Notes and Comment Blog

Speak up, secularists

Sep 19th, 2013 11:29 am | By

Abhishek Phadnis considers the silence of secularists in the face of the left-Islamist alliance.

Radical Islam mines a rich seam of support in the British radical Left, nowhere more so than in our universities. In light of the Birmingham reversal, it may be instructive to take stock of the role of this unholy alliance in other recent events in British academia (of which I present a small selection) and what this implies for those of us who seek to keep this space secular.

In March, attendees were evicted from a debate at University College London for defying the gender-segregation imposed by the Islamist organisers, after the forewarned UCL issued glib assurances that there would be no segregation and did absolutely nothing to back them up. Two weeks later, the LSE Students’ Union twinned itself with the Islamic University of Gaza, which has been described as “the brains trust and engine room of Hamas”.

This time last year, the atheists of Reading University were evicted from their Freshers’ Fayre by the Labour-controlled Union for hosting a pineapple named ‘Mohammed’. Likewise, my own society has faced systematic harassment from the LSESU for refusing to genuflect to Islam, particularly since the Union’s 2012 thought-crime resolution banning “Islamophobia” (inter alia “hatred or fear of Islam…or Islamic culture” and “attacking the Quran as a manual of hatred”).

We have repeatedly been forced to take down cartoons from our private Facebook page, following anonymous complaints. We have also been arbitrarily thwarted in our attempts to better signpost ourselves for Islamic apostates (a heroic and persecuted ‘black’ minority that receives indifferent treatment from the Black Students’ Campaign) by incorporating “ex-Muslim” into the society’s name. Our latest proposal was rejected on the grounds that it ‘jeopardised the safety of ex-Muslims’, which came as news to the ex-Muslim organisations on whose recommendation we’d sought the change.

It’s a terrible, pathetic situation.

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

Leo Igwe on The Story

Sep 19th, 2013 11:14 am | By

This is exciting. A few weeks ago I got an email from a producer at National Public Radio’s The Story; she wanted to be put in touch with Leo Igwe. And so -


Leo on NPR’s The Story.

When Leo Igwe was a child living in Nigeria, he saw his father beaten after being accused of witchcraft. Accusations of witch craft run rampant in many parts of western Africa, and Igwe has made it his life’s work to bring attention to the problem. Many of those accused of witchcraft find refuge in “Witch Camps,” which offer safety after an accused individual has been ousted from a community. Igwe has visited camps in Nigeria and northern Ghana and tells host Dick Gordon what life is like inside them.

This is great, because it will inevitably get Leo more support for his work.


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

Look out! Fascists! Right there!

Sep 18th, 2013 4:12 pm | By

Dang but some people like to over-react to mostly-imaginary entities like “Atheism Plus” or “FTBullies”.

Like “the Denver Atheist” (there’s only the one?) for instance, in a post reasonably titled Atheism Plus Is A Fascist Movement Within The Atheist Community. Here’s how the one atheist in Denver arrives at that conclusion.

 Let’s define our terms up front, shall we? Here’s the definition of the word “fascism”:

Fascism: any movement, ideology, or attitude that favors dictatorial government, centralized control of private enterprise, repression of all opposition, and extreme nationalism

Here’s how I’m relating it to Atheism Plus:

Atheism Plus: a movement, ideology, and attitude that favors dictatorial organization, centralized control of atheism, repression of all opposition, and extreme loyalty to the movement, ideology, and attitude.

Yeah no. Dictatorial government is not the same as dictatorial organization. Fascists running a state is not the same thing as “fascists” posting on an online forum. (As far as I know there is no “Atheism Plus” apart from the forum. People don’t self-identify as Atheism Plus. It’s not a thing.)

And “centralized control of atheism”? What the hell? Where? How? What the hell? There is no centralized control of atheism.

There’s no “repression of all opposition,” either. There’s refusal to be tweeted at by harassers, but refusal to be tweeted at isn’t repression, and harassers aren’t the sum total of opposition, either.

And, to complete the ridiculous list, commitment to an idea is not the same thing as extreme nationalism. “Atheism Plus” (assuming for the sake of argument that it even exists) does not want to annex Poland.

What’s the matter with everyone? Jeez.

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

Not if but where

Sep 18th, 2013 12:19 pm | By

I had an interesting Twitter conversation with Dave Silverman yesterday, which continued with other people later. It was about the recurring subject of having an all-inclusive political movement on the one hand, and standing by certain values or commitments on the other hand.

Dave obviously has to lean heavily toward the former, because that’s his job. The atheism comes first, by a long way, and everything else comes second. But does everything else come nowhere? I don’t think so. I think there are limits. I don’t think Dave would welcome the KKK or the American Nazi Party as allies, for instance. Just for one thing, accepting them as allies would mean the loss of a lot of other allies, so you can frame it as a completely hard-headed practical decision. But for another thing, it would ruin the brand, and I know Dave doesn’t want to do that: that’s why he always disavows things like vandalism of churches or mosques. He doesn’t want atheism (and especially AA) mixed up with that; he wants them clearly and starkly separated.

So the question turns out to be not if but where: not if there are limits, but where they are drawn. He draws them more widely than I do, because he has to. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t draw them at all.

It’s my view that over the long haul, it will be best to separate American Atheism clearly and starkly from overt noisy misogyny and sexism. I’m pretty sure AA is already clearly and starkly separated from overt noisy racism, as I indicated above; I think overt noisy misogyny and sexism and overt noisy homophobia and trans-bashing should be in the same category.

Not everyone agrees with me on this.

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

What Karen Armstrong learned

Sep 18th, 2013 11:39 am | By

Karen Armstrong tells her much-recycled story again. Once she tried to be a nun, then she got fed up with it and tried to be an academic and was all skeptical and shit. Then she sat down to read quietly and she discovered religion was right about everything after all.

I suddenly found that I was learning a great deal from other religious traditions. From Judaism, I learned to never stop asking questions — about anything! — and never to imagine that I had come to the end of what I could know and say about God.

But you don’t need Judaism to learn to never stop asking questions about anything. And then, why should you think there is a god in the first place, to never imagine you’d come to the end of what you could know and say about? How can you “know” anything about a presumed god?

Jews even refuse to speak God’s name, as a reminder that any human expression of the divine is so limited that it is potentially blasphemous.

Blah blah blah. So you always say, and you want us to be impressed, but I’m not impressed. I’m not impressed that people assume there is such a thing as “the divine” and then construct stupid rules about it, and I’m not impressed that gasbags like Armstrong come along thousands of years later to gape in bovine astonishment at the profundities people have uttered about this imaginary “divine.”

Divinity is a kind of candy, and much more useful than “the divine.”

From the Eastern and the Russian Orthodox Christians, I learned that Jesus was the first human being to be totally possessed by God — just as Buddha was the first enlightened human being in our historical era — and that we can all be like him, even in this life.

Blah blah blah. From watching Loony Tunes I learned that Bugs Bunny spoke with a Brooklyn accent; so what?

From the Quran, I learned that all religious traditions that teach justice, compassion and respect for all others have come from God.

Oh yes? For all others including the women stoned to death for “adultery” which includes being raped? Including the little girls raped to death by their “husbands”? Including the “infidels” and “apostates” put to the sword?

And I was enthralled to find this quotation from the great 13th-century Sufi philosopher Ibn Arabi:

Do not praise your own faith so exclusively that you disbelieve all the rest; if you do this you will miss much good. Nay, you will fail to realise the real truth of the matter. God the omnipresent and omniscient cannot be confined to any one creed, for he says in the Quran: “Wheresover ye turn, there is the face of Allah.”

Well then you’re very easily enthralled, I must say.

It seems odd to finish my quest by realizing how little I know. But that is the way human beings experience the world. No matter how much we know, something always eludes us. If we can just let go of our desire to know it all and be in control — which brings us so much anxiety — we experience great freedom. The world is no longer cut down to suit our tiny minds; instead, we see fresh possibility and mystery in every thing and everybody around us. Unknowing is built into the human condition.

No. Shut up. Stop saying that shit. It’s bad and dangerous. It’s not about any “desire to know it all,” it’s about a desire to know more than we do right now, and that is a good thing. Stop misrepresenting it and stop talking emetic bullshit about the joys of ignorance while simultaneously peddling the same old theistic crap.

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

Why not fairy tales instead?

Sep 17th, 2013 4:35 pm | By

The Texas Education Agency is meeting, and the creationists are pushing harder than ever. The Texas Freedom Network reports:

“Any statements made were my own personal beliefs.”

That’s how Karen Beathard, an official state textbook reviewer, defends telling publishers that the biology textbooks they submitted for adoption in Texas this year should include “creation science based on biblical principles.”

Her statement encapsulates precisely the problem with the science textbook adoption process in Texas. Some State Board of Education (SBOE) members decided to nominate reviewers based on their personal beliefs, not their qualifications or expertise. And because they did so, SBOE members have undermined public confidence that the review process was anything but a sham.

Ms. Beathard, a dietician/nutritionist, has every right to her personal beliefs. The Texas Freedom Network will stand up for her right to express those beliefs in public or in private. But Texas students should get a 21st-century education that prepares them for college and the jobs of today. That means their textbooks should be based on established, mainstream science, not the personal beliefs of individuals who simply aren’t qualified to evaluate those textbooks.

It’s like engineering. You’re free to believe you can build a suspension bridge out of toilet paper, but you’re not free (or you shouldn’t be free) to get that belief taught to students in public schools.

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

In a car

Sep 17th, 2013 11:21 am | By

Mike Booth recommended this on Twitter, so I will pay it forward.

Minneapolis. A woman with her arms full of paperwork waiting for the lightrail. A man in an SUV.

So, that’s where we were. Me, minding my own business. You, apparently observing my ass. At that point you had options. You could have driven past me and said nothing. You could have turned up your radio and waved, ensconcing us in some beats and camaraderie. You could have shouted out, “Happy Friday! Yeehaw!” Any of those options would have been great. I probably would have waved, smiled, and started my weekend on the same high note as you.

Instead, you chose the most pathetic option available to you: You leaned out of your window and made some ridiculous series of leering comments about whether I was wearing a thong, right as the light changed and you peeled off, pleased with yourself and saved from any consequences.

If you’d stuck around, I would have happily shouted a few things of my own at you: that it’s people like you that make women avoid walking alone or taking transit even in broad daylight in their own cities; that no matter what screwed up metric you use it’s not a “compliment” to have someone interrogate me about my underwear; that thanks to you I would spend the entire train ride home feeling scrutinized and gross because you didn’t have the willpower or maturity to keep your mouth shut; that your wife and daughters or at the very least your mother deserve better than a cowardly man who shouts at women from the safety of his car.


Who the fuck does that? What kind of person shouts crap from a car at a stranger standing on the street? What kind of pathetic, chickenshit, bullying, power-imbalance-abusing creep uses the fact that he’s in a car to enable him to hassle a random stranger who is not in a car? What is wrong with people?

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

Meet some geek girls

Sep 17th, 2013 10:52 am | By


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

Bjarte pauses to remember

Sep 17th, 2013 10:02 am | By

Bjarte Foshaug on Facebook:


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

Gentlemen lift the seat

Sep 17th, 2013 10:00 am | By

Normal service has been restored. We apologize for the inconvenience. Your commentary is appreciated. Please hold. Your call will be answered in the order it was received. Thank you for flying with us and we look forward to seeing you again soon.

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

A post-antibiotic era

Sep 16th, 2013 6:08 pm | By

You know what’s really scary? Antibiotic resistance. The CDC says how scary.

The agency’s overall — and, it stressed, conservative — assessment of the problem:

  • Each year, in the U.S., 2,049,442 illnesses caused by bacteria and fungi that are resistant to at least some classes of antibiotics;
  • Each year, out of those illnesses, 23,000 deaths;
  • Because of those illnesses and deaths, $20 billion each year in additional healthcare spending;
  • And beyond the direct healthcare costs, an additional $35 billion lost to society in foregone productivity.

“If we are not careful, we will soon be in a post-antibiotic era,” Dr. Tom Frieden, the CDC’s director, said in a media briefing. “And for some patients and for some microbes, we are already there.”

Bacteria evolve. Resistance to antibiotics is selected. Problem.

In an interview before the report became public, Frieden said that some of these actions are already happening. “My biggest frustration is the pace of change,” he told me. “Hospitals are making progress, but it’s single digits in terms of the number of hospitals that are being very proactive.  The challenge is scaling up what we know works, and doing that fast enough so that we can close the door on drug resistance before it’s too late.”

Yes but the people in charge have more important things to do, like…uh…

I got nothin.


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

E. coli in the font

Sep 16th, 2013 5:57 pm | By

It turns out that God’s a comedian. Holy water is full of shit.

Despite its purported cleansing properties, holy water could actually be more harmful than healing, according to a new Austrian study on “holy” springs.

Researchers at the Institute of Hygiene and Applied Immunology at the Medical University of Vienna tested water from 21 springs in Austria and 18 fonts in Vienna and found samples contained up to 62 million bacteria per milliliter of water, none of it safe to drink.

Tests indicated 86 percent of the holy water, commonly used in baptism ceremonies and to wet congregants’ lips, was infected with common bacteria found in fecal matter such as E. coli, enterococci and Campylobacter, which can lead to diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever.

Nitrates, commonly found in fertilizer from farms, were also identified in the water. If ingested, water containing nitrates over the maximum contaminant level could cause serious illness, especially in infants younger than 6 months, which could lead to death if untreated, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Oh well, antibiotics will save everyone.


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

If we’re all going to police what we say

Sep 16th, 2013 5:40 pm | By

Matt Yglesias points out that misogyny is not actually a necessary ingredient for cooking up a batch of innovation.

Former Business Insider CTO Pax Dickinson offers some further reflections on the question of women in technology:

I think the tech world is just kind of—it doesn’t have a woman problem. Women in tech are great. There’s just not that many of them because tech is just a kind of thing that a lot of women aren’t that interested in, I think. I mean, I don’t think it has a problem. I’d worry more about taking away what makes tech great. The freewheeling nature of it is what leads to innovation. And my fear is that if we’re all going to police what we say, maybe we lose that innovation. And tech is important, it’s really important to this country and to the world. And I’d hate to see us kill the goose that lays the golden egg by turning it into a politically correct wasteland.

This bit about the “freewheeling” (i.e., misogyny-tolerant) nature of the technology culture as being key to innovation is some truly pernicious nonsense. Innovation is great, and it’s great that there’s so much innovation in the computer programming space. But the startup culture’s chest-thumping about it tends to encourage this kind of thing where “innovation” becomes an all-purpose shield against criticism.

That’s a pretty ridiculous claim. You could just as easily say that if techbros didn’t waste so much energy talking misogynist smack, they could innovate even more.

At the end of the day, the innovative nature of the digitial technology industry isn’t some great mystery. Hiring some programmers and buying them a few computers is really cheap compared to, say, building a factory. What’s more, when your computer program crashes nobody dies. Engineers who build airplanes are held to a much higher standard and need to proceed much more cautiously. And this, fundamentally, is where the innovation comes from. People can tinker around. They can launch services without being 100 percent sure they’ll be able to scale them properly or handle edge cases. When the servers get overloaded, there’s no explosion, no oil spill, no wreckage, nothing but an error message. It’s nice! People can try a lot of new stuff, and talented people don’t necessarily need to spend years paying their dues to give their big ideas a shot.

But none of this has anything to do with people being jackasses to women.

Well there went that excuse.

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

Burn her

Sep 16th, 2013 5:26 pm | By

A defense lawyer in the Delhi gang rape case made some remarks that could get him disbarred.

Mr Singh caused shock saying he would have “burned my daughter alive” if she was
having “premarital sex and went out late at night with her boyfriend”.

He told the BBC on Monday his personal views had been taken out of context.

“I was asked about my views on a personal matter and I answered that in my personal capacity of being the patriarch of my house,” he told the BBC.

Ah yes, and this is why some of us are not all that fond of patriarchy.



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

Just being bros

Sep 16th, 2013 12:09 pm | By

What’s all this feminism nonsense? Didn’t we figure out a long time ago that that’s just politically correct bullshit? Janet Kornblum is there.

So when I heard about this whole bro-haha this weekend over some presentations at TechCrunch that a bunch of people thought were sexist, I was like, why the heck does everyone have their panties in a bunch?

What was behind all this hullabaloo? “Titstare” was, for one—that is, bros taking pictures of themselves staring at tits. Also “CircleShake,” an app that measures how hard someone can shake a phone and like, required dudes to stand up and simulate as if they were, well, you know.

And then Business Insider fires its Chief Technology Officer for a few measly “offensive” tweets, such as, “feminism in tech remains the champion topic for my block list. my finger is getting tired.”

Really, so what, ladies? These dudes are just being bros, having a little fun. I’m like totally sick of girls getting on their high horses about stuff like this. Seriously. Bros wanna have a little fun and make money. BFD, right? You gotta laugh with them.

Right? Feminists just drain all the fun out of life.

Dudes need their bromance. Bros gotta be bros.

Girls complaining about it? Total buzzkill. You don’t go to a frat house and bitch about the beer. You shouldn’t go to a start-up and meow about bro-workers.

It’s totally pointless and destructive, ladies!

Sure, it’s all PC to make sure you “diversify,” but start-ups have to Start Up. Get it? They can’t be held captive to a bunch of old school, outdated, personnel shit about who they have to hire. They have to be fast. They have to be fluid. They gotta be able to hire the best man for the job—even if sometimes, it’s a girl.

They need brogrammers who get it. Not sisgrammers. See? That doesn’t even work.

But the thing is? In real life, I’m one of those. One of those feminists. And by feminist, I mean a woman who stands up for women.

No that’s not what you’re supposed to do! You’re supposed to just put your head down and GET ON WITH YOUR WORK without always talking about women.

When I covered start-ups starting back in 1996, I remember being shocked by the blatant sexism. No, I’m not talking about everyone—but definitely, definitively most. It was clear that this was a man’s world. Women could come, but only if they followed dude rules. It was only cool if you could roll with the bros.

It was the beginning of the dot-com boom and I thought, well, it’s a new industry born of the male-dominated tech world. It’ll change.

Now it’s 16 years later, and guess what? The boys-only sign on the clubhouse has been switched out—to bros-only. The bro culture is hard-wired into many, many start-ups. I’m obviously not talking about everyone. But the fact that guys could stand up in a room and simulate masturbation and talk about tits at a major industry conference sure says something.

These events are not random. This kind of stuff and a lot worse happens all the time behind closed doors. The fact that they played out in public? It’s a sign of the times: that entitled, frat bro-culture has become not just tolerable in many circles, but even acceptable. Even kind of “fun.”

More than kind of, where I see it. Absolutely fun, unquestionably fun, enough fun to spend hours a day doing it on Twitter and forums (ok fora, but nobody says that and Word Press corrects it to for a). For some people it’s a party that goes on all day every day.

Naming a problem is the beginning. I’ve talked with a lot of women in the tech world about this; almost universally they can tell me stories about feeling excluded in all kinds of ways that maybe men don’t even notice: gatherings where only guys are invited; CEO’s using language like “brogramming”; and mostly, being passed up for promotions or being shut down. If they call out the behavior they’re told they’re “too sensitive.” But of course, they don’t want to complain out loud. Because guess what happens? They get shunned. Or they get fired. Both.

Elsewhere they get smeared, cyberstalked, photoshopped, cyberbullied.

“Boys will be boys” is fine when you’re alone in your own homes. But bros? The next time you want to hire a brogrammer or ask your coworker out for a browski, please think again about what you’re saying. It may seem harmless. But it isn’t. It sends a message.

Let’s hope that the next time a CEO hires, he’ll look beyond his own personal network. Maybe he’ll open one of those binders of women. Maybe it’ll happen two or three times. And maybe when there are just about an equal number of women, those women will feel comfortable and accepted enough to tell the guys when they’re doing something that they don’t know is sexist, but really is.

Let’s do this.


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


Sep 16th, 2013 10:15 am | By

Jesus and Grumpy Cat.

grumpy cat

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

This horrible Catholic guilt

Sep 15th, 2013 4:27 pm | By

An Irish university student goes on the pill. She tells her mother; her mother is fine with it. Then she goes home to the west of Ireland, and has to renew her prescription. Her local GP is not so fine with it. He asks her a lot of impertinent questions and gives her a lot of unwanted advice.

This horrible catholic guilt regarding our own sexuality still festers in the more rural parts of Ireland.  It makes me furious that the general psyche of our nation would accept that a doctor reserves the right not to administer this drug. I had done three courses of the pill, I was well aware of the risks and consequences and I am a consenting adult choosing to be responsible; yet the doctor still asked were my parents aware of why I was there.

It occurred to me, while filling the forms in for my new doctor, what if I had been going in there a younger, more impressionable girl trying to do the responsible thing? Having sat through the tirade that was directed at me I think I can confirm that a less stubborn girl would have probably never had the confidence to ask for contraception again. This seemed so dangerous to me that I felt the need to out my contraception problems, very publicly. The very idea of this betrayal of power and how Dr X’s refusal to administer the pill can come under the umbrella of ‘religious beliefs’ made me so angry I couldn’t keep this story to myself.

I don’t care if the world knows I’m on the pill. Or that I’m having sex. What I do care about is the fact that people like Dr X remain in their unquestionable position of authority. I care that I’m not allowed to name him in this article because he’s still my family’s doctor. Even my very liberal mother saw nothing wrong with a doctor refusing to administer a drug that I had already been on and was taking under full knowledge of the consequences. Her attitude of ‘Doctor Knows Best’ makes me incredibly angry. This tendency to never question figures of authority has caused so much trouble in regard to the Catholic Church and our corrupt politicians, yet still prevails. I am a consenting adult having sex, and nobody reserves the right to pass judgement on me.

Make Ireland a better place, Úna Roddy.

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

Since you consider yourself greater than God

Sep 15th, 2013 10:19 am | By

Sometimes the aphoristic compression of Twitter can be useful.

Noel McGivern @Good_Beard

The Ten Commandments are a useless code of morality they ignore rape and child abuse and put the vanity of an imaginary deity before murder.

Harper @Irishbloke

@Good_Beard Would you mind giving me your 10 commandments since you consider yourself greater than God?

Harper’s reply sums up a lot of what’s so wrong and terrible about religious thinking, in just those few words.

One part is the circularity that enables the firmly closed mind. He assumes that there is god and that god is moral and “great,” and thus that it’s an outrage to think about “The Ten Commandments” at all.

Given this firmly closed mind and this focus on the wholly irrelevant (imagine derailing a discussion of the First Amendment into a discussion of the character of, say, James Madison), Harper simply ignores the substance and goes for a plain old “shut up, that’s why” instead.

But the substance is the point; it’s the point of what Noel McGivern said and it’s much of the point of atheism. The Ten Commandments suck. Harper makes himself unable even to perceive that by means of his dogmatic assumptions.

Mine? Sure, why not.

  1. Don’t be cruel.
  2. Love justice.
  3. Embrace equality.
  4. Practice compassion.
  5. Be generous.
  6. Do what you can to make the world better.
  7. Aim for truth.
  8. Think carefully.
  9. Share what you learn with others.
  10. Amuse.

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

Too petrified to talk about it

Sep 15th, 2013 9:52 am | By

Rupa Jha talks about sexual abuse at home as opposed to out in the streets or on the buses.

She lived in a huge family in a two bedroom flat.

Distant relatives and cousins kept coming and going through the family home.
Being the youngest girl in the family, I was “loved” by them.

These love sessions would happen only when I was alone with one of them.

I hated it but, like many others in the same situation, I was too petrified to talk about it.

Getting rubbed, touched, kissed or being locked in bathrooms was the “love”.

Even though the house was always full, I felt completely lonely and violated.

One day when she was about ten she finally had had enough, and sat on the floor howling. That relative was told to leave the house, but that’s all that happened.

But talking to my sisters, cousins and friends, I discovered a sorority of the abused – so many of them suffered similarly harrowing experiences.

Experiences of abuse which were followed swiftly by experiences of silence, forgetting, and then pretending these things did not happen at all.

So when the news came in about the four guilty men being handed the death penalty after being found guilty of the fatal gang rape of a student in Delhi last December, I again wondered: When will this omerta, this code of silence about abuse in Indian homes be broken?

One hopes it will be now.

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

Is hijab ever really a free choice?

Sep 14th, 2013 5:19 pm | By

This again. In Sudan, a woman is threatened with flogging for refusing to wear hijab.

Can we please never again hear from anyone saying that wearing hijab is a choice?

Amira Osman Hamed faces a possible whipping if convicted at a trial which could come on September 19. Under Sudanese law, her hair – and that of all women – is supposed to be covered with a “hijab”, but Hamed refuses.

Ruby Hamad comments on the trend.

As mainstream Islam grows increasingly conservative, there is no doubt that the situation for many Muslim women, both in Sudan and elsewhere is deteriorating. Indonesia, for example, a once “moderate” country which has also been cracking down on women’s dress in recently years, is currently sparking international outrage for its plans to subject teenage schoolgirls to virginity tests.

And none of this is about choice. That’s the point. It’s about the violent refusal of choice.

Ahmed prefers to wear her hair in traditional Sudanese braids. But, judging by the policeman’s reaction, you’d think headscarves had been compulsory in Sudan for centuries and not just since the president Omar al-Bashir seized power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.

All of which shows just how quickly conservatism can change the face of a nation. There is no doubt that there is a disturbing emphasis put on women’s dress and behaviour and that this is increasing.

Because that too is the point.

Why is modesty so highly prized and enforced in women but not in men when the Koran praises both “modest men” and “modest women”?

While modesty can as easily refer to humility as it can to dress and sexuality, the hijab requirement places women’s modesty front and centre at all times in a way men are exempt from.

Nothing has hindered women’s progress more than the cult of modesty. In the Muslim world it has sadly reached the point to where it is seen as the primary, if not only indicator, of a woman’s entire worth as a person.

It is the direct cause of phenomena such as honour killings, the restrictions on women’s’ freedom of movement and female genital mutilation; all cultural practices that predate the rise of Islam and which are designed to ensure women’s chastity prior to marriage.

This cultural preference for female virginity means women’s lives and their entire moral character are distilled to their modesty, reducing them to, in the words of Arab-American writer Mona Eltahawy, “their headscarves and hymens.”

In such a context is hijab ever really a free choice when women who refuse to cover their hair are derided as immodest and unashamed?

No, it is not.

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