Notes and Comment Blog

Rory Fenton condemns

Nov 25th, 2013 8:48 pm | By

At the New Humanist, Rory Fenton says no thank you.

It is astounding how quickly we forget or wilfully ignore that human rights are there to protect people – not beliefs. At the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies, of which I’m president, we increasingly see this confused notion of rights being applied on UK campuses. Whether it’s our student groups intimidated for “blasphemy”, as at LSE and Reading, or religious societies refusing unmarried women permission to speak, as at Bristol, this trumping of individual rights by the supposed rights of “beliefs” is increasingly common.

…nestled in the report was a bizarre and backward recommendation; universities should be willing to enforce sex segregation between male and female audience members if a speaker requests it.

The report’s peculiar logic ran as follows: speakers have the right to free speech but if their demands for sex segregation are not met they will refuse to speak. Therefore to not enforce sex segregation is to deny the speakers’ freedom of speech. The report is careful only to endorse the ‘nice’ kind of segregation with men and women split on the left and right hand sides of a lecture theatre rather than front and back, the logic here being that men and women are being treated ‘equally separately’, whatever that means.

That it’s equally insulting to both of them?

That wouldn’t be much of a recommendation if it were true, but it’s not true. So yeah, whatever does that mean?

This logic has echoes of the old racially segregated Deep South of the United States; separate but equal. To argue that segregation is not inherently unequal is to fail to see just why men and women are being kept apart in the first place; this drive for segregation stems from ideologies that view women as very much inferior to men. To allow these ideologies power in UK universities is to betray hard-won individual rights and the principle that in public spaces all must be treated equally. Separate is never equal.

That is correct. And it makes me very, very angry that UK university vice-chancellors are just flinging all that away.

The report goes as far as to say that non-religious beliefs, such as feminism, should take second place to “sincerely held” religious beliefs. That’s right; the mere fact that they are religious makes some beliefs more important than others because, of course, Feminist can’t be sincere in their beliefs.

Because those “beliefs” are secular, so they can’t be “sincerely held.” They can only be held, loosely and kind of sloppily, the way secular people do.

The Universities UK report focuses on sex because it’s an issue that has come up before but there is no reason for its logic to stop there. If a racist is invited to speak – should he not have the audience forcibly segregated into whites and non-whites? What if his beliefs are really “sincerely held”? Could the EDL insist on all Muslim students sitting separately? Of course Universities UK would never support this.

Just what I keep saying! I said it on their horrible blog post, too. I hope they (or rather, Nicola Dandridge) answer (answers).

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

BHA condemns

Nov 25th, 2013 8:33 pm | By

The BHA condemns Universities UK’s guidelines on gender segregation.

BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal commented that ‘Universities are secular institutions, not places of worship, and sex segregation should have no place in secular spaces in which we expect to find equality between men and women.  It would be completely unacceptable if a visiting speaker tried to segregate an audience along racial lines, so sex segregation should be equally unacceptable.  Universities UK have characterised this as a freedom of speech issue, but this is misleading.  A visiting speaker’s right to freedom of speech entitles them to express their political and religious views, but not to impose these views on the audience.’

Damn right. If it’s obviously unacceptable on racial grounds, which it is, why is it acceptable on gender grounds?

It isn’t.


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

They have to be separated in school

Nov 25th, 2013 3:35 pm | By

Thurgood Marshall arguing Brown v Board of Education before the Supreme Court in 1953.

I got the feeling on hearing the discussion yesterday that when you put a white child in a school with a whole lot of colored children, the child would fall apart or something. Everybody knows that is not true.  Those same kids in Virginia and South Carolina – and I have seen them do it – they play in the streets together, they play on their farms together, they go down the road together, they separate to go to school, they come out of school and play ball together. They have to be separated in school. There is some magic to it. You can have them voting together, you can have them not restricted because of law in the houses they live in. You can have them going to the same state university and the same college, but if they go to elementary and high school, the world will fall apart.

Cooties cooties cooties! Separate them or ew ew ew.

They can’t take race out of this case. From the day this case was filed until this moment, nobody has in any form or fashion, despite the fact I made it clear in the opening argument that I was relying on it, done anything to distinguish this statute from the Black Codes, which they must admit, because nobody can dispute, say anything anybody wants to say, one way or the other, the Fourteenth Amendment was intended to deprive the states of power to enforce Black Codes or anything else like it.

We charge that they are Black Codes. They obviously are Black Codes if you read them. They haven’t denied that they are Black Codes, so if the Court wants to very narrowly decide this case, they can decide it on that point.

And what are Black Codes? Post-Civil War laws passed to keep slavery in all but name.

So whichever way it is done, the only way that this Court can decide this case in opposition to our position, is that there must be some reason which gives the state the right to make a classification that they can make in regard to nothing else in regard to Negroes, and we submit the only way to arrive at that decision is to find that for some reason Negroes are inferior to all other human beings.

And that is why separate is not equal.

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

How to ensure that no one is unlawfully excluded

Nov 25th, 2013 12:49 pm | By

Nicola Dandridge of Universities UK has written a blog post explaining that UUK is not promoting gender segregation. That’s nice, but I don’t know of anyone who said it was. The objection is that UUK is treating gender segregation as permissible, and that it said it’s not unequal.

Since its publication, there has been some public debate on a small component of the guidance: a hypothetical case study (p.27) in which an external speaker on faith in the modern world requests that the audience is segregated according to gender. The case study reflects the challenges of accommodating everyone’s views, from those whose religious beliefs require them to sit separately with their own gender, to those who wish to sit with the opposite gender – hence the mixed seating alternative which is part of the solution in this case study. The issue is how to ensure that no one is unlawfully excluded from the event.

Ah that’s sneaky. The case study reflects the challenges of accommodating everyone’s views, from those whose religious beliefs require them to sit separately with their own gender - no no no, it’s not that easy. The religious beliefs “require” that everyone sit with her or his own gender. It is not a matter just of what I am required to do, it’s a matter of what others are “required” to do, and of the right of the male speaker to “require” it of everyone who attends the lecture, including people who share his religion but not his reactionary version of it, and people who don’t share his religion. Dandridge frames it as a matter of allowing people to obey their own religious “requirements” but ignores the issue of forcing other people to obey “requirements” that 1) are not theirs and 2) are on the face of it obnoxiously and impertinently discriminatory.

Suppose a white guest speaker says her religion “requires” white people to sit with white people and black people to sit with black people. I wonder if Dandridge would phrase that as “The case study reflects the challenges of accommodating everyone’s views, from those whose religious beliefs require them to sit separately with their own race, to those who wish to sit with the opposite race.” I wonder if she would feel more squeamish about that; I wonder if she would say it at all. My guess is that she would feel more squeamish and wouldn’t say it.

And nobody is “unlawfully excluded from the event” on the basis that she describes. A racist is not unlawfully excluded from the event if the racist says her religion requires racial segregation and the university refuses to arrange any such segregation. The racist can still attend the event; she is not excluded; she is simply not granted an unreasonable and malevolent demand.

Universities have a vital role to play in securing free speech and promoting debate. This practical guidance has been developed to ensure that as many debates as possible on sensitive and emotive issues can continue to take place. By promoting free speech and open debate the rights or wrongs of gender segregation can be challenged and discussed.

Bollocks. We can perfectly well challenge and discuss the rights or wrongs of gender segregation, and racial and ethnic and religious segregation, without putting the actual segregation into effect. We can also, frankly, perfectly well treat some questions as settled and just fucking move on. We don’t need to challenge and discuss the rights and wrongs of genocide, and we really don’t need to challenge and discuss the rights and wrongs of gender versions of Jim Crow laws.


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

He “knew it was not appropriate to sit next to women”

Nov 25th, 2013 12:11 pm | By

What a claustrophobic mind we see in this post claiming that Maryam’s petition against Universities UK’s guidelines that allow sexual segregation at the behest of guest speakers is “Islamophobic.”

Petition site Avaaz are running asking people to condemn Universities UK’s statement on sex segregation in events held on campus. Please DON’T sign it. It might use intellectual language, but its both factually dubious and distinctly Islamphobic.

First, its worth pointing out that the lectures and visiting lecturers being talked about are student-organised speaking events. They are not course lectures. Allowing such meetings to take place on campus is an important part of encouraging debate and widening participation in Higher Education. Furthermore, it allows Muslim women to meet and discuss their issues.

Wait. How does allowing sexual segregation at the behest of guest speakers “[allow] Muslim women to meet and discuss their issues”? Are Muslim women otherwise not allowed to meet and discuss their issues? Do UK universities forbid Muslim women to meet and discuss their issues at debates and lectures where the audience is not segregated? Of course they don’t. Muslim women are allowed to meet and discuss their issues on the same terms that anyone else is. Universities are not in the business of making special rules and exclusions for particular groups.

If Muslim women aren’t “allowed” to meet and discuss except when they are segregated from men then Muslim women also aren’t “allowed” to take buses or the tube, walk on the pavement, stroll through the park, shop at Waitrose or Boots, go to the pub or a café, go to concerts or plays or movies – have jobs, go to the hospital, have a bank account, have friends. On those terms they aren’t “allowed” to take part in contemporary life at all. They might as well be buried. Fortunately UK universities don’t impose such a regime.

I’m a graduate of the University of Bradford – I have attended lectures that were segregated. It was done in a very simple and largely organic way – I knew it was not appropriate to sit next to women, so I sat on the side of the central aisle where the men were congregating. We didn’t actually have curtains or anything, and in a culture where people socialise amongst their own sex, its not surprising that friends sitting together looks pretty segregated right away.

Way to internalize the viciously illiberal rules. It was not “appropriate” to sit next to women? A culture where people socialise amongst their own sex? Terrific: a world where women and men are strangers to each other, and women get less and worse of everything.

In allowing its website to be used to petition against the right of Islamic Societies to determine the running of their own meetings, Avaaz is endorsing cultural imperialism and side-lining of an entire culture within our Universities.

As I understand it the guidelines are not about meetings of societies but about public debates and lectures – debates and lectures that are open to anyone who wants to attend.

You can call it “cultural imperialism” to have one set of rules for everyone if you want to, but it’s a perverse and reactionary move. The expectation of equality doesn’t have much in common with imperialism.

The petition represents an attempt to force Western culture into the meetings and events of women and men who subscribe to another culture.

That assumes that all Muslims subscribe to gender segregation, which is complete bullshit. Not all Muslims do, and plenty of Muslims find that assumption highly insulting. Plenty of non-”Western” people find it massively insulting when Westerners put all the good things under the sign “Western” and assume that everyone in the east and south shares a monolithically reactionary culture.

Never underestimate the ability of White Men to use Women of Colour as a means to espouse racism and cultural superiority.

That’s cute, when it’s Maryam who drew up the petition. Ignore her why doncha.

Looking down the list of initial signatories, it is clear that this is an attempt at religion bashing by some of the most reactionary pupils of ‘Western Enlightenment’ thinking.

Oh right, such as Deeyah Khan, Gita Sahgal, Harsh Kapoor, Mina Ahadi, Nahla Mahmoud, Pragna Patel…

They are not the reactionaries here.



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

At the European Parliament

Nov 24th, 2013 5:15 pm | By

Taslima has a post about her trip to Strasburg for the 25th Sakharov Prize anniversary.

I tweeted a lot in the last few days. I was at the European Parliament to celebrate 25th Sakharov Prize anniversary. All the Sakharov Laureates were there except Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Hu Jia, Jafar Panahi and a few others. Shirin Ebadi the Nobel Peace Prize winner came to represent Nasrin Sotoudeh, the Iranian lawyer who received Sakharov Prize last year. We attended many conferences, seminars on Human Rights, official lunch and dinner.

But she didn’t get to talk to Malala Yousafzai.

After she got the Sakharov prize we the Sakharov Laureates took family photos. In the photo below, Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament is standing between Malala and me. I congratulated Malala for the prize. She shook my hand with expressionless face. I came from the Indian subcontinent, almost from the same background, fighting religious fundamentalists for women’s rights, but her expression tells me that it means nothing to her. She in her speech expressed that the names of the previous Sakharov laureates that amazed her were Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi and Kofi Annan. A few days ago I requested the European Parliament to arrange for my meeting with Malala when we both would be at the parliament. But I was told that no bilateral meeting would be possible for Malala. She is now like a big superstar, no one can touch her. I imagine how busy she is with hundreds of different things in the West but I never could imagine she would not talk to any Sakharov Laureate, give no interview to any media after getting the prize and she would not be present in the discussion on children’s right at the European Parliament and would not be present even in the official dinner hosted by the President of the European Parliament for her honor. I heard her father said no to everything. I wish she could be herself. Would she be able to be herself someday in this protective environment? The glamour world and the business world both are dangerous for human rights activists.

That’s perhaps understandable, since she’s a schoolgirl and perhaps still not as strong as she would have been if the Taliban hadn’t shot her in the face…but it’s sad. It seems a great pity she wasn’t even allowed to go to the dinner and talk to her fellow laureates.

I did not expect but was not shocked either when Malala started her official speech in the name of Allah. She said, Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim while she was giving a speech at the secular European Parliament. Malala believes in Allah and Islam. She often praises Islam and talks about women’s freedom. I wish she knew ‘religion is not compatible with women’s rights’.

So do I, but at the same time, she can probably do more good as she is. An Irshad Manji as opposed to a Taslima.

Everybody loves Malala. I am afraid she will be able to convince young Muslim girls that Islam is a good religion that respects women and it is good to wear Islamic veils. She talks about changing the world by books and pens. All children need books and pens. But the truth is, in all Muslim countries including Malala’s Pakistan, children are given the book called Quran to be indoctrinated in order to change the world to Darul Islam. The Taliban use pens to write the names whom they plan to kill. I think it is better to mention what kinds of books are needed to make the world a better world. And what should be done with pens.

That is true. It’s not just any books. It’s certainly not memorization and blind submission to one “holy” book.

I asked a politically incorrect question to children rights activists during children’s rights debate at the parliament: ‘You have been talking about children’s right to an adequate standard of living, health care, education and to play and recreation. You have been talking about children’s right to protection from abuse, neglect, exploitation and discrimination. But not many activists say that children should not be brainwashed to be superstitious, racists, chauvinists, misogynists, fanatics, terrorists. Why not many activists say that brainwashing children with parents’ religion or with any other religion is against children’s rights. Mutilating or cutting children’s genitals in the name of religion, culture, tradition is also against children’s rights.’

Seriously, no good answer was given to me. A woman said she was fighting against female genital mutilation. I asked ‘what about boys genital mutilation?’

I don’t get surprised easily. European Parliament’s official secretly informed me that there might be a plan to give Sakharov award to Pope.

I love Taslima’s question. And Taslima.



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

Literal patriarchy

Nov 24th, 2013 4:16 pm | By

Aha so Doug Phillips of Vision Forum has resigned as top boss of VF because he had An Affair with A Woman. The blog Diary of an Autodidact has a thorough analysis.

Douglas Phillips has three major claims to fame, all of which are related to a certain view of gender.

The first, as I partially discussed in my post on his connections to White Supremacy, is his belief that there is a single explanation for modern evils. Let me state this clearly, because I think it tends to be lost in all the static.

The foundation, the CORE of the Vision Forum doctrine is that “Feminism™” is THE cause of all modern evils.

That is, that the big error of our age, the big cause of all that ails us, is that women do not know their place. What is their place? In the home, and under complete subjection to me in every time, place, aspect of life, etc.

Don’t believe me? Read it from Douglas Phillips himself. Here are the “Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy.”

Note, women are created to serve men. Men are the glory of God, while women are the glory of…wait for it…MEN. The entire created purpose of women is to serve MEN.

Out of this everything else flows. The cause of all our modern ills is that we have rejected “God’s purpose for women.”

So, the teaching of Vision Forum runs thus: We have forgotten that women belong in the home, doing housework and raising (large numbers) of children and, most importantly, obeying men in everything. After all, God speaks only to men, not women, and if women would just serve their men, everything would be great. So, we should teach our daughters to first, serve their fathers, until such time as their fathers find husbands for them, and then they should serve their husbands.

And it’s not just about who serves whom. Phillips (and others of the Patriarchy movement) teach that women are inherently easier to deceive, and thus must never be allowed to be in a position of authority. Of any sort. Instead, a woman must always be under the authority of a man. Her father, until she marries. Her husband after that. If she is widowed, she would be under the authority of her eldest son, or oldest close relative. Never ever can she be in charge of her own life.

This is from a conservative Christian, who considers Phillips’s views vile. If only everyone did.

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


Nov 24th, 2013 12:37 pm | By

I’m very late in catching up with the Ex-Muslims of North America. The prod was seeing a tweet of mine – about Universities UK and the gender segregation trainwreck – favorited by Sadaf, and looking to see who she is. She’s one of the founders.

While not fully comprehending the gender essentialism ingrained in the religion and its practices, Sadaf always felt that gender equality would never be attainable under Islam or her own Afghan culture. and has since pursued the creation of an inclusive safe-space for Ex-Muslims. While working with the Toronto group and staying connected with the global online communities, Sadaf has come to know the dangers, the troubles, and the alienation of being an Ex-Muslim. Ever since, Sadaf became a Community Organizer and aids North Americans in creating a safe-space of their own. Sadaf’s goal is to have an Ex-Muslim group in most major North American cities and to help others find strength and solidarity through our communities.

On their About page, they explain that because of the apostasy taboo and the dangers that go with it, they are not about public advocacy but rather about support and solidarity for other ex-Muslims.

As our membership grows, and we make gains in terms of visibility and social and legal protections for our members, we envision the group moving towards having a greater focus on outreach and advocacy, while maintaining, as always to the best of our abilities, the safety and privacy of our most vulnerable members.

And while they’re doing that they also have to avoid two opposing traps.

While we denounce the bigotry of those who promote their racist and xenophobic ideas under the guise of criticizing Muslims, we also denounce the cultural and moral relativism of those who propagate the idea that all people of Muslim backgrounds are the same and want to follow Islam, and that Islam is somehow less capable of being scrutinized than other belief systems. We are the people who have both first-hand and well-researched knowledge about Islam and we bridge the worlds between the polarized discussions of Islam through our lives and our voices.

Another of their team is Kiran Opal.

In 2008, Kiran became involved with Maryam Namazie’s UK-based Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB), and its affiliated online forum. There were countless others like her: people of Muslim backgrounds or converts to Islam who no longer believed in the religion, but felt forced by their families and communities to keep their doubts and their agnosticism/atheism to themselves. Kiran has helped people access anti-violence services and shelters in their area, and build asylum cases when possible. She has helped rescue young women from forced marriage in their parents’ countries of origin, working with legal and medical advisors and law enforcement all over the world to provide assistance to people living under repressive rules and threatened with violence.

In 2013, Kiran heeded the growing need for open and public Ex-Muslim voices, and for connections between Ex-Muslims who feel isolated in small pockets around the world, by co-founding Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA) with a group of passionate, reliable, and earnest Ex-Muslims. Kiran brings her experience and contacts to EXMNA to foster deep connections between previously isolated Ex-Muslims and allies, and to show that Ex-Muslims are not anti-Muslim. While being open about her lack of belief in Islam, she respects others’ choice to remain in the religion, and hopes to be afforded the same respect.

Kiran is coordinator of an exciting project spearheaded by EXMNA co-founder Sarah Haider. She works closely with Muhammad Syed, who has been instrumental in putting together the new organization and continues to be its cool, calm center. Kiran is also honoured to work with Sadaf and Nas from Toronto, whose efforts in organizing and nurturing the Toronto Ex-Muslims group have provided the fertile soil for EXMNA. Kiran is also infinitely thankful to Maryam Namazie for being such an inspiration, and to the amazing admin team at the CEMB forum who have helped so many Ex-Muslims throughout the world, even as they themselves have had to remain anonymous. Their work makes a difference, and it will be remembered.

Yes. Infinite thanks to Maryam for being such an inspiration.

You can Like their Facebook page.


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

The confusion thickens

Nov 24th, 2013 11:54 am | By

The Independent seems to have a very bizarre understanding of the Universities UK guidance on how to manage guest speakers.

The document comes out in the wake of a number of incidents where freedom of speech has been threatened – in particular an Egyptian speaker at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies was forced to abandon a speech largely because of protests from the Muslim Brotherhood.

In addition, research by Student Rights, a pro-equality group, shows that there were 180 cases of radical preachers speaking at university events in the year up to March 2013. It shows some ways in which freedom of speech can be preserved even if the speaker is controversial – such as segregating different sections into different parts of the room as in the case of an ultra-right religious speaker arousing protests from feminists. (In a recent case, a speaker at University College London insisted the audience be segregated before he agreed to speak).

What? The Independent thinks the issue is that segregation is a tool to preserve free speech from being prevented? But the speaker didn’t demand that protesters be segregated, he demanded that women be segregated. And how would segregating protesters help anyway? Unless you segregated them all the way out of the building and into a different one.

The Student Rights research showed that in a quarter of the 180 cases segregated seating for men and women was promoted. It described the practice as “a widespread trend”.

The document argues this could be acceptable – but organisers would have to be sure they did not breach equality laws by, say, putting the feminists at a disadvantage at the back of the room. “Segregation in the context of the facts outlined above would only be discriminatory on the grounds of sex if it amounts to ‘less favourable treatment’ of either the female or male attendees,” it concludes.

Godalmighty – the author, Richard Garner, really is that confused – he seems to think it was the feminists who were segregated, and that they were segregated as a way to defuse their potential protest. Yeesh. It wasn’t the feminists, it was the women. The segregation wasn’t “feminists here, normal people there” – it was “women here, men there.” Men can be feminists, and women can be not feminists.

Also…really? He thinks that would fly? “New university policy – segregate the feminists, to preserver order and free speech.” Even the deeply addled UK vice-chancellors would probably spot the problem with that idea.

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

The bus from hell

Nov 24th, 2013 11:12 am | By

Meanwhile, also at UK universities, there’s laddish “banter”

This week, a video of the men’s hockey team at the University of Stirling appeared on YouTube, showing the male students on a packed bus, engaged in a shouted chant. The chant, filmed on a mobile phone, begins: “I used to work in Chicago, in a department store …” and becomes increasingly misogynistic, racist and offensive as the journey progresses. Now the video has been viewed tens of thousands of times online, the University says it has launched an investigation.

But this video represents so much more than a single, isolated incident. In just two horribly uncomfortable minutes, it sums up the reality of what female students are facing up and down the country – a reality that isn’t going away.

This is not a one off. This is not even unusual. In the last month alone, the Everyday Sexism Project  has received more than 100 reports of similar incidents from students at universities up and down the country. It is becoming the background noise to their education. And many of these reports reflect exactly the same attitudes that emerge in the Stirling video. The message is loud and clear: sexism and sexual violence is a joke, and woe betide you if you dare to object, you frigid, uptight bitch:

“The other day in class at university, I was sitting as the only girl in a group of 20-year-old guys, and they started making jokes about how they were going to rape girls after their night out later on … I was really angry, but felt like they wouldn’t listen to me if I said something about it… or tell me to lighten up.”

“I was walking from my university accommodation to the club on campus when two guys started walking next to me. They asked if I was going to the club and I said: ‘Yes I’m meeting my friends there.’ They then asked if I wanted some ‘action’ before I got there and one of them put their arm right round me so I couldn’t pull away. I said: ‘No thank you.’ . They said it was OK they could still do something to me if they wanted because it’s not rape if the woman’s wearing socks.”

And on and on.

Marvelous, isn’t it. On the one hand theocratic misogynists who want the women herded into a separate space, on the other hand shouting “bantering” bullies who want the women silent and legs-open.

Laura Bates sums up:

We urgently need to listen to these young women’s voices. These are just some of the stories we have received in in the past month alone. Though individual institutions are dealing well with events in some cases, we need to step back and see the bigger picture here. Until we do, and until this wave of violent misogyny is recognised as an urgent nationwide problem by University heads, the hundreds of the reports we receive from young women will continue to end in that same, bewildered question – how is this still acceptable?

Hint for the heads: accepting gender segregation is not the way to solve the problem.


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

Designs by a wonderfully acid British cartoonist

Nov 24th, 2013 10:25 am | By

Nick Cohen has a piece in the Observer on censorship at UK universities. He starts, as he should, with Chris and Abhishek.

On the morning of 3 October, Chris Moos and Abhishek Phadnis put on joke T-shirts, of the kind students wear the world over, and went to man the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society stall at the London School of Economics freshers’ fair. The bullying the university authorities visited upon them for the next 36 hours should provoke the most important free speech court case to hit British universities in years. It certainly deserves to.

Damn right.

Both the left and the right complain about censorship, both engage in it, Nick points out.

The Moos and Phadnis case cuts through the hubbub of charge and counter-charge. It shows that  authoritarians of all stripes share the same vices, and not just because you know without needing to wait for their careers to “progress” that today’s repressive student union politicians will be tomorrow’s repressive human resources managers and Labour home secretaries.

The students wore Jesus and Mo T-shirts with designs by a wonderfully acid British cartoonist, who wisely never discloses his real name. Jesus and Mo are holding a banner that says:  “Stop drawing holy prophets in a disrespectful manner NOW!” Mo also has a placard that reads: “Religion is NOT funny” and is saying: “If this doesn’t work, I say we start BURNING stuff.”

Are you offended? Really? Oh dear that’s a pity, because if you cannot take a satirical reference to real religious censorship, your fragile sensibilities should be your problem and no one else’s.

To fill out the claim a bit more: there is such a thing as religious censorship; it’s active and widespread in the world right now; the cartoon skewers it neatly and economically; it’s a thing worth skewering, and skewering it causes real harm to no one. (What about religious censors?! Spare a thought for them. The cartoon might convince some people that what they do is not a good thing to do. Yes, it might. That form of “harm” is a risk of doing things that are not good things to do.)

The political hacks of LSE’s student union, who are studying at a university that Sidney and Beatrice Webb founded in 1894 to promote “modern” education on “socialist lines,” knew nothing of basic principles. They decided that the modern and socialist thing to do was silence freethinkers.

Student union officials told them to “lose the T-shirts” and pulled atheist literature from the stall. When the young atheists asked why they should submit to this impertinent demand, the hacks replied that the T-shirts were “of course, offensive”. They did not say why. The LSE’s security guards arrived and threatened to expel the atheists. Wearing the T-shirts was an act of “harassment” that could “offend others”, they said.

Student union officials and security guards teaming up against the atheists. Heart-warming, ain’t it.

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

An apt illustration

Nov 23rd, 2013 5:48 pm | By

Via Twitter:

Embedded image permalink


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

The best country to be an atheist?

Nov 23rd, 2013 5:24 pm | By

Not Egypt, for sure. Al Jazeera talks to some.

For a time after the 2011 uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak, there was greater freedom of expression in the country, and atheists began to be more publicly assertive. Yet at the same time, the power and influence of conservative Islam grew, with the election of Mohamed Morsi as president and Islamist parliamentary candidates’ success at the ballot box.

Gabr is a member of an atheist group that meets up for drinks and goes to concerts together. When the group began in 2011, it had three or four members. Now it has close to 100, including men and women, ex-Muslims and ex-Christians.

“All of them are angry, in a way that you can’t imagine,” he said. “They insult everything.” Gabr claimed he has received threats from people on Facebook threatening to kill him with a sword. ”I don’t take these messages seriously,” he said. “For me, it is pathetic. I see them as victims.” Nevertheless, he did not want to use his real name for this article.

For atheists and those perceived to be critical of religion in Egypt, the threat of violence and persecution is real. Although atheism is not technically illegal in Egypt, its penal code criminalises “contempt of heavenly religions”, desecrating religious symbols and mocking religious rites in public.

Dang – contempt for religion is a crime in Egypt. Just think: if I were in Egypt I would be breaking the law, without even being able to help it.

According to the Pew Research Center, 74 percent of Egyptian Muslims want sharia, or Islamic law, to be recognised as the official law. Of those committed to sharia law, 86 percent favour the death penalty for those who leave Islam – although this is technically defined in the survey as those who join another faith.

And things don’t look likely to improve any time soon.

A new constitution is being drafted in the wake of Morsi’s ousting. A group of atheists recently called for this document to respect freedom of expression and to protect atheists. They called for the repeal of several articles, including Article Two, which states that Islam is the religion of the state and that sharia is the basis for legislation. However, it appears unlikely they will get the protections they are looking for.

A chilly kind of spring.



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

Forced under threat of expulsion

Nov 23rd, 2013 5:07 pm | By

A commenter pointed out Ghetto benches, which was a form of segregation I hadn’t heard of before.

Ghetto benches or bench Ghetto (known in Polish as getto ławkowe)[1][2] was a form of official segregation in the seating of students, introduced in Poland‘s universities beginning in 1935 at Lwow Polytechnic.[3] By 1937, when this practice became conditionally legalized, most rectors at other higher education institutions had adopted this form of segregation.[4] Under the ghetto ławkowe system, Jewish university students were forced, under threat of expulsion, to sit in a left-hand side section of the lecture halls reserved exclusively for them. This official policy of enforced segregation was often accompanied by acts of violence directed against Jewish students by members of the ONR (delegalised already after three months in 1934) and other extreme right and anti-Semitic organizations.[5]

The “bench Ghetto” marked a peak of antisemitism in Poland between the world wars.[6]

So that’s the kind of thing you’re making friends with, vice-chancellors of UK universities. God I hope you’re embarrassed.


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

Goodbye parish exemption

Nov 23rd, 2013 4:32 pm | By

A news release from the Freedom From Religion Foundation:

November 22, 2013

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and its co-presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker have won a significant ruling with far-reaching ramifications declaring unconstitutional the 1954 “parish exemption” uniquely benefiting “ministers of the gospel.”

“May we say hallelujah! This decision agrees with us that Congress may not reward ministers for fighting a ‘godless and anti-religious’ movement by letting them pay less income tax. The rest of us should not pay more because clergy pay less,” Gaylor and Barker commented.

U.S. District Judge Barbara B. Crabb for the Western District of Wisconsin issued a strong, 43-page decision Friday declaring unconstitutional 26 U.S. C. § 107(2), passed by Congress in 1954. Quoting the Supreme Court, Crabb noted, “Every tax exemption constitutes subsidy.” The law allowed “ministers of the gospel” paid through a housing allowance to exclude that allowance from taxable income. Ministers may, for instance, use the untaxed income to purchase a home, and, in a practice known as “double dipping,” may then deduct interest paid on the mortgage and property taxes.

“The Court’s decision does not evince hostility to religion — nor should it even seem controversial,” commented Richard L. Bolton, FFRF’s attorney in the case. “The Court has simply recognized the reality that a tax free housing allowance available only to ministers is a significant benefit from the government unconstitutionally provided on the basis of religion.”

Crabb wrote: “Some might view a rule against preferential treatment as exhibiting hostility toward religion, but equality should never be mistaken for hostility. It is important to remember that the establishment clause protects the religious and nonreligious alike.”

Well yes indeed: hallelujah!

What was the reason for passing the exemption in 1954?

The 1954 bill’s sponsor, Rep. Peter Mack, argued ministers should be rewarded for “carrying on such a courageous fight against this [godless and anti-religious world movement].”

Oh right. The establishment clause was ignored, because Stalin.

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

Let’s relive Plessy v Ferguson, only Plessy’s a woman

Nov 23rd, 2013 1:29 pm | By

Helen Dale pointed out in a comment on my Facebook post that the UK Universities are paraphrasing Plessy v Ferguson, with sex switched in for race. Yeah. Plessy was decided in 1896. Brown v Board of Education overturned Plessy.

Right, let’s have a bit of Plessy v Ferguson, courtesy of Cornell.

The object of the [14th] amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but, in the nature of things, it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political, equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either. Laws permitting, and even requiring, their separation in places where they are liable to be brought into contact do not necessarily imply the inferiority of either race to the other, and have been generally, if not universally, recognized as within the competency of the state legislatures in the exercise of their police power. The most common instance of this is connected with the establishment of separate schools for white and colored children, which has been held to be a valid exercise of the legislative power even by courts of States where the political rights of the colored race have been longest and most earnestly enforced.

So the vice-chancellors of UK universities take the same view of women, in 2013, that the majority on the Court took of race in 1896. How very impressive.



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

Just No

Nov 23rd, 2013 1:15 pm | By

Continuing with Universities UK’s ridiculous and rebarbative approach to demands for gender segregation by “controversial” invited speakers at university debates.

In practice, a balance of interests is most likely

to be achieved if it is possible to offer attendees

both segregated and non-segregated seating

areas, although if the speaker is unwilling to

accept this, the institution will need to consider the

speaker’s reasons under equalities legislation.

They shouldn’t be attempting a “balance of interests” between equality and inequality, segregation and no segregation, apartheid and no apartheid. Would they attempt that if a “controversial” racist speaker demanded the audience be segregated by race? I certainly hope not, and I also think they absolutely would not. So why are they giving away the rights of women with such a free hand?

And if the speaker is unwilling to accept even their disgusting “balance of interests” they need to drop that particular speaker. They do not need to keep crawling on their bellies in front of him. They need to tell the speaker No at the outset, and then all this waffling will be surplus to requirements.

Note that decisions can be very fact-dependent,

and that the law applies differently in different

scenarios. For example, there is an express

prohibition in the Equality Act against segregation

on racial grounds, and there are also special

provisions in relation to single-sex sporting

events. The points above are not intended as a

substitute for seeking appropriate legal advice.

Aha so they admit it – there is an express prohibition in the Equality Act against segregation on racial grounds. Well why’s that then? Because it’s discriminatory; because it’s unequal treatment. The same applies to gender segregation. Period. Connect the fucking dots, will you please?

Other practical considerations

Who is chairing the event?

What is known about the speaker?

What reasons do the speaker and/or the

society give for the event to be segregated?

Is the event open to the public?

Is there scope for segregation to

be voluntary/optional?

Has input been sought from the institution’s

equality and diversity officer?

Is it advisable to obtain legal advice, and/or to

seek advice from the Equality Challenge Unit?

Can any steps be taken to ensure

segregation is voluntary?

If no segregation is permitted, will this

discriminate against any groups who will

now be unable to attend the event?

Are there particular issues around potential

discrimination, public order etc, including because

of the particular demographic/religious/cultural

makeup of the institution’s student body?

Is the event likely to generate media coverage?

Do the press office and senior management

team or vice-chancellor need to be informed?

They could have saved themselves so much trouble if they had just said No back at the beginning, when the speaker first made the request. No. Just No. That’s all.


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

Make them take it back

Nov 23rd, 2013 12:11 pm | By

Maryam has drawn up a petition.

Universities UK: Rescind endorsement of sex segregation at UK Universities

Sign that sucker!


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

The part where 2+3=17

Nov 23rd, 2013 11:45 am | By

I think I found the place where Universities UK got their arithmetic wrong.

The guidance document itself is available on their website. I’m reading the pdf version. It lays out general policies and then offers some (hypothetical) case studies. Study 2 is the one about the controversial speaker who demands gender segregation. It starts on page 29.

A representative of an ultra-orthodox religious group

has been invited to speak at an event to discuss faith

in the modern world. The event is part of four different

speeches taking place over the course of a month

exploring different approaches to religion. The initial

speaker request has been approved but the speaker

has since made clear that he wishes for the event to be

segregated according to gender. The event organiser

has followed agreed processes and raised the issue

with university management. The event has been widely

advertised and interest levels are high.

There it is: that’s where the arithmetic is wrong. They forgot to say “No.”

It’s so simple, as so many mistakes in arithmetic are. They merely forgot that the right answer in cases like that is just No.

Here’s how that passage should go:

A representative of an ultra-orthodox religious group

has been invited to speak at an event to discuss faith

in the modern world. The event is part of four different

speeches taking place over the course of a month

exploring different approaches to religion. The initial

speaker request has been approved but the speaker

has since made clear that he wishes for the event to be

segregated according to gender. The event organiser in

turn made clear that this was out of the question.

End of case study. Next?

Seriously, people. What are they thinking? The speaker can go fuck himself. If you invite a speaker and the speaker then makes outrageous requests, you turn the requests down. What is there to discuss? Just say No.

But that’s not what they do in this case study. For some unexplained reason, they treat the request as something that has to be managed as opposed to something that has to be flatly rejected, and go on to talk a lot of stupid kack.

The segregation request is not yet in the public domain

but the students’ union has an active feminist society

which is likely to protest against the segregation

request. Other societies are likely to express similar

concerns. The event is also due to take place a few days

after a number of campus-based activities to coincide

with International Women’s Day.

What the hell??? What does any of that have to do with anything? Does the university normally shove women into corners except around the time of International Women’s Day? Does it need a god damn active feminist society to tell it it can’t shove women into corners? No! Basic equality of that kind is already the norm, and is not dependent on an active feminist society which is likely to protest things.

Things to consider

Legal framework – points likely to be particularly relevant

Aside from freedom of speech and the s.43 duty,

the paramount issue is to consider how equality

obligations apply, and how those interact.

For example, under the Equality Act 2010, the first

question is whether the segregation is discriminatory

on the grounds of a protected characteristic within

the definition of the Act. Segregation in the context of

the facts outlined above would only be discriminatory

on the grounds of sex if it amounts to ‘less favourable

treatment’ of either female or male attendees.

Segregation of that kind is itself “less favorable treatment.” That’s why people risked their lives – and sometimes lost them – to end racial segregation in the US a few decades ago. It’s why people did the same to end apartheid even more recently. Segregation, separation, apartheid: that is less favorable treatment.

It will therefore, for example, be necessary to consider

the seating plan for any segregation. For example,

if the segregation is to be ‘front to back’, then that

may well make it harder for the participants at the

back to ask questions or participate in debate, and

therefore is potentially discriminatory against those

attendees. This issue could be overcome assuming

the room can be segregated left and right, rather than

front and back (and also ensuring that appropriate

arrangements are made for those with disabilities).

No. No, no, no. You’re doing it wrong, because of the simple mistake three paragraphs back. You were supposed to tell the speaker “No” and that’s an end of it.

Consideration will also need to be given to whether

imposing segregation on everyone attending the

event is required (see below). If it is required, this

may amount to less favourable treatment of other

attendees because of a protected characteristic. On

the face of the case study, assuming the side-by-side

segregated seating arrangement is adopted, there

does not appear to be any discrimination on gender

grounds merely by imposing segregated seating.

Both men and women are being treated equally, as

they are both being segregated in the same way.

However, one cannot rule out the possibility that

discrimination claims will be made on other grounds.

For example, it is arguable that ‘feminism’ (bearing

in mind the views of the feminist society referred to

in the case study), or some forms of belief in freedom

of choice or freedom of association, could fall within

the definition of ‘belief’ under the Equality Act. This

would in turn mean that applying a segregated

seating policy without offering alternatives (eg a nonsegregated

seating area, again on a ‘side by side’

basis with the gender segregated areas) might be

discriminatory against those (men or women) who

hold such beliefs. However, the question of whether

such beliefs are protected under the Act is unclear

without a court ruling. Further, an act of indirect

discrimination can be ‘objectively justified’ if it is a

proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim,

meaning the institution should also have regard to

its other obligations under the Equality Act and the

s.43 duty to secure freedom of speech, for example.

Oh for christ’s sake. No. It is not just “the feminist society” that objects to gender segregation, just as it’s not only the organized groups for racial equality that object to racial segregation.

The bit about the other obligations and the duty to secure freedom of speech seems to rest on the assumption that if the speaker is told No then he will refuse to speak. That in turn seems to rest on the assumption that free speech depends on allowing invited speakers to extort any conditions they like, on pain of destroying free speech. That can’t be right. As Maryam puts it in her excellent post on this,

Clearly, this is not about people’s belief systems.

If it were so, Muslims would be unable to ride buses, the underground, enter their workplaces via entrances used by both men and women, eat in non-segregated restaurants… They wouldn’t even be able to get to the segregated meeting room since men and women would be mingling freely on the streets and halls right up to their entry into the segregated hall kindly organised by Universities UK.

gender_segregation-150x150And what next? Another set of guidelines asking unveiled women to veil so as not to “result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system.” Maybe they can ask that niqabs be handed out to unchaste and unveiled women before entry.

And now it gets even worse:

It should therefore be borne in mind – taking account

of the s.43 duty, as well as equality duties and Human

Rights Act obligations – that in these circumstances,

concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of

those opposed to segregation should not result in a

religious group being prevented from having a debate

in accordance with its belief system.

If the religious group will have the debate only on condition that women are treated as second class citizens, which is what segregation does, then the religious group doesn’t get to have the debate.

Ultimately, if imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition

to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely held

religious beliefs of the group hosting the event,

or those of the speaker, the institution should be

mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the

religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully.

Those opposed to segregation are entitled to engage

in lawful protest against segregation, and could

be encouraged to hold a separate debate of the

issues, but their views do not require an institution

to stifle a religious society’s segregated debate

where the segregation accords with a genuinely-held

religious belief. The s.43 duty requires an institution

to secure freedom of speech within the law.

It is not “stifling debate” to refuse unreasonable conditions demanded for the debate. Freedom of debate is allowing the speaker to say whatever the speaker chooses to say. It is not allowing the speaker to tell the institution to discriminate among the people who attend the debate. That’s an extra, outside the debate, so refusing the speaker’s unreasonable demand is in no way to “stifle a religious society’s segregated debate.”

This is getting very long. Part 2 to follow.

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

Segregation fine, says Universities UK

Nov 23rd, 2013 10:36 am | By

I’m amazed by this. Really amazed. A group of university vice-chancellors in the UK has “issued guidance” saying that it’s ok for students to be segregated during debates as long as they’re beside each other not in front and behind.

Are they out of their minds??

The Telegraph reports.

Universities can segregate students during debates as long as the women are not forced to sit behind the men, university leaders have said.

Segregation at the behest of a controversial speaker is an issue which arises “all the time” and banning men and women from sitting next to each during debates is a “big issue” facing universities, Universities UK has said.

As a result they have issued guidance which suggests that segregation is likely to be acceptable as long as men and women are seated side by side and one party is not at a disadvantage.

Really? Really, university vice-chancellors? “Likely to be acceptable” to whom?

Would the university vice-chancellors say that if the categories were not women and men but Jews and Gentiles? Blacks and whites? Muslims and Hindus? Dalits and everyone else? Workers and toffs?

This business about ‘Segregation at the behest of a controversial speaker is an issue which arises “all the time”’ – oh yes? Why does it? Because there are so many reactionary theocrats working hard to spread their reactionary theocratic rules? In other words, because there are so many Islamists wanting to speak and universities inviting them to speak because they are “controversial”? Yes. So imagine a UK university invites David Irving to debate his “controversial” views, and he demands that Jews be segregated. Would the VCs say that was likely to be acceptable provided the Jews didn’t have to sit in the back? Would they entertain the suggestion for an instant? I don’t think so.

In a new guidance on external speakers, vice-chancellors’ group Universities UK says that universities face a complex balance of promoting freedom of speech without breaking equality and discrimination laws.

No they don’t. Freedom of speech doesn’t depend on allowing “controversial” speakers to demand that women be segregated.

The report adds: “Assuming the side-by-side segregated seating arrangement is adopted, there does not appear to be any discrimination on gender grounds merely by imposing segregated seating. Both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way.”

Jesus fucking Christ. Apartheid? Jim Crow laws? Ghettos? “Whites Only” signs? Not to mention the fact that these “controversial” speakers will have views about women that are unmistakably and dramatically discriminatory: that’s the main thing that makes them “controversial”!

Apart from the controversies surrounding segregation, Universities UK say that academic institutions are facing a legal minefield when organising external speakers and their guidance aims to help them find the balance.

An example of the fine balance is illustrated when the report goes on to say that if side-by-side seating was enforced without offering an alternative non-segregated seating area, it could be deemed as discriminatory against men or women who hold feminist beliefs.

It adds: “Concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system.”

Well that’s a handy way to dismiss the whole idea of universal human rights – just label the ones that cover half of humanity “feminist beliefs” and then label that a belief system on all fours with religious belief systems. Zip, job done, women relegated to second class status in the blink of an eye.

The report presents some hypothetical case studies which come up on campuses, including whether a speaker from an ultraorthodox religious group requests an audience is segregated by gender.

“These are issues that are arising all the time and these are really difficult issues,” said Universities UK chief executive Nicola Dandridge.

“What emerged from our work on this particular issue is that there is no clearly defined right or wrong here as to whether to allow or outlaw segregation. It is going to very much depend on the facts of the case.”

You made a mistake somewhere then. Go back and check your arithmetic. Find the mistake. Don’t come back until you have.

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