Notes and Comment Blog

No wine and biscuit for you

Dec 27th, 2013 5:55 pm | By

We’ve been hearing more and more nonsense about how marvelous the new pope is, in particular from James Carroll in the New Yorker and on Fresh Air. Carroll takes the new pope’s talk about poor people with immense seriousness. He’s been depressed about the church for decades, ever since John 23 did some good things which were reversed the instant he popped his clogs.

Wouldn’t you think that would tell him something? Even if a comparatively not-so-fascist pope gets in somehow and says some nice things…the next one will throw them all out the window. The church isn’t a thing that can reform reliably, because it’s not set up that way.

Anyway…about that marvelous new pope. I was looking at something else so I missed this item last September.

Father Greg Reynolds of Melbourne, Australia found out last week that Pope Francis had excommunicated him, and he was shocked. Granted, Reynolds holds less than traditional views in the Catholic Church—he supports women’s ordination and gay marriage—but Pope Francis has more than hinted lately that the Church needs to adopt a new tone towards those social issues. “I am very surprised that this order has come under his watch; it seems so inconsistent with everything else he has said and done,” Reynolds told the National Catholic Reporter, a widely read source for Catholic news.

Excommunication is a severe penalty in the Catholic Church. Today it is the church’s harshest punishment, and it means an individual can no longer participate in the sacraments or worship ceremonies, much less ever officiate a mass again. Reynolds’ letter of excommunication itself contained no official explanation for his excommunication. It accused Reynolds of heresy and claimed he had violated the sacrament of the Eucharist.

Reynolds told the National Catholic Reporter that he also believes he was excommunicated because of his support for the gay community. He has officiated mass weddings for gay couples, even though he claimed they were unofficial, and he justified his actions as a call for reform.

The pope is the pope is the pope. There are no marvelous ones.

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

Another Christmas miracle

Dec 27th, 2013 5:34 pm | By

Drop everything! A couple in Arizona have spotted a cross on their cheesecake, so obviously it’s A Message.

A suburban Phoenix family says their Christmas cheesecake sent them the message of a holiday miracle.

The Arizona Republic reports that when the family in Scottsdale, Ariz., pulled their dessert out of the oven, it cracked as it cooled and formed a crucifix.

The family members, who have not given their names publicly, say the crucifix is a message.

They say they won’t be eating the cheesecake. Instead, they plan to sell it and donate the money to a local charity or church.

But that’s the end of the story. They forgot something. What’s the message?

It could be that the family that pulled their dessert out of the oven doesn’t know how to make a cheesecake.

But anyway, whatever it is, you would think that’s part of the story. Strange that they didn’t tell us.

Shall we try to guess?

It’s cold here?

Cut me a slice?

Go to church?

I’m vegan?

Put some berries on top?


I died for your sins and now I’m doing guest spots on cheesecakes?

Does this make my butt look big?

Wait, there’s been a mixup, I’m Mohammed?

H/t Leonie Hilliard.

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

Offence: Insulting Islam through his liberal website

Dec 27th, 2013 4:55 pm | By

There’s a Free Raif Badawi petition to sign.

Raef Badawi, a Saudi who is one of the establishers of the “Liberal Saudi Network”, which angered Ultra-orthodox clerics of Saudi Arabia could be beheaded soon for a claimed “apostasy” if no action is taken.

The news in Arabic about this issue is numerous, in English it has not got good attention till now, however, this piece of news has been published by AFP:

“A Saudi court on Monday referred a rights activist to a higher court for alleged apostasy, a charge that could lead to the death penalty in the ultra-conservative kingdom, activists said.

A judge at a lower court referred Raef Badawi to a higher court, declaring that he “could not give a verdict in a case of apostasy,” a rights activist told AFP. Apostasy means renunciation of a religious faith.

Badawi, who was arrested a June in the Red Sea city of Jeddah for unknown reasons, is a co-founder of the Saudi Liberal Network with female rights activist Suad al-Shammari and others.” 

Here I am saying one action is better than another again. What Raif (or Raef) Badawi is doing is good, what the Saudi authorities are doing is bad. It’s very bad.

Godless woman at EXMNA has a post.

Last but not least: Raef Badawi:

Nationality: You guessed it! Saudi

Work: Blogger and creator of the website Free Saudi Liberals.

Offence: Insulting Islam through his liberal website by hosting material criticizing “senior religious figures”. This charge has been morphed into a blasphemy charge and is being bounced through courts left, right and center for over 2 years now. On July 30, 2013 he was handed down a sentence of 7 years plus 600 lashes for violating Islamic values and propagating liberal thought.

His website was shut down and if that isn’t bad enough on December 26, 2013 Badawi’s wife told CNN that a judge had recommended him to go before a high court for the apostasy charge which if found guilty, would very likely result in the death penalty .

Country of imprisonment: Saudi

Islam must be both weak and cruel if it can’t allow people to leave it and disagree with it but imprisons or kills them instead. Not much of a recommendation.

PZ has a post.


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

Identity bingo

Dec 27th, 2013 10:49 am | By

Oh damn, I guess I am wading back in after all. So much damn foolery is popping up on my Twitter feed…

Like this other item from Beard Nihilist:

Beard Nihilist @borednihilist

Silly me thinking a white atheist feminist (@opheliabenson) wouldn’t criticize the choices of a Muslim feminist. #solidarityisforwhitewomen

S Mukherjee @essemjee

@borednihilist@OpheliaBenson That Muslim feminist is also white so I don’t get why u are using this hash tag. #solidarityisforwhitewomen

Why indeed. It’s a game of identity bingo, I suppose, in which “choosing” to wear hijab makes you an honorary non-white at least for certain purposes – such as telling of “Cis White Feminism” and getting support from people under the hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen.

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

“Criticizing an individual woman’s choices seems anti-feminist”

Dec 27th, 2013 9:59 am | By

The discussion is getting more absurd as it continues, and I’m short on time today, so I’m not planning to wade into it again, but one tweet addressed to me does seem worth disputing, because it encapsulates a trope that’s being recycled a lot.

Beard Nihilist @borednihilist

One can dislike Islam as a religion, as both I and @OpheliaBenson do, but criticizing an individual woman’s choices seems anti-feminist.


So if a couple of friends discuss a mutual friend who has made the “choice” to (say) marry a man who has repeatedly beaten her up, and the friends criticize her “choice”…that’s anti-feminist?

I don’t see it. Feminism isn’t agreeing with all women no matter what. Feminism isn’t endorsing every choice every woman makes no matter what. Feminism is in fact all about being critical of some choices and endorsing others.

If a woman makes the “choice” to become a Quiverfull Christian, or an obedient, anti-birth control, anti-abortion, anti-ordination of women Catholic, or an ardent fan of Sarah Palin or Ann Coulter…It’s not anti-feminist to criticize her choices.

Feminism is substantive. It considers some things better than other things. That’s the point of it. That means it is going to be critical of some choices, including some choices made by some women. I’ve been critical of the choices made by Phyllis Schlafly for decades; ditto Anita Bryant; ditto Laura Bush. That’s not anti-feminist.

That’s the broad general point, but there’s a narrower one that should perhaps be even more obvious. What was at issue in this discussion wasn’t just an individual woman’s choices, but an individual woman’s public writing about her choices. Her discursive essay on the subject; her arguments; her goal of persuasion; her advertisement and promotion of her choices. I don’t mean advertisement and promotion in a pejorative sense, just a descriptive one – she was laying out her point of view on a subject to make some points. That’s often what people are doing when they write; it’s usually what I’m doing when I write; there is nothing whatever wrong with that. But it is what it is: it’s about persuasion and/or argument.

So how could it possibly be anti-feminist to reply to it or comment on it or dispute it?

It seems to me it’s a great deal more anti-feminist to claim that feminist women can’t dispute other women’s claims because feminism means never criticizing an individual woman’s choices or even her blog posts about her individual choices.

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

Fiery? The fiery duke?

Dec 26th, 2013 5:17 pm | By

More on Modi from the New York Times.

The fiery head of India’s leading opposition party, who remains under pressure for his handling of an ethnic riot 11 years ago, won a victory on Thursday in one of the many disputes dogging him as he seeks to become India’s next prime minister, but faced a setback in another.

An Indian court rejected a petition seeking the prosecution of the opposition leader, Narendra Modi, the head of the Bharatiya Janata Party, over his role in riots in his home state, Gujarat, in 2002 that killed more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims.

But the government ordered a formal investigation into allegations that Mr. Modi’s top lieutenant, using state intelligence and security officers, oversaw wide-ranging surveillance of a woman on behalf of Mr. Modi.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, the BJP, is a right-wing Hinduist party. It would be terrible if Modi were elected prime minister.

The petition seeking Mr. Modi’s prosecution was filed by Zakia Jafri, the widow of Ehsan Jafri, a Muslim lawmaker in the governing Indian National Congress party who was among 69 killed — some burned alive — during the riots when a Hindu mob attacked a Muslim enclave in the city of Ahmedabad.

Neither case is likely to derail Mr. Modi’s growing popularity in India, since his tough-guy image is a big part of his appeal. Yet taken together, the cases demonstrate why he is a deeply divisive figure.

The most serious allegations against Mr. Modi concern the 2002 riots, which began in February of that year after Muslims set fire to a train carrying Hindu pilgrims who were returning from a visit to a shrine. Fifty-nine Hindus were burned alive.

In the days following the train attack, riots rippled across Gujarat, in western India, fed by a strike called by Hindu groups and encouraged by some of Mr. Modi’s close associates. Initial investigations by Gujarat authorities were so suspiciously incompetent that the Indian Supreme Court ordered special police units to redo the investigations, which eventually resulted in hundreds of convictions.

Ms. Jafri claimed that Mr. Modi, a Hindu and chief minister of Gujarat, was criminally negligent and complicit in neglecting to quell the riots. A judge in Gujarat rejected that argument on Thursday.

Nothing like religion for persuading people to live in harmony, is there. (I look forward to the Twitter uproar about my Hinduismophobia.)

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

The chance to repent and escape being beheaded

Dec 26th, 2013 5:01 pm | By

A Saudi blogger is under threat of being executed for “apostasy” – meaning, daring to leave Islam.

A SAUDI judge has recommended that a liberal activist and blogger be tried in a higher court for apostasy, a charge that could carry the death penalty, rights campaigners say.

A court in the ultra-conservative kingdom sentenced Raef Badawi in July to seven years in jail and 600 lashes for setting up a “liberal” network and for allegedly insulting Islam.

On Wednesday, a judge remanded Badawi to the General Court on charges of apostasy, rights lawyer Waleed Abulkhair said.

“Ultra-conservative” doesn’t really cover it. Murderously theocratic, misogynist and racist would be more like it.

Badawi, 35, was arrested in June last year in the Red Sea city of Jeddah for unknown reasons.

The network that he co-founded with female rights activist Suad al-Shammari had declared May 7, 2012 a “day of liberalism” in the kingdom, calling for an end to the domination of religion over public life in Saudi Arabia.

The strict version of Islamic sharia law applied in Saudi Arabia stipulates death as a punishment for apostasy, but defendants are usually given the chance to repent and escape being beheaded.

Oh, isn’t that generous. All they have to do is knuckle under to the ferociously anti-human religion of the Saudi clerics and monarchy, and they will “escape being beheaded.” What need of liberalism with such generosity as that on offer?

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

In the confines of a room

Dec 26th, 2013 1:52 pm | By

Not good news.

The Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT), chaired by former CBI director RK Raghavan who investigated the 2002 Gujarat riots has concluded in its 541-page closure report that the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi took ample measures to control riots rather than stoking the fire as it is made to be believed. The SIT also questioned the motive behind filing a complaint against the Chief Minister by Zakia Jafri four years after the communal violence.

Modi is apparently on the way to being India’s next prime minister…which is appalling.

Get this part -

The SIT has said that even if Narendra Modi had told the police during the riots to allow the Hindus to vent their anger over the massacre of 56 kar sevaks in the Godhra train burning incident, the mere statement of those in the confines of a room does not constitute an offence. On this, the SIT seems to have based its report on public statements made by Modi during the riots.


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


Dec 26th, 2013 11:17 am | By

Someone at the invaluable Facebook group British Muslims for Secular Democracy posted an article in the Huffington Post last May by Ali Rizvi, An Atheist Muslim’s Perspective on the ‘Root Causes’ of Islamist Jihadism and the Politics of Islamophobia.

It begins by quoting.

The ambassador answered us that [their right] was founded on the Laws of the Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have answered their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.

The above passage is not a reference to a declaration by al Qaeda or some Iranian fatwa. They are the words of Thomas Jefferson, then the U.S. ambassador to France, reporting to Secretary of State John Jay a conversation he’d had with Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, Tripoli’s envoy to London, in 1786 — more than two and a quarter centuries ago.

The envoy was explaining why the pirate raids off the coast of North Africa would continue; because jihad, that’s why.

Adja’s position wasn’t a random one-off. This conflict continued for years, seminally resulting in the Treaty of Tripoli, signed into law by President John Adams in 1797. Article 11 of the document, a direct product of the United States’ first-ever overseas conflict, contained these famous words, cementing America’s fundamental commitment to secularism:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext, arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Yes, the establishment of secularism in America back in the 18th century was largely related to a conflict with Islamist jihadism.

How can that be? The same way it can be now: many people really are motivated by religious beliefs and dogma, and not by something “deeper” or more occult or more political or more attractive.

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings and the foiled al Qaeda-backed plot in Toronto, the “anything but jihad” brigade is out in full force again. If the perpetrators of such attacks say they were influenced by politics, nationalism, money, video games or hip-hop, we take their answers at face value. But when they repeatedly and consistently cite their religious beliefs as their central motivation, we back off, stroke our chins and suspect that there has to be something deeper at play, a “root cause.”

The taboo against criticizing religion is still so astonishingly pervasive that centuries of hard lessons haven’t yet opened our eyes to what has been apparent all along: It is often religion itself, not the “distortion,” “hijacking,” “misrepresentation” or “politicization” of religion, that is the root cause.

And the same applies to religiously-based sexism, homophobia, violence against heretics and apostates, forced marriage, and so on. It’s not the case that religion is always a screen for something else; often religion is what there is. It’s not “Islamophobia” to say that.

 Typically, resorting to ad hominem attacks and/or labeling the opposing side “bigoted” is a last resort, when the opponent is unable to generate a substantive counterargument.

This phenomenon can be wholly represented by loaded terms like “Islamophobia.” As an atheist Muslim (I’m not a believer, but I love Eid, the feasts of Ramadan and my Muslim family and friends), I could be jailed or executed in my country of birththe country I grew up in and a host of other Muslim countries around the world for writing this very piece. Obviously, this is an unsettling, scary feeling for me. You may describe that fear as a very literal form of “Islamophobia.” But is that the same thing as anti-Muslim bigotry? No.

No; but by god there are a lot of people who rush to claim that it is.

Jews frequently profess their faith without justifying or defending passages in the Old Testament calling for the stoning to death of homosexuals, non-virginal brides or blasphemers. In fact, most of them condemnthese ideas. Religious Catholics still identify with their faith in large numbers without agreeing with the pope on birth control, abortion or premarital sex. Like them, almost all Muslims cherry-pick the contents of their faith as well. Why not be honest about the parts you don’t like? If you’re being discriminated against, why not protect your people first instead of jumping to protect your beliefs, books or religion every time someone driven by them commits mass murder?

This is a key difference for “new atheists.” To us, the fight against religious ideology isn’t a struggle against human rights but a struggle for them. Human beings have rights and are entitled to respect. Books and beliefs don’t and aren’t.

Also hijabs and niqabs. They also don’t and aren’t. Human beings have rights and are entitled to respect. Books and beliefs and religious garments don’t and aren’t.

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

Your Mean Girls Cis White Feminism

Dec 26th, 2013 9:48 am | By

It’s funny how feminism gets it in the neck from both directions, isn’t it. On the one hand there are people who say “feminists are silent about stonings and forced marriage and FGM!” To which I murmur replies to the effect that not all feminists are silent about that. On the other hand there are people who claim that “Mean Girls Cis White Feminism” is silent about the marginalization of women who wear the hijab. To which I murmur replies to the effect that I don’t want to see anyone marginalized or bullied, but at the same time I reserve the right to say I think the hijab is a bad, regressive, sexist custom, and why I think that.

I’ve noticed that the position between those two poles is not always a popular one.


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

Why are the people in Bengal silent?

Dec 25th, 2013 5:43 pm | By

Taslima wonders if anyone is listening.

It’s hard to miss her in Calcutta these days. She beams at passers-by from king-size hoardings at several busy junctions, anxiously marking her “return” to Bengal after six years.

But Taslima Nasreen is not returning to the city. Not in person, certainly — thanks to embargoes on her travelling and living in India. And not on television either, which had been promoting her as the writer of a mega serial that was to have been aired from December 19.

Despite the grand announcements, the show has been stalled. And Nasreen is furious. “Hating Taslima is an essential part of politics in the subcontinent. I feel pity for those who need to violate a writer’s rights to get votes,” she tweeted. “Whatever I write is hated by ignorant anti-women, anti-human rights bigots. Because they are afraid of the truth and the power of the pen,” said another tweet.

Of course she’s furious. Who wouldn’t be?!

She walks into the drawing room-cum-study of her apartment located in an upmarket area of Delhi, where she has been living since 2008, full of misgivings. Just days before the serial was called off, she’d heard that the Calcutta police had met the producers of the serial.

“Some bigoted individuals asked for a ban and the state acquiesced — I don’t think this will happen even in Saudi Arabia,” she says. “But fundamentalists are anti-women and anti-freedom of expression, and for political reasons the government might side with them. But why are the people in Bengal silent,” she asks.

Dressed in grey winter pants, a black sweater and a blue embroidered stole, the maverick writer looks younger than her 51 years with her bright eyes and dishevelled short crop. She sinks into a reclining chair with a blue iPad in her hand.

That’s Taslima all right – that iPad is never out of her hand.

This is the second time the soap has been stalled. She began writing it in 2006, when several episodes were also shot. “But then the 2007 drama happened and I was summarily thrown out of the city on November 22 that year,” she says, referring to the Ripon street violence. “That brought the production to a standstill.”

She had then urged her producers not to give up on the series merely because she had been ousted by the Bengal government, which cited her as a problem for law and order. “Why should the producers, or any creative person for that matter, be afraid of negative forces? These are just fringe elements who would oppose anyone who talks about gender equality and social change because they are misogynists.”

She cites the treatment meted out to reformists Vidyasagar and Raja Rammohan Roy by “anti-progress groups” for their pro-women measures. “The same thing is happening to me — I speak about new ideas, changing society, gender equality and humanism.”

What riles her more is the lack of protest in Calcutta. “This is a dangerous sign — if writers, intellectuals and other creative people keep quiet after this, something is wrong with society. Society is on the path of decline — this is what the silence signifies.

“But intellectuals do not keep their mouths shut when Hindu fanatics attack writers or artistes, or even when Muslim fanatics attack male writers such as Salman Rushdie. Misogynistic society shows solidarity towards victims, provided the victims are male, macho or anti-feminist,” she says.

And then there’s Twitter.

Her tweets too have landed her in legal wrangles. Two cases — one in Uttar Pradesh and the other in Bihar — have been lodged against her. “The complaint from UP was against a tweet saying those who issue fatwas and rewards on beheading were anti-Constitution, anti-women and anti-freedom of expression,” says Nasreen, who has had three fatwas issued against her in Bangladesh and five in India so far.

“What have I said wrong? These people who issue fatwas are roaming scot-free while I am the one who is confined to one place,” she says, adding India’s home ministry has helped her with the cases.

She hasn’t stopped tweeting, though. “I will write more tweets. Let me see how people can stop me.”

Does she ever feel like giving it all up in India and settling down in the West? “I travel to Europe and America frequently. But I want to stay in India for the sake of this country,” she says. “I want to tell the world I can stay in India because this country is a true pillar of secularism and a standard bearer of freedom of expression in the subcontinent.”

Is anyone listening?

Yes! Whether India is or not, though…I don’t know.


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

Middle latitudes

Dec 25th, 2013 4:29 pm | By

It’s ten past four, nearly sunset. Leonard Tremiel informed me the other day that the earliest sunset is actually two weeks before the solstice, and the latest sunrise two weeks after it. He recommended Earth and Sky’s explanation.

It seems paradoxical. At middle latitudes in the U.S. – and throughout the Northern Hemisphere – the earliest sunsets of the year come about two weeks before the solstice and the shortest day of the year.

Why isn’t the earliest sunset on the year’s shortest day? It’s because of the discrepancy between the clock and the sun. A clock ticks off exactly 24 hours from one noon to the next. But an actual day – as measured by the spin of the Earth, from what is called one “solar noon” to the next – rarely equals 24 hours exactly.

Solar noon is also called simply “midday.” It refers to that instant when the sun reaches its highest point for the day. At this time of year, the time period from one solar noon to the next is actually half a minute longer than 24 hours. Today, on December 7, the sun reaches its noontime position at 11:52 a.m. local standard time. Two weeks later – on the winter solstice – the sun will reach its noontime position around 11:59 a.m. That’s 7 minutes later than today.

The later clock time for solar noon also means a later clock time for sunrise and sunset. The table below helps to explain.

For Philadelphia, Pennsylvania



Date Sunrise Solar Noon (Midday) Sunset Daylight Hours
December 7 7:09 a.m. 11:52 a.m. 4:35 p.m. 9 hours 26 minutes
December 21 7:19 a.m. 11:59 a.m. 4:39 p.m. 9 hours 20 minutes


Cool huh? Read the rest there, complete with sunset photos.

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

Slovenly housekeeping seal of approval

Dec 25th, 2013 3:53 pm | By

Why do the wizards of tv keep throwing various iterations of Home Alone at us? What’s that about? How did it become one of those “holiday classics” we always hear about? It’s horrible. The Home Alone movies are awful and everybody should stop watching them.

Instead watch Alastair Sim as Scrooge. You might want to skip the parts where he’s offscreen (Tiny Tim, you know), but when he’s on screen it’s a gem.

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

Not one month, not four, but eight

Dec 25th, 2013 1:20 pm | By

Update: see comments, especially Tony Sidaway’s @ 10, for context that makes sense of this.

An item from the Independent more than two years ago. It’s more than a little unnverving.

A man who used a social networking website to post sectarian comments about Catholics and Celtic supporters has been jailed for eight months.


Stephen Birrell, 28, from Glasgow, was also handed a five-year football banning order at Glasgow Sheriff Court for writing the comments on a Facebook page titled Neil Lennon Should Be Banned.

He admitted writing the religiously and racially motivated comments between February 28 and March 8 this year.

Sentencing him, Sheriff Bill Totten said the courts had to send “a clear message to deter others who might be tempted to behave in this way”.

One of the comments, posted a day before a Celtic v Rangers game on March 2 this year, read: “Hope they all die. Simple. Catholic scumbags ha ha.”

Two days after the match, he wrote: “Proud to hate Fenian tattie farmers.”

Good god.

Ok I know – because I was schooled about it here by commenters in the past – that Glasgow has a big problem with sectarian hatred and violence that plays out as football rivalry. But…eight months in jail for that?

The sheriff told Birrell that he had escaped a longer sentence because his comments hadn’t made specific threats against individuals.

But he said he wanted to “send a clear message that the right-thinking people of Glasgow and Scotland will not allow any behaviour of this nature, or allow any place in our society for hate crimes”.

He said: “The use of modern communications to spread or support abuse or target groups of people because of their ethnic or racial background has no place in our modern society and has no place in genuine support for any football club.”

Eight months.

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

Ask any question

Dec 25th, 2013 1:05 pm | By

For any future gifting needs you may have, Ezra Resnick suggests a Magic Dogma Ball for those on your gifting list who like easy answers.

Ask any question, no matter how complex, and the Magic Dogma Ball™ will give you the definitive answer (according to your selected tradition). No thinking required!

The Magic Dogma Ball™ answers questions about ethics, politics, metaphysics, fashion, sex, and more. Possible answers include:

  • It is certain
  • Without a doubt
  • It is forbidden
  • Don’t even think about it

Gifting made easy.


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

Out come the sticks

Dec 25th, 2013 12:26 pm | By

Spain: women protesting new anti-abortion law: police get rough.

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

Being and becoming

Dec 25th, 2013 11:07 am | By

A commenter pointed out a storify in a comment and I took a look at it. What I saw made me curious about the person behind it so I looked at her Twitter and that led me to her blog. Her most recent post there is titled So, What’s It Like Being a White Muslim, Anyway? The title is symptomatic of the post itself.

It’s a stupid title, because Islam is not officially unwhite, and because it represents a category mistake. It’s getting to be a boring trope to point out that Islam is not a race, but all the same, it’s not, even though it’s true that Muslims are often treated as a despised racial group. Islam is not a race and “White” is not a religion.

Ok but one gets what she means. Islam is not in fact a race but Muslims are mostly de facto non-white; a Muslim who is white is usually a convert or possibly a child of converts; there are social and political issues one can talk about. Yes. But one can talk about them well, or one can talk about them badly. This blogger, who calls herself Ms Muslamic and The Hijabinist, does not talk about them well.

I can divide my life neatly into two phases: the phase where I was Average Cis White Girl and the phase where I became Hijab-Wearing Muslim Woman.

Does it jump out at you the way it jumped out at me? It’s just one, introductory sentence, but she replicates it repeatedly – the thing that jumped out at me.

She didn’t stop being Cis or White when she converted to Islam. Why does she oppose Cis White Girl to Hijab-Wearing Muslim Woman? Why isn’t it Cis White Girl as opposed to Cis White Hijab-Wearing Muslim Woman? (I won’t quibble with girl/woman, since at least the chronology matches.)

The replications:

As a White cis woman I’d experienced misogyny and sexism, but the way I get treated now is considerably worse than anything I encountered back then…

This transition was made worse by the fact that Cis White Feminism does not (in general) support or respect Muslim women. When I converted, I went overnight from having Cis White Feminism speak for my experience and respect my input to having that exact same feminism ignore me, marginalise me, silence me and patronise me. I stopped being an intelligent, independent person who was welcomed into the global sisterhood and started being a rescue project for Orientalist feminist do-gooders. The change was jarring. But thankfully when I got pushed out to the margins I discovered a whole bunch of other people who had also been pushed to the margins by mainstream feminism and we bonded on twitter and now it’s awesome. So you can keep your Mean Girls Cis White Feminism because it’s not helping me anyway.

I’m not asking for some kind of special treatment or implying that I somehow have it worse than other people. Fighting oppression is not a zero-sum game. You can recognise that my experience has been difficult and painful in a number of ways without also implying that the experience of Muslim PoC is less worthy of attention. Nobody deserves to be dehumanised by society as a whole. Nobody deserves to live in fear because of their religion. Likewise I think I can say “Hey, being a White Muslim has its own particular set of complicated problems” without implying that I’m more important than women of colour, trans women, women with disabilities or other women pushed to the margins of mainstream Cis White Feminism.

What’s she doing with this? I think she’s trying to make the case that feminism isn’t intersectional enough…except of course for feminism that is intersectional enough, which would be feminism that isn’t “White” or “Cis”…and it’s actually somewhat tricky to find any feminism that is explicitly officially White, though it’s less tricky to find feminism that’s explicitly officially Cis. But still, one gets the idea, not least because it’s an idea that’s been around as long as second-wave feminism has – that a lot of the most visible feminism tends to be middle-class and all that goes with it, and thus not very good at addressing class and race and the other ways people are marginalized. (Funny though that the blogger doesn’t include “straight” or “heterosexual” among her axes of marginalization. I wonder why that is; I wonder if it was conscious.)

One gets the idea, but it’s still a very tendentious, and in my view unfair, binary. It loads the dice.

Another thing about that first sentence I cited.

I can divide my life neatly into two phases: the phase where I was Average Cis White Girl and the phase where I became Hijab-Wearing Muslim Woman.

“Became” is an odd word to use. One doesn’t just “become” a Muslim, the way a girl becomes a woman over time. One decides to be a Muslim; one converts, in short, to Islam. It’s not passive, it’s active. It’s not something that happens to you, it’s something you make up your mind to do. That’s all the more the case with the “Hijab-Wearing” bit. She’s in the UK, so she’s not in a place where the hijab is forced on all Muslim women.

Obviously all this is more or less peripheral; my real objection to her post is the usual one: that it treats criticism of Islam as racism and thus taboo, while I think Islam should be wide open to criticism along with all other religions, because religions are systems of ideas that make massive claims on people. But the rhetoric of this move is interesting.

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

Judge to Utah: no stay for you

Dec 24th, 2013 6:01 pm | By

All your bases are belong to us.

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that gay marriages can continue in Utah, denying a request from the state to halt same-sex weddings that have been occurring at a rapid rate since last week.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ rejection of Utah’s request for an emergency stay marks yet another legal setback for the state. The same federal judge who ruled that Utah’s same-sex marriage ban violates gay and lesbian couples’ rights previously denied the state’s request to halt the marriages.

Next stop, Arizona.

Utah’s last chance to temporarily stop the marriages would be the U.S. Supreme Court. That’s what the Utah Attorney General’s Office is prepared to do, said spokesman Ryan Bruckman. “We’re disappointed in the ruling, but we just have to take it to the next level,” Bruckman said.

Gov. Gary Herbert’s office declined comment on the decision.

Carl Tobias, a constitutional law professor at Virginia’s University of Richmond who has tracked legal battles for gay marriage, thinks Utah faces long odds to get their stay granted, considering two courts have already rejected it and marriages have been going on for days now.

“The longer this goes on, the less likely it becomes that any court is going to entertain a stay,” Tobias said.

So all you loving same-sex couples in Utah who like the idea of being hitched? Get busy!

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

Guest post by Tim Harris on ‘cultural relativism’ in Japan

Dec 24th, 2013 5:50 pm | By

Originally a comment on In their efforts to discredit advocates of women’s international human rights.

In the 80s & 90s, one faced the same sort of thing in Japan, with what was called ‘nihon-jin-ron’, the ‘theory of the Japanese’, a thoroughly and cynically racist and chauvinistic outpouring which depended in part on taking certain questionable and often racist assertions about Japan made over a century or so by some Westerners and throwing them back in the face of the West: ‘we Japanese’ understand one another not through logic, like coldly rational Westerners, but through intuitive feeling, through ‘hara’ (guts); our arts are so extraordinarily sensitive that Westerners cannot possibly appreciate them; even though Westerners may parrot the Japanese language, they can never truly speak or understand it.

These theorists also depended heavily on the dogma of ‘cultural relativism’ which, taken to an extreme (as it all too often is – the temptation to do so is great), essentially makes ‘cultures’ like black holes to one another – though the proponents of nihonjinron insisted that ‘the Japanese’ understood the West all too well: being logical, etc, the West was easy to understand. Essentially, ‘cultural relativism’ provided a cloak for the indulging of an extreme nationalism that even extended to literary scholarship – Konishi Jin’ichi’s history of Japanese literature, for example, which was acclaimed by useful idiots in the West like Earl Miner and panned by the British scholar and translator Dennis Keene as well as myself.

When one took up cudgels against nihonjin-ron, it was remarkable how quickly charges of racism, cultural condescension, etc were made. Writers like Peter Dale, Ross Mouer, Yoshio Sugimoto (who was actually Japanese!), Karel van Wolferen, Alan Booth and, in a small way, myself had to face this. And it was interesting that these charges came as often from Westerners as from Japanese, if not more so. It was also interesting to me that most of the Western critics of nihonjin-ron were not from the US – I think this because of the closer acquaintance Europeans had with nationalist modes of thought and because of the paternalistic attitude taken towards postwar Japan by many Americans – it is something that to my mind vitiates Donald Richie’s writings on Japan, though his books on Ozu and Kurosawa are admirable.

The bubble of nihonjin-ron burst more or less with the bursting of Japan’s bubble economy, though now we have the most chauvinistic government in years in power here, and one suspects the theorists could emerge again, given the right circumstances.

Really, it’s a delicate balancing act – which is something that on the one hand a parochial insistence on the universality of Western values and on the other the sort of thing indulged in by Penny and her ilk simply fail to recognize.

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

In their efforts to discredit advocates of women’s international human rights

Dec 24th, 2013 4:01 pm | By

More from Mayer’s long 2000 article on gender apartheid. The article is very apposite to what we’ve been talking about lately.

The discussion will point out how those seeking to defend what amounts to gender apartheid have tried to turn the discussion away from actual patterns of oppression of women, endeavoring to depoliticize this phenomenon by, among other things, minimizing the important role of the state. Instead of acknowledging that governments of modern states are controlled by men and that these men may have vested interests in retaining a status quo that favors them, they pretend that religion and culture are independent determinants of women’s status.

It’s just a coincidence that all these religions and cultures make women subordinate to men, and that governments are controlled mostly by men. The two have nothing to do with each other. Don’t look at that man behind the curtain.

As will be shown, a widespread predisposition to downgrade the significance of any gender discrimination that claims to be rooted in religion and culture is exploited by governments and allied apologists in their efforts to discredit advocates of women’s international human rights. The result is that defenses that would never excuse
racial apartheid wind up being greeted as plausible rationalizations for gender apartheid.

Even by progressives, feminists, leftists like Priyamvada Gopal and Laurie Penny. That’s strange, isn’t it. I always find it strange.

And then we get even closer to Gopal and Pennie and their colleagues.

This article also analyzes attempts that have been made by some U.S. academics to induce U.S. opinion to reject international human rights law as the criterion for judging the treatment of women in the Middle East. Religion and culture are depicted by such academics as if these set parameters regarding the treatment of women that are accepted by insiders to a given society, only being contested and criticized
by outsiders. Such depictions completely ignore the intense controversies about women’s rights that are going on within Middle Eastern societies. These academics work to discredit advocacy of women’s international human rights, deliberately associating challenges to gender discrimination with negatives like neocolonialism/imperialism and attacks on culture and religion.

Yes they do. They do it quite blatantly, by misrepresenting protests and the people behind them, by throwing epithets when this is pointed out instead of correcting the misrepresentations, and by persisting in their failure to correct the misrepresentations.

It’s a horrible spectacle.

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