Notes and Comment Blog

Judith Butler turned down the Civil Courage Award from Berlin Pride

Dec 21st, 2013 10:48 am | By

And then there’s “homonationalism.”

There’s what?

Let Robyn Brush at Representation and the Body explain it for you, in a post from February 2012 titled Judith Butler Speaks Out Against Homonationalism.

In June of 2010, Judith Butler turned down the Civil Courage Award from Berlin Pride, critiquing the organizers’ association with homonationalism.  She said that if she could, she herself would award the prize to the number of activist groups which work to fight both racism and homophobia.

But what exactly is homonationalism?

In her speech, which was received with much applause from the audience and contempt on the part of the organizers, Butler described the problem as such: “Lesbian, gay, trans, and queer people can be used [by] warmongers involved in cultural wars against immigrants through labored Islamophobia and military wars against Iraq and Afghanistan.  In this time, through these instruments, we become recruited for nationalism and militarism.”

Homonationalism is using a nation’s liberalism towards homosexuality as a means to encourage racist attitudes towards other nations, on grounds that they are less enlightened.



Is it really racist to oppose, say, Uganda’s harsh anti-gay law? Is it really racist to attempt to give LGBT Ugandans and their friends and allies support in the face of attacks and imprisonment? Is it really racist to point out the part played by evangelicals from the US in stoking homophobia in Uganda?

I get that all this can be very entangled. People can both support gay rights and have xenophobic and/or racist attitudes; people can combine the two in a disquieting amalgam of human rights and hostility; but this version is simplistic at best.

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

Fons et origo

Dec 21st, 2013 9:45 am | By

I think I know where Pryiamvada Gopal got her distorted and ignorant idea of the people behind the protest against gender segregation. I think she read a repellent article at “Loonwatch” on the website “Islamophobia Today” titled UK: Islamophobes Manufacture “Gender Segregation” Controversy. It’s wrong in just the way her article is wrong, and it does it a few days earlier.

The author is billed as “Ilisha.”

An Islamic society wants to host a university event where–gasp!–men and women are seated separately. Suddenly this minor event is major news in the UK.

Yes, “gasp,” Ilisha. It’s not just routine and normal for university events to seat women and men separately.

People who apparently never planned to attend the event in the first place have decided they must publicly protest “gender apartheid,” an intolerable affront to their sensibilities. There is no evidence men and women who planned to attend the event complained, yet the controversy has become the subject of a national debate of such importance, Prime Minister David Cameron has weighed in on the matter.

What a charming tone – as if people ought not to consider gender apartheid an intolerable affront to their sensibilities – as if institutional inequality should just be accepted, or even embraced.

The event gained the national spotlight through the efforts of Student Rights, a group affiliated with the Henry Jackson Society. In other words, the “controversy” has its roots in the incestuous Islamphobia network operating on both sides of the Atlantic.

Emphasis hers.

See there? The same ignorant mistake Gopal made: thinking Student Rights was behind the protest, when it had nothing to do with it.

She goes on to give an irrelevant denunciation of the Henry Jackson Society and a bunch of other societies that had nothing to do with the protest, then triumphantly winds up:

The “gender segregation” campaign in the UK is reminiscent of the manufactured “Ground Zero mosque” controversy a few years back in the US. Once again, a minor (non-)event has been transformed into a national debate by the usual suspects. The purpose is to generate another round of anti-Muslim hysteria.

As Associate Director at the Henry Jackson Society, Douglas Murray, has openly stated“Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board.”

Emphasis again hers. Several paragraphs, none of them relevant to the December 10 protest.

Not the most reliable or careful source I’ve ever seen.


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

Taslima is banned yet again

Dec 20th, 2013 6:03 pm | By

Taslima is Finally, Banned.

The drama series or mega serial are banned.

The story of three sisters who are struggling to live with dignity and honour is banned.

The truth is banned.

Lies won. Insanity won. Fatwas won. Threats won. Barbarism won.

A bunch of faith-heads, hate mongers, anti-freespeech, filthy misogynist fanatics won.

The government of West Bengal in India made them win. On the 19th of December, 2013.

That sounds like a drama series or mega serial I would kill to see. Mind you it would have to be subtitled, but I’ve never minded that. I would so love to see a series about three sisters written by the mind that’s inside Taslima’s head.

Not a single episode was telecasted, but the government banned the TV drama series, the project that could continue for more than a decade.

Liberal intellectuals are silent about the banning of my serial in India. They protest when Hindu fundamentalists violate a writer’s freedom of expression. They even protest when Muslim fundamentalists attack on a writer’s free speech. But only when that writer is a male, macho, anti-feminist, Salman Rushdie.

We, the ordinary people protested on twitter against the banning of the mega serial. Many people criticized India’s vote bank politics. The politicians are accused of appeasing Muslim religious leaders in India in order to get Muslim votes. This vote bank politics is destroying the democratic principles of the world’s largest democracy.

India, “the world’s largest democracy.” It may be a democracy but it’s not a secular democracy. Theocratic democracies are scary.

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

Miscarriage of medicine

Dec 20th, 2013 5:30 pm | By

The ACLU and MergerWatch have combined forces to put out a report on the growth of Catholic hospitals and the threat to reproductive health care [pdf]. There’s also a press release.

With the rise of Catholic hospitals has come the increasing danger that women’s reproductive health care will be compromised by religious restrictions. The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (the Directives), issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), govern care at these facilities. The Directives prohibit a range of reproductive health services, including contraception, sterilization, many infertility treatments, and abortion care, even when a woman’s health or life is in danger. Moreover, they often restrict even the ability of hospital staff to provide patients with full information and referrals for care that conflict with religious teachings.

This can be lethal. Not figuratively or loosely, but literally: it can cause death.

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

Annals of pointless hatred

Dec 20th, 2013 4:03 pm | By

Today for our lesson in pointless stupid unreasoned hatred, we go to the Chicago suburb of Morton Grove, and its library, which rejected a donation of about $3,000 from Hemant Mehta, because atheism.

Hemant Mehta, a Naperville teacher who writes a blog called the Friendly Atheist, launched a fundraising campaign after a local veterans group, American Legion Post 134, pulled funding and volunteer resources from the Park District because of a park board member’s refusal to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

Oh, there’s another item for the annals of pointless hatred. Let’s go to the Morton Grove Champion for more on that item.

Morton Grove Park Commissioner Dan Ashta was two minutes late to the Nov. 21 monthly board meeting, missing both the Pledge of Allegiance and a quarter of the meeting.

“If I had been on time, I still would have sat down during the pledge,” Ashta said after the eight-minute meeting. “No one has told me that my legal interpretation is wrong and I’ve pledged my allegiance to the Constitution of the United States. I see no reason to change my stance.”

Joseph Lampert, commander of American Legion Post 134, told the Park Board on Oct. 24 that $2,600 in donations will be withheld until all members of the board, specifically Ashta, stand for the Pledge of Allegiance out of respect for veterans and fallen servicemen.

What the hell?

Nobody has to stand for the bit of doggerel known as “the pledge of allegiance.” Nobody. It’s not a real thing. It’s not like a red light or a stop sign or passport control or someone’s front door. It’s just a bit of doggerel. It’s not like the oath people take when they become citizens of the US, or the one they take when they go into the military. It’s just a bit of doggerel. Nobody has to bend any knee to it. It actually should be ruled unconstitutional, since it was passed by Congress and has a knee-bend to god in it. Congress has no business telling us to bend any knees to god.

The American Legion can set any criteria for a donation it wants to, I suppose, but some criteria are a lot stupider and more bossy than others. This pledge one is very stupid and bossy. Not wanting to recite a dopy piece of doggerel has nothing to do with respect for veterans and people killed in wars.

Ashta maintains that he’s defending the public’s First Amendment right to not participate for whatever political, religious or physical reason a given person might have.

“It upsets me that veterans are upset, because I do appreciate everything they’ve done,” Ashta said.

I don’t even understand why they are upset; the “pledge” is nothing to do with respect for veterans and casualties.

So back to the Morton Grove library.

Library Board Treasurer Catherine Peters said she stopped library staff from depositing the check this month, calling it a matter that should be voted on by the board.

Board President Mark Albers, who voted to accept the donation, said he had no idea whether the money was from Mehta’s fundraising campaign or Mehta himself.

But many board members were more alarmed by the nature of Mehta’s blog and the ethical implications posed by accepting money from him.

Peters referred to the blog as a “hate group.”

Well, that’s wrong.

I blame Fox News.

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

Your life is not your own

Dec 20th, 2013 3:14 pm | By

Spain has passed a new anti-abortion law to replace current legislation permitting the procedure without restrictions until the 14th week.

Justice minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón said on Friday that abortion will only be allowed in the case of rape or when there is a serious mental or physical health risk to the mother. Accredited fetal deformities that would endanger a child’s life if born will also be accepted.

He said 16- and 17-year-olds will once again have to obtain permission from their parents to have an abortion.

Gallardon’s ruling Popular party has always sided heavily with the Catholic church on moral and social issues.

With the Catholic church, and against women and people in general who want to be able to decide whether and when to have children.

Naturally, not everyone is pleased.

“These changes have more to do with politics and ideology than social realities today in Spain,” said Francisca García of the Asociación de Clínicas Acreditadas para la Interrupción del Embarazo, the umbrella group that represents 98% of the country’s abortion clinics.

“From all the data we’ve seen, the number of abortions in Spain is actually on the decline,” she said. “The People’s party is trying to satisfy the rightwing factions of its party.”

Given the economic crisis that has gripped the country, “there is little public demand for this initiative. These are secondary problems compared to the crisis,” said García.

According to the organisation, recent data it had analysed showed that of the 118,000 or so abortions that took place in 2011, nearly 100,000 would be illegal under the expected changes.

So that could mean 100 thousand women’s lives messed up every year, to say nothing of the men and children also affected by the woman’s inability to decide for herself.

Elena Valenciano, the deputy secretary general of Spain’s Socialist party, spoke out against the Catholic church in April, accusing it of trying to diminish women’s say over their own bodies.

“And women, that is to say mothers, don’t they have a word in this? Ministers, judges, bishops, scientists are going to decide what we should do with our motherhood. Yes, they know. We obey and shut up. Amen,” she vented on her Facebook page.

Women’s groups across the country echo her views. “This is a fight for control over women’s bodies,” said Yolanda Besteiro, president of the Federación de Mujeres Progresistas.

“For so many generations, so many Spanish women have fought for equality,” she said. “They have had some tremendous successes, including a past government that counted as many female ministers as male. But now it seems like their fight was worth nothing.”

Cheer up. There’s a new pope, and lots of people say he’s a real sweetie.

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

But suddenly everything is dead. Everybody is silent.

Dec 20th, 2013 12:06 pm | By

Taslima wrote a post about banning and censorship two days ago, when the axing of her serial was threatened but not yet a reality. Go read it and look at it; it’s full of pictures of Taslima on billboards advertising the serial. There was a huge buzz about this serial.

But suddenly everything is dead. Everybody is silent. The channel, the producers, the artists all are shocked.

The police and a bunch of Muslim fanatics both asking the channel to ban my TV serial. The funny thing is that the serial has not started going on air but fanatic Mullahs started claiming that my serial ‘could hurt the sentiments of the community’. Mullahs don’t know about the story of the serial but they want to ban it because I have written it. They not only want to vanish me physically, they want to make all my ideas and thoughts vanished. I think they learn the trick from the West Bengal government. The West Bengal government banned my book in 2003 by claiming that my book could hurt the sentiments of Muslims. Mullahs have learned from the government that Muslim sentiments are very precious, their sentiments must not be hurt. So Muslim fanatics have the right to ban films, books, or whatever they like before they even read or watch those, to protect their so called sentiments.

Because they “were told” that their “sentiments” MIGHT be hurt. Some anonymous messenger told them of a bare possibility that their sentiments might be hurt, and they considered that grounds for censorship.

Ads say that the serial is about women’s struggle against dowry, trafficking etc. but the mullahs are saying that it is based on my life. These lunatic fringe try to find an excuse for their insanity. I am banned in West Bengal. So they think books written by me should be banned, anything based on my life should also be banned. These Muslim fanatics are minority in India, but the supports they get from the governments and the politicians make them more powerful and more lunatic.

Taslima quotes from a source:

In a press Conference Shahi Immam of Tipu Sultan Mosque of Kolkata Maulana Nurur Rahman Barkati and All India Minority Forum president Idris Ali said on 14 December that they are opposed to the Bengali channel broadcasting serial on the controversial author’s life.

Maulana Nurur Rahman informed that he has also spoke to the West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee on the issue. Extolling the WB CM of being symbol of communal harmony, the Shahi Imam appealed to her to intervene and immediately stop the broadcast of the serial.

Idris Ali said that there are so many writers even within the country and we don’t necessarily need to follow the controversial Bangladeshi author.

Muhammad Kamruzzaman sent a letter on behalf of 22 Muslim organizations to the Police Commissioner of Kolkata Mr Surajit Kar Purkayashta on 13 December to stop the broadcast, which according to them would disturb the communal harmony in the state.

The claustrophobic brain-dead horribleness of it speaks for itself.

That was two days ago. The program wasn’t yet axed. The station was still squirming in the attempt to get free.

Now all the TV ads about the mega serial with my name and videos are censored. My name and pictures are erased from all the ads. My name is deleted from their Facebook page. The channel is probably trying hard to compromise with violent fanatics.

They are going to remove all the billboards. But will they be able to make fanatics happy? I do not think so. Fanatics will go as far they can. They know very well that nobody would come to support me in India.

These fanatics are very good friends of the government. The politicians appease Muslim fanatics because these fanatics lead a very big group of ignorant Muslims. Who doesn’t want to get Muslim votes? They are 25% of the population.

The channel is now giving a statement:

The statement says :

All characters of the serial are entirely fictional. No character of the serial is based on real people. The writer of this serial is NOT coming to Kolkata. The serial has no purpose to hurt anyone’s sentiments. It is not going to hurt sentiments of any religion or any community. It will definitely show respect to all religious communities.

The producers are trying everything to telecast the serial. Ordinary people are eager to watch it. The channel already invested a lot of money for the serial. They are now in a very bad situation. They are not getting government’s supports. All the intellectuals are silent. Many are pro-Islamist leftists, they believe I am not worthy to get their supports because I criticize Islamists. Some think it is a Muslim issue, they should not be involved. The rest are just cowards.

This is another one of those times when we need to combine our voices to make a stink.

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

Dignity or prison, those are the choices

Dec 20th, 2013 11:31 am | By

A new amnesty law was passed in Russia this week, so Pussy Riot members Nadya Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina will be freed from prison three months sooner than scheduled. They were in the slammer for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility.” They’ve been in for nearly two years. Putin has no qualms.

In a news conference, President Vladimir Putin expressed no regret for the Pussy Riot members. “I was not sorry that they ended up behind bars,” he said. “I was sorry that they were engaged in such disgraceful behavior, which in my view was degrading to the dignity of women.”

Ah, I see – so women doing something that a guy views as “degrading to the dignity of women” deserve to spend two years at hard labor in a particularly harsh prison. Well that certainly gives me a high opinion of men’s views of what is degrading to the dignity of women.

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

Taslima’s tv serial axed

Dec 20th, 2013 10:53 am | By

You already know why, without looking for more. Concerns; community; sentiments; been told; might hurt; controversy. The Times of India tells the sordid tale:

Abdul Aziz of minority group Milli Ittehad Parishad said they had written to the producers asking them to withdraw Taslima’s name and reference from the serial and withdraw scenes that might create a controversy. “We have been told that there are some scenes in the serial that might hurt our sentiments. Through this serial she is trying to come back to Kolkata. Therefore we have opposed this,” Aziz said.

Oh well then. If you have been told there are some scenes in the serial (that you have not seen) that might hurt your sentiments (which of course must not be hurt because whateverthefuck) then by all means write to the producers asking them to withdraw Taslima’s name and reference from the serial and withdraw scenes that might create a controversy, because you get to decide. You and your “we” get to decide.

Influential Muslim religious leaders echoed Aziz’s concern. Maulana Quari Fazlur Rehman said, “Good that this was done else it would have spread disquiet among the Muslim community. This would have vitiated the atmosphere.” Nakhoda Masjid Imam Md Shabir added, “She is one of those persons who revels in denigrating a particular religion and its Prophet. Why does the Centre give her so much liberty? She inflames passions by her words and deeds, poses a grave law and order risk and yet we give her refuge.”

Maulana Nur-ur Rahman Barkati, Shahi Imam of the Tipu Sultan Mosque in Kolkata, said, “We will not allow the channel to show the serial at all”. Idris Ali, who chairs the Trinamool Congress Minority Cell, alleged that Taslima was trying to break peace and harmony in the state. “We will not let her do that,” Ali said.

The voice of theocracy.

Then Taslima is allowed to speak.

“It is unbelievable that the state government has banned the serial that is about women’s rights. Some Muslim fundamentalists objected and the serial was taken off. The fundamentalists do not have any inkling about the story line and still they want to stop it, only because it is scripted by me. Perhaps their grudge is directed at me for writing ‘Lajja’, which I wrote two decades ago,” Taslima told TOI from Delhi. She lamented that the state government was not allowing her to stay in Kolkata.

According to Bangaldesh-born author, the story line is based on three sisters – one with dark complexion not getting married though she is intelligent. Her father cannot afford to pay dowry. The other sister is a victim of sexual assault and the third is a student. “The story revolves around these three sisters. So the Muslim fundamentalists have nothing to fear about. It has nothing against fundamentalism,” she said.

The idea of the serial was conceived long back, when Taslima was staying in Kolkata. “The director had even completed shooting 30 episodes while I was in Kolkata. But it got stalled after I was forced out of the city. It’s unfortunate that it got stalled again after the producers spent so much money on shooting 50 episodes and advertising the serial.”

Could the BBC and PBS pick it up? And the CBC and the ABC and is there a BC in New Zealand?

I want to see it.

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

Very welcome

Dec 19th, 2013 6:19 pm | By

The British Humanist Association has a statement on LSE’s apology for the bullying of Chris Moos and Abhishek Phadnis for wearing Jesus and Mo Tshirts at the LSE Freshers Fair.

Professor Calhoun of the LSE wrote to the students involved ‘acknowledging that, with hindsight, the wearing of the t-shirts on this occasion did not amount to harassment or contravene the law or LSE policies,’ and he also said, ‘LSE takes its duty to promote free speech very seriously, and as such, will discuss and learn from the issues raised by recent events.’ (more…)

Long long night

Dec 19th, 2013 6:09 pm | By

Ah, yes. I know this one. The Stare.

I know this one and it made me laugh and it’s almost the longest night of the year, so I figure you need it.

Via Life With Petz

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

Guest post by Bernard Hurley on making judgements

Dec 19th, 2013 4:47 pm | By

Originally a comment on Why the one and not the other replying to “Minow”.

It would surprise me, because it would seem to be a very upfront admission that you are not applying any principle at all, but merely wanting to permit those freedoms that you find amenable and forbid those you don’t like the look of. This is generally the position of liberals I meet, but it is rare to have them own it.

Nice try, Minow. So you have some debating skills after all! I have to say that being as ancient as I am – I was born in the first half of the last century – I have been called many things, but I can’t recall having been accused of being a liberal since at least the mid 70′s. But it was never just “liberal,” it was always something like “soggy liberal” or “bourgeois liberal” and was considered mildly insulting. On the other hand, I hail from a long line of Irish peasants, gypsies and horse thieves, many of whom would have been gratified to learn that one of their number would one day be promoted to such dizzy heights, even if only in your fevered imagination. So, since I’m obviously unable to attain your level of political sophistication, if you want to call me a liberal, OK I’ll be a liberal; just don’t make me wear the badge permanently.

So I’m not applying any principle at all. Maybe not. I value things like freedom, compassion, fairness, kindness and rationality; I don’t claim I always live up to these values, but if by applying a principle you mean dogmatically following some pre-ordained recipe without taking into account such values, without regard to the manifest consequences of one’s actions and without taking into account any cogent arguments there may be for not following the recipe in a particular instance, then I freely admit to not applying any principle. When I say that a case can be made for women only accommodation on public transport late at night, I don’t pretend it wouldn’t involve coercion, of course it would. I accept this and make an argument for allowing it in this case. You, on the other hand, make no argument for segregated public meetings but seem content to carry on denying the obvious.

As to whether I merely want to permit those freedoms I find amenable and to forbid those I don’t like the look of, you may well be right. It doesn’t seem like that to me, but it is always difficult to judge one’s own motives. On the other hand who are you to judge? If you find that question difficult to answer let me help you out:

When you have been thrown out of college for a year because you dared to question their connections with a racist regime (at that time apartheid South Africa) then, perhaps, just perhaps, you will be qualified to start thinking about making a tentative judgement.

When you have been severely injured at a demonstration against this racist regime, kicked by policemen as you lay helpless on the ground, attacked by some fanatic as you are stretchered to an ambulance without any of the copious number of police in attendance doing anything to stop it, and then, to cap it all charged with and convicted of “threatening behaviour,” then, you will not exactly be qualified to make such a judgement but I will be willing to consider what you say.

When you have been standing on a freezing picket line for days on end only to be confronted by idiots who found it particularly amusing to throw condoms filled with urine at you, then maybe ….

I could go on and tell you about other times when I have been concerned to permit those freedoms I find amenable and to forbid those I don’t like the look of, but, short of showing you the scars on my legs from when some racist scum threw boiling oil over them (oh, yes, that’s another occasion,) I don’t think you would believe how anyone could be quite as “liberal” as I evidently am. Perhaps you were only joking when you said it.

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

Pastors hate him! Learn this one weird trick

Dec 19th, 2013 4:40 pm | By

American Atheists has a new advertisement

Embedded image permalink

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

The dog ate it

Dec 19th, 2013 12:28 pm | By

David Futrelle has more on the oh so funny campaign to flood an anonymous survey on sexual violence with fake claims.

Although the information is being collected to track trends, and no one will be charged with anything as a result of such a report, a number of Men’s Rights subreddit regulars decided it would be a great idea to flood Occidental College with false reports to basically break the system, and they suggested this to much acclaim; others proudly reported that they’d sent in bogus reports.

So what has happened since then? The story has been picked up by a number of sites, including GawkerBusiness InsiderRawStory, and LAist. In a followup post, Adam Weinsten of Gawker confirmed that Occidental College had indeed been hit with some 400 bogus rape reports in the past 36 hours — that is, after posts encouraging false reports appeared on 4chan and the Men’s Rights subreddit.

Meanwhile, on the Men’s Rights subreddit, after belatedly realizing that this whole thing makes them look kind of bad, the subreddit’s mods are trying their best to make the whole embarrassing thing go away — and not really doing a great job of it.

But as for “this whole thing makes them look kind of bad” – it doesn’t really, because there is no “them” to make look bad, because they don’t use their real names. They’re safe from repercussions in their real lives.

Futrelle demonstrates a lot of evasion and diversion of attention on that subreddit though, all amusing in the usual eye-rolling way.

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

You don’t believe unless

Dec 19th, 2013 12:07 pm | By

A philosophical aphorism seen on Twitter…

You don’t believe in freedom of speech unless you believe in freedom for speech that you consider ugly, offensive, deplorable, dangerous…


The first three adjectives are standard fare, and reasonable, and so on. But the last one? That’s a whole different category, and it’s far from obviously true. Depending on how “dangerous” we’re talking about, it’s not true at all.

There have been many examples in very recent history of speech used to foment hatred of outgroups with a view to getting rid of said outgroups, and the result was “ethnic cleansing” aka genocide.

No, I don’t believe in freedom for speech that’s dangerous in that way, and no that doesn’t mean I don’t “believe in freedom of speech.”

But then I’m not sure I “believe in” the need for swearing a loyalty oath to freedom speech. I get the principle, and I basically agree with it, but I also don’t think it’s an absolute, and I think one does need to consider particulars.

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

LSE apologizes to Chris and Abhishek

Dec 19th, 2013 11:37 am | By

Yes really. It’s not a solstice version of April Fools. There’s an actual statement on their actual website.

LSE statement on events at LSE SU Freshers’ Fair

The London School of Economics and Political Science has today apologised to two students from the LSE Students’ Union Atheist Secularist and Humanist Society (ASH) who wore t-shirts depicting Mohammed and Jesus at the SU Freshers’ Fair on 3 October 2013 and who were asked to cover their t-shirts or face removal from the Fair. The Director of the School, Professor Craig Calhoun, has written to the students acknowledging that, with hindsight, the wearing of the t-shirts on this occasion did not amount to harassment or contravene the law or LSE policies.

The two students, Mr Chris Moos and Mr Abhishek Phadnis, formally appealed to the School on 12 November.

Professor Calhoun has also acknowledged the difficulties faced by staff dealing with the matter on the day: “Members of staff acted in good faith and sought to manage the competing interests of complainant students and yourselves in a way that they considered to be in the best interests of all parties on the days in question.”

The School recognises that this apology will occasion debate and discussion. LSE and the LSE SU have already put on record concern over the nature of some of the social media debate on this matter in the past, which has been highly personalised. It is hoped that this will not be repeated. LSE takes its duty to promote free speech very seriously, and as such, will discuss and learn from the issues raised by recent events.

So there’s that.

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

Acid attacks in Egypt

Dec 19th, 2013 11:01 am | By

At Women Under Siege, Reem Abdel-Razek writes about a recent incident in Cairo.

A few weeks ago I received a message from a friend in Cairo about a horrible attack on her sister, Esraa Mohamed. Esraa was walking in her own neighborhood at 3 p.m. when she realized she was being followed by a well-dressed, respectable looking stranger. He said, “I am not harassing you but don’t forget to wipe off your pants.”

She suddenly began to feel a burning pain in her backside and rushed into a cafe to see what was wrong. It was then that she realized she couldn’t remove her pants and took a cab home. By that time the pain was so excruciating that she almost fainted; her buttocks and the back of her thighs had been burned by acid that had eaten into her flesh. The doctor who examined her said she had second and third-degree burns, with cell necrosis in some areas. The diagnosis was “chemical burn by an unidentified corrosive.”

Esraa described the attack to a journalist friend who wrote a story about it. After she spoke out, she received messages from other girls who said the same thing had happened to them, but they had not told anyone or come forward because they were ashamed and embarrassed. She also received several messages on Facebook saying she’d deserved what happened to her for not wearing the veil.

How pathetic is it that part of my reaction to that story is relief that it wasn’t her face? Oh thank you so much, well-dressed stranger, for throwing your acid at women’s bums instead of their eyes and mouths and noses. At least Esraa Mohamed isn’t blind now, at least she can still eat and drink and talk.

Since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, there has been much commentary about sexual harassment and violence against women in Egypt. Many believe the attacks on women in Tahrir Square were initiated by mobs hired by Egypt’s security forces as a means of intimidation, similar to the “virginity tests” forced upon some of the girls who were arrested during a protest in March 2011. They see violence against women as a means of scaring them away from political activity. While this is true, it is only part of the explanation: Violence against women in Egypt long precedes the revolutions of the last three years.

It has been growing for decades. A study done in 2008 showed that 83 percent of women get harassed in Egypt. But numbers alone cannot show how scary the harassment is, how it makes women feel, and how their families usually blame them instead of the men who harassed them.

The role of Islamist propaganda in promoting the acceptance of violence against women often gets overlooked by those who are afraid of appearing “Islamophobic” or racist. But addressing the roots of violence against women is one of the most important steps in eradicating it.

Reem Abdel-Razek and the Centre for Secular Space set up a Facebook group, You are not alone, where you can send messages to Esraa Mohamed.

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

Next jape, how about a little arson or gbh

Dec 18th, 2013 5:59 pm | By

So some shits wanted to think up a new way to harass people and they thought of a brilliant plan: to spam a college’s online anonymous sexual assault reporting system with sarcastic fake reports. Hilarious. Right? Yes. Hilarious.

“Late Monday, the 16th we started seeing a stream of what we would call suspicious reports that were being submitted” to Occidental’s Google-based assault reporting form, said Jim Tranquada, director of communications for the Los Angeles college, which has faced scrutiny in recent months for underreporting sex assaults involving its students.

That’s about the same time that commenters on Reddit’s r/MensRights subreddit began discussing plans to spam the college’s reporting system with phony accusations.

Haha. Hahaha. Because how dare a college try to do anything about sexual assault on its campus? It should mind its own business, right?

That system received about 400 separate assault allegations in 36 hours. “That’s far more than we have ever received in the past,” Tranquada said. “The sheer number of reports was suspicious.”

“What we found suggests that these report were the work of an off campus group of trolls who are involved” on the politically incorrect forums of 4chan and Reddit, Tranquada said.

That’s not the right term for them. That’s a trivializing term. Sexism and misogyny aren’t just “politically incorrect” any more than they’re just “rowdy” or “sweary” or “high-spirited.”

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

Rupert Sutton clears up some things

Dec 18th, 2013 5:38 pm | By

Rupert Sutton of Student Rights has a reply to Priyamvada Gopal’s article at the Rationalist Association. It’s calm

Unfortunately, [Gopal's] attempt to persuade greater numbers of people to criticise reactionary religious practice was marred by a number of inaccurate attacks on my organisation, Student Rights, which seeks to highlight political and religious extremism on university campuses regardless of provenance. This included claims that we had brought the issue to national attention despite a lack of evidence for its occurrence, and presented the campaign as part of a running battle between white conservatives intent on imposing their views on others, and the beleaguered representatives of minority communities standing against this. This is simply not the case, and both misrepresents Student Rights and the campaign itself.

He puts that so calmly and politely.

Placed alongside the claims that Student Rights is a “reactionary and opportunistic” group which has “cynically” chosen to focus on segregation, it is clear that these criticisms were a veiled suggestion that we use issues such as this to malevolently target the Muslim community. This disregards our focus on far-right groups like the BNP and French Front National. Whilst it is true that we cover events featuring Islamist speakers more frequently than we cover the far-right, this is by no means an attempt to stigmatise Muslims, but instead reflects the fact that thankfully the far-right are an increasingly rare sight on our campuses these days.

And in any case Islamists aren’t the same category as Muslims. I, for instance, despise the US Conference of Catholic Bishops; it doesn’t follow that I despise Catholics.

But the most disappointing element of the article was the way in which the voices of ethnic and religious minorities were sidelined. This placed Ms Gopal in the odd position of arguing that progressives affiliating to ethnic or religious minorities should not disregard this issue, whilst ignoring those from these communities who have been the most vocal campaigners. Last week’s rally outside the offices of UUK gave a prominent voice to women and was dominated by Maryam Namazie and Pragna Patel, two leftist activists who have driven gender segregation to the forefront of the news agenda and been instrumental in ensuring cross-party political consensus against it.

Exactly. Gopal’s ignoring of that fact, and sidelining of the voices of ethnic and religious minorities while in the very act of claiming to stand up for them, is why I’ve been so much less calm and polite about her article than Rupert Sutton has been.

As we highlighted following UUK’s withdrawal of its guidance, the campaign drew together a broad church of students, equality groups, and human rights activists from across the political spectrum. Presenting it instead as an opportunistic attack on Muslims overlooks this, and risks furthering claims of groups like the Islamic Education and Research Academy (IERA) that criticism of gender segregation amounts to “anti-Muslim propaganda”. IERA, whose members have excused domestic violence and supported the return of execution for fornication, (a ‘crime’ which is disproportionally used to repress women), are not representative of the UK’s Muslim community and must not be allowed to claim as such.

Ultimately, rather than being a campaign ‘hijacked’ by a cabal of ‘deeply conservative white males’, this was instead an example of an inclusive movement which showed that challenging reactionary tradition is not limited to any particular culture or community far more effectively than Ms Gopal’s article did. Had she been at the rally last week she would have seen many of the UK’s progressive activists and organisations protesting together against gender segregation regardless of race, religion, community, or political affiliation, and it is unfortunate that she has allowed her perception of the work my organisation does to blind her to that.


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

The Yuk-Factor

Dec 18th, 2013 4:04 pm | By

This is an article I wrote in 2003. I thought I’d lost it because it was removed from the page where it was originally published, and I’d failed to stash a copy securely and couldn’t find it on the internet archive. Then just now I realized what the right search term would be to find it, and sure enough it was. So I’m publishing it again.

There is a famous morality tale in Herodotus.

Darius…called together some of the Greeks…and asked them what they would take to eat their dead fathers. They said that no price in the world would make them do so. After that Darius summoned those of the Indians who are called Callatians, who do eat their parents, and, in the presence of the Greeks…, asked them what price would make them burn their dead fathers with fire. They shouted aloud, “Don’t mention such horrors!” These are matters of settled custom, and I think Pindar is right when he says, “Custom is king of all.” [3, 38. David Grene translation]

Herodotus noticed twenty-five centuries ago what people go on noticing today: customs and taboos differ from one society to another, one town to another, one household to another. Some people think circumcision is disgusting, some think its absence is; some think female genital mutilation is repugnant, others think female genitals in their pre-mutilation state are. Chinese women used to find unbound feet just as ugly and crude and silly-looking as men did; they endured the pain and crippling of binding, and forced it on their daughters and grandaughters. The result was generations of women who could barely walk and couldn’t possibly run, but were proud owners of the lotus foot – a foot which, by being folded in half, created a new orifice just the right size for an erect penis. Custom is king of all.

Such customs and taboos, however arbitrary and even harmful they may be, have their uses. They help create and reinforce group solidarity and loyalty. They’re yet another way of demarcating and emphasizing that highly prized difference between Us and Them, Our People and Those Other People, Self and Other. Like many animals, humans organize their lives around what Freud in one of his moments of lucidity called the narcissism of minor differences: Friend and Stranger, Greek and Barbarian, Home and Away, Blue and Green, Man United and Liverpool, Big Endian and Little Endian, Native and Alien. Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Jew, believer and infidel – it’s all too obvious where this goes. People in 16th Century France slaughtered each other in wholesale lots over a drop of wine and a bit of bread. The Indian Mutiny of 1857 is said to have been triggered partly by the use of beef tallow to lubricate guns. The issues involved can seem staggeringly trivial, but to some at least the payoff in arousing and engorging the sensation of loyalty and Hurrah for our team is worth it.

Desire for that invidious thrill of belonging is no doubt what motivates the relentless nagging about Family Values in the US over the past twenty years or so. Forget all that Wider Community stuff, forget going down to Mississippi to try to help undo some of their more vicious and destructive taboos and group loyalties and untraversable borders, forget famines in Ethiopia or little wars in Asia, just stick to your own clan and let other people stick to theirs. Nobody really gives a damn about anybody but relatives, after all, so let’s just all hunker down in our own tiny group. I had a senior relative who used to rebuke my misbehavior when I was a child by saying sternly ‘We don’t do that in this house,’ which always made me dislike him quite a lot, but no doubt gave him a thrill.

It’s a popular thrill, saying ‘We don’t do that here.’ Leon Kass, chair of the Council on Bioethics in the Bush administration, wrote a famous article for The New Republic in 1997, entitled ‘The Wisdom of Repugnance.’ ‘Repugnance is the emotional expression of deep wisdom, beyond reason’s power to express it,’ he said. But this business of repugnance we can’t quite articulate should give us pause – should make us come to a screeching halt, in fact. Why can’t we articulate it? Could it be because there is nothing to articulate? If we have good reasons for doing or not doing a thing, aren’t we normally able to put them in words? ‘Because I said so’ is all right when telling children what to do, because who has time to explain every single thing to a five-year-old, but for an actual official indeed presidential council, one expects a little more. Arm-waving and saying ‘I can’t explain’ don’t really match the job description.

Especially since people have always ‘just somehow known’ in their guts or their hearts or their gluteus maximus, without being able to say why, all sorts of things that the world would be better off if they hadn’t just known. That Africans should be slaves, that Jews were polluting Germany, that women should be kept under house arrest at all times, that witches should be burnt, that the races must never mix. We’re all too adept at thinking what we’re not used to is inherently disgusting. John Ruskin never consummated his marriage because he thought his wife’s pubic hair was disgusting. He’d never seen a living naked woman before, only paintings and statues, and he wasn’t used to it. No doubt he thought it was very wrong of Effie to have it. All sorts of things are disgusting. Slimy wet rotting vegetation is disgusting, pus is disgusting, a swollen decomposing squirrel in the woods is disgusting. But is there any moral content to this disgust? Should the squirrel pull itself together and stop decaying in that nasty way? Should pus take thought and transform itself into peach ice cream?

Habit and familiarity have a great deal (though not everything) to do with what people find disgusting but very little to do with ethics. Cruelty, exploitation, injustice, violence don’t become better with repetition, they only become easier for the perpetrators, such as the regular guys turned obedient Jew-killers of Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men. Disgust is good clean fun and provides endless amusement for children, but it’s worthless as a moral compass. Saying ‘Ew, ick, yuk, gross,’ and saying ‘That’s wrong’ are two different things. It’s a long-standing confusion, going back to Plato if not farther, to think the beautiful is the good and the good is the beautiful, but it’s not necessarily so.

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