Notes and Comment Blog

You call that pluralism?

Apr 11th, 2014 12:07 pm | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piss off, CAIR.


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

Pants on fire

Apr 11th, 2014 11:36 am | By

Ohhhhhhhhh fuck you, BBC.

Today’s must-read

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

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

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

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

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

The decision was denounced by conservative commentators.

But not exclusively conservative commentators, you stinking weasels.

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

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s “Women Victims of Islam”

Apr 11th, 2014 11:22 am | By

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

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

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

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

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

Women Victims of Islam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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


Apr 11th, 2014 10:28 am | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further thoughts on Brandeis

Apr 11th, 2014 9:56 am | By

And another thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re in good hands with the Vatican

Apr 10th, 2014 5:45 pm | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s how they roll.


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

Dave Silverman writes an Open Letter to Brandeis

Apr 10th, 2014 1:10 pm | By

This is that letter.

April 10, 2014

Dear Mr. Lawrence,

I remember well my years attending Brandeis University. I remember the classes, the teachers, the students, and even the food. But perhaps most of all, I remember the activism.

I remember the student tables in Usdan pushing a diverse set of agendas. I remember the Republicans and Democrats; I remember Triskelion promoting awareness of LGBT issues. I remember a speech by Meir Kahane, who actively preached the murder of Muslims in Israel, proclaiming “violence is not the road to peace, but it is the road to survival.” I remember a student-made and staffed shanty-town protesting Brandeis’ investment in South Africa during Apartheid, and the pride I felt when Brandeis wisely divested.

Today, that pride is gone as Brandeis has caved to religious intolerance masquerading as political correctness and uninvited a valuable voice in the discussion of religion in public life, Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Ms. Hirsi Ali is not “hateful” as some have claimed, nor does she promote violence. She is an eloquent spokesperson for the millions of women and children worldwide who live under the tyrannical thumb of Islam, as she did as a child. She speaks out in defense of justice, equality, and freedom of expression for all people. She speaks for me.

My education at Brandeis has, in no small way, allowed me to rise to the position of president of American Atheists. My job, and indeed my reason for waking up in the morning, is to fight for the rights of those whose voices too often go unheard in the forum of public debate. Those whose most basic freedoms are crushed by theocratic regimes throughout the world.

Addressing some of the most fundamental questions about human rights, particularly the rights of self-determination and free expression, is complex and difficult. When entrenched religious beliefs are used to justify cruel, immoral actions against hundreds of millions of people, we have an obligation to speak out. The criticism of religious beliefs has, in recent years, become taboo for some. This taboo, perhaps, has grown as a result of the privilege we have to live in places where diversity and the agency of individuals is paramount. Ms. Hirsi Ali’s experiences, however, are different.

Her background allows her to speak with clarity about one of the most challenging questions of our time: whether a robust commitment to equality, diversity, dialogue, and social justice is possible when we look the other way when confronted with the realities of Islamic extremism.

What you have done to Ms. Hirsi Ali is rob her of such an opportunity. You have robbed her of the opportunity to speak to Brandeis students about her lived experiences as a child in Somalia and Kenya. You have ended the “dialogue about these important issues” before it has even begun.

I find it inconceivable that you elected to invite her to speak and honor her with a degree without knowing what she stands for and what she has said about the destructive role that religion in general, and Islam in particular, plays in the well-being of women. What you have done is cave to the pressure of those who wish to censor the realities of the lived experiences of a brave woman.

No new information has changed your mind; you chose to stand with those who would rather ignore Ms. Hirsi Ali than to engage with her and with the very real problems she fights.

Recent polling indicates that fully one-third of college-aged Americans are non-religious. Many are atheists. We stand for freedom of expression and of conscience. We stand for the right to criticize all institutions and ideas, including the ones that some hold most dear. We support the rights of all people to live without being married off as children or having their genitals mutilated in the name of “culture” or religion.

I abhor your decision to withdraw your invitation to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Her work as a defender of the rights of women against abuses that are often religiously motivated deserves recognition and honor. You have chosen instead to side with people who see criticism of religion as a crime.

Today, you have done nothing to “safeguard the safety, dignity, and well-being” of the members of our global community. You have only prevented a powerful voice for such action from being heard by your students. And you have done so in perhaps the most cowardly and dishonorable ways possible.

For the first time in my life, I am ashamed of my association with Brandeis University. Accordingly, I am withdrawing my membership in the Alumni Association, ending financial support of the University, and encouraging others to do the same.

I question whether Brandeis is still a place in which all ideas are open for discussion. No worldview, political position, and certainly no religion is above criticism. I will encourage students who value activism, diversity, and freedom of expression to choose educational opportunities other than Brandeis. Until Ms. Hirsi Ali receives an apology from the University, I will continue to question your professed commitment to these values.

It is my hope that Brandeis again becomes a place that thrives on diversity and dialogue and returns to its history of unapologetic activism and social justice, even in the face of criticism and adversity.

Goodbye, Brandeis.


Dave Silverman ‘88

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

Actually Cameron should be ashamed to say so

Apr 10th, 2014 12:29 pm | By

The BHA notes that Cameron too is doing the “Britain is a _____ country” number.

Echoing the deeply mistaken comments of Communities Secretary Eric Pickles MP earlier this week, the Prime Minister David Cameron has today repeated the assertion that ‘Britain is a Christian country and we shouldn’t be ashamed to say so’ at a reception for Christians at Downing Street.

You know, you really would think that people in government, of all people, would know better than to say things like that. You would think that even though it’s obvious enough why people who depend on elections to do their chosen jobs are likely to pander to their audiences of the moment.

Cameron should know better than to say things like that because he’s simply defining a big chunk of the population as Alien. That’s a grotesque thing for someone in government to do.

However true it is that Britain is formally “a Christian country” it’s not at all true as a description, and the two are muddled together when people hear the claim. Prime ministers and presidents shouldn’t use that ambiguity to declare part of the population outsiders.

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

“Hats off to Brandeis University!”

Apr 10th, 2014 10:09 am | By

But of course there are people who are delighted that Brandeis University decided to publicly shame Ayaan Hirsi Ali by withdrawing its already announced award of an honorary degree. One of them is Duke University’s Muslim chaplain Imam Abdullah Antepli. He has a piece at the Huffington Post rejoicing at Brandeis’s clumsy and insulting move.

He tells us he was shocked by Brandeis’s decision to honor Ayan Hirsi Ali, and that he was all the more shocked because of Brandeis’s wonderful record of commitment to equality, diversity, dialogue and social justice.

Ok wait a second hang on. What about Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s record of commitment to equality, diversity, dialogue and social justice? Does that go for nothing?

Look. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, like a lot of people, thinks Islam does not have a fabulous record of commitment to equality, diversity, dialogue and social justice. That’s the issue here. It’s not a matter of Brandeis liking equality, diversity, dialogue and social justice, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali not liking it. It’s a matter of Hirsi Ali seeing a massive tension between Islam and equality, which many people prefer to conceal or deny. It’s deceptive to pretend that all the concern for equality and social justice is on the side that hates Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

But that is how Antepli sets up his case.

[Brandeis] is one of the most diverse and welcoming campuses in the U.S. where all minorities thrive, including, and especially, Muslims on its campus. Before many other universities, Brandeis had and still has so many Muslim students, faculty members, administrators and a Muslim Chaplain.

How on earth could this university make such a move to endorse Ali, who is a professional Islamophobe and has a deeply troubling and destructive track record of publicly expressing hateful views of Islam and Muslims? For those who do not know who Ali is, she is one of several ex-Muslims whose souls were deeply scarred by the way they experienced Islam and various local cultural practices in their own life. She and others like her later found themselves spokespeople and poster children of those who have passionately promoted the “Clash of Civilizations” theory between Islam and the West since early 1990s.

All these Ayan Hirsi Ali’s needed to do was generalize their tragic and heart-wrenching personal experiences to the entire world of Islam and Muslims to verify and validate the demonic and monstrous images of this faith and its followers that these “Clash” dreamers have been championing.

He wants us to think that Hirsi Ali’s experience of Islam was peculiar and not generalizable, but that’s bullshit. There’s an abundant record documenting just how generalizable it is.

Having said all of this, I firmly and unequivocally support Ali and her supporters’ freedom to say whatever they want to say. I despise censorship and believe in the sanctity of freedom of speech. I also find Muslim hypersensitivity over criticism of Islam to be foolish and immature. The problem is, simply put, why a university with outstanding moral values would put a kosher seal of endorsement on hate, de-legitimization, dehumanization and exclusion and contradict herself with its core values?

Thank God and to all those who were involved. The story took admirable turns after it became public. Brandeis’ community and friends of Brandeis turned this potentially disastrous and destructive scandal into an admirable and exemplary teaching moment for all. Numerous Brandeis faculty, staff, students, alumni, donors and community members fiercely protested the University’s decision and demanded for it to be rescinded. So many others from all around the country joined in support of the protest and signed petitions.

Brandeis’ decision-makers admirably moved quickly to correct this mistake and withdrew their decision to award the honorary degree to Ali.

He can’t do both. He can’t say he firmly and unequivocally supports Ali and her supporters’ freedom to say whatever they want to say and say Brandeis did the right thing by withdrawing the honor. Not giving her the honor in the first place is one thing, but giving it and then taking it back is quite quite another.

This mid-course correction is admirable, worthy of applause and exemplary for all, but especially, Muslims all around the world. This decision sets a moral standard for all of us in how not to turn each other’s renegades into heroes in our communities.

Renegades?? Just call her an apostate or a traitor and be done with it. People are allowed to change their minds, and yes, actually, we do get to pay special attention to that and rejoice at it. We can also frown at it and regret it if it’s a change from something we endorse to something we despise. If someone leaves the Catholic church, I rejoice; if someone converts to Catholicism, I scowl. Either way I don’t call anyone a “renegade” – that’s a revolting concept. It’s a part of the world view of Islam that critics of Islam particularly dislike: the notion that you are forbidden to change your mind.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you, Brandeis University, President Frederick Lawrence and all others who are behind this exemplary moral act. Thank you for not damaging already fragile, Jewish-Muslim relations any further. Thank you for not pulling the rug from under the feet of people who are admirably trying to repair the relationship and bridge the gap between these divided communities. As my Jewish brothers and sisters say, “Yashar Koach!” Well done, hats off to all of you and thank you.

There’s the thuggish note again. “Thank you for not damaging already fragile, Jewish-Muslim relations any further.” “Nice little place you got here, shame if something was to happen to it.”

This piece of dreck was originally published by the Duke Chronicle. Apparently the Huffington Post liked it enough to ask to republish it. Epithet deleted, Huffington Post.


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

Ayaan Hirsi Ali responds

Apr 9th, 2014 4:47 pm | By

A statement published by the Boston Globe:

Yesterday Brandeis University decided to withdraw an honorary degree they were to confer upon me next month during their Commencement exercises. I wish to dissociate myself from the university’s statement, which implies that I was in any way consulted about this decision. On the contrary, I was completely shocked when President Frederick Lawrence called me—just a few hours before issuing a public statement—to say that such a decision had been made.

Oh looky there, that statement of theirs was even more deceitful than was apparent on the surface (which is how deceit works). I did wonder how that conversation had gone – “Hi, Ayaan, we’re taking the honorary degree back, you’re cool with that, right?” “Are you kidding me?” But I didn’t venture to speculate. So it’s good to have it spelled out that those miserable cowards wrote the statement to make it look as if she had agreed to the backsies when she did no such thing, he simply called her and told her.

When Brandeis approached me with the offer of an honorary degree, I accepted partly because of the institution’s distinguished history; it was founded in 1948, in the wake of World War II and the Holocaust, as a co-educational, nonsectarian university at a time when many American universities still imposed rigid admission quotas on Jewish students. I assumed that Brandeis intended to honor me for my work as a defender of the rights of women against abuses that are often religious in origin. For over a decade, I have spoken out against such practices as female genital mutilation, so-called “honor killings,” and applications of Sharia Law that justify such forms of domestic abuse as wife beating or child beating. Part of my work has been to question the role of Islam in legitimizing such abhorrent practices. So I was not surprised when my usual critics, notably the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), protested against my being honored in this way.

What did surprise me was the behavior of Brandeis. Having spent many months planning for me to speak to its students at Commencement, the university yesterday announced that it could not “overlook certain of my past statements,” which it had not previously been aware of. Yet my critics have long specialized in selective quotation – lines from interviews taken out of context – designed to misrepresent me and my work. It is scarcely credible that Brandeis did not know this when they initially offered me the degree.

What was initially intended as an honor has now devolved into a moment of shaming. Yet the slur on my reputation is not the worst aspect of this episode. More deplorable is that an institution set up on the basis of religious freedom should today so deeply betray its own founding principles. The “spirit of free expression” referred to in the Brandeis statement has been stifled here, as my critics have achieved their objective of preventing me from addressing the graduating Class of 2014. Neither Brandeis nor my critics knew or even inquired as to what I might say. They simply wanted me to be silenced. I regret that very much.

Not content with a public disavowal, Brandeis has invited me “to join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue about these important issues.” Sadly, in words and deeds, the university has already spoken its piece. I have no wish to “engage” in such one-sided dialogue. I can only wish the Class of 2014 the best of luck—and hope that they will go forth to be better advocates for free expression and free thought than their alma mater. I take this opportunity to thank all those who have supported me and my work on behalf of oppressed woman and girls everywhere.

Thank you for doing the work.


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

Brush up your press release, start hiding it now

Apr 9th, 2014 4:38 pm | By

Brandeis’s original press release about its honorary degrees and commencement speaker for this year, via the Internet Archive:

brandBrandeis’s revised press release about its honorary degrees and commencement speaker for this year:

brand2We have always been at war with Eastasia.



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

Somebody did something, but we can’t say who

Apr 9th, 2014 3:56 pm | By

Brandeis issued a revoltingly passive-aggressive cowardly evasive statement about its chickenshit surrender to theocrats.

Following a discussion today between President Frederick Lawrence and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ms. Hirsi Ali’s name has been withdrawn as an honorary degree recipient at this year’s commencement.

Weasels. Say it! “We rescinded our honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali scheduled for this year’s commencement.” Say “we,” dammit! Don’t say her “name has been withdrawn” as if it had been a miracle. There’s an agent or agents here; word your statement accordingly. “President Frederick Lawrence talked to Ayaan Hirsi Ali today and told her we’re withdrawing her name as an honorary degree recipient at this year’s commencement.” Own it, say it, use subjects instead of the agentless passive voice.

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

Commencement is about celebrating and honoring our extraordinary students and their accomplishments, and we are committed to providing an atmosphere that allows our community’s focus to be squarely on our students. In the spirit of free expression that has defined Brandeis University throughout its history, Ms. Hirsi Ali is welcome to join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue about these important issues.

That’s it, that’s the rest of it. Note the total lack of an apology to Hirsi Ali for offering her something and then taking it back. Note the craven smarmy ass-covering blather. Notice, and spit.




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

Brandeis! You’re on the naughty stool

Apr 9th, 2014 12:43 pm | By

Holy shit. Brandeis has withdrawn an honorary degree for Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Brandeis University said in a statement that Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali would no longer receive the honorary degree, which it had planned to award her at the May 18 commencement.

That is shocking.

Ali, a member of the Dutch parliament from 2003 to 2006, has been quoted as making comments critical of Islam. That includes a 2007 interview with Reason Magazine in which she said of the religion: “Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace. I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars.”

Brandeis, outside Boston in Waltham, Massachusetts, said it was not aware of Ali’s statements earlier.

That’s it? That’s what they’ve got?

I don’t agree with everything she says, much less her relationship with the Cato American Enterprise Institute, but that quotation seems like a very thin reason to withdraw an honorary degree a month before it was going to be awarded.

In 2007, Ali helped establish the AHA Foundation, which works to protect and defend the rights of women in the West from oppression justified by religion and culture, according to its website. The foundation also strives to protect basic rights and freedoms of women and girls. This includes control of their own bodies, access to an education and the ability to work outside the home and control their own income, the website says.

More than 85 of about 350 faculty members at Brandeis signed a letter asking for Ali to be booted off the list of honorary degree recipients. And an online petition created Monday by students at the school of 5,800 had gathered thousands of signatures from inside and outside the university as of Tuesday afternoon.

Her foundation works to protect and defend the rights of women in the West from oppression justified by religion and culture, so Brandeis first offered her the honorary degree and then snatched it back. Well shame on you, Brandeis. I don’t like that phrase, but it seems like the only one that fits here. Shame.

“This is a real slap in the face to Muslim students,” senior Sarah Fahmy, a member of the Muslim Student Association who created the petition, said of the honor before the university withdrew it.

Oh, please. It is not. Catholic students shouldn’t have a veto on critics of the Vatican and Muslim students shouldn’t have a veto on critics of Islam.

Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy group, said, “It is unconscionable that such a prestigious university would honor someone with such openly hateful views.”

The organization sent a letter to Lawrence on Tuesday requesting that it drop its plans to honor Ali.

“This makes Muslim students feel very uneasy,” Joseph Lumbard, chairman of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies, said in an earlier interview. “They feel unwelcome here.”

So Brandeis totally caved. Disgusting.

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

That’s a progressive sexual politics?

Apr 9th, 2014 12:00 pm | By

Comment is Free has a supremely stupid piece saying that it ought to be fine to make “a direct, unambiguous sexual advance” to a total stranger, and it’s a terrible thing that this pesky feminism shit is saying otherwise.

David Foster, the author of the supremely stupid piece, is worried that the Everyday Sexism project is making the world unfriendly for people who want to make direct sexual advances to strangers.

The campaign against everyday sexism has shown that a deeply unpleasant vein of misogyny still runs through our society. But in highlighting the antisocial, misguided behaviour of some unreconstructed individuals, it is important to be aware that such behaviour is not representative of most men’s attitudes. More worryingly, from the perspective of a progressive sexual politics there is a danger that the campaign is promulgating a view that any direct sexual advance is tantamount to harassment. If directly propositioning somebody for sex is automatically condemned as misogynist, as the campaign appears to assert, then the movement risks being highly counterproductive to the feminist cause and playing into the hands of the sexually repressive, patriarchal ideology that feminism strives to counter.

One of the ways the piece is supremely stupid is that he doesn’t spell out what he means by “directly propositioning somebody for sex” until near the end. That’s supremely stupid because it makes a difference, obviously. Who is “somebody”? Is it somebody you’ve been flirting with for an hour? Or is it somebody approaching you on the sidewalk, whom you’ve never seen before? It makes a difference. Toward the end he clarifies that he means the second. He’s speaking up for the endangered right to ask a stranger for sex.

Most of the behaviour reported to Laura Bates’s Everyday Sexism project does indeed sound reprehensible, but by lumping together sexual assaults and genuinely threatening behaviour with casual propositions, the campaign risks conflating deplorable and even criminal acts with sexually liberated expression. More to the point, there is a risk of comparing offensive and clumsy sexual remarks with respectful, courteous sexual advances.

A respectful, courteous sexual advance from a complete stranger in a public place is an oxymoron. Going up to a woman you don’t know and asking her very nicely if she wants to fuck you is not respectful and courteous.

Foster draws the line in the wrong place. It’s not sexual assault and genuinely threatening behaviour on the one hand and all courteous, respectful, direct, unambiguous sexual advances on the other. That’s not where the line goes. Yes, I understand why a lot of men would like it to, but the whole issue here is the notion that their desire to make direct sexual advances whenever they want to should not trump other people’s desire not to be the object of direct sexual advances at all times and places.

Feminists quite rightly espouse that both women and men should have the right to pursue sexual pleasure purely for its own sake, outside of a monogamous relationship, and independent of the patriarchal strictures of consumer capitalism. As such, there is nothing inherently sexist, or threatening or harassing, about making a direct, unambiguous sexual advance to another person. We are conditioned to find such propositions taboo because an expression of straightforward, unencumbered desire transgresses prevailing ideology.

Again – that’s true in the right context and circumstances. It’s not true in the context David Foster has in mind but doesn’t spell out until nearly the end of the piece. He occludes what he means by “another person” until after he’s done all this self-righteous generalizing. Cheap trick.

Then we get some Marcuse and Freud. Capitalism, restraints, civilized society, money, spending and consumption, ding ding toot toot. Therefore, hey, baby, wanna fuck?

Sexual gratification pursued for its own sake is an activity that need take little or no account of such concerns, and so behaviour that might give rise to such pleasure is thereby tabooed. This is why, despite our natural instincts towards seeking sexual pleasure, direct sexual advances remain extremely uncommon and why such an approach should not be condemned as harassment, but on the contrary should be recognised as a liberated approach to sexual etiquette and thus be welcomed by feminists, sexual progressives and anti-capitalists alike.

No, that is not why, you dolt. Think of it this way. Would you like it if strangers kept approaching you to ask you to make dinner for the two of you? Or go to a concert with them? Or fly with them to Disney World?

Maybe you would, but I doubt it. Lots of things are fun to do with friends and intimates that are nevertheless not things you want strangers asking you to do. And that’s without even getting into the intimidation and threat aspect. (I can tell you, spending time in a place where you really are subject to constant relentless direct sexual advances is massively intimidating. It’s not oh lalalala freedom joy liberation hooray, it’s a hell of unfreedom and feeling pursued and under pressure. It’s feeling like a person who has no right to be left alone – like an object, an underling, a captive, a hunted animal. It’s vile.)

The behavioural codes of contemporary society already make it extremely difficult for both men and women to approach strangers with a view towards making sexual advances. This should be a source of regret to us all. There is no shame in feeling and expressing sexual attraction, and we should be promoting conditions that give rise to as much mutual sexual pleasure as possible. After all, it’s one of the greatest pleasures life offers. And it’s free! Of course, this very freedom exemplifies why unencumbered sexual pleasure presents such a problem for those who would support the sexually repressive ideologies that still prevail today.

The supreme stupidity is just too much at this point. That’s the bit where he finally reveals that he is indeed talking about abrupt sexual advances from strangers, and where he betrays that he has all the empathy of a sofa cushion. It’s apparently never even crossed his mind that a lot of people just don’t want to be accosted by strangers at all, let alone with a request to fuck.

We can all agree that aggressive, lewd behaviour is deplorable. But what lies behind some of the crude and boorish conduct catalogued by the Everyday Sexism project is repressed sexuality. It is only by becoming more sexually liberated that those energies might come to be expressed in a respectful way. To promote the outright condemnation of any and all direct sexual propositions* would be a disastrously regressive step for the feminist movement. It is a clear indication of how much ground the left has ceded in recent decades that any of this needs restating at all. Whatever happened to the sexual revolution?

*by strangers. He left that bit out again. Nobody is promoting the outright condemnation of any and all direct sexual propositions. The issue is not direct sexual propositions as such, it’s direct sexual propositions by strangers. He’s not only supremely stupid, he’s also chickenshit. He takes this bold liberationist stance but at the same time he only once explicitly says he’s talking about advances from strangers. So, pretty much an everyday sexist then.



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

A virtue

Apr 9th, 2014 10:47 am | By

Charlie Klendjian agrees with those who think the BBC’s The Big Questions is pretty much crap, but he also says it has its virtues, or at least virtue.

First the crap part.

I must be frank. When the email invite appeared in my inbox I hesitated before accepting it. Not only would I have to overcome a discomfort of public speaking (I’m the quiet shy type), but I would also have to swallow a good degree of pride because I’ve always thought the programme is a bit – how can I put this politely – rubbish. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve screamed at my telly whilst watching the programme, or thrown the remote control on the sofa and stormed into the kitchen to pour some more aviation-fuel strength black coffee to make my heart beat even faster. When I told friends and family about my forthcoming breakthrough media appearance a number of them asked when I was planning to do a DNA test on the Jeremy Kyle Show (some of my friends and family are hilarious).

Of course, awfulness can sometimes be all the more reason for accepting the invitation (I’m looking at you, Bill O’Reilly).

I can’t lie. There is indeed much to grumble about. The programme reduces complex moral and legal ingredients to a concentrated jus of pithy little soundbites, a point Foxton makes in his piece. It also asks misleading questions of its audience. For example, the tagline for the episode I appeared on was, “Should human rights always outweigh religious rights?”. This overlooks the fact that religious belief and manifestation of religious belief are themselves human rights. And as a secularist I am constantly enraged by the assumption, which is helpfully perpetuated by this programme and by the media and our political class more generally, that any discussion of moral issues, or human rights, must by definition involve religious figures (or “leaders” as they’re often generously called). Of course, religious figures are perfectly entitled to contribute to the pressing moral concerns of our age but they must compete on a flat playing field on the strengths of their actual arguments, just like everyone else, and not on the basis of an assumed, highly elevated, privileged and often very undeserved platform.

That’s all the more true given that religion tends to be bad on moral issues, not better than the average citizen but sharply worse.

But my intention here is not to twist a knife. No, I want to focus instead on one outstanding contribution the Big Questions has made to our public discourse. It is an achievement that must not go unrecognised by secularists or indeed by anyone who places a high value on free speech.

To put it mildly the episode I appeared on created something of a stir. The Big Questions became the first programme to depict Mohammed on British television and in doing so it successfully challenged a de facto blasphemy code in this country which has a sorry evolutionary trail leading directly back to the Salman Rushdie affair.

And, he goes on to point out, Newsnight and Channel4 News did not. Newsnight and Channel4 News conspicuously declined to show the putative depiction of Mohammed (actually, as we all know, a body double), thus lending respectability to the threats against Maajid Nawaz and making his stance even more difficult and dangerous.

When it comes to secularism the stakes don’t get much higher than restrictions on free speech which are enforced by the implicit or explicit threat of violence. So go ahead. Make your snobby, witty remarks about the Big Questions. Take your cheap shots. But when you’ve finished be gracious enough to give them credit for standing up to the pitchfork crew. They deserve a gold medal.

A couple of weeks ago Newsnight ran a special on Maajid Nawaz and this time – mercifully – they did show the image of Mohammed. So they can now polish their silver medal with pride. And they can thank the Big Questions for organising the race.

Don’t ever forget this: the Big Questions, that embarrassing little boy of television programmes, showed the big boys how to do their job – and how to behave like grown-ups.

With lots of help from outsiders, Charlie Klendjian and Maajid Nawaz and Author of Jesus and Mo among them.


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

And going for a pint won’t end global warming, either

Apr 8th, 2014 5:56 pm | By

Sigh. Nick Cohen’s a friend, and normally I like his stuff, but a piece in the Spectator saying words don’t matter so don’t be so politically correct…no, I can’t like that. I can’t and won’t.

Worry about whether you, or more pertinently anyone you wish to boss about, should say ‘person with special needs’ instead of ‘disabled’ or ‘challenged’ instead of ‘mentally handicapped’ and you will enjoy a righteous glow. You will not do anything, however, to provide health care and support to the mentally and physically handicapped, the old or the sick.

Sigh. No kidding. Nobody thinks it will; that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. You know what else will not do anything to provide health care and support to the mentally and physically handicapped, the old or the sick? This column in the Spectator, or any other column Nick has written, or the books Nick has written. So what? We’re allowed to do things other than or in addition to providing health care and support to the mentally and physically handicapped, the old or the sick.

That kind of observation is worthy of a purple-faced Colonel Blimp cursing the working classes from the snooker room at his club. Don’t be that guy, Nick.

Indeed, your insistence that you can change the world by changing language, and deal with racism or homophobia merely by not offending the feelings of interest groups, is likely to allow real racism and homophobia to flourish unchallenged, and the sick and disadvantaged to continue to suffer from polite neglect.

Nobody does insist that. Don’ This dreck is unworthy of you.



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

A fair share of the blame

Apr 8th, 2014 5:43 pm | By

A guy called Freddy Gray takes to the Spectator to say if you don’t like revenge porn then don’t let anyone take pictures of you porning.

,,,surely the answer is not more laws, which would be hard to define and possibly quite limiting of free speech, but for women (and men) to realise that if you let somebody film you in flagrante then you may be setting yourself up for a future disgrace. In the digital age, especially, you are dicing with danger.

I know I know, I’m being a prude. Filming yourselves having sex is just a really bloody normal and sexy thing for consenting adults to do now, like using dildos or wearing bondage gear. Get real man. The bad thing is not the act, but the publication of the material without consent — the breach of trust and so on.

Yet does anyone stop to think about why DIY porn is so popular? Might it not be precisely because it is dangerous? You are recording — committing to film, laying down as reviewable evidence — one of the most private things you can do with a human being. It’s seedy because it is risky. That’s why people feel an urge to do it.

More and more, we expect some official agency to restore our dignity by punishing those who humiliate us. But if you have allowed some creepy bloke (or girl) to turn you into an unwilling porn star, you probably deserve a fair share of the blame.

Actually no, you don’t. Having consensual sex is not blameworthy; taking consensual pictures of that sex is not blameworthy; making such pictures public without consent is blameworthy. Let’s have a little clarity around here. The person who is to blame for revenge porn is the person who unilaterally posts the video or photo to the internet, and no one else.

H/t Christopher Moyer

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

Guest post by Leo Igwe: Kpatinga: Another ‘Witch’ Village in Ghana

Apr 8th, 2014 5:01 pm | By
I just returned from Kpatinga, another village in northern Ghana where alleged witches take refuge. One unique thing about witchcraft belief in Northern Ghana is that there are safe spaces for ‘witches’. A ‘witch’ must not be suffered to die as the scripture says. There are villages that welcome and rehabilitate victims of witchcraft accusations. Kpatinga is one of them. It is around 75 miles from the regional capital, Tamale. The major challenge to anyone visiting the ‘witch’ camp is access. Kpatinga is remotely located. To visit the village from Tamale one must stop over at Gushegu town. The journey from Tamale to Gushegu town is about 3 hours. Apart from the Metro Mass Buses, other commercial buses ply this route three times a day- in the morning, afternoon and evening especially on Gushegu market days. I arrived the bus station shortly before noon. I was told there were no more tickets. I stood there for some time contemplating cancelling the trip. I did not want to arrive Gushegu in the night.
A few minutes later the young man who told me that the tickets had finished came around. He brought out a rough piece of paper from his pocket. The white paper had turned brown because of dust and dirt. Number 68 was written at the back of the ‘ticket’. He gave it to me and stretched out his hand asking for the bus fare. I stared at the ticket for a while. But a female student from Karga Senior High who was waiting to board the same bus told me it was a bus ticket.
I paid for it though I was thinking it might be one of those bus tickets with no seats. I was not ready to stand from Tamale to Gushegu. From my experiences traveling in Nigeria and Ghana, one does not ask for a refund of such ticket fares, that is if they are genuine tickets. As I suspected, there was no bus seat for number 68 . The last seat number was 48 or 51, I cannot recall exactly. I went back to the man who issued me the ticket. He told me to exercise patience and allow the ‘main’ passengers to board. Yes I was in for a journey of patience. My seat number was for the improvised seats on the aisle. He got me a place to sit down and wait for other passengers to board. As we were about to depart, I took my seat but lo and behold it was meant for two people. The other passenger was a woman. She was very fat. She tried squeezing herself to sit down without success. There were already two fat women sitting on my left and on my right. The ‘seat space’ was tight and could not take another fat person. One slim guy sitting in front of us volunteered to exchange his seat space with hers. We were now six passengers sitting in a row meant for four.
Before we left Tamale two hawkers came into the bus. They sold ‘medicine’ to the passengers. The first person was a man. He sold some herbal medicine manufactured in Accra! And later came a woman. She was over 70 but still agile. The woman had a loud voice. As soon as she entered the bus, she shouted Asaalam aleikum to gain the attention of passengers who were struggling to squeeze in themselves or their luggage. She was selling some ‘Islamic’ medicine from Mecca. I bought one of the Mecca medicines for spiritual attacks, bad dreams, evil spirits for inclusion in my ‘witchcraft artefacts’.
The bus was scheduled to depart by noon but we left a few minutes before 2.00pm. That was after every available space in the bus had been occupied by passengers and their luggage including some spaces around the driver’s seat. Those who could not find a place to sit stood throughout the journey.
The tarred section of the road ended a few kilometres after Tamale, and the rest was filled with potholes. There were patches of tarred road at the district headquarters along the way – at Savelugu/Nanton, Karga etc. It had rained a few days earlier, so the road was not dusty. At some points during the trip, there were so many potholes. The bus was shaking and quaking as if the vehicle would scatter and disassemble into parts at any moment. But it didn’t.
I was not surprised at all when a few kilometers to Gushegu our bus developed some fault. The driver tried to fix it. The vehicle needed more mechanical attention. But the driver managed it till we got to Gushegu around 6pm. I checked into the Guest House of the District Assembly after making arrangements for a moto bike that would convey me to Kpatinga the next day.
I arrived Kpatinga by 8.00 in the morning after a 40 minute ride. Sampa, the Tindana as the local earth priest is called in Dagbani, was waiting at the camp. Sampa dropped out at Primary 4 and has been working as the Tindana for over two decades. He understood some English but could not communicate effectively. We spoke through an interpreter, a teacher from a nearby school. Sampa could not say exactly when he started working as the Tindana. According to him, it was before the 1994 conflict between the Dagombas and the Konkombas. There are 42 alleged witches in the camp at Kpatinga. Nine children are staying at the camp with their mothers or grand mothers. Sampa explained that the ‘witch’ camp started ‘since Kwame Nkrumah regime’. The aim was ‘to save people suspected of witchcraft’. People accused of witchcraft are banished from their communities. Some of the accused flee on their own to avoid being killed. To be admitted into the camp, an alleged witch must be accompanied by family members or relatives. Sampa said emphatically that any alleged witch that arrived there without a family member or relative would not be allowed to stay.
An alleged witch gives a goat, a guinea fowl and a local chicken and 100 Gh Cedis to the Tindana. The goat and fowls are used to perform sacrifice to the gods. The sacrifice is used to ask the gods for spiritual protection of the alleged witch. The alleged witch is made to drink Nyuhima - a mixture of shrine water and the blood of the goat or fowl used for sacrifice – to cleanse or disable witchcraft powers the accused might have.
There is no ritual test to confirm the witchcraft powers as is the case in Kukuo camp.
Sampa made it clear that without presenting the goat and fowls, no alleged witch is admitted into the camp. The fee is not mandatory. Some of the alleged witches who could not afford it paid less, 40 Gh Cedi or whatever they could afford. This process applies when people come to take their family member away. Sampa refused to tell me how he conducts the sacrifice at the shrine.
The alleged witches in Kpatinga camp face so many challenges. They lack money, food, clothing, toilet facilities and electricity. But some NGOs have been helping address their needs. A faith-based NGO, World Vision, built small rooms for them. Many of the alleged witches occupy these rooms while others still live in huts. World Vision also installed a grinding machine for the women. Action Aid and Songtaba supply them clothes and cooking pots. Simon Ngotha’s Witch hunt Victims Empowerment Project provides them health insurance and hired a teacher who gives English lessons to the women.
Some of the alleged witches who are strong enough engage in farm work. Some help people who have big farms in farming and harvesting. They get some farm produce in return which they sell to gain some income. Some of the women I interviewed were unhappy with their situation at the witch camp. They want to go home. They want to go back to their families and communities but they cannot due to witchcraft allegations. Superstitions and various misconceptions about death and diseases are at the root of these allegations.
The allegations range from being responsible for deaths in their family, to inflicting people with sickness and appearing in people’s dreams. Some of the women were beaten before they were driven out of the community. Before coming to the ‘witch camp’, some fled to stay with family members who refused to accommodate them because of witchcraft related fears and stigma. Others came down to settle at the camp as soon as they were accused. Their family or community members are very angry and do not want to set their eyes on them again. These women have been forced to adopt Kpatinga as their home and community, as the only safe place to be and to live for now, if not forever.
Leo Igwe April 4, 2014

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

We want formula

Apr 8th, 2014 4:24 pm | By

Speaking of privilege and white middle-class feminism and all that – remember the women of the miners’ strike.

Within weeks, the national Women Against Pit Closures campaign was launched. It propelled miners’ wives, sisters and daughters into the heart of the epic struggle against the Thatcher government, challenged miners’ and other trade unionists’ assumptions about gender roles, and galvanised a feminist movement that had been dominated by middle-class, educated women. The ideals of feminism – political, economic and social equality and independence – channelled back into the mining communities. The profound impact on the daily lives of women is still being felt 30 years later.

In May 1984, 5,000 women from pit villages across the country attended a rally in Barnsley, and a few months later 23,000 miners’ wives marched through London. Women from the coalfields were arrested on picket lines, addressed rallies across the UK and Europe, and chained themselves to colliery gates. A partnership between miners’ wives and the feminist anti-nuclear camp at Greenham Common raised money and consciousness.

Ever seen Salt of the Earth? It’s like that – a strike that’s also full of feminist politics. A classic.

Looking back after 30 years, Liz says that: “In some ways, the strike was the best time of our lives. These men worked underground, had never been anywhere – and for some of them it was a real eye-opener. They weren’t fighting to go back underground, they were fighting to save communities. The women – we struggled, but we all ate our dinner together, with the kids. So there were nice times.

“Now it’s awful round here. I couldn’t even tell you who lives on my road now, and I used to know everyone. The welfare club used to be packed every night. Now it’s all strangers. I miss the community.”

Where’s my copy of The Making of the English Working Class

H/t Maureen

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

The charging of toddlers is relatively rare

Apr 8th, 2014 3:54 pm | By

News from Pakistan’s shambolic legal system – the police charged a nine-month-old baby with attempted murder.

Musa was among five people identified in a police document known as a first information report (FIR) following disturbances in February in a slum area of Lahore when workers for a gas company came to try to disconnect houses that had not paid their bills.

According to the FIR, written by a now suspended assistant sub-inspector, Musa and his co-accused tried to kill the gas company workers and the policemen accompanying them by throwing stones.

The people living in the area maintain there was only ever a peaceful protest. “There were only women in the houses at daytime and they resisted this discontinuing of supply,” Yasin said. “Later we blocked the road and raised slogans against police.”

Lawyers say it is all too common for police to resort to collective punishment of entire families, often at the instigation of the complainant. “Most of the time people don’t really want justice at the hands of the courts,” said Sundas Hoorain, a lawyer who specialises in murder cases. “It is really all about taking revenge, and that means making the other party suffer as much as possible by putting whole families through hell.”

Kind of makes you appreciate the rule of law, don’t it.

The charging of toddlers is relatively rare, although there are examples of young children being ensnared in the country’s blasphemy laws, which have been much criticised by human rights groups.

That’s a sentence for the ages – “The charging of toddlers is relatively rare.” Well good, glad to hear it.

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