brok, Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs at the Parliament.

Tell them, Taslima.

Iranian authorities have called her a whore

Apr 22nd, 2016 5:08 pm | By

If you’re planning a jaunt to Iran any time soon, you should plan to break its dress code. Lizzie Dearden in the Independent spells it out:

As more and more Western tourists visit Iran, foreign women are being urged to break the country’s strict Islamic dress code to “make a stand” about the restrictive laws.

[T]housands of Iranians have been risking punishment by taking off their hijabs (headscarves) in public and snapping photos as part of a defiant online campaign to counter the “oppressive” law.

Now, the founder of My Stealthy Freedom is urging Western tourists to join them in a show of solidarity.

Masih Alinejad, who left Iran in 2009 and now works as a journalist in New York, said non-Muslims should join the fight against compulsory dress codes.

“The Islamic Republic that demands even non-Muslims visiting Iran to wear the hijab,” she told The Independent. “When compulsory hijab affects all women, then all women should raise their voice.”

Ms Alinejad said she was inspired by the actions of an Air France cabin crew who refused to fly to Iran after being ordered to wear headscarves upon arrival in Tehran earlier this month.

Mind you, I’m a coward, so I’m glad I don’t have a trip to Iran planned. I’d be terrified of the morality police.

For Ms Alinejad, the restrictions imposed on women’s dress are a key part of the government’s “discriminatory laws” and should be opposed by Western politicians and diplomats visiting the country.

Iranian authorities have labelled her a heretic, whore and CIA operative for her activism but [she] has vowed to continue her fight for women’s rights.

I hereby brand the Iranian authorities fascists, women-haters, and poopyheads.


Tell us more, Zuckerberg

Apr 22nd, 2016 4:23 pm | By

The original announcement of the death penalty was met with public celebrations

Apr 22nd, 2016 4:07 pm | By

In Mauritania

An appeal court in the west African state of Mauritania has upheld the death sentence of a blogger accused of blasphemy, a judicial source told Agence France Presse on Thursday.

Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould Mkheitir, who has also been named as Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed, was initially handed the death sentence in 2014 on charges of “apostasy”.

The appeal court on Thursday upheld the sentence but downgraded the charge from apostasy to the lesser charge of being an “infidel” after the blogger repented, the source said.

A land where the state tells you what to believe, and the penalty for refusal is death.

The accused, aged in his thirties, was arrested in 2014 after uploading an article onto the internet that authorities considered blasphemous.

The original announcement of the death penalty was met with public celebrations in two Mauritanian cities.

People can be so hateful.

“He wrote a post on a blog criticising people who use religion as a means of discrimination and injustice,” said Gaetan Mootoo, a west African specialist at Amnesty International.

But we can plainly see from this very story that there are no such people and that never happens.

Just like any other idea, it should be open to debate

Apr 22nd, 2016 4:01 pm | By

From January, Eiynah of Nice Mangos talks to the CBC.

Pakistani-Canadian blogger Eiynah says there is an important group left out of these conversations: Muslim and ex-Muslim women who see misogyny and oppression in Islam. She argues those critiques of Islam are ignored by the Canadian left, and hijacked by the Canadian right to further anti-Muslim narratives.

Eiynah is a pseudonym. She has asked for anonymity because of the frequent threats she has received for her writing.

Many Ex-Muslims are pseudonymous for reasons of safety.

It’s a very nuanced point of view that you have, and you can see it in your own self-description: a “critic of Islam who loathes anti-Muslim bigots.” Walk us through that. 

Oh come on. Ima let Eiynah speak in just a sec, but come on – it’s not all that nuanced to think that two possibilities are not all there are. Just imagine, she is able to think of a third! Come on. Let’s not treat that as so nuanced and bizarre that most people can’t even conceive of it.

It’s something that’s hard for people to understand, because they automatically conflate criticism of an ideology sometimes with bigotry toward a people. And I think it’s terms like Islamophobia that actually confuse the matter more. When I talk about anti-Muslim bigotry, I mean specifically generalizing large groups of diverse people. Muslims are a very diverse group, and Islam is an idea. Just like any other idea, it should be open for debate, up for critique. I don’t think there is an issue with people criticizing Islam — there isn’t one with people criticizing Christianity and any other religion, so why is there this unique term for Islam the religion?

We know why it exists, but why it is so widely accepted is another story.

When you criticize misogyny and homophobia in Islam, how [d]o people on the Canadian and American left typically respond to that? 

They’re defensive, they deny, and then they lash out and accuse me of being a bigot. I’m a woman of Pakistani origin, and I’ve been called a white supremacist, an imperialist, a race betrayer, a textbook racist more times than I can tell you.

Why do you think that is? Where does that reaction come from? 

I hope it comes from a good place, where people are trying to protect a minority that they feel is persecuted — and it is, in a lot of ways — but in doing so they trample on the rights of minorities within that minority, like women, like the LGBT, like apostates and ex-Muslims, atheists who are called terrorists and killed for disbelieving.

Sadly, people can be both persecuted and persecutors. Parents who take their daughters out of school to marry them off to cousins may be persecuted by racists.

But do you ever worry that when you critique Islam, you could inadvertently end up reinforcing someone’s bigoted ideas about Muslim people? 

It does happen, but why should that be a reason for me to stay silent about my own oppression? It does happen. My work has been hijacked and published on right-wing websites without my permission. What I try to do is in each essay that I write, I will include a paragraph in detail about anti-Muslim bigotry and how it’s a big issue and how I do not agree with these bigots. I try to proof it like that against them hijacking, but if they still take my work there’s nothing I can do. I mean, then literally you can’t talk about any oppression if you worry about this…. You can always feed into someone’s bias, but that doesn’t mean you should stop talking about victims of oppression.

Eiynah’s one of the best. Nice Mangos is here.

250 so far

Apr 22nd, 2016 12:48 pm | By

The Times of India reports:

The Islamic State, notorious for its brutality, has reportedly executed 250 girls in northern Iraq for refusing to become sex slaves, according to a media report.

The girls had been ordered to accept temporary marriages to the terrorists and were murdered, sometimes alongside their families, for their refusal to be sex slaves in Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul.

ISIS began selecting women of Mosul and forced them into marrying its militants, calling it temporary marriage since it has taken control over Mosul, and the women who refused to submit to this practice would be executed, said Kurdish Democratic Party spokesman Said Mamuzini.

“At least 250 girls have so far been executed by IS for refusing to accept the practice of sexual jihad, and sometimes the families of the girls were also executed for rejecting to submit to IS’s request,” Mamuzini told London-based Kurdish news agency ‘AhlulBayt’.

It’s not “marriage” temporary or otherwise. It’s rape and slavery.

This is where the definition of marriage is important. It’s not whether it’s between people of the same sex or people of different sexes. It’s whether it’s on pain of death or not. If men with guns tell women they have to “marry” the men with guns or be killed, then that’s not marriage. It’s rape, enslavement, extortion, menacing, abduction, assault.

Another official from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party Ghayas Surchi said that human rights were being widely violated in all IS-held territories, particularly the womens’ rights as they’re seen as commodities and have no choice in choosing their spouses.

Surchi said that women were not allowed to go out alone in Mosul and cannot choose their spouses.

Commodities have no minds and no rights.

She could always take a bus

Apr 22nd, 2016 12:08 pm | By

An ad for a cab company in India:

What do those words mean?

Apr 22nd, 2016 10:56 am | By

Vox breathlessly tells us that an American dictionary has added two new Socially Approved words.

Big news for LGBTQ folks: On Wednesday, Merriam-Webster announced that it added the words “cisgender” and “genderqueer” to its unabridged dictionary.

What do those words mean? Here are Merriam-Webster’s definitions:

  • Cisgender: of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity corresponds with the sex the person had or was identified as having at birth.
  • Genderqueer: of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity cannot be categorized as solely male or female.

But what does “gender identity” mean?

I don’t call myself nonbinary or genderfluid or genderqueer, nor do I claim to be a trans man. On the other hand I do point out that I perhaps am in some sense nonbinary or genderfluid or genderqueer, but also that so are most people, or even all people, since nobody can fit all the stereotypes for any one gender 100 percent of the time.

But I don’t call myself a trans man. Is that all it take to be “cis”? If that’s all it takes, then I’m cis…but the trouble with that is that the way “cis” is used in discourse, that’s absolutely not all it takes. “Cis” is used in discourse to mean “conforming to one’s assigned gender” at best, and “totally fine with all the stereotypes about one’s assigned gender” at worst. Neither of those remotely applies to me…and again, that’s true of most people.

So what does “gender identity” mean? Does it mean just not calling yourself trans? Or is it much thicker than that, meaning a whole bunch of related things, not all of which are compatible with each other?

Usually, it means the second – and that’s the problem. I have no issue with agreeing that I don’t call myself trans anything, but I have a lot of issues with claims that I have a “gender identity” and that it can be meaningfully summed up with the word “woman.”

Vox goes on to draw a fatuous conclusion from the new definitions:

The additions reflect how society is expanding its discussions over gender identity, gender expression, and transgender issues: As conversations about gender broaden, the vocabulary used in these conversations is set to change, too.

I don’t think the conversations about gender do broaden, most of them; I think they narrow. I think way too many people are making a cult of “gender identity” and that that reverses the healthy trend set off by the return of feminism in the 1970s to make “gender identity” less important instead of more so.

Historically fortunate

Apr 21st, 2016 5:09 pm | By

Lionel Shriver experienced being female as an imposition as a child, in much the way I did and most or perhaps all women I know did.

But I was historically fortunate. By the time I entered university in 1974, a revolution was well under way. As I understood it, “women’s liberation” meant that the frilly cookie-cutter template of femininity had been chucked out. Being female was no longer defined in terms of skirts, high heels, and homemaking. Men and women were equal. Both sexes were just people. We had entered the post-gender world.

And then we turned around and went right back into Gender World, and to make it all the more excruciating, this time we did it in the delusion that it was the progressive thing to do. Well I didn’t, but much of the libertarian left did.

We have entered instead an oppressively gendered world, in which identity is more bound up in one’s sex than ever before. (Note: dictionary definitions regard gender and sex as interchangeable, and I will, too.) As Jemima Lewis wrote in the Daily Telegraph in March: “You can be agender, bi-gender, cisgender, demigender, graygender, intergender, genderless, genderqueer or third gender—but by God, you will accept a label.” The gay and lesbian world having gone so mainstream as to become a big bore, western media has moved on to an enthrallment with trans-genderism bizarrely out of proportion to the statistical rarity of true gender dysphoria—though children and people generally being so suggestible, the condition will doubtless grow more common. Facebook has extended its gender options beyond the 71 it reached a year ago (thrillingly, two options in this dizzying smorgasbord of self-definition are “Man” and “Woman”). Users are now allowed to infinitely customise their profiles. As the Facebook Diversity Team published, “Now, if you do not identify with the pre-populated list of gender identities, you are able to add your own. As before, you can add up to 10 gender terms…”

As Rebecca Reilly-Cooper likes to say, gender is not personality.

Gender is not personality.

In this would-be enlightened age, in which primary schools hold “Transgender Days” the way they used to sponsor bake sales, we urge children to see their genders as flexible, and to choose to be boys or girls or something in-between. But what does it mean to decide you’re a boy or a girl? In presenting this choice, we reverse all that progress on gender-neutral toys, inexorably reinforcing the hoariest, more threadbare versions of male and female. A boy is rough and boisterous and aggressive and plays with trucks. A girl is soft and quiet and sensitive and plays with dolls. Once again, in some dozen faddish television documentaries I have seen about trans children, it often comes down to clothes. A little boy knows he wants to be a girl because he wants to wear a dress.

Just eliminate the middleman (or the middletranswoman or the middlegenderfluidperson). A little boy wants to wear a dress. Boom, job done; no need for switching anything, no need to tell everyone about switching anything, just put on the fucking dress and get on with life.

Sex is no longer a fact. It is a choice. Which is all very well, except the conceit that sex-change surgeons operate under is that a self has a gender. The gendered self can be born into the wrong body, so that in transforming the physical signifiers of sex, doctors make body and self match.

But does the self have a gender? Are men and women male and female in their very souls? Or in reconfiguring the body, are we not primarily tinkering with how other people react to us? Isn’t plastic surgery predominantly an act of social manipulation?


There are no very souls. The self isn’t stable and it isn’t a thing – it’s a process, and there’s no need to make it “match” anything.

Self, in the contemporary view, is a construct, full stop. It is no longer made of elements we are stuck with, but is wholly a made thing. Thus when comparisons were drawn last year between transsexuals and Rachel Dolezal, president of a local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, who was masquerading as black because she felt like an African-American, the parallel didn’t require much of a leap (even if most American black people rejected the comparison). We are, apparently, whoever we think we are. And we are within our rights to demand that our peers get with the programme.

Except that in fact that isn’t true – we don’t get to transition to just anything and everything. Rachel Dolezal is an outcast, and white people are not welcome to start announcing they’re coming out as Sioux or Maori or Nigerian.

I was a tomboy as a kid, and scrabbled in the dirt with my brothers playing with model cars and making toy trains crash spectacularly from a height. I shunned Barbies and detested baby dolls. I reviled dresses, spurning lace and flounces for jeans and flannel shirts. At 15, I changed my name from Margaret to Lionel. Were I to have grown up 50, 60 years later, it’s entirely possible that my parents would have taken me to see a therapist and put me on hormone therapy.

I’m glad they didn’t. Not because being a woman is so swell, but because being either a woman or a man doesn’t matter that much to me. I certainly experience myself as female in relation to other people. But alone in a room, falling asleep, hiking by myself in the woods, writing at my computer, thinking—I do not experience myself first and foremost as a woman. I do not walk around all day contemplating labias and breasts and ovaries, much less determining to get my nails done or to make an appointment for highlights. For me, my very self has no gender. While obviously I can only testify to my own experience of being a person—to my knowledge, I’ve only been this one—I cannot imagine that I alone enjoy such a self-perception. If selfhood is real and not a neurological illusion, it transcends gender.

That describes my experience too – but other people have a different experience. For some people, their sex does feel like a core aspect of the self. But then our whole sense of the self is riddled with illusions, especially illusions of continuity. The illusions are useful, but they’re not so useful that they make self-obsession a good thing.

The very fact that this essay will seem incendiary (and save the conniption fits; I’m not on social media and never read online comments) is testimony to how gender has grown destructively hyper-significant. We’re in the process of taking a giant cultural step backwards. The women’s liberation movement of my adolescence advocated a release from gender roles, and now we are entrenching them—pigeonholing ourselves with picayune precision on a continuum of gender identity, as if arriving at the right relationship to cliché is tantamount to self-knowledge. But I do not want my epitaph to read, “She was a she.” I am a writer, a cook, a sculptor, a tennis player. A big mouth, a hot head, a cut-up and a ham. A woman, yes, there’s no denying the fact of it. But that detail is incidental—and way down the list.

And thank god for that, really. People who talk endlessly about being either one are incredibly tedious, or worse than tedious. Yeah yeah, you have two thumbs and a sex, now let’s talk about something interesting.

“Why have you so visibly brought your hair forward towards your face?”

Apr 21st, 2016 12:31 pm | By

The International Business Times gives us an account of what it’s actually like to be a teenage girl stopped and abused by the new undercover police in Tehran:

In the video, the teenager said: “As two young students, today my friend and me have decided to go shopping for new shoes for school and we also decided to see the new line of school supplies. So we headed for the bazaar.

“As we approached bazaar, we saw two Fati-Commandoes. They were specifically waiting at the entrance of the bazaar. In order not to be noticed by them, we decided to go by the parking.

“In the meantime, we decided to conceal our hair that was sticking out of the headscarf and tried to clear the make-up that we were wearing. Much to our chagrin, they ended up seeing us and they confronted us quite badly. One of them shouted: “Why are you playing hide-and-seek with us? Come here.’ They took us [towards the entrance] by force.”

By force – because of their makeup and headscarves. Imagine going to Safeway for some tomatoes and getting shoved around by cops who didn’t like your sweatshirt. Now imagine that at age 12.

The pair apologised, telling the female officers they would pay more attention to how they dressed in future, the teenager explained, adding: “One of those Fati-Commandoes asked her: “Why have you so visibly brought your hair forward towards your face?”

“I intervened by telling them: ‘Well, I don’t think my friend should be scolded like that. She is only 12 years old and she is a bit young to face such harsh verbal attacks. She is not even in pursuit of looking attractive − she is just a minor”.

“However, they seemed to have no intention of giving up. They took us towards a man, who was presumably associated with the Morality Police as well. As I came face-to-face with him, he shouted: ‘You, girl! What kind of an appearance is that?'”

The girls were also reportedly threatened with detention, with one of the morality police telling them: “Let’s imprison them so that we can make an example of them. They will never dare to come out dressed like this,” adding: “My daughter, you should retain your chastity, your purity.”

All this, all this shoving and threatening and shouting and terrorizing, over what two teenage girls are wearing on their heads.

As with so many things, I suspect hidden motives. I suspect the bullshit about chastity and purity is just a thin veil – a hijab in fact – for contempt and hatred of women. The religion teaches them to hate women and then gives them pretexts for putting their hatred into practice. Oh boy, a chance to humiliate women in public. The women cops have it just as badly.


More hijab police

Apr 21st, 2016 11:38 am | By

The BBC on priorities in Iran:

Outraged Iranians have taken to social media to condemn the decision to deploy 7,000 undercover police officers in Tehran to monitor the observance of the Islamic dress code.

7,000 spies to police something that should be nothing to do with the police in the first place – that’s some brilliant staff allocation. They should deploy another 7000 to monitor how people brush their teeth.

Tehran’s police chief announced on Monday that the role of the new unit is to:

  • Report women for the improper wearing of the hijab (and to ensure a woman’s veil covers her in public as required)
  • Report anyone who harasses women
  • Report anyone who plays loud music in their cars and violates traffic rules

Confused, aren’t they. Nobody should be harassing anybody. That could be a police matter. “Improper” wearing of the hijab? Not a thing. Not a real category. Not an issue. Not anyone else’s business. Not important. Not relevant to anything that matters. Not remotely in any way a matter for any police and policing.

The 7,000 officers will look out for violations of the above offences and text details of the incidents to the morality police to follow up. The subsequent warning could be verbal – or lead to arrests and fines.

Because women are livestock, and have no rights.

Some women fear that it could even backfire and lead to further pestering from strangers. In the past, vigilantes linked to the paramilitary forces of Basij, have sometimes carried out street patrols to enforce hijab and prevent “un-Islamic” behaviour.

Well of course it could. I don’t know why the Beeb says “even”; of course it could. Make it legal and socially acceptable to harass women over what they wear on their heads and you’ve declared open season on them.

Why fear women so much I wonder, said Facebook user “Judith Sugden-Smith”. The 7,000 “could be employed in constructive, productive jobs beneficial to society.”

“We wish they hired 700 people (10% of the 7,000) to fight against the widespread problems of corruption, bribery and smuggling said a post on the popular Facebook page, “My Stealthy Freedom”. The page advocates an end to compulsory hijab.

According to the mind-set of the authorities…not wearing the hijab is a worse offence than embezzlement“.

One message of support for the new unit came from user “Kiyan Aylia”. The user called on the morality police to “arrest these ladies without hijab and also their husbands because they are supporting them”. Then “clean my Iran of these [people] by sending them in exile to the West. Let them enjoy their life there,” Kiyan Aylia said.

Be careful what you wish for.


The new prez

Apr 20th, 2016 6:32 pm | By

Maajid Nawaz on Malia Bouattia, newly elected president of the NUS.

The words below are not mine. But because of their gravity, it is important that you read them in full.

“The notion of resistance has been perhaps washed out of our understanding of how colonised people will obtain their physical emancipation…With mainstream, Zionist-led media outlets …resistance is presented as an act of terrorism.

“But instead of us remembering that this has always been the case throughout struggles against white supremacy, it’s become an accepted discourse among too many…

“Internalised Islamophobia has also enabled our obsession with convincing non-Muslims of our non-violent and peaceful nature, so we’re taking things a step further and dangerously condemning the resistance, branding groups and individuals as terrorists to disassociate from them, but at the same time supporting their liberation which is a very strange contradiction.

“There’s a need to change how we think about these things. After all, the alternative to resistance is what we’ve been observing over the last 20 years or so, which is ‘peace talks’… essentially the strengthening of the colonial project.

“To consider that Palestine will be free only by means of fundraising, non-violent protest and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is problematic… My issue is that whilst at time it’s tactically used, or presented as the non-violent option, it can be misunderstood as the alternative to resistance by the Palestinian people…

“We also need to remember the Palestinians on the ground… who are actively sustaining the fight and the resistance against occupation and perhaps there’s a need to …take orders if we are to really show some form of solidarity”.

These words are from a chilling speech, given in a calm and deliberated style, at a “Gaza and the Palestinian Revolution” event in September 2014 by Malia Bouattia, the new president of the National Union of Students (NUS). Ms Bouattia was speaking in her official capacity as NUS’s Black Student’s Officer.

The Union of Jewish Students is naturally alarmed at her new role as President of the NUS.
So should we all be.

There’s more.

Along with such regressive-Left apologia for jihadism, predictably antisemitism has been rearing its head among the student body. In 2011 Ms Bouattia co-authored a blog which lists a “large Jewish society” – by which she now insists she meant “Zionists” – as being one of the challenges at Birmingham University. But she even considers the UK government’s beleaguered Prevent strategy against extremism to be a result of the ‘Zionist lobby’.

Her bid for president was endorsed by the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPACUK), a group that has been banned by the NUS since 2004 after publishing material on its website originally published on neo-Nazi and Holocaust Denial websites, as well as their own post entitled “Take your holocaust, roll it nice and tight and shove it up your (be creative)!” MPACUK’s endorsement of her candidacy would be less concerning if she hadn’t appeared to welcome it, by replying “Thank you :-))”.

It’s all so hideously depressing.

Know who’s facing constant attacks, Ted?

Apr 20th, 2016 6:09 pm | By

Elizabeth Warren:

Yesterday, Ted Cruz sent a campaign fundraising email whining about the “significant sacrifice” he’s made to run for President. He whined about facing constant attacks, nonexistent family time, his limited health and sleep, and having no personal time.

Are you kidding me? We’re supposed to pity him because trying to be the leader of the free world is hard?! I’ve got two words for you, Ted: Boo hoo.

Know whose health is limited? Workers with no paid leave who can’t stay at home when they fall ill or have to care for sick kids. Know whose sleep is limited? Working parents who do everything they can to save money but stay up at night worrying about how do get their kids through college without getting crushed by debt. Know who gets no personal time? People who work two minimum wage jobs to support their families. Know who gets no family time? Moms with unfair schedules who drop their kids off at daycare and drive halfway across town only to find their work hours have been cancelled.

And Ted Cruz? He opposes mandatory paid family and medical leave and calls it “free stuff.” He voted against student loan refinancing. He’s says the minimum wage is “bad policy” and he’s done nothing to try and help workers struggling with unfair work schedules.

And know who’s facing constant attacks, Ted? Hardworking American immigrants, Muslims, LGBT folks, women. They’re facing the GOP’s constant attacks. They’re facing YOUR constant attacks.

Working people are working more and getting paid less. They can’t save. Some face mistreatment and discrimination. They can’t take time off work for illnesses or to spend time with family. But they don’t whine. They don’t throw tantrums or try to shut down their workplace because they don’t get their way — and then turn around and demand promotions.

Senator Cruz — you chose to run for President. Working people don’t get a choice. Maybe you should spend less time complaining about your “significant sacrifices” — and more time trying to do something about theirs.

I wish there were more like her.


A collective movement of we’ve had it up to here!

Apr 20th, 2016 6:02 pm | By

Students at Paris’s Sciences-Po decided to throw a party for the hijab, but hardly anyone showed up.

The international campaign to get college students and non-Muslim women to wear Islamic veils as a demonstration of solidarity hit trouble at elite Paris university Sciences-Po when fewer than a dozen donned head and neck coverings on a “Hijab Day” that attracted more polemics than participants.

Liberal feminists and secularism defenders, alarmed at what they saw as another attempt to impose a highly conservative interpretation of Islam on secular educational institutions, condemned the protest as an “insult” to women who are forced to wear hijabs in Iran and parts of the Arab-Muslim world. The extreme right National Front, meanwhile, tried to exploit the divisions to inflame racism.

Fewer than a dozen – so, eleven? Eight? Four?

Organizer Lily, who would only give her first name to French journalists said “Hijab Day” was a “collective movement of we’ve had it up to here! We support women who wear the veil and we are in solidarity with them.”

Had what up to here? Those terrible rebellious women who don’t wear hijab? Do you support women who don’t wear it? Are you in solidarity with them?

Hijab Day was promoted by Sciences-Po campus society Salaam, an Islam “reflection” group that has been questioned for inviting conservative and radical Muslim identities to speak. Salaam guests have included Tariq Ramadan, grandson of the Egyptian founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, who is frequently decried in France for his refusal to condemn stoning of women, and his celebrations of Sharia law. Another guest has been the publisher of a Salafist, or extremist Saudi Wahaabist Islam news site called Al-Kanz.

In short, the group is what you’d expect – a fan of theocratic reactionaries.

Sonia Mabrouk, a French-Tunisian broadcast journalist tweeted a widely-shared remark: “When I think of all the women’s daily fight for freedom and choice in countries like Tunisia, this Hijab Day is an insult”.

Bernard-Henri Levy, the French philosopher asked whether there would next be a “Sharia day, or stoning or slavery day?”

Investigative journalist  and author Caroline Fourest shared a video of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser from 1956, when he mocked the Muslim Brotherhood’s pressuring him to oblige women to wear hijabs “just to refresh the memory of those who think that Muslims have always been veiled, or that it is a traditional or even “natural” emblem, rather than … being to do with the rise of (Muslim) Brothers in Egypt, or fascination with the Iranian revolution of 1979.”

It’s to do with the rise and rise of reactionary theocracy.

“Yes we can willingly give in to a trend that assigns women the duty of ‘decency.’ We can willingly show solidarity with a conservative revolution. But don’t come and say to us that it is a trend that is anodine or modernist,” Fourest, a specialist on far right Catholic fundamentalists and Islamist extremists wrote.

I suppose it’s Catholicismophobic to say that.

Hijab Days and “solidarity shows” are becoming common in U.S. universities too. Muslim reformers and journalists Asra Nomani, who has contributed to Women in the World, and Hala Arafa have implored women to stop sporting the hijab as a sign of religious solidarity. They say conservative Islamists and regimes like Saudi Arabia, Taliban Afghanistan, Iran and Islamic State are trying to impose the veil as a “sixth pillar of Islam” when there is no Koranic requirement it be worn, and when the word “hijab” doesn’t even mean headscarf in Arabic but curtain, hiding, obstructing or isolating.

Let’s not celebrate the hiding, obstructing and isolating of women, shall we?

“It suggests some lives are more important than others”

Apr 20th, 2016 5:36 pm | By

The NUS has lit up the Twitters again.

The National Union of Students caused widespread outrage on Wednesday after students applauded motions not to commemorate the Holocaust, because doing so isn’t ‘inclusive’.

Inclusive of – ? Nazis? Hitler’s memory? People who hate Jews? People who love genocide?

The motion to remember the Holocaust did end up passing, but what is this idea that commemorating it isn’t inclusive? Are the applauding students worried about the feelings of people who like to see whole populations wiped out?

An amendment to a motion combating anti-Semitism on campuses argued that “education is vital”.

They said the NUS should organise campuses into creating events on Holocause Memorial Day.

Darta Kaleja, from Chester University, shocked many by speaking against the amendment.

She told the conference: “I am against the NUS ignoring and forgetting other mass genocides and prioritising others.

“It suggests some lives are more important than others.

“When during my education was I taught about the genocides in Tibet or Rwanda?

“It is important to commemorate all of them.”

If no part of her education told her about the genocide in Rwanda, that’s shocking – but it’s not a reason to oppose commemorating the very large genocide perpetrated by the Nazis.


Folding money

Apr 20th, 2016 5:13 pm | By

Well it’s about time. Jackson is out, Tubman is in.

Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew on Wednesday announced the most sweeping and historically symbolic makeover of American currency in a century, proposing to replace the slaveholding Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman, the former slave and abolitionist, and to add women and civil rights leaders to the $5 and $10 notes.

Mr. Lew may have reneged on a commitment he made last year to make a woman the face of the $10 bill, opting instead to keep Alexander Hamilton, to the delight of a fan base swollen with enthusiasm over a Broadway rap musical named after and based on the life of the first Treasury secretary.

Good god – is that why? Because there’s a Broadway musical about him? Are we that dense?

Tubman, an African-American and a Union spy during the Civil War, would bump Jackson — a white man known as much for his persecution of Native Americans as for his war heroics and advocacy for the common man — to the back of the $20, in some reduced image along with the White House. Tubman would be the first woman so honored on paper currency since Martha Washington’s portrait briefly graced the $1 silver certificate in the late 19th century.

Trail of Tears, you know. Jackson was the guy who kicked the Cherokees off all that fertile land in the Southeast and in exchange gave them some nice arid plains in Oklahoma. Of course he made them walk there. Lots died on the journey.

The picture of the Treasury building on the back of the $10 bill would be replaced with a depiction of a 1913 march in support of women’s right to vote that ended at the building, along with portraits of five suffrage leaders: Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul and Susan B. Anthony, who in more recent years was on an unpopular $1 coin until minting ceased.

On the flip side of the $5 bill, the Lincoln Memorial would remain, but as the backdrop for the 1939 performance there of Marian Anderson, the African-American classical singer, after she was barred from singing at the segregated Constitution Hall nearby. Sharing space on the rear would be images of Eleanor Roosevelt, who arranged Anderson’s Lincoln Memorial performance, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who in 1963 delivered his “I have a dream” speech from its steps.

That’s really kind of exciting.

Before you leave

Apr 20th, 2016 4:14 pm | By

Amnesty International has sent a letter to Obama urging him to put human rights on the table at his meeting with the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Riyadh on April 21.

In particular, I urge you to address repression of freedom of expression and the abusive use of criminal justice systems in the name of security, and violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in the Yemen conflict. In recent years, GCC leaders have aggressively stifled dissent, often under the pretext of ‘national security.’

Last year you told the New York Times that you believed the GCC’s greatest security threat stems from the dissatisfaction of their populations, including from a sense that there is no political outlet for grievances. This meeting is an opportunity for you to convey directly to the leaders of the GCC states the paramount importance of respect for human rights.

Attached to the letter is a list of prisoners of conscience and more detailed information about human rights abuses in the GCC states.

Key human rights concerns in the GCC states include:

  •  The criminalization of peaceful expression, association and assembly, and the arrest, trial and imprisonment of those expressing opinions at variance with dominant social and political views, including those that criticize government policies or leaders’ conduct or state sanctioned/tolerated corruption;
  •  The harassment, intimidation and prosecution of human rights defenders, including those who work with international human rights bodies such as the UN or international human rights organizations, in order to marginalise, isolate and silence them; the creation of obstacles in the form of withholding of state papers such as ‘no objection [to work] certificates;’ the imposition of travel bans and other state-sanctioned measures;
  •  The practice of enforced disappearance of those arrested on often vaguely-formulated accusations relating to ‘national security;’ and their detention in unknown locations for prolonged periods of time, beyond the reach of law, prior to charging them;
  • The use of unfair trial procedures marked by arbitrary arrest; limited or complete denial of access to family and independent legal representation of one’s choice; limited time to prepare a defense on charges that often do not meet minimum international standards for what constitutes a criminal offence, whether in respect to defamation or in relation to ‘national security;’
  •  The use of torture and other ill-treatment in pre and post-trial detention, sometimes in order to secure “confessions” which are then used as a basis for convictions; implementation of corporal judicial punishments such as flogging which violate the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment;
  •  The failure to independently and effectively investigate human rights violations by state authorities and to hold accountable those responsible;
  •  The implementation of new counter-terrorism and cyber-crime laws that restrict fundamental rights to peaceful expression, association and assembly and which pave the way for the harassment, prosecution and imprisonment of political activists and human rights defenders in the name of ‘security;’
  •  The stripping of nationality and expulsion for politically motivated reasons in contravention of international human rights laws;
  •  Discrimination against women in law and practice, particularly in relation to family matters such as marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance, and inadequate protection against sexual and other violence;
  •  Discrimination against minority communities such as the Shia community in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province, who face entrenched discrimination that limits their access to state services and employment; and
  •  The widespread exploitation of migrant workers, despite labor laws which should provide protection against such abuse. The kafala (“sponsorship”) system of employment in place across the region facilitates human rights violations including forced labor and human trafficking.

That’s quite a list. And that’s only halfway through the document. Read the rest.