Notes and Comment Blog

Warwick welcomes Maryam to speak

Sep 27th, 2015 3:55 pm | By

A win!

Warwick says procedures weren’t followed, and apologizes, and says hell yes Maryam can speak.

In the last few days we have all seen much debate, and considerable concern, expressed about an application to Warwick Students’ Union made by the Warwick Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society, that an SU society host the campaigner and blogger Maryam Namazie as an external speaker.

Warwick SU has a process for assessing any potential risks or legal issues associated with any external speaker, and it is now very clear to us that in this case that process has not been followed.  Speaker invitations that may involve such issues are routinely considered by the SU President, who will also take advice from senior SU staff. This did not happen on this occasion. Neither the SU President, nor senior SU staff, were consulted as they should have been. This is a significant error for which there can be no excuse.  There is a great deal that we now must put right, and these are the first steps that we are putting into place:

1) The proper process has now been followed, as it should have been in the first place. The application by the Warwick Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society for Warwick Students’ Union to host Maryam Namazie as an external speaker has now been considered and approved.

2) The SU is now seeking to meet promptly with the leadership of the Warwick Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society to make the necessary arrangements for the event to take place in the format they have requested.

3) Warwick SU will issue an unequivocal apology to Maryam Namazie for this egregious and highly regrettable error.

And they’ll look at what went wrong and fix it.

Making a fuss worked this time!

It’s possible that the fuss wasn’t necessary, but nothing had happened until the fuss got going, so it’s possible that nothing would have gone on happening without a fuss.

Anyway – a win!

Isis Threaten Sylvania

Sep 27th, 2015 12:38 pm | By

London. Exhibition. Celebrating freedom of expression.

Visitors to a London exhibition celebrating freedom of expression this week found plenty of familiar taboo-busting work, from Jamie McCartney’s The Great Wall of Vagina, an eight-foot long cast featuring the genitals of 400 women, to Kubra Khademi’s video of an eight-minute walk she made through Kabul in Afganistan, dressed in lushly contoured body armour.

You know what the next word is.



But they will have looked in vain for one work detailed in the catalogue by an artist known only as Mimsy.

Last name Borogoves? Sorry, sorry.

Isis Threaten Sylvania is a series of seven satirical light box tableaux featuring the children’s toys Sylvanian Families. It was removed from the Passion for Freedom exhibition at the Mall galleries after police raised concerns about the “potentially inflammatory content” of the work, informing the organisers that, if they went ahead with their plans to display it, they would have to pay £36,000 for security for the six-day show.

That’s the world we live in now. Hooray for free expression – but – if your free expression is at all capable of chafing the mood of Islamist murderers, either shut up or pay for an army to defend it. But hey hooray for free expression all the same yeah?

The decision to remove the work from Passion for Freedom came after the Mall Galleries consulted the police, who raised “a number of serious concerns regarding the potentially inflammatory content of Mimsy’s work”. The gallery cited a clause in the exhibition contract which allowed it the right to request removal of an artwork.

The organisers of the not-for-profit organisation said: “To our shock the highlighted work was humorously mocking the despised terrorist organisation that causes suffering to many, not only in the Middle East, but also here, in Europe and the America,” adding that, in view of the decision, the word “uncensored” had been removed from all their publicity for the show.

Mimsy isn’t best pleased. Mimsy has good reason.

Mimsy said she had adopted a pseudonym because, as the daughter of a Syrian father whose Jewish family had to go into exile in Lebanon when he was a child, she was acutely aware of the potential risk of speaking out.

“I love my freedom,” she said. “I’m aware of the very real threat to that freedom from Islamic fascism and I’m not going to pander to them or justify it like many people on the left are doing.”

She made these rather sweet, silly, whimsical-looking tableaux of animal characters doing pleasant things while the black-clad Islamists lurk nearby, but her tableaux turned out to be not so whimsical at all.

She added that the idea of using Sylvanian Families “just popped into my head” as a way of demonstrating that fanaticism was not a question of race. Though the jihadis in the work are called “MICE-IS”, some are clearly cats or koalas and others have rabbits’ ears popping out of their masks. “I’m sick and tired of people calling criticism of fanatical Islam racist, because racism is about your skin colour and radical Islam is nothing to do with that. There are millions of Muslims who are shocked by it too,” said Mimsy.

She added that she had made the tableaux between December 2014 and May 2015 and had looked on in horror as, one by one, her imagined scenarios came true. In one scene, jihadis lurk outside a schoolroom, while a class of girls sit at their desks; in another, gunmen bristle on the horizon as holidaymakers sunbathe on a beach. “It was creepy, because each time I imagined a scene it happened in reality. I made the beach scene before the Tunisian massacre and the schoolroom scene before Boko Haram abducted the schoolgirls in Nigeria,” she said.

No wonder the police shut it down.

Busted for condemning the stampede

Sep 27th, 2015 11:43 am | By

Prepare to be disgusted.

Newsnext Bangladesh reports:

Dhaka  – Police on Saturday arrested an NGO executive for his reported social media comments condemning Saudi Arab stampede that left more than 700 pilgrims killed during hajj Thursday.

Police officer Inamul Haque said they picked up Mohan Kumar Mondal in south-western Satkhira district for the reported comment. They also arrested one of the friends of Mondal as he tried to prevent police from arresting him at Munshiganj of Shymnagar sub-district.

Another story linked in the margin of this one reports that three people from Bangladesh were killed in the stampede.

Police detained Mondal after a local leader of the ruling Awami League party lodged complaint that the accused hurt Muslims’ religious sentiments by posting derogatory comments on Facebook over the hajj.

Mondal, director of a local non-governmental organisation called Leader, had deleted the comments 24 minutes after he posted on his Facebook timeline, one of his social media friends said.

But many others were seen sharing screenshot of his comments saying they uphold Mondal’s views over the deaths during Muslims’ pilgrimage at Mina of Saudi Arabia.

Ugh ugh ugh. Grunts of disgust are all I can muster for this.

I suppose next we’ll hear that both of them were killed by a mob.

They must remain silent and accept their lot in life

Sep 27th, 2015 11:08 am | By

Maryam responds to Warwick Student Union’s deceptive ass-covering statement yesterday.

Warwick Student Union (SU) has officially responded to the uproar surrounding their decision to refuse the Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists’ Society (WASH) request to have me as a speaker in October.  They deceptively imply that the uproar over their denial is premature as a “final” decision has not been made.

And so the white wash begins.

We already know why that’s deceptive and a whitewash (aka ass-covering). The SU told ASH No, weeks ago. Just No, not No pro tem, not No until we reconsider, just No.

ASH appealed the decision.

The SU ignored the appeal.

ASH asked the SU to respond.

The SU did not respond.

ASH told Maryam the state of play.

Maryam blogged the story and it spread rapidly.

Then, and only then, the SU said oh it’s not final.

That is some clumsy whitewash. Their ass is showing.

Maryam objects to the way the SU is accusing her of things while being too vague about it for her to rebut the accusations.

I have already briefly addressed the SU’s initial decision: the Islamists incite hatred, not us. But there is a serious question that remains unanswered: which articles, written by myself and “others”, have so concerned the SU? These need to be published in full – for the sake of transparency – and so we can all judge for ourselves.

The SU cannot accuse me of potentially inciting hatred – a prosecutable offence – and then deny me the evidence to defend myself. Needless to say, I am also very interested to learn of the “others” they have relied on.

It’s a filthy business, isn’t it. The SU is nervous, so it throws shit on Maryam’s reputation. Maryam, the brave human rights campaigner, founder of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britian and inspiration for parallel councils in a number of other countries, founder of One Law for All, secularist and universalist – they throw shit at her reputation. It’s a filthy filthy business.

She goes on to make the point – for the thousandth time – that opposing ideas is not the same as opposing people.

There might be members on the SU who are atheist, who think Christianity is superstition and who dislike and even hate the pope, the Christian Right, the EDL, and the BNP but don’t hate “Christians”. Also, they should be able to see that not all “Christians” are the same. Many are Christian in name only. And even though Britain has an established church and bishops in the House of Lords, they understand that the society is not Christian nor are many who are labelled as such. This is common sense. They just can’t seem to see it when it comes to the “other”. Then any criticism is seen to be “discrimination” against and “intimidation” of “Muslim students”. Isaac Leigh, president of Warwick Student Union, says as much in the Independent: “The initial decision was made for the right of Muslim students not to feel intimidated or discriminated against on their university campus… rather than in the interest of suppressing free speech.”

There is a way in which that’s not solely an indefensible double standard. Christians are, broadly speaking, insiders in the UK, while Muslims are, again broadly speaking, outsiders. It’s more complicated than that but it’s also as simple as that. In a way it makes sense to assume that Christians can just put up with criticism of Christianity while it’s not so easy for Muslims.

But then if you know anything at all about Maryam – which the SU should if it’s going to say No to her speaking – you know that she’s very well aware of that and talks about it frankly.

And then there’s the fact that everybody, including outsiders, needs to be able to hear dissent.

Clearly, the SU has bought into the Islamist worldview (and also that of identity politics/multiculturalism pursued by successive British governments) that “Muslims” are a homogeneous community that need to be managed by parasitical and reactionary imams, sharia courts and Islamist organisations rather than viewed as equal citizens and as students (with more than one characteristic that defines them). They cannot see that even “Muslim students” have the right to dissent and to hear dissenting voices.

If dissenters cannot speak, what does the SU suggest we do? I don’t want to be a Muslim. I was “born” Muslim out of no choice of my own – a lottery of birth. I want to be able to shout my atheism from every rooftop without looking over my shoulder. I abhor the veil and gender apartheid. I want to be equal to men. I don’t want my rights to be culturally relative. I want to, I need to, speak out against the Islamic regime of Iran and ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Human Rights Commission.

And who better to do it?

In Iran and Saudi Arabia and the Caliphate, they label it blasphemy, apostasy and heresy and call you kafir and murtad and immoral and kill and imprison and flog you and throw acid in your face. Here, they and their apologists call it Islamophobia to silence critics who are somewhat out of their reach.

The SU’s infringement of the right to criticise religion and that which is deemed sacred and taboo limits the free expression of those who need it most. Saying Islam and Islamism are off limits means first and foremost that the victims and survivors of Islamism are not allowed to do one of the only things at their disposal in order to resist. It is telling people they cannot oppose theocracies and religious laws and call for secularism in the Middle East and North Africa. It is telling people they cannot oppose sharia and call for universal rights for all. It’s telling women they do not have the right to be equal. It’s telling ex-Muslims they don’t have a right to live if they want to reveal that they are atheists. It’s telling people who need free expression most that they must remain silent and accept their lot in life.

That’s the real oppression.

If those facts are an insult to Islam

Sep 26th, 2015 3:18 pm | By

Another post by Benjamin David of Warwick ASH, this one with screenshots of his exchanges with the Student Union, to corroborate that they said what he said they did.

Here’s his reply to their message saying Sorry, nope.

I look forward to hearing from them too.

Warwick’s Student Union defamed Maryam

Sep 26th, 2015 11:12 am | By

Warwick ASH president Benjamin David’s post yesterday:

As President of WASH, I feel that it is important that I comment about the recent controversy regarding the decision taken by The University of Warwick’s Student Union to prohibit Maryam Namazie from speaking on campus. For those unfamiliar with Maryam, she is a secularist, a human-rights campaigner, and leader of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain – as well as being a friend of mine.

After submitting a guest-speaker application to the SU, I received the following response explaining their decision to bar Maryam:

…after researching both her and her organisation, a number of flags have been raised. We have a duty of care to conduct a risk assessment for each speaker who wishes to come to campus.

There a number of articles written both by the speaker and by others about the speaker that indicate that she is highly inflammatory, and could incite hatred on campus. This is in contravention of our external speaker policy:

*must not incite hatred, violence or call for the breaking of the law

*are not permitted to encourage, glorify or promote any acts of terrorism including individuals, groups or organisations that support such acts

*must not spread hatred and intolerance in the community and thus aid in disrupting social and community harmony

*must seek to avoid insulting other faiths or groups, within a framework of positive debate and challenge

*are not permitted to raise or gather funds for any external organisation or cause without express permission of the trustees.

In addition to this, there are concerns that if we place conditions on her attendance (such as making it a member only event and having security in attendance, asking for a transcript of what she intends to say, recording the speech) she will refuse to abide by these terms as she did for Trinity College Dublin:”>

As a student of the University, I must confess that I cannot but help feel an element of embarrassment – as well as feeling that my society has been vitiated in light of the encroachment on the strong secular and free-speech principles that the society espouses. We have appealed the decision and we will submit a further post detailing the outcome in due course.

Unless the Student Union just does nothing until after the date for Maryam’s talk has passed.

I would really like to know exactly what Warwick SU thinks it means by

There a number of articles written both by the speaker and by others about the speaker that indicate that she is highly inflammatory, and could incite hatred on campus.

It seems to me that the only thing they can mean is that people who hate secularism and universal rights are likely to be “inflamed” by Maryam’s views, just as Nazis and xenophobes and racists in general are. But that doesn’t mean that she herself is “inflammatory,” or that a university should view her as “inflammatory.” The people who want to shut down Maryam also want to shut down secular universities.


1,492 signatures and counting

Sep 26th, 2015 10:33 am | By

There’s also a petition, organized by Benjamin David of Warwick ASH, petitioning the Student Union to Allow Maryam Namazie to speak at The University of Warwick.

Signatures are rolling in fast, so join the fun.

Warwick Students Union have made the appalling decision to bar Maryam Namazie from giving a talk on campus to Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists. For those unfamiliar with Maryam, she is a secularist, a human-rights campaigner, and leader of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain.

A student union official said the decision had been taken “because after researching both her [Namazie] and her organisation, a number of flags have been raised”.

It went on: “We have a duty of care to conduct a risk assessment for each speaker who wishes to come to campus. There a number of articles written both by the speaker and by others about the speaker that indicate that she is highly inflammatory, and could incite hatred on campu

The restriction of free-thought and non-violent free-speech is the most dangerous of all subversions – a subversion that is only amplified in light of the fact that Maryam has always campaigned against violence and discrimination and has done so passionately for many years – something that should have been taken on board when the SU’s assessment was made. Maryam often describes the true facts concerning her own experiences and those of people she works with in relation to radical forms of Islam – not all forms of Islam, just those pernicious, radical strands of the religion – things that most peaceful Muslims would also condemn. I must profess that if those facts are an incitement of hatred – which I most definitely believe they are not – then the solution is to change the way people are treated in certain faith communities, not to insist Maryam lie about her life through censorship. As Maryam stated in her blog:

“The Student Union seems to lack an understanding of the difference between criticising religion, an idea, or a far-Right political movement on the one hand and attacking and inciting hate against people on the other. Inciting hatred is what the Islamists do; I and my organisation challenge them and defend the rights of ex-Muslims, Muslims and others to dissent.”

And, what is more:

“The Student Union position is of course nothing new. It is the predominant post-modernist “Left” point of view that conflates Islam, Muslims and Islamists, homogenises the “Muslim community”, thinks believers are one and the same as the religious-Right and sides with the Islamist narrative against its many dissenters […]This type of politics denies universalism, sees rights as ‘western,’ justifies the suppression of women’s rights, freedoms and equality under the guise of respect for other ‘cultures’ imputing on innumerable people the most reactionary elements of culture and religion, which is that of the religious-Right. In this type of politics, the oppressor is victim, the oppressed are perpetrators of “hatred”, and any criticism is racist.”

The infringement of free-speech is becoming insidiously ubiquitous, and many universities, including Warwick, are circumventing the freedom of speech in pursuit of inoffensive, sanitary narratives.

As secularists and defenders of free-speech – revering the intellectual suffusion of ideas and dialectics – we need to show solidarity in order to construct a truly formidable voice of opposition against such ludicrous strands of censorship. This petition has the potential of bolstering our voice. Please sign and please share. Lest we forget: “censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship” (George Bernard Shaw)

-Benjamin David
(President of Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists)

Here’s the petition again.

WASH replies

Sep 26th, 2015 9:37 am | By

And the Warwick U Atheists, Secularists and Humanists have responded to Isaac Leigh’s statement for the Student Union. That statement was a lot more obfuscating than I realized.

Warwick SU has officially responded to the burgeoning controversy surrounding their decision to bar Maryam Namazie from giving a talk on campus to our society. We find that it is important to respond to this in order to represent the facts clearly and accurately in order to avoid any ambiguity or deceit. We at Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists (WASH) take serious umbrage with the claims that WarwickSU have made, namely:

“contrary to what has been communicated in the public domain over the last 24 hours, no final decision has been taken”


“I would reiterate that the process for reviewing this particular speaker event has not been completed and, once I and senior staff members have reviewed it, a further statement will be made.”

We believe that Warwick SU’s statement is unpardonably misleading. To begin with, we do not believe that any article has said a FINAL decision has been made – numerous articles document the FACT that WASH are pursuing an appeal (GuardianIndependent 1, and Independent 2). What is more, we at WASH have not once claimed that a FINAL decision (that is to say, a response to our appeal) has been made. We have always stated honestly and openly that the application was declined and we have subsequently appealed.

I forgot that they’d appealed. The decision isn’t final because they appealed.

But guess what – the SU is stonewalling. What do I mean “stonewalling”? They’re ignoring the appeal in the hopes that the whole thing will just shut up and go away.

These are the facts as they stand:
1) A guest-speaker application was made to the Students Union for Maryam Namazie to come to our society
2) A member from the Students Union emailed us a few days later explaining that the application has been rejected – citing numerous, ungrounded reasons (as stated in our previous blog post)
3) This prompted us to appeal – an appeal that was made over two weeks ago – an appeal that still hasn’t been answered.
4) Further correspondence was made to chase up the appeal – again, correspondence that was met with silence
5) Maryam was informed of this impasse
6) The matter exploded online.

6) is where we come in – we help with the exploding. Do your part – tweet, Facebook, blog, tell your friends.

According to the SU, the response we received from one of their members that: “I am afraid on this occasion we are going to have to decline authorisation for her atten[d]ance on campus” – (no.2 in the list) – somehow should not be taken as a final decision – and this somehow absolves the SU from any criticism.

These are the FACTS as they stand. We will allow you to decide if the SU should be absolved from any criticism. We still hope that the SU will indeed reverse their decision.

Benjamin David

(President of Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists)


Timely discussion

Sep 26th, 2015 9:19 am | By

Isaac Leigh, the president of the Warwick University Student Union, posted a statement on the WSU Facebook page a little over an hour ago.


“In reference to the external speaker request the SU has received regarding Maryam Namazie visiting Warwick SU, I feel I must clarify both mine and the SU’s position given the rather premature discussion alive on social media and in the press.

As previously stated, the SU has a process for assessing the risks associated with any external speaker in accordance with our legal responsibilities. Our policy aims to provide an environment where freedom of expression and speech are protected, balanced with the need to ensure that our community is free from harm and ensure that incitement to hatred is never acceptable.

However, our policy has a number of stages and – whilst risks have indeed been identified – contrary to what has been communicated in the public domain over the last 24 hours, no final decision has been taken. The responsibility for doing so is mine along with authorised senior staff members. To this point, neither I nor authorised senior staff members have had any involvement in the process – the next stage of which is that we review the request, determine what can be put in place to facilitate the event and then discuss this with the event organiser, whose role is integral to the process.

We have a record of facilitating over 200 speakers a year covering a wide range of topics, many of which are controversial in nature. This is part of our role in the development of our members. We do everything in our power to ensure that these events take place, safely and with any identified risks mitigated. Declining speaker requests is an absolute last resort.

I would reiterate that the process for reviewing this particular speaker event has not been completed and, once I and senior staff members have reviewed it, a further statement will be made.”

Warwick SU President

The Independent article I just blogged about did say that a final decision would be forthcoming, meaning it hadn’t been issued yet, but it also said the [interim] position was a No.

So the discussion isn’t “premature,” this is just the right time for it.


Highly inflammatory

Sep 26th, 2015 8:44 am | By

The Independent on Warwick University’s Student Union’s cancellation of Maryam’s talk.

Maryam Namazie had been booked by the Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists (WASH) group to speak about secularism to Warwick University’s Student Union on 28 October.

However, the group was notified last month that Ms Namazie’s speech had been cancelled. The decision has led campaigners to raise concerns about student bodies across the UK thwarting freedom of speech on their campuses.

The union said that “after researching both [Ms Namazie] and her organisation, a number of flags have been raised. We have a duty of care to conduct a risk assessment for each speaker who wishes to come to campus”.

Articles written by Ms Namazie indicated she was “highly inflammatory” and “could incite hatred on campus”, according to the union.

Prejudicial, your honor. Also false.

Ms Namazie, who fled Iran with her family in 1980 after the revolution, said she was likely to have spoken about apostasy, blasphemy and nudity in the age of Isis. She told The Independent she was “angry” her talk had been blocked.

“They’re basically labelling me a racist and an extremist for speaking out against Islam and Islamism,” she said.

“If people like me who fled an Islamist regime can’t speak out about my opposition to the far-right Islamic movement, if I can’t criticise Islam… that leaves very [few] options for me as a dissenter because the only thing I have is my freedom of expression.

“If anyone is inciting hatred, it’s the Islamists who are threatening people like me just for deciding we want to be atheist, just because we don’t want to toe the line.”

Not to mention the Student Union, which called her “highly inflammatory” and apt to “incite hatred on campus.”

WASH appealed against the union’s decision earlier this month, and the National Secular Society is writing to them to ask them to do better.

“Unfortunately it is part of a worrying wave of censorship that we’re seeing across British universities under the guise of ‘safe spaces’… it’s utterly disheartening,” said Stephen Evans, the society’s campaigns manager. The concept of “safe spaces” had a “chilling effect on free speech,” he added.

Isaac Leigh, president of Warwick Student Union said: “The initial decision was made for the right of Muslim students not to feel intimidated or discriminated against on their university campus… rather than in the interest of suppressing free speech.”

“A final decision on this issue will be reached by the most senior members of the Student Union in coming days,” he said.

So now is the time to urge them to make the right final decision.

He was very large and strong

Sep 25th, 2015 3:49 pm | By

This is a horrible story that Sarah Beamish tells:

Tonight I got into a confrontation with an apparently famous (I didn’t know this) local man named David Zancai. He was very large and strong. He got onto the subway and started storming around, yelling, doing pushups and roaring, and ranting about how “ladies” and “girls” need to “keep their knees together” and “stop showing their monkey” to men on the subway. He went on for about five minutes about why men shouldn’t let their girls out of the house dressed in spandex, and the male pedophiles and rapists and voyeurs wandering among us and how women and girls are responsible for such men’s reactions to them and “know what they are doing” when they dress in yoga pants and other tight clothes “because men are only human.” He was extremely loud and intimidating and very invasive of others’ personal space.

He then began walking up and down the subway car, dragging behind him a huge banner with a woman’s bare legs, commenting on individual women’s clothing and appearances and shaming them for anything revealing. He began to repeatedly target a girl who looked about 17 and was dressed in a tight workout outfit, yelling at her and shaming her for how she was dressed, pointing at her groin and breasts and telling her he could “see her monkey.” She was clearly very upset by this and kept staring out the window trying not to make eye contact with him or cry. I was horrified at this and looked around at the men to see if any of them were going to respond (most of the women were frozen in anxiety or fear that this guy was going to target them next and were trying not to call attention to themselves). None of them were doing anything.

Then he went to move toward her and yelled that he was going to take a picture of her and “her monkey”, and went to take out his phone. She was so scared and humiliated and began to cry immediately. At this point I got up and walked down the car and stood in front of her to prevent him from taking photos of her. He began yelling at me about “what right do I have to stop him from taking photos” and how “this was for my own good as a woman”, and I turned my back to him and began talking to her, asking what stop she was going to, telling her I was going to stay with her and that I was sorry this was happening. He began getting very verbally aggressive with me so I turned and went through a few minutes of yelling back at him to leave us alone and stop acting like an asshole, ignoring him, continuing to block the girl with my body so he couldn’t see her, etc. Still no one did anything, other than a couple women close to me telling me not to talk to the man – they were clearly afraid he would come over.

They got out at the next stop, but he followed them. They got into the next car, but he followed them.

I got in front of her again. The man was storming down the car toward us, continuing to yell, and the girl began to cry again. I began yelling at him repeatedly to “leave her alone and get off the train”, and telling others around us that he had been harassing her. Other than one woman who quietly asked the girl if she was okay, no one did anything. This went on for another minute or so until a woman came up to me and quietly told me who this guy was and that he had a long history of bothering people on the subway, had sexually harassed her while she was in her teens, and that he was banned from the subway.

He ended up getting off one stop before the girl. I stayed with her nearly till the end of the subway line. When we got off, the girl and a few women thanked me for intervening. The girl was clearly terribly shaken up. This entire time, not a single man other than that harasser had said or done a thing.

At the end of this, I stood and talked with a woman who had watched part of this, and the discussion was really disturbing. She said “I’m glad you helped her, but you’ve got to admit he has a point. I know she’s just young and doesn’t know better but hopefully now she has learned her lesson and will carry a wrap with her so she can cover herself up.” I said that he was the one who needed to learn a lesson (hopefully that he has no right to police women’s appearances, but at the very least that he should keep those views to himself and not harass girls and women), and that that girl had every right to ride the subway with the expectation that she would be treated with basic respect.

I then headed back on the subway towards home, shaking with adrenaline, realizing how scared I had been the whole time that he was going to hurt me. When I got home I googled the guy and found out that he’s a cult figure around the city, has been the subject of a graphic novel, a Vice article, a documentary, etc. He is often talked about like a humorous, kooky, and even endearing person. Unsurprisingly, he has some serious mental health issues due to an accident that left him in a coma, and some serious issues with women probably connected to his girlfriend apparently leaving with their daughter after he became ill (which given the behaviour I witnessed, was probably a good parenting call). He is banned from many places.

His story sounds like a sad one, with some good lessons for how we as a society deal with mental illness. But that’s not my point here. I’m sharing this so that girls and women in Toronto know that this guy’s unstable behaviour extends into sexual harassment and that you may very well not be safe around him. I’m sharing it to express my anger that I had to put my own safety in danger to protect that girl, which I have had to do so many times before in similar situations over the years. I’m sharing it to call out all the men who did nothing, not because I expect men to fight him or otherwise live up to some kind of “masculinity” standard, but because I do expect that they will use their privilege and power in a situation like that to, at the very least, ask the girl if she was okay, ask me if I was okay, tell the guy to leave her alone, put their bodies between her and the man, push the alarm strip, take a photo of him for helping her to make a report if she wants to, acknowledge that the situation is even happening, SOMETHING, because it is totally understandable that the women in the situation may be in fear for their own safety in the presence of a man who is aggressively and exclusively targeting them because of their gender.

He has a Wikipedia entry, which does indeed mostly portray him as a quirky Toronto eccentric.

The union has claimed

Sep 25th, 2015 2:54 pm | By

Student Rights has more on Warwick University Student Union’s cancellation of its Atheists, Secularists and Humanists’ Society’s invitation to Maryam Namazie to speak October 28.

In an email published by Namazie, the union has claimed: “a number of articles written both by the speaker and by others…indicate that she is highly inflammatory, and could incite hatred on campus”.

But you could say that about anyone, or almost anyone. People who give talks on how to make cookies or how to plant a garden are unlikely to incite hatred on campus…but frankly they’re unlikely to be invited to give talks, too, because why bother? It’s pretty dishonest, not to mention prejudicial and even somewhat threatening to call Maryam “highly inflammatory.” It’s as if they want to inflame people against her.

This decision is all the more absurd given that the Student Union gave permission for Ken O’Keefe to speak on-campus in March this year.

Even the most cursory online search reveals that O’Keefe is an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist, who was condemned by a number of student Palestine Societies in 2012 after he claimed that “Israel and Mossad were directly involved in 9/11”.

In response to this criticism, he suggested he was being attacked for standing against “the Jewish supremacism that is of dire consequence to our world” and claimed:

Israeli Mossad worked with high treason traitors in the US government to set explosives in the twin towers and building 7 on 9/11“.

So the Student Union is ok with that but not with Maryam. That’s twisted.

That a principled anti-racist campaigner with a history of opposing extremism should be barred from campus, but the above speakers were waved through is astonishing.


List of shame, Warwick University SU.

Must seek to avoid insulting other faiths

Sep 25th, 2015 12:47 pm | By

This stinks. Maryam reports:

I was invited to speak at Warwick University by the Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists’ Society on 28 October 2015. The University Student Union has declined the request for me to speak saying the following:

This is because after researching both her and her organisation, a number of flags have been raised. We have a duty of care to conduct a risk assessment for each speaker who wishes to come to campus.

There a number of articles written both by the speaker and by others about the speaker that indicate that she is highly inflammatory, and could incite hatred on campus. This is in contravention of our external speaker policy:

The President (or equivalent) of the group organising any event is responsible for the activities that take place within their events.  All speakers will be made aware of their responsibility to abide by the law, the University and the Union’s various policies, including that they:

  • must not incite hatred, violence or call for the breaking of the law
  • are not permitted to encourage, glorify or promote any acts of terrorism including individuals, groups or organisations that support such acts
  • must not spread hatred and intolerance in the community and thus aid in disrupting social and community harmony
  • must seek to avoid insulting other faiths or groups, within a framework of positive debate and challenge

You see that last one? Must seek to avoid insulting other faiths – so Warwick University might as well be Saudi Arabia then, which imprisons and tortured people for “insulting” its chosen religion by writing about secularism.

This is a university.

It’s outrageous.

How we frame

Sep 25th, 2015 11:43 am | By

Lauren Rankin wrote about abortion rights as a “not just women” issue at Truthout in July 2013.

The subhead, by Rankin or an editor, puts it this way:

The “War on Women” isn’t just a war on women. Trans men and gender-non-conforming people are losing their rights too, and we need to rework how we frame these “women’s issues.”

The war on women is in fact just a war on women; that’s merely tautological. Saying there’s a war on women isn’t saying there is no war on anyone else. Saying there’s a war on women isn’t saying there is no war on trans men and gender-nonconforming people. I think when people start telling us we should rework how we frame women’s issues, with women’s issues in scare quotes…we need to be skeptical.

Trans people have their own issues. I don’t see why we need to stop talking about women in order to talk about trans issues. I don’t see why we can’t do both.

The last month has been particularly brutal for abortion rights activists and women’s health advocates, as state after state has proposed and/or passed various bills that restrict abortion access and undermine abortion care. In response, there has been a re-energized reproductive rights movement, with many across the nation stating that they “Stand With Texas Women” or “Stand With North Carolina Women.” But in this response, abortion rights activists have overlooked and dismissed a very important reality: Not everyone who has an abortion is a woman.

But everyone who has an abortion does have a female reproductive system. The trans men and gender nonconformists who need abortions are oppressed by misogyny and sexism and the system that controls female reproductive systems in exactly the way that women are, and for the same reasons. They didn’t ask to have that reproductive system, but then neither did anyone else. The social arrangements that demand the right to control those systems really don’t give a fuck how anyone identifies, they just want to maintain their lock on the baby factories.

Abortion is so often framed as a women’s issue by both those who advocate for abortion rights and those who seek to dismiss abortion as frivolous. And for abortion rights, a movement that took root in the late 1960s and early 1970s, this makes sense. Prior to a deeper understanding and problematizing of gender and the way that it works, in our social construction, only women had abortions because only women could get pregnant. But in 2013, we should know better, and we need to do better.

But it isn’t better. Trans men are harmed by misogyny too. It doesn’t help them to try to obscure the fact that attacks on abortion rights are highly political in a particular way – a sexist way, a misogynist way, an anti-women way. A trans man who needs an abortion is caught in a system that was organized to thwart women’s autonomy. If we start to obscure that fact, we start to lose the accumulated energy and power that feminism has painfully worked to gain over the past few decades.


Sep 25th, 2015 10:48 am | By

This is from two years ago but it’s amazing enough to point and exclaim at now – naturally occurring mechanical gears. had the story (the beginning of the sentence is missing for some reason):

a plant-hopping insect found in gardens across Europe – has hind-leg joints with curved cog-like strips of opposing ‘teeth’ that intermesh, rotating like mechanical gears to synchronise the animal’s legs when it launches into a jump.

The finding demonstrates that gear mechanisms previously thought to be solely man-made have an evolutionary precedent. Scientists say this is the “first observation of mechanical gearing in a “.

Through a combination of anatomical analysis and high-speed video capture of normal Issus movements, scientists from the University of Cambridge have been able to reveal these functioning natural gears for the first time. The findings are reported in the latest issue of the journal Science.

Functioning 'mechanical gears' seen in nature for the first time

Credit: Malcolm Burrows/Gregory Sutton

How about that?

“In Issus, the skeleton is used to solve a complex problem that the brain and nervous system can’t,” said Burrows. “This emphasises the importance of considering the properties of the skeleton in how movement is produced.”

“We usually think of gears as something that we see in human designed machinery, but we’ve found that that is only because we didn’t look hard enough,” added co-author Gregory Sutton, now at the University of Bristol.

“These gears are not designed; they are evolved – representing high speed and precision machinery evolved for synchronisation in the animal world.”

It’s only the juveniles that have them; they’re lost in the transition to adult stage.

H/t Josh Larios

Horror in Mina

Sep 24th, 2015 5:37 pm | By

At least 717 people have died in a stampede near Mecca; 863 were injured.

During the Hajj, pilgrims travel to Mina, a large valley about 5km (3 miles) from Mecca, to throw seven stones at pillars called Jamarat, which represent the devil.

The pillars stand where Satan is believed to have tempted the Prophet Abraham.

That sounds like a harmless game, except that it involves huge crowds of people.

Tchima Illa Issoufou, BBC Hausa, whose aunt was killed reports:

People were going towards the direction of throwing the stones while others were coming from the opposite direction. Then it became chaotic and suddenly people started going down.

There were people from Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Senegal among other nationalities. People were just climbing on top of others in order to move to a safer place and that’s how some people died.

People were chanting Allah’s name while others were crying, including children and infants. People fell on the ground seeking help but there was no-one to give them a helping hand. Everybody seemed to be on their own.

It affected some members of our group. I lost my aunt as a result of the stampede and at the moment, two women from our entourage – a mother and her daughter – are still missing.

The Saudis rushed to place the blame where it belonged:

Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV reported that the head of the central Hajj committee, Prince Khaled al-Faisal, blamed the stampede on “some pilgrims with African nationalities”.

Uh huh.

So much for the ummah.

A misunderstood guy

Sep 24th, 2015 5:14 pm | By

The Feds have been looking at Martin Shkreli, the “that lifesaving pill you need is now $750 apiece” guy, for months.

Since at least in January, Shkreli has been under criminal investigation by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, court records show. And Shkreli is not alone—some of his business associates have also received grand jury subpoenas in the case.

The criminal investigation involves Retrophin, a public company where Shkreli served as an officer, director, and 10-percent owner of the outstanding stock before being ousted amid multiple allegations of misconduct. Retrophin focuses on the development, acquisition and commercialization of therapies for the treatment of catastrophic or rare diseases, and was founded by in 2011 by Shkreli.

The inquiry, according to court records and people with knowledge of the inquiry, involves such a vast number of suspected crimes it is difficult to know where to start. A quick summary of the government’s theory: If there was money, Shkreli took it. If there were facts to be revealed, Shkreli hid them. If there were securities laws, Shkreli broke them.

But hey, it was all in order to develop better drugs with fewer side effects. He said so himself.

And that’s why Shkreli’s decision to dramatically raise the price of a decades-old life-saving drug—and then appearing on television, smiling broadly as he justified actions that put lives at risk—was such a bad move. Overnight, he transformed himself from a relatively obscure corporate executive to a boldfaced, widely vilified name, known by presidential contenders and lawmakers alike. It is a truism that prosecutors pursue public figures with the greatest vigor, not only because the publicity set off by their indictment serves as a broader deterrent against wrongdoing, but also because such cases can boost a prosecutor’s career.Public disgust of the type raining down on Shkreli now make the cases even more attractive to bring.

Which is tragic when he was just hoping to develop better drugs with fewer side effects!

Shkreli’s price-gouging involves Daraprim, a 62-year-old generic drug used to treat malaria and toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease often found in HIV-positive individuals and others with weak immune systems. The drug is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, which are the most important medications needed in a basic health system. Shkreli’s company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, acquired Daraprim in August, and boosted the price shortly afterward from $13.50 a pill to $750. The Infectious Diseases Society of America, composed of the top medical doctors who work with conditions like toxoplasmosis, sent a letter on September 8 to top officials at Turing, stating that the cost was “unjustifiable” and was putting patients at risk. Moreover, the doctors said that, since Turing’s acquisition of the drug, hospitals around the country were reporting they could no longer obtain it because of Turing’s significant distribution problems.

But all that was just a necessary step on the way to to developing better drugs with fewer side effects. Wasn’t it?

Another Newsweek story reveals a…distasteful mindset.

On Bloomberg on Monday, Shkreli praised the price hike as, basically, absolutely wonderful.

“We’re the first company that really focused on this product. And I think that’s a great thing, because ultimately companies before us were actually just giving it away, almost,” Shkreli continued. “The price that they were pricing it at, $13.50, you only needed less than 100 pills, so at the end of the day the price per course of treatment—to save your life!—was only $1,000.”

He’s saying it’s a bad thing that a drug needed to save your life costs “only” a thousand dollars for a full course. Clearly he thinks Jonas Salk was a damn fool not to become a billionaire.

The Guardian reports that Shkreli thinks he knows more about toxoplasmosis than anyone in the world.

Shkreli declined to say how much he would cut the cost of Daraprim, the standard treatment for the dangerous blood infection toxoplasmosis. Daraprim is a daily drug many patients have to take for a year or more.

“We have to do a lot of calculation. When we make the new price, we are going to make it so that Turing is a break-even or only slightly profitable company,” he said.

“There are very few people who care about toxoplasmosis more than me,” he said. “I think I know more about toxoplasmosis than anyone in the world.”

Sounds plausible.

But medical experts cast doubt on the assertions of the former hedge fund manager-turned-pharmaceutical entrepreneur.

“I’m highly skeptical. I don’t trust that we are going to see a return to a price that’s economically feasible or truly justified,” Tim Horn, HIV project director at the Treatment Action Group, a global research and policy advocacy group in the fields of HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis C, told the Guardian. Another specialist called Turing’s actions “repulsive”.

When all he wants is to make a better drug with fewer side effects.

The sillier sex

Sep 24th, 2015 4:44 pm | By

A public post on Facebook a couple of days ago:

A colleague just returned from a luncheon to benefit the National Women’s History museum, which is proposed for the Mall in Washington. Here’s what was in the bag of shwag they gave everyone who attended: lip gloss, nail polish, copy of “Glamour” magazine, candy, bracelet, dishwashing detergent.

One commenter called bullshit on the dishwashing detergent, but the poster said

No it was a bottle of some eco bullshit dishwashing detergent.

So there’s that.


An awkward truth

Sep 24th, 2015 1:40 pm | By

Are missionaries missionaries, part 2. The Atlantic:

From 1769 until his death in 1784, Serra was the head of the missions in the northern portion of California, helping to establish nine communities where natives lived under the supervision of priests in a life of prayer and work. “One of their major goals was to assimilate the native peoples and eventually make them productive peoples of the Spanish empire,” said Senkewicz. “The mission was to contribute to that assimilation in two ways: by making the native people Catholic, and by teaching them European-style agriculture.”

All of which applies a lot of assumptions – that the Spanish got to make California (and Mexico and all points south) part of the Spanish empire; that they got to come in and take over; that they were the bosses of the native peoples; that the native peoples were there for their convenience; that they were entitled to shape the native peoples to make them more useful to themselves, the interlopers.

Historians have found that this wasn’t a net gain for the native peoples, at least in terms of numbers – more died than were born. Also, they lost a lot of freedom.

“With the missions came terrible diseases and population decline in two ways: elevated mortality … and a reduction in fertility among women because of STDs, most likely, and poor health in general,” said Steven Hackel, a professor of history at the University of California, Riverside, and the author ofJunípero Serra: California’s Founding Father. There were cultural effects, too, he said: Living year-round in the missions was a big adjustment from the tribes’ normal custom of moving periodically around the countryside. Once Indians were baptized, they were expected to live a Catholic lifestyle, including going to mass, not having pre-marital sex, and marrying the spouses chosen for them by the priests.

Not to mention working in the fields all day.

In the six decades following Serra’s arrival in northern California, more than 80,000 Indians were baptized, Hackel said. But “they were not driven into missions by soldiers on horseback with guns or lances into the arms of waiting Franciscans, who then baptized them.” It was more that the missions represented a way to survive. “California Indians were under terrible pressure to find a new lifestyle,” he said. “Spain essentially colonized the region, bringing in plants and animals and horses and sheep and goats and pigs that really wreaked havoc on the countryside and made Indian lifestyles simply unmanageable.” The priests offered food and stability; Catholic life was the price of entry.

It always is, isn’t it. The priests offered a roof and a bare minimum of bad food to the children they imprisoned in industrial “schools,” but the price of forced entry was abuse and cruelty and even slave-work in rosary bead factories. The priests offered a roof and a bare minimum of bad food to the women they imprisoned in laundries, but the price of forced entry was slavery, sometimes for the rest of their lives.

That’s not the only way to perform altruism, we now know. Look at MSF – they don’t make people convert to anything before giving them medical assistance. The better organizations help people because they need help, and that’s the end of it – they don’t pay themselves back by enslaving the people they help.

“What’s missing in a lot of this stuff is that it’s no accident that the pope who’s canonizing Serra and the major supporter of that canonization in the American bishops, [Archbishop José Gomez of L.A.], were both born in Latin America,” said Senkewicz. There, “missions were regarded as places which genuinely did protect native peoples from brutal exploitation by conquistadors, who pressed native peoples to work to death on sugar plantations in the Caribbean, who forced them to work in the silver mines in Mexico and Bolivia.”

Ok, but again, they could have just protected native peoples from brutal exploitation by conquistadors without charging a price.

Throughout his papacy, Francis has encouraged evangelization. This was a major topic of his first big apostolic letter, Evangelii Gaudium, in which he writes whole sections about the joy of proclaiming the gospel. Even though Catholics’ approach to mission work today is arguably different than it was in the past, there’s still an awkward truth in its premise: the Church, and Pope Francis, believe Christianity holds the definitive truth about existence and salvation.

Yes, and they’re wrong. However well-meaning they are, they’re wrong.

Is a missionary a cultural imperialist?

Sep 24th, 2015 12:54 pm | By

How bad was Junipero Serra really? Was he a red-eyed imperialist torturer? Was he a doe-eyed humanitarian altruist? Was he an average guy just doing a job?

Emma Green at The Atlantic collects some opposing views.

“Serra did not just bring us Christianity. He imposed it, giving us no choice in the matter. He did incalculable damage to a whole culture,” Deborah A. Miranda, a Native American and a professor of literature at Washington and Lee University,told The New York Times earlier this year. She joins a host of others who arevoicing objections to Serra’s canonization.

“There is one basic article that North American journalists are writing about this: that the Indians don’t like it, and there was genocide, and there were beatings, and what is the pope thinking in doing this?” said Bob Senkewicz, a professor at Santa Clara University who is the author, with Rose Marie Beebe, of Junípero Serra: California, Indians, and the Transformation of a Missionary.

If Senkewicz is right about that, it makes a nice change. Usually the one basic article that US (I don’t know how true it is of Canadian) journalists write about the pope is: how fabulous, the pope is here! Isn’t he wonderful!

But, he said, there are a number of things missing from this story. As with any historical narrative, interpretations depend a lot on the interpreter. The controversy over Junipero Serra is not wrong or manufactured, but it is evidence of how thoroughly postcolonialism has taken over academia and seeped into the public sphere. According to Crux, roughly 25 percent of Native Americans are Catholic, and especially for them, this story is much more complicated.

Well, naturally – Catholicism is a loyalty-based organization. Catholics are going to be loyal to Catholic heroes, because that’s what it is to be Catholic. There are lapsed Catholics, liberal Catholics, nominal Catholics, background Catholics, etc, but non-adjectival Catholics are loyal to the icons.

As Pope Francis prepares to elevate Serra’s legacy, he’s inevitably raising another question: In 2015, is it possible to see a white European who came to a foreign land with the express purpose of converting native peoples as anything but a cultural imperialist?

The answer to that is no, as a matter of definition. That’s what cultural imperialism is. You need a different wording if you want space to allow a yes. You could for instance ask if cultural imperialism precluded other, more benign motives, or whether cultural imperialism is invariably and uncomplicatedly a bad thing, and so on, but there’s not much room for doubt that people who travel to foreign countries with the express purpose of converting native peoples are cultural imperialists. It’s kind of like the way there’s not much room for doubt that the pope is a Catholic.

More in a few; I need some lunch.