Notes and Comment Blog


Oct 2nd, 2015 4:22 pm | By

There are conflicting claims about the death toll in the hajj stampede last week.

Iran says number of its citizens who died in the Hajj stampeded in Saudi Arabia last week has reached 464 – nearly double the previous toll.

Iranian authorities said there was no longer hope of finding any of the country’s missing pilgrims alive.

According to Saudi officials, 769 people died in the crush in Mina, near Mecca, and 934 were injured.

Iranian officials allege that the overall number of deaths is now more than 1,000. Pakistan, India, and Indonesia have also suggested death toll may be higher than the 769 reported by Saudi Arabia.

Another case where prayers don’t seem to do humans much good. They may be a big thrill for gods, I don’t know, but for humans…they can be disappointing even if not lethal.

Not primary, not secondary, not tertiary

Oct 2nd, 2015 11:16 am | By

Ah, no. Not at all. Not even close.

Think of “the 10 commandments” for instance, the ones people keep wanting to build statues to in public places. They don’t say a word about not being an asshole. Not a word about compassion or kindness or generosity; no golden rule; no don’t be evil; no be good to one another. Not. one. word. Most of it is about crawling to god, and the rest is just don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t envy. It’s an ethical desert.

Religion is about what human beings owe to god, it’s not about what we owe to each other.

He told CNN that now was not the time to discuss gun control

Oct 2nd, 2015 10:51 am | By

The New York Times reports that there’s little to report on the Roseburg mass murder because law enforcement is still turning over rocks.

The last three paragraphs are somewhat striking though.

The issue of gun control has recently roiled Oregon. This year, state legislators passed a law closing a loophole for background checks on private gun sales, after years of trying to win support for it.

Sheriff Hanlin had forcefully lobbied against gun control after previous school shootings, but on Friday he told CNN that now was not the time to discuss gun control.

“We want to focus on completing this investigation, doing a thorough investigation,” he said. “And more importantly we want to focus on the families of the victims.”

Now is not the time to discuss gun control? The hell it’s not. Now is absolutely the time to discuss gun control, and the time to get gun control, too.

Obama said in his statement yesterday that people were going to say he’s politicizing this, and then he went on to say that we should be politicizing it, because what is it if not political? Damn right.

He also said prayers don’t do anything to stop these mass shootings from happening. CNN kept reporting that last night as his saying prayers no longer do anything to stop these mass shootings from happening, but that’s not what he said. CNN inserted the “no longer.” Fabulous reporting there, CNN: stick in words that he did not say, that change the meaning. He simply said prayers don’t do anything to stop them. That’s an interesting thing for a Christian to say, because Christians are mostly supposed to believe that prayers do do anything, even if we mere humans can’t tell exactly what that anything is. A Christian is expected to think that without prayers there would be more mass shootings, or something along those lines. Obama didn’t take the opportunity to say that, and instead he said the opposite. He said the truth, which is that they don’t do anything to stop mass shootings.

Woman’s Hour

Oct 2nd, 2015 10:24 am | By

Here is Woman’s Hour. The discussion of feminism and free speech among Caroline Criado-Perez, Jane Fae and Jude Kelly is the first segment, ending at 13:54.

A few notes and bits of transcription:

Jane Fae talks about talks about absolutism in politics.

Caroline Criado-Perez talks about ideological totalism and purity politics.

…there is a dogma, and if you have ever stepped outside of that dogma, then you are tainted and impure and you cannot be allowed to speak.

…if you don’t toe the party line your very presence can cause trauma.

Jane Fae talks about that “people are talking about you” thing. She’s been told that Julie Bindel is dangerous, Bea Campbell is dangerous – no, she doesn’t believe that.


I don’t think opinions can make someone unsafe.

They talk about no-platforming, and CCP says the no-platformers are dishonest about it, they say they’re just expressing their views and similar. She mentions the no-platforming of Kate Smurthwaite, which I blogged about extensively at the time – here and here and here and here and here and here.

So later in the program, at 34:40, the presenter Jenni Murray said this:

If you were listening earlier to our conversation about censorship and no platforming, you may remember that Caroline Criado Perez said that effectively the comedian Kate Smurthwaite had been no platformed from Goldsmith’s Student Union. They have got in touch and said she was not no platformed or banned by Goldsmith’s Student Union, no policy exists to that effect, the decision to cancel the show was made by the Comedy Society president after conversations with the performer 24 hours before the show was meant to happen, she made the call at the last minute based on facts later found to be unfounded such as the claim that there were going to be protests and this was balanced by the fact that only eight tickets had been sold anyway.

Thus shitting on Kate all over again. The “eight tickets” excuse is and always was bullshit, because the show was free to students, so they never expected to sell a bunch of tickets.

Notice how tidily Goldsmith’s rushes to confirm what Caroline said about the dishonesty of no-platformers.

The whole museum is like the workings of a sick mind

Oct 1st, 2015 6:02 pm | By

Public relations to the rescue.

The Jack the Ripper museum in east London has been ridiculed for attempting to organise a counter-protest against a planned demonstration by the same activist group that last weekend targeted a breakfast cereal cafe.

That’s a terrible opening paragraph. Look – an activist group is planning a demonstration against the horrible Jack the Ripper “museum” in east London, the one that told planners it would be a museum about women’s history. (Yeah, their history of getting murdered, haw haw haw.) The “museum” tried to organize a counter-protest. People are, quite rightly, laughing at the “museum” for doing such a pathetic thing. (And for calling itself a museum.)

The anarchist group Class War has called for protesters to shut down the privately run attraction on Sunday. Flyers circulating on Twitter accuse the museum of “the glorification of sexual violence”.

It has already been the scene of protests and was branded a “sick joke” by residents of Whitechapel when it opened. Its planning application had promised it would be “the only dedicated resource in the East End to women’s history”.

But hahaha it turned out that was a sick joke, aka a big brazen lie.

The owners of the museum issued their call for community action through a public relations firm, Joshua Walker PR. Describing Class War as an “extremist political group”, it said that on Saturday “thugs smashed the windows, frightened staff and customers and thrown [sic] paint outside the Cereal Killers cafe.”

After trying to mobilise supporters with the Twitter hashtag#PROTECTELONDON, the statement concludes: “It’s time for locals and local business to band together and show that we won’t accept it! Join the Jack the Ripper Museum and other local businesses and locals to counter-protest Class War.”

Whoops, a slip-up there, they called themselves a local business. Real museums don’t usually call themselves businesses.

Jane Nicholl, of Class War, ridiculed the call for a counter-demonstration. “If that’s what they want it really is going to be class war,” she said. “It’s going to be posh businesspeople of the area up against working class warriors.”

Nicholl said she and several other activists had been invited to tour the museum, and all had been disgusted by what they saw. “We all left in absolute shock. It’s just so disturbing. I’m pretty tough, but I just couldn’t get the images out of my head. It’s just very unpleasant.

“The whole museum is like the workings of a sick mind,” she said. “If any women who had been sexually assaulted walked past that place and saw what was on offer … it’s just horrible.”

No, it’s educational! Like any other museum!

Yet more cis privilege.

Because sex is a fundamental human right?

Oct 1st, 2015 5:16 pm | By

According to David Futrelle (and others) the shooter at Umpqua CC told Reddit his plans yesterday.

This is beyond fucked up. In this archived thread from 4chan’s /r9k/ board, the alleged shooter at Umpqua Community College told fellow channers yesterday of his plans to shoot up a school today. He didn’t specify which school, mentioning only that it was in the “northwest.” /r9k/ is a board heavily populated by so-called “incels,” and the media is reporting that the apparent shooter regularly posted bitter complaints about his lack of success with women,

Screenshots below:

Here’s his first comment warning fellow channers not to go to school today if they live in the northwest.


There’s a whole lot more, and that’s only a small sample, because Futrelle doesn’t have the stomach to collect more. I don’t have the stomach to collect any.

Cis privilege in real life.

“Pro-life” death threats

Oct 1st, 2015 4:19 pm | By

Of course. The #ShoutYourAbortion campaign has provided yet another pretext for threateners to threaten.

The goal, according to Amelia Bonow, 30, who posted on Facebook on Sept. 19 that she had had an abortion at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Seattle last year, was to encourage women who have kept their abortions secret to speak up — in an effort to reframe the debate on the subject.

“A shout is not a celebration or a value judgment, it’s the opposite of a whisper, of silence,” Ms. Bonow said in an interview. “Even women who support abortion rights have been silent, and told they were supposed to feel bad about having an abortion.”

But less than two weeks after she and a friend, Lindy West, created the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion on Twitter, Ms. Bonow’s building name has been made public, and she has temporarily left her apartment, bothered by angry tweets wishing her dead.

Bothered by? No. People don’t leave their apartments because they’re “bothered by” something. Death threats are not just a “bother.” She left her apartment for safety reasons.

The effort went viral and drew more than 150,000 tweets, showing how volatile and emotional an issue abortion still is four decades after the Supreme Court declared it legal.

And while godbotherers and legislators are straining every nerve to make abortion unobtainable.

While the campaign was started in response to the Republicans, the organizers were also challenging the traditional Democratic mantra first articulated by President Bill Clinton, and repeated by Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Obama — that abortion should be safe, legal and rare.

Exactly. So typical of Democrats, to spit on the left and give everything away to the right.


Oct 1st, 2015 4:02 pm | By

Via Indian Atheists:

Many killed, many injured

Oct 1st, 2015 12:24 pm | By

Oh great. Yet another one.

At least 10 people killed in a mass shooting at a community college in Oregon.

The Oregon State Police confirmed that at least 10 people were dead at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.

The sheriff’s office in Douglas County, which includes Roseburg, told CBS News that the threat was over but would not comment on the condition of the gunman.

There were many other injured victims, according to multiple law enforcement sources. Some of those injured are in critical condition.

The goddam Second Amendment should be repealed.

The state has not gagged her

Oct 1st, 2015 12:20 pm | By

David Shariatmadari takes the opportunity to piss on Maryam in the wake of Warwick SU’s reversal of its rejection of the ASH invitation to her to speak.

Even if it didn’t evolve into a full-blown Twitter storm, this incident was a classic of the genre. Righteous indignation was tweeted and retweeted, celebrities piled on the pressure, pundits sharpened their quills. Even better, the issue straddled a major faultline in progressive thinking. Advocates of free expression were being pitted against those who feel that criticism of religion, Islam especially, can be antisocial, even dangerous.

For Namazie’s supporters two things were very clear: first, this was a direct attack on free speech; second, lefties were once again siding with religious conservatives because of a misguided belief that Muslims, as a minority group, should be protected at any cost.

The latter is a familiar accusation. I’m suspicious of it because my own willingness to defend Muslims and Islam from certain kinds of attack isn’t motivated by the idea that they and their faith should be beyond criticism.

But what kinds of attack? By “certain kinds of attack” does he mean Maryam’s kind? Maryam is very firm about rejecting the kinds that are just racism hiding behind criticism of religion, so what “certain kinds of attack” can he have in mind?

Also, defending Muslims is not automatically the same thing as defending Islam, and in fact the two can be quite opposed.

First – was the move to block Namazie’s appearance really an attack on free speech? She should certainly be at liberty to express herself within the law. The Guardian has in the past published her work. But does the withdrawal of an invitation really amount to censorship? Her words have not been banned, the state has not gagged her.

It doesn’t amount to direct state censorship, no. (It may amount to indirect state censorship, but that’s not really the core issue.) But the withdrawal of an invitation is not at all the same as not issuing an invitation in the first place. The withdrawal, and the rejection of permission to issue, an invitation is an overt No. That’s much more active than a non-engagement.

In a free society we are, on the one hand, at liberty to publish and promote ideas so far as they do not advocate harm. We are also free to shun them if we want to. The Warwick episode is a case in point. All we’re really seeing is one student body’s messy weighing up of which values it wants to endorse, and which it wants to reject – and exercising its own right of free expression to make that choice.

Yes, but in doing so it canceled the Atheist Secularist Humanist student body’s right of free expression to invite a speaker it wanted to invite. Its “right of free expression” obliterated ASH’s right of free expression by saying No to ASH’s invitation. That’s a power play, not just free expression.

Shariatmadari goes on to explain what he dislikes about Maryam’s atheist take on Islam.

What might lead people to decide they’d rather not give a platform to such rhetoric? Recognising the pressure British Muslims are under – surveilled by the state, victims of verbal abuse, vandalism and arson – could it be that some students felt welcoming a person who believes Islam is incompatible with modern life would be wrong?

They could, of course, have engaged her in debate. Why demand instead that the talk be cancelled? The reason given was that she might incite hatred on campus. I think this is over the top – her words probably wouldn’t have resonated very far beyond the meeting room itself (they might now). But the underlying sentiment is reasonable: we don’t want to have any part in the further stigmatisation of Islam.

It’s not all that reasonable. Wanting to defend Muslims from attack and demonization is reasonable, but wanting to protect a major religion from criticism is not. Why not? Think Raif Badawi, think Asif Mohiuddin, think Avijit Roy, think Taslima Nasreen. That’s why not.

We are lucky to live in a pluralist democracy, with freedom of choice in politics and religion. These are things we should cherish, but they are not in any serious danger. Were they really threatened – by the emergence of a theocracy, by the drafting of racist or misogynist laws – the left would oppose that with every sinew. I hope that more citizens in Muslim-majority countries can one day enjoy the level of political and social freedom that we do, and I support the men and women who try to bring that about.

That’s so smug. Britain as a whole is probably safe from threats to freedom of choice in politics and religion, but plenty of individuals within Britain are not. That’s why Maryam founded the CEMB, isn’t it. That’s why she founded One Law for All. That’s a major part of why she does what she does.

What does David Shariatmadari do?

Woman’s Hour

Oct 1st, 2015 11:07 am | By

Woman’s Hour (BBC Radio 4) tomorrow is going to talk about free speech and feminism; Caroline Criado-Perez and Jane Fae will be on. It’s on at 10 a.m. in London but also archived for listening later so we can all hear it.

Two speakers have pulled out of a feminist conference in protest after campaigner Jane Fae withdrew saying she was effectively being silenced because she had written about pornography. Is this evidence of increasing intolerance and efforts to actively censor views which might offend?

It’s more complicated than that, but they didn’t have room for the complication. Jane Fae withdrew because people were “concerned” about her presence, and she didn’t want there to be a stink that would interfere with the conference, so she withdrew.

It has been claimed

Oct 1st, 2015 10:27 am | By

Barney Henderson at The Telegraph reports on an item about Iran’s women’s football team, in that typically passive, agent-free language that journalists use when they’re not sure, or want to obfuscate, what’s going on.

Eight of Iran’s women’s football team are actually men awaiting sex change operations, it has been claimed.

The country’s football association was accused of being “unethical” for knowingly fielding eight men in its women’s team.

“It has been claimed”; “was accused”; by whom? What are you talking about? If I were a newspaper editor I would make that against the rules. It could mean some drunk on the bus said it. It could mean anything. It’s crap journalism.

In the third paragraph he finally specifies an agent.

Mojtabi Sharifi, an official close to the Iranian league, told an Iranian news website: “[Eight players] have been playing with Iran’s female team without completing sex change operations.”

We still don’t know what that means. An official of what? What kind of official? What is “the Iranian league”? We know what Iran is, but we don’t know what the reporter means by “the Iranian league.” What news website, and how reliable is it? What kind of news website? One like the Associated Press, say, or one like Breitbart?

Anyway. If the claim is true…what should we think? Should we think that’s a great thing for the rights of trans women? Or should we think it’s an underhanded way for Iran to pretend to allow women to play football without actually allowing women to play football?

Gender change operations are legal in Iran according to a fatwa – or religious ruling – pronounced by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, spiritual leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The law contrasts with the strict rules governing sexual morality under the country’s Sharia legal code, which forbids homosexuality and pre-marital sex.

No it doesn’t, not really. Or it does if you look at it one way but not if you look at it another way. Allowing people to change gender is entirely compatible with forbidding homosexuality.

Football is highly popular among many Iranian women, despite religious rules that bar them from entering stadiums to watch matches between male teams.

Earlier this month the women’s national team captain was unable to fly with the squad to Malaysia because her husband refused her permission to fly.

Well just because she can play football doesn’t mean she can travel without a man’s permission. Get real.


Is the tide turning?

Sep 30th, 2015 6:05 pm | By

Ian Dunt says the censors are on the back foot at last.

Efforts to ban secular campaigner Maryam Namazie from speaking at Warwick University have been reversed. Then yesterday, feminist campaigners Caroline Criado Perez and Julie Bindel pulled out of the Feminism in London conference in protest at efforts to no-platform fellow panellist Jane Fae. We are seeing the first signs that the tide is turning in the free speech debate. Event organisers are finally coming under as much pressure from free speech defenders as they are censors.

(Quick declaration of interest: I went to Warwick for my MA, I’m close friends with Perez[,] and Fae regularly writes for this website. None of that has any bearing really, but it’s worth mentioning because online censors – from the Corbynistas to the safe spaces lot – struggle to accept that anyone holds opinions for any reason other than self-interest. I might as well beat them to it.)

He runs through what happened with Warwick and Maryam, and is brought up short at the same place I was.

When Warwick Student Union looked into the writing of Namazie, who had been invited to speak to the local secular society, they found that “a number of articles written both by the speaker and by others about the speaker indicate that she is highly inflammatory, and could incite hatred on campus”. They added: “This is in contravention of our external speaker policy”.

It’s worth interrogating that sentence. It suggests that any idea which raises passions must be banned on campus.

Which would ban most ideas that are of any value.

The campaign against the ban exploded overnight, helped by the high-profile support of people like Richard Dawkins, Nick Cohen and Ben Goldacre. This online response is crucial. The armies of censors online can be terrifying. There are thousands of them and they are extremely aggressive. They scare individuals and they scare institutions. People, naturally, don’t want to spend days under an avalanche of abusive tweets and Facebook messages. They also don’t want the blogs and social media accounts of their friends and loved ones to be trawled over by these strange online armies for material to be used against them. Most normal people back down in the face of this type of attack. It’s partly why institutions have proved such easy targets.

And that’s exactly why I made as much noise as I could, and did in earlier examples too, such as when Trinity College Dublin went all weird on Maryam.

A similar situation played out yesterday, when it emerged that Fae was stepping down from the Feminism in London (FiL) conference. Fae is a moderate, articulate and very well-read commentator on a range of issues, including pornography, obscenity law, efforts at online filtering and a range of other matters. She is also transgender. Some radical feminists took issue with her supposedly because of her views on pornography and sex work, although the vitriol aimed her way afterwards suggests there is a significant element of transphobia at work too.

“The problem is that certain peeps had created a situation via a whispering campaign in which backing became irrelevant,” Fae wrote to me in an email. “We were damned if we went ahead, damned if we didn’t…so I attempted to tiptoe away quietly…which was sort of working until yesterday, when it all went nasty. I am now at the centre of a shit storm, as are some of my nearest and dearest. My ex, for instance, has had to take her old blog offline because people appeared to be mining it for dirt to use against me.”

Were they going through her Twitter and Facebook too? It’s always fun when people do that. “Oh look – here’s a joke from six months ago that we can take out of context to use against her.”

This is the standard tactic adopted by the online censors: demands that organisers remove someone from an event followed by an intimidation campaign against them online. In this case the organisers did not remove Fae from the event. Everyone involved praises them for their intentions and their good nature. But they did not necessarily support her either. They told her of the situation and tried to manage it, but Fae, keen to avoid it costing them the conference, stepped down. This is how free speech is destroyed in modern Britain – not by laws, but by taking the easy route in the face of organised campaigns.

And that’s why Caroline Criado-Perez and Julie Bindel withdrew, with regret and sorrow. Hunt quotes Bindel:

“It is particularly difficult for me to do so because FiL is one of the few feminist conferences that dare include me on their programme (in case of disruption from anti-feminists claiming I am transphobic, biphobic, Islamophobic and whorephobic). In fact, FiL had, in previous years, left me off the programme (but had me speak) in case the smooth-running of the conference suffered as a result. This year I told the organisers that I would only agree to speak at the event if my name were included in the programme, to which they agreed. It therefore feels particularly upsetting to find that the organisers are once again being bullied about one of their speakers, Jane Fae, this time on the grounds that she has expressed and still holds some pro-pornography views.”

Respect to both of them.

It is sad to imagine the organisers, who clearly support broad inclusive debate, seeing their event fall apart around them as these warring factions challenge the other side’s right to speak.

But applying this sort of pressure to organisers is the only way to ensure free speech is no longer degraded in this country. Until this week, all the pressure came from one end, with just a handful of commentators raising the alarm about it. Now we are seeing social media being utilised to support free speech.

We’ve seen that before, too, but this time it worked.

This smugness is unwarranted

Sep 30th, 2015 5:06 pm | By

Helen Lewis reminds us what a novelty in the world women’s rights really are.

Consider Switzerland for instance, where women didn’t get the vote until – wait for it – 1971.

Audiences are surprised because Switzerland is supposedly full of People Like Us: it’s an affluent western European nation, not a sand-blasted theocracy or a dirt-poor African dictatorship. And People Like Us believe in women’s equality. Don’t we?

This posture of racially tinged complacency underlies most of the frequent backlashes endured by western feminists. It’s a version of Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis, which hailed western liberal democracy as the final form of human government: “Come on, ladies. You’ve got the vote. You’ve got the ability to own property. Some of you are even wearing trousers. Why are you so uptight? No one is taking those away from you!”

That’s Christina Hoff Sommers’s whole shtick, and it’s avowedly Richard Dawkins’s reason for being so angry with American feminists. Feminism won, women have all the rights and equality, move on.

But this smugness is unwarranted, as a quick glance around the world – or five minutes with a history book – will show you. The advances in women’s rights that we enjoy today are incredibly recent. Chiswick Women’s Aid, the landmark shelter in west London, was only opened in 1971, the same year women were getting the vote in Switzerland. Rape in marriage became a crime here only in 1991 – the assault that prompted the defining court case happened the same the week that All Around the World by Lisa Stansfield topped the charts.

For a more extreme example, take foot-binding. When I first read Jung Chang’s family history, Wild Swans, I was amazed to learn that the author’s grandmother had had bound feet. It was disorienting to realise that someone alive today could know a woman whose feet had been deliberately bent and broken as a child in order to stuff them into 3in shoes.

Yes, I thought before reading further, and we still deliberately mutilate women’s feet, in a milder form. Lewis goes on to say that.

round the world, equally gruesome practices which stem from the same motive – inscribing subjugation on the female body – persist, from female genital mutilation to breast ironing. Even among People Like Us, in liberal western democracies, only one half of humanity is routinely encouraged to wear shoes that restrict our movement and damage our tendons and ligaments. We can’t see the strangeness of that because it’s woven into the fabric of our culture.

[I think that “only” is a typo, because it doesn’t make sense; hence the line through it.]

I can see the strangeness of it. I see it when I see couples in party clothes, the men walking freely and the women mincing and teetering as if…well as if their feet had been mutilated.

In her BBC documentary The Ascent of Woman, Amanda Foreman met 84-year-old Wang Huiyuan, one of the few surviving women whose feet hads been bound. She explored why the practice persisted for so long: it was perpetuated by women, because they believed it was a way to gain an advantage in a male-controlled marriage market; and it functioned as a class signifier, because peasant women working in the fields could not afford to cripple themselves.

Those two forces still underpin the pressure towards femininity today, however much we in the west congratulate ourselves on the softer, more palatable way it is expressed. We must also remember that the fact that women participate in their own oppression does not mean it is “natural” or inevitable. Instead, it shows that divide and rule is an endlessly useful tactic for maintaining the status quo.

That’s why choosy choice feminism is not the best feminism has to offer.

If you ever want to know why feminists are so bloody angry, this is why. All our triumphs are provisional, contested. The ground must be constantly defended and patrolled.

Still don’t believe me? Look across the Atlantic, where 42 years after Roe v Wade rightwing lawmakers want to deprive Planned Parenthood of federal funds used to give poor women breast cancer screenings because the organisation also provides abortions (even though these are not paid for by tax dollars). Or look closer to home, where women’s refuges are struggling because of cuts to council budgets, and a succession of high-profile men are given acres of newsprint to demand anonymity for those accused of rape, even though the evidence shows false allegations are rare and anonymity would make serial offenders far harder to catch.

Take care of your feet.

The meat in the fridge was mutton

Sep 30th, 2015 11:31 am | By

So speaking of blasphemy laws, and India, and violence…the Washington Post also reports on a news item from India: a mob dragged a Muslim man out of bed and beat him to death for eating beef.

The attack on Monday night in the northern Indian city of Dadri has shocked the country, but it wasn’t exactly a surprise. For the past six months, meat has been a matter of major debate in India.

Eighty percent of the country’s of 1.3 billion inhabitants are Hindu — who avoid beef for religious reasons. Roughly 250 million Indians are not. That tally includes almost 25 million Christians and up to 140 million Muslims, like Akhlaq.

Such incidents have increased since Modi came to power, Michael Miller says.

Modi is a Hindu nationalist who, as governor of Gujarat state, presided during religious riots in 2002 in which more than 1,000 people — most of them Muslims — were killed. For years afterwards, Modi was blocked from visiting the United States because of his role in the riots.

All that changed last year, however, when Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept to power. Modi campaigned on a vision of India finally fulfilling its economic potential — a promise highlighted by his recent tour of Silicon Valley.

But that doesn’t make him any less a Hindu nationalist and it doesn’t make the BJP any less a Hindu nationalist party.

Since Modi’s election, Muslims have grown worried about a string of inflammatory statements and actions by Hindu nationalist leaders. Accused Islamist terrorists have been executed ahead of non-Muslims, stirring anger. Meanwhile, BJP lawmakers have openly called for Hindus to out breed Muslims to “protect Hindu religion.” That same politician, Sakshi Maharaj, invited outrage when he called Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin a “patriot.” (Nathuram Godse was a militant Hindu activist who killed Gandhi for “appeasing” Muslims.) Finally, India’s foreign minister has called for the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture, to be declared a “national scripture.”

Theocracy hates people.

Last March a bill was passed in Maharashtra banning the sale of beef.

Despite legal challenges to the ban, the new law immediately brought results. Just days after the law’s implementation, two people were arrested for allegedly slaughtering two calves, the BBC reported. Last month, four more people were accused of smuggling beef into Mumbai, according to the Indian Express.

The crackdown on cow-eating is driven by a desire for religious/national purity, but critics point out that it’s already creating political and practical problems.

Oh that desire for religious/national purity (and political, doctrinal, attitudinal, verbal purity) – what a curse it is.

“Some Hindu hard-liners insist the idea of eating beef was introduced by Muslim invaders, despite references to its consumption in ancient texts like the Vedas, written more than a millennium before the time of Muhammad. By eradicating this ‘alien’ practice, they hope to return the country to values they hold dear as Hindus,” wrote novelist Manil Suri in a New York Times op-ed.

Suri said it was part and parcel of a broader conservative cultural shift under Modi and the BJP.

“With the recent re-criminalization of gay sex, bans on controversial books and films and even an injunction against the use of the colonial-era name ‘Bombay’ instead of ‘Mumbai’ in a Bollywood song, the new laws join a growing list of restrictions on personal freedom in India,” he warned.

That’s how theocracy is. It’s the worst.

Beef again became a pretext for violence during Monday’s mob attack in Dadri, a city of roughly 60,000 near New Delhi in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where a near-total ban on beef is in effect.

The attack allegedly came moments after an announcement at a nearby Hindu temple that Mohammad Akhlaq had slaughtered a calf. The calf had gone missing several weeks earlier, according to the Indian Express. Rumors quickly spread around the neighborhood that Akhlaq was the culprit.

Incited by the announcement, the mob broke down Akhlaq’s door and dragged him into the street, where 100 men beat him to death with bricks, his family members told the Express. The invaders also dragged Akhlaq’s 22-year-old son, Danish, outside, beating him until he was close to death as well.

All for the sake of religious and nationalist “purity.”

Blasphemy around the world

Sep 30th, 2015 10:58 am | By

The Washington Post notes that it’s International Blasphemy Day via Brandon G. Withrow at Religion News Service.

“God is a lie.”

In some countries, uttering, scribbling or texting that statement will get you thrown in jail, beaten with a rod or possibly killed. The “crime” is blasphemy and Wednesday (Sept. 30) is “International Blasphemy Rights Day,” set aside by human rights activists to highlight the blasphemy laws on the books in 22 percent of the world’s nations, according to the Pew Research Center.

Withrow mentions China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. It could also have mentioned India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Sudan…

“Freedom of conscience is a fundamental right, and it must be valued, protected and advanced everywhere in the world,” says Michael De Dora, director of the Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy — the organization behind Blasphemy Rights Day — and the center’s representative to the United Nations. The Center for Inquiry is a humanistic and First Amendment watchdog group based in Buffalo, N.Y.

In response to foreign policies suppressing free expression, U.S. Reps. Joseph Pitts of Pennsylvania and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas have proposed House Resolution 290, which calls for making the repeal of blasphemy laws a condition of U.S. cooperation. They urge that the label “country of particular concern” be applied to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

“Fortunately, many governments have been strong in publicly condemning blasphemy laws, whether at the U.N., in public statements or in their softer diplomacy,” CFI’s De Dora said. “The problem is many of these condemnations are just words. What we could really use is more governments using the possibility of changing or pulling out of trade and other agreements to put some force behind these words.”

But of course so many US legislators would themselves love to have laws against blasphemy on the books.

Shut up and answer

Sep 30th, 2015 10:03 am | By

Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, testified before a Congressional committee yesterday. NPR describes the hearing as contentious, which puts it with typical NPR mildness. NPR provides five audio clips from the five hours of testimony. The first and longest is a remarkable, and all too familiar, example of shouty bullying and interrupting and demanding simple answers to complicated questions. I’ve always loathed demands for simple answers to complicated questions, and after this past summer, I loathe them even more.

The more than five-hour hearing was oftentimes contentious. Richards defended her organization on several fronts. She said the videos released by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress were misleading and she said her organization does not receive federal funding for most abortions.

Republican lawmakers for their part questioned why Planned Parenthood should continue to receive federal funding if many Americans don’t agree with abortions.

That’s a fatuous question. Federal funding isn’t contingent on the agreement of all Americans. It doesn’t work that way; it can’t work that way.

Tomorrow is International Blasphemy Rights Day

Sep 29th, 2015 5:27 pm | By

In some parts of the world it’s already International Blasphemy Rights Day right now.

CFI sent out a press release today: –

Tomorrow, September 30, is International Blasphemy Rights Day, created by the Center for Inquiry to celebrate and defend the fundamental human right to free expression around the world — especially when that expression is critical of religion. To mark IRBD this year, CFI is launching a new website for its Campaign for Free Expression, supporting a landmark blasphemy resolution in Congress, speaking against religious extremism at the UN, and releasing a special blasphemy-rights edition of its magazine Free Inquiry.

At a time when secularist bloggers are being murdered in the streets of Bangladesh, when Raif Badawi endures prison and floggings in Saudi Arabia for encouraging people to question the authority of Islam, and when Asia Bibi — a Christian woman in Pakistan — faces the death penalty for charges of blasphemy, a day that focuses on the global assault on free expression is needed now more than ever.

International Blasphemy Rights Day was established by the Center for Inquiry in 2009 as a bold response to the worldwide crackdown on the right to criticize and satirize religion, to be held each September 30, the anniversary of the publication of the controversial “Danish cartoons” of Muhammad in the newspaper Jyllands-Posten that sparked international outrage and violence. In 2012, CFI launched the Campaign for Free Expression to rally grassroots and diplomatic support of free speech rights and to highlight the cases of those who are being persecuted, jailed, and threatened for their dissent.

The new Campaign for Free Expression website, launched today, spotlights the struggles of courageous individuals who face both punishment from their governments and mortal peril at the hands of radicals. It also provides avenues for activism, with tools and resources for those who want to have an impact in global efforts to protect free expression. As part of this campaign, CFI is working to assist secularist writers and activists under violent threat in countries such as Bangladesh with the Freethought Emergency Fund.

CFI is also putting its weight behind a U.S. House resolution, introduced by Rep. Joe Pitts, which calls for the repeal of blasphemy laws worldwide. H.Res. 290 urges countries with blasphemy laws to embrace their obligations under international agreements and repeal those laws. It also calls upon the Obama Administration and the State Department to put a greater emphasis on countries’ records on free expression rights in its international relations. Its passage would send a powerful message across the globe, and CFI is rallying its supporters to contact their representatives to sign on to the resolution.

Recently appearing on newsstands is the latest special issue of CFI’s magazine Free Inquiry, which focuses on the free expression crisis and boldly defends blasphemy rights with a series of provocative reports and essays, as well as the publication of the winning “draw Muhammad” cartoon from the controversial conference in Garland, Texas earlier this year, the site of a shooting attack by two jihadists. (An important note: CFI in no way endorses the American Freedom Defense Initiative, and deplores its intolerant statements regarding Islam, but supports its right to express its position.)

And last week, CFI representatives delivered statements at the UN Human Rights Council on the attacks against atheist and secularist writers in Bangladesh, as well as violence and judicial discrimination against women. Video of these statements being delivered to the Council are available here. At past sessions, CFI has spoken out against government suppression of online speech.

“The fundamental human right to free expression endows each of us with the power to raise questions, persuade others, and affect change, and for that reason it has often been fiercely policed and suppressed,” said Michael De Dora, CFI’s chief UN representative. “For this International Blasphemy Day and beyond, let’s show our support for the right to question and dissent, and speak up for those who have been silenced.”

Yes let’s.

Guest post: How to defend the squicky things

Sep 29th, 2015 10:58 am | By

Guest post by Josh Spokes.

If we talked about LGBT rights the way we “defend” Planned Parenthood, it would sound like this:

1. “Did you know that 98 percent of equal rights used by LGBT people are used by normal, monogamous families?”

2. “Protecting gender-deviant radical people is only 2 percent of the the entire equal rights budget we’re proposing. If you can hold your nose at them, think of all the deserving people you’d be helping.”

3. “If you want to prevent non-standard living and family arrangements, our equal rights project is the best way to do that. When everyone can marry, fringe LGBT people won’t have any desire to live non-conventionally or in ways that you don’t approve of. Equal rights prevents more non-standard sexuality expressions than any other government effort!”

4. “No federal funds are spent protecting the rights of deviant, non-standard individuals!”

Enact that law

Sep 29th, 2015 10:47 am | By

American Atheists announced a new campaign today – a desperately needed one.

American Atheists today announced a campaign to enact legislation that would require health care providers to inform patients, insurance companies, and government agencies about any medical procedures and services the provider chooses not to perform because of the provider’s religious beliefs.

Wouldn’t you think they already had to do that? But they don’t.

“Patients must be able to make fully informed decisions about their health care,” said Amanda Knief, National Legal and Public Policy Director for American Atheists, and author of the bill. “This legislation would help patients get the information they need to navigate the increasingly complicated—and increasingly religious—health care marketplace.”

I’ve blogged about this issue a lot, especially in light of the Below the Radar report by the National Women’s Law Center in 2011. It’s about the way Catholic hospitals – just like the ones in Ireland! – deny even lifesaving abortions, and don’t inform their patients that that’s what they’re doing.

Back to the AA press release:

There are no state or federal laws or regulations that require health care providers to inform patients of services or treatments a provider will not provide because of the provider’s religious beliefs. Religious hospitals account for more than 17 percent of all hospital beds in the United States, and religiously based hospitals, physicians, and other health care entities treat more than 1 in 6 Americans each year.

“This is about disclosure, not about forcing providers to do anything they have a religious objection to. If a religiously affiliated hospital or health care provider has some objection to providing birth control, access to cancer therapies that could result in sterilization, mental health services, or blood transfusions, they can continue to opt out of providing those services. What they can’t do is pull a bait and switch on patients and potential patients,” added Knief.

I blanched at the words “or blood transfusions.” What? They can refuse blood transfusions?

They can refuse anything, Amanda told me; there’s no law requiring providers to provide all treatments.

Well that needs to change. The first step will have to be informing the public, and this bill looks like a good first step.

The proposed legislation would require health care providers to simply provide a list of services they will not perform for religious reason to patients, potential patients, health insurers, and state and federal grant or subsidy programs. The health care providers and insurance issuers would then be required to make that information available online for potential patients.

American Atheists will work with its 170+ local affiliates and coalition partners to build support for this legislation in both Congress and the 50 states.

I’m in! Spread the word.