Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

Using religion in the attempt to resist freethinking

Mar 1st, 2015 11:01 am | By

I’m looking to see how much news coverage the murder of Avijit Roy is getting outside Bangladesh. A Google News search turns up items at Fox News’s blog, the Daily Mail, CNN’s blog, and a few more…so it’s not as much as it should be.

The New York Times reported Friday, with some details I hadn’t seen before.

A Bangladeshi-American blogger known for his antipathy to religion was hacked to death on the street in this capital city by two assailants wielding machetes, the police said on Friday.

The victim, Avijit Roy, 42, was leaving a book fair with his wife Thursday evening when his attackers approached him from behind, according to the police. His wife, Rafida Ahmed Bonya, 45, suffered a blow to the head and was in critical condition in a Dhaka hospital, said Sirajul Islam, an officer at the Shahbag police station, where Mr. Roy’s father reported the assault.

Jibon Ahmed, a photographer for a local photo agency, said by phone that he heard screams outside the fair around 9 p.m. After finding the couple, he said, he helped them into an auto-rickshaw and took them to the hospital, where Mr. Roy died.

The police have not named any suspects, but Mr. Islam said that witnesses had provided descriptions of the attackers. Officers recovered two bloodied machetes from the scene of the crime.

The reporters are Julfikar Ali Manik and Nida Najar, so perhaps reporting from Dhaka.

Mr. Roy was a prolific writer on secularism and condemned religious extremism, particularly through his blog, Mukto-Mona, the Bengali words for Free Mind. He also wrote on the website of the Center for Inquiry, an organization based in the United States dedicated to humanist thinking and critiques of religion.

In a recent article, Mr. Roy described the release of his 2014 book, “Biswasher Virus,” or “The Virus of Faith.”

“The death threats started flowing to my email inbox on a regular basis,” he wrote, describing reaction after the book came out. One extremist, he wrote, “issued death threats to me through his numerous Facebook statuses.” In one, the extremist wrote: “Avijit Roy lives in America and so it is not possible to kill him right now. But he will be murdered when he comes back.”

Michael De Dora, the director of the Center for Inquiry’s office of public policy, reacted to news of Mr. Roy’s death in a statement on the center’s website.

I don’t want martyrs. I want people who live long happy lives writing books and being there for their friends. I’m just saying.

Activists and intellectuals gathered at Dhaka University on Friday to protest Mr. Roy’s death and demand action against those responsible.

Parvez Alam, a Bangladeshi blogger who has written for Mukto-Mona, described Mr. Roy as “one of the most talented writers of our country.”

“This has been going on in Bangladesh,” he said by telephone. “The bloggers have different religious viewpoints and we’re being attacked again and again, and we’re not getting justice.”

“Using religion in the attempt to resist freethinking will not be accepted,” Khushi Kabir, a rights campaigner, told The Dhaka Tribune.

We don’t want martyrdom. We want to keep talking.

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

Free thinking in Bangladesh is become a great danger

Mar 1st, 2015 10:17 am | By

The Times of India reports on the funeral of Avijit Roy today.

Bangladeshis in huge numbers paid tributes to slain American blogger Avijit Roy on Sunday as they criticized the government for its failure to ensure safety to the writer, known for his critique of religious extremism.

People from all walks of life, including Roy’s friends, relatives, well-wishers, teachers and students, gathered at the Dhaka University premises with flowers to pay their respect to the slain writer, who was on a visit to his native city in mid-February to attend a book fair.

“Free thinking in Bangladesh is become a great danger, all the free thinkers are at great risk,” writer-journalist Shahriar Kabir, a friend of Roy’s father, said.

“We want to know why the government failed to ensure the safety of him, despite knowing that he had been facing threats from the Islamist radicals,” he added.

The killing of the blogger — said to be around 40 — that apparently took place right in front of a police barricade put up to restrict vehicular movement on the adjacent road for the ongoing book fair sparked countrywide protests and international condemnation.

Yes, we tend to get annoyed when the police just stand and watch as people hack us to death with machetes. We’re peevish that way.

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

A re-trial for apostasy

Mar 1st, 2015 10:01 am | By

The Independent talked to Ensaf Haidar and gives us more details on yesterday’s terrible news:

Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger whose punishment of 1,000 lashes has prompted international condemnation, may now face the death penalty.

Mr Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, told The Independent in a series of messages that judges in Saudi Arabia’s criminal court want him to undergo a re-trial for apostasy. If found guilty, he would face a death sentence.

She said the “dangerous information” had come from “official sources” inside the conservative kingdom…

In 2013, a judge threw out the charge of apostasy against the 31-year-old blogger after he assured the court that he was a Muslim. The evidence against him had included the fact that he pressed the “Like” button on a Facebook page for Arab Christians.

The news that the charge may now be re-examined will come as a bitter blow to Mr Badawi’s family and supporters, who had hoped that the international pressure over his case would prompt Saudi Arabia to reduce his sentence.

I haven’t got enough swear words to express my feelings.

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

The country of one million clerics

Feb 28th, 2015 5:49 pm | By

Remarks by Ensaf Haidar accepting the 2015 Courage award from the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy:

Any environment repugnant to mankind soon turns into sheer hell.

Saudi Arabia, the country of one million clerics, is the only country that prevents women from driving.

It is the only country that oppresses freedoms in the name of religion.

It rules in the name of Islamic Sharia, which clearly prescribes death to anyone who leaves the religion.

Ladies and gentlemen, my husband Raif Badawi was imprisoned merely for expressing his opinion.

His adopting liberalism was reason enough for the Saudi Inquisition courts to consider him a criminal, worthy of 10 years in prison, and 1,000 barbaric lashes.

The Islamic Inquisition courts, which disappeared when Islamic fascism was eradicated, have now returned during the era of the interfaith dialogue sponsor.

The Saudi King spends hundreds of millions of dollars to improve Saudi Arabia’s image abroad.

Ladies and gentlemen, Raif Badawi won the Humanity Award from PEN Canada last October. Less than a month later, he won the Reporters Without Borders Netizen Award.

In January, he won the Aikenhead Award from the Scottish Secular Society. I was extremely happy to learn that Raif won your distinguished organization’s award, for your tireless protection of human rights.

I tell you, in all honesty, that I am still astounded to this moment over the prize awarded to my husband Raif.

This prize bears a clear message to the Saudi regime, namely that the continued incarceration of Raif is a shame on it, especially considering its war on terror and against the terror group known as the Islamic State.

I would like to thank each of you individually, and wish I could be with you on this wonderful day. My only consolation is that Dr. Elham Manea, who is loved by both myself and Raif, will receive the prize on behalf of Raif.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you from the bottom of our heart.

Here she is:


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

That Criminal Court in Jeddah

Feb 28th, 2015 5:41 pm | By

Ensaf Haidar has bad news:

Very Urgent:

An official source told me that Raif Badawi may be facing death penalty for apostasy again

Free Raif Badawi posted some details:

This told a official source Raifs Wife Ensaf on Saturday 01-03-2015 and she shared this message right now on Twitter.
What happened:
The Criminal Court in Jeddah where Raif faces his retrial is controlled by Hardliners who still intend to murdered him.

What can we do?
Our only chance are is to keep an enormous pressure against the Saudi Authorities and – as well – to our Governments, Parties, Politician, Ambassadors in Saudi Arabia & Organizations like the EU, UN and others. We MUST demand them to intervene right now and to stop this madness.
So please, mail, tweet, phone, call your Government & Embassy but also every other Embassie you find in SaudiArabia for intervention.
(Please use google or another search-engine.)
Call, mail, phone it is possible the Saudi Embassy in your Country.
Please also join the protest on the street the next week. Please ask your local Amnesty Chapter if they will organize a protest.
Please don’t give up and help to stop this crime against all humanity.
Be strong and fight for Raif.
Here are some Tweet-Accounts:
For Saudi Arabia: @KingSalman @KSAMOFA @MojKsa @NSHRSA @SaudiEmbassyUSA @SaudiEmbassyUK

Some Foreign Embassies in Saudi Arabia:
@USEmbassyRiyadh @SaudiEmbassyUK @GermanyinKSA

Please use ‪#‎RaifBadawi‬ ‪#‎FreeRaif‬ as Hashtag for better RT.

Please take action now.

Thank you.
Admin Antje.

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

Beware the Wheat

Feb 28th, 2015 5:23 pm | By

Yesterday the CBC documentary show The Fifth Estate was about a medical doctor who wrote a best-seller about zomg wheat is poison stop eating it right this second and you will live forever.

Millions of people are joining the anti-wheat revolution.

Kellogg’s, the world’s largest cereal maker, has seen its biggest drop in sales since the 1970s. Food companies are selling off their struggling bread divisions. It’s all because best-selling health evangelists say that wheat is causing everything from fat bellies to schizophrenia. But do they have science on their side? Mark Kelley takes a hard look at what’s driving a movement that is dramatically changing the way we eat.

There were a couple of women on it, Rachel and Rachel, who are very devout about their hostility to the dreaded Wheat.They didn’t come across as particularly credulous or sappy, but then when they started explaining how they knew Wheat was so very very bad for humans…oh dear. It was both depressing and annoying.

CBC News expanded on the subject.

Critics say the anti-wheat claims made by leading health crusader Dr. William Davis are based on shaky science, an investigation by the fifth estate has found.

Davis is the author of the No. 1 New York Times best-selling book Wheat Belly, considered the bible of the wheat-free movement. He argues wheat has killed more people than all wars combined, and that it is responsible for an astonishing array of diseases — diabetes, obesity, Crohn’s disease and autoimmune disease, among many others.

He also claims the wheat we eat now is not what it used to be. Rather, it’s a genetically modified monster he calls “Frankenwheat” — and he says it’s killing us.

I think there’s a rule there – if there’s a “Franken” prefix on it then it’s bullshit.

But the fifth estate’s investigation found that experts in the scientific community say scientific claims made by the anti-wheat movement are questionable at best.

Joe Schwarcz, a chemist at McGill University dedicated to demystifying science and debunking big claims, says, “This is one of these arguments that has one smidgen of scientific fact to it, which is then exploded into a whole blob of nonsense.”

Schwarcz says he hasn’t seen any evidence that wheat has addictive properties, as Davis claims in his book. Schwarcz also says “opioid peptides” are produced when some foods are digested. But just because they can bind to opiate receptors in the brain doesn’t mean they produce a morphine-like effect.

“If we’re going to say that wheat is addictive,” Schwarcz explains, “it’s along the line that people like foods that have wheat in them. It’s not a physical addiction.”

But it’s so much more attention-grabby to say it’s an addiction.

The Canadian Celiac Association, the American Heart Association, the Obesity Society and the American College of Cardiology all refuse to endorse gluten-free diets for anyone who does not have celiac disease.

They must all be on the payroll of Big Pharma Big Wheat.

Yoni Freedhoff, a family doctor and diet expert who runs a nutrition clinic in Ottawa, says the eating guidelines touted in Wheat Belly are similar to other carb-free diets that get results by dramatically reducing the carbohydrates and calories people eat.

But just reducing carbohydrates and calories is boring. Cutting out Wheat is exciting, because you get that whole purity – eliminate the toxins thing. It’s like learning ballet, or calculus.

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

A dangerous activity

Feb 28th, 2015 11:40 am | By

Deeyah Khan underlines the importance of free expression.

When I organised World Woman I was keen to emphasise the need for freedom of expression for activists and artists, to identify that those who are most likely to be silenced by the religious right most often share the culture of those who wish to silence them: that this is not a conflict of the enlightened West versus the obscurantist East, but against extremist ideologies that threaten all our shared liberties.

Definitely. We have extremist theocrats in “the West” and there are many loyal free expressionists in “the East.”

[T]here is something very wrong with a world in which being an artist, activist, a feminist, a politician, a lawyer or a trade unionist can be considered a dangerous activity. We need more courageous individuals who will defy the structures of power, whether political, economic or intimate; but we also need it to be safe for people to feel their power and to be able to express their ideas and imagine without fear. Self-expression should not be a challenge that demands extraordinary talent but should be a right accessible to all.

But violence against human rights defenders is increasing. Across the world, voices for human rights are ranged against repressive states, fundamentalist movements and corporate power…

And random murderers with machetes.

In 2013, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to defend those who defend human rights with strong support from the Norwegian Mission underlining the freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly as foundational to democracy and all other human rights. The new Special Rapporteur dealing with Human Rights Defenders in 2014 called out a culture of impunity and worsening attacks on those brave people who sacrifice their safety for the hope of a better future for us all.

Making people fear the expression of their own power is a very effective way of disempowering them. It is not just those who feel the frustration of being silenced: it also encompasses every person who has no idea of their own power to realise their visions because they have not seen this in action in their communities. We need to be able to guarantee the safety of all artists and activists for human rights, so that it no longer takes extraordinary courage to call for a better world – so that every person with the ability to imagine peace, equality, progress and justice can express their dreams and hopes without fear.

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

The Future of Secularism in a Multi-Ethnic UK

Feb 28th, 2015 10:55 am | By

If you’re in or near London or up for a journey you obviously won’t want to miss this panel discussion at LSE next Tuesday.

The Future of Secularism in a Multi-Ethnic UK

LSESU Atheist, Secularist & Humanist Society panel discussion

Date: Tuesday 3 March 2015
Time: 6.30-9pm
Venue: TW1 G.01, Tower 1
Speakers: Tehmina Kazi, Maryam Namazie, Pragna Patel, Keith Porteous Wood, Gita Sahgal
Chair: Dr Fenella Cannell

The LSESU Atheist, Secularist & Humanist Society have always believed the developed world to be exemplars of secular states. However recent events such as the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the Chapel Hill shooting are starting to put this to the test. This panel seeks to find a place for secularism in an increasingly multicultural UK.

Tehmina Kazi took up the position of Director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy in May 2009. Her role includes staff management, governance responsibilities, fundraising, outreach, lobbying, advocacy, media work, policy and strategy development, workshop facilitation and event management. Prior to joining bmsd, she was a Project Officer at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, where she worked on a ground-breaking inquiry into the Human Rights Act and its impact on public service delivery, undertaking research, writing policy briefings, facilitating focus groups and interviewing victims of human rights violations. She also co-organised the first awards ceremony of its kind to acknowledge the achievements of the UK’s most powerful Muslim women, which received widespread coverage in the national press. Tehmina has done extensive research on domestic and international human rights issues, particularly religious freedom, the detention of foreign nationals and gender-based violence. She regularly contributes to forums on civil liberties and citizenship. Tehmina was shortlisted for Cosmopolitan Magazine’s “Ultimate Women of the Year Awards 2011” in the “Campaigner” category for her work. She also won an “Outstanding Achievement” Award at the Syeda Fatima Interfaith Conference at the House of Lords in June 2012.

Maryam Namazie is a political activist, campaigner and blogger. She is the Spokesperson for Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation, Equal Rights Now, One Law for All Campaign against Sharia Law in Britain and the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. She works closely with Iran Solidarity, which she founded, and the International Committee against Stoning. She is current editor of Fitnah’s monthly English publication Unveiled and hosts a weekly television programme in Persian and English called Bread and Roses broadcast in Iran and the Middle East via New Channel TV. Maryam is a Fellow at the Secular Global Institute (2014), Humanist Laureate at the International Academy of Humanism (2013), Central Committee member of the Worker-communist Party of Iran; National Secular Society Honorary Associate; Honorary Associate of Rationalist International and Emeritus Member of the Secular Humanist League of Brazil. In June 2012, The Islamic regime of Iran’s media outlets did an ‘exposé’ on Maryam entitled ‘Meet this anti-religion woman’. Maryam was a character in DV8 Physical Theatre’s Can We Talk About This?, which deals with freedom of speech, censorship and Islam. She was awarded Journalist of the Year at the Dods Women in Public Life Awards (2013); selected one of the top 45 women of the year by Elle magazine Quebec (2007); awarded the National Secular Society’s Secularist of the Year Award (2005); selected ‘Iranian of the Year’ by readers (1997 and 1998); International Rescue Committee medal recipient (1988); and received the Julia B. Friedman Humanitarian Award (1987).

Pragna Patel is Director of Southall Black Sisters and a founding member of Women Against Fundamentalism. She has written extensively on race, gender and religion. Her publications include ‘Citizenship: Whose Rights?’ in Women and Citizenship in Europe: Borders, Rights and Duties, ed. A. Ward et al. (Trentham Books), the ‘The Time Has Come … Asian Women in Struggle’ in Black British Feminism – A Reader, ed. H. S. Mirza (Taylor & Francis), several essays in From homebreakers to jailbreakers 2003 ed. R. Gupta (Zed Books), the ‘Faith in the State? Asian Women’s Struggles for Human Rights in the UK’. Feminist Legal Studies, (2008) Spring issue, R v Zoora (Ghulam) Shah in Feminist Judgments from Theory to Practice September 2010 ed, and ‘Shrinking Secular Spaces: Asian Women at the Intersect of Race, Religion and Gender with Hannana Siddiqui in ‘Violence Against Women in South Asian Communities’ (Jessica Kinglsey Publishers).

Keith Porteous Wood has been the executive director of the National Secular Society for 17 years. Keith has had major involvement with freedom of expression and equality legislation at the UK and European level; contributing to bills in Commons and Lords on equality, education, blasphemy, freedom of expression, constitutional, home affairs, justice and Racial and Religious Hatred as well as working through the European Parliament Platform for Secularism in Politics (as a member of the advisory board) and on the UN Geneva team of the international umbrella body International Humanist & Ethical Union. He also campaigns actively in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Brussels parliaments and at the Council of Europe and was on the EU Fundamental Rights Agency advisory board in Vienna. In 2007 Keith received the Distinguished Service to Humanism Award from the International Humanist and Ethical Union for his work in building up the National Secular Society and campaigning for secularism both nationally and internationally.

Gita Sahgal is world-renowned activist , and a founder of the Centre for Secular Space, which opposes fundamentalism, amplifies secular voices and promotes universality in human rights. She was formerly Head of the Gender Unit at Amnesty International. She is a film maker and writer. For many years she served on the board of Southall Black Sisters and she was a founder of Women Against Fundamentalism and Awaaz: South Asia Watch.

Dr Fenella Cannell is a specialist in Southeast Asian anthropology, and worked in the Philippines in 1988-89, 1992 and 1997. Her fieldwork was with Catholic rice-farming people in a rural area, but on the outskirts of a small town, where people were also exposed to complex, urbanising influences and images from Manila and from the West especially America. Her research explored the ways in which people come to think about ‘culture’ in a post-colonial society, and focussed on women’s lives and arranged marriage, spirit-mediumship, saint’s cults and religion, and popular performances including transvestite beauty contests (see Power and Intimacy in the Christian Philippines, Cambridge University Press 1999 and Ateneo de Manila University Press 2000). She has since carried out historically-based work on the Philippines, especially on education, kinship and gender in the American colonial period. She also works with a number of postgraduate students whose research is based in Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia, and intends to do more work in the region in the future. In recent years, she has also developed her interest in writing about unusual Christian parts of the world, and an edited collection, The Anthropology of Christianity , is currently under review with Duke University Press. Fenella Cannell is currently working on a two year research project on American kinship and religion, focussing on Mormonism.

LSESU Atheist, Secular & Humanist Society (@LSESUASH) runs a series of lectures, debates, panel discussion and social events to promote open-minded discussion on issues related to religion, secularism, humanism and atheism.

For further information about the event please visit The Future of Secularism in a Multi-Ethnic UK.

Suggested hashtag for this event for Twitter users: #LSEAtheist

This event is free and open to all with no ticket or pre-registration required. Entry is on a first come, first served basis. For any queries email

From time to time there are changes to event details so we strongly recommend that if you plan to attend this event you check back on this listing on the day of the event.

Take notes; report back to the rest of us.

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

If everyone could share his story

Feb 28th, 2015 10:35 am | By

Trisha Ahmed, daughter of Avijit Roy, asks us all to share her father’s story. The IHEU has more.

Criticism of a “culture of impunity” and the apparent failure of authorities to act on strong, credible threats by known individuals in the past year alone has been a common feature of the international outcry over the killing, including our own commentary which named one of the hostile individuals Fellow humanist bloggers like Asif Mohiuddin have called for pressure to be piled on the Bangladesh government.

Roy’s daughter, Trisha Ahmed, a student in the United States, has also written about her father in tribute and calling for his story to be shared far and wider. Her words below, originally posted on Facebook, are re-published with permission.

“My dad was a prominent Bengali writer, most famous for his books about science and atheism. He and my mom went to Bangladesh last week to publicize his books at Bangladesh’s national book fair. 15 hours ago, Islamic fundamentalists stabbed my dad to death. My mom was severely wounded from the attack and is still in the hospital. His death is headline news in Bangladesh.

The reason I’m sharing this is less for me and more for my dad. He was a firm believer in voicing your opinion to better the world.

He and my mom started dating when I was six years old. In the twelve years that followed, he became my friend, my hero, my most trusted confidante, my dance partner (even though we’re both terrible dancers), and my father. Not once did he tell me to simmer down or be more polite; he taught me to be informed, bold, and unafraid.

To say that I’m furious or heartbroken would be an understatement. But as fucked up as the world is, there’s never a reason to stop fighting to make it better. I’ll carry the lessons he taught me and the love he gave me forever. I love you so much, Dad. Thank you for every single thing

What would help me the most right now is if everyone (even people I’ve never met) could share his story. His story should be heard in the US because Bangladesh is powerless; it’s corrupt, there is no law and order, and I highly doubt that any justice will come to the murderers. I want his story to be on US headline news, not only Bangladesh’s. If you could just do all you can to spread word of what’s happened, I would appreciate it so so much. Inform your schools, your communities, write all that you can. Please don’t allow my dad to die in vain.

Please use your influence to help bring some sort of justice to the atrocious acts that have been committed against my parents.

Share and share and share. We’re not letting Saudi Arabia forget about Raif and Waleed; let’s also not let Bangladesh forget about Avijit and Rafida.

H/t Salty Current

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

The cause is highly personal

Feb 28th, 2015 9:29 am | By

Avijit Roy and his daughter Trisha Ahmed wrote an op-ed for Free Inquiry, October/November 2013: Freethought Under Attack in Bangladesh. (I had a piece in that issue too. I never met him, but it was one degree of separation.)

It’s chilling to read now – all the more chilling, that is. It was chilling then and it’s more so now.

On April 1, 2013, the Bangladeshi government played the fool in a disgraceful affair that we only wish had been an April Fool’s Day prank. On that day, several bloggers were put behind bars in Bangladesh on the sole basis that they were openly atheist. When we say “openly atheist,” we do not mean that the bloggers denounced religion in public squares or emphatically condemned theists to the ugliest patches of ground after death. Instead, the government criminalized these four men for simply voicing their rational, skeptic, and scientific thoughts on blogging forums—sites that exist for free inquiry, self-expression, and, most important, free speech.

And why did the Bangladeshi government do that? Because Islamists made a stink.

Following the Shahbag Protest, members of one Islamist faction waged a disinformation campaign to defame the bloggers. They claimed that the young bloggers had offended Islam and Muhammad and published a list of nearly eighty bloggers and forum participants whom they labeled atheists and attackers of Islam. The group publicly demanded capital punishment for the bloggers’ “blasphemy.”

It is worth noting that Bangladesh has no blasphemy laws. Though it is a Muslim country, the nation’s constitution proclaims “freedom of thought, conscience and expression” as a fundamental right. Nevertheless, the government disregarded this right and attempted to appease the Islamists by arresting three popular bloggers—Subrata Adhikari Shuvo, Rasel Parvez, and Mashiur Rahman Biplob—on April 1. The very next day, police also arrested Asif Mohiuddin, another one of the country’s most outspoken “atheist” bloggers. The men were paraded in handcuffs at a news conference as if they had committed a heinous crime. By arresting these four bloggers—and threatening dozens more bloggers with potential charges—Bangladesh’s government demonstrated that it regards freedom of speech as a constitutional formality, not a fundamental right.

It’s like living in the 11th century and the 21st century at the same time. It’s like sitting next to Savonarola on the bus.

Of course, attacks against atheist and secular-minded writers are hardly a new phenomenon in Bangladesh. Humayun Azad was a renowned Bangladeshi atheist, writer, and linguistic scholar popular among younger and more progressive readers. When Azad was returning home from a book fair, he was attacked by a group of radical Islamists who attempted to slit his throat.

What I said – chilling. Azad survived the immediate attack but he died some months later.

A similar case unfolded in 1994, when Taslima Nasrin—a feminist writer well known for her critical views toward Islam—had to flee Bangladesh after Islamic extremists threatened to kill her for her criticisms of the Qur’an. Although Nasrin denied the accusation, she was forced into hiding when an Islamist leader offered a bounty for her beheading. Eventually she fled the country. [Taslima Nasrin is now a senior editor of FREE INQUIRY.—Eds.]

And my friend.

Many of us freethinkers decided to organize to protest the government’s violation of freedom of speech. For us, the cause is highly personal. The imprisoned atheist bloggers have long been known to us as active writers on sites including Mukto-Mona (an Internet site popular among freethinkers, rationalists, skeptics, atheists, and humanists of mainly Bengali descent). We have created several Facebook pages, written individual blogs, issued formal statements, and penned articles for newspapers in Bangladesh as well as for international media. We also worked closely with the Center for Inquiry, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), Atheist Alliance International, American Atheists, and other secular organizations. They demonstrated immense concern, and some issued multiple statements condemning the Bangladeshi government for suppressing the voice of the freethinking community. Michael De Dora, director of the Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy and the organization’s representative to the United Nations, suggested a worldwide protest rally complete with demonstrations in Washington, D.C., London, Ottawa, Dhaka, and other cities around the world. The demonstrations were held on April 25, 2013, and May 2, 2013, under the banner of “Worldwide Protests for Free Expression in Bangladesh.” They succeeded in drawing global attention to this new threat to freedom of belief and expression. More important, the demonstrations put pressure on the Bangladeshi government to release the freethinkers. As pressure mounted, the government responded and it released the arrested bloggers on bail at the end of June 2013. Still, the bloggers are awaiting trial and face continual death threats from fundamentalist groups. Their names, pictures, and even addresses have been widely publicized, and they are now easy targets.

Clearly global attention cuts both ways – it puts pressure on governments but it also puts targets on people and gives the theofascists more fuel for their murderous rages.

But we have to resist.

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

Our art is our humanity

Feb 28th, 2015 8:52 am | By

This too is horrible – IS smashes ancient statues in Mosul.

The Islamic State (IS) group has released a video appearing to show the destruction of statues in Iraq.

Statues are smashed using sledgehammers and drills in what seems to be a museum in the city of Mosul.

Statues are also shown being destroyed at an archaeological site known as the Nergal Gate.

It’s the same thing the Spanish colonizers did to Inca and Aztec and Mayan and other artifacts. It’s appalling.

In the video released via IS social media sites, black-clad men push over statues, smash them with sledgehammers and use a pneumatic drill to destroy the rubble.

Ihsan Fethi, an Iraqi professor of architecture based in Amman, Jordan, told Agence France-Presse the destruction was “a terrible loss and an unbelievable act of cultural terrorism”.

Amir al-Jumaili, a professor at the Archaeology College in Mosul, told Associated Press: “I’m totally shocked. It’s a catastrophe. With the destruction of these artefacts, we can no longer be proud of Mosul’s civilisation.”

I have to tell you, it’s painful to watch this – one push and an ancient statue is destroyed.


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

Bystanders stared impassively

Feb 27th, 2015 6:11 pm | By

The Independent has more details on the attack on Avijit Roy and Rafida Ahmed Banna.

Dr Roy, of Bangladeshi origin but a US citizen, and his wife, Rafida Ahmed Banna, were walking home from a book festival at 8.45pm on Thursday when a mob armed with machetes ambushed them. Photographs posted online showed three youths, who had made no attempt to disguise their appearance, attempting to hack Dr Roy’s head from his body. Others showed him lying lifelessly, his face in a pool of blood, while his wife – her face and clothes streaked with blood – appealed for help. Bystanders stared impassively at the writer’s body.

His wife, Rafida Bhanna, who suffered head injuries and reportedly lost a finger in the attack, remains in hospital in a serious condition.

Bangladeshi Islamists quickly tweeted their jubilation at the fate of a man who had defied their death threats for several years. “Target is Down,” one wrote. Another tweeted: “Lol!! They have switched off the target’s blogsite… No prob. Target is Down & wait for the next… InshaAllah.”

It never ceases to amaze me what a disgusting bully of a god they claim to worship. They think it looks approvingly on men with machetes attacking unarmed people and chopping them down. If god didn’t want us using our own minds, god should have just programmed us. We could all have been programmed to say prayers five times a day or five hundred times a day, and to do nothing else in the meantime, if it wanted submission and fandom that badly. But it didn’t.

According to The Daily Star, witnesses said there were police in the vicinity, but “no one came forward to resist or catch the attackers even as Banna screamed for help”.

Another win for hatred and death.

Krishna Pada Roy, the deputy commissioner of detectives with the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said police were investigating several possible motives for the killing, including extremism. The climate of intolerance against secularists has worsened dramatically in recent years in Bangladesh, a nation that is more than 90 per cent Muslim but founded on the “Four Principles” of nationalism, democracy, secularism and socialism. Exactly two years ago a new group calling itself Ansar-al-Islam (Defenders of Islam) claimed responsibility for the fatal stabbing of a sociology professor, Shafiul Islam, who was one of three Bangladeshi bloggers killed within the space of a few weeks.

Taslima Nasreen, a Bangladeshi poet and novelist who fled her homeland in the mid-1990s after threats to her life, tweeted from Delhi: “We’re living in Dark Ages.” On her website she wrote that Dr Roy “dedicated his life to enlightening people who live in the darkness of ignorance”, adding: “Bangladesh has become a secret Isis land. Islamic terrorists can do whatever they like. They can kill people with no qualms whatsoever.”

I wish Taslima were thousands of miles from Delhi.

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

What was destroyed

Feb 27th, 2015 5:31 pm | By

Taslima gives us a look at some of Avijit Roy’s books.

Here’s one:


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

Nothing new in Bangladesh

Feb 27th, 2015 5:18 pm | By

The BBC reports on the murder of Avijit Roy and what it means for Bangladesh and other dissenters.

Hundreds of people gathered in Dhaka to mourn the blogger’s death.

Mr Roy’s family say he received threats after publishing articles promoting secular views, science and social issues on his Bengali-language blog, Mukto-mona (Free Mind).

He defended atheism in a recent Facebook post, calling it a “rational concept to oppose any unscientific and irrational belief”.

His Mukto-mona website on Friday bore the message in Bengali “we are grieving but we shall overcome” against a black background.

Like Charlie Hebdo last month.

In a forthcoming article to be published in the Free Inquiry magazine of April-May 2015, Mr Roy likens religious extremism to a “highly contagious virus”.

I have a column in that issue. What’s it about? Charlie Hebdo and Raif Badawi, and the nature of the Saudi regime. It’s almost as if there’s only one subject these days.

Death threats against atheist writers and bloggers are nothing new in Bangladesh.

Prominent writer Taslima Nasreen had to leave Bangladesh after she received death threats from hard-line Islamists in the mid-1990s.

She wrote on her blog: “Avijit Roy has been killed the way other free thinker writers were killed in Bangladesh. No free thinker is safe in Bangladesh.

“Islamic terrorists can do whatever they like. They can kill people with no qualms whatsoever.”

That’s what god-obsession gets you.

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

Freethought in Bangladesh

Feb 27th, 2015 4:50 pm | By

The BBC Bangladesh World Service talks to Taslima about the murder and about the safety of freethinkers. Her segment starts at about 4:20 but the whole thing is interesting.


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

As they were

Feb 27th, 2015 4:28 pm | By

I’ve just seen a horrific photo just after the attack on Avijit Roy and Rafida Ahmed Banna, which I’m not going to post, but in a comment on the post there is one from shortly before it, so it’s one of his last moments. It seems worth sharing.

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

Guest post: And I always think to myself, why is that accepted?

Feb 27th, 2015 11:38 am | By

Guest post by Josh the SpokesGay

I’ve got something to say about ageism and Madonna. I’m looking at you, my feminist friends. For the moment, please put aside how much you totally hate her (or think she can do no wrong) and consider this on its own.

Madonna is right when she complains about sexist ageism in the Rolling Stone article. Full stop. She’s right. And most of you agree with that, even though many of you couldn’t get past the ham-handed way she said it.

“No one would dare to say a degrading remark about being black or dare to say a degrading remark on Instagram about someone being gay,” Madonna continues. “But my age – anybody and everybody would say something degrading to me. And I always think to myself, why is that accepted? What’s the difference between that and racism, or any discrimination? They’re judging me by my age. I don’t understand. I’m trying to get my head around it. Because women, generally, when they reach a certain age, have accepted that they’re not allowed to behave a certain way. But I don’t follow the rules. I never did, and I’m not going to start.”

Ham-handed, yes. Lots of people would, in fact, say something degrading about being black or gay. But what I’m pretty confident Madonna is getting at (spare me the charge of trying to massage her words because I’m just a huge fan; boring) is that the kind of people in polite society who would, in fact, never dare to criticize a performer for being black or gay will do so on the basis of that performer being a woman. That is a plain fact. I’ve been noticing this for years and commenting on it for years, often here at Butterflies and Wheels.

Look. Madonna is an egotist. Stipulated. She’s narcissistic. Stipulated. She’s a rich white woman, probably the most famous woman in the world. She ain’t hurting. She’s also a person and a woman in a misogynist culture; she doesn’t just “not suffer” from that just because she’s super rich. People can be lots of different things at the same time, which I know you know even though some of my friends gloss right over that.

Madonna has also made a career out of appropriating styles and cultures that wouldn’t get anything but scorn if they weren’t adopted by a pretty white woman. There’s a whole lot of behavior Madonna should rightly be taken to task for.

Stipulated. OK? Madonna is not the oppressed-est woman to walk the face of the earth.

Like most privileged white people, she’s too blasé about how she characterizes stigma and discrimination. I get it. It’s tone-deaf, and sometimes worse. No, we’re NOT past racial discrimination, or trans discrimination, or any of the plethora of oppressions. I also get it because I’ve said those things: “You wouldn’t dare be so casual about that shit if we were talking about gay people.” It’s hard to do that without sounding like (or giving support to the idea that) you think whatever flak you’re getting pales in comparison to racist/homophobic/transphobic abuse.

I know. It is problematic. I know why it pisses folks off to hear stuff like this. People, especially rich famous people, need to do a whole lot better about being aware of where they’re situated as compared to the “nobodies.”

But I’ve watched a bunch of my friends basically throw a fit over what Madonna said. Reams of digital ink spilled about how dumb she is, how obnoxious, how she must think she’s the most downtrodden woman on earth. Here’s the important part–this is all said while ignoring the obvious. Self-centered as she is, it’s highly unlikely that she thinks, on balance, that she’s worse off than your average workaday gay person, or person of color. And even if she did, it’s remarkable that no one I noticed complaining even approached acknowledging what they know to be true: It IS normalized to talk this way about women in a way it’s becoming socially unacceptable to talk with regard to other minority groups.

Come the fuck on. I know you know this.

The reality is that misogyny, from the most “mild” sexism to the most virulent rape threats, is totally normalized in our public conversation. In a way that other oppressions aren’t. In polite society you’re supposed to at least pay lip service to the idea that it’s out of bounds to criticize someone for being black qua black, gay qua gay, etc. Yeah, that ain’t good enough by a country mile, and it papers over real bigotry. Lip-service liberalism—“I think everyone should be treated equally!”—is a piss poor substitute for real, comprehensive solutions to our problems of bigotry. I know that. I’m not holding it up in order to claim, “therefore people of color have it better.” Please take that on board before you rush to tell me I’m ignoring intersectionality. But there is a qualitative difference with sexism. It’s so normalized that people you really think know better don’t even notice it.

Truth: You don’t even have to pay lip service to the idea that it’s not cool to tell a woman to put her sexuality away at a certain age. Or that she’s embarrassing. Or desperate. Or [insert whatever degrading thing you like because it’s OK cuz everyone knows it’s “inappropriate” to do these things as an older woman]. The word “feminist” is a goddamn dirty word. It is most certainly NOT required to pretend you give a shit about women as people. It just ain’t. You get to do that with impunity.

It’s so normalized that many of you, people I respect and am happy to fight alongside with, couldn’t seem to acknowledge it going on right in front of you. Because rich spoiled Madonna must think she has it so hard, so fuck her, amiright?

By making that the only conversation in reaction to her statement (or to Patricia Arquette’s, who made similarly sloppy remarks recently), you’re enacting it. I’ve seen so many of you all stand up and call foul when the slut-shaming crap gets hurled at younger performers like Beyoncé or Miley Cyrus. Yet it doesn’t seem to bother many even a little tiny bit when it gets thrown at an older woman.

Perhaps it does, and I just never see it. But I’m a bit skeptical, you’ll forgive me, when I see my so many of you never say anything about the vicious, misogynist shit that gets hurled at Madonna simply because she’s 56 and she won’t put her drawers on. But lots of folks are super-ready to dismiss her entirely when she notes it because we all know Madonna’s merely and only a spoiled princess. What’s important, apparently, is making sure you communicate to the world how stupid and vapid you think she is, and that she cannot say anything truthful or noteworthy about the double-standard of sexual performance and age applied to men and women.

I’m tired of it. Not because Madonna needs my help, but because she’s right, and I’m tired of otherwise informed people ignoring it. Or worse, participating in it. Some of you have taken to Twitter to talk about how Madonna is “embarrassing herself” merely because she showed off her ass and she’s 56. I’ve seen you do it. Even those of you who proclaim how sex-positive you are. Some of you who hail Beyoncé as the most empowerful groundbreaking-est best-est EVER feminist.

I see you. Do you see you?

And if it weren’t Madonna, it would be some other older woman, I’m sure. But I’ve been following her career for 30 years and she has been saying this all along. She was talking about double standards for women back in the goddamn 80s. She got called a narcissistic slut then, and she gets called a narcissistic slut now. It’s just as bad, perhaps worse, now that we’re all supposed to pretend we’re “post-feminist”.

I’m not asking you to be a fan, or to think M’s brand of sexual performance is per se “liberating” or “feminist.” These are complicated questions. But I’m damned disappointed in so many people who throw in to trash her when she’s saying something you well know is true, and that you call out freely when it happens to a performer you don’t happen to dislike the way you dislike Madonna.

She’s right. And you’re a hypocrite.

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

Nothing new in Bangladesh

Feb 27th, 2015 11:09 am | By

The newspaper The Hindu talked to Taslima about the murder of Avijit Roy.

 “It was Avijit’s criticism of all kinds of religious fundamentalism including Islamic fundamentalism that may have been the cause behind the murder,”Ms. Nasreen, who knew Mr. Roy for about two decades, told TheHindu.  She also said that such attacks on writers “is nothing new” in Bangladesh.

 “There is no freedom of speech in Bangladesh. Such murders of writers had taken place there before,” she added. In 2013, another blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider who advocated secularism, was allegedly murdered by extremist elements. In 2004 writer Humayun Azad was attacked near the Dhaka University campus, during the book fair. He later died mysteriously in his apartment in Germany.

The Hindu also quotes Bengali film director Gautam Ghosh.

 “The incident indicates that all kinds of tolerance, whether religious or political, were decreasing. Such attacks are attempts to muzzle the voice of free thinkers,” he said. The social media in Bengal and across the world condemned the incident.

 Ganamancha, a platform of leftist activists, claimed that the “religious fundamentalists” in Bangladesh carried out the attack. “Rationalist activities are increasingly coming under attack in the South-Asian sub-continent as was seen in the assassination of Govind Panasare (senior Communist Party of India leader) and Narendra Dabholkar (noted rationalist) by extremists in India,” said a statement issued by Ganamancha.

Theocrats on a rampage.

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

Maybe we crossed a line

Feb 27th, 2015 10:45 am | By

Padraig Reidy wrote about rights as opposed to responsibilities at Index on Censorship a few days ago.

How does one avoid being a potential target for murder by a jihadist? If you’re Jewish, you probably can’t, unless you attempt to somehow stop being Jewish (though I suspect, much like the proto-nazi mayor of Vienna, Karl Lueger, IS reserves the right to decide who is a Jew).

Everyone else? Well, we can be a little quieter. We can, perhaps, not hold meetings with people who have drawn pictures of Mohammed. We can, perhaps, recognise that the right to free speech comes with responsibilities, as The Guardian’s Hugh Muir wrote. The responsibility to be respectful; the responsibility not to provoke; the responsibility not to get our fool selves shot in our thick heads.

This seemed to be the message coming after last weekend’s atrocity in Copenhagen.

And here we are now, with a new atrocity. Should Avijit and Rafida have been more “responsible” as in “silent”? No. The people who attacked them with machetes are the ones who need to be more responsible, and ethical, and law-abiding.

[A]lready, amid the condemnations and what ifs? and what abouts? that have dogged us since this wretched year kicked into gear with the murders in Paris, already, the pattern seems set. Young Muslim men in Europe get guns, and then try, and for the most part succeed, in killing Jews and cartoonists, or people who happen to be in the same room as cartoonists. Then the condemnation comes, then the self-examination: what is it that’s wrong with Europe that makes people do these things?

It’s too secular, too interrogative, too disobedient.

Maybe we caused offence. Maybe we crossed a line when we allowed those cartoonists to draw those pictures. Maybe that’s it. We’ve offended two billion or so Muslims, and of course, some of them are bound to react more strongly than others. So we’d best be nice to them in future (we leave the implied “or else” hanging). And being nice means not upsetting people.

This is, as I’m fairly certain I’ve written before, a patronising and divisive way of looking at the world. Patronising because of the casual assumption that Muslims are inevitably drawn to violence by their commitment to their faith, and divisive both because it sets a double standard and because it entrenches the notion that Muslims are somehow outside of “us” in European society.

And the notion that all Muslims think the same thing, and that same thing is the most reactionary and repressive possible. Neither of those notions is true.

However much cant we spill about “no rights without responsibilities” (that is, the preposterous “responsibility” not to offend), the fact that people are being murdered for who they are rather than what they did should make us realise that there is no responsibility we can exercise that will mitigate the core problem: a murderous totalitarian ideology has taken hold. It has territory, it has machinery, it has propaganda, and it has a certain dark appeal, just as totalitarian ideologies before have had.

And no amount of submitting to its demands will make it stop killing us.

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

An inspiration

Feb 27th, 2015 10:09 am | By

A moving statement from CFI yesterday on the murder of Avijit Roy, ally and friend.

* * * UPDATE: Read Dr. Roy’s final article for Free Inquiry, to be published in the upcoming April/May issue: “The Virus of Faith.” [PDF] * * *

We at the Center for Inquiry are shocked and heartbroken by the brutal murder of our friend Dr. Avijit Roy in Bangladesh, it is speculated at the hands of Islamic militants. Dr. Roy was a true ally, a courageous and eloquent defender of reason, science, and free expression, in a country where those values have been under heavy attack.

Dr. Roy was the founder of the website Mukto-mona, an online network of freethinkers of mainly Bengali and South Asian descent, as well as the author of several books, and a contributor to our own magazine Free Inquiry and our Free Thinking blog. When seven Bangladeshi atheist bloggers were arrested for blasphemy in 2013, Dr. Roy worked closely with us to connect us with the bloggers and their families, focus the international community’s attention on the injustice, and help organize and promote protests around the world.

“I cannot overstate how great a loss this is,” said Michael De Dora, CFI’s chief UN representative and friend of Dr. Roy. “Avijit was brilliant, yes, and a devoted advocate of free expression and secularism, but also just a very good person. Avijit was an inspiration to countless other freethinkers, in Bangladesh and around the world, and he was an inspiration to me. I valued our friendship deeply, as I valued his contributions to our shared mission. I will miss him, and the global freethought community will feel the impact of his loss. His example will no doubt continue to shine.”

It’s heartbreaking.

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