Notes and Comment Blog

Relief for Texas

Oct 14th, 2014 6:26 pm | By

But one piece of good news – that is (as so often) one undoing of a piece of bad news. The Supreme Court blocked Texas’s horrible admitting privileges law, allowing 13 clinics to re-open.

The court’s order, staying a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit that the law could go into effect, will allow more than a dozen of the clinics to resume operation, according to the group that challenged the law, the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The action will allow 13 abortion clinics that closed after the appeals court decision to reopen, said Nancy Northup, president of the center. “We’re absolutely thrilled.”

The group told the justices that “if the stay entered by the 5th Circuit is not vacated, the clinics forced to remain closed during the appeals process will likely never reopen.”

The court’s decision is not a judgment on the Texas law, but whether the law’s new restrictions should be delayed while the legal battle continued.

So it’s not a permanent undoing of a bit of bad news, but it will be a relief to a lot of women in Texas for now.

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

Not a joke

Oct 14th, 2014 6:11 pm | By

This is the terrorist email:

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

It’s anti-feminist terrorism now

Oct 14th, 2014 6:07 pm | By

Ok can we stop talking about online harassment as just some big joke, or as drama or rage-blogging or doing it for the clicks or any other dismissive bullshit now?

From the Standard Examiner:

Utah State University plans to move forward with an event featuring a prominent Canadian-American author, blogger and feminist, despite threats of terror, a spokesman said Tuesday evening.

The decision came after several staff members received an anonymous email terror threat on Tuesday morning from someone claiming to be a student proposing “the deadliest school shooting in American history” if it didn’t cancel the Wednesday lecture.

The email author wrote that “feminists have ruined my life and I will have my revenge, for my sake and the sake of all the others they’ve wronged.”

They’re going ahead with the event, but with extra security.

The email was sent to Ann Austin, director of the Center for Women and Gender Studies, along with several others, according to a spokesman for the center.

Sarkeesian is the author of the video blog “Feminist Frequency” and the video series Tropes vs.Women in Video Games, which analyzes how women are depicted in pop culture. Sarkeesian will be speaking at 11:30 a.m. in the Taggart Student Center Auditorium.

The email was a warning to all staff and students at USU if Sarkeesian’s talk wasn’t canceled “a Montreal Massacre style attack will be carried out” against those in attendance, students, staff and the women’s center.

“I have at my disposal a semi-automatic rifle, multiple pistols, and a collection of pipe bombs,” the email continues. The threat is “giving (USU) a chance to stop it.”

The threats increase throughout the letter, saying at one point that even if security is increased it won’t save anyone and feminists on campus won’t be able to defend themselves.

“One way or another, I’m going to make sure they die,” it said.

Sarkeesian poses “everything wrong with the feminist woman” and that is why she is being targeted, the email states. “She is going to die screaming like the craven little whore that she is if you let her come to USU.”

Can we stop fucking around and say this shit is unacceptable now? Can we? Can we stop pretending it’s just “disagreement” or “dissent” or “free speech”? Can we?

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

To be a bit disingenuous

Oct 14th, 2014 5:41 pm | By

Part of the point of #AnApostatesExperience was to provide a counter to the pablum put out by Reza Aslan. Heina talks about how unhelpful Reza Aslan is to ex-Muslims.

I read his No god But God when I was experiencing doubts but trying to stay Muslim. Even then, I found his trumping up of some highly uncommon “liberal”/”progressive” interpretations of Islam to be a bit disingenuous.

His views hardly represent any significant percentage of Muslims, let alone many. I [am] very much in favor of promoting reformist voices but not when they pretend the situation is anything other than it is or obscure the truth in any way.

Quite. The reformist Muslims I know are very realistic about the situation as it is and how difficult it is for them to be heard.

The lack of consideration of ex-Muslims from left-wing types is why many ex-Muslims find ourselves in a very uncomfortable position. It’s not as if we don’t see the xenophobia and racism behind much of the professed right-wing sympathy for us. At the same time, at least there is overt sympathy of any kind there. It doesn’t hurt that there is also money to hire bodyguards for when things get out of hand and power that can amplify our voices.

I made a conscious choice to avoid going neo-con, but I honestly don’t feel too angry that there are ex-Muslims in genuine danger who go that way. I feel more angry about those atheists who are the first to step up with criticisms of Christian apologia but give Reza Aslan a free pass. Where else can ex-Muslims go when we are forgotten by white liberal/progressive types?

Be where ex-Muslims can go.


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

How ugly is she?

Oct 14th, 2014 3:23 pm | By

Sexism? What sexism? I don’t see any sexism. There’s no such thing as sexism.

A New Hampshire Republican has sparked outrage after he called a Democratic congresswoman “ugly as sin” and claimed she would lose to her female Republican opponent because she’s more “attractive.”

New Hampshire state GOP Rep. Steve Vaillancourt wrote an incredibly sexist blog post last week in which he compared current Democratic US Rep. Anne McLane Kuster to opponent Marilinda Garcia. Specifically, he attacked Kuster’s appearance while creepily praising Garcia’s.

So let’s go straight to the blog post.

Vaillancourt starts with a warning, “to avoid the PC police sending out  a warrant for my arrest.” Haha. See what he did there? Haha. The guy’s a wit.

Then he gets down to business, which is to call one candidate ugly and the other one attractive.

How attractive is Marilinda Garcia? You know how opposition ad makers usually go out of their way to find a photo of the opponent not looking his or her best. Well…Democrats and Annie Kuster supporters can’t seem to find a photo of Marilinda Garcia looking bad at all.

As for Annie….oh as for Annie…and before I continue, I offer that caution, caution, caution, gain.

Let’s be honest. Does anyone not believe that Congressman Annie Kuster is as ugly as sin? And I hope I haven’t offended sin.

If looks really matter and if this race is at all close, give a decided edge to Marilinda Garcia.

How ugly is Annie Kuster? Again avert your eyes if you don’t want to hear it, but I actually thought of Annie Kuster last weekend when I was in Montreal. Not far from the Second Cup Coffee Shop I at which I was sipping and writing is a bar called Mados. It’s on the section of St. Catherine Street which is blocked off for pedestrians only in the summer; it’s near the Jacques Cartier Bridge. Thus, tens of thousands of Montrealers and visitors walk by Mados on their way to the fireworks displays on summer nights.

On almost any given night, standing for all to see in front of Mados is a rather attractive drag queen. People stop to pose for pictures with this Mado drag queen; other drag queens gather round because, you see, Mados is a drag queen bar…not that there’s anything wrong with that. Long live Victor Victoria; long live La Cage Aux Folles.

By now you probably know why I think of Annie Kuster whenever I walk by Mados; sad to say, but the drag queens are more atrractive than Annie Kuster….not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I’ve promised myself for years not to use this anecdote, but after seeing the story about the seven to ten point boost for the attractive, the story has political relevance.

Annie Kuster looks more like a drag queen than most men in drag.


Politics in America.

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

Because he was an Iraqi Kurd, not an American

Oct 14th, 2014 2:53 pm | By

Peter Ford at the Christian Science Monitor excoriates the hypocrisy of Western journalists’ failing to report on the murder of Muhanad Akidi.

But you have likely never heard of Mr. Akidi. Why not? Because he was an Iraqi Kurd, not an American.

It is hard not to detect more than a whiff of hypocrisy here, in a part of the world where the United States is often accused of hypocrisy.

And the whiff is particularly rank when it comes from the media, which should hold itself to higher standards.

Only two online news outlets reported Akidi’s murder by Tuesday evening: The Russian news agency RIA Novosti and a small Belgian newspaper published in Flemish, De Standaard.

Akidi is the first Iraqi reporter whose death at the hands of IS has been officially confirmed, though a cameraman for a local TV station, Raad al-Azzawi, was killed last Friday according to his relatives, after refusing to work for IS in Tikrit.

Akidi was kidnapped by IS two months ago and there has been no mention of him in the foreign press at all.

Granted, he is just one of many Iraqi civilians caught up in this conflict. In September alone, over 1,100 Iraqis died of acts of terrorism or violence, according to the United Nations. Journalists aren’t special, in this sense. Iraq’s minorities – Christians, Yazidis, Kurds – can attest to the vengeful slaughter perpetrated by IS.

Moreover, the murders of Mr. Sotloff and Mr. Foley, who were abducted in Syria, not Iraq, were videotaped and uploaded for propaganda purposes, precisely because they were Americans and their deaths would shock and appall a Western audience. Their profession appears to have been less important than their nationality; IS has now started butchering Western aid workers.

It’s a long time since I covered the Middle East. But I am quite sure that many people there have just the same suspicions of Western intentions today as they ever did – that America and its allies only get involved to protect their own interests, not those of the locals.

A cynical journalist might say that is only to be expected. But even the most cynical journalist might hope that the Western “mainstream media” as we are often sneeringly called, would pay a little more attention to the locals.

We should do what we can to remind them.


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

Muhanad Akidi and Raad al-Azzawi

Oct 14th, 2014 2:34 pm | By

I saw this on Twitter yesterday but couldn’t find any news sources at all, so I delayed posting about it. Now there are news sources, such as the International Business Times.

Tributes have been pouring in for Kurdish journalist Muhanad Akidi, who was reportedly murdered by IS militants yesterday [13 October].

His death was confirmed by the Kurdistan Democratic Party, who said he was executed at the Ghazlani military base.

This photo was on Twitter yesterday too.

Kurdish journalist killed

News of the journalist’s death comes just days after reports that Iraqi cameraman Raad al-Azzawi was publicly executed near Tikrit.

The 37-year-old is believed to have been executed with a single shot, alongside his brother and two other civilians in the small village of Samra on Friday. It is thought they had refused to declare their support for Islamic State and work for the extremist group.

One of al-Azzawi’s relatives later said: “They came to his home and took him and his brother. He did nothing wrong; his only crime was to be a cameraman. He was just doing his job.”

IS doesn’t confine its murders to people who do something wrong.

Social media users have been circulating photos of Akidi and al-Azzawi, specifically calling for them to be remembered like western journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, who were beheaded.

Indeed. Remember.

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

The view from nowhere

Oct 14th, 2014 11:42 am | By

John Walker points out in a post on #GamerGate that there’s no escape from being political. Claiming to be not political is political; there is no not-political ground to stand on. (Unless you have always lived alone on a desert island, but then how did you get there?)

There’s a new game out, called Koala Fighters XVII. It’s a game about an elite squadron of fighter pilots, who are taking on the menace of the invading koala hordes. In it, throughout, are cutscenes showing bare-breasted women being kidnapped by the evil koalas, threatened with torture and death, to be rescued by the amazing gang of pilot men.

The game is, obviously, brilliantly well made, featuring some of the best koala shooting action ever seen in a game. However, when reviewing this game, gaming site Poltaku comments on how the nudity and sexual stereotypes are disappointing. Meanwhile, Sensible Gaming Reviews, leaving the politics out of games coverage, doesn’t say anything of the sort, not seeing the feature necessary to mention. GameBros4Ever, meanwhile, reviews the game and comments on how brilliantly the breasts are animated, and how great it was to feel like a powerful man in the cockpit of the plane.

All three reviews are inherently political. Choosing to mention this specific feature of the game is a political decision, whether to condemn or celebrate. And crucially, choosing not to mention it is a political decision too. Not thinking it worth mentioning, also, is born of a political position on the matter. Indifference to something of importance to others is, of course, a political position. You cannot “leave the politics out of games coverage”. Politics are inherent. What is instead meant by this demand is, by its nature, “Leave politics I don’t adhere to out of games coverage.”

If you live among people and partake of what your society provides, you don’t have the option of being not political.

Wanting games coverage that doesn’t take issue with, for example, sexualised images of women (or men) is wanting coverage of a specific political leaning. It’s a desire for a specific political position to be taken in games coverage. Which is fine! But it’s not, in any way, leaving politics out of it.

The defense of the status quo is political. The stance of “change nothing” is political. Dismissal of criticism is just as political as the criticism dismissed.

There is an attempt to avoid this reality from GG by attempts to invoke the even deeper fallacy of “objectivity”. I’ve written at length on why objectivity is literally impossible for a human being, and further how deeply unhelpful it would be in games coverage. It’s immediately obvious that one cannot review a game objectively – one can only attempt to describe a game’s intended features while unavoidably infecting such an attempt with conscious or unconscious subjectivity. And describing a game’s intended features is the job of the publisher, and is already taken care of in descriptions of games on any gaming store. Objectivity is obviously not desired, but instead the term is used to suggest a politically “neutral” position on very specific subject areas. Attempts at neutral politics are obviously impossible, but more to the point, remains political.

And of course the pretence that it’s about neutrality is patent nonsense. By requiring neutrality on those specific subjects, such as anything regarding the representation of any group of people, it is a tacit endorsement of the opposing political position. The desire to mute criticism of the representation of women in a game is a tacit endorsement of the representation of women in the game. And again, of course, anyone is absolutely entitled to endorse that representation if it is their position. But it’s a position.

This is similar to the claim beloved by self-styled “skeptics” that emotion is an alien contaminant in any kind of discussion or disagreement, and that proper skeptics rely on reason and evidence and nothing else – especially not emotion. They say this with much rage and vehemence.


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


Oct 13th, 2014 6:15 pm | By

Update to add: Ex-Muslims of North America started this hashtage to highlight the often-neglected experiences of ex-muslims.

Go there on Twitter.

If you’re an ex-Muslim, contribute. If you’re not, read (and contribute: nons are tweeting their reactions, urging others to read, etc).

It’s powerful, some of it desperately sad, some of it joyous.

A few (without handles):

When the brothers of women you know from prayer tell you in the streets that you deserve to be sold into prostitution #AnApostatesExperience

Losing the friendship of every non-relative Muslim I knew & the love of some relatives #AnApostatesExperience

“Watching your mother accept she’s not allowed to visit her child’s grave, and not being able to say anything.” – #AnApostatesExperience

Crying at the end of Disney’s “Brave” b/c Merida resolved their differences and got her mom back…and I couldn’t.

Lying about your values and lifestyle to family so that they will still love you #AnApostatesExperience

Being told by your devout sister(real) that “you deserve to be killed for leaving islam as hadith clearly says” #AnApostatesExperience

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

They’re right, you’re wrong

Oct 13th, 2014 4:58 pm | By

You’ve probably already seen that dopy crude article by Michael Luciano explaining that atheism don’t need no stinkin liberalism. PZ has a post about it.

My favorite part, by which I mean the part that makes me cringe with loathing the most, is the way it’s illustrated – right at the top, under the title, before there are any words.


It’s like a giant “eat shit, bitches, it’s men who run this show and if you don’t like it you can fuck off.”

Tyson and Dennett don’t belong, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali doesn’t really belong (although she does in a way, as the only woman this guy thinks belongs), but the rest are…what they are. Happy to exclude women, at least, and likely to get hostile or contemptuous of both if asked to stop excluding women. In several cases likely to call us cunts for trying to say something. Hitchens, of course, is gone, and omigod am I sick of that photo, which so many pseuds and self-admirers have on their Twitter profiles. Fucking spare me. This isn’t Paris 1943 and we’re not in the Resistance, and cigarettes aren’t a badge of coolitude.

I’m so fed up with being any part of a movement that has this ridiculous childish hero-worship thing going on. Guys, get over it.

Olivia at Skepchick has a nice post responding to the Parade Of Dudes.

Let me direct you to where Heina has already given a great explanation of how atheism as a movement already cares about social justice, and add that I suspect that the reason the Social Justice Warriors are so interested in bringing social justice to atheism is because we are a.atheists and b.people who believe that equality is a basic standard of human decency. The “woman problem of atheism” as Luciano so eloquently puts it, isn’t a problem because atheism has to be feminist. It’s a problem because any organization that repeatedly excludes, harasses, and ignores women is a shithole that needs to change. I’m not sure if Luciano missed this, but social justice movements actually ask everyone to live up to these expectations because they believe that societal structures that systematically oppress entire groups of people are a bad thing, whether or not they’re religious or atheist in nature.

That’s it. This is a long-term thing, so we all have to live together, and guess what, we don’t want to live among a bunch of scornful sexist assholes. We just don’t. If you make a big point of shaping your movement to be that way, you’re going to lose people.

Oddly enough, there are still some of us out there who are hoping that atheism and people with a shred of human decency are one and the same, and that’s what we’re appealing to. The people who are saying these things don’t give a rat’s ass if you’re liberal or conservative, but they do care if you are actively pushing them out of your movement, discriminating against them, and essentially treating them like worthless piles of shit. Oddly enough, the desire to be given basic human respect and equality is not associated with any political party. The inherent connection between equality and atheism is that there are people who are atheists who want to be treated equally. In case you haven’t figured out where the atheism comes from yet, it comes from the thousands of atheists who are female, people of color, disabled, queer, or any other minority who want an atheist community that lets them in.

It’s honestly not that hard to understand.


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

I do it for the clicks for other people

Oct 13th, 2014 3:35 pm | By

Update: I’m told that Noel Plum says he didn’t make money directly from this video.

Hahahahahaha – I Googled to find that piece where Sam Harris explained about the politically correct feminists, and in doing so look what I found – Noel Plum’s Patreon for the video he did about my take on Harris. He got $65.50 for it! That’s a lot more than I made for the post, I can tell you*. But we’re supposed to be the ones who “do it for the clicks,” remember? How come nobody ever says that about people like Noel Plum?


Sixty five dollars and fifty cents! I could buy a lot of Talenti gelato with that.

*Like, about 60 times more. Blogging really doesn’t pay unless you get many tens of thousands of hits per day, which I don’t.

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

They’ll still get agitated over the abortion clinic bombing

Oct 13th, 2014 3:28 pm | By

Libby Anne has another great post on the way the more anti-feminist of the atheist guys use Islamist misogyny and abuse of women as a pretext for belittling women’s issues closer to home.

She starts with something Sam Harris said on that much-discussed Bill Maher program.

Liberals have really failed on the topic of theocracy. They’ll criticize white theocracy, they’ll criticize Christians. They’ll still get agitated over the abortion clinic bombing that happened in 1984. But when you want to talk about the treatment of women and homosexuals and free thinkers and public intellectuals in the Muslim world, I would argue that liberals have failed us.

I have to say, when I heard this bit my jaw just dropped. That Harris could move smoothly from dismissing the very real and very present threat of violence against abortion clinics and abortion providers to condemning the treatment of women in “the Muslim world” is mind boggling. This is not how supporting women’s rights works. But even with that aside, Harris is so factually off on anti-abortion violence that I’m actually honestly surprised. I would have thought him more informed on this topic.

I wouldn’t. I think he really is closed off to the idea that there are still issues for women right here in the US, and as a result I think he fails to pay any attention to such issues or to inform himself about them. I don’t know why that is, I find it pretty mystifying in someone of his type, but there it is. He’s consistently clueless on the subject, and flippant and patronizing as well – when he’s not just downright hostile and contemptuous.

Violence against abortion clinics and abortion providers dates back to at least the 1980s and continues in the present. Eight doctors or clinic providers have been murdered, the last one only five years ago. In fact, the clinic that was bombed in the 1984 incident Harris mentions was bombed again in 2012—and completely gutted as a result. I hear of arson and death threats, and it shakes me. I’ve served as an escort at my local Planned Parenthood clinic. It can be very scary—for all involved. Women often have their license plate numbers recorded by anti-abortion protesters calling them “murderers,” and in some areas of the country doctors who perform abortions have to wear masks when entering clinics to protect their identities. Just recently a writer for the high-profile National Review called for hanging women who have had abortions.

To have Harris present concern about anti-abortion violence as “getting agitated over the abortion clinic bombing that happened in 1984″ is horrifying. He should know better.

He should, but…this is where we are. It’s fashionable (in some circles) to be contemptuous of feminism and thus of worries about violence against abortion clinics. It’s fine to worry about violence against women in Pakistan or Somalia, but it’s merely self-indulgent to worry about it in the US; that’s the view of this brand of atheist. I’ve heard from a lot of them on Twitter, and that’s what they say – and Harris is one of their patron saints.

I’m tired of seeing people emphasize the challenges women face in Muslim countries while downplaying the challenges women face elsewhere. This sort of thing makes it look like it’s more about having it in for Islam (or for religion) than it is about women’s wellbeing. That Harris is willing to dismiss not simply structural sexism but also opposition to women’s healthcare access is bizarre.

It’s not bizarre if he thinks feminists are high-maintenance princesses and/or politically correct harpies just looking for a reason to attack him, the all-important Sam Harris.

It is a measure of the ridiculous paranoia engendered by political correctness that in the second it took me to make that joke about my sex appeal, I worried whether my assuming that most women are heterosexual would offend some number of lesbians in the audience.

She: I’m not saying that women and men are the same.

Me: Okay, great. So I think you misunderstood the intent of what I was saying. I was just acknowledging that some differences in the general tendencies of men and women might explain why 84 percent of my followers on Twitter are men. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to get into this, because there are 200 people standing behind you in line patiently waiting to have their books signed.

She: You should just know that what you said was incredibly sexist and very damaging, and you should apologize.

Me: You really are determined to be offended, aren’t you? It’s like you have installed a tripwire in your mind, and you’re just waiting for people to cross it.

The reality is, Sam Harris dislikes contemporary feminism in his own part of the world, so it’s actually not all that surprising that he uses the oppression of women in Islam as an excuse to take a potshot at that kind of feminism. He’s not just a confused ally of feminism, he’s an opponent of feminism. Except in Egypt and Saudi Arabia of course; he approves of it over there.

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


Oct 13th, 2014 12:36 pm | By

Another human rights defender charged with a “crime.”

Within two weeks of releasing leading human rights defender Maryam Al Khawaja from jail the Bahrain authorities detained another. On September 30 Nabeel Rajab was taken into custody for allegedly insulting the Bahrain regime on twitter.

Rajab has been exposing human rights violations by the U.S. ally for many years and spent from mid-2012 to mid-2014 in prison on trumped-up charges. He’s hit a nerve again, tweeting that Bahrain’s security forces act as an ideological incubator for ISIS. Bahrain’s military and police are drawn almost exclusively from the Sunni sect, with the majority Shia population virtually shut out of the services. Rajab’s September 28 tweet came days after news of a Sunni Bahraini security official leaving his job to join ISIS.

There’s a Twitter campaign to send out the same tweet and then tweet that you did so with the hashtags  .


Many #Bahrain men who joined #terrorism & #ISIS came from security institutions and those institutions were the first ideological incubator.

Let’s do this thing.

The lack of security force reform in Bahrain has been a source of political unrest in the kingdom for years, and although parts of the U.S. government have tried to push for human rights progress the messages from Washington have been inconsistent and contradictory. Bahrain is part of the military coalition fighting ISIS but its own history of violent sectarianism has been largely overlooked by the Obama Administration.

Rajab’s lawyer Jalila al Sayed told me “It’s hard to predict what will happen with this latest case against Nabeel, but there is a real chance he could face several more years in prison for his tweeting.”

Thanks, Obama administration, that’s a big help.

The core problem is that the U.S. government isn’t uncomfortable enough with its military ally’s flouting of the rule of law to invoke proper consequences. The State Department failed to publicly call for the release of Maryam Al Khawaja and has so far failed to publicly call for the release of Nabeel Rajab (Al Khawaja has now left Bahrain but legal charges against her remain). Without meaningful censure Bahrain’s repressive regime has few incentives to stop its crackdown on human rights activists.

Manama appears to have calculated correctly that Washington’s military priorities will trump its embarrassment on human rights, perhaps even more conclusively now Bahrain is part of the anti-ISIS effort. The State Department’s primarily reliance on private diplomacy with Bahrain clearly hasn’t made much headway on human rights and it needs to adopt another plan.

Well maybe millions of people on Twitter can embarrass both governments.

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

Imagine a conference

Oct 13th, 2014 12:03 pm | By

John Sargeant at Homo economicus blogs about Maryam’s Secular Conference 2014 which took place in London this past weekend.

Imagine a conference where over two thirds of the speakers are women. From across the world. Artists, professors, authors, journalists, human rights activists. One who feared having children because of the threat to their lives.

Moved when another recounts being abducted and held hostage the last time she attended such a conference as this; the fear from her voice pulling on your heart strings. Tears dripping onto your iPad as you blatantly tweet in your own name what is being said without a second thought of your own safety. That the song from a band in Indonesia called “Sister In Danger” is not lyrical invention. When protestors of a movie in Tunisia move their hand across their Adam’s apple in a slicing motion it is not just bravado.

A professor recounts hearing shots ring out on campus one evening. He rushed out to a former student who had become a faculty member. Bleeding to death, no other staff came to aid one of their own. There is no one else from the university either to join the professor at the mourning prayers. The assassinated man is Ahmadi, and even in death his blood can not wash away his heresy in a Pakistan State that declares them non muslims. He never was one of them after all, in life or death.

So that’s their idea of god. No need to bother with a devil then.

I did not have to imagine these voices – because Maryam Namazie gave them a platform. The conference was filmed and you can read my live tweets clicking on the tweet above, and following my timeline.

Here’s his Twitter:

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


Oct 13th, 2014 11:50 am | By

Salman Rushdie gave a PEN/Pinter Prize Lecture the other day and used the occasion to talk about “jihadi-cool,” the Telegraph reported.

The so-called “jihadi-cool” image romanticises Isil, using rap videos and social networking to recruit followers – posing with AK-47s and bragging about their “five star jihad” in videos showing fighters lounging around in luxury villas as they urged the destruction of the West.

Rushdie defined “jihadi-cool” as “the deformed medievalist language of fanaticism, backed up by modern weaponry”, saying: “It’s hard not to conclude that this hate-filled religious rhetoric, pouring from the mouths of ruthless fanatics into the ears of angry young men, has become the most dangerous new weapon in the world today”.

I think he’s right. I think the element of adventure, excitement, glamor, flash, let’s pretend in terrorism gets too little attention.

He said: “A word I dislike greatly, ‘Islamophobia’, has been coined to discredit those who point at these excesses, by labelling them as bigots. But in the first place, if I don’t like your ideas, it must be acceptable for me to say so, just as it is acceptable for you to say that you don’t like mine. Ideas cannot be ring-fenced just because they claim to have this or that fictional sky god on their side.

“And in the second place, it’s important to remember that most of those who suffer under the yoke of the new Islamic fanaticism are other Muslims…

“It is right to feel phobia towards such matters. As several commentators have said, what is being killed in Iraq is not just human beings, but a whole culture. To feel aversion towards such a force is not bigotry. It is the only possible response to the horror of events.

“I can’t, as a citizen, avoid speaking of the horror of the world in this new age of religious mayhem, and of the language that conjures it up and justifies it, so that young men, including young Britons, led towards acts of extreme bestiality, believe themselves to be fighting a just war.”

The language that conjures it up and justifies it is very important. Language is very important, just as ideas are very important. They aren’t just the froth on the coffee.

Rushdie was speaking as he accepted the PEN Pinter Prize, established by the writers’ charity English PEN in 2009 in memory of the Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter.

The prize is awarded annual to a British or British-based writer who “exemplifies the spirit of Harold Pinter through his or her engagement with the times”.

Each year the winner shares the prize with an international writer who has risked their own safety in the name of free speech. Rushdie chose Mazen Darwish, a Syrian journalist and lawyer who is currently in prison.

There are so so many to choose from.

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

An egg once a year

Oct 13th, 2014 10:18 am | By

More on the realities of the Magdalene laundries at

ALTHOUGH PREVIOUS REPORTS and testimonies reveal that labour in the Magdalene Laundries was forced and wholly unpaid, conditions harsh and the incarcerated women completely deprived of their liberty, suffering both physical and emotional abuse, survivors are still searching for an apology and redress.

Although the State gave the nuns who ran the Laundries direct capitation (per-head) grants and valuable contracts for commercial work, it has failed to offer that apology or any type of redress.

It’s shocking, isn’t it – forced unpaid labor in harsh conditions, with no escape, and with physical and emotional abuse – not as punishment for crime but as torture for being female and poor and possibly or actually sexual. Not in 1860 but well into the 1990s. Ireland committed war crimes against the female half of its own population.

Justice for Magdalenes (JFM) believes – and provides evidence to back up its claims – that there was State involvement in the operation of the Magdalene Laundries as places to send women, often known as “problem girls”, affected by pregnancy outside marriage, poverty and crime.

“The State regarded the Magdalene Laundries as an opportunity to deal with various social problems – illegitimacy, poverty, disability, so-called licentous behaviour, domestic and sexual abuse, youth crime and infanticide,” the group writes in its 145-page submission to the Government’s Inter-Departmental Committee set up to probe exactly what happened between the 1920s and 1990s.

“Deal with” them how? Long sentences to slave labor for the profit of the Catholic church.

The committee has delayed issuing its report, so Justice for Magdalenes has provided a redacted copy of its document to every TD and Senator at Leinster House. JFM says the document provides rock-solid evidence of government complicity.

This year’s submission details how no one in senior government sought to understand how the Magdalene Laundries operated. JFM believe that the fact that the religious orders were in control was “enough” to excuse official inquiry, inspection or regulation.

It says that there was “no statutory basis at all between 1922 and 1960 for incarcerating any of the women”. “None of them were detained lawfully,” the report continues.

All the women had no choice whether to stay. One survivor from High Park Magdalene Laundry in Drumcondra remembers:

Every window in the building, every window had bars on it…All the doors, every door was locked.

That’s theocracy in action – a state so blindly trusting of a religious sect that it allows that sect to impose mass imprisonment without trial or hearing or due process of any kind.

Many believe they were taken from their original lives as “cheap labour” with the excuse of it being for their “own safety”.

We worked long hours every day…scrubbing, bleaching and ironing for the whole of Cork – hotels, hospitals, schools, colleges – for which the nuns charged, of course, though we never saw a penny. It was an industry and they were earning a fortune from our labour.

Work in the Magdalene Laundries was hard. It involved lifting heavy weights in very hot temperatures and the use of toxic chemicals. The clothes for one machine weighted 200 lbs, or 90 kgs.

The working conditions were absymal.

We worked in great heat associated with the laundry machine and mangles.
You could stand in half a foot of water sometimes down in the laundry all day.
The laundry work was hard too. I often got bleach in my eyes. It was a sore does. It would be sore for days. And the soap would burn your hands.

Other external witnesses told JFM:

By Jesus, they worked hard. They broke a lot of sweat in that laundry. The laundry was very hot. It was just basically a sweathouse just to provide Joe Public out there with nice clean sheets.
The girls could get burns from pouring in soap, splashing into their eyes or pouring in bleach, raw bleach, which they would dilute by 50 per cent…And sometimes these carboys (10 gallon containers) would break and the bleach would go everywhere and it was a nightmare. And the fumes of the bleach alone were dreadful.

Another manager recalls have one woman lost her arm in a bad accident on a hot roller ironing machine.

And the living conditions were just as shit.

Breakfast was generally porridge, while sausage, potatoes and cabbage made up the bulk of the rest of their meals.

I was extremely thin and sickly…the convent cared for us with absolutely the minimal standards.

Another survivor recalls how they “got one egg a year” on Easter Sunday morning.

There was also “no such thing as education” – “no reading, writing” and “for the most part…intellectual development was ignored”.

And all of this was administered by the Catholic church in Ireland.

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

She was carrying a handbag but it was completely empty

Oct 12th, 2014 5:19 pm | By

One story of one woman who was sent to a Magdalene Laundry at age 16 and never got out, but died there after 35 years of slavery.

Samantha Long’s mother Margaret Bullen was placed in Gloucester Street (now Sean McDermott Street) Laundry c.1967 and died 35 years later, never having been released into society and her own home. Margaret died of an illness known as Goodpasture Syndrome, a disease of the kidneys and liver – one of the causes is exposure to industrial-strength chemicals such as those used in the Laundries.

So that would be 2002. Just twelve years ago, Ireland – the Celtic tiger – was holding a woman in slavery until she died of a disease probably caused by the slave labor she did for 35 years. Twelve years ago. Ireland.

Margaret Bullen was sent to the notorious High Park industrial school and Laundry in Drumcondra at age three, then to a special school at age thirteen after she was certified mentally unfit for education, but fit for work. Then at around sixteen she was sent to the Magdalene Laundry where she was enslaved for the rest of her life.

(In Ireland, from c. 1967 to 2002.)

She became pregnant – twice – with Samantha and her twin sister Etta, and later with another daughter, while officially under the care of the Gloucester Street nuns. The circumstances of these conceptions are again shrouded in mystery but Samantha says her conversations in later life with her mother when they were reunited led her to believe that Margaret had been the victim of sexual abuse and predators several times.

There was no education, no education and I, you know, I honestly believe for a long time she didn’t know how she got pregnant, she just knew that somebody hurt her once and then she had babies. I really believe that. She didn’t make that connection, I know that for sure. She was no, she didn’t have a boyfriend, let’s put it that way. And that’s the politest way that I can say that.

Some of the more harrowing details of Samantha’s testimony recount how her mother was denied society, education, wages and other basic rights for most of her life. This extract recalls Samantha and Etta’s first meeting with Margaret in the Gresham Hotel when they were 23 and had traced her as their biological mother. (Samantha and Etta were adopted by a loving couple in Dublin and later moved to Sligo in childhood.)

Margaret was only 42 at the time but looked much older. She was carrying a handbag but it was completely empty, because she didn’t own anything nor did she have any money. Samantha recalls:

And, she was just lovely, and she was asking extremely innocent questions like, she, it was the first time she ever had coffee and it was very exciting for her to have coffee and she hadn’t seen brown sugar before either and obviously in the Gresham there was brown and white sugar cubes on the table and it was all very fancy to her. And she was just overjoyed to be there and absolutely wowed by everything.

She looked, she looked like a pensioner. I couldn’t believe she was forty-two, I kept looking, I kept looking into her face to find a forty-two year old and I couldn’t, because she had the face of hard work, that face that you see in so many women that have just had to work too hard and have never had a rest and have never had anyone to take care of them or tell them to put their feet up, and who have just, just worked too hard. Because, as I said on the radio a few years ago, this was slavery and I don’t use that term lightly and I’m not an emotive person but slavery is a form of work for which you get no pay and you can’t leave and these were the white slaves of Ireland and they were never emancipated. And nobody stood up for them until now, until you guys (Justice for Magdalenes) did.

Those laundries were run by the church. The church pocketed the profits. That’s how the church treats people.

Updating to add: Justice for Magdalenes is here.

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


Oct 12th, 2014 4:01 pm | By

The alleged sexual assaults in the Sayreville case are worse than I’d imagined.

Graphic details of what allegedly happened inside the locker room at the school were also revealed in a report Wednesday on

The report stated that “a freshman football player would be pinned to the locker-room floor, his arms and feet held down by multiple upperclassmen. Then, the victim would be lifted to his feet while a finger was forced into his rectum. Sometimes, the same finger was then shoved into the freshman player’s mouth.”

What is wrong with people.

Six of them were arrested on Friday evening and a seventh was being sought.

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

Yes secularism can

Oct 12th, 2014 2:53 pm | By

Tehmina Kazi talks about secularism and Islam, and how the former is good for the latter. She argues that secularism actually adds to the Islamic discourse, because there’s a long tradition of critical thought in Islam.

It makes sense you know. If all religions and none are treated equally, then people are more likely to feel safe discussing and exploring.

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

Yes, it is

Oct 12th, 2014 12:20 pm | By

A Fox News station in Arkansas asks a question on its Facebook page. It asks: Is this method of restraining juveniles torture?

The Yell County Juvenile Detention Center uses this restraint mechanism called the “wrap system”. Some juvenile detainees call it “torture”. Now, the Arkansas Department of Human Services has sent a cease and desist letter to Yell County officials asking them to stop using the device. What do you think about the wrap system?

It supplies a photo of the “restraint mechanism”:

Yes, that’s torture. Thank you for asking.

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