Notes and Comment Blog

Tantamount to adultery

Feb 14th, 2014 11:54 am | By

I don’t know how reliable this is; it’s not widely reported so far; but for what it’s worth – India Today reports:

[A] young Syrian girl was reportedly being stoned to death in Syria.

Her crime? She had opened a Facebook account.

The incident took place in the Syrian city of Rakka. The girl, Fatoum Al-Jassem, was sentenced to death by stoning by Al-Reqqa religious court after ISIL militants took her to the court.

The court ruled that having a Facebook account was tantamount to adultery and thus sentenced her to death.

The court also described the opening of her Facebook account as an act of great wickedness that merited severe punishment.

If having a Facebook account is tantamount to adultery, then what isn’t tantamount to adultery?

Well it’s always been clear enough, that the view of women behind this is that they are just genitalia and nothing else. Everything women do or think of doing is tantamount to adultery, and that’s why it’s so urgent to hate them so much and beat them so hard.

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

Nostalgia for Little Rock in 1956

Feb 14th, 2014 10:58 am | By

Ignorant student society proudly announces its rejection of what it ignorantly calls “PM’s call to ban gender segregation” – ignorantly because it’s far from exclusive to the PM and in fact he caught up days after many other people and organizations had issued the same call.

Ignorant student society proudly announces its view that students should decide how societies are run, including segregating any way they want to.

The society is SUARTS, the Students’ Union of University of the Arts London. (For an arts students union it has a remarkably crappy website that actually blocks the text of the article you’re trying to read, with no way to unblock it. You can read only a few lines without scrolling.)

SUARTS rejects PM’s call to ban gender segregation

The Prime Minister’s call for the banning of gender segregated events at university campuses has been challenged by an SUARTS officer on behalf of UAL.

Mostafa Rajaai, Culture and Diversity Officer for SUARTS, stressed that students should decide how societies are run, without university or government interference.

Rajaai told Arts London News: “I believe it is not right to force students to do anything, whether it’s forcing them to sit separate or to sit together. It should be left to the attendees to decide how they want to arrange their seating and if they do decide to sit separately, that is their choice.”

You see where the problem comes in. Rajaai is simply demanding a return to the bad old days when people were outraged that anyone was “forcing them” to sit among people whose race or class or country of origin was anathema to them. Rajaai thinks the enraged racist mob outside Little Rock Central High School in 1957 was in the right of it, and the National Guard troops who made sure the nine African-American students were able to enter the school and be safe once in were in the wrong.

Rajaai is also obfuscating, because attendees of course still would be allowed to decide where they want to sit and to sit separately where there was room to do so. All they would not be allowed to do is demand that anyone else defer to their decision to sit separately. I can choose any empty seat on the bus. I can’t demand that anyone move to give me a seat I like better.

“Members of our Islamic societies, or other societies for that matter, do not need to be told how they should run their events by the university nor the government as they are meant to be autonomous, student-led entities,” he added.

Yes? What if the ASH society had an event and demanded that the Muslims sit in the back? Would Rajaai think that outcome is fine? I don’t know, but I strongly doubt it. I think Rajaai is coasting on the fact that he knows damn well the ASH society would never make such a hateful demand.

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

Strong bars on strong cages

Feb 14th, 2014 9:37 am | By

Jennifer Collins at Religion News reports on Ireland’s little problem with Catholic saturation of the public state-funded schools.

The Catholic Church runs 90 percent of primary schools in Ireland. The rest are mainly Protestant, and about 4 percent are managed by the nonprofit Educate Together, which is nonsectarian.

The arrangement is unsettling to some parents who have little choice in where to send their children.

“They integrated religion into every subject in the school,” said Martijn Leenheer, an atheist who moved from the Netherlands to a small village in west Ireland eight years ago. “For instance, in biology, they would say ‘God created these flowers.’ Even in math they do it. They basically make religion part of everything in the school.”

Although he requested that his son opt out of religious classes, Leenheer later found that his son was learning how to recite prayers and said the school’s principal was unsympathetic to his concerns.

He had to move to be able to have access to one of the Educate Together schools.

Jane Donnelly of Atheist Ireland said the European court’s decision may help parents like Leenheer.

“If you’ve got nowhere else but to send your child to the local school and the local school is Catholic and the state is funding that education for your child, then the state should be responsible for the protection of your human rights in that school and for religious discrimination in that school,” said Donnelly.

Ireland’s system of school patronage provides for public funding of schools but allows private groups to establish schools as long as there is sufficient demand.

Long the most powerful institution in Ireland, the Catholic Church has established more than 2,500 schools under the system. Educate Together has 68 schools, mainly in urban areas.

On the one hand more than 2,500, on the other hand 68. Hardly a fair fight, is it. Hardly a fair anything, in fact. Why should small children have Catholicism forced on them at school every day? Why should anyone, but especially small children, who naturally think that school=authority=truth.

Responsible for their own admission policies, many Irish schools often favor baptized Catholics when enrollment exceeds available seats. As a result, parents sometimes baptize their children in the Catholic faith so they can receive an education.

And then the church gets to count those children and thus gets to inflate its membership. It also does that by counting everyone except people who go to the trouble and expense of getting themselves officially taken off the rolls. The church fights dirty every step of the way.

As part of a study on the church’s role in schools, Ireland’s Department of Education found that around 8 percent of parents in some areas said they might move their children to nondenominational schools if given a chance.

“Everyone accepts that there’s probably an oversupply of Catholic schools at primary level,” said Drumm, though he added that a “blanket divesting” from church-run schools would only harm the education system.

Atheists like Donnelly remain skeptical.

“They might hand over a few schools here and there to try to give the impression that something is happening on the ground, but in reality they have no intention of handing over enough schools to radically change the system,” she said.

But the mere fact that Ireland is having the debate, albeit with the help of the European court, shows that the country is growing more diverse even as it retains its strong Catholic identity.

A “strong Catholic identity” that has been forced on it in myriad ways. It’s more like a strong Catholic prison than a strong Catholic identity.


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


Feb 13th, 2014 6:12 pm | By

In Tennessee.

There’s a petition.

Tennessee State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Memphis and Germantown) and Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knox) recently filed a bill that would allow people and businesses to refuse to provide goods and services to homosexuals – and all they’d have to do to justify this action is say that it’s against their religious beliefs.

We’ve seen this attitude before, and it represents one of the darkest times in our Nation’s history. “We don’t serve your kind here,” said a waiter to students just wanting to have a meal at a local restaurant during this era. Those words have been repeated countless times since then, causing untold pain to those hearing them – simply because they looked differently, acted differently, or believed differently than those uttering them. Sometimes the pain was emotional, but more often than not, the pain was physical.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed this very kind of discrimination, but apparently Senator Kelsey and Rep. Dunn want to take Tennessee back to the days before this law was enacted.

I’ve had about enough reactionary legislators for today.

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

Get out of Dodge

Feb 13th, 2014 5:17 pm | By

It’s the next big thing.

Denying services to same-sex couples may soon become legal in Kansas.

House Bill 2453 explicitly protects religious individuals, groups and businesses that refuse services to same-sex couples, particularly those looking to tie the knot.

It passed the state’s Republican-dominated House on Wednesdaywith a vote of 72-49, and has gone to the Senate for a vote.

Such a law may seem unnecessary in a state where same-sex marriage is banned, but some Kansas lawmakers think different.

They want to prevent religious individuals and organizations from getting sued, or otherwise punished, for not providing goods or services to gay couples — or for not recognizing their marriages or committed relationship as valid.

This includes employees of the state.

They insist on their right to treat some people as tenth-class citizens. At this rate I expect another Dred Scott decision – “the LGBT person has no rights which the straight person is bound to respect.”

They want to enshrine in the law the schoolyard-bully principle of persecuting anyone you take a dislike to. They want to put hateful othering and tormenting on a legal footing in the great state of Kansas. Yay hatred, let’s have more hatred, everything goes better with hatred.

its chances of passing seem pretty good.

Republicans dominate the state’s Senate and Gov. Sam Brownback is a conservative Christian known for taking a public stand against same-sex marriage.

Brownback has already praised the bill in an interview with a local newspaper.

“Americans have constitutional rights, among them the right to exercise their religious beliefs and the right for every human life to be treated with respect and dignity,” he told The Topeka Capital-Journal.

You stupid, evil, hateful man. How is it treating every life with respect and dignity when you’re making it legal to deny services to people just because you don’t like them? Can you not even put the two ends together and see what you’ve made?

I suppose by “every human life” he meant every fetus. Every consideration for the fetus, none for women or gay people.

HB 2453 is titled “An act concerning religious freedoms with respect to marriage” and covers many bases.

It reads, in part: “No individual or religious entity shall be required by any governmental entity to do any of the following, if it would be contrary to the sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity regarding sex or gender:

“Provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges; provide counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits, related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement.”

Anyone who turns away a gay couple not only can’t face a civil suit, but if anyone tries to sue, they could get nailed with the other side’s legal fees.

It’s disgusting. It’s vile. It’s contemptible. IT’S HATEFUL.


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

Let’em die

Feb 13th, 2014 12:37 pm | By


The headline at the Raw StoryIdaho bill would allow doctors or cops to refuse service to LGBT people on religious grounds


We’re going from people with hotels refusing rooms to same-sex couples to DOCTORS AND COPS refusing service? On religious grounds?

How would that go? “Sorry you’re having a heart attack, I hate you on religious grounds so I’m not going to do anything about it. Have a nice day.”

Now we have a “religious freedom” to just tell people to fuck off and die, literally?

Rep. Lynn Luker outlined a proposal Tuesday backed by his conservative Christian allies to shield religious people from the threat of losing their professional licenses for refusing service or employment to anyone they conclude violates their religious beliefs.

“This is pre-emptive,” said Luker, a Boise Republican. “The issue is coming, whether it’s 10 years, or 15 years, or two years.”

Idaho requires professional licenses for doctors, nurses, pharmacists, attorneys, social workers, firefighters, police officers, real estate agents, and insurance providers.

And this Luker guy wants them all to be able to say No, I will not assist you, “on religious grounds,” and not lose their licences.

The Cornerstone Family Council is backing Luker’s proposal, which is now awaiting a full hearing, to prevent the state from passing laws to block people from “living out their faith.”

“The free expression of religious freedom is no longer understood for what it was intended,” said Julie Lynde, executive director of the conservative Christian group associated with Focus on the Family. “There’s a double standard against people of traditional religious faiths.”

You’re a murderous malevolent piece of shit, Julie Lynde, and so are you, Lynn Luker.

H/t Pteryxx

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

The religious “right” to disobey laws

Feb 13th, 2014 11:28 am | By

In the UK there are people trying to defend gender segregation as a religious freedom, while opponents point out what that would look like if it were racial segregation as opposed to gender segregation. In the US, in the state of Oregon, there’s an effort to get an initiative passed to give business owners a “right of conscience” to refuse gay people service. It’s all the same bullshit, people: when they want to shove you to one side, it’s because they hold you in contempt.

As worded, the referendum will present itself as a modest caveat to the gay marriage law, extending a few basic safeguards for religious freedom. In reality, this ugly, mean-spirited initiative will herald nothing less than a new era of anti-gay segregation in Oregon—and, potentially, all across America.

The notion of legally enshrining bigotry under the banner of “religious freedom” is, of course, nothing new. For decades, private organizations argued that they had a First Amendment right to discriminate against black people based on racist readings of the Bible, even after the 1964 Civil Rights Act proscribed such discrimination with no religious exemptions for private citizens. The Supreme Court slapped down these perverse claims in 1983, and since then, arguments for the religious liberty of private companies to discriminate against blacks have become keenly impolitic.

But other kinds of people that someone doesn’t like? That’s entirely different. God said so. He just forgot to write it down, that’s all.

It’s easy to tell gay couples who face such discrimination to just take their business elsewhere, as former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett did recently. But that ignores the two broader problems of the “religious liberty” defense. The first is a purely legal one: There is simply no constitutional right for a private business to discriminate against gays. In a landmark case, the Supreme Court ruled that an individual can’t invoke his religious beliefs to dodge an otherwise valid law. Writing for the court, Justice Antonin Scalia scoffed at the notion of “a private right to ignore generally applicable laws”—think basic anti-discrimination ordinances—labeling the idea “a constitutional anomaly.” And in a now-famous passage, the justice noted that “conscientious scruples have not … relieved the individual from obedience to a general law not aimed at the promotion or restriction of religious beliefs.” Hatred of gay people is surely a “conscientious scruple” that Scalia himself shares. But it doesn’t excuse a private citizen at a private business from following fundamental anti-discrimination laws.

Well yes, but unfortunately, what Mark Joseph Stern leaves out there is that the decision in that landmark case he highlights with a link pissed off nearly everyone in this godbothering country, and Congress tried to override it in 1993 with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which passed by a unanimous House and a Senate only three votes shy of unanimous. But then it was held unconstitutional as applied to the states in 1997, though it still applied at the federal level…and many states have passed state Religious Freedom Restoration Acts.

God defend our precious freedom to treat other people as contaminants. Amen.


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

If it swims, it’s fish

Feb 13th, 2014 10:26 am | By

Are you worrying about Lent? Thinking about giving up video games or tequila or marathon running? Considering making a sacrifice of your gardening, or those excursions to WalMart, or spinach and ortolan foam? Last year NPR reported that an archbishop once gave a useful and helpful ruling. It reminds me of those rulings that find it’s halal for men to “marry” women for 15 minutes.

Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays during the time between Ash Wednesday and Easter, but seafood is allowed. Three years ago, when Jim Piculas was trying to settle a debate among his friends about whether gator qualified as seafood, he wrote a letter to the archbishop of New Orleans to ask.

His letter must have been pretty zealous, because not long after he wrote it, he got a response from Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond saying: “Yes, the alligator’s considered in the fish family, and I agree with you — God has created a magnificent creature that is important to the state of Louisiana, and it is considered seafood.”

Artful use of the passive voice there; artful elimination of the all-important agent who does the considering the alligator in the fish family. I suspect the agent in question is the archbishop himself. In the active voice that would have read: “Yes, I consider the alligator in the fish family, and I agree with you, it’s tasty as fuck.”

Ever since the archbishop wrote to Piculas in 2010, the letter has been on the wall of the gift shop at Insta-Gator Ranch. This year, Piculas posted it on Facebook, and it went from being shared hundreds of times to making the news.

Articles on eating gator for Lent popped up everywhere, from to the Catholic News Agency. The extra gator marketing this Lenten season has been a welcome thing for Parkway and other restaurants in the city — like Cochon, with its fried alligator, and Jacques-Imo’s, which serves alligator cheesecake.

And so, slowly but surely, and with no hindrance from the public broadcaster NPR, a nation comes to believe that alligators are fish.



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

Bettelheim meets Green Lantern

Feb 13th, 2014 7:27 am | By

This is something I didn’t know about: the women in the refrigerator trope. Anita Sarkeesian offers an illustration in three panels from the 1992 arcade game Dead Connection.

Wikipedia provides some background.

The term “Women in Refrigerators” was coined by writer Gail Simone as a name for the website in early 1999 during online discussions about comic books with friends. It refers to an incident in Green Lantern #54 (1994), written by Ron Marz, in which Kyle Rayner, the title hero, comes home to his apartment to find that his girlfriend, Alex DeWitt, had been killed by the villain Major Force and stuffed in a refrigerator.[2][3]

Simone and her friends then developed a list of fictional characters who had been “killed, maimed or depowered.”[4] The list was then circulated via theInternet over UsenetBulletin Board Systeme-mail and electronic mailing lists. Simone also e-mailed many comic book creators directly for their responses to the list.

Oh yes, that trope.

Simone received numerous e-mail responses from comic book fans and professionals. Some correspondents reacted with hostility at the creation of the list and assumed a radical feminist agenda on the part of Simone.

Sigh. Because it’s so “radical” to think that tropes about women (and men, and blacks, and whites, and you know how to fill out the list) matter. It’s so “radical” to think that people learn anything from cultural tropes, and that what they learn can be bad or good.

Several comic book creators indicated that the list caused them to pause and think about the stories they were creating. Often these responses contained arguments for or against the use of death or injury of female characters as a plot device. A list of some responses from comic book professionals is included at the site.[10] Marz’s reply stated (in part) “To me the real difference is less male-female than main character-supporting character. In most cases, main characters, “title” characters who support their own books, are male. [...] the supporting characters are the ones who suffer the more permanent and shattering tragedies. And a lot of supporting characters are female.”[11]

Ohhhhhhhhhhh good point. That totally makes it all right then. It’s just because men are always the main characters, who matter, and women are always supporting characters, who don’t. Obviously that’s perfectly healthy and fine. Obviously women just are less than men – less real, less there, less complicated, less filled out, less significant, less everything. On the mattering map they are a little dot down in the corner.

Sarkeesian has a bunch of damsel in distress tropes at a tumblr.



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

There are rights and then there are Real Rights

Feb 13th, 2014 6:59 am | By

Rupert Sutton tells us that last week the Student Union at University College London passed a motion calling on the union to support a campaign called Real Student Rights, or rather that that’s ostensibly what it did but in reality it attacked his organization, Student Rights.

It insinuated that our work showed support for far-right politics and claimed that we deliberately fuel Islamophobia and encourage fascist groups like the English Defence League.

Of course none of this is remotely true, but it shows how warped the priorities of some student unions have become when those challenging bigotry are the ones attacked before those propagating it.

Or instead of those propagating it.

[T]he motion mandated the UCL Union to back ‘Real Student Rights’, despite the fact that it has sought support from extremists, including one whose organisation is actually barred from operating at UCL.

IERA’s Hamza Tzortzis has declared that apostates “should be killed”, while other members of the group have excused domestic violence and supported the return of execution for ‘fornication’.

A little piece of Afghanistan in Gower Street. Heartwarming.

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

The best little tabloid in Manhattan

Feb 13th, 2014 6:46 am | By

Good job, New York Times. Never let a woman try for a big job without asking the universe if she can have it all.

wendy davis

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

Guest post by jesse: Talking about gender in language

Feb 12th, 2014 5:01 pm | By

Originally a comment on Guest witticism by Anthony K: The purity of Engliſh ſpellyng. (I know; can I do that? Can I make a comment on a guest post another guest post? What if there’s a guest post comment on that post? How many levels can we take this? I don’t know. I’m venturing out into the unknown here. I can’t predict.)

End of preamble.

I think whenever we talk about gender in language we have to remember that the term “grammatical gender” often has almost nothing to do with the gender-as-social-construction we usually mean.

Take French. “le crayon” — masculine, “la plume” – feminine There is no logical reason for this whatsoever. (What could the possible difference between pencils and pens be?) Trying to connect this to “traditionally male” or “traditionally female” roles/nouns and such makes no sense. There is simply no correlation with, well, anything, which is why for second-language learners French or Spanish or Italian requires straight-up memorization for which nouns are masculine or feminine.

Russian has a neutral gender. But if you pick a random noun you have basically a 1/3 chance of getting it right, and no, there’s no correlation there either. (“ship” — корабль – masculine, “liverwurst” — ливерная колбаса — feminine, and anything that ends in certain consonants is neuter).

The term “gender” — gad I don’t know who came up with it but it’s just referring to grammar– you could call them “type 1″ and “type 2″ for all it matters.

Yes, there are times when the grammatical gender matches up with the sociological one, but in the ones I can think of that only happens in direct reference to people.

What’s interesting is that some modern romance languages have a neutral gender too–after all, Latin did (though I think the only major one that preserves it completely is Romanian(?)). If you want to say the equivalent of “one drives to the store” in Spanish, you say “se conduce a la tienda.” There’s no masculine or feminine noun here. (It’s reflexive). Hungarian doesn’t have grammatical gender at all.

English used to have a bigger variety of pronouns, though I am not certain if they were “gender neutral” in the modern sense. (You’d have to ask Beowulf).

In fact a lot of English pronouns were pared off in the last five hundred or so years. That is, a phrase “How art thou?” was the informal, 2nd person. Quakers used to use thee and thou because they were less formal, familiar words. “You” was considered uptight. This distinction is still made in a lot of other languages — Hungarian included:-) (“maga” and “te.”) But English seems to have lost it by about ~1700, at least in ordinary conversation.

AFAIK English kind-of-sort-of has grammatical gender, but it doesn’t really show except in certain words (like referring to ships as “she” — but that might not be a grammatical issue, I haven’t looked up how old that is and whether “ship” was a feminine noun in Old English). Or in words like “actor/ actress.” For the most part though we’ve lost it. Guess that’s what happens when you have the horrible train wreck between Norman French and Germanic that makes English what it is. (Fun fact: English kings did not speak English at home until Richard III, and even after that it wasn’t uncommon to have English kings who were non-native English speakers. I’m looking at you, George).

Basically, in English we got rid of most grammatical cases (the choices seem to be pretty random, which is one reason why English seems so illogical half the time). The only remnants we retain are things like tacking on an apostrophe s to indicate possession. (I’m not sure if even that counts, though). We’ve replaced the dative with “to the” and genitive with “of the…” and some words like “Kindred” and “children” — plurals which not coincidentally tend to be Germanic origin.

Anyhow, the presence of grammatical gender doesn’t seem to have any bearing on how “sexist” a given society is. I’ll lend some credence to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, but it’s a lot more subtle than that, it seems to me (and judging by the work with speakers of even non-”exotic” languages). I mean, Chinese doesn’t have grammatical gender at all, nor does Japanese. That doesn’t seem to have much bearing on the way they see women.

@Marcus Ranum — there are two umlauts in Hungarian. The one that looks like German (ö) is like German and the one with the two little accents is akin to the German sound but further “front” in the mouth — I am not sure how to describe it. (The letter u with the two little things on it is like the french “u” when it’s alone, if that gives you any idea). They are both pure vowels.

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

Why didn’t YOU think of it?

Feb 12th, 2014 4:33 pm | By

I’m being very bad, very truant and frivolous and unserious, and I’ll probably be banished from all the things as a result, but I just found Dawkins’s latest Tweetinspiration too funny to resist.

Philosophers’ historic failure to anticipate Darwin is a severe indictment of philosophy. Happy Darwin Day!

Yup. Also of music, poetry, agriculture, painting, weaving, pottery, history, drama – oh the list is long. Long long longitty long. Think of all the people who failed to anticipate Darwin. It’s a severe indictment of being a person.

So I’ve been preaching sombre sermons on the problem on Twitter. Twitter is terrifically good for writing about complicated things in ten or fifteen words, so I go there whenever I have sombre sermons to preach.


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


Feb 12th, 2014 10:59 am | By

After their meeting with the Student Union the Southbank University AHS peeps went for coffee and what did they see?

what had already been placed behind protective glass??? #EpicWin #SecularSelfie

Photo: So after our meeting with South Bank Students' Union, we had a quick coffee. Walking out, guess what had already been placed behind protective glass??? #EpicWin #SecularSelfie

Posted totally with permission

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

Are they all “westernized”?

Feb 12th, 2014 10:54 am | By

Statement by PEN Delhi:

From members of the PEN All-India Centre in Mumbai and the PEN Delhi Centre:

PEN’s India Centres in Delhi and Mumbai are deeply concerned about the reported decision by Penguin India to withdraw Wendy Doniger’s scholarly book, The Hindus: An Alternative History. Choosing to settle the matter out of court, instead of challenging an adverse judgment, narrows India’s intellectual discourse and significantly undermines freedom of expression.

We do not know why Penguin took the decision and expect the publisher to be transparent about the circumstances in which it made the decision, which comes at a time when Indian publishers have faced waves of threats from litigants, vigilante groups, and politicians. Siddharth Deb’s “The Beautiful and The Damned” was published without its first chapter because of a lawsuit. Bloomsbury India withdrew from circulation Jitender Bhargava’s book, The Descent of Air India. Sahara Group is suing Tamal Bandyopadhyay, author of Sahara: The Untold Story. Foreign publishers have not distributed an English translation of The Red Saree, a book loosely based on Sonia Gandhi’s life.

PEN Delhi, which is under formation, and the PEN All-India Centre in Mumbai, are committed to free speech and expression. The removal of books from our bookshops, bookshelves, and libraries, whether through state-sanctioned censorship, private vigilante action, or publisher capitulation are all egregious violations of free speech that we shall oppose in all forms at all times.


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

Sorry, we won’t do it again, until next time

Feb 12th, 2014 10:41 am | By

In (only slightly) better news – the Southbank University Student Union has apologized to the Atheist Society for trying to make it shut up. That’s nice, but it would be much better news if Student Unions just stopped trying to make atheists shut up in the first place.

Following a meeting this morning with their Atheist Society and the AHS, South Bank University’s Student Union has issued a full apology on its website, stating “We have apologised to the Atheist Society for the actions taken and the distress that it has caused… We remind students that the appropriate response to opinions they may find offensive is to engage in healthy debate respecting the rights of others to hold views or beliefs differing from their own.”

The AHS welcome this statement as a the start of a sensible approach to free speech for our members at South Bank. AHS President Rory Fenton said, “ Again and again our members are censored and then apologised to. Apologies are all very well but it would be better if these incidents never occurred. The appropriate response to being offended is to engage in debate, not censorship.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if all the Student Unions could finally get that straight?

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

Drowning in the waters of tradition

Feb 12th, 2014 10:32 am | By

One thing that’s incredibly, tragically ironic about Penguin’s (forced) submission in the case of Doniger’s book is that it was Penguin that fought back when David Irving tried to force it to withdraw and pulp Deborah Lipstadt’s book. The title of the case is David Irving v Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt. Penguin fought, Penguin spent a fortune, and Penguin won.

Vijay Prashad gives some background on Doniger’s work.


Doniger, a professor of the history of religions at the University of Chicago, is no stranger to this kind of controversy. Her studies of Hinduism have sought to recover the buried, heterodox Tantric tradition from under the weight of the orientalist’s favourite form of Hinduism – Vedanta. For European orientalists, Vedantism was the closest to their own monotheism – a set of faith practices bourgeois in their mood and conduct. Tantrism – with its impurities of sex and diet – seemed out of favour. Doniger and her collaborators sought to revive interest in Tantrism, for which they turned to new methods of interpretation, notably psychoanalysis.

Doniger’s book is part of this “alternative” history that seeks to explore the worlds of the dalits and women – outcasts at the bottom of the Hindu hierarchy. Out of the complexity of the myths, Doniger sought to provide a picture of tolerance amidst violence. It is ironic, then, that the court case accuses her of being anti-Hindu, when it is her work that has provided a fuller description of Hinduism.

But dalits and women. There’s your problem right there.

Doniger had welcomed creative controversy, but what she got was something else. The attack was on the scholars themselves as much as on the scholarship, and there was little room for a serious discussion about the breadth of the Hindu tradition. The attackers wanted a Hinduism that had the qualities of a bourgeois religion. Sex, and homosexuality in particular, had to be expunged. It did not look good for the newly emergent Hindu right to be associated with a faith with dirt under its nails, and gods with sexual lives.

The full blast of the Hindu right’s tentacular organisations terrified Indian cultural institutions. Motilal Banarsidass, the publisher of Courtright’s book, withdrew it in 2003. The next year, the Hindu right government in the state of Maharashtra banned James Laine’s book Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India, after a violent attack at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute for its association with the book. In 2006, the painter MF Husain fled India for Qatar after his show of nude Indian gods and goddesses was attacked for “hurting the sentiments of the people”. The laws leaned upon for all this are colonial creations, which were used in the 1930s against Max Wylie’s Hindu Heaven and Arthur Miles’ The Land of the Lingam. The British did not want to “hurt the sentiments” of the orthodox Brahmins so they disallowed any representation of Hinduism that gave voice to the untouchables, to women and to tribals. This old colonial legacy is now fully inhabited by the Hindu right.

Ironic enough yet?

Batra, who filed the suit, is a familiar character in Indian society. But this is no one-man mission. He is the head of the Vidya Bharati Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan, the educational arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the brains of the Hindu right. The spokesman of the Hindu right’s cultural wing, Prakash Sharma, called him a “senior and revered figure, who has always fought against elements that pollute the minds of our youth”.

The party of the Hindu right, BJP, believes that it will win the national elections this year, with its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi leading it to victory.

And Modi is the guy who allegedly failed to stop (or worse) the Gujarat riots. He could be India’s prime minister soon. Nuclear India, that is, next door to nuclear Pakistan. Oh we live in interesting times, for sure.

Alongside the court cases of people such as Batra has been a chilling breeze through the media as owners have begun to cull editors who have been critical of Modi, notably Open Magazine’s Hartosh Singh Bal and television journalists Rajdeep Sardesai and Sagarika Ghosh. It is in this context that Penguin decided to withdraw and pulp Doniger’s book. That Penguin did not fight the case says a great deal about the limitations of corporate commitment to freedom of speech.

It did fight it at first. But the bullies won.




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

And a little child shall lead them

Feb 12th, 2014 9:53 am | By

Nilanjana Bhowmick at the Time website explains why Dinanath Batra has bullied Penguin into recalling and destroying Doniger’s book.

First of all, she makes a factual claim that I hadn’t seen before.

Penguin Books India has agreed to recall and pulp all copies in India of The Hindus: An Alternative History by U.S. scholar Wendy Doniger, raising concerns over freedom of expression in the world’s largest democracy.

Only in India? I thought it was all copies, period.

The move by one of India’s major book publishers is a settlement with members of the Hindu group Shiksha Bachao Andolan, which has filed civil and criminal cases over the work.

In a conversation with TIME, Shiksha Bachao Andolan president Dinanath Batra explains why he thinks Doniger’s book hurts Hindu sentiments and is propagating lies about Hindu deities and national icons. No stranger to controversy, Batra had earlier taken on Indian educational boards for what he says have been distortion of facts and has actively opposed and subsequently stopped the introduction of sex education in Indian schools, saying it was against Hindu culture and religion.

In other words he’s an experienced religious bully.

TIME: What are your objections to Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus?

Batra: Her intention is bad, the content is anti-national and the language is abusive. Her agenda is to malign Hinduism and hurt the feelings of Hindus.

Sigh. Is he six? He sounds as if he’s six.

Why does it matter so much to you about what someone writes about Hinduism?

If someone makes a cartoon of the prophet Mohammad,  Muslims are outraged around the world. So why should anyone write anything against Hinduism and get away with it? It matters because this book is hurting the sentiments of Hindus all over the world. I am a Hindu. When I read the book, I felt hurt. It hurt my sentiments.

I guess he is six. It’s funny that a child of six is running this organization that people pay attention to, and being interviewed by Time.

Will you protest against every book that doesn’t fit your idea of Hinduism?

We are against anything that hurts people’s religious sentiments. Our movement is aimed at cleansing distortions from education in India. We have also taken on the Indian educational boards for wrong facts in their textbooks. We will protest against any book that portrays a negative image of our society.

We think everyone is six. We speak for all the people who are six.

Don’t you worry that your objections might seem outdated in today’s modern world?

We are not against modernity, but we are against westernization.

By “westernization” he means “being older than six.”

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


Feb 12th, 2014 8:52 am | By

Possibly Non-stamp Collector’s most brilliant and hilarious video.

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

Otherwise it is another country

Feb 11th, 2014 4:31 pm | By

Salil Tripathi gives his view.

Last night I asked Doniger what she thought about her publisher’s decision. Deeply concerned, she told me: “Penguin has indeed given up the lawsuit, and will no longer publish the book. Of course, anyone with a computer can get the Kindle edition from Penguin, NY, and it’s probably cheaper, too. It is simply no longer possible to ban books in the age of the Internet. For that, and for all the people who have expressed outrage over this, I am deeply grateful.”

I also asked Penguin for its response. At the time of writing, Chiki Sarkar, Penguin’s publisher, had not replied.

Those who disagreed with Doniger had options—to protest, to argue, to publish their own book as response, and if they had a copy, to shut it. Nobody is being forced to read it. Now, go to your electronic readers, buy it, download it, read it; if you go abroad, get copies—there’s no ban on its import; and reinforce the idea that a pluralistic India does not have singular views. India thrives in its diversity and plurality—its culture and its opinions.

As freedom of expression itself is under threat, and India undergoes its own period of darkness and chaos, Doniger’s philosophical equanimity offers hope, that this, too, shall pass. It must, otherwise it is another country.

I hope so.

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