Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

Putting out the light

Jan 8th, 2015 11:14 am | By

Via NBC Nightly News on Twitter:

NBC Nightly News ‏@NBCNightlyNews 8 minutes ago
PHOTOS: Eiffel Tower goes dark in honor of those killed in yesterday’s terror attack

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Silence won’t help

Jan 8th, 2015 11:08 am | By

Shaheen Hashmat addresses the problem of what to do when a religion is hijacked by violent fanatics.

I am not religious myself, but I do come from a Muslim background. I know how widely beliefs and values can differ within the same family. And I have first-hand experience of how difficult it can be to express criticism, or opposing viewpoints, to those who are conservative in their outlook. Especially when they are close relatives.

It’s this feeling that, many agree, has led to the identity crisis currently occurring within Islam. There is much disagreement among Muslims themselves about which is the true interpretation to follow.

Of course the actions of radical sects are unacceptable by any moral code that values basic human rights – and it’s important to understand that the majority of Muslims find them as abhorrent as the rest of us. But, despite the rejection of such extremists as ‘true’ Muslims, I believe it’s important to accept that there are some hardcore, right-wing sects of Islam that do adhere to literal interpretations of the Q’uran.

Just as there have been and still are hardcore, right-wing sects of Christianity that do adhere to literal interpretations of the bible. Some of them have been violent, and/or endorsed violence.

Acts of terrorism, preceded by cries of ‘Allah Akbar’ (God is greatest), are now being carried out by a growing body of religious fundamentalists, who are successfully claiming their version of ‘Muslim’ as the only true definition of the term.

Having personally endured, within my own family, the abuse that is so often justified in the name of Islam, I am continually frustrated to see this replicated at an international level and denied as being an issue within moderate religious groups.

By acknowledging this, I am emphatically not dismissing the equally worrying issue of anti-Muslim bigotry. I’m just as committed to fighting that as I am to combating terrorism.

But a religion is defined by its followers. They are the ones who interpret scripture and incorporate it into everyday practice. So it’s vital, should that religion be ‘hijacked’ in any way, that the majority at least discusses the problem.

Silence won’t help.

As arrests are made in the hunt for the gunmen responsible for yesterday’s horrific attack, one thing is very clear: free speech – and the freedom to speak out against extremist, non-democratic behaviour, whether in the press or your community – is our most precious resource and must be protected at all costs.

The Muslim community must step up to the plate, along with everyone else.

We really are all Charlie Hebdo in the sense that we are all vulnerable to the men with guns. Free discussion and respect for human rights are our only defense.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

That fatal word “but”

Jan 8th, 2015 10:43 am | By

Via Gnu Atheism on Facebook:


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Tehmina Kazi counts some ways not to respond

Jan 8th, 2015 10:14 am | By

Tehmina tackles nine false assumptions about the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

False Assumption One

‘Charlie Hebdo magazine was needlessly provocative’

Manufacturers of outrage and assorted agitators do not need any kind of ‘provocation’ for their actions. When Jyllands-Posten published the Danish cartoons in September 2005, protests in Muslim-majority countries did not start until four months later.

The outrage and the resulting protests (and riots and killings) were worked up. They were worked up by some reactionary clerics, one of whom has since publicly regretted what he did.

False Assumption Four

‘Not in Our Name campaigns are helpful’

As well-intentioned as these undoubtedly are, the ‘Not in my name’ campaigns spearheaded by Muslims send out a problematic subliminal message to non-Muslims: that Muslims are unwilling to sort out the problems in their own back yard.

No-one is expecting us to eradicate all gender segregation in public events overnight, or to change the minds of all homophobic preachers in a few months, or to re-introduce music lessons in all Muslim-majority schools that have cancelled them. No-one is saying that we have to devote several years of our lives and careers doing this (as I have).

However, we are expected to make some effort to condemn obscurantism from all quarters, or as much as we are able to within our own circles of influence. Given that the Qu’ran takes such a strong line on humans challenging injustice wherever we find it, this shouldn’t be too difficult.

If only there were a million Tehminas.

False Assumption Six

‘Condemnation is sufficient’

Sombre press releases and widely-shared Facebook updates are better than nothing, but many of their authors have inadvertently contributed to the problem in the past.


By endorsing blasphemy laws, treating the words of Zakir Naik and Junaid Jamshed as gospel, or turning a blind eye when feminist or progressive Muslim activists (like Sara Khan of Inspire) are viciously attacked for their work on Twitter.

Maajid Nawaz is another who is viciously and endlessly attacked for his work.

False Assumption Seven

‘It is always someone else’s fault’

Then there are those who won’t even condemn acts of violence and terrorism, but automatically paint the attacks as false-flag operations, with a cast of extras to rival ‘Titanic’. In my experience, attempting to reason with these people is a waste of time and energy. Better to leave them to their echo chambers.

And the last one:

False Assumption Nine

‘The way forward is to treat each event as a passing accident of horror’

Laissez-faire approaches like these have led us to the predicament we are in. These acts are neither passing nor accidental; they are part of one long atrocity continuum, compounded by mainstream society’s cowardice and unwillingness to champion unpopular causes.

Instead, campaigning groups that happily take on the far-right should challenge the Muslim right-wing with equal ferocity, rather than giving their behaviour a free pass.

There was a segment in CNN’s coverage last night in which a journalist talked about “both sides” in France – the far right and the Islamists – as if Islamists were on the left. The far right and the Islamists are not both sides, they are the same side, even though they hate each other. Islamists are in no way on the left.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Religious ideas are not immune from scrutiny, criticism or ridicule

Jan 8th, 2015 9:58 am | By

A cringe-free statement from  Charlie Klendjian, Secretary of the Lawyers’ Secular Society:

The Lawyers’ Secular Society condemns unequivocally the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo which has left at least twelve people dead.

But that is the easy part. Equally unequivocally, we affirm the right to free speech even – indeed especially – where this mocks, offends and ridicules religious sensibilities.

The first word we should hear after the statement “free speech is important” is“therefore”. It is not “but”.

Precisely. I’ve been hearing way too many “buts” about Charlie Hebdo. Way too many “but it’s not ok to mock anyone’s sacred figures.” Nonsense. If it’s not ok to mock the sacred, then we’re all stuck in the groveling child role. “Sacred figures” are a scam to coerce money or deference or obedience or submission or all of those out of people who are seen as inferiors to the sacred figure. Satire tells us there are no sacred figures, there are only people.

We are appalled that so many news outlets, in reporting this massacre, have again chosen to self-censor. Their calls for “solidarity” seem hollow at best.

Religious ideas are not immune from scrutiny, criticism or ridicule. The more they seek to be, the more they present a compelling reason why they should not be.

Free speech without the right to mock, offend or ridicule is not free speech. Without free speech there is no freedom.

What we have seen in France is the application of de facto sharia law, for the “crime” of blasphemy. Blasphemy codes, whether informal or formal, have no place whatsoever in a civilised society. The best way to defeat them is to breach them: repeatedly, proudly, defiantly and unapologetically.

Freedom is in grave peril and we must defend it with all our might.

We have to cling hard to the right to blaspheme.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Mo and Jesus sont Charlie Hebdo

Jan 8th, 2015 9:34 am | By

The latest Jesus and Mo:


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Cartoonists across the world are uniting against bloodshed and violence

Jan 7th, 2015 4:28 pm | By

Via Anonymous:

Anonymous  ‏@AnonRRD 10m10 minutes ago
#CharlieHebdo: Cartoonists across the world are uniting against bloodshed and violence.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Paris tonight

Jan 7th, 2015 4:20 pm | By

Via Jenan Moussa:

Paris tonight. What a pic. @akhbar #CharlieHebdo

Embedded image permalink

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Which purport to strike a blow for freedom

Jan 7th, 2015 4:16 pm | By

Nick Cohen in the Spectator quotes the (paywalled) Financial Times on Charlie Hebdo:

Charlie Hebdo is a bastion of the French tradition of hard-hitting satire. It has a long record of mocking, baiting and needling Muslims.

Two years ago the magazine published a 65-page strip cartoon book portraying the Prophet’s life. And this week it gave special coverage to Soumission (“Submission”), a new novel by Michel Houellebecq, the idiosyncratic author, which depicts France in the grip of an Islamic regime led by a Muslim president.

This is not in the slightest to condone the murderers, who must be caught and punished, or to suggest that freedom of expression should not extend to satirical portrayals of religion. It is merely to say that some common sense would be useful at publications such as Charlie Hebdo, and Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten, which purport to strike a blow for freedom when they provoke Muslims.

This is not to suggest that freedom of expression should not extend to satirical portrayals of religion, it’s merely to say that freedom of expression should not extend to satirical portrayals of religion. Or, to put it another way, it’s not to suggest that freedom of expression should not extend to satirical portrayals of religion, it’s merely to say that no one should actually use that freedom of expression. You can have it, if you insist, but you can’t avail yourself of it.

Nick’s comment is acidic:

Does the Financial Times have subeditors? Did no one spot that, having begun by saying that it does not want to condone murder, the Financial Times moved in two sentences to saying that Charlie Hebdo’s satirists have provoked their own deaths. Apparently, they ‘purport’ to believe in freedom of speech – the hypocrites. If only they had had the ‘common sense’ not to ‘provoke’ clerical fascism, then clerical fascists would not have come for them.

Surely that’s enough “freedom” for anyone.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Still drawing

Jan 7th, 2015 3:59 pm | By

The Australian shares some cartoons in response to the murders at Charlie Hebdo.

David Pope’s is sharp.

View image on Twitter

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Red card

Jan 7th, 2015 3:30 pm | By

Taslima has a connection to Charlie Hebdo.

Charlie Hebdo has been supporting my freedom of expression.

Check it out – she’s on the cover of issue 120.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

You can’t put a price on freedom of the press

Jan 7th, 2015 3:24 pm | By

More photos, via a reply to a tweet of Taslima’s.

Embedded image permalink

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

At the Place de la Republique

Jan 7th, 2015 2:52 pm | By

Via Agence France-Presse on Twitter

People hold signs reading “I am Charlie” at the Place de la Republique in Paris. by Joel Saget

Embedded image permalink

Many many people.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

To defend the art of satire

Jan 7th, 2015 11:59 am | By

Salman Rushdie made a statement. Via the Wall Street Journal:

“Religion, a mediaeval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today. I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. ‘Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion.’ Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.”  –Salman Rushdie


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Charb, Cabu, Tignous, Georges Wolinski

Jan 7th, 2015 11:40 am | By

Via HuffPostUK on Twitter – the four Charlie Hebdo cartoonists murdered:

- Charb
– Cabu
– Tignous
– Georges Wolinski

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

This won’t deter us from doing the job

Jan 7th, 2015 11:23 am | By

Also in the news – the Denver Post reports:

COLORADO SPRINGS —A bomb detonated at an NAACP chapter on Tuesday left little damage to the building, but the loud boom that resonated through the historic neighborhood of small homes has also sounded across the nation.

As word spread of the blast, anger and questions spread with it across social media, on Twitter through the trend #NAACPBombing, and news headlines. The national president of the NAACP, the organization that appears to have been the target of the Colorado Springs blast, said he is thankful no one was hurt.

“We remain vigilant,” Cornell Brooks, the president of the Baltimore-based organization, said in a statement.

That’s horrible too. As a matter of luck, the bomb physically injured no one and did little material damage, but it certainly could have, and was intended to. A can of gasoline was placed next to the bomb, but it failed to ignite.

According to the FBI, officials are seeking a “potential person of interest,” described as a balding white male, about 40 years old. Neighbors saw a man matching his description flee after the explosion.

“He may be driving a 2000 or older model dirty, white pick-up truck with paneling, a dark colored bed liner, open tailgate, and a missing or covered license plate,” the FBI said in a statement.

Addendum: he’s probably heavily armed. Just a guess.

The NAACP informed other offices across the nation of the events in Colorado Springs.

Henry Allen Jr., the NAACP chapter president, told The Gazette the explosion was strong enough to knock items off the walls.

“We’ll move on,” Allen told the newspaper. “This won’t deter us from doing the job we want to do in the community.”

Be safe.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

And if you don’t, then the future will be extremely dangerous

Jan 7th, 2015 10:26 am | By

Katha Pollitt wrote a piece in 2012 titled “Blasphemy is Good for You.”

As I write, mobs all over the world are rioting about an amateurish video portraying Muhammad as a horny buffoon. Death toll so far: at least thirty, including Christopher Stevens, US ambassador to Libya, and three embassy staffers. Not to be outdone, Pakistan’s railways minister announced he would pay $100,000 to anyone who murdered the videomaker, and added, “I call upon these countries and say: Yes, freedom of expression is there, but you should make laws regarding people insulting our Prophet. And if you don’t, then the future will be extremely dangerous.” More riots, embassy closings and a possible assassination attempt or two followed the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo’s retaliatory publication of cartoons of Muhammad naked. To bring it all full circle, an Iranian foundation has raised to $3.3 million the reward it’s offering for the murder of Salman Rushdie. (Just out and highly recommended: Joseph Anton, Rushdie’s humane and heroic memoir of his years in hiding.)

Full circle.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

We’ve got to stand up

Jan 7th, 2015 10:20 am | By

Via BBC Breaking News on the Charlie Hebdo massacre:


Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell tells BBC News channel: “We’ve got to stand up for the right to take the piss out of these monsters, these idiots, these fools, these posturing maniacs who strut around in their black gear as a kind of death cult trying to frighten us all.”


The Globe and Mail’s Mark MacKinnon took this picture at the Place de la Republique in Paris, where crowds are gathering to express solidarity with the magazine:

place de la republique

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Let the ink flow

Jan 7th, 2015 10:04 am | By


Embedded image permalink

Freedom of expression is making ink flow, not making blood flow.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

All those writers, thinkers, and satirists

Jan 7th, 2015 10:00 am | By

CFI has a statement on the Charlie Hebdo murders.

In response to the murders of journalists at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo by terrorists in Paris today, Center for Inquiry president and CEO Ronald A. Lindsay issued this statement:

We are heartbroken by the unthinkable and cowardly attack at the magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris today, and outraged that such a barbaric act was a response to journalists and satirists exercising their right to free expression.

As publishers of Free Inquiry, the first (and for some time, the only) U.S. publication willing to publish the cartoons of Muhammad that sparked riots in 2005 after they appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, we stand in resolute solidarity with the people of Charlie Hebdo, and all those writers, thinkers, and satirists who know that no idea or individual ought to be immune from criticism, and have the courage to point out the flaws and fallacies of even the most deeply-held beliefs.

As a show of support for free expression and the staff of Charlie Hebdo, CFI plans to prominently display on our website ( the cartoon of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi that apparently was one of the motivations for the attack. We will not be cowed by the savagery of those few who would like to see the world dragged back to the Dark Ages, who will kill to protect their backward ideologies from criticism, and we will continue to fight for the right of all people to dissent, to satirize, and to freely speak their minds.

The original Free Inquiry article with the Muhammed cartoons is available at

The Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi cartoon is on the main page.

Voeux Al-Baghdadi aussi | 'Et surtout la santé!'


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)