Notes and Comment Blog

The sooner you go to the treatment centre the better chance you have of surviving

Jul 31st, 2014 11:04 am | By

Tulip Mazumdar reports on the Ebola crisis in Guinea for the BBC.

This is the final resting place of the latest victim of Ebola: a four-month-old baby boy called Faya.

He caught the virus from his mother, who died a few weeks earlier.

His is the 20th anonymous grave in this dark and lonely clearing.

“I was there with him just before he died,” says Adele Millimouno, a Medicines Sans Frontieres (MSF) nurse recruited from a nearby village.

“I had been feeding him milk. I stepped away, just for a short break, but then I was called back and he was dead. I was totally devastated.”

There is confusion and fear, and sometimes resistance to health workers.

Tarik Jasarevic, from the World Health Organization, says unclear messages from health workers about the virus at the start of the outbreak is partly to blame for villages closing their doors.

“People heard there is no vaccine or treatment for Ebola so many thought ‘why would we go to a treatment centre if there is no treatment?’

“Then people who did eventually go, some of them died. So there was a perception that if you are taken from your village it means a certain death.

“We didn’t put enough emphasis on the fact there are survivors and the sooner you go to the treatment centre the better chance you have of surviving, and you are not risking the health of your family. Because those taking care of sick people are exposed the most.”

Go to the treatment centre.

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

Guest post: Feminism is full of seriously brain-stretching rationality

Jul 30th, 2014 4:10 pm | By

Originally a comment by Maureen on Let’s sit down and discuss that proposition itself.

Richard Dawkins claims to be struggling against the forces of darkness – however defined – in order to have a logical and rational discussion on sensitive subjects. In order to do that, though, you would need facts. I don’t see that he even mentions facts, let alone informed opinion, let alone research.

No-one, not even intellectual super-stars, can be expected to conduct such a discussion as a pure intellectual exercise, nor would a wise man choose Twitter as the forum. How do you have a dialogue when you don’t know to whom you are talking or what knowledge or preconceptions they bring to the imaginary table?

Curiously enough, I have been having logical and rational discussions – some intense, some more relaxed – for a good fifty years on all these “sensitive” subjects but every last one of them informed by knowledge and experience, developing knowledge and experience not 140 characters plucked out of thin air. One is tempted to ask, “Richard Dawkins, where have you been all these decades?”

To take just one example, Dawkins takes it as read (and Brave Sir Brendan in the Telegraph rushes to his aid) that, of course, a rape by a stranger who threatens with a weapon just must be worse than a rape by someone you know. Of course it must be because neither of them sees a person there – just a hole being penetrated with a degree of force. Hooray for fact-free logic!

Except that it’s not getting us very far, is it? Maybe it’s not getting us anywhere because neither of those men can see the woman, perhaps with small children, trapped in an increasingly abusive relationship without a means of escape. Nor do they see the person totally betrayed by someone they’ve grown up with, the family friend who’s always been around who suddenly turns and rapes them. Because we are not talking holes, gentlemen, we are talking people and your first step towards a rational discussion would be to acknowledge their experience, draw on their understanding. Not something you can do on a whiteboard or a computer but a necessary first step.

Do you all remember Sandra Fluke the first time we saw her, fighting to give evidence to a Congressional Committee? Then berated by all and sundry for the dastardly crime of understanding the human reproductive system rather better than Rush Limbaugh? Or the woman member of of a state legislature, thrown out of the chamber for using the word vagina when the subject under discussion was – wait for it! – compulsory intra-vaginal ultrasounds. And all the many hearings down the years where we have laughed at one row of elderly men earnestly taking evidence from a matching row of elderly men? Or watched them take evidence from celibate clerics but refuse to hear from women, even women specialists in the subject? And no matter that in all the cases I list the health and well-being of women were at stake.

We are not irrational because we are feminists or because we are women. Feminism is full of seriously brain-stretching rationality. Nor do we need to start such discussions – on bodily autonomy, on birth control, on sexual identity, whatever – from scratch. They have been going for two, three hundred years. They have involved both men and women and the literature is vast. The handful of texts I own would take even an Oxford professor a week to read. And I have read several times that amount but remain an amateur.

So the question is not will we stop reacting to wild and ill-informed Tweets which serve only to inflame. The question is, rather, will you come down off your kyriarchal pedestal and join as an equal in the logical, rational and fact-based discussions which have been going on since before you were born?

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

Let’s sit down together and discuss that proposition itself

Jul 30th, 2014 11:10 am | By

The title of Dawkins’s new post asks a question: Are there emotional no-go areas where logic dare not show its face? The first paragraph re-words the question.

Are there kingdoms of emotion where logic is taboo, dare not show its face, zones where reason is too intimidated to speak?

My answer is yes, of course there are. Not the ones he has in mind, necessarily, but there are some. There are plenty of situations where reason just isn’t wanted, only sympathy or affection or solidarity or just warm-bodiedness will do. There are others where only joyous abandon is wanted.

But that’s interpersonal; RD is talking about public discourse. That’s different. Discourse by definition rests on at least minimal reason and logic. But does that mean emotion must be banished?

He talks of thought experiments and hypothetical worlds, of questions about genetic superiority of races, cannibalism, abortion, eugenics, torture.

There are those whose love of reason allows them to enter such disagreeable hypothetical worlds and see where the discussion might lead. And there are those whose emotions prevent them from going anywhere near the conversation. Some of these will vilify and hurl vicious insults at anybody who is prepared to discuss such matters. Some will pursue active witch-hunts against moral philosophers for daring to consider obnoxious hypothetical thought experiments.

That’s too simplified. I don’t think it’s just a love of reason that motivates people to pursue the discussion where it might lead – I think it also has to do with wanting to get the morality right. And that is partly emotional. People who love intellectual puzzles for their own sake are less interested in moral questions than in technical ones, I think.

But more to the point, it isn’t just random daft meaningless “emotion” that makes people wary of discussions of, say, abortion. It’s emotion about things like consequences and experience and the difference between being someone vulnerable to the harm under discussion and being someone who is not vulnerable to it.

So we could have another discussion about the morality of trying to discuss moral issues that have huge impacts on one kind of people but no impact on you. Does that make a difference? Should it make a difference? Is it possible that, for instance, a very rich person who has always been very rich and has no personal experience at all of what it’s like to be poor – that such a person would have a shallow understanding of the consequences of, say, a wage cut for bottom-tier workers in a company? Should very rich people be the only people deciding what wages get paid? Is that a question about reason and logic, or emotion, or both?

I say it’s both. Emotion is relevant to discussions of that kind, and it’s rational to accept that. It’s not automatically irrational to take emotions into account.

So this is the part I most disagree with:

I believe that, as non-religious rationalists, we should be prepared to discuss such questions using logic and reason. We shouldn’t compel people to enter into painful hypothetical discussions, but nor should we conduct witch-hunts against people who are prepared to do so. I fear that some of us may be erecting taboo zones, where emotion is king and where reason is not admitted; where reason, in some cases, is actively intimidated and dare not show its face. And I regret this. We get enough of that from the religious faithful. Wouldn’t it be a pity if we became seduced by a different sort of sacred, the sacred of the emotional taboo zone?

You need both.

For an example: suppose you get a group of prosperous comfortable well-fed men having a rational logical discussion of rape. Is it excessively emotional to point out that a group like that would be simply talking over the heads of the people most vulnerable to rape? I don’t think it is. I don’t think it’s excessively emotional to point out that there’s something blood-chilling about seeing people who are safe talk calmly detachedly and in the abstract about the risks or tragedies faced by people who aren’t like them.

Some subjects are fraught, and it makes a difference who is talking about them, and to whom. This is what Richard is objecting to, and concerned about – the existence of taboo subjects. He explains that that’s why he chose rape to illustrate his point about logic: because it’s fraught.

I think rationalists should be free to discuss spectrums of nastiness, even if only to reject them. I had noticed indications that rape and pedophilia had moved out of the discussion zone into a no-go taboo area. I wanted to challenge the taboo, just as I want to challenge all taboos against free discussion.

Nothing should be off limits to discussion. No, let me amend that. If you think some things should be off limits, let’s sit down together and discuss that proposition itself. Let’s not just insult each other and cut off all discussion because we rationalists have somehow wandered into a land where emotion is king.

Let’s. That’s what I’m doing here. I’m saying why I think some subjects need care in discussing.

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

They are afraid

Jul 30th, 2014 9:00 am | By

Oh no. Richard Dawkins has another post on the “mild rape is less bad than ferocious rape” paradigm he’s been using to illustrate Logic lately. It’s not going to calm the heaving waters.

For now I’ll just quote the last paragraph.

It is utterly deplorable that there are people, including in our atheist community, who suffer rape threats because of things they have said. And it is also deplorable that there are many people in the same atheist community who are literally afraid to think and speak freely, afraid to raise even hypothetical questions such as those I have mentioned in this article. They are afraid – and I promise you I am not exaggerating – of witch-hunts: hunts for latter day blasphemers by latter day Inquisitions and latter day incarnations of Orwell’s Thought Police.

Oh dear. It’s really too bad that he included the “and I promise you I am not exaggerating” – because of course he is doing just that. No, they are not afraid of witch-hunts or hunts for blasphemers by inquisitions or incarnations of Orwell’s Thought Police. Saying that is, indeed, exaggeration. It’s the same kind of exaggeration as comparing feminists to Nazis or the Stasi.

They are afraid of noisy, vehement, harsh criticism. I get being afraid of that. It can be alarming and overwhelming to have a torrent of criticism dumped on you. Absolutely. But it still doesn’t tie you to a stake and set fire to a bunch of damp wood piled at your feet (damp to make it burn slowly and thus prolong the agony). It doesn’t lock you up or send you to a Gulag. It isn’t comparable to witch-hunts or inquisitions or Orwell’s Thought Police.

[As yesterday: reasoned discussion; no epithets, no insults.]

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

No shelter for you

Jul 30th, 2014 8:29 am | By

Golly, now there’s a new twist on dear old gender segregation – in Israel, a “men only” bomb shelter.

While people all around Israel have spent the past two weeks scrambling for cover during rocket attacks, it seems that in some places, only men’s lives are considered worth protecting. In the Ashdod rabbinate building, the bomb shelter has a sign on it reading “For men only,” and women who happened to be in the rabbinate during recent raids were not allowed into the bomb shelter.

Thus reports MK Stav Shaffir, whose staffer happened to be at the rabbinate this week when all this was taking place.

Orit, an Ashdod resident who was also in the rabbinate this week with her husband, told Yediot Ahronot about the “insult of trying to impose gender segregation on us even at times like this,” and her shocked discovery that the “women’s” shelter was just a regular room, with windows and plaster walls and no indications of protection from rocket attacks. Her husband added that gender segregation has reached “insane proportions, and are now at the point of risking women’s lives. The rabbinate is basically saying that it’s important to them to save men’s lives, but women can die or pray or hope for a miracle. It’s just unbelievable”.

MK Stav Shaffir complained to the Religious Affairs Ministry, which said no no that’s all wrong, that was a loose cannon who made a mistake.

“It was a local initiative of an employee acting without formal authority,” they responded. “The rabbinical court views such attempts at gender segregation in a very severe light and will take serious actions against those involved.”

I suppose the rabbinic court’s attempt to distance itself from this series of events is a good thing. After all, that means that there exist some voices of reason and sanity even within the growing gender-extremism in the religious Jewish world. On the other hand, the fact that someone somewhere thought that it was okay and normal to put a “Men Only” sign on a bomb shelter is in an indication of deeply entrenched misogyny. It seems like it’s almost a knee-jerk reaction for some people to simply create “Men Only” spaces, as if this is natural and normal and perhaps even expected, to such an extent that no consideration is given whatsoever to real lives of women, to the actual consequences and implications of not allowing certain people into safety.

Well that’s misogyny for you. It’s dangerous to women. I keep saying that.

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

How apt

Jul 30th, 2014 6:46 am | By

Via RH Reality Check.


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

The doctor died

Jul 29th, 2014 5:41 pm | By

Very bad news: the doctor who was leading Sierra Leone’s fight against the worst outbreak on record has died from the virus.

The death of Sheik Umar Khan, who was credited with treating more than 100 patients, follows the deaths of dozens of local health workers and the infection of two US medics in neighbouring Liberia.

Ebola is believed to have killed 672 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since the outbreak began in February, according to the World Health Organisation. The contagious disease has no known cure. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea and internal and external bleeding.

Khan, 39, hailed as a “national hero” by the health ministry, had been moved to a treatment ward run by the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières in the far north of Sierra Leone.

Damn. I heard him chat with a reporter while at the hospital last week, saying he was optimistic. I was hoping he would make it.

“It is a big and irreparable loss to Sierra Leone as he was the only specialist the country had in viral haemorrhagic fevers,” said the chief medical officer, Brima Kargbo.

Very bad news.

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

Guest post: Funny thing about the ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion’ verse

Jul 29th, 2014 4:46 pm | By

Originally a comment and another comment by Marwa Berro (who will be blogging here under her real name starting August 1!) of Between a Veil and a Dark Place on A Muslim woman is not allowed to marry a non-Muslim.

Funny thing about the ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion’ verse. It is almost always (quite conveniently) quoted out of context. It actually means the exact opposite, that you can’t be internally compelled to see the one and only Truth, but you sure as hell can be punished for being evil enough to refuse to see it. The rest of the verse and the one following it:

[ 2:256] Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.

[ 2:257] Allah is the Protector of those who have faith: from the depths of darkness He will lead them forth into light. Of those who reject faith the patrons are the evil ones: from light they will lead them forth into the depths of darkness. They will be companions of the fire, to dwell therein (For ever).

The ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion’ verse turns out to be literally a preamble to explaining how/why anyone who believes otherwise is wrong, evil, and doomed to utter damnation.

Cuz that’s not normative or exclusionary at all.

Also, re: intermarriage in Islam. I’ve wanted to write about this so many times, not least because I have so many friends suffering from this problem. Obviously most of what I have to say is in the context of Lebanon, but you would have no idea what a huge, pervasive problem the struggle for interfaith marriage is in Lebanon. You know that we don’t have civil services for marriage so people can only follow religious laws to get married, and they can’t have legitimate public relationships without getting married either, and even when it’s not literally illegal for them to get married in Lebanon without their families agreeing to some roundabout conversion thing–which almost never happens because of all the governmental bureaucracy involved in conversion and shitty sectarian social politics– the stigma makes it even worse than Islam technically dictates.

Examples: I have a couple of atheist friends from Sunni and Shia families who after being disowned by their parents and struggling for years before finally getting parental permission to get married (another shitty prerequisite can you fucking believe it), have now spent years trying to find a shiekh who will agree to marry them. Every cleric they’ve gone to, even the ‘progressive’ ones, refuse because of fear of upsetting each other’s communities, especially as the woman is Saudi and the man is Lebanese and you gotta know the Shia-Sunni enmity is great between Hezbollah and the Saudi gov’t, so obviously this young couple can’t be married.

I have another couple of atheist friends, an Iraqi man from a Shia family and a woman from an Armenian Orthodox Lebanese family who have had to hide their relationship for almost a decade now, down to having to have home-abortions when accidents have happened, despite the fact that it’s technically legal for him to marry her in both Lebanon and Iraq. The stigma is just too great, and it’s very often Christian families who resist interfaith marriages because the only legal ones are Christian women marrying Muslim men, which means in their thinking their daughters are going to basically be inducted into her husband’s family, faith, and customs, and basically they will lose an entire branch of family from their community. It’s literally thought of in terms of those things. Ironically, Christian families seldom have problems with their sons marrying Muslim girls who convert, not only because men are less scrutinized in general but also because they would be bringing somebody into the fold that way; instead of losing a daughter, one is gained.

And I have had friends who struggled for years through solid interfaith romances before having to break up because they couldn’t keep up the secrecy or their families just kept giving them grief, and more often than not these romances have been Christian women with Muslim or Druze men, and Druze friends of all genders with non-Druze partners, because the Druze are even bigger sticklers about no interfaith marriages than Muslims are–they don’t allow it under any circumstances whatsoever. Just last year there was an honor crime in Lebanon where the family of a Druze woman who had eloped lured her and her husband back under pretense of accepting their marriage and castrated him. In fact, a sizable chunk of the honor violence in Lebanon has to do with interfaith romances.

Last Wednesday one of my short stories came out, and it deals with a Muslim-Christian romance in Lebanon–I won’t give the ending away, but after reading it one of my friends back home from a Druze family who’s had to hide her boyfriend from a Muslim family for years messaged me saying that she’s often considered doing what the couple in my story did to end up together.

The story is here, btw. Sorry for the shameless plug, but it’s really relevant, not just to the stigma of interfaith marriage, but to more general feminist issues, especially how rape cases are treated and handled in Lebanon as well (Article 522 of the Lebanese penal code exonerates a rapist who marries his victim):

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

Punished by angels from dusk to dawn

Jul 29th, 2014 11:29 am | By

Sara Khan of Inspire has an eloquent piece at the Telegraph on the Trojan Horse affair and its implications for Muslims who are not fans of bigotry and hatred. Sara of course is one such Muslim.

One of the most shocking findings, from both Birmingham City Council’s report and from the Government’s own investigation into the Trojan Horse affair, was the incredulous hate peddling promoted to young children by fundamentalist Muslims who attempted to infiltrate a number of schools. Children had been told not to listen to Christians because they were “all liars”; and how they were “lucky to be Muslims and not ignorant like Christians and Jews.” Schools put up posters warning children that if they didn’t pray they would “go to hell” and girls were taught that women who refused to have sex with their husbands would be “punished” by angels “from dusk to dawn”. One of the ringleaders of the Trojan Horse plot told an undercover reporter that “white women have the least amount of morals”, white children were “lazy” and that British people have “colonial blood.”

Read that passage slowly and think about it. Can you imagine schools – state schools – teaching that to children? It’s appalling. It’s a horrendous thing to do to children – to shape them into hate-filled fanatics.

And imagine being a liberal Muslim like Sara, seeing people actually defending it in case it would be “Islamophobia” not to.

These bigoted views are exactly that – bigoted. As a Muslim I object to those hardliners who aggressively suggest such views are Islamic. They are not. Yet this hate peddling was done in the name of Islam. I have seen over the years how sexist, homophobic and intolerant Muslims deliberately manipulate my faith to justify sexism, homophobia and intolerance to other faith communities. They hide behind the excuse of “Islam”, and argue they are within their religious rights to hold such bigoted views – and British society too often acts as if these are the natural rights of all Muslims. Such an attitude was seen, frustratingly, in the Muslim Council of Britain’s statement in response to the Trojan Horse findings, but also from Birmingham City Council, who did little to stop such practices as there had been a culture within the council which was more concerned about potential allegations of “Islamophobia”. This paranoia incredibly took precedent over the welfare and well-being of children in our schools.

That wouldn’t happen if people didn’t think the nastiest stuff was somehow the most authentic. Why not treat people like Sarah as more authentic, instead?

Take the Muslim Council of Britain. In their statement they complained that Mr Clarke was “conflating conservative Muslim practices to a supposed ideology and agenda to ‘Islamise’ secular schools.”

For the record, I’d like to know: what exactly does the MCB define as conservative Muslim practice? Does the MCB believe homophobia, sexism, intolerance and the “inferiority” of other faiths are conservative Muslim practices? The religious conservative Muslims I speak to tell me they are offended that this could ever be justified as such.

So let’s here a lot more from people like Sara and a lot less from the MCB.

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

Logic and rhetoric

Jul 29th, 2014 10:49 am | By

My cosigner (it’s kind of like the Declaration of Independence – we are Signers) Richard Dawkins has been tweeting about the logic of saying X is not as bad as Y. The logic is that saying X is not as bad as Y is not the same thing as saying X is good. Quite right; it’s not. A mouthful of curdled milk is not as bad as a mouthful of shit, but that doesn’t mean a mouthful of curdled milk is good.

X is bad. Y is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of X, go away and don’t come back until you’ve learned how to think logically.

Mild pedophilia is bad. Violent pedophilia is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of mild pedophilia, go away and learn how to think.

Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.

There was some back and forth, then more stand-alone tweets.

Whether X or Y is worse is a matter of opinion. But it is a matter of LOGIC that to express that opinion doesn’t mean you approve of either.

“Stealing £1 is bad. Stealing an old lady’s life savings is worse.” How DARE you rank them? Stealing is stealing. You’re vile, appalling.

That’s all true. He’s right. But there’s more to it than that. I offered three replies myself.

Ophelia Benson @OpheliaBenson · 33m

@RichardDawkins But Richard there is rhetoric as well as logic. The 2 have differnt rules. Sometimes “Y is worse!” means “shut up about X.”

@RichardDawkins It of course doesn’t mean that as a matter of *logic*. But used rhetorically, it does.

@RichardDawkins To put it another way, there’s the matter of implication, which can work differently from the way logic works.

I have more room here, enough room so that I don’t have to spell “different” as “differnt” in order to finish my sentences.

It’s true that “X is less bad” ≠ “X is good” or “I approve of X.” I think Richard had in mind the passage about the molestation he experienced at school compared with other, less tolerable forms. I don’t think he had in mind “Dear Muslima” – which of course is a mere comment on a blog, not a passage in a best-selling much-translated much-discussed book. But “Dear Muslima” does a good job of illustrating what I mean about rhetoric and implication. The whole point of “Dear Muslima” was very plainly to say that women face horrendous forms of abuse and denial of rights in places where Islamic laws and/or customs have authority, and therefore women who face much milder forms of abuse in secular democracies should…talk less about it, or talk about it more temperately, or something along those lines. It’s hard to spell out the implication exactly, because it is an implication, but it’s something along those lines. That much is not ambiguous. You’d have to be a very primitive bit of AI to miss that.

So, in fact, even though Richard is right about the logic, he seems to be forgetting about rhetoric, and we know he understands that kind of rhetoric because in “Dear Muslima” he used it himself.

So it’s not that he’s wrong about the logic, it’s just that that’s not all there is to it.

Note to commenters: please keep in mind The Statement, and word your comments accordingly. Seriously. Reasoned argument only. I know people get heated about this; I know I get heated almost every time I hit the keyboard, no matter what the subject; Not On This Thread.

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

Not getting it

Jul 28th, 2014 4:00 pm | By

Not getting it.

There are of course people not getting it. Lots of them.

There’s Phil Giordana for instance, on Dan Fincke’s public FB post on the statement.

No, sadly. it will be another excuse for the mob to do as they please and cast away any semblance of rationality or honesty. Don’t accommodate the online SJWs.

Don’t accommodate the people who give a shit about social justice issues? But there’s no need to “accommodate” us. I carefully excluded any such need from the statement. So I wondered what the hell he meant.

Don’t accommodate the online SJWs? So people should keep on with death threats, rape threats, attacks on people’s appearance, age, race, sex, size, haircut; photoshopping people into demeaning images, vulgar epithets?


He explained. It’s because he’s banned from commenting on my blog.

Ophelia Benson: I never threatened anyone online, never attacked peoples’ appearance, apologized to you for using what you consider “gendered slur”, yet I’m still banned from your blog. You fuckwit! (that one’s fine, OB said so).

Yeah that’s not getting it. Just totally not getting it. He’s thinking that because I don’t let him comment on my blog, he’s entitled to punish me with death threats, rape threats, attacks on people’s appearance, age, race, sex, size, haircut; photoshopping people into demeaning images, vulgar epithets. The whole point of the statement is that he’s not. He doesn’t get it.

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

Reasoning with people who want to spike the heads of their adversaries

Jul 28th, 2014 11:14 am | By

Nadette De Visser at the Daily Beast reports on a recent demonstration in The Hague (Den Haag):

“Death to the Jews” chanted the crowd waving the black flags of the Islamic State, or ISIS as it used to be known. They were looking for new supporters for their cause, the creation of a worldwide caliphate answering to the man who now calls himself Ibrahim: a zealot too radical even for Al Qaeda who has stormed through Syria and Iraq carrying out mass executions, crucifying rivals, beheading enemies. But these marchers were not in Syria or Iraq; they were in The Hague in The Netherlands. And their message was one tailored to the disaffected young descendants of Muslim immigrants in Europe.

“We are Moroccans,” went out the cry over a portable loudspeaker. “The French killed the Moroccans but they didn’t kill them all; the grandchildren of the few men left protest against the West, America and the Jews.”

Many of the demonstrators covered their faces with Palestinian scarves or balaclavas. “Anyone who doesn’t jump is a Jew,” someone shouted as the whole group started jumping in a scene that might have been ludicrous if it weren’t for the hateful message. “Death to the Jews!” the crowd shouted in Arabic.

No. No “Death to the” – ever. No matter what comes after the “the” – whether it be Jews, Arabs, Gazans, Palestinians, Zionists, Sunnis, kaffirs, Haredi, atheists, whores, gays – whatever. No calls for mass murder, no demands for genocide, no shouts for extermination, no paeans to ethnic cleansing – none of that. No incitement to murder.

And of all places in the world that you would expect to be hypersensitive to that? The Hague?? Which knows a thing or two about genocide and what sets it off?

All rallies in Dutch municipalities require permission from the local city council, the police and the public prosecutor’s office. The ISIS demo had been granted permission on the grounds that it was in support of the detained Dutch recruiter for jihad, Oussama Abu Yazeed. But the fact that the mayor’s office in The Hague either was unaware the rally was ISIS-linked or deemed it legitimate regardless has raised serious questions about the city council’s judgment.

Dutch Labor Party (PVDA) member Ahmed Marcouch, a former policeman who sits on the parliament’s security and justice committee, was one of the many who criticized the local government: “Unacceptable!” he tweeted. “Threatening journalists and shouting racist statements is punishable by law.”

Marcouch, who has Moroccan roots himself, wants the Muslim community in The Netherlands to be more vigilant in opposition to ISIS and similar groups. The footage shot at the protest clearly shows a number of very young boys: “What are these kids doing there in the first place?” he asks. “ISIS is pure barbarism, it is bloodthirsty,” Marchouch told The Daily Beast in an interview. “We can’t allow them to win our children away from us.”

Well said. He sounds like a Dutch Maajid Nawaz or Tehmina Kazi. Good on him; may many more like him speak up.

The Hague’s Mayor Jozias van Aartsen recently claimed on Dutch radio that no red lines were crossed by the protests, but such declarations are facing mounting incredulity when pictures circulate on the Web like one posted by an Iraqi-Dutch citizen in the IS-ruled Syrian city of Raqqa. It showed him surrounded by the severed heads of seven men spiked on an iron fence. The photograph looks as if some parts of it may have been faked, but the sentiment is genuine enough. Beheadings, for ISIS, have become a kind of sport.

Many of the young people who end up surviving this horrific war for the caliphate will haunt Europe when they come back home, and security services all over the continent and, indeed, in the United States, are concerned. On Friday the Dutch public prosecutor’s office finally announced that an investigation into ISIS in The Netherlands is underway.

One thing is certain, ignoring ISIS will not make it disappear and reasoning with people who want to spike the heads of their adversaries on fences should not be an option.

There’s always this fatal magical-thinking optimism, that if we just ignore it it will fade away. No, the “it” doesn’t always fade away. Often it gets stronger and stronger and then it attacks.

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

If Chuck Norris

Jul 28th, 2014 10:19 am | By

Well, that makes a nice summary of everything I fear and hate.

If I were elected president I would Tattoo an American flag with the words, “In God we trust,” on the forehead of every atheist.” – Chuck Norris

It’s got it all – sadism, compulsory nationalism, compulsory theism, total ignorance of US history, even recent history, and bigotry toward atheists. Ok not quite all, there’s no gay-bashing or feminist-bashing, but it’s almost all.

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Not Diogenes

Jul 28th, 2014 9:12 am | By

Mark Senior continues to be eager to let everyone know that he’s not going to pay any attention to any statements on the merits of disagreeing without being abusive about it. Hell no! Nobody tells Mark Senior not to act like an asshole!! Mark Senior will act like an asshole as much as he wants to, thank you very much!!!

markDescription: a tweet sent by Mark Senior to Richard Dawkins and to me with a photoshop of PZ with a clown’s read nose and, underneath, a putative quotation from Diogenes of Sinope saying “that which cannot withstand criticism or mockery is false.” The attribution is a lie, of course – if you Google the phrase the only results are the slime pit and Justin Vacula. Diogenes they are not.

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Hey Christina Hoff Sommers

Jul 27th, 2014 3:17 pm | By

Christina Hoff Sommers seems to be getting more unpleasant – or maybe just more active on Twitter, or maybe just retweeted by more people I happen to see. At any rate I find her increasingly unpleasant. I saw one tweet of hers this morning that was so obnoxious I replied to it.

Christina H. Sommers ‏@CHSommers 4h
Hey feminists, will you stop making recklessly false claims like/ “Women own only 1% of world’s property.” …

Ophelia Benson ‏@OpheliaBenson
.@CHSommers Hey Christina Hoff Sommers, will you stop bashing “feminists”?

Someone replied to me and Sommers favorited her reply. Of course she did. I replied back. Sommers won’t be favoriting that. (Nor will Paul Elam, who chimed in.)

Vandy Beth Glenn ‏@RedVelvetCakes 3h
@OpheliaBenson @CHSommers Ophelia, what did she say about “feminists” that is untrue?

Ophelia Benson ‏@OpheliaBenson
@RedVelvetCakes @CHSommers That they all, generically, make the claim she cites. Replace “feminists” with “Jews” & see how it sounds.

Sommers was once a philosopher. That’s kind of sad.

Updated to add:

Sommers replied. Dishonestly.

Christina H. Sommers ‏@CHSommers
@OpheliaBenson Wow! So criticizing your brand of evidence-free feminism is analogous to anti-semitism. Muddled thinking, Ophelia.

So, naturally, I replied.

Ophelia Benson ‏@OpheliaBenson 3m
@CHSommers No. That’s not what you did. You didn’t criticize a particular brand of feminism. You said “Hey feminists” – just that.

Don’t call me muddled because you overstated your case. That’s not respectable.

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What have you got against flamingoes anyway?

Jul 27th, 2014 10:35 am | By

Latsot (Look at the state of that) lists some of the tropes, in a comment at oolon’s place. Quoted with permission.

It would be too depressing to describe all the ‘arguments’ against rape culture I’ve seen, but it might be fun to list some of the tropes. For an especially masochistic definition of ‘fun’. Some of these you’ve already mentioned.

1. Women all the time be faking accusations
2. Being falsely accused of rape is worse than being raped
3. Someone you admire once accused someone of rape so accusing people of rape is always bad (never quite understood this one)
4. You SJW types say you should always believe the victim no matter what (rather than you should always believe the victim PROVISIONALLY unless there’s a good reason not to, which is what we actually tend to say)

5. The slymepit has lots of examples of FTBullies behaviing badly, therefore…. and I get a bit lost here… people who rape or threaten rape or enable rape are…ok…?
6. FTBullies are evil. Therefore anyone evil is an FTBully. Therefore FTBullies are evil. Why are they evil? Mostly because they are not fans of rape culture apologists.
7. He was joking when he threatened to rape someone or said he was glad they were raped.
8. It wasn’t a real threat because it was on the Internet.
9. He kindasorta said he was sorry when the entire internet condemned him so he’s presto-changeo forgiven by the internet jesus.
10. He hasn’t said anything unbelievably shit in the last fortnight, so he’s totally not a horrible bigot.
11. Look over there, a FLAMINGO.
12. What have you got against flamingoes anyway? I’m not changing the subject, YOU ARE. I don’t even know of ONE flamingo who’s a rapist.
13. Being liberal is somehow and inexplicably a bad thing
14. Caring about people is somehow and inexplicably a bad thing
15 Atheism is only about not believing in gods. Unless we are telling off believers for the same things we refuse to tell non-believers off for.

Your turn.

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In a material world of blind indifference

Jul 27th, 2014 10:08 am | By

One rather peculiar response from a reverend:

@CLGrossman @RichardDawkins @OpheliaBenson Well said but why/ How? In a material world of blind indifference who decides what is is “civil”[?]

That’s not peculiar for a reverend*, of course, but it’s peculiar in itself.

Who decides? Human beings decide. We decide because we’re the ones affected. We decide because we want various things. We want to be able to have reasonable conversations. We want to be able to talk without fistfights or insults or taunts. We want at least a minimal baseline of peace and co-operation.

That’s who decides. The people who have a stake decide. That’s true even in a material world of blind indifference. The material world is blindly indifferent to me (and you and us and them and her and him), it’s true, but that doesn’t mean we are all indifferent to each other or to ourselves.

That’s true even if you do believe in a god. In that sense it actually is somewhat peculiar for a reverend to ask the question. Does he really think atheists are blindly indifferent because the material world is? Has he never met a single one?


*His profile says he’s Vicar at Christ Church Lye, in the West Midlands.

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Haw haw

Jul 26th, 2014 2:17 pm | By

Not everyone is board, but we knew that.


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Joint statement by Ophelia Benson and Richard Dawkins

Jul 26th, 2014 12:02 pm | By

Joint statement by Ophelia Benson and Richard Dawkins

It’s not news that allies can’t always agree on everything. People who rely on reason rather than dogma to think about the world are bound to disagree about some things.

Disagreement is inevitable, but bullying and harassment are not. If we want secularism and atheism to gain respect, we have to be able to disagree with each other without trying to destroy each other.

In other words we have to be able to manage disagreement ethically, like reasonable adults, as opposed to brawling like enraged children who need a nap. It should go without saying, but this means no death threats, rape threats, attacks on people’s appearance, age, race, sex, size, haircut; no photoshopping people into demeaning images, no vulgar epithets.

Richard adds: I’m told that some people think I tacitly endorse such things even if I don’t indulge in them. Needless to say, I’m horrified by that suggestion. Any person who tries to intimidate members of our community with threats or harassment is in no way my ally and is only weakening the atheist movement by silencing its voices and driving away support.

Also posted at RDF.

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Jul 26th, 2014 10:37 am | By

Have a friendly set of caricatures, for purposes of comparison. Crispian Jago’s deck of “Skeptic” cards from 2011. (Some of the people in the deck don’t fit the category very well – Dennett, Aaronovitch, Grayling, Hitchens, Peter Singer, Andrew Copson – they’re not primarily skeptics, not professional Skeptics.)

The caricatures are done by Neil Davies.

Here’s Anthony Grayling:

H/t Catherine Xanthë

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