Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

Secular morality in a nutshell

Oct 31st, 2011 5:37 pm | By

Someone who commented on a very flimsy piece by Keith Ward at Comment is Free said a good thing.

There is a constant error made in many of these articles regarding the definition and scope of religion. Religion is not the study of ethics, natural science, philosophy or astronomy and cannot generate informed hypotheses on these topics.

The domain of religion is the interpretation of the desires of supernatural beings. It exists to answer the question “what do supernatural creatures want from us?”.

I guess a key point to ask would be “is that a question that really warrants such attention?”

Quite so. Maybe they do want something – tribute, worship, deference, adoration, sacrifice, an ox roasted whole, new clothes. But what if they do? We’re busy. We have natural creatures nearby who want more immediate things from us. The supernatural creatures will just have to take care of themselves.

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

The demonic power

Oct 31st, 2011 4:27 pm | By

Halloween wasn’t unalloyed fun for Libby Anne when she was growing up.

[Digression. Actually I don't find it unalloyed fun myself these days. I don't find all the corpses and graves all that funny, and they certainly are presented as jokey. It gets on my nerves, frankly. Just for one thing, isn't it kind of mean to people who've had people die on them recently? And I don't like all the cobweb stuff draped all over trees and shrubs and everything else within reach; they make whole blocks look junky. And I don't like the ridiculous amount of outdoor decoration there is - it seems to be more every year. Used to was, a carved pumpkin or two were all that was thought necessary; now suddenly houses are as wildly festooned as they are for Christmas. It's annoying because October is beautiful all by itself, it doesn't need a lot of stupid dreck to brighten it up.]

It wasn’t fun for Libby Anne because it was too frightening.

I grew up believing that there were real witches who worshiped Satan and communed with demons. These witches were dangerous and powerful because they got actual power from Satan himself. We believed that God would win eventually, but that for the time being Satan had a great deal of power and dominion over the world. Witches could cause real pain, because they had real power.
Demons were very real to me. I believed that they were battling with angels in the air around us, every day, everywhere. They were generally invisible, but I believed that they could make themselves visible if they wanted.
I believed that Halloween was the main holiday for witches, and that they held secret meetings with demons, conducted animal sacrifices, and carried out Satan’s work. Halloween terrified me, because I could almost feel the demonic power climax with the holiday. While I loved our church’s harvest fest, Halloween itself was a holiday of fear.

That makes me a little angry. It sounds terrifying, and children shouldn’t be terrified that way. Religious freedom and all that, but it ain’t right.

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

All of empirical inference

Oct 30th, 2011 5:09 pm | By

There’s another entry for the What to call it problem. It comes from a comment by Richard Wein on Dan’s post replying to Dr Coyne.

Much of the confusion over “science” and “scientism” arises from the tendency of some New Atheists (including Coyne) to stretch the word “science” to mean all of empirical inference. I think this stretching is based on a correct realisation that all of empirical inference lies on a continuum, with no clear lines of demarcation between formal science, philosophy, history, everyday inference, etc.

That’s exactly what I was talking about.

We need a better word for “good, secular thinking” that includes science but is not limited to it. We need a word that encompasses law, history, forensics and detective work, critical thinking, using what one knows and understands to navigate relationships and work and the world.

It’s all of empirical inference, that’s what.

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

How can we get pigs to fly?

Oct 30th, 2011 4:18 pm | By

The philosophical primate has some thoughts on being asked to do six impossible things before breakfast. The Faculty Senate asked for his input on a new initiative from the state legislature and board of regents. He responded to the following question:

2. Given increased enrollment and smaller budgets, how can we maintain and improve student success and retention?

That’s a good one, isn’t it. Uh…we can’t. Der. More students and less money: not the way to maintain and improve student success and retention. That’s like asking: given fewer workers and supplies, how can we get this building project finished faster and better?

The pp put it more eloquently.

The board of regents and state legislature can demand whatever they want — they can demand that faculty alter time and space, suspend gravity, and invent perpetual motion machines — but we cannot meet demands for what is simply impossible. When someone insists that you do something impossible, the only correct and sane answer is, “No.” Any response to their demands other than honestly telling them how and why their demands are impossible would simply reinforce their deluded conviction that they can create the results they want by simply insisting that the people and institutions they have power over produce them. Real-world results cannot be produced by fact-ignoring fiat, and hard problems cannot be solved by insisting that someone lower down the totem pole solve them — especially when that insistence is accompanied by a reduction in the resources available to carry out the work needed to fix those problems.

So don’t ask insulting questions. If you have to impose increased enrollment and smaller budgets, don’t ask the proles how they can do even better.

It is a fundamental principle of ethics (my field of study) that “ought implies can,” which simply means that one cannot be obligated to do something that is not in one’s power to do. Surely at some level the powers that be must be aware of the self-contradictory nature of their demands, and that those demands cannot be met — but if they are not aware, that does not obligate us to nevertheless try to meet those demands. If we are obligated to do anything, it is to make them aware that their demands are impossible, and to explain why. In other words, we are obligated to educate them — which, after all, is our calling.

School those powers that be. School them good.




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

Be firm but not too firm, dogmatic but not too dogmatic

Oct 29th, 2011 4:42 pm | By

To continue

What I call dogmatophobia is the liberal fear of being judgmental of the beliefs of others. Because everyone has a right to her opinion and no one has a monopoly on the truth, there is a tendency to think that any kind of assertion of a truth, other than of the blandest factual kind (“Paris is the capital of France”), is intolerant and morally imperialistic. Hence, people who assiduously avoid factory-farmed meat will go out of their way not to condemn ritual animal slaughter that causes needless suffering. People who would not tolerate even the sniff of sexism in their workplace bend over backwards to allow religious traditions their “right” to systemically discriminate against women.


It is, of course, true that an excessive desire for certainty is deeply problematic. But pretty much every reasonable person agrees with this, and most are not agnostic. Accepting that the world is full of uncertainty and ambiguity does not and should not stop people from being pretty sure about a lot of things. To criticise people who express a firm belief as suffering from a lust for certainty is therefore to see the speck in another’s eye while missing the plank in one’s own: an excessive lust for uncertainty that makes any conviction appear misplaced.

Ok – but then what is it that is so terrible about “the new atheists”? In what way are “the new atheists” like religious fundamentalists?

Well I guess I see why, but that’s not to say I understand it:

Unfortunately, the middle ground in the God debate is occupied by too many people who screw up their eyes to create the illusion of a mist when the view is really clear. And this is not just wrong: it’s dangerous, because if we make too much of our inability to be certain, we make ourselves incapable of clear and unequivocal condemnation of just those extreme dogmatists whom agnostics and moderate but committed believers fear. The main problem with young-Earth creationists who assert that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, for instance, is not that they are certain, but that they are wrong. It’s the matter of the belief that is pernicious, not just the manner of its holding.

Nope; I don’t understand it at all. Apparently the middle ground in the God debate is the good and right ground, so it seems fair to conclude that “the new atheists” are bad because we don’t occupy the middle ground. But what is the middle ground, exactly? It’s against extreme dogmatism, but how exactly does the extreme dogmatism of “the new atheists” differ from expressing a firm belief?

Let’s go over it again. Religious fundamentalists and “the new atheists” are extreme; the right thing to be is a moderate who occupies the middle ground in the God debate and condemns those extreme dogmatists whom agnostics and moderate but committed believers fear. However, that moderate should also have and express firm beliefs.

Ok, I get it. Moderates have firm beliefs and we new atheists are extreme dogmatists. It’s one of those irregular verbs. You’re stubborn; I have a firm will. You’re bad-tempered; I’m passionate. You’re dogmatic, I have firm beliefs. You get the idea.


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

Being truthful must sometimes trump being nice

Oct 29th, 2011 4:14 pm | By

Reading Julian’s latest. I can’t wait until I’ve read the whole thing to comment on this:

[Mark] Vernon’s advocacy of passionate agnosticism offers soothing camomile tea to those jittery after the triple espressos of the new atheists and religious fundamentalists. Since he is as genial in person as he is on the page, attacking him does feel rather like kicking a labrador puppy. But if we are serious about religion, being truthful must sometimes trump being nice, and intellectually, if not personally, Vernon needs a good kicking.

No it’s not the part about the puppy, although it’s true that a good friend of mine was a labrador puppy just a few months ago and it would have been a terrible thing to have kicked him.

No, it’s first of all the swipe at “the new atheists.” Julian can’t seem to write one of these without a swipe at “the new atheists.” I think that’s illiberal and wrong and that he should stop doing it. “The new atheists” are the favorite punching bag for way too many people (including non-”new” atheists!) these days, and they should knock it off. Are bishops and pundits not harsh enough about atheists already, is it really necessary for atheists to join in the mud-throwing? The equivalency is irritating, too – it’s incredibly banal, it’s false, and it’s malicious. “Aw youse guys are all just as irritating as each others.” The hell we are. Even if “the new atheists” are irritating beyond what words can say, they/we are still not like religious fundamentalists. The triple espressos thing is just a cheap shot, and I’m tired of cheap shots from people like Julian. Such people should know better.

And second, it’s the fact that by the third sentence, he says pretty much exactly what “the new atheists” say and get so much shit for saying. We are serious about religion, so we think being truthful must sometimes trump being nice…just as Julian suggests. So where, exactly, does the similarity to religious fundamentalism and the triple espresso quality come in? You tell me.

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

QED next March

Oct 29th, 2011 11:44 am | By

There’s a fun thing going on in Manchester next March: QED 2012.


Question.Explore.Discover. Back for an encore. Only £89

I’ll be there – as will Steve Jones and David Aaaronovitch and Edzard Ernst among others - and Maryam Namazie! Maryam and I finally get to meet; we’re excited.

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

You do the math

Oct 29th, 2011 10:50 am | By

Jerry Coyne has posted (with permission) an email exchange with Dan Barker. JC asked DB – evangelical turned atheist and co-president of the FFRF – “what he thought about the accommodationist claim that promoting compatibility between religion and science could turn the faithful towards science.” Barker’s answer is interesting.

I think you are right. I don’t know of anyone whose views on creationism changed as a result of hearing other religionists champion evolution. (Though I don’t doubt that could have happened. Well, I think it must have happened, given that some people do go through transitional processes, within religion and out of religion.)

I think the reason you are (mainly) right is that few believers hold much respect for the authority or opinion of other believers who disagree with them theologically.

There’s more, and then he ends with an equation:

Religion + Good Works = Good Works

Solve for Religion.


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

In which the rights of God are assured

Oct 29th, 2011 9:37 am | By

The “soft-spoken Islamic scholar” Rachid Ghannouchi has nice plans for Tunisia, he tells us.

“We will continue this revolution to realize its aims of a Tunisia that is free, independent, developing and prosperous in which the rights of God, the Prophet, women, men, the religious and the non-religious are assured because Tunisia is for everyone,” Ghannouchi told a crowd of cheering supporters.

He might as well say “We will continue this revolution to realize its aims of a Tunisia that will square the circle.” If the rights of God and the Prophet as understood by clerics and “Islamic scholars” are assured then the rights of women and the non-religious can’t be assured; it’s an impossibility.

It’s blood-chilling that a political leader thinks he knows what “the rights of God” and “the rights of the Prophet” are, and that they have to be assured, and that they get top billing. It’s not surprising, of course, because that’s what Islamists do think, but it’s blood-chilling.

The prophet is dead. He’s been dead for 14 centuries. What “rights” can he have?

“God” is hidden and secretive and mysterious and indistinguishable from not there at all. What “rights” can it have?

How can the cryptic spooky incomprehensible “rights” of a long-dead guy and a posited supernatural agent come ahead of the rights of living people?

Those are general questions. More particular questions would ask how the “rights” of the god and the prophet can co-exist with the rights of women, such as the right to choose whether or not to marry and whom to marry; the right to be equal before the law; the right to education; the right not to be stoned to death for being raped; and similar items. They would ask how the “rights” of the god and the prophet can co-exist with the rights of the religious to stop being religious. They would ask how the “rights” of the god and the prophet can co-exist with the rights of the non-religious to point out that to all appearances the god in question doesn’t exist.

H/t to Fin in comments for the quotation from Ghannouchi.


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

No attempt would be made to force women to wear the headscarf

Oct 28th, 2011 2:49 pm | By

Hmm. The BBC is looking on the bright side of life.

The leader of the Islamist party that won the most seats in Tunisia’s elections has said women’s social gains would not be reversed.

Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi promised to strengthen the role of women in Tunisian politics.

“Leaders” promise lots of things; they don’t always stick to their promises. The BBC is a venerable news organization, venerable enough to be aware of this.

But despite the reassurances, Ennahda’s victory is causing concern in some parts of Tunisia, who fear the party could later change its policies, our
correspondent says.

“Ennahda reaffirms its commitment to the women of Tunisia, to strengthen
their role in political decision-making, in order to avoid any going back on
their social gains,” Mr Ghannouchi said at a news conference.

No attempt would be made to force women to wear the headscarf, including in
government, he added.

Uh huh. Ask us again in a year.

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

If conceptually coherent

Oct 28th, 2011 10:13 am | By

Dan Fincke takes issue with dismissiveness toward philosophy, and I agree with him about that, but I’m not sure about the particular example he’s chosen. That could well be just because I’m not a philosopher, so I’m not understanding.

The example is a postdoc fellowship in philosophy funded (lavishly) by the Templeton Foundation.

The fellowship enables young scholars to use contemporary analytic methods to pursue independent research in the fields of divine and human agency, such as moral responsibility and freedom of will; or philosophy of mind and its theological implications, such as the presence of the divine in a natural world and the emergence of consciousness.

[The] postdoctoral research project, “Divine Foreknowledge, the Philosophy of Time, and the Metaphysics of Dependence: Some New Approaches to an Old Problem,” assesses a core Ockhamist thesis about foreknowledge. William of Ockham was a 13th century philosopher.

“The central contention of the Ockhamist concerns a point about the order of explanation. According to the Ockhamist, it is because of what we do that God long ago believed that we would do these things. That is, God’s past beliefs depend in an important sense on what we do, and thus, says the Ockhamist, we can sometimes have a choice about God’s past beliefs,” he explained. “The overarching goal of this project is to develop and assess this core Ockhamist thesis along two underexplored dimensions: the philosophy of time, and the metaphysics of dependence – both of which have seen an explosion of recent interest.”

Dan wrote:

…it does not matter whether there actually is a God. There is still philosophical illumination from exploring the implications of a hypothetical omniscient knower for our understanding of things like the connections between belief, causation, and time.

That’s the part that I don’t get, that maybe I would get if I were a philosopher. I have a hard time seeing how there can be illumination from exploring the implications of a hypothetical omniscient knower when an omniscient knower is, as far as we know, in the world we inhabit, in the conditions we understand, etc, so impossible. All it seems to generate is absurdity. Then if you have to reconcile it with the inviolability of free will, it generates absurdity squared. Dan quotes Verbose Stoic doing just that (reconciling it with free will):

Ockham likely argued that if we have an omniscient being — God — then that God would know what we’re doing right now. But that could mean that God knows that and can know that because He determined it, which would violate free will. So, then, if it is not pre-determined then God’s belief about what we will do must be formed as we do it right now. But God has always known it, which would mean that our decisions now have an impact on beliefs formed in the past. If conceptually coherent, this has major implications for the conceptions of time and of dependence — ie what it means for one fact or truth or action to depend on another — both of which are currently of interest in philosophical circles.

But does it? If it starts with impossibilities, does it have implications for anything? This is what I don’t get.

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

Only 377 to go

Oct 28th, 2011 9:58 am | By

A Foxhole atheist needs only 377 more signatures on the petition to “End the Military’s Discrimination against Non-Religious Service Members” to get the 5000 necessary, but he needs them in the next four days. If the petition gets to 5000 signatures in the next four days the White House will have to respond. If you haven’t already signed it, please do.

Please sign it: the petition.

Update: people have been having trouble signing in. A Noyd offers a fix:

What I did was sign out using the blue bar at the bottom of the page, refresh the petition page, and sign back in using the “sign in” button between “sign this petition” and “create an account.”  When I did that, the “sign this petition” button turned green and clickable.  Also, it took a few minutes and another page refresh before my signature showed up in the list below the petition, so don’t worry if there’s bit of a delay.

Currently at 215. It’s working.

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

Defining sexism downwards

Oct 28th, 2011 7:46 am | By

A re-post from January 2010 – of quite startling relevance: about a pro-rape Facebook page and sexist epithets and…Rod Liddle saying a woman should be kicked in the cunt. How about that.

January 19, 2010

I did not know – some male students at St Paul’s College at the University of Sydney set up a pro-rape Facebook page.

The group, which was named “Define Statutory”, described its members as “anti-consent” and was listed in the sports and recreation section of the site…It was shut down at the end of [October], but had been live on Facebook since August, according to an investigation by the Sydney Morning Herald…The Sydney Morning Herald said the page was part of a broader culture at the residential colleges that “demeans women in a sexist and often sexually violent way”.

And here I was fuming (or should I say bitching?) about sexist epithets and men who type thousands of words insisting that ‘stupid bitch’ is not sexist. Kind of puts it all in perspective. Except actually I think it’s (broadly speaking) all part of the same thing. I think both items are part of a broader culture in a lot of places that demeans women in a sexist way. I think the bizarro phenomenon of men who ought to know better verbally spewing on women whenever they feel like it is pretty much by definition part of a broader culture that demeans women in a sexist way. That’s why it shocks me that men give themselves permission to do that – it reveals that contempt for women is commonplace in areas where I would have thought it had gone out of fashion decades ago.

But no – apparently it’s still seen as hip and edgy and funny to treat women like dirt. Apparently sexism is being defined downwards so that it isn’t really sexism unless, I don’t know, it comes with a signed affidavit stating This Is Sexism. Rod Liddle apparently is of that school, unless he really didn’t post this on a Millwall fans’ website:

Stupid bitch. A year eight sociology lecture from someone who knows fck all. You could equally say that we were similar to any group which disliked a certain aspect of society, felt estranged from it but were sure we were right. The logical extension of her argument is that the status quo is always right, which is absurd, because if that were true nothing would change. Someone kick her in the cnt.

He was there commenting right after I had, so I asked him if that one was his, saying bitches with cunts would like to know. He said

I don’t remember saying it and it certainly doesn’t read like me, but it’s quite possible that at some point I might use that temrinology to make a certain point, perhaps the opposite to the one you imagine. Just as you have done, right now. “Bitches with cunts would like to know” is a canny, sardonic pay off to your post. Take it out of context and what have you got?

I don’t know, but what you haven’t got is ‘I wouldn’t say shit like that in a million years.’ Instead you have men earnestly explaining the terrifically subtle and fascinating difference between saying ‘stupid nigger’ and saying ‘stupid bitch,’ a subtle difference that boils down to: the first is absolutely out and the second is really quite all right and you’re being a dreary fanatic if you say it isn’t. Which boils down to saying casual contempt for other races is not okay and casual contempt for women is fine.

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

How dare you enforce the law

Oct 27th, 2011 4:40 pm | By

Stewart sent more links today. I’m still catching up. So…where were we? Oh yes -

Womens’ rights groups and organizations opposing religious coercion have demonstrated against the segregation. Jerusalem councilwomen Rachel Azaria of the Yerushalmim (Jerusalemites) faction and Laura Verton (Meretz) petitioned the High Court of Justice against the practice.

Well guess what. Guess what happened to Jerusalem councilwomen Rachel Azaria. She got an award from the Secular Lawyers’ Guild? No. She got fired. That’s right: fired.

Mayor Nir Barkat has dismissed Rachel Azaria from Jerusalem’s coalition government, but the city denies he did so because Azaria is against gender segregation in the ultra-Orthodox Mea She’arim quarter. It says loyalty to city council policy is the issue.

Members of the Haredi community were delighted by Azaria’s dismissal. A headline on a popular ultra-Orthodox website, B’hedri Haredim, declared: “A joyous holiday in Jerusalem: Barkat fires the provocateur.”

The Jewish Daily Forward blog The Sisterhood comments.

Jerusalem City Council Member Rachel  Azaria quickly paid a high price for standing up for what she believes in.  On October 17, Jerusalem Mayor  Nir Barkat stripped her of her portfolios on the city council that concern  community councils and early childhood issues. She was being punished for petitioning  Israel’s High Court of Justice to enforce a previous ruling that ordered  police to prevent gender segregation on the streets of the Haredi Jerusalem  neighborhood Mea Shearim.

In an exclusive telephone interview with The Sisterhood later the day she  lost her portfolios, she said that less than 24 hours after the Court  issued its ruling in her favor, she received an email from one of Barkat’s  assistants on behalf of the mayor stating that “because you went to the High  Court of Justice, I am relieving you of your duties.” Barkat did not personally  contact Azaria to inform her of this. But his office sent out another email  announcing the change minutes later to all 31 members of City Council.

She was fired for enforcing a legal ruling. So adhering to the law is a firing offence in the Jerusalem city government?

Azaria said she was buoyed by how seriously the judges of the Court,  especially its president, Dorit  Beinish, regarded her petition. “There was a very ideological discussion in  the Court. Beinish herself said how important it was to have this discussion.  She brought in Jerusalem’s chief of police, and really tried to find solutions  that would be implementable,” Azaria said.

“The Haredim know that it’s illegal. Really it’s just a small segment of that  community that thinks that they can just keep doing what they want and that the secular and more liberal religious people will just get tired and give up,” the  religiously observant Azaria said. “But I won’t give up on such an important  issue.”

Theocrats are busy everywhere you look, thinking they can just keep doing what they want and the rest of us will just get bored and give up. This is why the world needs gnu atheists. Gnu atheists don’t get bored and give up. We refuse. We just get more pissed off and stubborn.

The Sisterhood says women are disappearing from public life in Jerusalem.

Haaretz reported  recently that there is a glaring lack of women on billboards and in local  Jerusalem newspaper and magazine ads.

“Believe me, this is real,” said Ayalon. “I am out there every day counting  the dwindling number of women seen in advertisements.” He is not talking about “women in bikinis on cars,” which Ayalon stresses that he and Yerushalmim are,  like the Haredim, opposed to. Rather, he is talking about the complete absence  of respectably dressed women in ads in which they used to appear in Jerusalem — and still do in other parts of the country. Suddenly there are a whole lot of  images of men selling food, furniture, and other home-related products. Men’s being more focused on domesticity can, of course, be a good thing — but not at  the expense of women’s civil rights.

That sounds like Hollywood movies, which almost all star three or four men these days, as if only men existed. I guess we need gnu feminists, too.


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

Shoving people off the sidewalk, again

Oct 27th, 2011 11:41 am | By

Stewart sent me a couple of interesting items last week. I was having technical issues and am catching up.

Israel High Court upholds ban on Sukkot gender segregation in Jerusalem.

Oh yes? There was gender segregation?


During this year’s Sukkot celebrations, police gave ultra-Orthodox leaders of Mea She’arim’s Toldos Aharon community permission to erect a barrier dividing the street by gender, despite the fact that, last year, the High Court ordered community leaders to revoke the segregation they imposed on women on Sukkot.

Large billboards posted throughout the capital’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods last week forbade women to enter Mea She’arim Street during the Sukkot celebration.

This is a public street, you understand. It’s not private property, it’s not the grounds of a synagogue, it’s a public street.

Last year, community leaders put up tarpaulin partitions along the sidewalks on Strauss and Mea She’arim streets, creating a narrow path on one side for women to walk on, and women were forbidden to walk on certain sidewalks and streets during Sukkot’s intermediate days.

Womens’ rights groups and organizations opposing religious coercion have demonstrated against the segregation. Jerusalem councilwomen Rachel Azaria of the Yerushalmim (Jerusalemites) faction and Laura Verton (Meretz) petitioned the High Court of Justice against the practice.

The Jerusalem Post also reported.

Separation barriers erected in the streets of Mea She’arim designed to prevent male and female intermingling during Succot have been ordered dismantled.

At a hearing of the High Court of Justice on Sunday, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch ordered the police to remove the separation barriers and also ordered the police to remove private security personnel enforcing the gender separation.

Can you imagine? Walking on a public street and having private security personnel forcing you behind a partition because you’re a woman?

The decision, also heard by Justice Asher Dan Grunis and Justice Hanan Melcer, comes following a petition filed by Jerusalem City Councilwoman Rachel Azariah on Friday, demanding that last year’s high court ruling, which affirmed that gender separation is illegal, be enforced.

“Succot has arrived and once again there is illegal segregation [of men  and women],” Beinisch stated during the hearing. “There has been a  takeover of public places by a minority in the neighborhood… The private-security personnel and the canvas partitions should be removed  now and beginning at the end of Succot, and from then on, there should be no segregation in Mea She’arim [in the future].”

“The court established today once again that segregation in the public domain on the basis of gender is illegal and has to be acted against,” said Azariah in response to the decision. “There is a long way to go  until we reach equality between men and women, but… if Rosa Parks  succeeded in the racist period of US history in the 1950s, then we in  the democratic State of Israel of 2011 will also succeed.”

Let’s hope so.

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

For a free and secular Middle East and North Africa

Oct 27th, 2011 9:49 am | By

76 secularists and human rights campaigners, including Mina Ahadi, Nawal El Sadaawi, Marieme Helie Lucas, Hameeda Hussein, Ayesha Imam, Maryam Jamil, Maryam Namazie, Taslima Nasrin, Farida Shaheed, Fatou Sow, and Stasa Zajovic have signed on to a Manifesto for a Free and Secular Middle East and North Africa.

In light of the recent pronouncements of the unelected Libyan Transitional Council for ‘Sharia laws’, the signatories of the manifesto vehemently oppose the hijacking of the protests by Islamism or US-led militarism and unequivocally support the call for freedom and secularism made by citizens and particularly women in the region.

Secularism is a minimum precondition for a free and secular Middle East and for the recognition of women’s rights and equality.

We call on world citizens to support this important campaign by signing on to our petition.

We also ask that supporters click ‘like’ on our Facebook page to support this important campaign and Tweet: #freesecularMENA in support of a free and secular Middle East and North Africa.

Manifesto for a Secular Middle East and North Africa

The 2009 protests in Iran followed by the Arab Spring have the potential to herald a new dawn for the people of the region and the world. The protests have clearly shown that people in the region, like people everywhere, want to live 21st century lives.

We, the undersigned, emphasise their modern and human dimension and wholeheartedly welcome this immense and historical development. We are vehemently opposed to their hijacking by Islamism or US-led militarism and support the call for a free and secular Middle East and North Africa made by citizens and particularly women in the region.

Secularism is a minimum precondition for the freedom and equality of all citizens and includes:

1. Complete separation of religion from the state.

2. Abolition of religious laws in the family, civil and criminal codes.

3. Separation of religion from the educational system.

4. Freedom of religion and atheism as private beliefs.

5. Prohibition of sex apartheid and compulsory veiling.


1.Mina Ahadi, Spokesperson, International Committees against Stoning and Execution, Iran/Germany
2.Marieme Helie Lucas, Sociologist, Founder and former international coordinator of Women Living Under Muslim Laws and founder of Secularism Is A Women’s Issue, Algeria/France
3.Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, Iran/UK
4.Shahla Abghari, University Professor, Iran/USA
5.Siavash Abghari, Esmail Khoi Foundation, Iran/USA
6.Ahlam Akram, Palestinian Peace and Human Rights Writer and Campaigner, Palestine/UK
7.Sargul Ahmad, Women’s Liberation in Iraq, Iraq/Canada
8.Mahin Alipour, Coordinator, Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, Iran/Sweden
9.Reza Alkrami, Human Rights Activist, Iran/USA
10.Farideh Arman, Coordinator, Committee to Defend Women’s Rights, Iran/Sweden
11.Sultana Begum, Regional Gender Adviser, Diakonia Asia, Bangladesh
12.Djemila Benhabib, Writer, Algeria/Canada
13.Codou Bop, Journalist and Director of GREFELS, Dakar, Senegal
14.Ariane Brunet, co-founder Urgent Action Fund, Québec, Canada
15.Micheline Carrier, Sisyphe, Québec, Canada
16.Patty Debonitas, Iran Solidarity, UK
17.Denise Deliège Femmes En Noir, Belgium
18.Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, Sweden
19.Fanny Filosof, Femmes en Noir, Belgium
20.Mersedeh Ghaedi, New Channel TV Programme host, Iran/Norway
21.Groupe de recherche sur les femmes et les lois, Dakar, Senegal
22.Laura Guidetti, Marea Feminist Magazine, Italy
23.Zeinabou Hadari, Centre Reines Daura, Niger
24.Anissa Hélie, Historian, Algeria/France/USA
25.Rohini Henssman, Human Rights Activist, India
26.Hameeda Hossein, Chairperson Ain o Salish Kendra, Dhaka, Bangladesh
27.Khayal Ibrahim, Women’s Liberation in Iraq, Iraq/Canada
28.Leo Igwe, Founder, Nigerian Humanist Movement, Nigeria
29.Ayesha Imam, Women’s Human Rights and Democracy Activist, Nigeria/Senegal
30.International Campaign in Defence of Women’s Rights in Iran, Sweden
31.International Committee against Execution, Germany
32.International Committee against Stoning, Germany
33.Iran Solidarity, Iran/UK
34.Maryam Jamil, Women’s Liberation in Iraq, Iraq
35.Sultana Kamal, Executive Director, Ain o Salish Kendra and Chairperson Transparency International, Bangladesh
36.Abbas Kamil, Unity Against Unemployment in Iraq, Baghdad, Iraq
37.Harsh Kapoor, South Asia Citizens Web, India
38.Akbar Karimian, Human Rights Activist, Iran/UK
39.Cherifa Kheddar, President of Djazairouna, Algeria
40.Monica Lanfranco, Marea Feminist Magazine, Italy
41.Houzan Mahmoud, Representative of Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, Iraq/UK
42.Nahla Elgaali Mahmoud, Biologist, Sudan/UK
43.Anwar Mir Sattari, Human rights Activist, Iran/Belgium
44.Amena Mohsin, Professor, Dept. International Relations Dhaka University, Bangladesh
45.Khawar Mumtaz, Director Shirkat Gah, Lahore, Pakistan
46.Taslima Nasrin, Writer and Activist, Bangladesh
47.U. M. Habibun Nessa, President, Naripokkho, Bangladesh
48.Partow Nooriala, Poet, Writer and Human Rights Activist, Iran/USA
49.Asghar Nosrati, Human Rights Activist, Iran/Sweden
50.One Law for All, UK
51.Pragna Patel, Southall Black Sisters, UK
52.Fariborz Pooya, Iranian Secular Society, Iran/UK
53.Protagora, Zagreb, Croatia
54.Hassan Radwan, Activist, Egypt/UK
55.Mary Jane Real, Women’s Human Rights Coalition, Manila, The Philippines
56.Edith Rubinstein, Femmes en Noir, Belgium
57.Nawal El Sadaawi, Writer, Egypt
58.Fahimeh Sadeghi, Coordinator, International Federation of Iranian Refugees, Iran/Canada
59.Gita Sahgal, Director, Centre for Secular Space, UK
60.Nina Sankari, Secularist and Feminist, Poland
61.Secularism Is A Women’s Issue (International Network)
62.Aisha Lee Shaheed, London, UK
63.Farida Shaheed, Shirkat Gah, Lahore, Pakistan
64.Siba Shakib, Filmmaker, Writer and Activist, Iran/USA
65.Sohaila Sharifi, Women’s Rights Campaigner, Iran/UK
66.Issam Shukri, Head, Secularism and Civil Rights in Iraq, Iraq/Canada
67.Southall Black Sisters, UK
68.Fatou Sow, Sociologist CNRS, Dakar, Senegal
69.Afsaneh Vahdat, Coordinator, International Campaign for Women’s Rights in Iran, Iran/Sweden
70.Lino Veljak, Professor of Philosophy, Zagreb University, Croatia
71.Fauzia Viqar, Director Advocacy and Communications, Shirkat Gah Women’s Resource Centre, Lahore, Pakistan
72.Anne Marie Waters, One Law for All, UK
73.Vivienne Wee, anthropologist, feminist and human rights activist, Singapore and Hong Kong, China
74.Women In Black, Belgrade, Serbia
75.Sara Zaker, Theatre Director, Bangladesh
76.Stasa Zajovic, spokesperson Women in Black, Belgrade, Serbia

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

It could turn out like Iran

Oct 27th, 2011 9:41 am | By

Middle-class women in Tunisia are not thrilled about the win of the “moderate” Islamist party.

In Sunday’s election Tunisia, birthplace of the “Arab Spring” uprisings,
handed the biggest share of the vote to Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party that was banned under decades of autocratic, secularist rule.

“We’re afraid that they’ll limit our freedoms,” said Rym, a 25-year-old
medical intern sitting in “Gringo’s”, a fast-food outlet in Ennasr.

“They say they won’t but after a while they could introduce changes step by
step. Polygamy could come back … They say they want to be like Turkey but it
could turn out like Iran. Don’t forget, that was a very open society too.”

Not to mention the fact that Turkey is getting more Islamist, not less so. These “moderate” Islamists are only as “moderate” as they’re forced to be. As soon as they can, they go stricter.

Many of them do not trust assurances from Rachid Ghannouchi, Ennahda’s
leader. He says he will model his approach on Turkey’s moderate ruling AK Party, will not impose Islamic values on anyone and will respect women’s

Nadia Khemiri, a 39-year-old former public relations executive who is now a
housewife, says it is not Ghannouchi that worries her, but the message his win
will send to the streets.

A few days before the election, Khemiri was handing out leaflets in support
of a rival party with other women activists.

“There were some men who looked at us and said: ‘You keep doing what you’re
doing. But it’s not going to last long. Soon you’ll be staying at home’,”
Khemiri recalled in an interview on Tuesday.

“We have seen incidents that justified our fears of excesses from certain
people, who are now going to feel stronger, and that they can get away with

Just so. As soon as they can, they will.

Ennahda’s victory means Tunisia will finally have a leadership who share the
values and Muslim identity of the majority of the population.

“It’s men not looking you in the eye; talking to your husband, not you,” said
another woman, who did not want to be named. “I have a daughter and I worry
about her.”

Khemiri said she was shocked to see separate queues for men and women at
polling stations in areas where Ennahda is strong.

“In some working-class districts, when you go to pay the gas or electricity
bill, there are men who come with their wives and try to enforce separate queues…”

Not good.

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

Wubete and 100,000 more

Oct 26th, 2011 12:48 pm | By

Ever seen Nova’s “A Walk to Beautiful“? I was sure I’d posted about it at ur-B&W but I didn’t find such a post so I guess I didn’t. It was repeated on one of the local PBS stations last night so I saw it for the third time.

It rips my guts out every time. It’s about a hospital in Addis Ababa that repairs fistulas in women, which means it’s about a hospital that receives women who are outcasts, miserable, isolated, lonely, and repairs them. Everything about it is moving.

The real killer is Wubete, who is there for the third time, because the first two didn’t work. They tell her to do exercises and she’s in despair, because she’s been doing them and they don’t work…and she doesn’t want to go home because they all reject her there. Her father forced her to marry as a child – she kept refusing, she kept running away, but finally she got pregnant so she had to stay. She was 11 or 12. It wouldn’t have happened, she says miserable, if her mother had been alive. Then having the stillborn baby destroyed her bladder – and the hospital can’t fix it. Tears roll down her cheeks, and the nurse tells her (very kindly – they’re all very kind at that place) not to be so broken-hearted. Later Wubete goes to the head nurse and says she doesn’t want to go home, is there any way she could stay on? She’s so forlorn. I know how it comes out for her and still it just about kills me to watch it. (*Spoiler)

I always wish I were Bill Gates when I watch it; I would like to give that hospital $1 billion, so that they could repair more than a tiny fraction of the women who need it. But much better would be if Ethiopians and others would stop marrying off girls who are way too young and small to bear children. (One of the saddest things about the Ethiopian women is that they start doing hard labor very young, so they don’t have enough calories to grow, so they are small.)

*It comes out well.

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

Disseminate the word

Oct 26th, 2011 10:46 am | By

JT Eberhard of the Secular Students Alliance and Freethought Blogs says spread the word. What word? This word.

1. Like the SSA Facebook page. You do not need to be a student to do this, you need only support our cause.
2. Upvote the reddit article to push back against all the Christian down votes.
3. Become a member of the SSA ($35/year, $10/year for students) and/or donate to the SSA. You do not need to be a student to become a member! The upcoming generation of secular activists requires the support of the previous generation! And you know that we’re a 501(c)(3), so this shiz is straight up tax deductible, homie.
4. Spread the word even further! Tweet about it. Facebook it. G+ it. Shout it from the mountain tops. Get a pic. Do a blog! Tell them the taaaaaaaaaaaaale!

They got a big bounce from being on the front page at Redditt but then the religious types rushed in to downvote and there is a a $20,000 matching offer at stake so they need the word spreaded.

Thank you for your attention in this matter.

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

Way back

Oct 26th, 2011 9:38 am | By

I’ve been following (and doing what I could to share and draw attention to) Maryam’s work for a long time – since 2004. I did a search at the ur-B&W and had to click “previous entries” a lot of times to get to the first ones.

One of the first ones is The Politics Behind Cultural Relativism, an International TV Interview that Maryam did with Fariborz Pooya and Bahram Soroush.

Bahram Soroush: You are absolutely right. When you talk about the West, it is accepted that there are political differentiations, that people have different value systems, that there are political parties. You don’t talk about one uniform, homogeneous culture. But why is it that when it comes to the rest of the world, suddenly the standards change? The way you look at society changes. It doesn’t make sense. But it makes political sense. We are living in the real world; there are political affiliations; there are economic ties; there are very powerful interests which require justifications. For example, how can you roll out the red carpet for the Islamic executioners from Iran, treat them as ‘respectable diplomats’ and at the same time dodge the issue that this government executes people, stones people to death, carries out public hangings, and that this is happening in the 21st century. It’s a question of how to justify that. So, if you say that cultures are relative; if you say that in Iran they stone people to death and they veil women because it is their culture, your conscience then is clean. This is the reason that we are seeing that something that doesn’t really make sense to anyone, and which they would not use to characterise anyone else in the Western world, they use it to characterise people from the third world. In fact it is very patronising, eurocentric and even racist to try to divide people in this way; to say, it’s OK for you. For example, to say to the Iranian woman that you should accept your fate because that’s your culture. This is part of the larger discussion of what lies behind this sort of thinking, but the motive is very political.

Maryam Namazie: You hear this also from the progressive angle as well. People who like what we say – for example, that we are standing up against political Islam – immediately assume that we are ‘moderate Muslims’. In the interview that you Bahram Soroush gave on the incompatibility of Islam and human rights for example, you clearly said that you were an atheist. But it just doesn’t seem to register, even among progressives. Why is that? I understand the political interests of Western governments, but why do even progressives have that opinion of us?

August 2004, that is.

In 2005 the NSS named Maryam Secularist of the Year.

Maryam Namazie received a standing ovation when the time came to reveal her as the winner. Introducing Maryam, Keith Porteous Wood, NSS executive director said: “Maryam is an inveterate commentator and broadcaster on rights, cultural relativism, secularism, religion, political Islam and many other related topics. The present revival of Islam has heightened interest in Maryam’s work, and at last her writings are gaining a mainstream audience. She has spoken at numerous conferences and written extensively on women’s rights issues, particularly violence against women.”

She’s a star.

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