Notes and Comment Blog

The uses of Richard Hoggart

Apr 14th, 2014 11:37 am | By

The Guardian on Richard Hoggart:

As news of academic Richard Hoggart’s death emerged last week, there was a sense in obituaries and appreciations that the 95-year-old was a figure from the past, the relevance of whose work, most famously his 1957 book The Uses of Literacy, had waned over time.

My intellectual development continues to be defined by his writing, and all I can say to anyone who has yet to read his work is: do it now. We still need voices like his to articulate what is wrong, right now, with an official and media language that wilfully ignores the malign effects of class and poverty.

What, you mean we’re not all raking in the profits from real estate bubbles and tech innovation and exciting new ways to package risky mortgages?

Hoggart came to prominence at a time when a number of socially mobile writers and academics were able to take advantage of changes in society to give voice to their ideas. It was precisely because he was a social interloper that he was able to forge a new discipline – contemporary cultural studies – based on the need for individuals to look more closely at the information we consume and create, and to understand what it reveals about social relations.

We need Hoggart now because we have a deceptively flattened media and cultural landscape in which everyone is meant to take a bit, and like a bit, of everything. Twitter and Instagram give the impression of everyone having an equal voice, from the out-of-work plasterer to the millionaire art dealer. A grounding in Hoggart’s work blasts through that. He reminds us that access to culture widens and narrows according to who’s got the keys – and that is always the people with education, contacts and confidence.

Not to mention money. Don’t forget money. Money can do a lot to stand in for education. Fill your house with expensive art and rugs and tchotchkes and people will assume you have education.

There are a lot of good tributes on the Letters page.

• Martin Kettle (Report, 11 August) is right to stress the importance and influence of Richard Hoggart’s work, both in his written work and in the many posts he held, including vice-chairmanship of the Arts Council, from which he was sacked by Margaret Thatcher in 1982. For Hoggart, humane reading and humane education and humane culture and society should be open to everyone, and he deeply deplored those who saw themselves as privileged, not least the patrician William Rees-Mogg who, as chairman of the Arts Council, took it for granted that his journeys from London to his Somerset home and back should be provided by an Arts Council-funded chauffeur-driven car. Not something Richard Hoggart would ever have contemplated.
Bruce Ross-Smith

• In Richard Hoggart’s obituary, you recall that he wrote of seeing his widowed mother “standing frozen, while tears start slowly down her cheeks because a sixpence has been lost … you do not easily forget”. Reading Polly Toynbee’s article (Duncan Smith’s treatment of the disabled is monstrous, 11 April), it is apparent that IDS has forgotten the effects of poverty, if he ever knew. It seems very little may have changed since the 1920s.
David Verguson

If people remembered the effects of poverty, how would they be able to fill their houses with rugs and Etruscan pottery?

H/t Maureen

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

The Jaafari Personal Status Law

Apr 13th, 2014 3:35 pm | By

Human Rights Watch to Iraq: yo, don’t legalize marriage for 9-year-olds.

Iraq’s Council of Ministers should withdraw a new draft Personal Status Law and ensure that Iraq’s legal framework protects women and girls in line with its international obligations. The pending legislation would restrict women’s rights in matters of inheritance and parental and other rights after divorce, make it easier for men to take multiple wives, and allow girls to be married from age nine.

The draft law, called the Jaafari Personal Status Law, is based on the principles of the Jaafari school of Shia religious jurisprudence, founded by Imam Jaafar al-Sadiq, the sixth Shia imam. Approved by the Council of Ministers on February 25, 2014, it must now be approved by the parliament to become law.

And what are his dates? Jaafar al-Sadiq, the sixth imam? 702-765 CE. Here’s a thought: how about not looking to imams who lived 13 centuries ago for guidance in making new laws? How about actually thinking about human beings and their needs, instead of taking instruction from a sixth or fifth or seventh imam?

The draft law would cover Iraq’s Shia citizens and residents, a majority of the population of 36 million. It includes provisions that prohibit Muslim men from marrying non-Muslims, legalizes marital rape by stating that a husband is entitled to have sex with his wife regardless of her consent, and prevents women from leaving the house without permission from their husbands. The law would automatically grant custody over any child age two or older to the father in divorce cases, lower the marriage age to nine for girls and fifteen for boys, and even allow girls younger than nine to be married with a parent’s approval.

In short it treats women and girls like inferiors and slaves with no rights.

The draft law violates the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which Iraq ratified in 1986, by giving fewer rights to women and girls on the basis of their gender. It also violates the Convention on Rights of the Child, which Iraq ratified in 1994, by legalizing child marriage, putting girls at risk of forced and early marriage and susceptible to sexual abuse, and not requiring decisions about children in divorce cases to be made in the best interests of the child.

The draft law ignores article 2 of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women by legalizing marital rape, Human Rights Watch said. The CEDAW committee, the body of international experts who review state compliance with the convention, in its February 28, 2014 review of Iraq’s reports, urged the government to “immediately withdraw the draft Jaafari personal status law.” The law also appears to violate the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights by granting fewer rights to certain individuals on the basis of their religion.

Well at least Iraq ratified CEDAW. You know who has 626 million thumbs and didn’t ratify CEDAW? The US, that’s who. We’re one of only seven countries that haven’t. My god that makes me swell with pride. The others? Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Palau, and Tonga. Great, isn’t it? On the other hand we do not have a Jaafari Personal Status Law on the books, so that’s an improvement on Iraq.

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

She has to hide her truth to be able to live

Apr 13th, 2014 3:00 pm | By

BenBaz Aziz did an interview for Atheist Alliance International with a transsexual woman in Saudi Arabia…which is not one of the best places to be a trans woman. BenBaz is hoping people will share it.

9- Tell us about the discrimination by the family.

Growing up in misogynistic society, surely my family will see females are inferior to males. The idea that I will “become” as they think a female, is not acceptable. They have no idea about the difference between gender and sex . So, they think I will “shift” to female,which is the inferior sex.  From this vision, you can imagine how they are misguided about the truth.

They consider me a “disgrace”, “shame”  and wanting to challenge or to drag attention.  I have faced a lot of hate speech, violence and threats of informing authorities from the people I love the most.

I have to hide my truth to be able to live, my family would certainly kill me if they had proof I am taking hormones. I know I will mostly lose them forever, when I complete transition and live as a woman – the true reality. It is not my fault, and I didn’t ask for any of this ! I was born a girl, they assigned me incorrectly, so what can I do ?

I guess the worst part is, you live all these years in a lie, and you have to sacrifice everything and the people you loved and lived with, played with and had nice memories with. Just to get rid of this lie!!

I hope things get better for her.


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


Apr 13th, 2014 12:24 pm | By

I heard a discussion of a new movie, Calvary, on BBC Radio 4′s Saturday Review yesterday; it sounds pretty damn interesting.

The Irish Times has a review.

The predictably flawless Brendan Gleeson plays Father James Lavelle, a decent priest serving the needs of an absurdly colourful Sligo community, whose world is upended by an unexpected encounter in the confessional.

A troubled parishioner – unseen by us, but apparently known to our hero – explains that, having been abused by clerics as a child, he intends to exact revenge by killing James in one week’s time.

There is a terrible logic to his scheme. The annihilation of a guilty priest will provoke only so much rending of garments. The murder of an innocent man will, however, really hammer home how troublesome any association with the discredited Catholic Church has become.

Ok…I want to see that.

On the other hand the review goes on to say that what the rest of the movie does with that setup is a mess, so maybe I don’t want to see it. But the setup…yes, that’s interesting.

The Guardian on the other hand says it’s terrific.

In the darkness of the confession box, Father James (Brendan Gleeson) learns he is about to be killed. Behind the grille, a shadowy parishioner explains that he was abused as a child and is hellbent on revenge. Father James, as a representative of the church, has been selected to take the fall; the good priest parachuted in to deputise for the bad. His crucifixion is booked for the following Sunday, just down on the beach. The priest now has a week to put his own house in order.

Part of why the setup is interesting is because the good priests make the bad ones possible. Good people don’t belong in the Catholic church, because it’s not a good institution.



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

The cupcake as weltanschauung

Apr 13th, 2014 11:30 am | By

Is this a parody? It certainly looks like one, but…it’s not clear that that’s what the Guardian intends.

Beware of cupcake fascism, it tells us. Oh come on, that has to be a parody.

The constellation of cultural tropes that most paradigmatically manifest in the form of the cupcake are associated in particular with infantilisation. Of course, looking back to a perfect past that never existed is nothing if not the pained howl of a child who never wanted to be forced to grow up, and the cupcake and its associates market themselves by catering to these never-​never-​land adults’ tastes. These products, which treat their audience as children, and more specifically the children of the middle classes – perfect special snowflakes full of wide-​eyed wonder and possibility – succeed as expressions of a desire on behalf of consumers to always and forever be children, by telling consumers not only that this is OK, but also that it is, to a real degree, possible.

Parody. Has to be parody. But then you scroll down and come to

Something became clear to me in the aftermath of the London riots in 2011, when I sawthousands of people take to the streets with brooms at the instigation of a twitter hashtag (#riotcleanup), and “clean up” the effects of the anger of the rioters, which was already in the process of being dismissed and demonised in the media as opportunistic looting long before the police would find a way to have their killing of Mark Duggan declared “lawful”. This realisation was that if you wanted to found a fascist reich in Britain today, you could never do so on the basis of any sort of ideology of racial superiority or militaristic imagery or anything of the like. Fascism is, if nothing else, necessarily majoritarian, and nowadays racism is very niche-​appeal (just look at how laughable every EDL march is, where the anti-​fascists outnumber the alleged fascists by a ratio of more than two to one). But you could get a huge mass of people to participate in a reactionary endeavour if you dressed it up in nice, twee, cupcakey imagery, and persuaded everyone that the brutality of your ideology was in fact a form of niceness. If a fascist reich was to be established anywhere today, I believe it would necessarily have to exchange iron eagles for fluffy kittens, swap jackboots for Converse, and the epic drama of Wagnerian horns for mumbled ditties on ukuleles.

So beware of cupcakes, I guess.

But I refuse to get rid of my jackboots.

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

Hours of work will depend on our sweet will

Apr 13th, 2014 11:05 am | By

Nick Cohen has a good piece on the grinding of the poor in the UK.

…for me, the best way of summing up the division between rich and poor, and high and low, is a contract stating that “hours of work will be advised by the visitor manager and will be dependent upon the requirements for retail assistants“. The staff had no security, the contract made clear. Their employers guaranteed them no minimum income. The bosses might leave them at home from one week to the next, while still insisting that the casual workers remained available to work for them and them alone.

Who’s that – some hotel chain? Asda? The local prison?

No, it’s Brenda, aka Betty Windsor, aka her majesty.

The contract says so much because the employer in question was not some crook but the Queen – whom everyone in authority assures us is a benign sovereign who cares for every one of her subjects. Her Majesty’s exploited servants were to show tourists round Buckingham Palace’s staterooms, when and only when the monarchy thought it had no choice but to pay them.

As the recession grew, the wealthy were finding new ways of encouraging poverty by keeping the poor on zero-hours contracts whose average hourly rates were 40% below the “normal” earnings for the work. Not just oligarchs it is easy to despise as cruel foreigners, but the British monarch and head of state.

Well, be fair – she did give up the yacht.

The account of royal miserliness comes from the forthcoming Hard Times by Tom Clark, a leader writer on the GuardianI hope it sellsbecause Clark is the first author I know of who has examined the data on the great recession and shown that booms and busts are like Tolstoy’s families. All happy financial bubbles are alike but each recession is unhappy in its own way.

Many commentators, including me, expected the great crash of 2008 to produce mass unemployment as the great crash of 1929 led to the mass unemployment of the 30s. Because labour is so cheap, we have instead an English-speaking world without neat boundaries. For the majority of people, the division of time into the years of boom and the years of bust makes little sense. In America, the average worker has not had a pay rise since 1973. In Britain, median full-time pay stopped rising in 2000, then collapsed after the crash. The great recession came after 30 years of the rich leaving the rest behind. (In the past two decades, for instance, the top 1% has grabbed three-fifths of all the gains in American growth.) The majority of the population did not enjoy a boom in the past decade: just a bust in 2008. As Osborne tries to sneak an election victory in 2015 by letting the housing market soar and fall yet again, another boomless bust is coming.

There’s a solution for this problem though. Everyone should just go into the financial planning business. The pay there is HUGE so everyone will be hugely rich. Utopia here we come.



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

Where will Brandeis go to get its respect and honor back?

Apr 12th, 2014 6:29 pm | By

Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe is also annoyed about CAIR’S bullying of Honor Diaries.

‘HONOR DIARIES” might not be coming to a theater near you, at least not if CAIR gets its way. The award-winning documentary about “honor” violence against girls and women in much of the Muslim world was released last month in honor of International Women’s Day, and it didn’t take long for the Council on American Islamic Relations to slap its all-purpose “Islamophobic” label on it. The film has been shown in dozens of venues, but CAIR has raised enough of a stink to get screenings cancelled on several college campuses, including the University of Michigan and the University of Illinois.

He then talks about CAIR’s role in bullying Brandeis into insulting Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Ali was involved in making “Honor Diaries,” which goes out of its way to convey respect for moderate Islam. It spotlights nine eloquent women with roots in the Islamic world, several of whom are devout Muslims — “Islam is my spiritual journey,” says one — and all of whom are passionate about exposing the terrible abuses women and girls in many Muslim cultures suffer in the name of family honor. None thinks such horrors should be excused or neglected out of a misplaced cultural sensitivity or political correctness.

But CAIR apparently does. Why does it? And why do Brandeis and other universities listen to it? Why don’t they tell it to fuck off?

Efforts by CAIR and its ilk to squelch honest discussion of such grave human-rights issues — and to demonize as “haters” and “Islamophobes” those who do — encapsulate the very perversity “Honor Diaries” seeks to expose: valuing the honor of a community more than a woman’s life or voice. But does CAIR’s shrill protest reflect what average citizens in Muslim countries think of such a documentary? Or does the “Honor Diaries” Arabic Facebook page, with 95,000 “likes” — and climbing?

Why aren’t more progressives passionate about these issues?

I don’t know. I do what I can. I try to get the word out to them.

I put that question to Nazie Eftekhari, an immigrant from Iran and another of the women “Honor Diaries” focuses on. A successful Minnesota health care entrepreneur, Eftekhari unhesitatingly describes herself as a “bleeding-heart liberal” and a longtime Democratic Party voter, loyalist, and fund-raiser. She is as mystified as I am.

“The biggest human-rights crisis of our generation is the treatment of women in Muslim-majority countries, and we’ve applied a gag order to ourselves,” she replies with unmistakable distress. “We won’t talk about it. Where are my fellow liberals? Where are the feminists?”

Right here. Right here. But all too many of them are siding with CAIR instead, yes. It’s appalling.

In theocratic Iran today, Eftekhari says, the legal age of marriage for girls has been lowered to 9. Fathers can legally marry their adopted daughters. “How can President Obama, who has two young daughters, not be making a huge issue of this?” she wants to know. “It’s not marriage, it’s statutory rape.”

Eftekhari can’t understand why so many progressive voices fall silent on an issue she thinks they should be raising the loudest. She has only contempt for anyone who thinks it progressive to snub those — like Ayaan Hirsi Ali — who so bravely speak out: “Ali needs no degree or honor from Brandeis; she is a guiding light for the women who respect and honor her. But where will Brandeis go to get its respect and honor back?”

It will always have CAIR.

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

Hey baby, look at my latest book

Apr 12th, 2014 10:50 am | By


Remember that horrible piece by David Foster at Comment is Free saying it should be totally fine to ask a total stranger for sex? Well guess who shared it on Twitter.


Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins

“Adults of both genders [should be] comfortable both making and receiving straightforward sexual propositions.” 

Well if nothing else, that at least helps to explain Dear Muslima. Not that we didn’t know that was the reason for Dear Muslima, but that helpfully puts it on the record for people who were in denial. Richard was pissed off at Rebecca because he doesn’t want guys being told “don’t do that” – don’t corner women at 4 a.m. to ask them for sex. He doesn’t want guys being told “don’t do that” because he thinks adults – like him for instance, and any women he wants to hit on – should be comfortable both making and receiving straightforward sexual propositions. He thinks that because he wants to feel comfortable that way himself. The important thing is for men to feel entirely free and comfortable to ask women they don’t know for sex.

The important thing is not for women who don’t want to be constantly and permanently subject to being asked for sex by strangers, to feel confident that that won’t happen in places where they go to do other things. Women who want to be able to do their jobs while at work? Pffffff – they’re just prudes. Women who want to be treated as colleagues instead of potential fuck buddies? Bah, they’re those awful sex-negative feminist types. Life is a cabaret, get yer kit off, I’ve got a straightforward sexual proposition for you, and if you say no I’ll get my revenge.


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

Welcome, voters, how long can you hold it?

Apr 12th, 2014 10:01 am | By

Election officials in Miami-Dade County have thought of a fabulous new way to disenfanchise people: lock up the restrooms (toilets, WCs, washrooms) at polling places so that voters faced with long lines will give up and leave.

Earlier this year, the Miami-Dade County Elections Department quietly implemented a policy to close the bathrooms at all polling facilities, according to disability rights lawyer Marc Dubin. Dubin said the policy change was in “direct response” to an inquiry to the Elections Department about whether they had assessed accessibility of polling place bathrooms to those with disabilities.

“I was expecting them to say either yes we have or yes we will,” Dubin said.

Instead, he received a written response announcing that the county would close all restrooms at polling places “to ensure that individuals with disabilities are not treated unfairly,” a January email stated. “[T]he Department’s policy is not to permit access to restrooms at polling sites on election days,” Assistant County Attorney Shanika Graves said in a Feb. 14 email.

That’s like saying “the Department’s policy is to whack people waiting in line to vote with heavy wooden baseball bats.”

Did someone mention voting rights? Never heard of them.


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

CAIR shuts down “Honor Diaries” at universities

Apr 11th, 2014 4:42 pm | By

More from the shut-uppers at CAIR.

Writers and producers of “Honor Diaries” are standing by the film they made about abuses women face around the world, despite criticism it received from the U.S.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), reported the Washington Examiner on Thursday.

CAIR called the film, which showcases nine Muslim women who speak about their experiences with honor practices such as forced marriage at young ages, denial of education and female genital mutilation, “islamophobic.”

It’s also forced marriageophobic, child marriageophobic, denial of educationophobic, and FGMophobic. So the fuck what? Shut up, CAIR. You’re not the boss of everything.

The controversy began after CAIR convinced officials at University of Michigan to cancel a screening of the film last week and then confirmed a second cancellation of the film showing at the University of Illinois.

[breathing flames]

Clinical therapist and activist on global women’s rights Zainab Khan who appears in the film says the organization is “utilizing tactics of censorship.”

“It’s completely dangerous and shows their mode of operation: bullying, scapegoating, censoring, avoiding issues.”

It is and it does. This organization needs to be seen for what it is, and people on the left need to stop treating it as some kind of equivalent of the NAACP or the ADL.

CAIR officials said it wasn’t censorship and that the organization had only informed sponsors of the documentary showing that the issues presented in the film were done so unfairly.

“The screenings were not canceled by CAIR,” said spokesman Ibrahim Hooper.

“They were canceled by the screening sponsors after they were informed of the hate agenda and Islamophobic history of the film’s producers. Replacement events dealings with this issue are now being planned with the screening sponsors and actual representatives of the American Muslim community.”

And of course “actual representatives of the American Muslim community” means “people who are completely uncritical of Islam and act as amateur public relations staff for it.”

In an interview with the Washington Examiner, human rights attorney Paula Kweskin, a writer and producer for the film, said it was clear that the Muslim advocacy group had not seen the film in its entirety.

Kweskin said the inspiration for the film stemmed from the Arab Spring in 2011 when women were at the front of a lot of the protests. While supporters hoped that it would result in greater equality for women in the Arab world, it has not been the case. Women and children are the greatest victims of the ongoing conflict and women in Egypt are regularly victimized for protesting.

This film needs to be seen. Universities need to stop jumping when CAIR says jump.

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

Fetal stand your ground law

Apr 11th, 2014 4:08 pm | By

Sometimes I can’t believe what I’m reading.

A Senate subcommittee in South Carolina is seeking to expand the state’s “Stand Your Ground” defense law to include protections for all children, including unborn ones, beginning from the moment of conception.

In other words a Senate subcommittee in South Carolina is seeking to legalize the murder of abortion providers.

Democratic State Senator Brad Hutto shared with The State his concern that any new law would be redundant, as it is already legal for a pregnant woman to respond with deadly force. He asked supporters of the measures — three are currently pending — to provide him with an example in which an unborn child’s life would be threatened when the mother’s isn’t.

The subcommittee passed a bill it called “The Pregnant Women’s Protection Act,” but abortion-rights activists claim the name of the bill is a misnomer used to disguise the fact that this bill is actually a back-door effort to grant constitutional rights to embryos from the moment of conception.

And thus remove said rights from pregnant women.

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

Just thought you should know

Apr 11th, 2014 4:02 pm | By

Via Political Loudmouth on Facebook.

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

We do no favors when we shut our eyes to this link

Apr 11th, 2014 3:40 pm | By

The Wall Street Journal has a condensed version of what would have been Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s talk at Brandeis had they not rudely withdrawn her invitation to receive an honorary degree. (Yes, I’m spelling it out in full every time.)

You deserve better memories than 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing. And you are not the only ones. In Syria, at least 120,000 people have been killed, not simply in battle, but in wholesale massacres, in a civil war that is increasingly waged across a sectarian divide. Violence is escalating in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Libya, in Egypt. And far more than was the case when you were born, organized violence in the world today is disproportionately concentrated in the Muslim world.

Another striking feature of the countries I have just named, and of the Middle East generally, is that violence against women is also increasing. In Saudi Arabia, there has been a noticeable rise in the practice of female genital mutilation. In Egypt, 99% of women report being sexually harassed and up to 80 sexual assaults occur in a single day.

Especially troubling is the way the status of women as second-class citizens is being cemented in legislation. In Iraq, a law is being proposed that lowers to 9 the legal age at which a girl can be forced into marriage. That same law would give a husband the right to deny his wife permission to leave the house.

Is this a good trend? No, it’s not a good trend. Is it completely unconnected to Islam? Hardly.

Two decades ago, not even the bleakest pessimist would have anticipated all that has gone wrong in the part of world where I grew up. After so many victories for feminism in the West, no one would have predicted that women’s basic human rights would actually be reduced in so many countries as the 20th century gave way to the 21st.

But at that point, it might surprise her detractors to learn, she takes a turn to optimism.

Today, however, I am going to predict a better future, because I believe that the pendulum has swung almost as far as it possibly can in the wrong direction.

When I see millions of women in Afghanistan defying threats from the Taliban and lining up to vote; when I see women in Saudi Arabia defying an absurd ban on female driving; and when I see Tunisian women celebrating the conviction of a group of policemen for a heinous gang rape, I feel more optimistic than I did a few years ago. The misnamed Arab Spring has been a revolution full of disappointments. But I believe it has created an opportunity for traditional forms of authority—including patriarchal authority—to be challenged, and even for the religious justifications for the oppression of women to be questioned.

Yet for that opportunity to be fulfilled, we in the West must provide the right kind of encouragement. Just as the city of Boston was once the cradle of a new ideal of liberty, we need to return to our roots by becoming once again a beacon of free thought and civility for the 21st century. When there is injustice, we need to speak out, not simply with condemnation, but with concrete actions.

One of the best places to do that is in our institutions of higher learning. We need to make our universities temples not of dogmatic orthodoxy, but of truly critical thinking, where all ideas are welcome and where civil debate is encouraged. I’m used to being shouted down on campuses, so I am grateful for the opportunity to address you today. I do not expect all of you to agree with me, but I very much appreciate your willingness to listen.


Well that didn’t work out.

How embarrassing.

Shame on you, Brandeis.

I stand before you as someone who is fighting for women’s and girls’ basic rights globally. And I stand before you as someone who is not afraid to ask difficult questions about the role of religion in that fight.

The connection between violence, particularly violence against women, and Islam is too clear to be ignored. We do no favors to students, faculty, nonbelievers and people of faith when we shut our eyes to this link, when we excuse rather than reflect.

Or when we silence brave women who talk about that connection.

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

Even the woman is guilty

Apr 11th, 2014 2:56 pm | By

In India, where politicians are out trying to make themselves popular, one guy said a surprising thing.

In a bizarre and grotesque statement, the state Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Abu Azmi said women who were raped should also be punished. The statement came after this reporter questioned Azmi about SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s comments on rape.

Yadav had, at a rally in UP, said that the death sentence, as punishment, for rape was too harsh. “Ladkon se aisi galtiyan ho jati hain, to iska matlab yeh to nahi ki unhe phaansi de di jaaye (Boys make mistakes, but this doesn’t mean you hang them),” he told the gathering. 

When this reporter asked for Azmi’s comments on his chief’s statements, he replied that rape was punishable by death in Islam. “Rape is punishable by hanging in Islam. But here, nothing happens to women, only to men. Even the woman is guilty.”

Let’s apply that across the board. Murder? Punish the killer and the corpse. Robbery? Punish the robber and the person robbed. Assault? Punish both of them.

Or maybe not. But then why do that in rape cases?

He further added, “In India, if you have sex with a person with consent, it’s fine. But if that same person complains, it’s a problem. Nowadays, we see a lot of such cases. Girls complain when someone touches them, and even when someone doesn’t touch them. It becomes a problem then, and the man’s honour is ruined in this. If rape happens with or without consent, it should be punished as prescribed in Islam.”

Yes, that’s right. That’s exactly right. If you have sex with a person with consent, it’s fine. But if that same person complains, it’s a problem. That’s how rape is defined. If you have sex with a person with consent, it’s sex. It’s fine. Sex with consent is fine. See how that works? If, on the other hand, the person “complains” i.e. says there was no consent – then that’s rape. That’s what that word means. It’s not fine to have sex with someone who does not consent. So the rest of that paragraph is all nonsense. There’s no such thing as rape with or without consent – it’s rape only if it’s without consent.

But it’s all right; he explained.

When asked for a solution to the problem of rapes, Azmi had this to say: “Solution is this: any woman if, whether married or unmarried, goes along with a man, with or without her consent, should be hanged. Both should be hanged. It shouldn’t be allowed even if a woman goes by consent.”

Oh. People who have sex should be hanged. Hmmm…I’m not sure Abu Amzi has thought this through.

But seriously – it actually just sounds like some guy thinking about women being able to charge someone with rape and getting all hot under the collar about it, as some guys do. When in doubt, call for women to be punished or killed.

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

You call that pluralism?

Apr 11th, 2014 12:07 pm | By

A local CAIR boffin wrote a gloating letter to the New York Times rejoicing at CAIR’S success at getting Brandeis to shit all over Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations welcomes Brandeis University’s cancellation of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an activist with a long record of vicious anti-Islam statements, some of which are quoted in your article.

It’s not “vicious” to criticize a religion, even harshly. Religions, like corporations, are not people, and do not have feelings to be viciously wounded.

We should all take note, however, that opposition to the honorary degree for Ms. Hirsi Ali did not come only from the Muslim community, but also from Jewish students and faculty members at Brandeis, one of America’s great Jewish-sponsored institutions of higher learning.

The lesson here is that those committed to a nation and a world of justice and peace can accomplish wonders when working together across different communities. This is in keeping with the values of pluralism, compassion and human dignity enshrined within both Islam and Judaism.

Director, Philadelphia Chapter
Council on American-Islamic Relations
Philadelphia, April 9, 2014

What world of justice and peace? What does Islam have to do with justice and peace? What country is there where Islam is entangled with the government that is a beacon of justice and peace? Iran? Saudi Arabia? Pakistan? Somalia? Indonesia? Malaysia? Afghanistan? What does Islam have to do with justice and peace? I don’t mean mouthing the words, I mean actually bringing it about.

And what does Islam have to do with the values of pluralism, compassion and human dignity, either? Same question again – where is the Islamist nation that’s an example to the world of pluralism, compassion and human dignity?

And now that we’re on the subject – why does American or any country need such a thing as “Islamic Relations” at all? There’s no Council on American-Catholic Relations is there? Or Council on Buddhist-Islamic Relations? Or any other equivalent?

Piss off, CAIR.


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

Pants on fire

Apr 11th, 2014 11:36 am | By

Ohhhhhhhhh fuck you, BBC.

Today’s must-read

Brandeis University’s decision not to bestow an honorary degree on a women’s rights advocate and outspoken critic of the Islamic faith has generated a firestorm of criticism from conservative media outlets.

Bullshit. Not just conservative. I’m not conservative, Kenan Malik is not conservative, plenty of people who have written about this are not conservative.

Ms Ali would go on to start a foundation to assist women in the West who were the victims of religious oppression, and she would occassionally have harsh words for the faith of her childhood.

In 2007, Ms Ali told Reason magazine that Islam needs to be defeated: “I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars.”

Statements like these were cited by those who objected to Ms Ali’s appearance at Brandeis’s commencement ceremonies. On Tuesday they prevailed, as Brandeis announced that it “cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values”.

The decision was denounced by conservative commentators.

But not exclusively conservative commentators, you stinking weasels.

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

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s “Women Victims of Islam”

Apr 11th, 2014 11:22 am | By

I published an article by Ayaan Hirsi Ali at ur-Butterflies and Wheels way back in 2005, when she was still an MP in the Netherlands. It was a talk she gave at a UN conference in Geneva, one of three. I published all three. Here’s the background information I provided at the time:

A one-day conference was held at the United Nations in Geneva on April 18 2005, titled ‘Victims of Jihad: Human Rights Abuse in the Name of Islam’. The conference occurred during the last week of the 61st session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. On April 12, the Commission on Human Rights passed a resolution condemning the ‘defamation’ of religion. The resolution, titled ‘Combating Defamation of Religions,’ expresses ‘deep concern that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism.’ The ‘Victims of Jihad’ conference cast doubt on the wording of that resolution, and the thought behind it.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Azam Kamguian, and Ibn Warraq all addressed the conference, and all kindly sent the text of their speeches to Butterflies and Wheels. Here, for your convenience, they all are.

I wrote to Ayaan at her parliamentary address and her assistant replied, with the text of Ayaan’s talk. I felt honored. 

In honor of Brandeis’s cowardly and insulting treatment of Ayaan, here is that article again.

Women Victims of Islam

Due to the sensitivity of this subject I will start by making a distinction between Islam and Muslims. Islam can be described as a civilization, as a source of spiritual guidance, as a way of life and so on. Most of all Islam is a moral framework, and central to this moral frame is the decree that a believer or follower submit his will to Allah. How this submission should be practiced is worked out in the Qur’an and hadith.

A Muslim is any one – regardless of race or sex – who subscribes to or testifies to believing, among other things, that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is his prophet. Besides accepting god as Allah, and his prophet, a Muslim also believes in a host of other things like the existence of angels, a hereafter with a range of different heavens and hells, more prophets, and the view that the world will come to an end as predicted in the holy Qur’an.

Islam as compiled in the Qur’an and Hadith could be viewed as static. The way Muslims believe or practice their religion is dynamic. The individual Muslim can choose to change. As humans they are endowed with reason and, if free, Muslims can, as Christians and Jews have done in the past and still do, progress by means of critical self-reflection. I regularly criticize Islam and especially the treatment of women as prescribed in the Qur’ an and Hadith. By doing that I have annoyed many Muslims, some of whom actually want to hurt me. Despite this, rejecting some of the teachings in Islam is not the same as rejecting Muslims. Muslims deserve to be and should be viewed in Europe and elsewhere like all other humans. What I ask is not to fear Muslims or persecute them for their beliefs. What I expect – both from Muslims and their non-Muslim supporters – is to have the opportunity to think, publish my ideas and engage in societal discussion about Islam as a moral framework without having to fear for my life.

Having said that, I would like to defend the proposition that in Islam women are subordinate to men. The sexual morality propagated in Islam leads, when put into practice, to cruel violations of the rights of women and girls. By making a statement like this one I know that I am inviting disagreement. I am most interested in the arguments of my critics. Let me demonstrate this inequality. According to Islamic teachings in the Qur’an and hadith: Muslim men are free to go where they want while most Muslim women are confined to their houses. Muslim men do not need permission to leave the house; women do. Muslim men are not obligated to veil their beauty but Muslim women must. A man may divorce his wife as easily as repeating the words “I divorce you” three times in the presence of two witnesses. A woman who wants to leave her husband must prove at least that he does not meet her material needs. She must prove that he is impotent. She must prove that he cannot make her pregnant. She must have the approval of her wali (or guardian). A man may inherit twice as much as a woman. His testimony in matters of conflict is worth twice hers. Just in case there is a hereafter, women know from the prophet that their sort is over-represented in hell, while men can look forward to 72 virgins and companionship with their men folk. It is demanded in the Qur’an that a woman obeys her husband indefinitely. For the man conforming to the wishes of his wife is an option. A man may have sexual intercourse with his wife when and how he wants. Her refusal will invite the curses of angels and the wrath of her husband. If a man rejects his wife in bed the angels are silent and her disappointment may lead her husband to think that she is in the grip of the devil, who fills her with uncontrollable desires. Even though a man may marry four wives provided he promises to treat them equally, a woman has the right to only one man. And even this right is limited by the fact that she cannot do so without permission from her guardian (father, brother, or paternal uncle).

Some of the Muslims who disagree with me say that I am confused by the way Islam is practiced in war-torn and backward Somalia, my country of birth. According to them I should look at the way millions of Muslims practice their religions in more peaceful and modern countries.

I acknowledge that there are indeed areas in the world such as the large cities of Indonesia (the world’s largest Muslim country), Turkey, and some North African countries where Islam has somehow found a compromise with modernity. I also recognize that there are thousands of Muslims who treat men and women, boys and girls in an equal manner. However I invite those who disagree with my statement on inequality between the sexes in Islam to compare the consistence between the teachings in the Quran and hadith and real life circumstances in the majority nations with large Islamic populations and especially those whose state of affairs are regulated according to the model of the prophet Muhammad.

Is one who takes note of the daily suffering endured by girls and women in Saudi Arabia and Iran (two countries based on the sharia) deranged and traumatized? Or is the reality of the Sharia difficult to endure when enforced by those who will tolerate no criticism of Islam?

Is the high rate of illiteracy among girls and women in the UNDP report on Human Development in 22 Arab-Islamic countries an outcome of the lowly position women and girls are accorded in their religion and culture, or is the report only meant to defame and insult the countries researched?

Why are Muslim girls and women over-represented in the shelters of the abused and the crisis houses for teenagers who run away from home? Is it a coincidence, or is the strict virginity required in Islam a possible explanation of why these girls are haunted by their families: their fathers, brothers and husbands, the very people who should be protecting them from external harm?

In order to reject the statement that women are subordinate to men in Islam, my opponents will have to answer disturbing questions like these honestly.

An argument often heard in defence of Islam is that the cruel treatment of Muslim women is not so much the outcome of the Qur’ an and hadith as God originally meant them to be, as a narrow and opportunistic abuse of these holy sources by men in patriarchal societies. This argument is not convincing because Islam was founded by a man in a patriarchal society. Islam is a tribal religion, founded under tribal conditions and a moral framework whereby those virtues held high in the Arab tribe are made divine. I do not intend to deny that the prophet Muhammad may have improved the position of women in the 7th century AD. For example he contributed to abolishing the custom of burying girls alive at the age of 7 and the right of men to marry as many wives as they wished. But let’s not forget that while these improvements may have seemed revolutionary 14 hundred years ago, now they are horribly outdated.

Continual reference to the improvements made so long ago does not make the current suffering of women abused in the name of Allah more bearable. All it does is divert the attention from the inhuman treatment of Muslim girls and women today and the fear they live in.

That, among other reasons, is why it is so important to take a moral stand against those teachings and practices in Islam that degrade women to a species between human and animal. For those Muslims who agree with me, and for those Europeans who do not wish to look away, taking this moral attitude means that we should take action. Debate with Muslims living in Europe, and through words and pictures challenge the sexual morality in Islam held by so many European Muslims; Provide protection from honour killing for Muslim women who are on the run. Introduce a control system as an instrument to eradicate female genital mutilation. (There is controversy on whether this is Islamic. It is remarkable however that many Muslim countries practice FGM. Indonesia, is an example of a country where FGM came with the Muslim missionaries). Interfere through the schools and day care centres with the way Muslims in Europe start their families and bring up their children. Stop financing faith based schools.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Dutch Member of Parliament and author of the film ‘Submission.’




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


Apr 11th, 2014 10:28 am | By

So what’s the first thing I read after writing that? Jason Linkins in the Huffington Post on Brandeis and the fallout thereof.

Here’s a thing that happened in the immediate wake of Brandeis’ decision to put the kibosh on Hirsi Ali’s planned appearance: The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol started typing stuff. Here’s what he came up with:

As Lori Lowenthal Marcus notes, Brandeis University has in recent years bestowed an honorary degree on Tony Kushner, who called the creation of Israel as a Jewish state “a mistake” and who attacked Israel for ethnic cleansing and for causing “terrible peril in the world.” Brandeis has also honored Desmond Tutu, who compared Israel to Hitler, attacked the “Jewish lobby” as too “powerful” and “scary,” and complained of the “Jewish monopoly of the Holocaust.”

As it happens, Tony Kushner is one of my favorite playwrights. So you can only imagine how excited I am that one of the (logical and predictable) after-effects of this Brandeis flap is that Kushner now has got a target painted on his back.

Quite, and so does Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She already did but Brandeis renewed the paint and added flashing warning lights.

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

Further thoughts on Brandeis

Apr 11th, 2014 9:56 am | By

And another thing.

Those two core sentences in Brandeis’s statement taking back the honorary degree it had announced it was awarding to Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

She is a compelling public figure and advocate for women’s rights, and we respect and appreciate her work to protect and defend the rights of women and girls throughout the world. That said, we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.  For all concerned, we regret that we were not aware of these statements earlier.

What’s this “we cannot overlook” shit? They already had overlooked it. Putting it in that stuffy self-righteous reproachful way makes it look as if Hirsi Ali had pulled a fast one. It puts the blame on her. It bleats at her because Brandeis fucked up. It’s a very sly, covert, manipulative way of putting her in the wrong instead of itself. It’s an object lesson in how to be a lying sniveling backstabbing bureaucrat.

And then the last sentence carefully avoids taking any responsibility, let alone blame. That all by itself is bullshit, independent of what you think of Hirsi Ali. If you’re going to give someone an honor, then do your homework before you go public with the honor. Once you go public with the honor, it’s too late.

And then there’s the fact that it doesn’t say what these “past statements” were, leaving room for people’s lurid imaginations to go to work, and also leaving room for people who can’t stand a word of criticism of Islam to smear her even more than they already have. Brandeis basically trussed her up and handed her over to her enemies, some of whom are violent. Did Brandeis pause for even a second to remember Theo Van Gogh?

In this sense, what Brandeis did was quite similar to what Channel4 News and BBC Newsnight did to Maajid Nawaz by refusing to show the Jesus and Mo cartoon: they gave aid and comfort to the people who were threatening Maajid. Brandeis has given new oxygen and respectability to people who threaten Hirsi Ali, people who would kill her if they could.

Why did they do it? I actually don’t know; I can’t figure it out. If they knew enough about her to want to give her the award, they knew enough to make them refuse to be intimidated by CAIR. I really don’t know why CAIR’s bullying was enough to make them cave.

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

You’re in good hands with the Vatican

Apr 10th, 2014 5:45 pm | By

From last week – Cardinal George Pell is leaving Australia for a new job in the Vatican, and for a good-bye present he told a royal commission that priests should be insured against being sued for child sexual abuse. Elizabeth Farrelly is…shall we say, taken aback.

Our man in purple, our alpha priest, moral paragon. Our Vatican princeling, just days from taking up his dauphindom in Rome: he said that? He dropped this fissile solipsism on our public debate and left, smacking the dust from his hands like, we’re done now, right?

For this was no dinner party throw-away. The cardinal – fully frocked, schooled and premeditated – breathed his proposition into the stone tablets of a royal commission. He wanted it recorded and kept. Forever.

But insurance? Does he think child sex is some unavoidable occupational hazard? Something a priest will sooner or later fall to? An accident? If you wanted to maximise the damage already done to countless children, you’d be hard put to find a surer way, or crueller.

And does he think the church should just be able to put in a claim and then sail on majestically unperturbed?

Consider for a moment. Is abuse insurance like car insurance, green-slip to start and no-claim bonus for good behaviour? Or is it like health insurance where you select your cover to suit. Ten grand, say, for talking dirty to preschoolers. A hundred grand for touching. What, half-a-mill for penetration? Or is professional indemnity the model – the surgeon’s slip of the knife, the architect’s of the pen?

Apologies if you think this talk indelicate but, as the sex fiend said to the shrink, I’m not the one drawing the dirty pictures here.

Insurance is risk management.  Pell’s purpose, one can only presume, was to downscale the entire abuse project from major moral issue to mere workplace risk. This is appeasement, the moral equivalent of adapting to, rather than mitigating, climate change. Is this what confession teaches? Outsource your risk?

It’s business. It’s nothing personal, it’s just business. He’s got to answer to the stockholders.

If this were some dumb corporation – some downtown retailer, say – a far lesser abuse scenario would have seen heads roll, many and large. Were the abuser Joe Blow, he’d be jailed as a rock spider. Were the abuse organised, secret, power-protected, woe betide, especially the ringleader.

Yet Paragon Pell shrugs, denies responsibility and skips away to Rome. A fine example he set, squirming in the witness box, blaming his colleagues, his lawyers and the children themselves. Yet the church, far from enforcing virtue, promotes him.

It’s how they roll.


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