Notes and Comment Blog

The first to admit

Jun 2nd, 2015 5:00 pm | By

Hey, looka this: the Guardian reports on Jennifer Cody Epstein’s letter.

[I]n a move praised by The Satanic Verses novelist Salman Rushdie, who has thrown his weight behind PEN and Charlie Hebdo since the start of the controversy, Epstein has asked for her name to be removed from the petition.

“The 1st protester to admit she was completely wrong,” tweeted Rushdie on Sunday. “Respect to Jennifer Cody Epstein for doing the honourable thing & admitting she made a mistake about #CharlieHebdo. Will others follow her?”

It’s true, he did.


He shared it on Facebook, too.

The Guardian again (Alison Flood is the reporter):

In a letter to her fellow signatories published in full by the writer Ophelia Benson on Free Thought Blogs, Epstein wrote that she was “misinformed and (quite frankly) wrong” when she made her decision to add her name to the list.

Flood quotes extensively from the letter, which is good – that’s why I was given permission to publish it: to get the word out. Salman helped with that!

H/t Mr Fancy Pants

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

Guest post: Corporations stealing public domain music to copyright it

Jun 2nd, 2015 4:43 pm | By

Originally a comment by Jafafa Hots on IS cannot destroy these.

They may not be able to destroy public domain art, but US corporations are sure trying.

I have put up YouTube videos backed with public domain music. Every one has had a copyright claim filed against it despite the music being pre-1923, all of it acquired by me from public domain archives. One had three separate entities attempt to claim ownership of it.

I currently have one appeal under review, has been for a couple of weeks, where a company is claiming the rights to a song, “I Didn’t Raise My Son to be a Soldier,” recorded by the Peerless Quartet in 1914 – over 100 years ago. This is routine. These companies literally are downloading public domain works, adding them to their catalogs and claiming ownership, knowing that most people won’t dispute it.

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

Respecting the respected academics

Jun 2nd, 2015 12:58 pm | By

More on that all-male panel about women in comics, because it’s so absurd / grotesque / annoying. Jin Zhao reports:

“This is happening at #DCC2015. Let’s see how this ALL MALE panel about women in comics goes #noneofthismakesanysense,” an attendee, Christy, tweeted.

As the panel proceeded, she tweeted that the all male panel gave a “lecture” on early female characters in comics “in relation to men.” At some point, one of the panelist said “because girls get bored with comics easily,” she tweeted.

Comics are more of a guy thing.

Then there was the “it’s a historical panel” defense.

Comic Alliance‘s Janelle Asselin argued that the defense was a weak one.

“There are a lot of problems to unpack here, with probably the worst being that a convention representative thinks it’s okay to have only men speaking for and about women simply because a panel wasn’t about current women in comics, diversity, or bias,” she wrote.

Asselin also pointed out that it was written in the description of the panel that introducing attendees to women attending the convention was on its agenda, which an all-male panel failed to do.

Also at least one of the “respected academics” was maybe…not so much.

At the same time, the organizers “neglected to invite the foremost authority on the history of women in comics, Trina Robbins, despite the fact that she was a guest of the convention.” wrote Asselin.

Oh. Um…

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

Hiding in plain sight

Jun 2nd, 2015 12:06 pm | By

How do you get more women in _______? Where are all the women in ________? I dunno, let’s discuss it. Let’s discuss it on a panel at a convention.

The past few years have seen a lot of discussion (and a lot of misogynist backlash) about improving women’s experience of “geek” spaces such as video gaming, sci-fi conventions, and comics. So it was especially puzzling to see that Denver ComicCon, one of the biggest comic conventions in the country, convened a panel called Women in Comics that had no actual women sitting onstage.

Let’s discuss that on a panel at a convention! One with no women on it!

Sometimes I wonder if women are just plain cryptic, like chameleons and stick insects. “Just could not find a single one, after months of searching!”

Amanda Marcotte continues:

When Janelle Asselin of Comics Alliance asked about the omission, Denver ComicCon emphasized the historical aspects of the panel:

[I]t was a panel that took an historical view of women characters in comic books rather than the current role of women creators in the industry or diversity in comics — of which DCC has many with appropriately diverse panels. The Women in Comics panel was a submitted panel that featured respected academics on the subject.

Oh well, if it’s respected academics talking about us in our involuntary absence, that’s ok then.

There’s a lot of connections between the sexist boys’ club of the comics past and the sexist boys’ club of comics present. Perhaps a woman might be able to employ a little personal experience to help draw those historical connections. Plenty of people happen to be history experts and female at the same time. As Asselin notes, one such woman—Trina Robbins, a preeminent historian of women in comics—was even at this year’s convention. Well, at least there’s a new submission for the endlessly funny “Congrats, you have an all male panel!” Tumblr.

Totally worth it.

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

How difficult and expensive it is to be a certain kind of pretty

Jun 2nd, 2015 11:40 am | By

A friend drew this Comment is Free piece by Meredith Talusan to my attention.

When I heard that Caitlyn Jenner debuted her new name, her upcoming Vanity Fair cover and a new Twitter account, I went online to welcome her. Then I noticed a trend on my Twitter feed: people – including feminists, people of color, queers and transgender folk – commenting on how beautiful she looks. While I welcome all the positive affirmation of Caitlyn Jenner’s gender identity, it’s important to not forget how the forces of economic privilege and beauty standards affect most trans women. And, though all women are subject to conventional beauty standards, the ability and even necessity to adhere to them is rife with even more tension for trans women.

Of course it is. So wouldn’t it be nice to do our best to erode that necessity? To keep trying to nudge the world into realizing and accepting that not all women are gorgeous, and that gorgeous is not all any woman is?

Jenner’s womanhood and the beauty for which she went through many trials to gain certainly shape the person that she is, but it’s vital to ask ourselves whether our acceptance and celebration of her humanity is partially predicated on that beauty. If we accept her in part because she fits into our understanding of the gender binary, then we’re celebrating not just her transition but her economic privilege and her allegiance to a beauty standard that, for non-trans, cisgender women, may mean being more desired or liked, but for trans women is often an insurmountable barrier to being considered women at all.

That’s not worded well. The beauty standard emphatically does not mean, for non-trans, cisgender women, being more desired or liked. It can mean that for the women who succeed in meeting the standard – but at the same time it can create even more hostility. And as for women who don’t succeed in meeting the standard, and/or don’t want to and don’t try – nope, it doesn’t mean being more desired or liked for them, for sure.

But having said that, yes of course for trans women it can be an insurmountable barrier to being considered women at all. There are many reasons to stop treating beauty as a requirement and duty for women, and that’s one of them.

The way in which socially progressive, cisgender people – who are otherwise critical of conventional beauty standards and economic privilege – give themselves permission to talk about trans women in aesthetic terms reveals a certain truth that sometimes feels insurmountable to trans people: affirming trans women’s attractiveness also often affirms our sometimes-limited understanding of the gender binary.

Exfuckingactly. That’s what I was talking about yesterday. People who know better than to reduce cis women to their looks fall all over themselves to do that to Jenner, and I would like to know why.

In Jenner’s case, there’s little doubt that she desires to be complimented for her attractiveness, and it’s hard to fault people for giving her that. But there’s a fine line between complimenting Jenner and considering her beauty a condition of her womanhood, and that line does not escape other trans women. As my friend Lilith Gütler wrote on Facebook: “I’m sorry, it’s hard to be ‘proud’ of someone who has had the financial means to achieve unrealistic goals for girls like us”. She then explained how painful it is to see someone spend as much money as Jenner did to look good, while Gütler has been unable to put together enough funds for the sexual reassignment surgery of which she’s dreamt for many years. Her understanding of the economic conditions required to transition with such aplomb were echoed by a number of other trans women on my social media feeds, even those who celebrate her visibility: we all know too well how difficult and expensive it is to be a certain kind of pretty.

And how oppressive and claustrophobic it is to be expected to.

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

Bouquets for CFI

Jun 1st, 2015 12:03 pm | By

Ed has a post on what’s been going on with Taslima lately and who did what to help and what should happen in the future.

I am very happy to announce that Taslima Nasrin, whose life was threatened by the same people behind the brutal murder of at least three Bangladeshi bloggers in recent months, is now safely in the United States and out of harm’s way. I want to share with you how this happened because a lot of people need to be thanked and it provides a great example of humanists coming together to help someone in need.

On May 5th, the night before I was leading a civics/lobby day for CFI Michigan, I got an email from Taslima that included a link to this news report from India about the direct threat made on her life by the same people who murdered Avijit Roy and two other atheist bloggers in Bangladesh. She had been living in India, a few hundred miles from where those murders took place.


When I got this email, I was on my way to Lansing to meet with Michael De Dora, head of CFI’s Office of Public Policy, who was helping lead the lobby day. Michael and I had talked a few times in the past year or so about the need for some sort of program that would help get atheists who are at great risk, primarily in Muslim countries, to the West where they could be safe. We both agreed that it would be best if one of the big atheist/humanist groups would do it.

So they combined forces, and gave their thumbs a damn good workout, and got things going.

The need was for

a fundraiser to pay for Taslima’s flight to the U.S., set her up with a place to stay and provide for a few months to pay the bills while she establishes a life in this country.

Ron Lindsay and CFI stepped up to the plate.

I got an email back from Ron Lindsay saying that he would check with his staff to see if they could handle all of that.

At the same time, Michael was also communicating with Ron (literally, we were sitting in the same House office building cafeteria, both texting and emailing back and forth) and he told him that he would handle all of the logistics if necessary — whatever it would take to make sure Taslima was safe. By the end of that incredibly busy day, Ron had emailed back and said that the staff had “eagerly embraced” the opportunity to make this happen and that the amazing Debbie Goddard and Martina Fern, the new development director who was also in Lansing with us, had agreed to oversee the whole thing.

FTB’s PhysioProf said that he had hundreds of thousands of frequent flyer miles and would be happy to use them to get the plane ticket.

And he did.

A few words about Taslima, if you don’t know who she is. Taslima is a renaissance woman — a poet, novelist, physician and activist for atheism, humanism and feminism. That activism got her exiled from her native Bangladesh more than 20 years ago and put a high price on her head from Muslim extremists. She lived in Europe after being exiled, but settled in India in 2004. Alas, that was temporary as she was chased out of Kolkata and had to move to New Delhi.

She has spent the last 20+ years moving and hiding, never feeling truly safe, but the danger to her life has never been higher than it is now. Everyone involved in this process has been terrified for her and desperate to get her to where she would no longer have to hide in the shadows or look over her shoulder. Taslima is a beacon of light in the humanist community and a shining example of courage in the face of barbarism and brutality. And we now have the opportunity to help her build a new life free from the constant threats. I hope that all who can afford to do so will help us do that. You can donate here.

The people mentioned above deserve enormous gratitude. I want to personally thank Ron Lindsay and CFI for stepping up and making this possible, especially Michael De Dora, Debbie Goddard and Martina Fern. And I’d like to thank that PhysioProf guy, who may come off as gruff but is a deeply caring and compassionate person.

I second and third and fourth that.

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

Guest post: Better still if you brought yours back from the Holy Land

Jun 1st, 2015 11:06 am | By

Originally a comment by Charles Freeman on The Shroud of Turin continues to sell tickets.

The article has given rise to a lot of interest and outside the authenticists’ websites very positive. For those who read the original to the end, you will see I never argue that the Shroud was a fake. There were hundreds of thousands of painted linens around in the medieval period and they were widely used in churches, especially during Lent when opulent altars and statues were traditionally covered up.

If you were a forger hoping to get away with a burial shroud you would stick to the gospel sources and certainly not add images. The most successful shroud relics in the medieval period were single cloths WITHOUT images – better still if you brought yours back from the Holy Land.

The Quem Queritis Easter ceremony when they held up a cloth from a makeshift ‘tomb’ to show that Christ had risen is the best fit explanation for the origins of the Shroud. We know that the linen was often painted and a single sheet.

I have never seen anyone except David Roehmer put forward this second century Gnostic theory – so I don’t know what historical or scientific work he is relying on.

When you wanted to paint a linen in medieval times, you gessoed it on the surface and once it was sealed then you painted on top. Some of the few surviving examples are vastly more sophisticated than the Shroud ever was. The trouble was that the painted surface easily disintegrated although the Shroud seems to have kept pretty intact until the nineteenth century. The present discoloration of the linen appears to be the result of centuries of the weave being overlain by the gesso and paint. It is only a surface disoloration – presumably the gesso stopped the images penetrating further – and the varying thicknesses of the original paint left a sort of negative image behind. It is all too often assumed that the images left today are the images that were originally created and all kinds of ingenious methods, from laser beams to scorches, have been devised to recreate them – but you would have to seal and paint the linen according to the medieval manuals and leave it in place for several centuries and then when it disintegrated we would probably have similar images. See you in 500 years time!

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

Jezebel can’t wait to see more

Jun 1st, 2015 10:20 am | By

What the hell is this about?

Jezebel on Facebook:


You look great, Caitlyn! Can’t wait to see more.

Then a glam photo of Jenner in a strapless dress with long flowing hair and tasteful makeup.

Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair Cover Is Here, and She Looks Amazing

Caitlyn (née Bruce) Jenner has revealed her name (spelled with a C!) and her new look—photographed by Annie Leibovitz—on the cover of next month’s Vanity Fair.

So she looks great, so what? Isn’t Jezebel supposed to be at least nominally feminist? Isn’t feminism in large part about not reducing women to their looks? Why does that suddenly change when the subject is a trans woman? What am I missing here?

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

IS cannot destroy these

Jun 1st, 2015 9:30 am | By

Maria Popova at Brain Pickings shares a stash of public domain owl and osprey portraits.

Indian fish-owl

Burrowing owl

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

The makers of rubble

Jun 1st, 2015 8:56 am | By

Taslima tweeted a cartoon:

Embedded image permalink

Sums it up, doesn’t it. Creative people create beautiful things. All the tyrants of IS know how to do is smash all the beautiful things.

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

CFI gets the job done

Jun 1st, 2015 8:25 am | By

Here is the big news I’ve been sitting on for

  1. weeks
  2. the past several days

It’s a press release from CFI:

Amid Death Threats from Islamists, CFI Brings Secular Activist Taslima Nasrin to Safety in U.S.

Center for Inquiry Establishes New Emergency Fund for Freethought Writers Threatened by Radical Islamists

The Center for Inquiry has established an emergency fund to assist freethought activists whose lives are under threat by Islamic radicals linked to Al Qaeda in countries such as Bangladesh, where three secularist bloggers have been murdered since February. Outspoken human rights activist Taslima Nasrin, specifically named as an imminent target by the same extremists responsible for the murders of Avijit Roy, Washiqur Rahman, and Ananta Bijoy Das, arrived in the United States last week under the assistance of CFI.

Taslima Nasrin

Nasrin was recently named as one of the next targets for murder by Al Qaeda-linked extremists, prompting CFI to assist in transporting her safely to the U.S., alleviating the immediate threat to her life. Her safety is only temporary if she cannot remain in the U.S., however, which is why CFI has established an emergency fund to help with food, housing, and the means for her to be safely settled. An appeal will be sent out today to CFI’s supporters asking them to donate to this cause. Dr. Nasrin arrived in Buffalo, N.Y. on Wednesday, and was met by CFI staff.

CFI has also heard from several other writers and activists in Bangladesh who are in similarly perilous situations, many of whom have also been specifically named as targets for murder for their secular advocacy. The decision was made by CFI that any money raised in excess of what is necessary for Dr. Nasrin will go toward a general freethought emergency fund to assist with the rescue of other atheist, humanist, and secular activists under threat.

Donate now.

Dr. Taslima Nasrin is a world-renowned secular activist and author, whose uncompromising advocacy of human rights and criticism of religion forced her into exile from her native Bangladesh in 1994. A physician by training, she has written innumerable books, articles, and poems, and been at the forefront of political activism for secularism, free expression, and equality. Since 2004 she has lived in India, but even there she has faced persecution and threats. She is now an associate editor and frequent contributor for CFI’s magazine Free Inquiry, and has been a repeat speaker at CFI events, as well as a longtime ally in CFI’s fight for free expression around the world.

“Taslima is a truly international role model, as her work and her courage inspire people of all ages to question tradition, challenge dogma, and fight for human rights,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry. “We could not stand by while her life was in danger, nor will we turn our backs on the other brave freethinkers in fear for their lives. I know our community will make a strong show of solidarity and give generously to this emergency fund.”

“I lost a valued friend and ally when Islamic extremists murdered Avijit Roy, and since then, two more secular writers have been taken from us,” said Michael De Dora, CFI’s representative to the United Nations. “While it is truly up to the authorities of countries like Bangladesh and others to rein in this threat, we’re going to do our part to keep these people safe. We’ll need the secular movement’s help to do it, and I know we can count on this community’s support.”

* * * Media Alert: CFI and allied groups will host congressional briefings on the threats to religious dissidents around the world on June 9, and on the specific situation in Bangladesh on June 10. Details here

Additional recourses:

First of all – if you have donation money to give, pour it out for this.

Second – all the thanks in the world to CFI, and especially Ron Lindsay and Debbie Goddard and Michael De Dora, who made this their project.

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

The Shroud of Turin continues to sell tickets

May 31st, 2015 6:10 pm | By

Charles Freeman has an article in History Today about the Shroud of Turin. He tells me the subject is neglected by academics, and “the absurd ideas of the authenticists are given full and virtually unchallenged internet space.” He adds that National Geographic is especially bad on this, maintaining “the idea that there is something inherently mysterious about the Shroud when in fact an afternoon in a conservation lab – which would find the traces of gesso and paint – would probably sort things out.” He gave me carte blanche to use the article, so have a feast.

A RECTANGULAR linen cloth 4.37 metres long and 1.13 metres wide, the Turin Shroud, housed in that city’s cathedral since 1578, is famous for its two images of a mutilated man, appar-ently naked, one of his front, with the arms crossed over the genital area, the other of his back. The wounds resemble those of a crucifixion, with an additional wound in the side similar to the one inflicted on Jesus when he was on the cross (John 19:34). Here we have negative images of Christ’s body as if they had been transferred from the body to the cloth. The linen is woven in a three-to-one herringbone twill, one of the many variations that weavers in wool, linen and silk were capable of from ancient times. The folded Shroud was heavily damaged in a fire of 1532 and the burn marks remain prominent.

There is enough uncertainty about the Shroud’s origins to convince some that it is the actual burial shroud of Christ. The mystery is deepened by the claim that no artefact has ever been the subject of so much research. However, when the scope of this research is considered, it is obvious that many areas of its history and the iconography of its images have not been fully explored. For example, the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP), which examined the Shroud in 1978, when it was still owned by the Savoy family, did not have a single expert in the history of relic cults, techniques of ancient weaving or the iconography of medieval painting on its team. No one appears to have investigated the kinds of loom, ancient or medieval, on which a cloth of this size may have been woven. Nor has anyone closely examined the many early depictions and descriptions of the Shroud that illustrate features now lost.

Hmmm. Did they carefully avoid experts who might actually find that the shroud is not what it purports to be?

These depictions, which date largely from between 1578 and 1750, acted as souvenirs of occasions when the Shroud was exhibited. They show the assembled clergy and, in later cases, the Savoy family, standing behind their relic, which is always shown with the frontal image on the viewer’s left. Survivals are rare, for the paper on which they were printed was often of poor quality, but there are enough – perhaps 50 different depictions in total by a variety of artists – to see the images on the Shroud as they once were. Many from the Savoy collections are illustrated in the catalogue of a 1998 exhibition held in Turin. They vary in details and accuracy (some show the Crown of Thorns more clearly than others, for instance) but, as a group, they have not yet received serious study.

THERE IS AN ENGRAVING of one such exposition of 1613 by Antonio Tempesta. He was celebrated for his panoramic view of Rome (1593), which shows the individual buildings of the city in meticulous detail, and he was brought to Turin to work for Duke Carlo Emanuele I (1580-1630). It is an exposition from the height of the Counter-Reformation, when the concentration was on drama, with fusillades and the singing of choirs as the Shroud was unfurled before an enthusiastic crowd. My research began with this engraving, as it demonstrated that the original images of the Shroud were much more prominent than they are now. The Shroud would not have made an impact on such large crowds if they had not been. There are features – the Crown of Thorns, the long hair on Christ’s neck, the space between the elbows and the body, the loincloth – that can no longer be seen today. The marks from the fire of 1532 are also clearly evident. Texts describing the Shroud confirm the accuracy of the Tempesta engraving. Two features that are less obvious are the extent of the blood on the body images and the marks of Christ’s scourging or flagellation. We have evidence that these were once prominent. Astonishingly, few researchers appear to have grasped that the Shroud looked very different in the 16th and 17th centuries from the object we see today.

No one has found any significant evidence of the Shroud’s existence before 1355, when it appeared in a chapel at Lirey, in the diocese of Troyes, supposedly advertised there as the burial shroud of Christ. Such sudden appearances of cults were common in a Europe recovering from the trauma of the Black Death. They caused a great deal of frustration for a Church hierarchy anxious to preserve its own status.

Ah now that strikes a familiar note. The church is still like that – it’s still fretful at the failure of so many people to obey its orders, and still resentful of upstarts and frauds while considering itself The One True Item.

The bishop of Troyes, Henry of Poitiers, whose responsibility it was to monitor such claims in his diocese, investigated the shrine and reported that not only were the images painted on the cloth but that he had actually tracked down the painter. After this clerical onslaught, the Shroud was hidden away for more than 30 years. Yet the Church accepted that it was not a deliberate forgery and in January 1390 the (anti)pope Clement VII allowed its renewed exposure in Lirey. This suggests that the Shroud may have been credited with unrecorded miracles, thereby acquiring the spiritual status to make it worthy of veneration. Doubtless aware of the earlier claims by the Lirey clergy, Clement insisted that it was publicly announced before each exposition that this was NOT the burial shroud of Christ.

An interesting thing is that the iconography of Jesus became very bloody in the 14th century, when it hadn’t been before. That reminds me of Mel Gibson’s violence-porn film.

Twenty years later the Clare nuns, who repaired the Shroud after it had been damaged by fire, also recorded the emotional impact of the wounds. Once it had been rolled out for veneration:

we let our look go up and down through all the bleeding wounds whose prints appeared on this holy Shroud … we saw sufferings that could never be imagined … the traces of a face all bruised and all tortured by blows, his divine head pierced by big thorns, from which blood rills came out and bled into the forehead and divided in various rills covering the forehead with the most precious purple in the world … the side wound appears as wide as to allow the passage of three fingers, surrounded by a four-finger-wide blood trace, narrowing from below and approximately half a foot long.

On the image of the back, once again the blood was prominent:

the head nape pierced by long and big thorns, which are so thick that you can understand that the crown was like a hat [as on the Tempesta engraving], the nape more tortured than the rest and the thorns stuck more deeply with large drops of blood coagulated in his completely stained-with-blood hair.

Little of this vivid imagery survives today. These bloodstains echo revelations reported by mystics of the 13th and 14th centuries. St Bridget of Sweden, whose Revelations date from the 1340s, received a vision from the Virgin Mary, who told of how she saw her son flogged so that ‘the weighted thongs tore his flesh’ until he was ‘all bloody and covered with wounds so that no sound spot was left on him’. He was taken off to be crucified and the Virgin went on to de-scribe how he had been nailed to the cross. Then ‘they put the Crown of Thorns on his head and it cut so deeply into my son’s venerable head that the blood filled his eyes as it flowed and stained his beard as it fell’. The English mystic Julian of Norwich also described, in about 1372, a vision of Christ’s Passion, where she saw ‘the red blood flowing down from under his crown, hot and flowing freely and copiously, a living stream, just as it was at the time when the Crown of Thorns was pressed on his blessed head …’ Linked to these visions is the appearance, in both 14th-century sculpture and painting, of the ‘Man of Sorrows’, in which Christ appears with the Crown of Thorns on his head, his wounds intact and the blood still flowing. The scriptural inspiration is Isaiah 53: 3-4: ‘He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.’

THE CHANGE IN ICONOGRAPHY is dramatic. Scenes of Christ’s burial from the 12th and early 13th centuries show little or no blood, as in the enamel of the Lamentation from the Klosterneuberg Altar of 1181, where Christ is being laid out, his hands crossed over his pelvis but with few signs of any bloodshed. The (Hungarian) Pray Codex from 1192-95 is another. Once the Klosterneuberg enamel is compared with imagery of 130 years later, as seen in the Holkham Bible of c.1330 (from Holkham Hall in Norfolk), the contrast is obvious. In its crucifixion scene, blood spurts from the Crown of Thorns and more runs down Christ’s arms from the wounds in the hands. The moment shown is when his side has been pierced and he has died (John 19: 34-5).

Creepy, isn’t it. What does any of that have to do with…well, anything, apart from a taste for violence and/or melodrama?

This is a small sample of Charles Freeman’s research on the subject, which should be more widely known so that National Geographic would be embarrassed to take the shroud seriously.

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

Guest post: Sharia Police and Impunity: Will President Buhari Tackle Radical Islam in Northern Nigeria?

May 31st, 2015 11:54 am | By

Guest post by Leo Igwe.

Muhammadu Buhari promised to address, if elected to the office of the president, the widespread insecurity occasioned by Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria. Now he has been elected and sworn in as the president of the country, will he do that? I want to quickly point out that it would be a grave mistake if Buhari reduces the problem of insecurity in Northern Nigeria to the Boko Haram uprising. No it is not. Insecurity in Northern Nigeria is more than the violent campaign of these Islamic militants. Boko Haram is an offshoot of a vicious ideology that is pervasive in the region – that is radical Islam. The violent attacks by this jihadist group are just a tip of the iceberg of fanaticism and bigotry. They are the latest manifestations of the sinister infestation of radical Islam

So, will Buhari address the pervasive issue of Islamic extremism in Northern Nigeria? Or is he going to focus mainly on defeating Boko Haram militants in Sambisa forest when there are Boko Haramic elements across the region? Take for instance the state sponsored sharia police. There is overwhelming evidence that these sharia enforcement units in the northern states are abusing the rights of innocent citizens with impunity. They destroy the goods of traders, arrest those ‘attempting’ to perform gay marriage, and force Muslims to fast during Ramadan. Some days ago they called for the execution of blasphemers.

The leader of Hisbah, the sharia police in Kano, recently asked for capital punishment for 7 Tijjaniyya Muslims accused of blasphemy and of insulting pr. Mohammad. The leader of Hishbah, Sheikh Aminu Ibrahim Daurawa, issued a statement which reads:

After sufficient investigations against these corrupt and insensible apostates, adherents of Hakika, we have confirmed that they have insulted the prophet peace be upon him and Hishbah has began(sic) criminal proceedings against them. We have arrested some of them and we are looking for the rest for the immediate punishment of death as the Sharia, which is applicable in the State of Kano prescribes. May Allah curse whoever touches the profile of the messenger.

He further said in a message posted on his Facebook:

What these Tijjaniyya Sufis followers of Hakika did insulting the messenger is a far greater apostasy than that of the jews, Christians, Pharoah, Karun, Haman abd Abu Jahal and all other apostates walking the earth. Since the beginning of my days, investigating atrocities I have never seen one which equals this one, and this is the truth about Sufis.

A day after Sheikh Daurawa made these incendiary remarks, some Muslim youths rioted in Kano. They burnt down the house of the leader of the Tijjaniyya sect Mallam Abdul Nyass and set ablaze a local sharia court where Nyass was scheduled to appear for trial. If Mallam Nyass had appeared in court on that day, who knows what would have happened to him if they had brought him to court.

Unfortunately the Kano State government never issued a statement condemning this mindless violence and those who orchestrated it. The government and the Ulama did not express concerns over that statement which motivated the violent attacks. Sheikh Daurawa equated non-Muslims to apostates, which implied that those who professed non-Islamic faiths and beliefs were criminals. Apostasy is a crime punishable by death under sharia law.

Nobody has been arrested or is being prosecuted for arson or assault. If a Christian leader had issued such a statement calling Muslims apostates, some would have branded him an ‘’islamophobe’’.

There has been no pronouncement from the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi 11, denouncing the abusive and criminal activities of the sharia police command in his Emirate. Why is the Emir of Kano silent over these unconstitutional activities of the group? What is he doing to stem the recklessness of the sharia police in his constituency? Is poverty responsible for the recent riots in Kano?

Meanwhile, nobody knows the fate of the sect leader of the Tijjaniyya, Malam Nyass. Will he ever be tried in a court of law that respects his right to freedom of expression? Or is he going to languish in detention?

I mean this is the same pattern of reacting and dealing with religious violence in Northern Nigeria. Victims are blamed or detained for their own safety while the perpetrators go scot-free. Nothing is done to bring to justice Muslim fanatics who kill, maim, or damage other people’s property in the name of Islam. This is definitely the trend that gave rise to Boko Haram.

President Muhammadu Buhari must do more to root it radical Islam and the sharia formations in Northern Nigeria. He must take urgent measures to protect the rights of Nigerians, both Muslims and non-Muslims, to freedom of speech, religion and belief as contained in the Nigerian constitution which he has sworn to uphold.

Buhari must act to guarantee equal citizenship for all Nigerians living anywhere in Nigeria.

Nobody should be treated as a second-class citizen in Kano or in any of the Muslim-majority states because of his or her religious belief or unbelief, so the molestation, intimidation and harassment of Nigerians in the name of sharia must cease. Muslims in Kano and in other parts of Northern Nigeria are knowledgeable enough to profess and practice their faith. They do not need a moral – sharia – police paid by taxpayers’ money to tell them how to live their lives.

Buhari must tackle radical Islam before radical Islam destroys Northern Nigeria and the rest of the country.

This is part of the change that Northern Nigeria urgently needs. President Buhari, will you deliver that change?

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

A Faustian pact with state power

May 31st, 2015 11:09 am | By

Alan Strathern wrote a backgrounder piece for the BBC on why Buddhist monks attack Muslims a couple of years ago.

Of all the moral precepts instilled in Buddhist monks the promise not to kill comes first, and the principle of non-violence is arguably more central to Buddhism than any other major religion. So why have monks been using hate speech against Muslims and joining mobs that have left dozens dead?

This is happening in two countries separated by well over 1,000 miles of Indian Ocean – Burma and Sri Lanka. It is puzzling because neither country is facing an Islamist militant threat. Muslims in both places are a generally peaceable and small minority.

But there’s always something. There’s always some pretext for attacking an otherized group.

[H]owever any religion starts out, sooner or later it enters into a Faustian pact with state power. Buddhist monks looked to kings, the ultimate wielders of violence, for the support, patronage and order that only they could provide. Kings looked to monks to provide the popular legitimacy that only such a high moral vision can confer.

The result can seem ironic. If you have a strong sense of the overriding moral superiority of your worldview, then the need to protect and advance it can seem the most important duty of all.

Exactly. There’s nothing like the belief that your worldview derives its moral superiority from a god or a supernaturally Wonderful Person for justifying anything and everything.

So, historically, Buddhism has been no more a religion of peace than Christianity.

One of the most famous kings in Sri Lankan history is Dutugamanu, whose unification of the island in the 2nd Century BC is related in an important chronicle, the Mahavamsa.

It says that he placed a Buddhist relic in his spear and took 500 monks with him along to war against a non-Buddhist king.

He destroyed his opponents. After the bloodshed, some enlightened ones consoled him that the slain “were like animals; you will make the Buddha’s faith shine”.

There you go – the application of holy sanctification in action.

In Burma, monks wielded their moral authority to challenge the military junta and argue for democracy in the Saffron Revolution of 2007. Peaceful protest was the main weapon of choice this time, and monks paid with their lives.

Now some monks are using their moral authority to serve a quite different end. They may be a minority, but the 500,000-strong monkhood, which includes many deposited in monasteries as children to escape poverty or as orphans, certainly has its fair share of angry young men.

Combine angry young men and moral authority and you may end up with a Jurassic Park type scenario.

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

Fierce Buddhism

May 31st, 2015 10:23 am | By

Buddhism is in many ways an exception among religions…but it’s not always as much of an exception as it could should would be. The BBC considers this unsurprising fact.

The principle of non-violence is central to Buddhist teachings, but in Sri Lanka some Buddhist monks are being accused of stirring up hostility towards other faiths and ethnic minorities. Their hard line is causing increasing concern.

Are they simply being accused of doing that, or are they in fact doing it? The second sentence seems to say they are.

[U]pstairs, a burly monk in a bright orange robe holds forth – for this is one of the main offices of a hard-line Buddhist organisation, the Bodu Bala Sena or Buddhist Power Force (BBS).

The peaceful precepts for which Buddhism is widely known barely figure in his words. Instead, the monk, Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero, talks of his Buddhism in terms of race. Most Buddhists here are ethnically Sinhalese, and Sinhalese make up three-quarters of the island’s population.

“This country belongs to the Sinhalese, and it is the Sinhalese who built up its civilisation, culture and settlements. The white people created all the problems,” says Gnanasara Thero angrily.

He says the country was destroyed by the British colonialists, and its current problems are also the work of what he calls “outsiders”. By that he means Tamils and Muslims.

Aka foreigners aka immigrants aka others aka mongrel races aka infidels aka vermin…

This firebrand strain of Buddhism is not new to Sri Lanka. A key Buddhist revivalist figure of the early 20th Century, Anagarika Dharmapala, was less than complimentary about non-Sinhalese people. He held that the “Aryan Sinhalese” had made the island into Paradise which was then destroyed by Christianity and polytheism. He targeted Muslims saying they had “by Shylockian methods” thrived at the expense of the “sons of the soil”.

And later, in 1959 Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike was assassinated by a Buddhist monk – the circumstances were murky but one contentious issue was the government’s failure to do enough to ensure the rights of the Sinhala people.

Now they’re turning their attention from Tamils to Muslims.

They are not the only Sinhalese who express discomfort at a visible rise in Muslim social conservatism in Sri Lanka. More women are covering up than before and in parts of the country Saudi-influenced Wahabi Muslims are jostling with more liberal ones.

Yet there is no evidence of violent extremism among Sri Lankan Muslims. Rather, they have been at the receiving end of attacks from other parts of society.

In the small town of Aluthgama last June, three people died in clashes that started when the BBS and other Buddhist monks led an anti-Muslim rally in a Muslim area. At the time, I met Muslim families whose homes and shops had been burnt and utterly destroyed, and who were cowering in schools as temporary refugees.

Complicated, isn’t it. “Muslim social conservatism” is a bad thing, cf the part about more women “covering up”; at the same time you don’t want to resist Muslim social conservatism in such a way that Muslims become targets.

Moderate Buddhists have also been targeted by hard-line ones.

That’s familiar too. Theocrats always do target secular believers.

Another country where fierce Buddhism has recently made headlines is Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. A Buddhist faction there, the 969 movement, is known for strident anti-Muslim campaigns that have triggered widespread violence.

Its leader, Shin Wirathu, was recently invited to Sri Lanka by the BBS. Both organisations say that even if Buddhism predominates in their own countries, overall it is under threat. “We want to protect it, therefore we signed a memorandum of understanding on forming alliances in the Asian region,” says Withanage.

Fighting Buddhism; just what Asia needs.

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


May 31st, 2015 9:57 am | By

I’ve seen a couple of ads for new or returning network tv shows recently, both on ABC. One is called The Astronaut Wives Club. The other is called Mistresses.


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

Locked in a room

May 30th, 2015 5:29 pm | By

Taslima tweeted an article in the Times of India: Bangladeshi blogger gets death threat on Facebook.

He will be ‘The Next’, Ananya Azad was warned on a social networking site. A day after ‘The Guardian’ broke the story of how the 25-year-old Bangladeshi blogger was living a life of fear, Ananya spoke exclusively to TOI on Friday.

Speaking from Dhaka, Ananya – who is on a hit list containing the names of 84 atheist bloggers – said: “I am no stranger to death threats and bloodshed.

“My father, author Humayun Azad, was attacked on the streets. But what shocked me was the nature of threat that I got on Facebook. It addressed my father as ‘Nastiker sardar’. It means the leader of atheists. It said being his son, I would meet a gruesome death. My throat would be slashed at Dhaka University’s Raju Bhaskarjya!”

We know these guys don’t mess around.

Ananya is not the only blogger suffering. TOI traced another blogger who is now in hiding in Dhaka. On May 12, a gang of masked assailants had hacked to death blogger Ananta Bijay Das. Ever since, his fellow blogger Monir Hussain has gone into hiding. Exiled Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasrin, in New York now, is trying to help him move out of the country. Monir has stopped updating his blog. Speaking from an undisclosed location in Dhaka, he said: “For 15 days, I have been locked in a room. No TV. No newspapers. I’ve deactivated my Facebook profile.”

Taslima said: “I’m trying to help these bloggers get out of Bangladesh. I am requesting organizations in America and Europe to invite these bloggers to their countries. I have requested the Swedish embassy to grant visa to Monir. Bloggers in Bangladesh are panic-striken. The government isn’t giving them any protection.”

It’s a nightmare.


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

The half that talks

May 30th, 2015 5:09 pm | By

Not funny. Not “ironic.” Not meta. Just everyday sexism.

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

Jennifer Cody Epstein’s letter to the anti-Charlie Hebdo faction

May 30th, 2015 4:40 pm | By

I have permission to publish the letter that Jennifer Cody Epstein sent to her colleagues who organized the petition opposing the PEN award to Charlie Hebdo. In it she describes doing what I wish more people had done: finding out more and changing her thinking as a result.

Herewith that letter:

Dear Colleagues:

Six days ago I received your petition protesting PEN’s decision to award Charlie Hebdo with its 2015 Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award. I added my name to the list based on a number of factors, chief among them the fact that while I was sickened by the fatal repercussions of Hebdo’s repeated lampooning of Islam, I was also deeply troubled by the idea that a magazine that seemed to cater shamelessly to Islamophobia (in a nation that has already banned the hajib from its schools, no less) might be celebrated in any way for its work. I was also influenced by the fact that I am currently at work on a historical novel set in Nazi Germany, and found Hebdo’s visual similarities to Der Sturmer jarring, to say the least.

Over the past week, however, I’ve found myself doing further research and considerable soul-searching, and have come to the somewhat chastening conclusion that my decision, while well-intentioned, was misinformed and (quite frankly) wrong.

For one thing, I’ve realized that Der Sturmer was state-sanctioned hate literature in a society where free expression was banned, whereas Hebdo is a free publication deliberately and—yes—courageously celebrating its right to free expression. There is also dismay over yesterday’s shooting in Texas; as writers, should we should really be censoring ourselves on issues that now almost automatically seem to provoke violent retribution, rather than protesting that violence by persevering? (To be honest, such thinking strikes me as more in line with a National Socialist society than a Democratic one).

But my conclusion mainly stems from the fact that at the time I signed the petition, I—like many, I now believe—fundamentally misunderstood Charlie Hebdo’s mission and content. The controversial images—while arguably tasteless, offensive and not even particularly well-drawn—sprang from satire, not hate. It is a profound and crucial difference: if one is to argue for freedom of speech there can be no caveats, no asterisks, no fine print qualifying that “freedom” only applies to expression we don’t consider too upsetting, or doesn’t enrage right-wing fundamentalists with guns. (I think it’s worth noting here that I was also under the misassumption that Hebdo disproportionately lampooned Islam. In fact, as Michael Moynihan points out in his—in my opinion excellent—piece in today’s Daily Beast , the magazine has featured significantly more anti-Christian covers (21) than anti-Islam (7) in the last decade.)

As a writer whose work is largely predicated on diligent and careful research, I am reluctant to admit that in this case, I didn’t do enough of it before sending my name out into the Cloud. Unfortunately, though, that is the conclusion to which I’ve been forced to come, and I thought it best to acknowledge it publically and head-on rather than disingenuously pretending otherwise. I’d therefore like to remove my name from your petition, while also thanking you and the other signatories for the opportunity your letter gave me to struggle with a very central—if thorny—question that impacts all of us as writers.


Jennifer Cody Epstein

An excellent letter, don’t you think? If only more of the dissenters would join her! I find it hard to believe that if they actually considered the facts and arguments that have been presented, they would all continue to insist that Charlie Hebdo is racist and indefensible. Jennifer Cody Epstein told the Morgenbladet journalist that she would welcome the company.

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

“So I crossed out ‘Jews’ and I put ‘Trinity College Cambridge’.”

May 30th, 2015 11:37 am | By

Newsweek Europe does a rather silly interview with Dawkins.

With no good evidence whatsoever, I sense in him the potential for great anger.

“Other people have said that. I don’t believe it. Anger isn’t the right word.”


“No. I do use ridicule a lot.”

“Waspishness” is how it strikes me. He gets irritable easily, and it manifests as waspish retorts – or, as he says, ridicule.

Ridicule is tricky, especially for someone like him. That’s why Dear Muslima was so odd: it apparently never crossed his mind that that level of waspish irritable ridicule of someone way below him in the pecking order might be not so much ridicule as bullying. By “someone like him” in this case I mean someone with his level of fame and, in many quarters, adulation.

Ridicule is tricky even between equals with no fame or adulation. Ridicule can wound, annoy, humiliate. It’s not to be used lightly. It’s not to be used of people “a lot” – yet he says he does use it a lot. That…well, that says a lot about him.

Dawkins has never shied from controversy. In 2013 he provoked considerable outrage on Twitter after tweeting that “All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though”.

“That,” he concedes, “was a mistake. Lalla [his third wife, the actress best known as Romana, companion of her former husband Tom Baker in Doctor Who] and I had been to dinner with the then chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. About 20 leading Jews were there.”

He was informed that “between a quarter and a fifth of Nobel Prizes had been won by Jews. We also learned that the total percentage of Jews in the world is below 1% [and that] only one or two Muslims had ever won a Nobel Prize”.

“They were boasting?”

“Yes but with good reason.” The number of Muslims in the world, Dawkins says, “Is gigantic compared to Jews. I wrote a tweet about it, then I thought, I can’t send that. So I crossed out ‘Jews’ and I put ‘Trinity College Cambridge’.”

Um…oh gawd. Where to begin. He did manage to notice that he’d said something he couldn’t say – because it was a shitty thing to say. But he didn’t manage to notice all the ways it was shitty, so he simply dropped one word and substituted a Cambridge college. That explains so much, and yet so little. Why can’t he expand “then I thought, I can’t send that” to cover more of what he says?

Richard Dawkins is a kind of equivalent, in the digital age, of the professor who can’t be trusted to post a letter. He described Nadia Eweida, the British Airways check-in clerk who was fired for wearing a crucifix as having “one of the most stupid faces I have ever seen” and observed that “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse”.

What was he thinking of?

“I don’t remember that [last indiscretion]. I don’t think that these are interesting topics.”


He doesn’t remember it??? He wrote a long post about it! There were hundreds of comments on it! It was a row that went on for days. How can he possibly not remember it?

And as for not thinking these are interesting topics – then why does he keep talking about them on Twitter?

Could such episodes have fostered the misunderstanding that he is aggressive?

“Clarity,” he believes, “can be mistaken for aggression. Maybe I’m a bit impatient”.

Know thyself.

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