Notes and Comment Blog


Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed

Mar 4th, 2015 4:26 pm | By

Here’s another persecution on religious grounds.

We, African youth and defenders of freedom and human dignity, with the support of human rightsliberty and freedom defenders, have learned with great sorrow that the death penalty has been imposed on Mohamed Ould Cheikh Mohamed Mkhaitir who was accused of apostasy despite his multiple recantations of the statements in question.

This heavy sentence was imposed based on assertions that Mohamed Ould Cheikh Mohamed Mkhaitir “spoke lightly of the Prophet (PBUH)” in an article published on Mauritanian websites on December 30, 2013. In the article, entitled “Religion, Religiosity, and the Blacksmiths”, Mr. Mkhaitir demonstrated how the “Zawayas”, or marabouts, manipulated historical facts cited by Muslim scholars to justify their dominance over the “blacksmiths”, of which he is a member. He accused Mauritanian society of perpetuating this “iniquitous socially inherited” cultural order into the present.

Mohamed Ould Cheikh Mohamed Mkhaitir publicly clarified his statements in an article published on December 31, 2013. He wrote, “To all those who have deliberately misunderstood my point, you know that I have not blasphemed against the Prophet (peace and salvation be upon him), and I never will. I certainly understand your readiness to defend the prophet because I too share this propensity to love and defend him. I assure you that we are all equal in our desire to defend all that is sacred to us.” One can still find his statement of clarification in some sites, such as on his Facebook page, which shows the date of publication is authentic.

The crime of apostasy is defined in section IV (entitled Act of Indecency toward Islam) of the Mauritanian Penal Code, established under the order of July 9, 1983. Article 306, paragraph 1 of the criminal code indicates, “Every Muslim guilty of the crime of apostasy, either by word or by action of apparent or obvious, will be invited to repent within three days.”

They go on to explain that he really didn’t commit “the crime of apostasy.” I don’t care if he did or not; he obviously did nothing to merit so much as a ticket, let alone imprisonment and execution.

The IHEU has more, from January.

The defendant, Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed (sometimes named alternatively as Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould M’Kheitir, or Mkhaitir), has already been detained since January 2014. He pleaded not guilty to the charge, relating to an article he wrote in which he challenged decisions taken by the prophet of Islam and his companions during the “holy wars”. The prosecution argued that the writing constituted “speaking lightly of the Prophet Mohammed” and therefore was evidence of apostasy.

The death sentence handed down on 24 December 2014 by a court in Nouadhibou, north-west Mauritania, breaks a moratorium on death-for-apostasy rulings otherwise upheld in the country since 1960.

The article by Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed was also said to have criticised the caste system, accusing Mauritanian society of perpetuating “an iniquitous social order” drawn from Islamic precepts, in which those at the bottom of the hierarchy were “marginalised and discriminated against from birth”. Indeed, Mauritania has the highest proportion of slaves today in the world, and the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) and other human rights groups have repeatedly highlighted slow progress on the part of the state to in fact abolish slavery.

Well they’re obviously far too busy prosecuting citizens for saying anything critical of Islam. Priorities, people!

Just weeks before the sentencing, the ongoing case featured in theIHEU Freedom of Thought Report. The report noted that around his arrest in 2014, “there were a number of protests condemning his actions and angry at the pace with which his case was being dealt. There were numerous calls, including by imams, scholars and professors, for M’Kheitir’s execution. One preacher, Abi Ould Ali, offered 4,000 Euros to anyone who killed the blogger. The Mauritanian government and opposition parties supported the protests. President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz said, “We will apply God’s law on whoever insults the prophet, and whoever publishes such an insult.””

Lawyers for defendant argued that he was repentant and pleaded for leniency. Local Islamic organisations reportedly claimed that Mohamed’s article, which circulated on multiple online outlets, was the first text critical of Islam ever published in Mauritania. The verdict was celebrated joyously by many in court and on the streets.

Commenting on the sentencing, President of IHEU, Sonja Eggerickx, said:

“When doubting religion, or calling for social justice, are branded crimes — let alone capital crimes — the state’s contempt for human rights is starkly exposed.

“As we have seen in our work on slavery in Mauritania at the UN in Geneva, there are forces deeply resistant to the reform on Mauritania’s discriminatory social hierarchy. People representing these forces often claim Islam as a a justification for caste and slavery, and then brand all criticism of caste and slavery as anti-Islamic.

“The charge of apostasy — whether or not the charge is linked with social or political activism, whether the accused really is an apostate or not, and regardless whether there is public support for the sentence — is always a profoundly tyrannical charge. Apostasy laws contradict in the most basic and blatant sense, the human rights to freedom of thought and freedom of expression which we all share.”

It’s enough to make you want to pull all your hair out.

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



Two living, breathing human beings

Mar 4th, 2015 11:38 am | By

A “godless science-researcher” wrote an impassioned, humane post about the murder of Avijit Roy, who was his friend.

Hacked to death. Hacked. To death. Two living, breathing human beings, returning home after their day’s work, set upon by murderous assailants who dragged them to the pavement and hacked away at them with machete-like sharp instruments. Two human beings, a man who has succumbed to his deadly injuries, and a woman, who sustained severe injuries to her hands and forehead as she tried to protect her companion. Two human beings, my friend and his wife.

It is particularly horrifying. It’s all too easy to imagine what it would be like.

Bangladesh-born, resident of suburban Atlanta in the state of Georgia, and an engineer by profession, Avijit has consistently been a prominent voice for reason and free thought, denouncing religious extremism and intolerance. I haven’t had the pleasure of being acquainted with his wife, Rafida Ahmed Bonya, but from common friends and acquaintances, I gathered the impression that she was his perfect partner, a blogger who shared his passion for rationality. Avijit founded the Bangla-language blog Mukto Mona (“One with a Free Mind”) in 2000 to offer the Bangla-speaking freethinkers from the subcontinent and beyond a valuable platform to discuss science, reason and humanity.

I had the privilege of writing for Mukto Mona a few times. I couldn’t continue writing on relevant topics for various reasons, but it was – to my good fortune – enough to create a bond between Avijit and me. Sometime in 2012, Avijit wrote me a message on Facebook asking if I was the same person who wrote for Mukto Mona. I was elated to be so recognized – because by that time I was already acquainted with his scholarship, the books in Bangla on science and religion he had authored, and his persistent, powerful and courageous efforts to defend reason and bring enlightenment to an increasingly fractious and irrational world. We became friends on Facebook, and continued to be in touch.

We make friends in these ways, so it all becomes personal. Damn right it does.

Avijit was an avowed atheist, but the predominant theme of his writings was secular humanism, guided by reason. (If you are able to read Bangla online, do read his public Facebook note on his experience in authoring and publishing books.) He was a strong voice for opposing irrational beliefs, blind faith and superstitions, and especially reactionary fundamentalism in religion regardless of specific creeds. He also spoke out against the false equivalence between secularism and fundamentalism often drawn by so-called moderates in Bangladesh, and held them culpable for the cultural decline of that country – a country which, in a matter of decades, has turned from its scholastic traditions marked by thought and intellectual query to a regressive society where radical Islamic hardliners hold sway over public life, liberally dispensing abuse and death threats to freethinkers, atheist writers and bloggers with impunity, and in effect rewriting the cultural norms of that society to suit their ideology; a country where authorities do nothing to ensure safety of those opposed to religious extremism, where rationalist bloggers and writers have been attacked and murdered, and arrested under the odious, medieval ‘Blasphemy law’. Avijit and his daughter, Trisha Ahmed, had chronicled this painful state of affairs in a 2013 op-ed in the Free Inquiry magazine.

That’s happened in the US to some extent too – a turn away from secularism, a valorization of “faith” and goddy thinking, a rejection of rational inquiry. It’s a bad trend.

The shock of Avijit’s death – he was of my age – numbed me enough to make it difficult to get the words out. But if there is one thing that gave me courage and hope, it was the wise and intrepid words from young Trisha, who wrote: “To say that I’m furious or heartbroken would be an understatement. But as fucked up as the world is, there’s never a reason to stop fighting to make it better. I’ll carry the lessons he taught me and the love he gave me forever.” As would we, in our hearts.

Violence perpetrated for whatever reason has become commonplace in the daily lives of many societies across the world. And religion ranks amongst the highest of such reasons. A recently released report by Pew Research Center shows a global region-wise map of social hostilities around religion. Not shockingly, the Indian subcontinent features prominently as a region with very high religious hostilities in the society.

But that statistic did not hit home as much as it has done now.

It’s personal.

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



You have to know where you are

Mar 4th, 2015 11:11 am | By

No doubt most of you are aware of the head-shaking and puzzlement and alarm, and sometimes just plain anger, about Jamila Bey’s address to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) as a representative of American Atheists last week. Debbie Goddard has thoughts and questions about it at Skepchick. Rai Rhoades is unpleased at Rhoades to RealityJames Croft has big doubts at Temple of the Future.

Quoting James:

American Atheists’ overtures to CPAC and to the Republican Party make me uneasy. I can’t help the sense that this is less about promoting atheist visibility and acceptance, and more about cozying up to powerful people  under the cover of a completely unrealistic image of “conservatism”. It’s as if not only do they want conservatives to be OK with atheists, but they want atheists to be OK with conservatives – and they’re willing to overlook the very troubling record of contemporary conservatism to make their case.

As if to prove my point, at one moment in her speech Bey looked out into the crowd and said: “I see people who love this country and believe in the equality of all people.”

No you don’t. You really don’t, Jamila! You see a subset of the most conservative activists in the country, people whose job it is to oppose LGBTQ equality, women’s equality, and the equality of people of color. People who quite literally lead the charge against equality in America! It’s one thing to play to your audience, but quite another to flatly reject reality. This is pandering, and it makes me wonder about motives. I’m all for humanizing atheists in the eyes of conservatives, but lying about conservatism to do so is dishonest.

That. The thing is, there are ways atheists can be humanized, to conservatives and to anyone, that are not open to conservatives. (No doubt the reverse is also true, but I’ll leave the specifics of that to conservatives who want to underline the inhumanity of atheists.) It’s fine to say conservatives put their jeans on one leg at a time; it’s not fine to say that conservatives believe in the equality of all people – not in the USofA it’s not. It’s as James said: conservatives and especially CPAC are programatically and officially opposed to the equality of people. Conservatives like and trust hierarchy; in many ways hierarchy is the whole point for conservatives. In many ways love and trust of hierarchy and dislike and distrust of “leveling” is and always has been the core of conservatism. It’s no good trying to pretend that away. It’s no good denying it. It’s no good pretending it’s not true because you want it to be not true.

Hierarchy versus equality has always been the border between right and left. It’s not “small government” – that’s far more tangential.

This is political GPS.

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



Only then will she eat the leftovers

Mar 4th, 2015 10:30 am | By

The New York Times reports on a new study that finds Indian women are far more undernourished and underweight than women even in poorer countries.

You know what this results in? Undernourished babies, lots of whom die in or out of the uterus.

That’s the thing about hating women – it has some knock-on effects that even non-women don’t want. It’s hard to get the amount of hatred that should be directed at women exactly right.

The poor [bad] health of children in India, even after decades of robust economic growth, is one of the world’s most perplexing public health issues.

A child raised in India is far more likely to be malnourished than one from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe or Somalia, the world’s poorest countries. Poor [bad] sanitation and a growing tide of drug-resistant infections also affect nutrition.

[Aside: it’s bad enough using “poor” as a pointless euphemism for “bad” even when it’s not confusing, but in an article that’s directly about poverty and an array of bad things, then it’s inexcusable. Poor countries have bad outcomes. Poor countries have bad sanitation and bad health in children. Let’s be clear about these things.]

But an important factor is the relatively poor [bad] health of young Indian women. More than 90 percent of adolescent Indian girlsare anemic, a crucial measure of poor [bad] nutrition. And while researchers have long known that Indian mothers tend to be less healthy than their African counterparts, a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences demonstrates that the disparity is far worse than previously believed.

By analyzing census data, Diane Coffey of Princeton University found that 42 percent of Indian mothers are underweight. The figure for sub-Saharan Africa is 16.5 percent.

And why is this? More hatred.

The reasons for Indian mothers’ relatively poor health are many, including a culture that discriminates against them. Sex differences in education, employment outside the home, and infant mortality are all greater in India than in Africa.

“In India, young newly married women are at the bottom of household hierarchies,” Ms. Coffey said. “So at the same time that Indian women become pregnant, they are often expected to keep quiet, work hard and eat little.”

They’re supposed to be like a car that gets exceptionally good gas mileage.

It also has to do with bad sanitation and sewage disposal.

Dr. Shella Duggal, Juhi’s doctor at the mobile clinic, said that almost every pregnant woman she treats in her visits to Delhi’s slums is severely anemic. Parasites, spread by poor [BAD] sanitation and dirty water, are a crucial reason, she said.

“So the first thing we do is deworm them and give them iron supplements,” Dr. Duggal said. “And then I tell them to eat.”

It is a prescription many of her patients find difficult to carry out, she said.

“These mothers are the last persons in their families to have food,” Dr. Duggal said. “First, she feeds the husband and then the kids, and only then will she eat the leftovers.”

It’s a bad arrangement.

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



The crucial W

Mar 4th, 2015 9:47 am | By

Wednesday night last week Cooper and I took our post-dinner walk down to Kerry Park, which is a little pocket park on the south slope of Queen Anne Hill with a sweeping view of the southern Cascades, Mount Rainier on the few days it’s clear enough, downtown, the harbor, and Puget Sound. If you’ve ever seen a postcard or generic photo of Seattle, it was taken from there. It was a beautiful windy night with clouds ripping across the sky. When we got to Kerry Park we found people arranging big illuminated squares on the grass, squares that held letters, one per square. While Cooper sniffed all the things I looked at the squares to read the message (upside down: I was standing at the top of them) – and got NET NEUTRALITY NO.

NO?? That seemed incongruous. The NO people would be at corporate dinners or on the phone to lobbyists, not messing around in Kerry Park at night. Huh. Then here came someone carrying another square. Ah. “Is that the W?” I asked her. “I hope?” It was, of course.

They asked us – the random people in the park at that moment – to help hold up the sign and be in the photo. Fun! So I wrapped Cooper’s leash around one of the railings and beed in the photo.

I found the photo at the Northwest Progressive Institute.

Net Neutrality Now!

(Photo: Rick Barry/Broken Shade Photo)

I’m behind the L, looking lumpy because in a hoody jacket.

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



Hicks would stare out the second-floor window

Mar 3rd, 2015 6:17 pm | By

The New York Times has more on the Chapel Hill murders.

A motive for the shooting may never be known. But interviews with more than a dozen of the victims’ friends and family members, lawyers, police officers and others make two central points: Before the shootings, the students took concerted steps to appease a menacing neighbor, and none were parked that day in a way that would have set off an incident involving their cars.

If those accounts do not prove what kind of malice was in Mr. Hicks’s heart, the details that emerge indicate that whatever happened almost certainly was not a simple dispute over parking.

They were all parked that day in a permitted way that didn’t interfere with Hicks – one in their assigned space, one in an unassigned space, one on the street. Nobody was parked in Hicks’s space.

The murders happened at Finley Forest, a complex on the eastern edge of this city popular with graduate students at the nearby University of North Carolina. Mrs. Hicks owns 270 Summerwalk Circle, a second-floor unit in Building 20 that looks out south over the parking lot. Her husband moved in after the couple married seven years ago; it was his second marriage after a disastrous first.

The contrast between the paunchy, balding Mr. Hicks and the rest of the complex’s residents was stark. Many were aspiring professionals and academics at a premier public university. Mr. Hicks was unemployed, taking night classes at a community college in hopes of becoming a paralegal. He spent long hours in his apartment with a collection of at least a dozen guns, including four pistols and a Bushmaster AR-15. Mrs. Hicks told her lawyer that Mr. Hicks would stare out the second-floor window, obsessing over neighbors’ parties, patterns and parking.

Ah; class. The Times is hinting that that could have played a role, and who knows, maybe it did. Nobody knows, and perhaps nobody ever will.

Hicks was increasingly obnoxious to them in the weeks before the murders. There’s speculation that it may have been the hijabs that pissed him off.

There is no question Mr. Hicks had a problem with religion. His Facebook page was full of quotations and memes denigrating Christianity. On Jan. 27, he shared a graphic that may have made reference to Islam: “People say there is nothing that can solve the Middle East problem … I say there is something. Atheism.”

Well, I have a  problem with religion too, and you can find masses of evidence for that on Facebook. I don’t kill people though. One of the reasons I have a problem with religion is the fact that it can be used to justify violence and murder.

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



A counter-move

Mar 3rd, 2015 5:47 pm | By

The BBC reports India has shut down India’s Daughter.

Police in India have secured a court injunction blocking the broadcast of an interview with one of the Delhi gang rapists on death row.

The Delhi court order also prevents publication of the interview, which has angered many in India.

As well it might.

Film maker Leslee Udwin’s interview appears in India’s Daughter, a BBC Storyville documentary due to be broadcast on 8 March, International Women’s Day. It was also due to be shown in India on NDTV.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh was taking the matter “seriously” and had spoken to the Tihar jail director-general to demand an urgent report, PTI news agency quoted officials as saying.

Police in Delhi say they have registered two cases against the film, alleging breach of India’s penal code.

“We urge the Indian media not to show it,” said Delhi Police chief BS Bassi, the Times of India reported.

It’s not made clear what the law is that was breached, or why they’re shutting it down. It could have to do with not interfering with the legal process (the men are appealing their convictions) or it could be just reputation-protection.

Udwin says she got all the right permissions.

Earlier, prominent women activists wrote a letter to NDTV, asking the channel to refrain from showing the film which they said would amount to contempt of court.

Ms Udwin defended her film on an NDTV studio discussion, saying it “tries to show the disease is not the rapists, the disease is in society”.

The parents of the gang rape victim were alongside her and, while angered by Singh’s remarks, appeared to support the film.

A BBC spokesperson said: “This harrowing documentary, made with the full support and co-operation of the victim’s parents, provides a revealing insight into a horrific crime that sent shock waves around the world and led to protests across India demanding changes in attitudes towards women.

“The film handles the issue responsibly and we are confident the programme fully complies with our editorial guidelines.”

It would be nice to see changes in attitudes towards women sufficiently radical to do away with men thinking they get to punish women for being outside by mangling their intestines with metal pipes and their hands. That would be a good change.

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



They have a “2 Witness” rule

Mar 3rd, 2015 4:19 pm | By

It’s not just Catholic priests. It’s not just Catholic priests and Amish patriarchs. It’s not just Catholic priests and Amish patriarchs and yoga gurus. It’s not just Catholic priests and Amish patriarchs and yoga gurus and FLDS patriarchs.

It’s also Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Candace Conti was repeatedly sexually abused by such a nice friendly man when she was a child.

It is really hard for kids to speak up when they’re abused. But the Jehovah’s Witnesses make it a lot harder.

They have a “2 Witness” rule, which says that anyone who accuses an adult of abuse must have a second witness.

If there is no second witness, the accuser is punished for a false accusation – usually by ordering that no Witness may talk with or associate with the “false” accuser. This is called dis-fellowshipping.

Brilliant! It’s a rapist’s charter. All your enterprising rapist has to do is skip the part about bringing along an observer and Bob’s your uncle, he can rape away to his heart’s content in the happy knowledge that no one can accuse him. A bit rough on the raped child though. Not even her parents can talk or associate with her, and she’s branded a false accuser.

What my parents didn’t know, was that Jonathan had sexually molested another girl in our congregation. The elders knew this and had kept it a secret. They were following orders from Watchtower leaders, based in the world headquarters in New York, who in 1989 had issued a top-secret instruction to keep known child sex abusers in the congregations a secret. This instruction became Exhibit 1 at my civil trial.

They knew it and kept it a secret and thus allowed Jonathan to molest more girls in perfect freedom.

The elders and the Governing Body all knew that child molesters hide in religious groups and often are people who are likeable and friendly – like Jonathan. They knew molesters would likely do it again. But they chose to ignore the safety of the kids, in favor of protecting their image – and their bank account – from lawsuits. It was all in that 1989 letter.

A recent report by the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that they have continued to issues directives urging silence around child abuse. Last November,elders were instructed to avoid taking criminal matters like child abuse to the authorities. Instead, they were told to handle them internally in confidential committees. The report also showed that Jehovah’s Witnesses evoke the First Amendment to hide sex abuse claims.

I suppose they’ve been observing the Vatican and taking careful notes.

H/t Kausik Datta

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



Guest post: It will not be a teachable moment

Mar 3rd, 2015 11:57 am | By

Originally a comment by Kausik Datta on “In our culture, there is no place for a woman.”

People in India are wondering why this criminal is being given a spotlight, and what good would come out of it. I echo that sentiment in this case, despite generally being known to favor the stance of “all knowledge is worth having”. The documentary in question would be an instrument for pointing out ad infinitum how bad the situation of women is in India, but it will not be a teachable moment.

Why? Because this despicable criminal is a product of his society, culture, tradition – a triumvirate that considers women to be chattel, property to be owned, toyed with and disposed of at will. The disgusting statements put out by this man’s defence lawyers stand a testament to that.

As long as these three conditions don’t undergo a radical reform, this horrendous and shameful situation will not change – even if Mukesh Singh is eventually given the death penalty, which many people are clamoring for.

Here is a link to a relatively recent study carried out amongst school- and college-age kids, and the results of the survey have been quite eye-opening about highly regressive attitudes extant in the Indian society. Just as an example:

* 65% of college students disapprove of boys and girls from different religions meeting in public places.
* 44% of college students “agree” that women have no choice but to accept a certain degree of violence.
* 51% college students believe women must mainly take care of the household and bring up children.

This highlights the need for a great deal of introspection as a society. But I am not hopeful that that is ever going to happen.

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



Guest post: For religion ignorance is bliss, for liberals ignorance is fear

Mar 3rd, 2015 11:54 am | By

Originally a comment by Bruce Gorton on To be found superficial and contemptible.

The conviction that tyranny and persecution are aberrations in human affairs is at the heart of the liberal philosophy that prevails today. But this conviction is supported by faith more than evidence.

Bollocks. The heart of the liberal philosophy that prevails today is that it is relatively easy to ignore persecution so long as you aren’t the one being persecuted, and tyranny is relatively easy for the one who holds the power to be the tyrant.

The liberal philosophy of today is that human affairs are fundamentally malleable, and can cover a wide range of possibilities – therefore we have to work hard to make sure that it is the possibilities that get realized are the ones that we most want to live with.

This is the central core to the concept of privilege and the main reason liberals tend to oppose too much power being concentrated in too few hands, whether that be via dictatorship or the economic hegemony of major corporations.

It is also the central core to the value of education and access to reasonably accurate information. From a liberal perspective the more people have power the harder it is for a tyranny to form, as more people have the ability to oppose it.

Knowledge is power, and it is religion that tends to consider ignorance to be the same as innocence. Adam and Eve were rendered sinful because they ate of the tree of knowledge.

Liberalism tends to associate ignorance more with racism, sexism, homophobia and various forms of xenophobia.

For religion ignorance is bliss, for liberals ignorance is fear.

From a “New Atheist” perspective, the core issue with religion is that it gives a small group of people in the form of clerics unearned authority, with which they can devolve towards tyranny and thus harming other people. Religion is not the root of all evil, but it is an enabling factor for much of it.

And one must further note it is not the nature of a tyrant to simply gain power, but also to deny it to others. Arguments which center around controlling the masses “to maintain order” or some sort of ill-defined “social good” are generally about depriving the masses of their power, and thus enabling the tyrant presenting the arguments.

We have to be exceptionally careful with the power we grant, because we know that it is within ourselves to misuse it.

Tyranny and persecution are not aberrations within the heart of human affairs, from the liberal perspective they’re the status quo – hence the need to be liberals.

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



The King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue

Mar 3rd, 2015 11:47 am | By

Austria has been considering closing down an “interfaith” dialogue center it has thanks to the backing of none other than those ardent fans of pluralism, Saudi Arabia.

The Austrian government has threatened to close a controversial Saudi-sponsored religious dialogue center because of the latter’s failure to condemn the flogging of a Saudi human rights activist and blogger.

Saudi Arabia has responded to the threat by issuing a counter-threat to move the permanent headquarters of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries [OPEC] out of the Austrian capital of Vienna.

The dust-up began in mid-January, when Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann expressed public outrage over the refusal of the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue [KAICIID] to speak out against the flogging of Raif Badawi, a Saudi human rights activist and blogger who has been sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for “insulting Islam.”

Right, well, that’s why you shouldn’t accept backing from the Saudis for anything.

Th[e] KAICIID, which is headquartered at the Palais Sturany in the heart of Vienna and has the status of an international organization, is ostensibly dedicated to “serving humanity” by “fostering dialogue” between the world’s major religions, in order to “prevent conflict.”

The KAICIID says that while it condemns all forms of violence, it has not spoken out specifically about Badawi because it does not want to get involved in the internal affairs of other countries.

The center was inaugurated in November 2012 in an elaborate ceremony attended by more than 650 high-profile guests from around the world, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and the foreign ministers of the center’s three founding states, Austria, Spain and Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh, which is financing the KAICIID for the first three years at an annual budget of 10-15 million euros ($11-17 million), has promised that there will be “zero politics, zero influence in the center.”

But the primary focus of the King Abdullah Center has been to promote a program called “The Image of the Other,” which examines “stereotypes and misconceptions” about Islam in education, the media and the Internet.

Oh yes? What about The Image of Raif Badawi? What about Raif Badawi as the Other? What about views of Islam that are shaped by the fact that Raif Badawi is being imprisoned and tortured by the Saudi state for expressing liberal views – views of the very kind that the KACIID seems to be mouthing? What about all of that, eh?

The center-left Green Party, which governs Vienna in a coalition, has said that the KAICIID glorifies a country “where freedom of religion and opinion are foreign words.” In a statement, the party advised:

“Austria should not allow itself to be misused in this way, to allow itself to be involved in whitewash by a repressive Saudi regime which is using this center as a fig leaf for its dishonorable human rights situation.”

The Green Party is right.

That article is dated February 8. One from February 24 reports that Ensaf Haidar is appealing to Austria to close the center.

Ensaf Haidar, the wife of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, has called on the Austrian government to close a Saudi-financed dialogue centre in Vienna, and to help end her husband’s suffering and save him from further floggings.

In a video message presented by the Initiative of Liberal Muslims in Austria (ILMÖ), Haider thanked Amnesty International and Austria’s Green Party for holding weekly vigils for her husband outside the controversial King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID).

Ah, I’ve been posting photos of those demos. I didn’t realize the building was an Interfaith Insult to Our Intelligence.

She called on Austria “as a guardian of human rights to do everything to achieve the closure of the King Abdullah Dialogue Centre”. She added that the centre was damaging Austria’s reputation as it refuses to speak out on human rights issues in Saudi Arabia.

Haidar – who lives in Canada and wasn’t able to get a visa to travel to Vienna – is hoping that a royal decree from the new Saudi King Salman may pardon her husband.

Close it, Austria. Do the right thing.

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



The juvenile put his hand in her and pulled out something

Mar 3rd, 2015 10:59 am | By

Yvonne Roberts writes in The Observer on Leslee Udwin’s documentary India’s Daughter.

Warning: some of this is grim.

India’s Daughter is broadcast on BBC4 next Sunday, International Women’s Day, and simultaneously shown in seven other countries including India, Switzerland, Norway and Canada. On Monday 9 March, actresses Freida Pinto and Meryl Streep will attend a screening in New York, launching a worldwide India’s Daughter campaign against gender inequality and sexual violence against women and girls. It begins by 20 million pupils viewing the film and taking part in workshops in Maharashtra, a state that includes Mumbai.

…What is writ very large in India’s Daughter, but camouflaged in other countries where equality is more strongly embedded in law, is the low value placed on females and the determination of some men, educated as well as the impoverished, to keep women padlocked to the past.

“We have the best culture. In our culture, there is no place for a woman,” says one man in Udwin’s film. What is shocking is that he is ML Sharma, defence lawyer for the men convicted of Jyoti’s rape and murder. A second defence lawyer, AP Singh, says if his daughter or sister “engaged in pre-marital activities … in front of my entire family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight”.

It is shocking. John Gray would probably say it’s fatuous to be shocked, but there it is – I am.

The eloquent words of Mukesh Singh are shared again. We can’t read them too often.

“You can’t clap with one hand – it takes two hands. A decent girl won’t roam around at night. A girl is more responsible for rape than a boy … about 20% of girls are good.” Jyoti fought back. Singh says: “She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they would have dropped her off after ‘doing her’ and only hit the boy.

“The 15 or 20 minutes of the incident, I was driving the bus. The girl was screaming, ‘Help me, help me.’ The juvenile put his hand in her and pulled out something. It was her intestines …We dragged her to the front of the bus and threw her out.”

That’s a new detail, about reaching in and pulling out her intestines. I didn’t realize they’d gone to that much trouble.

The government, to quell the protest that followed her death, set up a three-member commission, headed by JS Verma, a former chief justice of India and human rights lawyer. It received 80,000 responses and delivered a landmark 630-page report in 29 days, calling for the law concerning sexual violence to be modernised, removing terms such as “intent to outrage her modesty”. New legislation failed to fulfil many of the report’s recommendations. Since then, the number of reported rapes has increased hugely, as more women come forward.

I wonder what the conviction rate is…

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



“In our culture, there is no place for a woman.”

Mar 3rd, 2015 10:16 am | By

Leslee Udwin gives more details from her interview with one of the men who raped and murdered Jyoti Singh in Delhi in 2012.

Mukesh Singh, the driver of the bus, described to me every detail of what happened during and after the incident. While prosecutors say the men took turns to drive the bus, and all took part in the rape, Singh says he stayed at the wheel throughout.

Along with three of the other attackers, Singh is now appealing against his death sentence. In 16 hours of interviews, Singh showed no remorse and kept expressing bewilderment that such a fuss was being made about this rape, when everyone was at it.

“A decent girl won’t roam around at nine o’clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy,” he said.

Bewilderment? But she died. She died because they shoved a metal pipe up her and shredded her intestines. Is Mukesh Singh bewildered at the idea that he’s not allowed to murder people? Not even women? Does he think it’s just normal and conventional and fine to shove metal pipes up women and shred their intestines?

“Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes. About 20% of girls are good.”

People “had a right to teach them a lesson” he suggested – and he said the woman should have put up with it.

A right to teach them a lesson – by shoving metal pipes up them and shredding their intestines with the result that they die? He thinks random “people” have the right to do that to women merely because the women are outside after 8 p.m.?

I had the long and shocking list of injuries the young woman had sustained, read out to him. I tried, really hard, to search for a glimmer of regret. There was none.

I suppose John Gray would remind us that’s within the normal range for human beings. If so I would disagree. Casual brutality, yes, rape, yes, but lethal injuries not in war or revolution but just as part of a bus ride…no. Like Udwin, I find it horrifying that he has no regret and thinks he’s the one who’s hard done by.

My encounter with Singh and four other rapists left me feeling like my soul had been dipped in tar, and there were no cleaning agents in the world that could remove the indelible stain.

One of the men I interviewed, Gaurav, had raped a five-year-old girl. I spent three hours filming his interview as he recounted in explicit detail how he had muffled her screams with his big hand.

He was sitting throughout the interview and had a half-smile playing on his lips throughout – his nervousness in the presence of a camera, perhaps. At one point I asked him to tell me how tall she was. He stood up, and with his eerie half-smile indicated a height around his knees.

When I asked him how he could cross the line from imagining what he wanted to do, to actually doing it – given her height, her eyes, her screams – he looked at me as though I was crazy for even asking the question and said: “She was beggar girl. Her life was of no value.”

No brain-bleach strong enough…

I spoke to two lawyers who had defended the murderers of the 23-year-old student at their trial, and what they said was extremely revealing.

“In our society, we never allow our girls to come out from the house after 6:30 or 7:30 or 8:30 in the evening with any unknown person,” said one of the lawyers, ML Sharma.

“You are talking about man and woman as friends. Sorry, that doesn’t have any place in our society. We have the best culture. In our culture, there is no place for a woman.”

Wow; that’s blunt. Also reminiscent of the title of Taslima’s blog – No Country for Women.

This is another repeat, but it’s worth repeating:

The other lawyer, AP Singh, had said in a previous televised interview: “If my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital activities and disgraced herself and allowed herself to lose face and character by doing such things, I would most certainly take this sort of sister or daughter to my farmhouse, and in front of my entire family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight.”

He did not disown that comment when I put it to him. “This is my stand,” he said. “I still today stand on that reply.”

He tells the world he would murder his own daughter in front of their family, by setting her on fire, for unspecified “pre-marital activities.” He’s a lawyer and he’s telling the world he would murder his own daughter for an unimaginably trivial reason.

She ends on an up-note though.

Starting on the day after the rape, and for over a month, ordinary men and women came out on to the streets of India’s cities in unprecedented numbers to protest. They braved a freezing December and a ferocious government crackdown of water cannons, baton charges, and teargas shells. Their courage and determination to be heard was extraordinarily inspiring.

There was something momentous about their presence and perseverance – reminiscent to me of the crowds that had thronged Tahrir Square in Cairo – a gathering of civil society that demanded a conversation that was long overdue.

I find it hard to get inspired when the originating conditions are so horrendous.

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



To be found superficial and contemptible

Mar 3rd, 2015 9:18 am | By

John Gray has a characteristic piece in the Guardian rehearsing the familiar old saws about how naïve and delusional atheists and liberals are, how it’s all just Christianity turned inside out, yadda yadda…but despite the staleness it’s not all wrong.

The conviction that tyranny and persecution are aberrations in human affairs is at the heart of the liberal philosophy that prevails today. But this conviction is supported by faith more than evidence. Throughout history there have been large numbers who have been happy to relinquish their freedom as long as those they hate – gay people, Jews, immigrants and other minorities, for example – are deprived of freedom as well. Many have been ready to support tyranny and oppression. Billions of human beings have been hostile to liberal values, and there is no reason for thinking matters will be any different in future.

That bit isn’t wrong. Many liberal values are at war with some aspects of what human beings are like. We’re hierarchical, so egalitarianism is always at war with many of our impulses and urges. I think Gray is right that there’s no reason to think that’s going to change in the future.

We like hierarchies for one thing because we think there’s a chance we’ll scramble our way to somewhere high or highish up on them. We like them for another thing because we like bullying people and putting them down.

We also have impulses and urges that push us the other way, fortunately. We can discourage the first and foster the second. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves that Kumbaya is more natural or innate than Islamic State.

An older generation of liberal thinkers accepted this fact. As the late Stuart Hampshire put it:

“It is not only possible, but, on present evidence, probable that most conceptions of the good, and most ways of life, which are typical of commercial, liberal, industrialised societies will often seem altogether hateful to substantial minorities within these societies and even more hateful to most of the populations within traditional societies … As a liberal by philosophical conviction, I think I ought to expect to be hated, and to be found superficial and contemptible, by a large part of mankind.”

Today this a forbidden thought. How could all of humankind not want to be as we imagine ourselves to be? To suggest that large numbers hate and despise values such as toleration and personal autonomy is, for many people nowadays, an intolerable slur on the species. This is, in fact, the quintessential illusion of the ruling liberalism: the belief that all human beings are born freedom-loving and peaceful and become anything else only as a result of oppressive conditioning. But there is no hidden liberal struggling to escape from within the killers of the Islamic State and Boko Haram, any more than there was in the torturers who served the Pol Pot regime. To be sure, these are extreme cases. But in the larger sweep of history, faith-based violence and persecution, secular and religious, are hardly uncommon – and they have been widely supported. It is peaceful coexistence and the practice of toleration that are exceptional.

Yes. And as climate change bites harder and harder, peaceful coexistence and the practice of toleration are likely to become every more exceptional until they disappear altogether.

But hey, maybe there will be a miracle.

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



Standing up

Mar 2nd, 2015 5:13 pm | By

Reza Moradi stands up to Islamists at London Metropolitan University.

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrDooPpt6SA

The University and College Union (@UCU) invited Mohammed Kozbar (Muslim Association of Britain Vice President) to speak at @Londonmentuni in a panel on immigration.

Diane Abbott (Labour MP) and Sally Hunt (UCU General Secretary) sat very comfortably with the MAB representative, despite the MAB’s links with the Muslim Brotherhood, its defence of death by stoning for adultery and support for the death penalty for apostates such as me. MAB is what is known as a “soft” Islamist organisation, normalising and justifying terrorism, the Caliphate and Sharia rules.
I am outraged that my union would share a panel with, and promote, an Islamist organisation in this way. This is not standing with immigrants and refugees – many of whom have fled the brutality of Islamists in our own countries, including myself and of course many Muslims.

The Unions’s job is to address the many issues we face in our workplace and to help people work for a more just and humane society. They have no reason or excuse for allying with the religious-Right anywhere in this remit. This relationship is very shameful for my union and for all those who welcome groups like the MAB as friends onto panels like these. Islamism is our fascism and the union should stand against all forms of fascism without any exceptions.

Given this collusion and legitimisation of Islamism within this dominant strand of the postmodernist Left, it is unsurprising to see the Islamist influence at our universities. These so called left wing groups need to understand that the Muslim Association of Britain is not the representatives of Muslims or refugees and immigrants any more than the EDL or BNP are representatives of the British students in the university. It represents a political far-Right movement that should be opposed by academics and students alike. The University should not become a welcoming space for fascists of any stripe.

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



She should just be silent and allow the rape

Mar 2nd, 2015 4:23 pm | By

Taslima alerts us to an interview with one of the Delhi rapists reported in the Telegraph.

In an interview from jail, Mukesh Singh said that women who went out at night had only themselves to blame if they attracted the attention of gangs of male molesters. “A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy,” he said.

His victim, Jyoti Singh, 23, was returning from an evening at the cinema with a male friend when the six-strong gang offered them a lift in a mini-bus they were driving. She was raped and frenziedly beaten with iron bars, prompting widespread demonstrations for Indian women to have greater protection from sexual violence.

In an interview for a BBC documentary, Singh also claimed that had Jyoti and her friend not tried to fight back, the gang would not have not have inflicted the savage beating, which led her to die from her injuries two weeks later.

Describing the killing as an “accident”, he said: “When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they’d have dropped her off after ‘doing her’, and only hit the boy.”

You can’t get misogyny much purer than that.

while the judge said that the case had “shocked the collective conscience” of India, Singh appears to show little remorse.

“You can’t clap with one hand – it takes two hands,” he says in the interview. “A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. Boy and girl are not equal. Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes. About 20 per cent of girls are good.”

The lawyers who defended the gang in court express similarly extreme views about women who venture out at night. In a previous televised interview, lawyer AP Singh said: “If my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital activities and disgraced herself and allowed herself to lose face and character by doing such things, I would most certainly take this sort of sister or daughter to my farmhouse, and in front of my entire family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight.”

Pre-marital activities like going to a movie? He would set his daughter or sister on fire for going to a movie with a man?

I don’t think very much of the human species right now.

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



Guest post: Prevention is better than punishment

Mar 2nd, 2015 3:55 pm | By

Originally a comment by Ben Finney on Maajid Nawaz takes this moment to salute Gita Sahgal.

zubanel, #4:

I’m saying disregard the religious element as essential and focus on murderers.

So, we focus on those who have already killed? We are to direct our attention away from the ideas that strongly compel them to premeditated murder of strangers?

That doesn’t do it for me. I want to detect potential murderers before they do murder, and obligate them to not murder.

For that, we need to focus on the ideas which compel some people to murder — and that inevitably requires that we spend a lot of attention on combating Islam, which is a set of ideas that explicitly and actively compels people to do murder.

There is no need to invoke “monster” for these people because they are all too human. They are simply, incurably, one-dimensionally uncivilized.

Again, I can only point out to you that there are many people – the person named in this piece being a prime example – who were devoted to religious ideas compelling premeditated murder of strangers, and yet they were cured and civilised to the point of not holding those ideas any more.

To write off such people as “simply, incurably, one-dimensionally uncivilized” and to advocate killing them, is to kill people like Maajid Nawaz before they have a chance to change.

That would be an unacceptable loss. Killing is only going to lead to more motivation for killing. Whereas counter-jihadi propaganda from organisations like Quilliam – which can only exist because we don’t apply your hopeless ideas – will prevent killing. I know which I would prefer.

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



This judge is biased against Raif

Mar 2nd, 2015 10:52 am | By

Ensaf Haidar yesterday:

Urgent: A Statement from the Family of ‪#‎RaifBadawi‬

We have received information from reliable sources that there are attempts within the Penal Court to retry #Raifbadawi on apostasy charges again. Apostasy charge is punishable under Saudi law with the death penalty by beheading.

We also received confirmed information that the Supreme Court has referred Raif case to the same judge, who sentenced Raif with flogging and 10 years imprisonment.

This judge is biased against Raif. He has twice requested that Raif be charged with ‘apostasy’.

His request was declined at the time on the ground that the penal court has no jurisdiction on cases that lead to death penalty. However, due to a new regulation issued by the Supreme Judicial Council on 19.09.2014, the Penal court has now jurisdiction over major cases, which are punishable by the death penalty, amputation and stoning.

We have reasons to believe without any doubts that the same judge has again asked the Head of the Court of Apeal to charge Raif with ‘Apostasy’.

It should be mentioned that this judge stated in his written verdict against Raif, that he has proof and is confident that Raif is an apostate.

We call on the world citizens and governments not to leave Raif dragged by such bigots to death. And we renew our calls to his Majesty King Salman to pardon Raif Badawi and allow him to leave Canada to be united with his family there.

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



But he was such a kind, gentle, beautiful young man

Mar 2nd, 2015 10:33 am | By

Amnesty UK is probably going to cut ties with Cage, the Standard reports.

Human rights organisation Amnesty International is likely to cut ties with controversial advocacy group Cage because of “Jihadi John”, its deputy director said today.

Cage has come under fire after suggesting that MI5 “harassment” was responsible for turning Londoner Mohammed Emwazi into a bloodthirsty terrorist seen beheading civilians in horrific Islamic State propaganda videos.

But if Amnesty had listened to Gita Sahgal instead of firing her…they would have avoided this appalling mistake.

Last week Cage revealed it had extensive contact with the 26-year-old between 2009 and 2012 because [of] his allegations against the security services. In an extraordinary press conference, its research director Asim Qureshi described the now-radical Islamist as a “kind, gentle, beautiful young man”.

So maybe it wasn’t MI5 “harassment” that turned him into a horrific sadistic murderer, but rather, Cage itself. Correlation ≠ causation, so why not pin the blame on Cage rather than MI5?

Steve Crawshaw said his personal view was that he could not foresee Amnesty collaborating with Cage again by signing joint campaign letters as it has done in the past.

He told Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think it highly unlikely in the current circumstances of seeing the kind of public statements that are being made.”

However he denied Amnesty was complicit in helping to propagate a “narrative of innocence” around terror suspects – a charge levelled at Cage – adding: “I don’t think we played to anybody’s myth. I can’t condemn strongly enough anybody in any context who seeks to find some justification somehow for why they can kill civilians.”

Gita Sahgal led Amnesty’s women’s gender unit before she was forced out in 2010 after criticising the charity’s links to Cage.

Today she claimed Amnesty had taken research from Cage, shared logos with them, produced briefing papers together and signed letters to the government with them, all of which was hugely damaging to Amnesty and its human rights efforts around the world.

Amnesty has been working hard for Raif Badawi, and props to them for that, but the collaboration with Cage combined with the firing of Gita Sahgal is a fucking disgrace.

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

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Never a reason to stop fighting to make it better

Mar 2nd, 2015 9:59 am | By

Alom Shaha nudges everyone to notice and remember Avijit Roy.

He was a hero to many Bangladeshis, but few if any in the west will be declaring that they are Avijit in the way so many of us announced we were Charlie after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. But there are lots of Avijits outside the west, genuinely brave individuals who put their lives on the line to uphold values and freedoms that we take for granted: Ahmed Rajib Haider, another Bangladeshi atheist who was killed because of what he wrote; Raif Badawi, a Saudi Arabian blogger who has been flogged in public and is in prison for “insulting Islam”; Karim Ashraf Mohamed al-Banna, jailed for three years in Egypt, again for “insulting Islam” by simply declaring he is an atheist; Kacem El Ghazzali, who lives in exile after death threats in his home country of Morocco – the list is long and depressing.

The list includes also Taslima Nasreen, Zineb el-Rhazoui, Deeyah Khan, Maryam Namazie.

After the Charlie Hebdo killings there was much debate about whether the cartoonists had provoked the killers, about the cartoonists “punching down”, about whether there should be limits to giving offence and so on. The brutal, cowardly murder of Avijit Roy shows how dangerous such arguments can be. Challenging religion is challenging those in power, and many pay a heavy price – we betray people like Avijit when we are half-hearted in our commitment to free speech.

Let’s not be mistaken about why Avijit was killed: he said and wrote things some people didn’t like. There will be more such killings. More people will die because they say, write or draw things that other people don’t like. More people will die until we are all united in stating unequivocally that anyone who commits such atrocities is entirely in the wrong, that it is unjustifiable to kill people who “offend” you, that blasphemy is a ridiculous notion and that no one should ever, ever be killed for “insulting” a religion or drawing a cartoon.

I didn’t know Avijit Roy, but I know people who did, and their grief and rage at his murder is far more keenly felt than mine. For that reason I had reservations about writing this piece, but Avijit’s daughter said that: “To say that I’m furious or heartbroken would be an understatement. But as fucked up as the world is, there’s never a reason to stop fighting to make it better … What would help me the most right now is if everyone (even people I’ve never met) could share his story.” So that’s what I’m doing here.

Same here. I was sharing his story already, but his daughter’s statement motivates me to share it even more loudly and urgently, if that’s possible.

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

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