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.

Their honour is more important than loving their children

Mar 21st, 2015 12:10 pm | By

This is heartbreaking. Nazim Mahmood jumped to his death from a balcony seven months ago after coming out to his parents. His partner of 13 years, Matthew Ogston, talks to Sarfraz Manzoor.

The two were soon inseparable. Matthew was working as a web designer and Nazim was a medical student. Their families did not know they were gay. After a year they bought a house. It had two bedrooms so their families might assume they were just housemates. “We used to have to keep the window blinds in our front room closed so no one would see us,” says Matthew. “When we walked down the street we made sure there was some distance between us just in case a family member of his spotted us together.”

They grew tired of looking over their shoulders and wanted to stop hiding, so when Nazim was offered a job at a London hospital in 2004 they seized the opportunity to move to the capital. They would be far from their families, in a city where they knew no one and could fashion a new life together. “In London we felt free,” Matthew says. “We didn’t have to worry about bumping into our parents.”

They were happy, but Nazim was sad about the distance from his family.

The following year, Matthew came out to his parents, who were loving and accepting of both of them, but for Nazim, whose family were culturally conservative Muslims, the only strategy was to keep the solid borderlines between the old life in Birmingham and the new life in London.

And then one day he did tell them, and two days later he jumped off that balcony.

Matthew was suicidal himself.

He is convinced that Nazim spoke to him, telling him to set up a foundation to help other young gay men and women driven to depression because of religious homophobia. He had a reason to go on at last.

The Naz and Matt Foundation was announced at a special service held in London for Nazim, two weeks after his funeral. The service featured contributions from a gay Muslim, gay Hindu, a gay vicar, a trainee Rabbi and a lesbian interfaith minister. Matthew has been seeing a psychotherapist but he doubts any counsellor can help to liberate him from the questions that haunt him. “I don’t have answers to the questions I have and I can’t find peace of mind because there are no answers.”

Who does Matthew blame for Nazim’s death? “I blame a community that is so closed minded to allow these bigoted views that make families believe that their honour is more important than loving their children,” he says. “The respect and honour of the family is more important than the happiness of the children they gave birth to. How sick is that?”

The sickest.

They were engaged for three years but didn’t marry. “I have applied to have my name changed by deed poll to the name I would have adopted when we got married,” he says.

Why didn’t they get married? “Naz said it would not feel right to marry without being able to invite his mother,” says Matthew. “He wanted the unconditional love of his mum – that was all he had ever wanted: love and acceptance.”

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

Take thy reward

Mar 21st, 2015 10:55 am | By

I see that Twitter-activist for misogyny rights Milo Yiannopoulos was on that BBC The Big Questions last week, which I would have known yesterday if I had watched all of the segment on Whither Blokes? but I didn’t watch all of it so I didn’t know he was on. It’s bizarre that the BBC gives airtime to people like him, since he’s more a bully and harasser than he is an “activist.”

Anyway he was, and Kate Smurthwaite got new consignments of Twitter misogyny afterwards. One sample:

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Another sample, via Kate:

The oxygen one deserves two appearances.

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

Your complete opposition to the human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia

Mar 21st, 2015 10:28 am | By

Here’s another thing we can sign – a call to political action to Free Raif and Waleed.

So far 12 MPs, 9 MSPs, and 4 members of the House of Lords have signed. Scores of prominent human rights activists, writers, lawyers and journalists have also signed as well as hundreds of others (see below). Please continue to add your name to this statement. Further action will be necessary.

Raif’s wife Ensaf Haidar has just written to us about this letter.
“I am very grateful for your action in support of my husband’s freedom– please help me get my husband back. His children need him”

Saudi blogger Raif Badawi is currently imprisoned in a Saudi Arabian jail having received the first 50 of a threatened 1,000 lashes. If Raif survives these floggings he faces another 10 years in jail. His ‘crime’ was to have set up a website that called for peaceful change of the Saudi regime away from the repressive and religiously exclusive regime that it is.

In another shameful act his lawyer Waleed Abu Al-Khair, and other human rights activists were also later arrested. On February 20th this year Waleed had his sentence confirmed as 15 years in prison.

The European Parliament in its resolution of Feb 12th made clear its demands on Saudi Arabia to release Raif, as well as his lawyer Waleed and others imprisoned there for exercising their freedom of speech.

But to free Raif from this nightmare needs more than politicians saying that they disapprove of his punishment.

The total EU trade with the Saudi regime is currently close to €64 billion a year. The UK alone has approaching £12 billion invested in Saudi Arabia whilst it continues to invite Saudi investment in the UK, particularly in the property market. Saudi investment in the UK is currently over £62.5 billion.

As the regime inflicts beheadings and floggings on its people, questions have to be asked about why more cannot be done to promote the human rights of citizens of a country with which there is such extensive business. Particularly questions have to be asked about the morality of providing such a regime with arms, particularly the weaponry and facilities they use in their brutal penal system.

We ask that you make publicly clear your complete opposition to the human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and demand the immediate release of Raif and Waleed as the EU parliament has done. We also ask that you make publicly clear what measures you will take as a government to put any trading with this regime on an ethical basis and what conditions you will demand from the Saudi regime if all of that trade is to continue – particularly in relation to weapons that might be used in oppression or imprisonment.

If nothing is done to stop the brutality, beheadings and floggings that are committed there – then any moral stand taken against similar horrors committed elsewhere by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria can only be compromised.

In the spirit of consistency, transparency and humanity we ask you to take action to Free Raif and promote human rights in Saudi Arabia



Links and instructions for signing are on the page.

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


Mar 20th, 2015 6:07 pm | By

University of North Georgia. College course catalogue. Illustration inside said catalogue.

University of North Georgia continuing education catalog

Interesting choice, especially with the caption.


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

No eclipse for you, children

Mar 20th, 2015 3:33 pm | By

Children at a London primary school were banned from watching the eclipse for “religious and cultural reasons.”

Council officials demanded an explanation from the head of the school in a multi-cultural suburb of west London.

Phil Belman, the father of a seven-year-old girl at North Primary School in Southall, rang the headteacher to express his anger.

My daughter was sent home yesterday to make a pinhole camera for the eclipse.

This morning I heard for religious and cultural reasons the kids were going to be banned from any part in the eclipse.

I was put through to him straight away and he confirmed it, religious and cultural reasons. I said that was totally outrageous. I asked him to elaborate and he refused.

It’s just going back to the dark ages really.

The part about refusing to elaborate is especially annoying. It’s a council school, not a private religious school; what is it doing banning all the students from watching the eclipse? What is it doing refusing to discuss the matter with a parent?

Ealing Council confirmed the pupils were not allowed out of their classrooms but said they were able to see the eclipse on TV screens.

The headmaster, Ivor Johnstone, issued a statement saying he was sorry for any disappointment.

The school made this decision when we became aware of religious and cultural concerns associated with observing an eclipse directly.

Although we are sorry for any disappointment, pupils were still able to watch the eclipse on screens in classrooms.

Don’t be sorry for the disappointment; stop banning things for religious reasons; that’s not the school’s job.

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


Mar 20th, 2015 2:57 pm | By

The Big Questions last Sunday – starting 20 minutes in they talk about apostasy. Amal Farah, an ex-Muslim, explains what it can be like to be an ex. Abdullah Al Andalusi bullshits for Britain. Kate Smurthwaite is there too. (The first twenty minutes are devoted to talking about whether Britain has become intolerant of blokes, which was so annoying I skipped ahead after a few minutes, but Kate was doing a good job of replying to the Bloke Representative.)


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

There shall be but one language

Mar 20th, 2015 11:20 am | By

Are you kidding me.

A public school in New York state’s foreign language department arranged to have “the pledge of allegiance” recited in a different language each day for a week. I despise “the pledge” for many reasons – I think it’s nationalistic, coercive, theocratic, and just generally dopy and obnoxious – but if you’re going to have one, reciting it in different languages is quite a cool idea.

And Pine Bush High School in Pine Bush, New York decided to do that and it did it but uh oh uh oh, one of the languages was…brace yourselves…Arabic. Oh no!! Not Arabic!

So people pitched fits and the school said it was so so sorry and will never do it again.

Complaints were received from residents who lost family in Afghanistan and from Jewish parents, an official said.

What’s that got to do with anything?! Arabic is not the language of Afghanistan, and it isn’t invariably the language of anti-Semitism either. It’s a language, not a political affiliation or a party platform.

The school district superintendant, Joan Carbone, told the Times Herald-Record newspaper that the Arabic pledge has “divided the school in half” and that she had received numerous complaints.

A statement from the district apologised “to any students, staff or community members who found this activity disrespectful” and said the reading was intended to “promote the fact that those who speak a language other than English still pledge to salute this great country”.

An Arabic-speaking student read the pledge during morning announcements at Pine Bush High School in Pine Bush, New York, on Wednesday.

I bet that student feels super-welcomed and accepted now.

Many students reportedly shouted their disapproval during the recitation, and later complained on social media.

Later in the afternoon, the school’s principal made a school-wide announcement to explain why the pledge was read in Arabic and to apologise for those who took offence.

Ms Carbone said the pledge would only be read in English in the future.

The school’s student leader, Andrew Zink, who is in charge of the morning announcements, told the local newspapers that he knew the reading would attract controversy.

He permitted it to go forward, because he believed it was “the right thing to do”.

But the school unfortunately went belly-up to the ignorant and benighted people who “shouted their disapproval.”

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

Guest post: How Should We Live: Exploring Moral Dilemmas in Contemporary Africa

Mar 20th, 2015 10:57 am | By

Leo Igwe delivered The Blackham Lecture 2015 in Birmingham on March 12.

To all my friends at Birmingham Humanists, thank you for the honor of selecting me to deliver this year’s Harold Blackham Memorial Lecture.

I never had the honor of meeting Harold Blackham but I read about his great achievements. Notably his contributions to the British Humanist Association and to the international humanist movement. I am a product of that international humanist project. I stand here, grateful to Harold Blackham and others who contributed to the founding of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Blackham was a philosopher and a teacher who cared about moral education. He understood the importance of moral questions and inquiry to the humanist project.

How should we live? This is one of the great humanist questions. For me the question has been: How are we Africans to live in the face of contemporary moral dilemmas? This question leads us to more questions: How can Africans achieve a morally meaningful life in this 21st century? What are the moral choices open to them? How should an African live in a world where moral and educational choices are constrained by powerful local and international religious interests? Is there a secular way of addressing these moral challenges?

Stephen Law delivered the first lecture in this series. He discussed the topic: How Do We Raise Moral Children? Law identified two schools of thought, the authoritarian and the liberal. He noted a shift in moral attitudes from the authoritarian to the liberal since the second half of the 20th century. This shift to enhanced moral autonomy, not deference to external authority, has become the standard of raising moral children. The shift has been criticized by those who believe that greater moral autonomy leads to a situation of ‘moral malaise’ and propose a return to the authoritarian way of child rearing. Law faulted the arguments of those who advance a more authoritarian style of child rearing. This approach he argued would lead to a ‘society of moral sheep’, a society without a moral compass. Law stated that encouraging autonomous thinking by getting people to make their own moral judgments was a better way of raising moral children.

Micheal Hand continued with this debate in his lecture on moral education. He drew attention to the tension between the idea that morality must be learned and therefore can be taught versus the idea that morality is controversial and therefore cannot be taught. He identified two trends of moral education, moral formation and moral inquiry. Moral formation is a form of education in which students are taught to subscribe to moral standards. Moral inquiry on the other hand is investigating with students what moral standards are justified.

Moral inquiry can be directive and non directive. It is directive when the teacher persuades pupils to embrace some moral standards and reject others. Moral inquiry is non directive when the teacher aims to elicit from pupils what is and is not justified. Moral education should embrace both moral formation and enquiry if its aim is to achieve full commitment to moral standards.

How do we apply these thoughts and insights to the dilemmas confronting Africans today? First we need to put into perspective how the authoritarian and liberal approaches apply to the African moral landscape. The authoritarian conservative approach is regarded as ‘African’, as a position that is in line with ‘African values.’ But is authoritarian moral style really African? The liberal approach is taken to be ‘Western’ and often used to dismiss certain moral positions. Is the liberal moral position really western?

Labeling these approaches as African or western has caused confusion in the moral reasoning of Africans, particularly when they are faced with issues that require a shift in attitudes, a change in position or a revision of their thoughts or to embrace new ideas.

The authoritarian approach draws mainly from African traditions, Christianity or Islam. These sources are considered as unquestionable moral definitions in the society, but are they? Are these sources clear and unchanging or open to interpretation by every person for their own purposes?

Africa does not have a codified tradition that is invariable from person to person, community to community or country to country. The same is applicable to Christianity and Islam. The teachings of these religions span centuries. They are contained in oral and written traditions that sometimes contradict each other in numerous doctrines and dogmas that do not make coherent moral sense. When Christian armies fight Christian armies or Islamic armies fight Islamic armies, where is the one true word and for that matter, where is the one true god?

It hardly occurs to many Africans when they argue for a moral position on the basis of Christian or Islamic authority that they are making an argument based on religions that are foreign and ‘unAfrican’. Christianity was an Asian religion introduced into Africa by ‘western’ European missionaries and if Africans dismiss any moral position or prescription because it is western or unAfrican then it should dismiss Christianity. Islam is from Asia as well and thus also foreign and just as readily dismissed as unAfrican.

There is nothing in a liberal approach to morality that makes it western. There is likewise nothing in the conservative and close minded that makes it African. Liberal and conservative approaches can be seen all over Africa and all over the world in varying degrees. There is a conflation of these two ideas that is false.

African moral demagogues have used this conflation to justify morally retrogressive views and backward looking positions. It gives credence to this mistaken notion that openness to new ideas is European or that embracing new moral values is western, and not habits and dispositions that are found in all cultures. One can argue that contemporary Africans espouse Christian or Islamic morality however loosely conceived because of their liberal attitude in the past to what was once a new idea. Though one would argue that this happened through a process marked by coercion and compulsion, the spread of these foreign religions testifies to the openness by Africans to new ideas.

Authoritarian and liberal approaches come to the table of moral discourse and reasoning with this confused baggage. This confusion has led to dilemmas hampering a clear shift in attitudes because many Africans refrain from ‘openly’ and publicly’ endorsing change even when a change is needed and is necessary. They present a moral position which they would have otherwise discarded just because they do not want to be seen or blackmailed as liberal or western in their approach. They do not want to identify with liberal attitude that is equated to moral license, irreverence, corruption, alienating lifestyle, and a betrayal of African values. One subject where these moral ambiguities are pronounced is the campaign against witchcraft accusation in Africa.

The colonialists outlawed witchcraft accusation and witch hunting as an extension of the enlightenment understanding of the natural world. These new laws put the accuser not the accused in the wrong. Witchcraft accusation is a form of death sentence. The enlightened considered witch hunting a practice that was repugnant to “natural justice, equity and good conscience.” But the custodians of African values have had a different idea. Since independence, witchcraft has been reintroduced as a crime by some African states. The anti-witchcraft accusation legislation, wherever it exists, has been ignored, misinterpreted or repealed in what some have argued was an initiative that is consistent with and in furtherance of “African tradition and values.” What is African tradition; accusing innocent people of committing imaginary crimes?

In 2006, Zimbabwe repealed legislation introduced during the colonial period that outlawed witchcraft accusation. In its place, Zimbabwe enacted a law that recognized the existence of supernatural powers and criminalized the use of magic to harm someone. The new law legitimizes traditional healing practices like “rolling bones to foretell the future, divination, attempts to communicate with the dead, using traditional powders and fetishes to ensure the desired sex of a child”. According to a BBC report a professor and a sociologist who was chairman of Zimbabwe’s Traditional Medical Practitioner’s Council thinks that witchcraft could be of some benefit to the modern world. He says it could be used to catch a thief. Zimbabwe could do the modern world a huge favor by appointing this witch to head its police so he could demonstrate the tremendous power of witchcraft and show them how police work is really done.

The BBC report says that it would be difficult to prosecute someone under this law. “The repealing of the witchcraft laws is another sign that Zimbabwe’s government is continuing to move away from Western values and placing more emphasis on the country’s own traditions.“ What is Zimbabwe’s tradition in this case? Divination? Necromancy? and the use of traditional medicine? Africa is also witnessing a move away from “Western Christianity”. This move has led to the emergence of African churches that are championing witch hunts. African pentecostal pastors have become the modern day witch hunters in what has emerged today as African or Africanized Christianity.

In the last three years I have been researching witchcraft accusation in Northern Ghana. This is what an accused woman has to say about the accusation.


“The only relationship is that my colleague’s son got married to her. And then she was also staying in the same room with me. I provided everything she needed. When her pomade and bathing soap finished I tried my best to buy some for her. And all they say now is that I have killed her. Forgetting how I suffered for her. Why is it that when she was a small girl, I was the one who did everything for her, then I did not harm her and now they are accusing me of killing her?”

In another interview, a woman who was accused of betwitching the daughter and subsequently banished to the witch sanctuaries in the region asked me. “How can I give birth to a child, nurtured her and now she is an adult I decided to kill her?”

African tradition is used as the moral justification for the continued practice of the Osu caste system among the Igbos in Southern Nigeria. The caste system discriminates against lower caste people called Osu. The Osu are regarded as untouchables and unmarriable by the higher caste persons. I have been campaigning against this obnoxious practice. I have received letters from both lower and higher caste persons who have been affected by the harmful cultural practice.

This is from a young man who was affected by the tradition:

Dear Sir/Madam

I have read and understood this write up on the so called OSU matter, I am a young man of 31years old from Abba in Wangele local area goverment Imo State of Nigeria but i live in South Africa. Last year 2014 I have met 3 ladies from the same Imo state that I wanted to marry of which they accepted me but their family refused because they said I am OSU, My reason for writing to you is to find out if there is anything possible one can do to stop this OSU of a thing in our Igbo land especially in Imo state where I come from because this has been keeping many of our youths single. Hope to hear from you soon thanks.

It is not only the so called Osu who are affected, the higher caste people are suffering too. A ‘free born’ lady,affected by the practice wrote me and said:

Dear sir,

My name is Q T .I am 25yrs old,a native of ezeogba in emekuku owerri,imo state. I am a christian and also from a religious background

I read your article on osu caste and it inspired me a lot.I am a victim of this evil tradition in the sense that my marriage was canceled because of it. My fiance happens to be an Osu (as they said) from umuofor,Ebgu in owerri,imo state and me a nwadiala .Despite my parents christian faith and strong positions in church,they have vehemently refused me from marrying him. And we both love each other very much

We have done everything humanly possible to make my people understand but to no avail. Even now,the battle is still on in my family.

The question I keep asking is how long will this evil tradition prevail? Can’t something be done about it? Where are the so called religious leaders? Is this actually the plan of God for “Igbos”?. I taught the Holy book said we shouldnt call whatever God has created unclean. isn’t it supposed to be one people, one nation, one igbo ,one culture?
We need to arise and abolish this evil tradition. we have to call on our leaders both religious,traditional and political leaders,human rights activist,NGOs and the igbo communities to help remove this leprosy from our culture. For the sake of our lives and that of our children(even those yet unborn),for the precious sake of our future.
This is from a broken heart,a wounded soul,a voice crying out for help just like many others who have been victims of this tradition. You can reach me through this email.

Tradition is used as the justification for female genital mutilation, ritual killing of albinos and persons with disabilities. The authorities of tradition, god or spirit are invoked to give moral legitimacy to torturing a witch to death, to the persecution and execution of homosexuals, to murdering persons who profess other faiths or those who hold critical or offensive views. We have seen this situation play out in many African countries where people attack kill and maim each other in the name of imaginary beings. Where students lynched their own teacher for supposedly desecrating the Quran, where islamic militants have attacked churches and mosques, killed innocent men and women and kidnapped school boys and girls in furtherance of their campaign to implement sharia law and enthrone an islamic state and in Niger where muslim fanatics protesting the cartoon of prophet Muhammad burnt down churches and killed people who had nothing to do with the cartoon.

A moral crisis is simmering in the region due to contradictory dictates of authoritarian dogma. An urgent moral awakening is needed to dispel mistaken notions that cloud reasoning. Moral education has been dogmatic and directive leaving no room for debate or deliberation with the moral educators be they parents, teachers, pastors or imams. Moral standards are presented as absolute unchangeable and eternal guides handed down from God, Allah or ancestors to mankind who should not revise or modify them.

Contemporary Africans are trapped in a moral cave guarded by traditional, Christian or sharia police sometimes backed by transnational establishments like the Vatican, OIC or the Anglican Communion.

People in the region are presented with a moral choice of remaining in the cage of traditional or religious authoritarianism or breaking away and embracing a new approach to moral thinking. To resolve this dilemma, a shift away from religious authoritarianism and dogmatism towards a secular liberal approach is needed. Africans must rediscover the centrality of their humanity, and begin to unlearn and abandon this pervading idea that without God or ancestors human beings have no moral compass. They must embrace the idea that we human beings are the moral compass. That the external moral authorities are human creations as well.

Moral education must embrace inquiry and criticism, ability to question and challenge without fear moral standards presented by preachers and teachers. Part of moral education should be subjecting moral teachings to critical evaluation and revising moral positions in the light of new knowledge, information and ideas. Morality is not cast on stone!

Moral instruction that aims to enhance individual autonomy should be the goal of moral education. With greater moral autonomy Africa would stop being a moral sheep following the dictates of OIC, Vatican, traditional, christian and islamic demagogues. Africans need to be able to hold independent moral positions.

Africans should begin to conceive morality in the words of Harold Blackham “As something unfinished”, as a process that is always in the making, ”as a material for creative use, a task for our responsible undertaking.”

Thank you.

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

The view from Proba-2

Mar 20th, 2015 10:37 am | By

The European Space Agency took a snap.


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

Today’s body count

Mar 20th, 2015 10:33 am | By

It’s 126 in Sanaa, Yemen. At two mosques, during prayers. Daesh says “we did that.”

Suicide bombers have attacked two mosques in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, killing at least 126 people and wounding many others, reports say.

Worshippers were attending noon prayers at the Badr and al-Hashoosh mosques when at least four attackers struck.

The mosques are used mainly by supporters of the Zaidi Shia-led Houthi rebel movement, which controls Sanaa.

Islamic State (IS), which set up a branch in Yemen in November, said it was behind the attacks.

Is it “Islamophobia” to point out that this is Muslims killing Muslims?

Witnesses said two suicide bombers attacked the Badr mosque, in the south of Sanaa.

One entered the building and detonated his explosive device among dozens of worshippers, the witnesses added. Survivors then sought to escape through the main gates, where the second bomber was waiting.

Al Jazeera reported that the prominent Houthi cleric al-Murtada bin Zayd al-Mahatwari, the imam of the Badr mosque, was among those killed.

Two more bombers attacked the al-Hashoosh mosque, in the north of the capital, with one detonating explosives near the entrance and the other running into the mosque itself.

Lots of death. A big harvest of death. Major success in the body parts department.

“The heads, legs and arms of the dead people were scattered on the floor of the mosque,” Mohammed al-Ansi told Associated Press news agency, adding that “blood is running like a river”.

Mr Ansi said that many of those who were not killed by the explosion were seriously injured by shattered glass that fell from the mosque’s windows.

More than 260 people are reported to have been injured.

These were people at prayers, don’t forget.

Welcome to the Ummah.


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

Bumped up again

Mar 20th, 2015 10:12 am | By

There’s a report in Stern, in German, that Raif Badawi’s case has been sent by the Jeddah Criminal Court to the High Court. Elham Manea took it seriously enough to share with Ensaf Haidar, and Ensaf shared it with everyone.

That could be either good or bad; it’s unknown which.

But don’t worry – the OIC just told us that

Islam, which Saudi Arabia – a founding member of the OIC – is governed by, is centered on the values of justice, compassion, equality, tolerance and the notion of human vicegerency.

So obviously Saudi Arabia isn’t going to behead Raif for expressing an opinion about religion that the Saudi rulers don’t share. That wouldn’t be just or compassionate or egalitarian or tolerant.

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

Back in chase her around the desk land

Mar 19th, 2015 6:00 pm | By

I learned about that gap in my knowledge via a 2012 post of Stephanie’s, We don’t do that anymore, which shares some pretty staggering information. She shares correspondence between Earl Kemp, chair of Chicon III, and Isaac Asimov, in 1961. Go read it: she has permission to post it and I don’t.

[pause while you read it]

Got that? Hahaha let’s do a thing about pinching women’s bums, with some women you can demonstrate on; hahaha yes let’s, I’ll “stiffen the manly fiber of every one in the audience” (because women don’t count as part of “everyone” even though they are there, in the audience).

That was how sexual harassment and assault was dealt with at the genre’s major convention back in 1961. Everybody knew, and not only was it not stopped, but it was encouraged. Tee-hee. Isn’t it funny. Let’s put the guy on stage to tell us all how to enjoy this wonderful thing. Because “us”, like the audience at the masquerade, excluded everyone who wasn’t male. Women weren’t considered at all.

Eeeesh. Things suck now but at least we do get the chance to speak up.

Things have gotten a little bit better since then. The general political situation outside fandom has changed enough that any conrunner has a good idea of the volume of protest that a “witty” speech on sexual assault would bring. The Harlan Ellison incident was met with a very loud outcry. (See the comments on that post for more about Asimov.)

So that’s why I caught up on the Harlan Ellison incident.


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

In a fashion designed to be humiliating

Mar 19th, 2015 5:34 pm | By

Catching up on my history at the moment.Filling in gaps in my knowledge. I didn’t know the one about Harlan Ellison at the Hugo Awards in 2006. Now I know about it.

Here’s the thing.  When Harlan Ellison took it upon himself to grab the spotlight at the Hugo Awards by grabbing the breast of the Guest of Honor, Connie Willis, it wasn’t funny.  Nor was it clever.  Nor was it satirical.  Nor was it a joke between friends.  And, just be clear, it was NOT part of a scripted routine.  Yes, the shtick between her and Robert Silverberg was a planned routine to make the evening amusing for the audience, but Harlan’s actions were unplanned and unwanted.  It was a power-play.  It was demeaning.  It was sexual harassment enacted in a public environment.  It was reprehensible.

How do I know this?  Let me just say, I have an inside line.

No, really, I do.  This is quite likely the only time in my life I’ll be able to claim an inside line on ANYTHING.  But this time, I do.  Because I know an immediate member of the Willis family—Connie’s daughter—who was there during the Hugos.  And let me tell you, from what I heard from her, Connie Willis is pissed.  And rightfully so.

But at least he apologized to her. Sort of. Well no not really.

So, look folks, here’s the situation:  Harlan Ellison behaved like a predator.  He assaulted Connie Willis in public, in a fashion designed to be humiliating, in a manner that demeaned her, and in a way that was NOT part of the evening’s script.  He grabbed her breast in front of a crowd – and with that intentional grab, he stated to everyone looking:

Hey, everybody!  Connie Willis may think she’s an honored guest.  She may think she’s an acclaimed author.  She may think she’s in charge of this ceremony.  She may think we’re friends and I respect her.  But you know what? She’s my bitch if I want her to be.  She’s my prop.  Her breast?  It’s my breast.  Her event?  It’s mine to disrupt. Her talent?  It’s mine to denigrate.  Her gender?  It’s my weapon and I can use it to pump myself up at her expense.

I am Harlan.  I am male.  I must be the center of attention.  Hear me roar.

But then he did sort of apologize on his website where everybody could see it. Sort of.

He made an encouraging start, I will admit.  Here’s a direct cut and paste quote: “iT IS UNCONSCIONABLE FOR A MAN TO GRAB A WOMAN’S BREAST WITHOUT HER EXPLICIT PERMISSION. To do otherwise is to go ‘way over the line in terms of invasion of someone’s personal space. It is crude behavior at best, and actionable behavior at worst… For me to grab Connie’s breast is in excusable, indefensible, gauche, and properly offensive to any observers or those who heard of it later.”  Good for him.  He added, “”I am 100% guilty as charged, and NO ONE should attempt to cobble up mitigating excuses for my behavior.”

Yep, that went pretty well.  Until he torpedoed it by then signing off and defining his behavior as “puckish.” Puckish?  Mr. Ellison, combining “puckishness” with your apology makes your apology meaningless.  You were not puckish.  You were not playful.  If you were a lesser writer, I’d say that you just phrased things badly.  But you’re not a lesser writer.  You’re a brilliant one.  To imply that your behavior was somehow winsome or cute is the tactic of an abusive husband who, when confronted by the target of his abuse, says, “Well, Jesus, woman.  It was just a joke.  Don’t take it so seriously.  Don’t you have a sense of humor?”  Believe me, working at a women’s shelter and as a women’s self-defense instructor, I hear these sorts of minimalizing tactics all too often.

Yes but the thing is, women are funny. They just are. It’s hilarious the way they don’t like it when you grab them by the tit unexpectedly. It’s a riot the way they squirm and try to get away without being humiliated even worse.

You can see Connie Willis being hilarious that way in the clip:


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

Chickens in Yorkshire

Mar 19th, 2015 4:36 pm | By

Kate Lycett is having an exhibit in Hebden Bridge opening March 26. She’s doing a giveaway.

It’s giveaway time! It is just 4 weeks to go til my exhibition opens at Heart Gallery, in Hebden Bridge On Thursday March 26th. I have a good size (30cm squ) artists proof here, hand-finished with gold leaf and gold thread, to give away. Please could you comment and share to spread the word about the exhibition. I will pick a random number on March 13th.

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

One assumes Saudi authorities will not arrange a visit

Mar 19th, 2015 2:05 pm | By

Michael De Dora spoke at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday, on Saudi Arabia and the Istanbul Process.

The rights to freedom of religion, belief, and expression remain nearly non-existent in Saudi Arabia. On January 9, Raif Badawi, the creator of an online forum devoted to discussion on religion and politics, received the first 50 of 1,000 lashes in front of al-Jafali mosque in Jeddah. He now reportedly faces retrial for apostasy, for which the penalty is death. On January 12, his lawyer, human rights advocate Waleed abu al-Khair, had his own prison sentence extended to 15 years. Meanwhile, women’s rights activist Samar Badawi — wife to Waleed, sister to Raif — has been banned from traveling, and restricted from visiting jailed family members.

More recently, on February 24, a young man was sentenced to death for renouncing his faith. And just last week, on March 11, Mohammed al-Bajadi was sentenced to 10 years in prison for human rights activism.

And these are only a few examples from the past 10 weeks. Saudi Arabia has a lengthy record of punishing any individual or community that differs from the government’s narrow version of authoritarian Islam.

See the original for references.

This is the state which, the OIC tells us,  is governed by and centered on the values of justice, compassion, equality, and tolerance. Insulting, isn’t it. “Listen to us while we tell you a brazen lie.”

And yet, in the face of these human rights violations, last week we learned that Saudi Arabia will host, in
Jeddah, the next meeting in the Istanbul Process, which focuses on implementation of Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18. This means that while world leaders meet to discuss combating religious intolerance, Raif Badawi and countless other dissidents will sit just blocks away, languishing in Jeddah’s Briman Prison. One assumes Saudi authorities will not arrange for diplomats and NGOs to pay these political prisoners a visit.

In fact, in a stunning example of hypocrisy, Saudi Arabia — like most OIC states — has not even come close to implementing 16/18.6 It is almost certain they will attempt to use this event to legitimize their position.

It’s just staggering, isn’t it? Saudi Arabia, perhaps the most religiously intolerant nation on earth, hosting a meeting to discuss combating religious intolerance, with Raif Badawi in prison a few blocks away.


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

Stop the lashes

Mar 19th, 2015 12:52 pm | By

Via Elham Manea – In front of Saudi Ambassy in Vienna three hours ago –

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

It’s not something that a sister should do

Mar 19th, 2015 12:45 pm | By

Sayeeda Warsi is palling around with Islamists again – Islamists who would, if they had the power, force her to stay home.

The American preacher Yasir Qadhi has fashioned an entire career out of promoting obnoxious views.

Women are not spared, oh no. Have a look at this exchange:

A question from the audience: “What kind of occupation would you recommend for a sister? A job that a sister could do?”

Qadhi’s answer: “Well the question arises, would I recommend a job for any sister? And the answer is in general, in general no. In general it’s not something that a sister should do.”

“A sister” of course is a mollifying way of saying “an inferior being.”

Women may teach Muslim girls and work as gynaecologists. But there is a catch – they must have male permission.

So if her husband allows her, or if she’s not married and her father wishes, her father allows her to work, she may work as long as the environment is permissible and she is doing something which she needs to do and she’s not interacting with men.

To make sure the point is clear, after noting the exceptions which men may approve he turns right back to that “general rule”:

Frankly, with all due respect, I don’t see the need for women in many other fields. There are only a few fields. Like for example in engineering. As I said, I don’t see the need. We have men, they’re doing the job. We don’t need women in this field where they’re going to interact with men, where they’re going to go with them. What’s the point?

The general rule is that the best job that a mother can do is to be a good housewife and to take care of her children.

What’s the point? We have all the engineering we need already; it’s all being done. That’s why climate change is not a concern, why there is plenty of clean water everywhere in Africa and India and all over the planet, it’s why there are no bridges needing maintenance and no places without bridges that could use them. There is no need for new buildings anywhere; no need for improvement in existing technology; no need for new technology – it’s all, all sorted, every bit. The number of engineers we already have is exactly the right number – except it’s a little too big because some of them are women. Some bridges and planes and cars are…uh…too engineered. They have excess engineering in them, because of the women. Both are true. Also anything else is true that would imply that women should go home and stay there.

In early April Mr Qadhi will begin yet another UK tour. This time his hosts will be MEND, the Islamist political activist group that is nothing more than a rebranded “iEngage”. You can read about iEngage’s awful record here. Qadhi and MEND are an excellent match.

One of Mr Qadhi’s fellow speakers on the MEND tour will be Baroness Warsi.

So the first thing Yasir Qadhi does there will be to tell her to go home, right?

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

What upsets Saudi Arabia and the OIC

Mar 19th, 2015 11:22 am | By

Let’s look at that OIC statement on Margot Wallström’s remarks about Saudi Arabia.

First, you’ll want to refresh your memory of her talk. (The article is in Swedish but the talk is in English, just scroll down.) Here are the horrific three paragraphs that have Saudi Arabia and the whole OIC so distraught and furious:

Human rights are a priority in Swedish foreign policy. Freedom of association, assembly, religion and expression are not only fundamental rights and important tools in the creation of vibrant societies. They are indispensable in the fight against extremism and radicalisation. So is a vibrant civil society.

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. This is a day to celebrate women’s achievements, recognise challenges, and focus attention on women’s rights, women’s representation and their adequate resources. Our experience is that women’s rights do not only benefit women, but society as a whole.

More than 20 years ago, in 1994, the International Conference on Population and Development met here in Cairo to discuss various issues, including education of women and protection of women from all forms of violence, including female genital mutilation and sexual harassment. Many of these issues are still very much in play today and I urge you to contribute to upholding the agreements made here in Cairo 20 years ago.

That’s it; that’s all there is. The Saudis and the OIC are livid at being urged to pay attention to education of women and protection of women from all forms of violence, including female genital mutilation and sexual harassment. They’re enraged at being told that freedom of association, assembly, religion and expression are fundamental rights.

Now for the OIC statement.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) expressed its reservations on the remarks made, in regard to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, by the Foreign Minister of Sweden, Margot Wallström, at the Swedish Parliament last week. In her remarks, Ms. Wallström degraded Saudi Arabia and its social norms, judicial system and political institutions.

The OIC stressed that the world community, with its multiple cultures, diverse social norms, rich and varied ethical standards and different institutional structures, can not, and should not, be based on a single and centric perspective that seeks to remake the world in its own image; and conform all according to its convictions, references, historical background and philosophical, social and political roots.

The OIC Secretary General, Iyad Ameen Madani, stressed that relations between states should be maintained on the basis of respect, parity and appreciation; and that Islam, which Saudi Arabia – a founding member of the OIC – is governed by, is centered on the values of justice, compassion, equality, tolerance and the notion of human vicegerency.

Madani expressed his hope that Sweden will always be true to its history, policies and attitude that do not claim moral authority to pass one-sided judgments and moral categorizations of others.

So there you go. The OIC, which claims to represent all Muslims and all “Muslim nations,” thinks Foreign Minister Margot Wallström degraded Saudi Arabia and its social norms, judicial system and political institutions by saying that freedom of association, assembly, religion and expression are fundamental rights. What does that tell us about Saudi Arabia and the OIC? The OIC, which claims to represent all Muslims and all “Muslim nations,” thinks Foreign Minister Margot Wallström degraded Saudi Arabia and its social norms, judicial system and political institutions by saying that women’s rights do not only benefit women, but society as a whole. What on earth does that tell us about Saudi Arabia and the OIC?

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

Its rich and varied ethical standards

Mar 19th, 2015 11:03 am | By

Saudi Arabia is very annoyed with Sweden. How dare Sweden. Sweden has one hell of a nerve.

Saudi Arabia said on 19 March 2015 it will not issue any new visas for Swedish business people, in retaliation for comments made by the Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström.

Diplomatic ties between both countries have been severed since Sweden accused Saudi Arabia of blocking Wallström from speaking at an Arab League meeting earlier this month. However, her cancelled remarks were published by the Swedish foreign ministry. While they did not mention Saudi Arabia, Wallström’s statement stressed women and human rights.

Well! Did you ever!? No wonder Saudi Arabia is angry. Women and human rights; have you ever heard anything so filthy and forbidden.

In retaliation, the Scandinavian country then said it would not renew a lucrative defence cooperation deal with the oil-rich Middle Eastern Kingdom because of its poor record for democracy and civil liberties.

Bad. Its bad record. Its record is not just poor, it’s bad; very bad.

The diplomatic row between Sweden and Saudi Arabia over military ties and human rights escalated on 11 March when Riyadh recalled its ambassador from Stockholm.

Dozens of other Arab nations criticized Sweden’s decision, soon after Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Sweden and accused the Nordic country of “flagrant interference in internal affairs”.

Yes, and the police shouldn’t interfere with domestic violence, either, because that’s internal affairs.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which represents 57 Muslim nations, released a statement in which it accused Wallström of “degrading Saudi Arabia and its social norms, judicial system and political institutions”.

The OIC was initiated by Saudi Arabia and its headquarters are in Jeddah; it’s hardly a neutral observer.

“The world community, with its multiple cultures, diverse social norms, rich and varied ethical standards and different institutional structures, can not, and should not, be based on a single and centric perspective that seeks to remake the world in its own image,” the statement continued.

Uh huh, those rich and varied ethical standards that include the total subordination of women, FGM, child marriage for girls, stoning, death for gays, lashes, amputation – rich and varied indeed.

Go stone yourself, Saudi Arabia.

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


Mar 19th, 2015 10:38 am | By

It’s being reported, though not (yet) widely, that Daesh has blown up another ancient building in Iraq.

Islamic State (Isis) militants have allegedly blown up parts of the ancient monastery of Mar Behnam near the predominantly Christian town of Qaraqosh, south-east of Mosul, according to pictures from IS media shared on twitter and a Kurdish media report.

The photos, released by IS members, show the 4th-century monastery’s tomb complex of Mar (Saint) Behnam and Mart (Saint) Sarah reduced to rubble.

Dr Nicholas al-Jeloo, an expert on Assyrian monasteries in Iraq from the University of Melbourne, visited the monastery, previously run by the Syriac Catholic Church, in January 2010 and confirmed the authenticity of the pictures to IBTimes UK.

“I didn’t want to see the pictures. This is terrible. I’m in shock,” he said.

You can see the photos on Twitter.

The monastery is known for its carvings and features, including “very intricate inscriptions in Syriac, in Armenian and in Uygur, a Turkic language from Western China” said Al-Jeloo.

“The place is a major site of pilgrimage, at the very origins of Christianity in the region, and it links us to our ancient Assyrian heritage – being only a stone’s throw from the ruins of Nimrud, also destroyed by Isis. The only way I could describe it is as a work of art. It was one of the most richly carved monastery complexes in northern Mesopotamia up until today,” he said.

They would blow up the Sainte Chapelle and Kings College Chapel and Salisbury Cathedral if they could.

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