Notes and Comment Blog

An ambitious and capable young priest

Mar 3rd, 2016 9:47 am | By

David Marr at the Guardian Australia suggests that George Pell kept shtum about those child-rapey priests because if he hadn’t he would have remained an obscure priest instead of wafting to the glorious elevation of cardinal.

Had young Pell made it his business to find why the paedophile Father Gerald Ridsdale was being shifted from parish to parish in the 1970s – in later years by a committee on which he himself sat – he might well be living the twilight years of his career not in Rome but the seaside parish of Warrnambool.

From Pell’s evidence on the second day of his Roman cross-examination there emerged a picture of an ambitious and capable young priest who decided, early on, to steer clear of this dangerous issue.

On Monday Pell admitted knowing bits and pieces about some of the offenders and some of their crimes in Ballarat. He earned credibility for that. But on Tuesday he swore blind he knew nothing about the worst of them all: Ridsdale.

His bishop never told him.

But the devastating admission drawn from Pell by Gail Furness SC, counsel assisting the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, was that he never bothered to ask.

“It was a sad story and of not much interest to me,” he told the commission. By the late 1970s he was a busy priest running the Catholic Institute of Education. “I had no reason to turn my mind to the evils Ridsdale had perpetrated.”

Except that he still sat on the committee moving Ridsdale around Ballarat, leaving – as he admits now – fresh victims behind every time and finding new ones in every new parish.

Pell never asked anyone, it seems, why this priest was shifted every couple of years, from Apollo Bay to Inglewood to Edenhope to Bungaree to Kangaroo Flat to Mortlake and, finally, to a desk job in Sydney.

Hey maybe the guy just liked a bit of variety.

Was I alone in wishing Furness would ask: should they call the cops? Pell answered the question unasked. “I’m not sure at that stage there was even a civic responsibility to report such a crime.”

The cardinal was speaking from the heart. By the look of things he has failed to convince the royal commission that he did his duty by the children of Ballarat. But he has surely convinced them of his loyalty to the hierarchical church.

“A priest has a moral responsibility to do what is appropriate to his position,” he declared in the last minutes of his evidence.

Spoken like a true god-obeyer.

H/t Omar

Not radically different

Mar 3rd, 2016 9:18 am | By

The new issue of Free Inquiry is online, and my column is one of the items not subscribers-only this time. It’s about the odd fact that we consider Islamic State an enemy while we consider Saudi Arabia a valuable ally. (By “we” of course I mean Anglophone countries at government level.)

Saudi Arabia is officially an ally of many liberal democracies, yet it spurned the UDHR in company with newly apartheid South Africa and authoritarian communist states. This should seem stranger to us than it does. The hostility toward human rights of apartheid South Africa eventually made it a pariah state, and its pariah status in turn forced an end to apartheid. The stark absence of human rights in the Soviet Bloc eventually helped cause it to crumble. Why has nothing similar happened to Saudi Arabia? Why has global outrage not made something similar happen to Saudi Arabia? Why were conditions in South Africa and East Germany treated as human-rights issues while those in Saudi Arabia were not? Why now is the Islamic State a dreaded enemy while Saudi Arabia is still an ally? I would really like to know.

The two are not radically different, after all. Islamic State beheads people, and so does Saudi Arabia. Islamic State enslaves women, and so does Saudi Arabia. Islamic State kills people for “apostasy” and “blasphemy,” and so does Saudi Arabia. Islamic State considers Sharia law absolute and binding, and so does Saudi Arabia. Islamic State hates the Jews, and so does Saudi Arabia. Islamic State considers itself a legitimate state, and so does Saudi Arabia.


Berta Cáceres murdered

Mar 3rd, 2016 8:15 am | By

Democracy Now reports:

Honduran indigenous and environmental organizer Berta Cáceres has been assassinated in her home. She was one of the leading organizers for indigenous land rights in Honduras.

In 1993 she co-founded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). For years the group faced a series of threats and repression.

According to Global Witness, Honduras has become the deadliest country in the world for environmentalists. Between 2010 and 2014, 101 environmental campaigners were killed in the country.

In 2015 Berta Cáceres won the Goldman Environmental Prize, the world’s leading environmental award. In awarding the prize, the Goldman Prize committee said, “In a country with growing socioeconomic inequality and human rights violations, Berta Cáceres rallied the indigenous Lenca people of Honduras and waged a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam.”

Democracy Now shares the statement from SOA Watch:

At approximately 11:45pm last night, the General Coordinator of COPINH, Berta Caceres was assassinated in her hometown of La Esperanza, Intibuca. At least two individuals broke down the door of the house where Berta was staying for the evening in the Residencial La Líbano, shot and killed her. COPINH is urgently responding to this tragic situation.

Berta Cáceres is one of the leading indigenous activists in Honduras. She spent her life fighting in defense of indigenous rights, particularly to land and natural resources.

Cáceres, a Lenca woman, grew up during the violence that swept through Central America in the 1980s. Her mother, a midwife and social activist, took in and cared for refugees from El Salvador, teaching her young children the value of standing up for disenfranchised people.

Cáceres grew up to become a student activist and in 1993, she cofounded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) to address the growing threats posed to Lenca communities by illegal logging, fight for their territorial rights and improve their livelihoods.

Berta Cáceres and COPINH have been accompanying various land struggles throughout western Honduras. In the last few weeks, violence and repression towards Berta Cáceres, COPINH, and the communities they support, had escalated. In Rio Blanco on February 20, 2016, Berta Cáceres, COPINH, and the community of Rio Blanco faced threats and repression as they carried out a peaceful action to protect the River Gualcarque against the construction of a hydroelectric dam by the internationally-financed Honduran company DESA. As a result of COPINH’s work supporting the Rio Blanco struggle, Berta Cáceres had received countless threats against her life and was granted precautionary measures by the InterAmerican Commission for Human Rights. On February 25, 2016, another Lenca community supported by COPINH in Guise, Intibuca was violently evicted and destroyed.

Chris Clarke brought this to our attention.


No need to crawl

Mar 2nd, 2016 5:25 pm | By

More on the University of Sheffield Atheist Secular & Humanist Society, and that post on their Facebook page.

We are in no way abandoning Maryam Namazie. This year the society has shifted it’s focus from hard line atheism as it tends to stagnate numbers and decrease membership, to focus on humanism, which has had the opposite effect. We had a slow start in this and managed after a lot of hard work to be invited to events ran by the CU and Isoc. These are important because we feel that better relations mean they will feel more comfortable joining events that we host, making the society more diverse and the atmosphere more comfortable. We would be terrified of hosting Maryam and having her expirience what happened at Goldsmith’s after the society had enjoyed some success with Isoc, and having invited her feeling confident that the atmosphere would be a welcome one from all in attendance not just SASH members.

We would be delighted to host her at the University if this is something that is unlikely to happen. We really really don’t want her to feel undervalued or in some way unwelcome. The only thing unwelcome is the treatment she has expirienced at Goldsmith’s.

Yes but the right way to deal with that is not to refuse to invite her to speak. That just gives the Goldsmiths Isoc what it wanted: to shut her up.

Also…what exactly is the source of the terror in

We would be terrified of hosting Maryam and having her expirience what happened at Goldsmith’s after the society had enjoyed some success with Isoc, and having invited her feeling confident that the atmosphere would be a welcome one from all in attendance not just SASH members.

Is it terror of yet more bullying of Maryam? Or is it terror that Isoc will be mad at them, and all their efforts to make friends with Isoc will be for naught? It looks as if it’s the latter – and that’s pathetic.

Why do they want to be friends with Isoc in the first place? Islamists and atheists / humanists are not natural friends. Why is this ASH group trying so hard to be not an ASH group?

Maryam responded to that silly post.

The issue is not about an invitation to me. The point is that you are saying you cannot invite me to your uni at the suggestion of a student because of what happened at Goldsmiths University Atheist, Secularist and Humanist society. What happened? The ISOC there tried to cancel my talk, came and intimidated and even threatened the audience and I am to blame? You forgot to issue a statement of solidarity with the ISOC like the Goldsmiths Feminist and LGBTQ+ societies. Are you saying if I come, your ISOC might have to behave badly? And if so, why am I to blame for it. The politics of cowards. Always siding with Islamist narrative at the expense of dissenters.

She got a reply as silly as the post was:

We are simply saying that we do not know what will happen. There have been some incidents that suggest there are some members who may react in a negative way. They also may not. In order to find out, we wanted to improve relations between the Islamic Society to create a conversation that allows for us to ask whether issues may occur.

We in no way condone that behaviour and are obviously actively trying to prevent it from happening to you again at this university.

Rather as if Jews had tried to “improve relations” with the Nazis to create a conversation that allowed for them to ask whether the Nazis were planning to murder them all. Isoc is an Islamist organization, so of course it’s not going to be friendly to Maryam’s views. There’s no need to crawl to them to find that out, and crawling to them won’t make them any more likely to be reasonable about anything.

In just one year

Mar 2nd, 2016 12:27 pm | By

Meanwhile, in the getting shit done department

The Peace Corps announced on Wednesday that it had more than doubled the number of countries participating  in the Let Girls Learn initiative, which aims to address the challenges that prevent 62 million adolescent girls from attending school and completing their educations.

Launched by the U.S. president and first lady on March 3, 2015, the government effort has since — with the help of corporate partners and individual donors throughout America — funded nearly 100 Let Girls Learn projects in 21 countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Central America, and trained more than 800 Peace Corps volunteers to become catalysts for community-led change. Another 23 countries have been added this year. “In just one year, we’ve doubled the number of Peace Corps countries participating in Let Girls Learn, ensuring that even more girls around the world will have the resources and opportunities they need to succeed,” First Lady Michelle Obama said. “I am so inspired by how many Peace Corps volunteers are committed to Let Girls Learn. Their efforts exemplify our resolve to help girls everywhere get the education they need and deserve.”

Let them soar.

A more discreet and lady-like way of communicating

Mar 2nd, 2016 11:42 am | By

Is this peak cis? From the Telegraph:

A new startup is reinventing smartphone design, turning phones from rectangles to circles. The circular smartphone, called Cyrcle, is aimed at women, whose smaller pockets often can’t accommodate large phablets.

Ah yes, women and their biological smaller pockets.

The company behind the phone is called Dtoor – which stands for “Designing the opposite of rectangle” although the Cyrcle smartphone is currently their only proposed product. The founders Christina Cyr and Linda Inagawa are ex-Microsoft employees…

So everything right-angled will be designed into circularity to accommodate poor woolly women who can’t handle corners? Books will be round, magazines will be round, doors will be round, paper currency will be round?

The makers seem to be serious about launching this specialist “feminine-forward” phone, despite its completely tone-deaf promotional material. For instance, they claim to be custom-building for women, because current phones make women look “unattractive”, describing it as, “moms at a volleyball practice pecking like chickens into their mobile phones.” The Cyrcle is pegged as a more discreet and lady-like way of communicating.

Since the designers are women, I would pretty much call that cis – taking the stereotypes at face value and treating them as charming bits of personality as opposed to confining belittling limiting stereotypes.

Anyway, I struggle more with circles than I do with rectangles. When I go to pick up something circular I just can’t seem to figure out where the edge is.

The discourse in the zeitgeist

Mar 2nd, 2016 11:11 am | By

Maryam tells us about a new installment in the ongoing saga of…of…I don’t even know what to call it now, because it’s become so tangled and contradictory since Sam Harris’s worshipers joined the fray. Of bizarro-world reasons students come up with to claim she’s an Unapproved Person.

A student at Sheffield University messaged the University’s Atheists, Secularists and Humanists Society to suggest inviting Maryam to speak there. Here is the ASH president’s response:




Can you believe it?

“The discourse in the zeitgeist” – meaning the chatter on the bit of social media the writer is aware of, which hardly amounts to the discourse in the zeitgeist, if there even is such a thing. But it makes for an official-sounding “reason” for shunning someone, and that’s what counts.

But much more to the point is the writer’s squeamishness at a “hard anti-Islamist” approach. Should we be pro-Islamist instead? Or neutral? Does the writer realize that Islamism means sharia and all that that entails? Has the writer taken a look at Islamism in Saudi Arabia for example?

Then there’s the hopeless confusion about the conversation with Sam Harris – as if Sam Harris had been pro-Islamism and Maryam had been “divisively” against it.

And then – this is the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist society – and it’s worried about relations with the Islamic Circle? But it’s an Atheist, Secularist and Humanist society. Can’t atheists have any place where they’re allowed to be atheist?

Then there’s the mention of “what happened at Goldsmiths” – as if that had been Maryam’s doing, when it was members of Isoc who disrupted her scheduled talk. The president of Sheffield ASH seems to want to give Sheffield Islamists a pre-emptive veto on inviting atheists to speak.

They had a conversation on Facebook.


“We really really don’t want her to feel undervalued or in some way unwelcome” – what do they mean “in some way unwelcome”? Obviously she is unwelcome – because Sheffield Islamists might go to her talk to disrupt it and try to bully her.

What a train-wreck.

Guest post: Does anyone else notice that linguistic legerdemain?

Mar 2nd, 2016 10:49 am | By

Originally a comment by Josh Spokes on “We hope discussions on trafficking would not disproportionately focus on sex work”.

The reversal of meaning that’s happened to the word “stigmatizing” in this context is disturbing. I think it’s worth unpacking. I also think well-meaning people are accepting a perverse use of the term because it’s become de rigeur. Please reconsider.

“Stigmatizing sex workers” in a harmful way has always been understood to include things like:

  • calling women whores and streetwalkers
  • jeering at prostitutes
  • treating them as unrapeable
  • Trying to sweep them away like untidy garbage (you know, like how we do the homeless)

I think most of you would agree that this is a sensible, ordinary use of the term.

But look at how it’s being used here, by contrast:

  • Advocating for an end to the conditions that force women into prostitution
  • Calling the sex trade what it clearly is: Exploitative, and almost always paid rape. (Notice the “almost always” before you comment, anyone, because I won’t be nice if you gloss over it for a chance to ‘correct’ me)
  • Urging other liberals not to ignore the rape and exploitation of the vast majority of women in prostitution. Urging them not to sweep it under the rug because some more well to do Western women had a lark doing lap dances for money in a choosy-choice way

Does anyone still think that this is a reasonable way to frame “stigmatization” of prostitutes? Does anyone else notice that linguistic legerdemain, and how insidious it is?

I hope some people will contemplate this and change their minds.

Save the predatory lending practices

Mar 1st, 2016 5:53 pm | By

Behold the gruesome corruption, sleaze, and all-round disgustingness of US politics.

Back when Dodd-Frank mandated the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency proposed by Elizabeth Warren with the goal of protecting American families from predatory lending practices, few probably imagined the agency would face pushback from the chair of the Democratic National Committee. And yet, here we are in 2016, in the midst of one of the most bizarre election seasons on record, and Wasserman Schultz, along with several other Floridians in Congress, is challenging the CFPB’s forthcoming payday lending regulations.

Because what could be more worth protecting from regulation than an “industry” that preys on poor people by charging sky-high interest rates on payday loans?

Wasserman Schultz is listed as a co-sponsor on the bill that would stall CFPB’s regulations and give states the opportunity to opt out of them.

Wasserman Schultz has plenty of support in this endeavor, much of it from Republicans, as The Huffington Post’s Zach Carter points out. But Wasserman Schultz, who has received over $30,000 from the payday loan industry, will lend legitimacy to the Democratic minority that supports the bill.

Sleazy sleazy sleazy.


“We hope discussions on trafficking would not disproportionately focus on sex work”

Mar 1st, 2016 5:22 pm | By

The Women’s Liberation Group within the Edinburgh University Student Association is worried that there is going to be an event on human trafficking at the university. The group issued a statement.

Recently, it was brought to the Women’s Group attention that there is an event being organised within the university on Human Trafficking. The Women’s Group have a few concerns with the event.

Any conflation of human trafficking with sex work is incredibly harmful and damaging to both sides. We hope discussions on trafficking would not disproportionately focus on sex work, as from the statistics provided (an estimated 28 million are trafficked and 4.5 million are part of the sex trade) this would make up around 1/6 of trafficking. We would hope the conversation would address all forms of forced labour, including those such as domestic and manual labour.

But maybe that’s what the event is about – sex trafficking. Trafficking is not identical to forced labor, and there are different kinds of forced labor which can all be addressed separately. I don’t see it as particularly women-liberating to say don’t talk about sex trafficking, talk about all forced labor instead. A form of slavery that very disproportionately victimizes women ought to be a feminist concern, I should think. It’s odd to see feminists saying ALL forced labor matters.

However, we are concerned that the two speakers included in the event are from the same ideological wing and support an “end demand” model for prostitution through criminalisation. One of the speakers is from an organisation which equates child abuse and lap dancing as examples of violence against women. Their stance is: “All prostitution is exploitative of the person prostituted, regardless of the context, or whether that person is said to have consented to the prostitution.” This is directly at odds with EUSA policy to condemn anti sex work campaigns.

Because libertarian fun-feminism has eaten all their brains.

Inspire on the tributes to Mumtaz Qadri

Mar 1st, 2016 10:53 am | By

A statement by Inspire:

Inspire is shocked and disappointed that some British imams, Muslim groups and individuals in our country have expressed their support and paid tribute to Mumtaz Qadri following his execution* yesterday in Pakistan, by declaring him to be a “martyr” who defended the honour of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him)

Mumtaz Qadri assassinated Punjab Governor Salman Taseer in January 2011 for his stance against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and his robust defence of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who is currently on death row for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). 

Governor Taseer pointed out in November 2010 in an interview with CNN that the blasphemy law is not a religious law but a political tool implemented in 1979 when he stated: 

“The blasphemy law is not a God-made law. It’s a man-made law. It was made by General Ziaul Haq and the portion about giving a death sentence was put in by Nawaz Sharif. So it’s a law which gives an excuse to extremists and reactionaries to target weak people and minorities.” 

Also in 2010, during an interview with Newsline Governor Taseer made the following statement:

 “The thing I find disturbing is that if you examine the cases of the hundreds tried under this law, you have to ask how many of them are well-to-do? Why is it that only the poor and defenceless are targeted? How come over 50 per cent of them are Christians when they form less than 2 per cent of the country’s population. This points clearly to the fact that the law is misused to target minorities.” 

Such remarks angered Qadri enough to murder Governor Taseer in cold blood. Yet today in Pakistan thousands of supporters cheered and threw flowers at the casket of Mumtaz Qadri. Here in the UK since yesterday, a number of imams, Muslim groups and individuals have praised and defended Qadri’s act of murder.

We believe there is absolutely no justification – whether religious, moral or ethical – for supporting individuals like Qadri, least of all from an Islamic perspective. Qadri’s supporters have argued that he honoured the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by murdering Taseer when in fact Qadri and his supporters have tainted the name of the Prophet and dishonoured his teachings by murdering a man in cold blood who showed solidarity with minority communities, as did the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).  As Governor Taseer rightly pointed out: “Islam calls on us to protect minorities, the weak and the vulnerable. 

This Islamic position was recently re-emphasised at the historic Marrakesh Declaration which was attended by Muslim theologians from 120 countries in February 2016 and can be read here

We at Inspire believe that we must stand for equality, human rights and the rule of law. We also recognise we must challenge those who seek to bring our faith into disrepute by justifying violence and death in the Prophet’s name.

1st March 2016

*Inspire do not support the death penalty

This time we don’t like the paperwork

Mar 1st, 2016 10:35 am | By

Back at the beginning of February I posted about Kate Smurthwaite’s scheduled triumphant return to Goldsmiths (after the SU canceled her show last year for no good reason).

The Goldsmiths Atheist, Secularist and Humanist society will be holding a stand-up show featuring the triumphant return of Kate Smurthwaite to perform along with comedian James Ross. Tickets are free but limited so please confirm on Eventbrite, alcohol will be provided and we will be collecting money for Refugee action at the event, so bring your coins!

Left-wing, highbrow, feminist, atheist comedy from Kate Smurthwaite  – ThreeWeeks award winner and writer for Have I Got News For You? and BBC3’s BAFTA-winning The Revolution Will Be Televised.  Kate has appeared on Question Time and is a regular on The Big Questions, The Moral Maze and This Morning but was recently deemed “too controversial” for Goldsmith’s College.

Her new comedy solo show is called “The wrong sort of Feminist” and is about her barring from Goldsmiths last year, choice and freedom, the feminist movement, the treatment of asylum seekers in Britain, Couples Come Dine with Me and edible pants.

Her show has had great reviews with Three weeks saying its “comedy that cuts through the crap”, Broadway baby saying “The verve with which she articulates her views on our land is monumental”, the Spectator saying ““Hilarious… A powerhouse of observational wit” and Scotsgay noting “An important and inclusive narrative… a brilliant comedian”.

It was canceled at the last minute – because of a broken water main, she was told. That was crappy, because people had made plans. But a broken water main is a broken water main, so okay – it was rescheduled.

Until today.

Fucking Goldsmith’s have cancelled my show again. Last week when there was a burst water main I took it on the chin. This time they are saying “paperwork wasn’t done correctly” (not by me, by the student atheist society that had arranged it). I find this more than unlikely. I smell yet more bullshit. Really sorry everyone who had a ticket and then got told it had moved dates and all that crap. We are going to keep fighting this until it does happen. When it does I will be bringing free nibbles for those who’ve put up with all the dickery.

I second the bullshit call. It’s the Student Union doing this, and I say it’s outrageous. They dislike her views on prostitution, so they schedule events and then cancel them at the last minute, so as to punish anyone who had made plans to go as well as Kate herself. This goes beyond even no-platforming into outright disruption.

They need to be embarrassed.

A silo mentality

Mar 1st, 2016 9:41 am | By

William Brown at the Mancunion talks to Manchester University alumnus David Aaronovitch.

Toward the end Brown asks Aaronovitch about Murdoch’s influence on him as a Times writer.

“Over me? None whatsoever.

“The most important thing about where I work, is for me to be arguing with people. It’s pointless being at a paper arguing with people who already agree with you. If what you’re looking for is an echo chamber, then what you’ll do is work for a paper whose readers have views that already agree with yours. But what kind of challenge is that?”

Today, according to Aaronovitch, you see a “silo mentality” all over the place—a refusal by many people to talk to others who don’t share the same political opinions as they do. Nowhere is this trend more apparent in than the student body. As a close friend of the feminist campaigner and writer, Julie Bindel, who was recently blocked from speaking by Manchester’s Students’ Union, David Aaronovitch turned his guns on the student movement.

“Why are students blocking people from speaking who they don’t like? Well it looks to me as if we’ve brought you up to be such a nice bunch really. You don’t sod off out of the house at 18 and not come back like our generation did. And you don’t think your parents are a bunch of shite, you actually quite like them.

“It’s a bit like the argument that we haven’t let our children play enough in the dirt because that actually effectively inoculates you against viruses. Have we been so incredibly protective, are you so precious, that whether or not you feel slightly bad at any one moment matters more than whether or not something is true?”

That might be a little unfair. I think the core idea is that some ideas can inspire persecution of relatively powerless people, and that therefore it’s better not to give those ideas publicity. I don’t think that idea is completely wrong – in fact I don’t see how it can be completely wrong, given what we know about Nazi Germany, the Balkans, Rwanda, Mississippi – you get the idea. But of course that idea can balloon out until it makes people afraid of almost all ideas, and there’s your silo mentality.

This tension plays out constantly. It’s all over that encounter between Sam Harris and my dear friend Maryam Namazie last week – Maryam thinks groups like Pegida and people like Douglas Murray are dangerous to refugees, Muslims, immigrants, but she also thinks the way to deal with that is to argue. Harris thinks Douglas Murray is “pre-stigmatized”…and Harris’s fans think Maryam deserves their verbal abuse. It’s complicated.

“Somebody coined the term ‘vindictive protectionism’,” he continues. “It’s where people claim to be active on behalf of other people who they think are being offended or denigrated. They use this as an opportunity to get pleasure from condemning someone else. The only time you can legitimately be very nasty to someone else is when you accuse them of being offensive or morally wrong. You can be really horrible [to] them, whilst pretending to be the virtuous one.”

And you can have a good time doing it.

Mentioning the recent case at Goldsmiths University where Iranian exile, feminist and ex-Muslim, Maryam Namazie, was shouted down by protestors from the university’s Islamic Society, Aaronovitch laughs at the absurdity of one protestor who cried out “safe-space, safe-space!” when confronted by Namazie.

“Look, the men were behaving very badly at the front of the show. But when they’re kicked out, the women protesters at the back start off trying to be really offensive. But actually, Maryam engages them in debate and suddenly there is something going on there which is outside everybody else’s control.

“There’s a dialogue going on. They are talking to an older woman who actually has been a victim of Islamic extremism. Free speech allows things to happen which you don’t expect.”

Especially when Maryam is around.

What is at stake in safeguarding free thought

Feb 29th, 2016 5:07 pm | By

PEN on Iran’s renewed incitement to murder Salman Rushdie:

PEN International joins PEN America and English PEN in deploring the effort at intimidation mounted by 40 state-run media outlets in Iran that have announced a US$600,000 bounty put forward this week to augment Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1989 death fatwa on the writer Salman Rushdie. The spectre of a new financial reward being added to this longstanding threat is a craven attempt to fan the flames of religious extremism and hatred.

PEN has supported Rushdie since the fatwa was first passed and writers around the world stand in solidarity with him. It’s highly disturbing to hear of this bounty offered by state-run media which should be rescinded immediately,said Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International.

‘The Iranian government should make it clear that they do not condone any violence directed against Rushdie, and undertake all necessary steps to guarantee his physical safety. Any Iranian citizen or organization against whom there is evidence of aiding or advocating Rushdie’s murder must be brought to justice.’

Rushdie, a former President of PEN America, a resident of the United States and a citizen of the United Kingdom, has lived for 27 years under a religious death warrant because of his novel The Satanic Verses. Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa led to the killing of a Japanese translator of the book, as well as other violent attacks.

In spite of the threat, Rushdie’s outspokenness and passionate defence of imperilled writers the world over stand as an inspiration, providing a daily reminder of what is at stake in safeguarding free thought.

True that last bit. Remember the boycott of Charlie Hebo’s PEN America award last year? Salman was right out in front on that.

He felt justified trying to kill his own daughter

Feb 29th, 2016 11:46 am | By

Congratulations to Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy:

The first Oscar-winner in Pakistan’s history is back in the Hollywood limelight this weekend as Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s unflinching new documentary about “honor killings,” A Girl In The River: The Price Of Forgiveness, competes for an Academy Award.

The 37-year-old Chinoy’s previous film about acid-attack victims, Saving Face, won the top prize for a documentary short in 2012.

(UPDATE: Chinoy Won The Oscar. More Here.)

Bashir Ahmad Gwakh interviewed her via email.

RFE/RL: What does your documentary find? Tell us about the status of women going through domestic violence and families whose loved one was killed in ‘honor killings’?

Chinoy: The film really brings to reality the kind of patriarchal and conservative mindset that women are up against. I went to speak to Saba’s father after he was arrested and he had so much hatred in him. He was still adamant that Saba was in the wrong and he felt justified trying to kill his own daughter. He felt it was his duty as a father and husband to protect his family from the “dishonor” that Saba brought upon them by falling in love and getting married. The interaction that I had with him spoke volumes about the kinds of choices we women have in the world and how our lives are impacted by the decisions taken by others.

The very fact that women are currently unable to make their own policy decisions in certain parts of the country is an alarming reality, and pushes us further away from being the owners of our own stories and fighters for our own rights.

Ever year, hundreds of women are killed in the name of honor; and although honor killings are prevalent in Pakistan, they are considered a taboo subject by many. There is a perception that somehow these murders fall under the purview of the family and that they shouldn’t be questioned or challenged. To me, they have always been premeditated, cold-blooded murders justified under the guise of culture or religion.

Families don’t get to murder family members. Not cool. Family isn’t a permission slip to murder all the uppity females.

RFE/RL: How do you feel about your documentary being nominated for an Academy Award? What’s your next project?

Chinoy: I am proud to be representing Pakistan on such a prestigious platform — that [it is also] for the second time. I am grateful that the SOC Films production was able to share the untold story of A Girl In The River: The Price Of Forgiveness with a global audience. Since the start of my career, I have always endeavored to share the stories of those who cannot do so themselves. To be acknowledged for this work is always very humbling, and on such a giant platform like the Oscars makes it surreal.

But for me personally, it will be an even bigger win if we, as a nation, take this opportunity to acknowledge that we have a problem and pass the Anti-Honor Killings Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill 2014. It is time we change the law and stand up for the victims of this heinous crime.

(Editor’s note: The bill was passed by the provincial legislature on February 25.)

Congratulations x a million.

He advised people to not publish anything inflammatory

Feb 29th, 2016 10:51 am | By

Shabnam Nadiya remembers Avijit Roy and a freer Bangladesh.

On February 15, 2016, at the annual book fair held in Dhaka, police handcuffed Shamsuzzoha Manik, the 73-year-old publisher of the small press Ba-Dwip Prakashan, and shut down their book stall.

They seized six books. Their target was a translation anthology called Islam Bitarka (The Islam Debate), published in 2013, but they also grabbed five others: Aryans and the Indus Civilization; Jihad: Forced Conversions, Imperialism, and Slavery’s Legacy; Islam’s Role in Social Development; Women’s Place in Islam; and Islam and Women, in case they were “insulting to Islam”.

Alongside Manik, two of his associates were arrested under Section 57(2) of the infamous Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act.

Bangla Academy director Shamsuzzaman Khan said this was all good, as did Zafar Iqbal, a popular science-fiction writer, who went on to tell everyone to be cautious when writing.

Last February I emailed Avijit Roy, science writer and founder of Mukto Mona, a web forum for South Asian rationalists. Although we had been close friends since college, it had been months since we had talked. But I thought of him as soon as I read about Rodela Publishers.

Rodela’s offices had been vandalised after the Hefazat-e-Islam organisation issued threats over the translation of Iranian writer Ali Dashti’s 23 Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Muhammad.

The next day, although the publisher had apologised and pulled the book from distribution, Bangla Academy closed Rodela’s stall at the 2015 Boi-Mela.

Avijit responded immediately. He and Bonya, his wife and co-activist, were visiting Dhaka after many years. He noted how frustrating the Rodela business was and that Dhaka felt more stifling.

Two days later he was murdered.

In the months that followed, there was a killing spree. Ananta Bijoy Das, Washiqur Rahman, Niloy Neel – all bloggers, all murdered. Coordinated, separate attacks targeted Avijit’s publishers: Faisal Abedin Deepan’s throat was slit open; Ahmedur Rashid Tutul (alongside two other writer/activists visiting him) was wounded.

Bangla Academy offered no official commemoration for any of these writers or publishers – not even for Avijit, who died on their doorstep – during Boi-Mela.

Khan, at his pre-fair press conference, acknowledged the attacks, though: he advised people to not publish anything inflammatory.

Dissent, provocation, hurtful religious sentiment, call it what you will: here lies a truth uncomfortable for institutions such as Bangla Academy (not to mention the state) – the Bangladeshi literary canon contains many works that, examined through the static and narrow lens of strict religion, will be found offensive.

If you allow religious fanatics to have a veto, very little will survive.

Feb 29th, 2016 10:11 am | By

This, today, in a couple of hours (minus ten minutes), at the Oxford Union:

Prof Tariq Ramadan & Maryam Namazie

  • Event name: Prof Tariq Ramadan & Maryam Namazie
  • Start date: 29/02/2016 20:00
  • End date: // :
  • Duration: N/A


Head to Head : Islam in Europe Today

Listed in a 2008 report called ‘Victims of Intimidation: Freedom of Speech With Europe’s Muslim Communities’, Namazie has had multiple lectures no-platformed and disrupted.  She is spokesperson for the Council of ex-Muslims and for Iranian Solidarity.  Her writing specialists in challenging cultural relativism and political Islam

Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in Oxford, Tariq Ramadan has held positions in Universities across the world;  he is also persona non grata in at least six countries including Saudi Arabia and Egypt for his challenges to undemocratic regimes

Namazie and Ramadan Will be debating some of the biggest challenges facing Islam today

 I wish I were nearby enough to go.


Before Charlie, before Jesus and Mo, there was Molla Nasreddin

Feb 29th, 2016 9:52 am | By

Konul Khalilova of the BBC Azeri service tells us How Muslim Azerbaijan had satire years before Charlie Hebdo.

More than 100 years before militant Islamist gunmen murdered journalists at France’s satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, another magazine very similar in style was playing an important role among the Muslim populations of both the Russian and Persian empires.

Azerbaijani weekly magazine Molla Nasreddin was revolutionary for its time, bravely ridiculing clerics and criticising the political elite as well as the Russian Tsar and the Shah of Persia.

Founded in 1906, it pulled no punches in tackling geopolitical events and also promoted women’s rights and Westernisation.

I look forward to the accusations of Premature Islamophobia.

The editor-in-chief of the magazine was Jalil Mammadguluzadeh (known as Mirza Jalil), a famous Azerbaijani writer, who was also a well-known novelist.

In his book, The Dead, the main protagonist is a drunken atheist, treated as a madman for telling the truth about his backward society, where girls as young as nine are forced to marry 50-year-old men.

Nine? Not eight, not ten, but nine? Anything special about nine?

Of course; Aishah bint Abû Bakr was nine when Mohammed first raped her.

Molla Nasreddin addressed uneducated Azerbaijanis, unlike other publications of the time, which were heavily influenced by Anatolian Turkish, Russian or Persian.

The texts were in simple language and the cartoons were easy to understand, often targeting clerics, which the magazine’s writers saw as the enemies of education and a secular society.

The birth of a boy compared to the birth of a girl:

In top cartoon a boy is born, in bottom a girl is born

The magazine campaigned for women’s rights and played an important part in women in Azerbaijan being granted the right to vote in 1919, at around the same time as women in the UK and US.

Sifting through old copies of the magazine in Azerbaijan’s National Library, it becomes clear how daring the writers and illustrators of Molla Nasreddin were.

In a 1929 edition, a cartoon was published of the Prophet Mohammad, although without depicting his face.

By this time Azerbaijan was a Soviet state and publication was taking place in the capital, Baku. Nevertheless, the majority of the population were still conservative Muslims.

The cartoon features a dialogue between Jesus and Muhammad and shows people drinking at Christmas.

Hey, an early Jesus and Mo!

It didn’t last though. In the ’30s the Stalinists tried to tell it what to do, and that was the end of it.

They regularly raise human rights concerns with the Saudi government at the highest level

Feb 28th, 2016 6:01 pm | By

Meanwhile David Cameron is boasting about selling arms to Saudi Torturer Arabia.

The Saudi government has bought £3 billion of UK aircraft, arms and other defence products in 2015.

He announced his planned defence of BAE’s international trade: “I’m going to be spending a lot of the next four months talking about this issue but I promise I will not be taking my eye off the ball, making sure the brilliant things you make here at BAE Systems are available and sold all over the world.

On Wednesday, an Amnesty report said the UK is setting a “dangerous precedent” to the rest of the world by continuing to supply arms to questionable regimes such as Saudi Arabia”.

The report criticised the Government’s continuing arms exports to Saudi Arabia in the face of claims that the country may be responsible for atrocities in Yemen.

Not to mention its own citizens, and foreign workers.

A government spokesperson told the Independent:”This is an issue we take very seriously and we regularly raise human rights concerns with the Saudi government at the highest level.”

And then we all have a good laugh and get back to business.

More than 600 tweets

Feb 28th, 2016 5:23 pm | By

Our beloved ally, Saudi Arabia.

A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a man to 10 years in prison and 2,000 lashes for expressing his atheism in hundreds of social media posts.

The report carried in Al-Watan says the 28-year-old man admitted to being an atheist and refused to repent, saying that what he wrote reflected his own beliefs and that he had the right to express them. The report did not name the man.

It added that ‘religious police’ in charge of monitoring social networks found more than 600 tweets denying the existence of God, ridiculing the Quranic verses, accusing all prophets of lies and saying their teaching fuelled hostilities. The court also fined him 20,000 riyals – or, just short of £4,000.

600 or 6000 or 6 trillion, who cares? God doesn’t exist, the Quran is full of malevolent bullshit, of course “prophets” told lies. Saying all that and more shouldn’t be a crime anywhere.

In 2014 the oil-rich kingdom, under the late Saudi King Abdullah, introduced a series of new laws which defined atheists as terrorists, according to a report released from Human Rights Watch.

In a string of royal decrees and an overarching new piece of legislation to deal with terrorism generally, King Abdullah attempted to clamp down on all forms of political dissent and protests that could “harm public order”.

If you clamp down on anything that could harm “public order” then you’re left with a morgue. You can still sell oil, I suppose, but what’s the point? What are you going to do with money when you live in a morgue?