Notes and Comment Blog


Going for a new record

Mar 16th, 2015 3:22 pm | By

Saudi Arabia is working hard at being more horrible this year than it was last year. Every day in every way it gets worser and worser. The Telegraph reports via AFP:

A man convicted of murder was beheaded in the Saudi capital on Monday, amid a steep rise in the number of executions in the ultra-conservative Gulf kingdom this year.

The beheading of Saad bin Abdullah al-Jadid, who had shot dead fellow Saudi Abdullah bin Faraj al-Gahtani, took to 45 the number of executions since January 1, according to an AFP count.

I’m an American, so I have nothing to boast of. We execute lots of people too, and sometimes we fry them for an extended period before we manage to achieve death. But I’m pointing a finger at Saudi Arabia anyway.

Rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery and drug trafficking are all punishable by death under Saudi Arabia’s version of Sharia Islamic law.

Earlier this month, it was reported Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashesafter being convicted of insulting Islam, could face death by beheading, according to his family.

The case attracted worldwide condemnation when he was publicly flogged in January. His family said they have been told he is to be tried for apostasy.

At least we don’t execute people for “apostasy.”

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



The 2%

Mar 16th, 2015 12:32 pm | By

This was yesterday – bombs near two churches in Pakistan.

Two bomb blasts have killed at least 14 people near two churches in a Christian neighbourhood of the Pakistani city of Lahore, local officials say.

More than 70 people were hurt in the explosions, which targeted worshippers attending Sunday mass at the churches in the Youhanabad area.

An offshoot of the Pakistan Taliban, calling itself Jamatul Ahrar, has said it carried out the attack.

The murders. Jamatul Ahrar boasted that it had committed the murders.

The caption under a photo of weeping women says “Relatives of the dead consoled each other.” Well no – they wept and clung to each other.

A large crowd gathered at the scene of the blasts, protesting about the lack of security.

The crowd also attacked two men it accused of involvement in the explosions, killing both of them. Photographs from the scene showed a crowd setting the men’s bodies alight.

Yay religion.

Tahir Naveed Chaudhary, the chairman of the Pakistan Minorities Alliance, a rights group, said the Lahore attacks highlighted the government’s failure to protect minorities.

Pakistan’s military last year began an offensive against militant bases in the mountainous north-west, bordering Afghanistan. Offshoots of the Pakistani Taliban have warned of attacks in response.

However, Lahore, the capital of the densely populated Punjab province, has largely escaped militant violence and is seen as a relatively peaceful city.

At least 80 people were killed by bombers at a church in the Pakistani city of Peshawar in 2013, in what is thought to be the deadliest ever attack on the country’s Christians.

Christians make up less than 2% of Pakistan’s overwhelmingly Muslim population.

So that was yesterday.

 

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



Their imprint of destruction

Mar 16th, 2015 11:50 am | By

The BBC takes a long look at the devastation Boko Haram has left behind in northern Nigeria.

From one town to another, Boko Haram fighters have left their imprint of destruction – the charred remains of market places, homes, government buildings and farms.

Signboards have been painted over in black and replaced with Boko Haram insignia and inscriptions in Arabic.

“Thank you! Thank you!” a group of women chant as they praise the soldiers who reclaimed their town, Doron Baga, from Boko Haram.

They are the few people we found in the area. Most others fled after possibly the worst insurgent attack yet in the region.

Read the BBC piece itself, because they took pictures. Destroyed market, blackened sign, empty town.

Now the town is deserted. At the main market area, blackened-out shells have replaced what would have been busy shops.

Mangled motorcycles litter the streets, their tyres blown out. Decomposing bodies lie by the roadside and fill the air with the stench of death.

Death is their goal. Not death as a byproduct of their quest for a better world, but death itself. The more dead people, the better.

A group of women take shade under a tree away from the scorching heat. “Boko Haram fighters killed my sister,” one tells me.

“We attempted to leave three times for Maiduguri but the militants threatened to shoot us. They hardly fed us and we were very hungry. But when the soldiers liberated us, they gave us some food.”

Despite the successes of the military, many of the reclaimed towns are empty. Only small groups of women, children and the elderly can be found.

Death and emptiness: that’s what’s halal.

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



Bye bye, have fun

Mar 16th, 2015 11:05 am | By

I accidentally saw the last few minutes of the everlasting CBS news show 60 Minutes last night, and was horrified. It was about one Damian Aspinall and his Exciting Adventure of taking some captive-raised gorillas to Africa and abandoning them there. At the end Leslie Stahl said, “I wish we could end on an optimistic note but we can’t. A month later all five adult females were found dead” and so was the one juvenile.

Five adult female gorillas killed by the actions of their “owner” – a critically endangered species. I went incandescent with rage. I know, I’m always doing that, but then I’m always being given reasons, aren’t I.

I used to work up close and personal with gorillas at the zoo.

Daily Kos has a story.

A report on 60 Minutes this evening described the plight of British aristocrat Damian Aspinall, whose father raised a private menagerie of lowland gorillas. After his father died, he came to the conclusion that keeping wild animals in a zoo was wrong and cruel to animals. To rectify his father’s error, he decided to send gorillas that had been raised in Britain to Gabon in West Africa. Among those he sent were a troop of eleven gorillas whom had trained in a “gorilla school” to prepare them for the wild.

Five out of the eleven died within a month of being released.

“Private menagerie” gives a slightly misleading impression. Howletts (that’s what it’s called, and there’s another branch at and called Port Lympne) is open to the public, and it has had huge success getting gorillas to breed and raise the young. I once went to Howletts, in 1986, soon after I stopped working at the Woodland Park Zoo (where I’d worked for six years). The gorillas were impressive. They had a huge enclosure full of stuff to do, and there were babies and youngsters galore. Howletts at that time had more gorilla births than any other zoo in the world, as far as I know. Most zoos would rejoice at one, and Howletts had several every year.

But Howletts had its problems. It had a bad name among zoo keepers, because John Aspinall had a firm policy that keepers had to be hands-on with the animals, and the result was that not one but two keepers were killed by tigers. We thought that was very uncool.

And then, of course, Howletts is captivity, and there’s plenty of controversy about keeping animals in captivity for entertainment and/or education, and the “private” status of Howletts meant he didn’t have to live up to rules or expectations that govern non-private zoos. So there are issues. But I don’t know of anybody who knows anything about the subject who thinks it’s a fabulous idea to raise animals in captivity and then take them to Gabon and drop them there. It’s fucking criminal, is what it is.

If you want a precedent, you can check out what happened to Lucy. It’s disgusting.

After Stahl said the adult females and one youngster were dead, there was a bit with Aspinall talking to the camera, saying if the gorillas all died his detractors would be overjoyed but he didn’t care, because blah blah blah. Well it’s not about him, it’s about them, so he should care!

Just from watching the 60 Minutes report, it was clear that this effort was doomed from the start. However well intentioned Aspinall may have been, expecting animals raised by humans to survive in the jungle was naïve bordering upon stupid. Gorilla experts such as those at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund warned that gorillas, being susceptible to shock when their surroundings were changed, would not do well in the wild after spending twenty years being cared for by people. Aspinall brushed off their advice, saying that only a “maverick” like himself could solve the problem of animal captivity.

However, the report quickly revealed the flaws in Aspinall’s plan. One video included in the story showed Aspinall reuniting with one of his favorite gorillas, Kwibi. Kwibi rushed out to see what was happening the minute he heard Aspinall’s boat nearby. As charming as the reunion may have been, rushing towards signs of human activity is extremely dangerous for a gorilla in the wild, given the threat posed by poachers. Furthermore, Kwibi, after meeting with Aspinall again, refused to let him go when he tried to leave. This was not the reaction of a wild animal, but of a domesticated animal that has been abandoned in the wild.

Furthermore, although the trainers at the “gorilla school” tried to teach the gorillas survival skills, to lure the animals into the wild they had to provide them with food. Associating humans with food is probably the best way to get a wild animal killed.

And it’s just fucking cruel. It’s like taking 4-year-old children to Gabon and abandoning them in the wilderness.

I’m amazed and horrified that no one was able to prevent him from doing this, and I seriously hope someone can prevent him from doing it to any more gorillas…which is his plan.

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



They pushed the whole world to subscribe to Charlie Hebdo

Mar 15th, 2015 4:50 pm | By

More from that long interview with Caroline Fourest.

What about Charlie Hebdo now?

The irony of this crime is that those jihadists have killed the journalists of Charlie Hebdo because they wanted to silence this newspaper, but today they pushed the whole world to subscribe to Charlie Hebdo. The cartoonists who have been killed, we grew up with them. They made us laugh since we were very young, about the actuality, about religion, about politicians, about everything! To see this pure violence, fanaticism, this completely stupid brutality against these sweet, smart and funny people, it created a big shock in France.  Today, Charlie Hebdo is the symbol of the progressive people who want to continue to be free to criticize religion, to defend a secular republic and democracy. It’s the symbol of those people who are fighting against the extreme-right, the conservatives who want to divide people and create hatred against Muslims. This was, is and will be the symbol of Charlie Hebdo. This is the balance, which we want to keep alive for many years.

Damn right. My copy is right here beside me, like a comfort blanket.

And what about Sky News cutting her off that time when she showed the Tout est pardonné cover, and then apologized to the audience for showing it for a second?

In the middle of this horror, it has been great to see the support of some colleagues from all around the world, even from those who took a risk, like in Turkey.  Yet, we’ve been completely betrayed by many of the newspapers from USA and UK. As they live in complete democracy, they’re not taking any risk, or they are not facing any pressure like the journalists in Turkey, yet they failed to show the cover. They’ve asked us continuously “what will Charlie Hebdo’s new cover be?” because the whole world was wondering about it. So I showed the cover on the Sky News, and they cut me out. And they’ve apologized to the viewers who could have been shocked! This is just insane! It’s a very sweet cover, where Mohammed is crying, it’s a cover of forgiveness for these brutal attacks. It’s what my colleagues could do after surviving a slaughter like that. And the channel is apologizing to the believers who can be offended by a cover of forgiveness, but not by the killing? There are many people coming from Muslim background who don’t share this opinion of these journalists. By saying that my colleagues did something “wrong” by drawing this cover, they are justifying violence. It’s very irresponsible of these media platforms.

Yes yes yes. It was revolting and infuriating.

I believe the religious rights are becoming more important than the rights of non-believers’. They revealed the bloody images of the victims from the slaughter, yet they cannot show a simple cartoon about religion. What Sky News did, created a scandal, and the debate is not over on that.

Good. I’ll be happy to hold your coat while you battle them.

They share worries about Erdoğan and the attack on secularism in Turkey. Then there’s the variety of people who go after her:

Even inside this secular democratic country, I’m criticized and insulted a lot for my works. I’ve been portrayed as an “Islamophobic”, since I criticize religion, and I’ve been attacked as “Islamophile” by National Front and the Catholic fundamentalists.

- Yes about that, you’ve been beaten on the street on broad day light by the conservatives, how did that happen?

For France 2 channel, I was covering as a very big Catholic protest against same-sex marriage. Yet I hid myself with a hat and a scarf.  FEMEN arrived and those fanatics attacked them brutally. In the middle of the fight they recognized me. I’m a journalist they particularly hate so they beat me as well. I have no doubt that every extremist can be as brutal and stupid as the other one. They’re using different identities, different flags such as a flag of a religion or a nation but once they’re patriarchal and extremists, they look quite the same to me. In their mind, in their hearts, they look very much alike.

That’s why I keep saying Islamism is fascism. It’s all the same shit.

How about Marine Le Pen’s efforts to make Charlie Hebdo a National Front issue?

I think that she’s the one who is the most illegitimate person to speak in the name of Charlie Hebdo. She’s one of the main targets of Charlie Hebdo, it’s known that Charlie Hebdo hates National Front. The organizations that sued Charlie Hebdo the most are the Catholics close to National Front. So she’s in a bad position to claim herself on Charlie Hebdo’s side.

Then she says god hates women.

There are no women’s rights in religious regimes, never! Because the religious domination always attacks the women’s body first. They want to control the body of women. I think it’s their main motivation. It’s been almost 16 years that I’m working on fanatics from all religions and I do not find them obsessed by spirituality. They are more obsessed about women and controlling women. This is why feminism should be leading the resistance against the fanatics. Of course this is exactly what the fanatics are afraid about. As a backlash to religious fundamentalism, fight for equality will grow bigger, a lot bigger than how fundamentalism is growing.

Yeah. Hating women is the first thing on their agenda, and everything else is far behind. This is why feminism should be leading the resistance against the fanatics.

There’s a lot more; read it all, it’s great.

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



The hallowed existence of women in the Islamic State

Mar 15th, 2015 2:35 pm | By

From last month – life for women under Daesh control.

Residents of Mosul, Raqqa and Deir el-Zour have told the Guardian in interviews conducted by phone and Skype that women are forced to be accompanied by a male guardian, known as a mahram, at all times, and are compelled to wear double-layered veils, loose abayas and gloves.

Their testimonies follow the publication this month of an Isis “manifesto” to clarify the “realities of life and the hallowed existence of women in the Islamic State”. It said that girls could be married from the age of nine, and that women should only leave the house in exceptional circumstances and should remain “hidden and veiled”.

That’s a “hallowed existence” all right – handed over to be sex slaves at age 9, and muffled in head-to-foot bags for life. The only thing more hallowed is a rotting corpse.

Sama Maher, 20, a resident of Raqqa who has been detained several times by Isis religious police, known as Hisbah, for violating Isis rules, said: “It is prohibited for a woman in Raqqa or Deir el-Zour to move anywhere outside without a mahram, a male guardian. It is a big problem as I do not have any, we are only five sisters.”

Well then she can’t go outside, obviously. This isn’t rocket science.

Daesh has closed universities, too, she says.

In Mosul, Isis published a charter within weeks of taking taking control of the city, restricting women’s movements and imposing dress requirements. Women were instructed to wear a Saudi-style black veil of two layers to conceal their eyes and a loose robe designed by Isis after it said some abayas revealed body outlines.

Many women initially objected to the Isis order but complied when they realised they could be beaten, humiliated and fined, and their husbands might be punished. Men are now forcing their wives and daughters to stay at home to avoid confrontations with Hisbah, which issues orders via the internet or by posting written statements at shops warning against violations of Islamic rules in the city.

Diary of Anne Frank, innit.

In Raqqa, the Isis “capital” in Syria, women were initially ordered to wear a black abaya covering the entire body. Soon after, a command to wear a veil was issued, then a third ordered a shield on top of the abaya. Women are also instructed to wear only black, including gloves and shoes. Isis subsequently ordered women to hide their eyes, requiring a a double-layered veil.

Then they ordered women to add a horse blanket, then a diving bell, then a tank, then they said the hell with it and buried them all 50 feet deep.

Mosul resident Sabah Nadiem said: “I went once with my wife to one of the old souqs to do some shopping, and after a short while I lost her among the crowd. The problem was that all the women were wearing veils and it was hard to know who was my wife.”

No problem, just grab all their butts until you recognize one.

In Deir el-Zour in Syria, the rules for female pupils and students appear to be stricter. “Little girls in primary schools have to wear an abaya until the 4th class, when they have to wear a veil too,” said Sali Issam, 15, a secondary school student. “Though all the teachers in girls’ schools are female, neither students nor teachers are allowed to lift the veil of their faces inside the classroom.”

Well you know what sluts girls are when they’re six.

Women in labour in maternity hospitals in Mosul are forced to comply with dress codes. “When I was in labour, I went to the hospital wearing a veil though it was too hot. Isis Hisbah were at the front door of the hospital. I saw some women in labour who seemed to be in a panic and did not have time to wear a veil. I was shocked to see that they were denied access to the hospital unless they put veils on their faces,” said Salah.

It’s kind of sad that the newborns all die because no one is allowed to get at them.

Buses are also stopped for passengers to be checked. If a woman is found without required dress or mahram, all passengers are forced to disembark and the bus is refused permission to proceed. “If Hisbah spot a woman without a mahram in a bus, the whole bus is evacuated and sent back because the driver accepted her,” said Maher.

In Mosul, single women are not allowed to be the last passenger on a bus, alone with the driver. Women are forced to get off buses before their destination if there are no other passengers present. Bassma Adel, 35, who works in a bank, had to get off a bus to avoid being alone with the driver even though she was not near her home.

“I had to walk to my house though the distance was long in inclement weather. One of my male colleagues passed by his car and offered to give me a lift. We drove for a short distance before we were spotted by Hisbah. They asked us for a document that proves my colleague was a mahram to me. When we failed to do that, they reproached us for being together in the car and humiliated us and ordered me to step down.”

There’s just no end to it, the relentless determination to make women’s lives shitty and difficult and degrading, down to the smallest detail.

Recently Isis ordered all female hairdressers to be shut down in Mosul. Samah Nasir, 43, had her own hairdressing shop for more than nine years – the only source of income for her three children as her husband is ill and unable to work. “I decided to reopen my shop despite the Isis embargo because I had nothing to feed my children and pay for my husband’s medications.”

Shortly after, Hisbah broke in her house and took her and her husband to a sharia court. “The judge ruled that I should pay $1,500 [£977] as a fine and get 10 lashes on the bottom of my feet in one of the rooms in the sharia court. I have not been in such a situation all my life.” Now Nasir rarely leaves her house.

Where she and her children and her husband are starving to death – or were when this was written; no doubt they’re all dead now.

All the names were changed.

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



The reason why they killed my colleagues

Mar 15th, 2015 11:19 am | By

Dilara Gürcü talks to the amazing Caroline Fourest.

Let’s begin by talking about Charlie Hebdo. How would you define Charlie Hebdo?

Charlie Hebdo is a satirical newspaper, it’s a paper known to make people laugh about all types of power, domination and ideology. It’s very important to understand that no cartoon in Charlie Hebdo goes to publication without context. The fanatics and the literalists cannot or do not want to understand this. It probably did a hundred times more caricatures of the Pope, the Catholic Church then of Islam. They’re making caricatures about politics a lot, all types of politicians but especially the extreme right. The worst enemy of Charlie Hebdo is National Front and Marine Le Pen. There were lots of caricatures about Nicholas Sarkozy as well because it’s a leftist newspaper. It defends another type of economy, a less capitalistic one. Charlie Hebdo defended Palestine as well, yet it is less known. Charb and Tignous who got killed were strong pro-Palestine activists and there were many caricatures about Israeli soldiers at Gaza in Charlie Hebdo. It’s a newspaper reacting to the actuality. It means that if a Rabbi would kill in the name of defending Moses, then probably Moses would be the cover, as that would be the current actuality.

Then they talk about Charlie Hebdo’s publication of the Danish Motoons and the way Iran and Saudi and Syria used the cartoons as a way to distract their populations from more substantial problems.

Suddenly spontaneous crowds started to demonstrate in those countries, where we know demonstrations are not so free. “Spontaneous” crowds started burning Danish embassies. In Charlie Hebdo, we had one job as any newspaper did, to cover the actuality, so we did. But as we are Charlie Hebdo, we wanted to cover the actuality in our way. We published those cartoons inside the newspaper and our cover was different. We decided in a meeting that these fanatics are always making Mohamed speak in their sense, giving a bad image about religion. We wanted to portray Mohamed thinking he cannot stand those fanatics speaking and killing in his name. So in that cover Mohamed is almost in tears and saying “it’s so hard to be loved by assholes!” That cover is the reason why they killed my colleagues because the death threats started after that.

It was a benign intention, and that’s why they killed her colleagues. It’s terrible.

They talk about France’s long history of laughing at religion, and the way some countries make one religion official.

In France, we want every religion to be equal, and no religion is favored or prioritized by the state. To obtain that, we had to fight the Catholic Church, which was connected to state back in the medieval times and during the monarchy times. We established a secular republic by fighting against this. In order to fight we had to first de-symbolize the sacred power of the Catholic Church. It was a very insulting and violent process. For example in Charlie Hebdo, the actuality of pedophilia in church was covered many times, by portraying priests as child molesters.

Religion gets a huge boost from the most literal version of the halo effect. Mockery is a counterweight to that.

And what about that cartoonist who was fired from CH because of anti-Semitism? Was that favoritism?

I know this story very well and the propaganda that goes with it. Siné was fired because he insulted our director, wrote a lie in his column and then refused to correct it. This is something unacceptable in journalism! Yes, he used all racist clichés about Jews in his column. As I said, Charlie Hebdo is an antiracist newspaper. It defends the right to mock ideas or belief but not being racist against people. This is also against the antiracist law in France. A few years ago, Charlie Hebdo’s director did the same thing with another journalist who supported a writer who attacked Muslims. Surprisingly no one was shocked this time or no one noticed that this is solid proof that Charlie Hebdo is an antiracist newspaper. What is strange to me is why some people are accusing Charlie Hebdo of being Islamophobic yet they refuse to see that Charlie Hebdo does not incorporate racist journalists? Is it because for some people being racist against Jewish people is OK but blasphemy is not? I think we all know what their problem is.

To be continued.

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



Standing up for the right to blaspheme

Mar 15th, 2015 9:22 am | By

A news item that’s not being reported yet (Twitter can be very useful for that) – Maajid Nawaz got a motion on free speech and the right to blaspheme passed at the LibDems conference a few hours ago.

Embedded image permalink

Maajid 4 H&K @MaajidLibDem 6 hours ago
Motion on free speech & right to blaspheme PASSED!

Well done.

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



A prize for courage

Mar 14th, 2015 5:11 pm | By

A good thing today – Lars Vilks won an award.

A Swedish cartoonist who depicted the Prophet Muhammad as a dog has made his first public appearance since attending a debate that was targeted in a gun attack in Copenhagen last month.

Lars Vilks received a prize for courage from a free press group, at a heavily secured event in the Danish parliament.

His cartoon offended many Muslims and he now lives under guard in Sweden.

Oh damn, Beeb, you were doing so well. Two whole sentences you managed before blaming Lars for being almost murdered for drawing cartoons about religion.

And I doubt that it’s even true that his cartoon “offended many Muslims”; I think it offended a few, and those few are of the type who try to kill people who “offend” against their religion.

Mr Vilks, who has been associated with the Swedish left, received the Sappho award from the right-wing Danish Free Press Society.

Receiving the prize, Mr Vilks said he had not aimed to become a symbol of freedom of speech.

“I am an artist and my artwork is probably difficult to understand. Many have tried to understand what that dog is about. But I don’t even understand it myself.

“Some believe that it is a form of blasphemy, but I say that it is what art is all about. I show my things to the world and then the world must interpret it.”

It’s not an obviously “offensive” cartoon; the dog-human hybrid is rather handsome.

Wikipedia

The armed security around the prize-giving – as well as its location in parliament – shows how much Denmark has changed since the February attack, says the BBC’s Malcolm Brabant in Copenhagen.

Our correspondent says the show of force is something of a culture shock for what has been a peaceful and relatively secure country.

Of course; it’s horrible.

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



Why external and independent?

Mar 14th, 2015 4:12 pm | By

Amnesty International issued a statement two days ago when it decided it was no longer “appropriate” to work with Cage.

Further to our statement below, Amnesty International UK’s Director Kate Allen today said:

“Amnesty no longer considers it appropriate to share a public platform with Cage and will not engage in coalitions of which Cage is a member.

“Recent comments made by Cage representatives have been completely unacceptable, at odds with human rights principles and serve to undermine the work of NGOs, including Amnesty International.”

She continued: “We had engaged with Cage together with several other organisations on the specific issue of UK complicity in torture abroad, on which they had particular expertise.

“At the time that Gita Sahgal left Amnesty International, we commissioned an independent external review into our work with Cage and Moazzam Begg which concluded that it was reasonable for Amnesty to campaign with Cage and Moazzam Begg in his capacity as a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay.”

Now that’s a very strange thing to have done. Why did they need to commission an independent external review on Cage and Begg? Why couldn’t they review their work with Cage themselves? Isn’t that what they do? Look at prisoners of conscience, and the issues that they’re conscientious about, and evaluate them?

I would hope they do. I would hope they wouldn’t work with, say, perps involved in the genocide in Rwanda. I would hope they would know how to defend those people’s rights to due process and a fair trial and humane prison conditions, without actually collaborating with them. I would hope they would know how to defend their rights without sharing platforms with them or signing petitions with them.

Hitchens wrote about the intersection of Amnesty and Cage in February 2010.

Amnesty International has just suspended one of its senior officers, a woman named Gita Sahgal who until recently headed the organization’s “gender unit.” It’s fairly easy to summarize her concern in her own words. “To be appearing on platforms with Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender,” she wrote, “is a gross error of judgment.” One might think that to be an uncontroversial statement, but it led to her immediate suspension.

The background is also distressingly easy to summarize. Moazzem Begg, a British citizen, was arrested in Pakistan after fleeing Afghanistan in the aftermath of the intervention in 2001. He was imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay and then released. He has since become the moving spirit in a separate organization calling itselfCageprisoners. Begg does not deny his past as an Islamist activist, which took him to Afghanistan in the first place. He does not withdraw from his statement that the Taliban was the best government available to Afghanistan. Cageprisoners has another senior member named Asim Qureshi, who speaks in defense of jihad at rallies sponsored by the extremist group Hizb-ut Tahrir (banned in many Muslim countries). Cageprisoners also defends men like Abu Hamza, leader of the mosque that sheltered Richard “Shoe Bomber” Reid among many other violent and criminal characters who have been convicted in open court of heinous offenses that have nothing at all to do with freedom of expression. Yet Amnesty International includes Begg in delegations that petition the British government about human rights. For Saghal to say that Cageprisoners has a program that goes “way beyond being a prisoners’ rights organization” is to say the very least of it. But that’s all she had to say in order to be suspended from her job. As I write this, she is experiencing some difficulty in getting a lawyer to represent her. Such is—so far—the prestige of Amnesty International. “Although it is said that we must defend everybody no matter what they’ve done,” she comments, “it appears that if you’re a secular, atheist, Asian British woman, you don’t deserve a defense from our civil rights firms.”

That may well change, and I hope it does. But Sahgal has it slightly wrong. Amnesty International was not set up to defend everybody, no matter what they did. No organization in the world could hope to do that. IRA bombers and Khmer Rouge killers and Gens. Pinochet and Videla were not Amnesty prisoners when they eventually faced the bar of the court. The entire raison d’être of the noble foundation was to defend and protect those who were made to suffer for their views. In theory, I suppose, this could include the view that women should be chattel, homosexuals and Jews and Hindus marked for slaughter, and all the rest of the lovely jihadist canon. But—see above—Cageprisoners defends those who have gone slightly further than merely advocating such things. It’s well-nigh incredible that Amnesty should give a platform to people who are shady on this question and absolutely disgraceful that it should suspend a renowned employee who gave voice to her deep and sincere misgivings.

And yet they couldn’t see that for themselves, they had to get an independent external review into their work with Cage and Moazzam Begg, and they luckily commissioned it from people who found it copacetic.

Human rights organizations shouldn’t work with people who despise human rights. They should defend their rights against government mistreatment if they choose to, but they should not work with them.

This isn’t all that complicated.

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



Their choices need to be consistent with a universal human rights agenda

Mar 14th, 2015 12:14 pm | By

Rahila Gupta discusses Amnesty International and Cage at Open Democracy.

[W[hen Asim Qureshi, Research Director of Cage, alleged that harassment from MI5 was responsible for Emwazi’s journey to IS (Islamic State) in a Channel 4 interview with Jon Snow, they overreached themselves and opened themselves up to general ridicule and incredulity.

The ensuing outrage at Cage’s arguments appears to have pushed Amnesty International (AI) to put more distance between itself and Cage than it has ever done before, even though it was widely called upon to do so at the time of Gita Sahgal’s suspension from her post as head of the Gender unit at AI in 2010.

In December 2014, Gita Sahgal again criticised AI for co-signing a letter with Cage, along with seven other signatories, to David Cameron calling for a judge-led inquiry into rendition and torture of Islamic states. Both Steve Crawshaw, the deputy director of Amnesty, and Gita were interviewed on the Radio 4 Today programme on the issue of AI’s relationship with Cage. Crawshaw began by saying that he was ‘enormously saddened’ by Gita Sahgal’s interview which was ‘inaccurate on so many levels’ although he did not elaborate on this.

Well I’m enormously saddened, or rather make that disgusted, by Amnesty’s habit of throwing Gita under the nearest bus. Amnesty should never have been in bed with Cage, and Gita was right all along.

Crawshaw then said he didn’t know if Amnesty would sign such joint letters in the future, and the next day the director, Kate Allen, said they were “reviewing whether any future association with the group would now be appropriate.” As if something were different “now.”

Hopefully these public statements are not just an exercise in image management but an indication that Amnesty is undergoing a genuine and long overdue ‘crise de conscience’, although the above statements have left them with substantial wriggle room.  Gita Sahgal is not optimistic. She says, ‘Amnesty International’s long relationship with Cage and other Islamists damages the credibility of their research and their ability to make informed decisions on campaigning and partnerships. There is no sign that they have actually understood this – they are simply responding to media pressure and thinking it will all blow over.’

And why should we care?

Why should the level of co-operation between two NGOs matter to women, particularly BME women? Why should the world view of groups like Cage impinge on Amnesty’s decision to work with them? It matters because women need the support of organisations like Amnesty in their lonely struggle against the growth of religious fundamentalism. It matters because joint work with Amnesty is a gift to any organisation, gives them credibility and a place at the top table. What kind of belief systems acquire legitimacy as a result?  Both Asim Qureshi and Moazzam Begg, director of Cage, idealise societies which would, in my view, extinguish women’s rights as we know them.

Oh, not just in anyone’s view – that’s a fact. What we call women’s rights would be extinguished in the ideal society that Qureshi and Begg dream of.

How come such beliefs do not undermine the dangerous tropes circulating in left wing circles? One of the tropes is that one person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist. This assertion is no longer a clever inversion of dominant narratives that it once was since most of the recent strands of ‘terrorism’ have an ideology which is anti-woman, anti-sexual minorities and religious minorities and anti-secular. This ideology does not make them ‘freedom fighters’. Whose freedoms are they fighting for – a tightly defined brotherhood of a particular strain of Islam, be it wahhabi or salafi? This is not comparable to the old freedom struggles for independence from colonial yokes or Marxist-inspired struggles for the liberation of the working classes from their capitalist masters.

And yet, bafflingly, many people think it is comparable. I’ll never understand why.

Maryam Namazie, of the International Committee against Stoning, says that AI refused to campaign jointly with them on the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian woman who was sentenced to be stoned for adultery, on grounds of impartiality.  She adds ironically that she [might] have won AI support if she had supported ‘defensive jihad’. All human rights organisations are faced with choices about the alliances they make. Their choices need to be consistent with a universal human rights agenda.

That’s not such an onerous requirement for a human rights organization, I’d have thought.

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



Guest post: Canada needs to fight sexism, not import new forms of it

Mar 14th, 2015 10:50 am | By

Guest post by Saba Farbodkia.

The comments made by Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper have caused a national conversation to form about niqab. The fact that Stephen Harper can use this to collect votes shows that many Canadians do find niqab an anti-woman practice. Even many lefties express their support for Harper “on this one”. So if there are so many people against this practice, how is that we don’t hear much debate and conversation on this at other times? Is that because people rely on law to limit undesirable cultural practices?

But banning someone from doing something that doesn’t harm anyone and is not against the law is not the way to fight an anti-woman or oppressive practice. Talking about it, is.

And the fact that both the leaders of oppositions and the Prime Minister are trying to score political points using topics like this, alone, shows how much people care about the both sides of the debate. Still, topics like this are considered “too sensitive” to evoke conversations and debates around them in a systematic way. People join in these conversations, only when cases like Zunera Ishaq’s turn into a political or legal issue.

As an international student who moved to Canada from Iran around three years and half ago, I sometimes think Canadians don’t appreciate their right to freedom of expression as they should. Although they are legally free, a strongly politically correct culture bounds them by fears of being labeled as racist, Islamophobe, bigot and more.

As a “brown” woman whose fears of Islam (Islam as a set of ideas, as opposed to Muslims as people) are the rational result of her lived experience under the Islamic law, I have the privilege of being able to talk on this, without being afraid of being labeled as racist or Islamophobe. I can’t also be accused of bigotry against Muslims, because, firstly, most Muslims don’t wear niqab, and secondly, even if they did, criticizing a practice and the philosophy behind it is not equal to bigotry against people who do it.

Harper said niqab is an anti-woman practice, and he is right on that. Wearing niqab, whether inspired by the culture of modesty preached by Abrahamic religions, including Islam, which tends to control female sexuality while over-sexualizing the concept of female presence, or as a traditional culture which despite having no direct roots in religion, still dehumanizes individual women and segregates them from the rest, is an anti-woman culture. But so are the over-sexualized ads on the media, porn, and many other things none of which are illegal.

Harper also said it is offensive that someone wants to hide her identity at the very moment that she is joining a nation that values transparency and equality, and this is true as well. Wearing niqab is offensive to all the men present in that room, because its premise is that men are sexual predators that get sexually aroused by just looking at someone’s face. It is offensive to all women everywhere, because its premise is that a woman’s face or merely her non-segregated presence is sexually provocative.

But the right to offend is a direct result of freedom of expression. If a woman has these beliefs, she has all the right to express them, whether verbally or through what she does, as long as it is not illegal. And according to Canadian law, whether someone wants to be topless during her oath or wear a burqa, she should be free to choose so.
Trudeau is right in defending the right of a minority to make her choices. The debate on Ishaq’s case is rightly centered around “choice”, because here we are talking about laws and administration, and it is not their role to make people’s decisions for them.

But we need to understand there is a need for bigger discussions on the topic which are centered on the practice itself, and the inequality that underlies the concept. It is important that liberals denounce the practice as anti-woman, while defending people’s right to make their choices about it. Not banning it is one thing, celebrating it as a form of diversity is another. Because we don’t need “diversity” in the different forms that sexism can take. Canada needs to fight sexism, not import new forms of it to its mainstream culture, which is already fighting with many other forms of sexism.

And the way to fight an oppressive or offensive practice that doesn’t break the law is by discussing it systematically, repeatedly, regularly. Not just when a public figure makes a news out of it.

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



A complex network of ideological and cultural norms

Mar 14th, 2015 10:37 am | By

The actor Frieda Pinto gave a speech at the New York premiere of India’s Daughter. The Huffington Post reports:

“Today in 2015 despite the vast improvements in the lives and rights of women across the world in the last century, there still seems to exist this very complex network of ideological and cultural norms that still plague our society and that make global misogyny, in my opinion, a great scourge and most pressing issue of our age,” Pinto said.

That’s why we’re still battling – because of that network of ideological and cultural norms. The ones that put women in various inadequate pigeonholes that all function to diminish and constrain them.

Pinto told the audience that gender inequality is not limited by country, but manifests across all cultures and societies. She also discussed the importance of feminism as a shared understanding of mutual values. “I cannot wait for that day when this generation of women and men finally realizes that claiming to be a feminist is simply asserting that you share the same spiritual and economic value as your male counterparts — as each other,” she said.

That day is a long way off. Generations, probably.

There’s more on her speech at The Examiner.

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



Invoking the history

Mar 14th, 2015 9:31 am | By

Shaun King at Daily Kos has more about Sigma Alpha Epsilon at the University of Oklahoma and elsewhere.

27 days ago, people on Reddit were talking about this exact same chant, and stating that it was a required chant to enter the SAE fraternity at the University of Texas. Before this controversy at the University of Oklahoma ever existed, here is how it was recounted in Texas,

For SAE context a few buddies of mine told me their favorite song to sing went-
“There will never be a n*gg*r SAE, there will never be a n*gg*r SAE, Abe set ‘em free but they’ll never pledge with me, there will never be a n*gg*r SAE.”

But even before this, SAE had demonstrated a history of racism across the country.

So let’s read that Think Progress piece by Ian Millhiser.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE), the fraternity that was kicked off of the University of Oklahoma’s campus Sunday night after video emerged of some of its members singing a racist chant that celebrates lynching, proudly touts its history on its website. “Sigma Alpha Epsilon is the only national fraternity founded in the antebellum South,” the fraternity’s national webpage explains, adding that the frat was “[f]ounded in a time of intense sectional feeling” and that it initially “confined its growth to the southern states.”

Though SAE had “fewer than 400 members when the Civil War began,” 369 fought in the Confederate army. Only seven fought for the union.

Ok, there’s a thing here. They’re being coy, if not downright evasive. “Antebellum” and “sectional feeling” and “Confederate army” are all code. They’re all a way of invoking while denying a history of slavery and racism. What they’re really saying is that SAE was founded in a slave state, and that the overwhelming majority of its members at the time of the Civil War fought to defend the South’s “right” to own slaves. It’s sly, if not worse, to signal that while refraining from spelling it out. Apparently they don’t want to come right out and say that SAE is the only national fraternity whose origin is the slave-owning South, but that’s the reality.

SAE’s national headquarters, to its credit, reacted swiftly after the video became national news. “Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s national headquarters has closed its Oklahoma Kappa chapter at the University of Oklahoma following the discovery of an inappropriate video,” according to a statement on SAE’s website. “In addition, all of the members have been suspended, and those members who are responsible for the incident may have their membership privileges revoked permanently.” The statement adds that “we are disgusted that any member would act in such a way.”

Well just re-name it “intense sectional feeling” and you won’t be disgusted any more. Or will you?

This is hardy the first time, however, that an SAE chapter found itself in hot water due to the racist actions of its members. To the contrary, a brief search for publicly available articles and in the news database Nexis uncovered several similar incidents…

  • In 2006, an SAE member at the University of Memphis quit the fraternity after two other frat members harassed him for dating a black woman. According to an editorial in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the former SAE member “said SAE members used the N-word to refer to his girlfriend” and that they “also suggested that he must have met Darden on the street one night and that he couldn’t possibly be interested in a real relationship with someone of another race.” The Associated Press later reported that two students were suspended by SAE’s national office after they determined that these students “made comments that were inappropriate and unbecoming.”
  • In 2000, SAE’s Oglethorpe University chapter was put on probation, along with chapters from three other fraternities, after an incident where African American students visiting from other schools faced racial harassment and assault. According to one news report uncovered on Nexis, officials at two predominantly black colleges that competed in a cross-county meet at Oglethorpe “complained that Oglethorpe students in fraternity houses threw bottles at athletes and screamed racial epithets.”
  • In 2009, Valdosta State University in Georgia hosted a community forum on “Heritage, Hate or Fear?” that was inspired by the university’s SAE chapter’s practice of flying a Confederate Flag on its front lawn. A lawyer for the fraternity’s national headquarters warned that the chapter could lose its charter if it continued to fly the flag.

That’s what I’m saying. You can’t invoke “the Confederacy” and “sectional feeling” without invoking slavery and racism. Gone With the Wind is a reactionary pro-slavery movie; get over it.

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



Guest post on Amnesty International and international standards

Mar 13th, 2015 4:51 pm | By

Michael De Dora wrote this as a comment on a public Facebook post I did of the 2006 statement by Amnesty International. He gave me permission to publish it here, which is good, since this is his subject.

In particular, any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence cannot be considered legitimate exercise of freedom of expression. Under international standards, such “hate speech” should be prohibited by law.

This is, for me, the most interesting part of the statement. It is actually true that international standards state “Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.” See Article 20 of the ICCPR.

However, that has long been problematic language for many human rights organizations, and even some states. For instance, the U.S. signed onto the ICCPR, but issued a reservation on Article 20 due to concerns that it would conflict with the right to free speech.

Indeed, the language in Article 20 has been abused by many states to restrict free speech. For instance, Indonesian atheist Alexander Aan was convicted for inciting religious hatred. So it is strange Amnesty would support it — especially in reference to the Danish cartoons, which would not meet the standard.

There was an excellent UN document released in early 2013 that details the high wall speech must breech to be considered incitement, called the Rabat Plan of Action. It makes clear that blasphemous speech does not count as incitement. I encourage everyone to read it:

http://www.ohchr.org/…/Pages/TheRabatPlanofAction.aspx

http://www.ohchr.org/…/SeminarR…/Rabat_draft_outcome.pdf

I would also suggest taking a look at General Comment 34, especially Paragraph 48, by the Human Rights Committee, a group of experts who interpret the ICCPR.

I would say Amnesty has an out because Rabat wasn’t published until 2013 (GC 34 was published in 2011). But the problems with Article 20 were known well before 2013 or 2011. In fact, that’s why Rabat was published — to help clear up that states cannot use Article 20 to restrict speech as they had been doing, and propose a helpful plan of action. And so, this statement, if accurate, is confusing at best, inexcusable at worst.

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



Freedom of expression on the Internet

Mar 13th, 2015 4:09 pm | By

Michael De Dora at the UN Human Rights Council today.

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBTLAlzlbgY

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



Give them victory over ‘Qawm -el Kafiroon’

Mar 13th, 2015 3:18 pm | By

Tarek Fatah wrote a column in the Toronto Sun in January that tells me something I didn’t know.

One of the reasons I avoid attending Friday congregations at mosques is a specific ritual supplication uttered by Imams at many mosques in Canada and around the world, just prior to our formal Friday community prayer, the Juma’a.

In the supplication, the cleric prays to Allah for, among other things, to grant “Muslims victory over the ‘Qawm al-Kafiroon,’” the Arabic phrase that lumps all non-Muslims — Jews, Hindus, Christians, Atheists, Buddhists and Sikhs — into one derogatory category, the “Kuffar”, or non-Muslims.

Well that’s gross. For one thing there’s the lumping, for another there’s the derogation, for another there’s the “victory” – which, given that there’s not One Big War on with Muslims on one side and the Kuffar on the other, must mean domination. Imagine the yelling there would be if the pope prayed for god to grant Christians victory over the Muslims. It’s an ugly prayer with an ugly thought behind it.

This supplication is not obligatory. Not uttering this prayer would in no way adversely affect the holiness or solemnness of the collective community prayer.

I have long argued with my orthodox and conservative Muslim friends and family that at least when living among non-Muslims, we should avoid praying for their defeat at the hands of Muslims.

It’s not great when not living among us, either, especially since even majority-Muslim countries have plenty of non-Muslims in them. It’s even more bullying when Muslims are the majority, in fact.

He has friends who agree with him, but they’re afraid to act on their agreement.

Inside the mosque, I was hoping that in wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the cleric would have the good sense not to speak about non-Muslims as adversaries or enemies, but my hopes were dashed.

Far from condemning the acts of terror, the cleric, speaking in English, thundered that Islam “will become established in the land, over all other religions, although the ‘Disbelievers’ (Jews, Christians, Hindus and Atheists) hate that.”

It’s just bullying. It’s dominance-display. It’s nasty.

At the end of his “khutba” (sermon), the cleric repeated the ritual praying to Allah to grant Muslims victory over non-Muslims. That prayer is:

“O Allah, pour patience upon Muslims, strengthen their feet and give them victory over ‘Qawm -el Kafiroon’ (Non-Muslims).

“O Allah, give victory to our brothers the Muslims, the oppressed, the tyrannized and the ‘Mujahedeen’ (those who fight jihad against non-Muslims)”.

Then we all stood up in orderly rows, turned towards Mecca and followed the imam as he led us in the ritual prayer that is obligatory for all Muslims.

As I left, I knew I would not be returning to that mosque again.​

Always jockeying. Give ME the biggest ice cream cone, give ME the best seat, give ME the adoration and worship, give ME authority and power.

Shan’t.

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



Flattery

Mar 13th, 2015 12:18 pm | By

Look at the nice treat Femina Believe sent out for International Women’s Day –

femina

All you superwomen who shop at the mall, and clean the house, and keep men from being lonely. Happy International Women’s Day 1953.

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



From the archive: Of Course You Can, Except When You Can’t

Mar 13th, 2015 9:04 am | By

And one more, because it’s just so unchanged and so infuriating – the bait and switch. Yes you can have free speech, no you can’t say harsh things about religion. What’s the problem?

Of Course You Can, Except When You Can’t

February 4, 2006

Back to the real world, where cartoons ‘are’ representations of Mohammed – some depressing oxymoronism from Jack Straw. Of course we respect free speech, but you can’t say that; of course everyone has a right to free speech, but no one can insult religion. Well which is it, bub? It ain’t both! I’m not a free speech absolutist, as I’ve said many times, but this idea that free speech is okay as long as it doesn’t offend anyone is sheer jam tomorrow. If we can’t say anything that might offend someone, our speech is pretty damn restricted, isn’t it!

Speaking after talks with the Sudanese foreign minister, Mr Straw said: “There is freedom of speech, we all respect that. But there is not any obligation to insult or to be gratuitously inflammatory. I believe that the republication of these cartoons has been insulting, it has been insensitive, it has been disrespectful and it has been wrong. There are taboos in every religion. It is not the case that there is open season in respect of all aspects of Christian rites and rituals in the name of free speech.

Oh? Really? What does he mean? That it’s illegal to say ‘offensive’ things about some aspects of Christian rites and rituals? (Perhaps he’s thinking of the dear blasphemy law.) Does he mean that if one says ‘offensive’ things about some aspects of Christian rites and rituals, the result will be violent riots and death threats, and that that’s a good thing? If neither of those, what does he mean? What, exactly, does he mean?

Nor is it the case that there is open season in respect of rights and rituals of the Jewish religion, the Hindu religion, the Sikh religion. It should not be the case in respect of the Islamic religion either. We have to be very careful about showing the proper respect in this situation.

Do we? Why? And why doesn’t that work the other way? Why don’t people who want to prevent free speech on the subject of religion have to be very careful about showing the proper respect for our beliefs? Because we don’t chant ‘”7/7 is on its way” while also waving placards and burning flags, during a march through London to the Danish, French and German embassies’? Because we don’t threaten to blow up 57 random people as revenge for our feeling offended?

More bullying oxymoronism, this sample from Bunglawala.

UK Muslims have denied that the reaction to the cartoons’ reproduction has been a threat to freedom of speech. It was a “question of exercising good judgement”, said Inayat Bunglawala, from the Muslim Council of Britain…”Of course Europe has the right to freedom of speech, and of course newspapers have the right to publish offensive cartoons. This was really a question about exercising good judgment,” he said. “Knowing full well the nature of these cartoons, they were offensive, deeply offensive to millions of Muslims, these newspaper editors should have exercised better judgment.”

But of course Europe has the right to freedom of speech, and of course the reaction to the cartoons is not a threat to freedom of speech. How silly! Of course you can have your pesky freedom of speech! You just can’t say anything we don’t like, that’s all! What is the big stinking deal?

That is a really massively irritating trope – that saying you can have free speech and then instantly saying the opposite, in the very same breath. At leas they could have the honesty to say what they mean – ‘No, you can’t have free speech, because you say things we don’t like, so you have to shut up. And shut up about your free speech, too.’

I’ve had exactly the same thought Mediawatchwatch has had – remembering Stephen Fry at the Hay Festival last summer, talking with Hitchens, talking about the two words that have taken on a creepy resonance (and I knew what they were before he said them), ‘offended’ and ‘respect’. And I can hear him saying what Mediawatchwatch quotes him saying – ‘So you’re offended. So fucking what?’

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



From the archive: Tinkerbell

Mar 13th, 2015 8:49 am | By

Then there’s one on February 4 2006 wondering what anyone even means by “images of Mohammed” anyway.

Tinkerbell

Wait, hold on – something has just crossed my tiny mind. These cartoons – that are so ‘offensive’ because they are cartoons of Mohammed – how do the people who are so offended know they are cartoons of Mohammed? There aren’t, like, photographs of him, right? Not to mention the fact that it’s a no-no to make pictures of him anyway, so that if there were photos of him, they’d all have been thrown away by now. But surely it’s much more likely that they weren’t taken in the first place, and that drawings, paintings, watercolours, engravings, etchings, and silhouettes were not made either. And even if they had been they’d probably be pretty dilapidated by now. Pretty crumbly and curly at the edges and faded – at best. And then who knows how accurate the artists would have been, if they had taken any likenesses, which they probably didn’t, on account of how it was taboo (as we keep being reminded, because we’re so likely to forget, with all this shouting going on)? So – let’s face it – nobody knows what the guy looked like. It was fourteen hundred years ago after all. It’s like Jesus. People think they know what he looked like, but they don’t really – they know what Raphael and Rembrandt and people like that thought he looked like. But they didn’t know, see, so that doesn’t help.

There’s not, like, an unbroken chain of accurate portrayals of Jesus going all the way back to 35 CE, is there. Same deal with the prophet. Nobody knows what the guy looked like. No idea. Now I know what you’re thinking – well he looked like the cartoons! Mediterranean, bearded, kind of burly (because he was a powerful guy), kind of impressive-looking, a mensch – dark hair, big features – kind of like – oh, Anthony Quinn, say. Well no doubt you’re right, but I have to tell you, we don’t actually know that. Seriously. Nobody does. (Don’t forget the taboo thing.)

So what I’m wondering is, why on earth do all these offended people think the cartoons are of Mohammed? Because the cartoonists said so? Because they have, like, ‘Mohammed’ scribbled somewhere along the edge or on the bottom? Because of the pose and the turban? Well – that’s not much of a reason! I can do that! I can draw a picture of a dog or a cat or a bag of carrots or a teapot (no, not the one that orbits the sun, a different one) and say it’s a drawing of Mohammed, but what good does that do? Me just saying it’s Mohammed doesn’t make it Mohammed, does it. So why does a cartoonist saying it’s Mohammed make it Mohammed?

Now that I’ve had my fun, that’s actually a serious question, as well as a mocking one. Really – why do all the offended people accept that the cartoons are of Mohammed? Because a bunch of non-Muslim Danish cartoonists say they are? But how would they know? And what are they, magic? They can transform a drawing of some generic bearded guy in a turban into a representation of a specific person who died fourteen centuries ago? How? By saying so, by writing his name underneath, by the context of the jokes. But that still doesn’t make the cartoons cartoons of the actual Mohammed – not for people who just don’t accept that that’s what they are. Why don’t all the infuriated Muslims just laugh and shrug and ignore the whole thing? Why don’t they just say ‘those goofy Danish cartoonists, pretending they’ve drawn pictures of Mohammed – like they have any idea what he looked like. I’m so sure’? Why don’t they just say ‘you guys don’t know what Mohammed looked like any more than we do, and probably less (because we have this like inner intuition, which is denied to non-Muslims), so dream on – draw your stupid little pictures if you want to, we don’t care, it’s nothing to do with us’?

Actually the whole taboo is empty, it’s a taboo without a referent. It’s like a taboo on walking on water, or a taboo on sleeping on the wing of a jet plane when it’s in flight. Nobody can make a representation of Mohammed, it’s quite, quite impossible – so why worry about it? Just making representations of a man and naming them Mohammed doesn’t make them Mohammed – so why on earth worry about it?

Because the cartoons were a provocation, were meant to offend, and so on and so on. Hmm. Not really. The shouting is all about the guy himself, and how terribly terribly forbidden it all is. So – why don’t they just wake up and realize that those cartoons are not Mohammed, not in any way, because they can’t be? Why not just laugh at the pretensions of cartoonists and forget all about it?

This occurred to me while looking at the cartoons on Groep Wilders’s blog. Surely it must have occurred to a lot of people. Those are just lines on paper. We all have to buy into the idea that they are cartoons of Mohammed; otherwise they just stay lines on paper. Why buy into the idea if you don’t like it then? Very odd, people are – we believe our own lies.

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