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.

A chance

Apr 11th, 2012 11:14 am | By

Remember the baby girl in Bangalore whose father punched her because he wanted a boy?

Well, she died.

For nearly a week, the three-month-old fought as hard as she could in hospital, despite a father who established through brute force that she was unwanted. This morning, Baby Afreen died 30 minutes after a cardiac arrest in a government hospital – the third that she visited in the last seven days with her teenaged mother. She was buried later in the day.

Baby Afreen’s father, Umar Farooq, was arrested on Sunday for allegedly assaulting his only child. He has reportedly confessed to the police that he hit his only child because he had wanted a son. Afreen’s mother, Reshma Bano, is 19 years old. She has offered conflicting accounts of how often her husband hit the baby.

But last week, with her baby bruised and bitten, Reshma rushed to hospital.  Afreen arrived at Bangalore’s Vani Vilas hospital three days ago, with bleeding and swelling in her brain. This morning, doctors say, she slipped into a coma after a series of convulsions that began last evening.  Doctors have been circumspect about revealing the details of the physical abuse she suffered, but they say she had bite marks and burns.

Her parents say Farooq had a record of beating Reshma. Policemen dissuaded them from registering a complaint. “Give him a chance, let them work it out,” was the advice they allegedly offered to Reshma’s father, Abdul Karim.

Give him a chance to what? Hit harder? Hit more often? Bite? Burn?

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

Leo Igwe

Apr 10th, 2012 5:03 pm | By

There’s a very good article about Leo Igwe in South Africa’s Mail and Guardian.

The heated face-off between Igwe and Ukpabio’s followers that took place in July 2009 is part of a continuing battle for the country’s soul. In the one camp, there are people like Igwe, a humanist who fights superstition because of the savage effect it has on the country’s children. Ukpabio and a growing horde of pastors just like her, such as David Oyedepo and Celestine Effiong, make up the other group. They are the ever-growing number of evangelists whose fame and fortune comes from irrational beliefs and their livelihood is dependent on the hysterical fear associated with witchcraft that exists in Nigeria’s fundamentalist, Christian south.

A tireless champion of critical thinking, Igwe works to help bring relief to the victims of superstitious crimes. He also helps children who are abandoned in Nigeria because they are identified as witches.

A year after Igwe was attacked by Ukpabio’s followers, the “lady apostle” herself took him to court along with members of local government and the police. Ukpabio was seeking $1.3-million because, she alleged, Igwe and the state was infringing on her freedom to practice religion. Ukpabio was seeking “an order of perpetual injunction” restraining Igwe and his fellow respondents from stopping her church’s “right to practice their religion and the Christian religious belief in the existence of God, Jesus Christ, Satan, sin, witchcraft, heaven and hellfire.” The judge dismissed Ukpabio’s application.

Their “right to practice their religion” – so they try that game in Nigeria too.

At times, the union has had to petition the Nigerian government to get the police to stop harassing Igwe and his family because of the work the humanist does. Online, you will find numerous websites libelling Igwe because he openly challenges Ukpabio, who preys on the weak with her practice of “witchcraft deliverance”. This is a process of exorcism during which Ukpabio expels demonic spirits from the possessed.

In the region of Akwa Ibom, a small girl was said to be possessed by a demon a few years ago. The child was a five-year-old by the name of Esther, whose mother had died. In this particular region, an illness is often said to be instigated by the curse of a neighbour, or more tragically, by a child in the family. Esther became the demon who was cast out.

“I rescued her twice when she was about five years old after she was accused of killing her mother,” said Igwe. “She was driven out and went to live in the local market. A man of about 40 took Esther back to his home and was having sex with her. I was shocked when I heard about it. I took this girl and I handed her over to the government. Later, I found out that Esther had fled because the government doesn’t take proper care of these children.”

I published Leo’s article about rescuing Esther for the second time, including heart-rending photographs that he took. It’s sad that she fled.


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

Vile Brendan O’Neill

Apr 10th, 2012 4:13 pm | By

Vile smug sneery mind-reading Brendan O’Neill, who sees through everyone’s fake right-on poses and spots the self-flattery underneath – according to him, anyway.

now it is positively fashionable, bang on trend, for everyone from top American politicians to Ivy League students to wear a hoodie to show that they “care for Trayvon”. Yet far from being an indication of deep moral sensitivity, all this hoodie-wearing looks to me like a modern, PC version of “blacking up”, with the respectable classes pulling on the garb of black America in order to send a message about their own inherent goodness.

That’s what everything looks like to him. People who support same-sex marriage look to him like people doing something “in order to send a message about their own inherent goodness.” It’s as if he’d just had that first eye-opening class with Professor Iconoclast who explains to woolly undergraduates that what looks like public spirit or dedication is actually sadism or displaced masturbation or a chocolate-substitute.

And here’s a news flash for Brendan and his idiotically complaisant editors: he doesn’t know that. He doesn’t know why people do what they do. Freud didn’t know, Nietzsche didn’t know, and he doesn’t know. He certainly doesn’t know why all the people who wear hoodies as a Trayvon-statement do so. Sure, maybe he’s right, maybe there’s an element of vanity in it for a lot of people; there usually is, with most things we do; so the fuck what? What about the element of vanity in Vile Brendan’s vile posts? We don’t think he does those out of sheer disinterested public spirit do we? Doesn’t he think he’s a devilish handsome fellow, looking up at us in that dashingly “you can’t fool me” way?

And then read the comments under his vile post. That’s the kind of person who likes his stuff. Vile smug sneery mind-reading git.

H/t Kevin Anthoney.

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

The talk

Apr 10th, 2012 2:20 pm | By

Elspeth Reeve at the Atlantic Wire gives a lot of background on John Derbyshire’s…erm…views on race.

Derbyshire doesn’t say that black people, especially women, are pathetically stupid people doomed to live on the dole (For a good example of that, check out the 1941 Looney Tunes cartoon Coal Black and the Sebben Dwarfs.) Instead, he says that the black women who work at the DMV are mean and stupid because they’re genetically destined to be so. From his recent essay:

The mean intelligence of blacks is much lower than for whites. The least intelligent ten percent of whites have IQs below 81; forty percent of blacks have IQs that low… There is a magnifying effect here, too, caused by affirmative action. In a pure meritocracy there would be very low proportions of blacks in cognitively demanding jobs. Because of affirmative action, the proportions are higher. In government work, they are very high… “The DMV lady“ is a statistical truth, not a myth.

Derbyshire does not call Obama a hustler who has hoodwinked gullible whites. Instead, when he implies Obama is a product of Affirmative Action, he presents it as a sendup of uppity liberals consumed by white guilt. On Obama’s background, November 5, 2008:

He was a red-diaper baby, offspring of a love-the-world, hate-America sixties gal and an African socialist in the Mugabe mould, raised by leftish grandparents addled with “Uncle Tim” racial guilt, and mentored by a hard-Left labor radical.

There’s a lot more.

And then underneath there’s a whole slew of racist comments.


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

Hey kid get a haircut

Apr 10th, 2012 1:42 pm | By

This too is from last month. You probably already know about it. I saw a headline or two, but didn’t follow it up. Dozens of Iraqi teenagers with emo haircuts were stoned to death.

Pictures below the fold.

Iraqi activists said this picture belongs to a teenager who was brutally killed by religious police for having an “emo” hairstyle. (Courtesy of Al Tahreer News)

Activists told the Lebanon-based al-Akhbar daily that at least 90 Iraqi teenagers with “emo” appearances have been stoned to death by the Moral Police in the country in the past month. The violent crackdown against “emo” Iraqi teenagers came after the Iraqi interior ministry declared them as “devil worshippers.”

“The ‘Emo phenomenon’ or devil worshiping is being probed by the Moral Police who have the approval to eliminate it as soon as possible since it’s detrimentally affecting the society and becoming a danger,” according to a statement by the interior ministry.

And by “eliminate it” they mean “smash the teenage boys with rocks.” That kind of interior ministry; that kind of Moral Police.

H/t Małgorzata

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

Ceci n’est pas une femme

Apr 10th, 2012 1:35 pm | By

This is from last month, but I missed it. Egypt’s Islamists want to do away with the category “women” and replace it with “families.”

A women’s conference organized by the dominant Islamist bloc in the Egyptian parliament has called for a council for families to replace the existing National Council for Women, a state-owned daily reported on Friday.

The conference, held Thursday on International Women’s Day, also condemned the 1978 U.N. convention against gender discrimination saying it was “incompatible with the values of Islamic sharia” law, the Al-Ahram newspaper reported.

Great. Faaaaantastic. One, forget all about women, there are no women, there are only families. Two, forget all about equal rights for women, equal rights for women are incompatible with the values of sharia.

That should just about take care of it!

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

Free Hamza Kashgari

Apr 9th, 2012 5:07 pm | By

And another thing:

Sign the petition if you haven’t already.

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

It’s a ploy

Apr 9th, 2012 4:31 pm | By

Andrew Copson was on BBC News to say what he thought about the cardinal’s yips about religious freedome and Wearing the Cross. He said it very nicely, but the cardinal won’t like it any better for that.

Andrew’s bit starts at 2:14.

H/t Author.

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

And the award goes to

Apr 9th, 2012 2:26 pm | By

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports on misogyny websites and blogs. It lists twelve of them, including In Mala Fide and the subreddit Men’s Rights.

In Mala Fide This blog, whose name translates from the Latin as “In Bad Faith,” describes itself in its mission statement as “[a]n online magazine dedicated to publishing heretical and unpopular ideas. Ideas that polite society considers ‘racist,’ ‘misogynistic,’ ‘homophobic,’ ‘bigoted’ or other slurs used to shut down critical thinking and maintain the web of delusions that keep our world broken and dying.” The unifying idea is this: “Feminism is a hate movement designed to disenfranchise and dehumanize men.” The site carries ads for such offerings as the HardKnight “male enhancement system,” PolishLasses (“Over 5,000 … candid photos”), and the racist 1922 classic The Revolt Against Civilization by Lothrop Stoddard.

Reddit: Mens Rights A “subreddit” of the user-generated news site Reddit, this forum describes itself as a “place for people who feel that men are currently being disadvantaged by society.” While it presents itself as a home for men seeking equality, it is notable for the anger it shows toward any program designed to help women. It also trafficks in various conspiracy theories. “Kloo2yoo,” identified as a site moderator, writes that there is “undeniable proof” of an international feminist conspiracy involving the United Nations, the Obama Administration and others, aimed at demonizing men.

A Voice for Men A Voice for Men is essentially a mouthpiece for its editor, Paul Elam, who proposes to “expose misandry [hatred of men] on all levels in our culture.” Elam tosses down the gauntlet in his mission statement: “AVfM regards feminists, manginas [a derisive term for weak men], white knights [a similar derisive term, for males who identify as feminists] and other agents of misandry as a social malignancy. We do not consider them well intentioned or honest agents for their purported goals and extend to them no more courtesy or consideration than we would clansmen [sic], skinheads, neo Nazis or other purveyors of hate.”, an affiliated website that vilifies women by name who have made supposedly false rape allegations (among other crimes against masculinity), is one of Elam’s signature “anti-hate” efforts. “Why are these women not in prison?” the site asks.

It’s all become so horribly familiar.



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

A very different intellectual tide. Not.

Apr 9th, 2012 1:12 pm | By

Nicholas Kristof spots a trend.

A few years ago, God seemed caught in a devil of a fight.

Atheists were firing thunderbolts suggesting that “religion poisons everything,” as Christopher Hitchens put it in the subtitle of his book, “God Is Not Great.” Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins also wrote best sellers that were scathing about God, whom Dawkins denounced as “arguably the most unpleasant character in fiction.”

Yet lately I’ve noticed a very different intellectual tide: grudging admiration for religion as an ethical and cohesive force.

Lately? He hasn’t been paying much attention, has he. It’s not ”lately”; it’s been all along; it’s been simultaneously and before that and for the past 30 centuries or so.

I mean honestly, does he think the horseguys were the only people talking? Does he think the admirers of religion shut up or went away during The Time of the Thunderbolts? Does he think overt atheists had things all their own way for awhile? Is he out of his mind?

There were pro-religion books being published before, while, and after Dawkins and Hitchens published theirs. Pro-religion books overwhelmingly outnumber anti-religion books. A ferocious and usually mendacious backlash against overt atheism started the instant Harris’s book hit the shelves, and it’s still going strong. There’s no new “intellectual tide” of grudging admiration for religion; it’s the same boring old tide that’s been surging in and out all along.

The standard-bearer of this line of thinking — and a provocative text for Easter Sunday — is a new book, “Religion for Atheists,” by Alain de Botton. He argues that atheists have a great deal to learn from religion.

“One can be left cold by the doctrines of the Christian Trinity and the Buddhist Eightfold Path and yet at the same time be interested in the ways in which religions deliver sermons, promote morality, engender a spirit of community, make use of art and architecture, inspire travels, train minds and encourage gratitude at the beauty of spring,” de Botton writes.

“The error of modern atheism has been to overlook how many aspects of the faiths remain relevant even after their central tenets have been dismissed,” he adds, and his book displays an attitude toward religion that is sometimes — dare I say — reverential.

Oh you dare say all right: it’s very reverential; a good deal too reverential.

Pantheon sent me a copy the other day, slightly to my surprise, so I’ve been reading it. I dislike it a lot more than I expected to – I figured I would find much of the religion-flattery irritating, but I also figured it would be lively and interesting. Now I’m wondering why I figured that. Reputation, I guess; people seem to think de Botton is good at lively and interesting, so I vaguely assumed they were right.

As it turns out I’m more irritated by the style than the substance. I’m irritated by it because there isn’t any – the writing is smooth and utterly devoid of character. It’s weirdly careful, or cautious - as if he’d drained it of character on purpose. Why? It’s not an academic book, so where was the need to drain it of character?

I think you can see what I mean even in the short extract that Kristof provided. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s like a dead fish. It just lies there. I’ll give you another, longer extract, where the stiffness and deadness is particularly conspicuous. It’s from the chapter called “Kindness,” which is about his claims that religion is good at teaching morality; in this section he is talking about role models, such as saints.

In addition, Catholicism perceives that there is a benefit to being able to see our ideal friends around the house in miniaturized three-dimensional representations. After all, most of us began our lives by having nurturing relationships with bears and other animals, to whom we would talk and be addressed by in turn. Though immobile, these animals were nevertheless skillful at conveying their consoling and inspiring personalities to us. We would talk to them when we were sad and were comforted when we looked across the bedroom and saw them stoically enduring the night on our behalf. Catholicism sees no reason to abandon the mechanics of such relationships and so invites us to buy wood, stone, resin or plastic versions of the saints and place them on shelves or alcoves in our rooms or hallways. At times of domestic chaos, we can look across at a plastic statuette and inwardly ask what St Francis of Assisi would recommend that we say to our furious wife and hysterical children now. The answer may be inside us all along, but it doesn’t usually emerge or become effective until we go through the exercise of formally asking the question of a saintly figurine. [pp 93-5]

See what I mean? That passage really didn’t have to be so bad.

Let’s take a look at what’s wrong with it. For a start, there’s “Catholicism perceives,” which is a trope he uses throughout and which gets more irritating the more you read it. It’s irritating because it’s inaccurate and sloppy, and since he rests a huge proportion of his argument on it, that’s a real problem. It’s meaningless to say “Catholicism perceives” anything, and it’s not really clear what he means by it. Who exactly is it who perceives what he claims Catholicism perceives? All Catholic clerics throughout history? One particular cleric who invented the idea of statuettes of saints? I don’t know. He attributes this kind of agency to “religion” and “Judaism” and “Christianity” and similar large abstractions throughout the book, thus making them all sound very intelligent and sympathetic and human-oriented and caring, which is a way of putting a heavy thumb on the scales.

So there’s that, which is substance as well as style, and then right after that there’s a string of needlessly formal words by way of introducing the subject of soft toys. Then there’s a syntactical train wreck, caused by the needlessly and annoyingly formal “to whom we would talk” – he forgot what he was doing and ended up with “to whom we would talk and be addressed by in turn.” Say what? Oh the messes caused by that idiotic pseudo-rule against ending a sentence or clause with a preposition. Not to mention his claim that stuffed animals answer when we talk to them. They do?

And then there’s the hilarity of “Though immobile, these animals were nevertheless skillful at conveying their consoling and inspiring personalities to us.” “Though immobile” – ha! And then “nevertheless skillful” – again, say what? Does he mean it, or has he lost track of what he’s saying again, or what? It’s hard to tell, but either way, it’s a disaster. And then the bit about stoically enduring the night on our behalf – and what are they doing across the room? If you want the damn bear, take it to bed with you, ffs! Except of course you don’t want to be taking resin or plastic statuettes of Assisi Frank to bed with you, so I suppose he had to leave Pooh across the room. That’s the trouble with a complicated simile that you lose control of which.

And then you get a marital quarrel complete with furious wife and hysterical children, and marital guy looking at a statuette of Assisi Frank for help (which is off, since Frank was fonder of animals than he was of wives and children), and then to make it all complete there’s the assertion that we usually can’t figure these things out “until we go through the exercise of formally asking the question of a saintly figurine.” Oreally?

It’s not all as bad as that, to be fair, but it is all that pointlessly stiff and dull and lifeless. I’m tempted to think that the gnu atheists cornered the market on lively writers.

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

The girl’s screams

Apr 9th, 2012 11:12 am | By

A horror story from India.

The girl’s screams were brittle and desperate. Neighbors in the suburban housing complex looked up and saw a child crying for help from an upstairs balcony. She was 13 and worked as a maid for a couple who had gone on vacation to Thailand. They had left her locked inside their apartment.

After a firefighter rescued her, the girl described a life akin to slavery, child welfare officials said. Her uncle had sold her to a job placement agency, which sold her to the couple, both doctors. The girl was paid nothing. She said the couple barely fed her and beat her if her work did not meet expectations. She said they used closed-circuit cameras to make certain she did not take extra food.

“Akin to” slavery? What? How could it be any more exactly slavery? She was sold; she was not paid; she was all but starved; she was beaten; she was imprisoned. That’s not “akin to” slavery, it’s slavery itself, and of the very worst kind – brutal, sadistic, exploitative.

Honestly, what a disgusting tale – and it’s commonplace in India, so we can’t console ourselves with the thought that it’s an anomaly. How disgusting that two adults with enough intelligence and discipline and good fortune to train as doctors could treat a child that way. Think about it. Project yourselves into those two people – starving a child day in and day out, while forcing her to do your shitwork, and beating her when she doesn’t do it to your liking. Did you project? What’s it like? What does it feel like? I tried it, and I can’t really do it. I can imagine starting to act like that, but I can’t imagine going on acting like it, because the horror and guilt would stop me. It’s pretty much that simple. What I don’t understand is, why didn’t it stop them? Why doesn’t it stop people like that?

I always have this problem. I have it when trying to imagine being a Nazi grunt in charge of herding people into the gas chamber; I have it when trying to imagine being a man throwing stones at the head of a woman buried up to her neck; I have it when trying to imagine being a Saudi employer torturing her Indonesian maid. I don’t have it when trying to imagine being an Eichmann, but I have it with the up close and personal savagery. I don’t understand how normal people – people normal enough to become doctors – can do it.

It’s depressing that so many people can do it. It’s the most depressing thing about human beings.

Indian law offers limited safeguards and limited enforcement to protect such children, and public attitudes are usually permissive in a society where even in the lowest rungs of the middle class, families often have at least one live-in servant.

“There is a huge, huge demand,” said Ravi Kant, a lawyer with Shakti Vahini, a nonprofit group that combats child trafficking. “The demand is so huge that the government is tending toward regulation rather than saying our children should not work but should be in school.”

Well that’s a non sequitur. The fact that “the demand” is huge isn’t a reason for the government to meet the demand. If there were a huge demand for fresh babies to serve in high-end restaurants, would the government tend toward regulation rather than saying our babies should not be eaten?

Mala Bhandari, who runs Childline, a government hot line for child workers, said India’s urbanization and the rise of two-income families were driving demand for domestic help. Children are cheaper and more pliant than adults; Ms. Bhandari said a family might pay a child servant only $40 a month, less than half the wage commonly paid to an adult, if such servants are paid at all.

Well yes; I think we all managed to figure that much out. I think we all grasp that children are “more pliant” than adults because they’re much smaller and weaker, and that they’re cheaper for the same reasons. We get that. That part is not what’s mystifying.

Societal attitudes toward servants are often shaped by ingrained mores about caste and class. Many servants, especially children, come from poor families among the lower Hindu castes or tribal groups, often from poor states like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal.

Well, maybe that explains it. No doubt if I’d grown up convinced that certain people were from “lower castes” I would be able to brutalize a child the way the two doctors did. That is perhaps the best reason for saying egalitarianism should be the building block of all morality. (See the first article of the UDHR.)

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

Burn it

Apr 9th, 2012 9:50 am | By

Taslima is wasting no time. “What should women do?” she asks. “They should take off their burqas and burn them.”

That’s telling them!

So is her opening observation.

My mother used to wear a burqa with a net over her face. It reminded me of the meat safes in my grandmother’s house. Meat safe’s net was made of metal, my mother’s net was made of linen. But the objective was the same: keeping the meat safe.


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

Being good

Apr 8th, 2012 4:40 pm | By

Interesting post of PZ’s on being “good without god” and whether that’s a goal or slogan worth having.

The implication of “good” is thorough conformity. Has challenging an authority figure ever fit the definition of being good? When abolitionists broke the law by smuggling slaves into Canada, when suffragettes picketed to demand the vote,  when Stonewall erupted and Martin Luther King marched, when students protested the war in Viet Nam, were they being “good” in the general public’s understanding of the term? I don’t think so. They were being very, very naughty. Which was good. See what I mean? It’s an empty word that offers nothing but vague reassurances.

Yes I guess so. I admit I have been thinking all along that what “good” meant in that context was: not selfish, not ruthless, not brutal or predatory or greedy. I’ve been thinking it meant altruistic and generous as opposed to their opposites.

Now that PZ mentions it I’m not sure why I’ve been thinking that. It’s not self-evident, certainly. I suppose I’ve been assuming that what Christians in general mean by “good” is generous and altruistic…but is it? Am I just assuming that because I’m infected with the same anachronistic illusions that Karen Armstrong is? Am I assuming that because I’ve bought into modern goddy propaganda that religion simply equals compassion and related other-regarding virtues?

Well, but if there is modern goddy propaganda that religion simply equals compassion etc then Christians will have bought into it too, so I could still be right that that’s what they mean by the word.

I think they do, really – that’s my guess. For Quiverfull types and all the other flavors of lunatic it probably does mean obedience; it does for Mormons; but for more average Christians I think it means some variation on Charity, as in 1 Corinthians 13 type charity.

And that’s part of the appeal, for some, perhaps for many. That’s not really conformist. It’s not friendly to capitalism, for one thing. It doesn’t look with complacency on all social arrangements, because so many of them have not a damn thing to do with Charity or altruism or generosity.

One of the few persuasive things I’ve ever heard Karen Armstrong say – I think she’s the one who said it – was that real generosity is irrational, and that’s why religion is good at it. I think there’s something to that.

The two are not unconnected though. Challenging authority figures can partake of the same kind of irrational generosity. And then when you go that way you do find yourself flatly denying other people’s ideas of what is “good.” The pope and his friends for instance think the way to be extra special good and different from the selfish secular world is to be insanely concerned about human fetuses at the expense of adult female human beings. That’s the urge to be irrationally caring and generous run completely amok.

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

Update on Hamza Kashgari

Apr 8th, 2012 3:26 pm | By

Update: Maryam reports that it’s not reliable.

there have been some reports that 23 year old Hamza Kashgariwho faces execution in Saudi Arabia for his Tweets about Mohammad is now out of danger and is to be released imminently or that he is only being held ‘for his own safety’. But these reports are not true.

I just got two messages from a family member and a friend. One message said:

That’s not true, nothing has been confirmed so far, everything still foggy and in a gray area. We hear from him from one time to time informing us that he’s ok and that’s it.

So everything below is wrong or at least unconfirmed.

Via the Free Hamza Kashgari Facebook page. I can’t be sure how reliable it is, but for what it’s worth (and given the non-existence of any other sources): one of the admins of the page reported yesterday, just about 24 hours ago, that he had news via people close to Kashgari.

The sharia court accepted his explanation and his life is no longer in any danger. But they can not release him at the current time due to the great danger he is facing from the general public. His mother is allowed to visit him and under the circumstances Hamza is doing well. It is impossible at this time to predict how long they have to keep him there – he is now locked up for his own safety, not because he said what he said.

This is from a source close to Hamza and his family.

Good that his life is not in danger from the authorities, but horrendous that his life is in danger from maniacs in his country and that he has to stay in prison to be safe from them. Horrendous and infuriating that the Saudis didn’t just let him leave the country, but had to drag him back so that he would be in danger from maniacs.

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

Charge £400 for her, £200 for him

Apr 8th, 2012 12:01 pm | By

The wonderfulness of Sharia councils.

After fleeing a forced marriage characterised by rape and physical violence, Nasrin applied for an Islamic divorce from a Sharia council; that was almost 10 years ago now. Despite countless emails, letters and telephone calls to the Sharia council as well as joint mediation and reconciliation meetings, the Sharia council refuse to provide Nasrin with an Islamic divorce. Why? Because of Nasrin’s sex. An Imam at the Sharia council told Nasrin that her gender prevents her from unilaterally divorcing her husband, instead the Imam told her to return to her husband, perform her wifely duties and maintain the abusive marriage that she was forced into.

Charlotte Rachael Proudman has represented Muslim women pro bono at Sharia law councils in theUKto obtain Islamic divorces, so she knows how shitty they are for women.

I am all too aware of the gender discriminatory experience many Muslim women suffer at some Sharia councils and Muslim Arbitration Tribunals (‘Sharia law bodies’). Unfortunately their experiences have not been highlighted by the media. Instead some Sharia law bodies have been misrepresented by the media as being transparent, voluntary and operating in accordance with human rights and equality legislation. This is not the case.

As we know, via Maryam and others. Lots of people don’t know, though.

the cost of an Islamic divorce is £400 for a woman compared to £200 for a man at the Islamic Sharia Council inEast London; this is an example of blatant gender discrimination which is incompatible with the Equality Act 2010.

With over 85 Sharia law bodies operating in theUK, the majority of which charge vulnerable and impoverished Muslim women astronomical fees, Sharia law bodies have become successful and lucrative businesses…

Diana Nammi, founder of the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation[,] explained that “Sharia law bodies are money-spinning businesses because they afford men more rights than women unlikeUKlaw which is underpinned by a fundamental principle of ‘equality for all’. In most cases women do not receive any practical advice or assistance to help them exit abusive marriages, and instead face further discrimination perpetrated by Sharia ‘judges’”.

And the arrangement is punitive, not to say downright spiteful.

By protracting the time it takes for women to obtain Islamic divorces, Sharia law bodies are punishing women for their failure to maintain miserable marriages, and in Nasrin’s case an abusive forced marriage which was flawed from its incept[ion]. Rather than freeing Muslim women from the shackles of unhappy marriages they are kept in limbo and are expected to mourn their destructive marriages and to reflect on their failures as wives and mothers. Worryingly some Sharia law bodies are growing cynical business enterprises, which use their position of power to maintain unequal gender relations while profiteering on the misery of Muslim women.

Anne-Marie Waters, Spokesperson for One Law for All[,] commented – “the very process employed by Sharia law bodies is gender discriminatory, flawed and incompatible withUKlegislation”. For instance, unlike male divorce applicants, women are requested to bring along two Muslim, male witnesses to corroborate their testimony. I have yet to represent a Muslim woman who is able to comply with this gender discriminatory requirement…

Gender discriminatory and insane – as if marital abuse (or any other abuse) reliably happens in front of witnesses!

I hope a lot of people have read this article.

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

You are the gardener

Apr 8th, 2012 11:07 am | By

Speaking of Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll…That article in the Stranger is interesting.

To become a “member” at Mars Hill Church requires more than attending church. Becoming a full-fledged member—a process highly encouraged, and sometimes thunderously demanded, in Pastor Mark Driscoll’s sermons—requires months of classes and a careful study of Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe, Driscoll’s 463-page Mars Hill textbook. To seal the deal, the prospective member must formally agree to submit to the “authority” of the Mars Hill leadership.

Driscoll, the church’s cofounder and public face, has made a name for himself with his strutting, macho interpretation of Christianity, one in which men are unquestioned heads of their households and “chick-ified church boys,” as he calls them, need not apply. He rails against mainstream Christians who imagine a “Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ… a neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy.” Instead, he has molded a doctrine based on manliness, sexual purity, and submission to authority: wives to husbands, husbands to pastors, and everyone to God.

Patriarchal, in short. Like Quiverfull religion; like Mormonism and the FLDS; like Catholicism; like Islam; like all the monotheisms except the most liberal branches.

One guy, given the pseudonym “Lance” in the article, was an enthusiastic Mars Hill member until he disagreed with a pastor about a building safety issue

and the disagreement metastasized into a weeks-long debate—not about the safety issue, per se, but about whether Lance was being “insubordinate” and refusing to properly “submit.”

“I began to question their authority,” Lance says, “and their ability to make good decisions.”

In the midst of this, Lance had begun a long-distance relationship with a young woman in Colorado. Lance says that his pastor instructed him to end the relationship, even though their relationship was not yet physical and nothing improper had happened. Lance balked, but his pastor insisted: “I’m the authority over you,” the pastor said, according to Lance. “You agreed when you became a member that I am your authority, and you have to obey us.” Lance was torn—on one hand, he had signed that membership contract.

On the other hand, this was ridiculous.

In a final, tense meeting, Lance got fed up with the leadership’s harping about submission and authority. “How is this not a Jim Jones theology?” Lance remembers asking.

So he was thrown out – and then they started hounding him. Other people have had similar experiences. The phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” turns up and is clearly not altogether metaphoric.

At a service in January -

After the band played two indie-rock hymns, Pastor Driscoll appeared on a live video feed from his Ballard church. His “Men and Marriage” sermon was relatively tame: A husband should be the firm and responsible head of his household, the leader of a “little flock called home and family.” He should think of his wife as “a garden” and himself as “the gardener.” If you look at your garden and don’t like how it looks, Driscoll preaches, just remember: “You are the gardener.”

Tame? That’s tame? Saying a woman is a fucking garden and the man she’s married to is the gardener? That’s not tame! The reporter’s a guy, so maybe he didn’t think about it hard enough. That’s NOT tame. One, it makes the woman a thing and the man a person; two, it makes the woman a thing that has to be dug and otherwise battered and the man the person who does the digging and other battering; three, it makes the woman’s appearance something that it is the man’s job to alter to suit his liking; four, it’s basically permission for a man to use force and violence on “his” wife along with refusal of permission for the woman to refuse or resist. It’s not the least bit tame. It’s disgusting.

The thing his sermon didn’t address—the thing I came hoping to hear about—was when submission to human authority goes too far.

Well yes it did; the garden claim is decidedly a matter of when submission to human authority goes too far.

Meanwhile – why does the Washington Post include Mark Driscoll on its On Faith blog? I wonder if the Washington Post would include a cleric who talked about black people as gardens and white people as the gardeners. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t. Why is stark overt male dominationism more socially acceptable than stark racism? I would love to know.

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

The epistemology of Easter

Apr 7th, 2012 4:23 pm | By

Mark Driscoll, of Seattle’s Mars Hill church fame, has an Easter post on the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog. (Are we faithy enough yet?)

It’s beautiful.

…for most people in our culture, Easter is more synonymous with fluffy bunnies, brightly painted eggs, kids hopped up on chocolate and a great meal with family and friends.

And while many Christians happily and freely celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter today, they don’t know exactly how to approach the whole Easter Bunny thing. So, I thought I’d take a moment to share how we do at the Driscoll house.

Just like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny is a hallmark of American culture. So, unless you live in a commune, you can’t pretend it doesn’t exist and that it’s not a significant part of our cultural observance of the holiday.

My wife, Grace, and I choose to tell our five kids that the Easter Bunny, while fun, isn’t a real, magical bunny that hops from house to house laying colored eggs, candies, and toys on Easter morning. That’s a make-believe story, and we have no objections to fun and imagination so long as the kids also know that the Resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact and not a fanciful myth.


Don’t you love it when they do that?

The Easter bunny is a story, but the Resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact.

And Mark Driscoll knows that…how?


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

Cardinal bemoans the fate of Christians in Britain

Apr 7th, 2012 3:50 pm | By

Catholic clerics and superclerics don’t seem to know when they have it good, do they. They seem to think Christianity is “marginalized” when something under 100% of the population dances to their tune.

Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic Church cleric has called for Christians to wear a cross every day.

In his Easter Sunday sermon, Cardinal Keith O’Brien will tell worshippers to “wear proudly a symbol of the cross of Christ” each day of their lives.

The leader of the Church in Scotland, he will voice concern at the growing “marginalisation” of religion.

What marginalization? What growing marginalization?

Look at all the ink he gets. Look at all the ink he gets in this very story in which he bleats about marginalization. Look at the way the powerful flopped down on the floor and groveled when the pope came for a visit. Look at the job he has. Look at the House of Lords. Look at the BBC, look at Andrew Brown. How is religion marginalized in the UK? 

I heard a horrible discussion of this cross-wearing wheeze on the BBC a couple of hours ago with a woman from the Christian Legal Centre and a man from some other Christian Pestering Group. Nobody else, mind you, apart from the reporter, so there wasn’t a whole lot of conflict, in fact there wasn’t any. There was just a lot of chat about what a great thing it is to wear a cross and how wonderful Jesus is.

That’s what it is to be marginalized. I wish the BBC would marginalize Maryam Namazie and Taslima Nasreen that way!

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

Why this is a big deal

Apr 7th, 2012 12:59 pm | By

Justin Griffith has a very important post on why it matters (a lot) that atheists in the military should come out of the closet. (Yes, Brendan O’Neill, the closet.)

This is why:

Here is the debate-ending argument against NO-REL-PREF:

For all of those who still don’t see why this is a big deal:

  • Silence reinforces the culture of shame and fear.
  • We are banned from meeting on posts.
  • We are forced to take spiritual fitness tests (and mandatory remedial training).
  • Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are spent on converting you and your families to Christianity.
  • Many chaplain-endorsing agencies have an official proselytizing policy: “We reserve the right to evangelize the un-churched.”

This list is not even close to exhausting the problems our community faces, yet it represents active discrimination on a massive scale. If nobody calls them on it, the situation festers. You can help at the local level. Stop turning the other cheek. We love the military. It’s our responsibility to make it better. It’s our duty to report violations of law and ethics. Identifying as an atheist and standing up for your rights simply makes the military a better military.

Justin says please spread it around. I say the same.

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


Apr 7th, 2012 12:39 pm | By

The Vatican at its loveliest – shutting up a priest because he has reasonable, valuable criticisms of the Vatican itself.


Father Tony Flannery, a Catholic priest who has been outspoken in his criticism of the abuse crisis in Ireland, has found himself under investigation by the Vatican for his liberal views.

Founder of the Association of Irish Priests, Father Flannery told that the Vatican has contacted him to inform  him of the investigation.

The effect of the investigation was immediate. This week The Irish Catholic newspaper reports that Father Flannery had to cease writing his monthly column in the Redemptorist Reality magazine in response to news of the investigation.

It’s helpful of them, in a way, to be so clear about it – “liberal views” are a matter for investigation, and meanwhile, stfu.

The Irish Catholic writer Michael Kelly reported  that, “It is understood that while Fr Flannery has the support of his superiors in the Redemptorist Order, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF)  in Rome has expressed disquiet about some of his articles and publications.

“It is believed that the views which have come under  most scrutiny are Fr Flannery’s opposition to the Church’s ban on artificial birth control and his support for the ordination of women.”

The Congregation for the Doctrine of Male Authority, is what it should be called.

The crackdown comes on the heels of the Vatican  ordered Apostolic Visitation, which found evidence of what it called a ‘certain  tendency’ for Irish priests to hold opinions that conflict with those of the  orthodox Magisterium, the Catholic Church’s teaching authority.

In a sign of hardening attitudes, the Visitation  participants underlined that any dissent from the formal teachings of the Church  were ‘not the authentic path towards renewal.’

Under the current circumstances, Father Flannery has  been effectively silenced, with no indication of how long it will last.

On Holy Thursday Pope Benedict issued a very direct  statement which slammed those priests who refuse to conform to church teachings.


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