Notes and Comment Blog

Concerns about the motivation

Dec 17th, 2013 3:48 pm | By

Daniel Trilling at the Rationalist Association blog offered their position on gender segregation today. He started with Gopal’s article.

The piece raised concerns about the motivation of the pressure group Student Rights, which has been campaigning on the topic, and the way in which the story had been picked up by the media, but argued that such concerns should not prevent people from criticising the policy.

No, not exactly. Gopal was exceedingly unclear that her concerns were only with Student Rights and the way the media picked up the story. Exceedingly unclear. It was not at all clear that she wasn’t talking about the people who organized and publicized the December 10 protest that triggered the media coverage. If that’s really all she meant to say, she did a very clumsy job of it.

Take the third and last sentence of her opening paragraph for instance.

For us, it is especially difficult to practise a commitment to gender equality and social change in a context so heavily shaped by an intolerant Western ‘liberalism’ passing itself off as ‘secular’, ‘enlightened’ and more knowing-than-thou.

It is just not self-evident that that is not aimed at secular liberals who protested the UUK’s guidance. I still think that looks as if she has exactly those people in mind.

Her next sentence, in the next paragraph, is the one where she gets her facts so wrong, and says Student Rights brought the issue to national attention, with a link to the channel 4 story on the December 10 protest. That link has now been removed, but it was there before, so that is what she thought.

No, it won’t wash. It’s really not that difficult to be clear about what you mean. I know this. I’ve done a lot of editing of other people’s writing, and I know the difference between clarity and the absence of it.

Back to the RA.

Regrettably, our initial choice of headline gave the impression that the piece criticised the whole range of groups who have spoken out on the issue. This includes groups we respect and support, such as the Council of Ex-Muslims and Southall Black Sisters, and a range of other individuals. The protest directed at Universities UK that took place on 10 December was broad based and worthy of support. We’ve now altered the headline but would like to apologise for any misunderstanding.

It wasn’t just the headline though. It really wasn’t.

Back to revisiting Gopal.

In the wake of Student Rights’ aggressive campaign, which clearly targeted Islamic student groups, Universities UK – not a body known for championing social justice – issued guidance indicating that gender segregation of an audience at the request of a speaker at guest lectures was acceptable. The advice was withdrawn when the Equalities and Human Rights Commission deemed this advice discriminatory. The battle lines were drawn once again between so-called ‘muscular liberals’ (generally, in fact, deeply conservative white males with a commitment to the idea that West is Best) and defenders of the rights of minorities to their own customary or traditional practices.

Again – it is far from obvious that she is raising concerns about Student Rights while not doing so about the CEMB or One Law for All or Southall Black Sisters or LSESUASH. It is far from clear that she didn’t mean the snide “muscular liberals” to apply to all opponents of gender segregation, or that she wasn’t herself siding with defenders of the rights of minorities to their own customary or traditional practices.

After that she goes on to point out the obvious, which is that the silly two choices that she herself isolated are not the only possible choices, but she did that only after poisoning the well with all that belligerent rhetoric. If that’s not what she meant to do, she’s just not a good writer. She’s not dense or difficult, she’s just bad at it.

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

Why the one and not the other?

Dec 17th, 2013 11:56 am | By

Catching up with Catherine Bennett on gender segregation in the Observer on Saturday.

Naturally, much speculation, not all of it fanciful, has addressed the further privileges that intolerant faiths might soon, with the support of UUK’s useful idiots, be extracting from academe. Some speakers, for example, feel equally incapacitated by the prospect of women’s faces in a university audience, or “congregation” as a Muslim chaplain, Saleem Chagtai, referred to it last week on the Today programme. Can they, too – lawfully, and with the continued backing of Fenella Morris QC – demand that women cover up, be screened from sight, or evicted altogether, supposing, of course, this is consonant with genuinely held religious beliefs?

The answer is probably no, but then the question is why not? The question is why the one and not the other? Why is a comparatively minor form of gender inequality treated as acceptable when more major ones are not? Why is an incremental approach to gender inequality countenanced at all?

As much as this episode promised to endear our universities to certain clients, there must be reputational fears when their representative body, having considered all the evidence, concludes that sexual regulation by a controlling, all-male religious elite has nothing to do with sex discrimination. Like the Saudi driving ban, it just looks that way. “There does not appear to be any discrimination on gender grounds merely by imposing segregated seating,” the report concluded, instantly facilitating further religious appropriation of publicly owned university spaces.

It’s so rich, that “merely” – especially coupled with that “imposing” and that “segregated seating.” There does not, does there? I beg to differ. There does.

…as Dandridge says, fetters were in use long after 1911, after the vote, even after 1920, when women were first allowed to graduate. In the 70s, her interview reminded me, it was still legal for the five newly co-ed Oxbridge colleges to impose limits (usually about 20), on the intake of female students, whose reception was apt to be guarded, when not overtly resented.

Prior to our rebellion, young women joining my – notionally co-ed – institution, many of us from mixed comprehensives, were herded off on our first night as undergraduates to be lectured by the resident cleric and doctor on our responsibility not to get impregnated. At least, back in the institutionally sexist day, we did not face intervention by a 70s version of Nicola Dandridge, drawing on her considerable legal education to argue, on behalf of the college, that treating women like brainless temptresses was a traditional feature of the academic culture.

I never got a lecture like that. I didn’t even realize I was fortunate not to.

If a cleric such as Saleem Chagtai, whose Islamic Education and Research Academy blanks out female faces on its website, can assure BBC and Channel 4 audiences that separate seating is justified by “psychological studies” as well as equalities legislation, presumably he is open to a change of heart when scientists such as the physicist Lawrence Krauss (who walked out of a segregated lecture) and advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission dictate the exact opposite?

Less promising, being inexplicable and beyond rational argument, is the matching enthusiasm on the part of British universities to find space for “genuine belief” and the supernaturally ordained. Although UUK has promised to review its guidance, it is not legal advice it needs at this stage so much as complete religious deprogramming.

We’re doing our best.


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

Now you see it, now you don’t

Dec 17th, 2013 10:34 am | By

As Rosie mentioned in a comment, the telltale link in Gopal’s article that I pointed out yesterday has been silently removed. I call that sneaky. It’s sneaky to correct a mistake silently instead of acknowledging it.

Here is the passage now:

I want to raise this because of the deft way in which Student Rights, an offshoot of the bullishly paternalist Euro-American think tank, the Henry Jackson Society, has managed to bring ‘gender segregation’ at some campus events to national attention despite evidence that events in which the audience is so segregated are not numerous. 

Yesterday, as I wrote, there was a link on “to national attention” and the link was to channel 4 on the protest – as is visible in the url:

As I wrote, that link was either a gross misrepresentation or an equally gross mistake, because the Henry Jackson Society had nothing to do with that protest. Apparently Rationalist UK saw the point, and that’s why it removed the link – but since the article had already been published, and read by quite a few people, and discussed – Rationalist UK should have openly corrected the mistake, not just disappeared it.

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

Unified Community Response

Dec 17th, 2013 9:48 am | By

Ah here comes the “unified community response” – at least, “unified” “community” according to the people doing the responding.

It’s an interesting ploy, isn’t it, just announcing that one’s own view is, by fiat, the unified community view. Disappear the opposition merely by say-so.

It calls that “a panel of Muslim women from across the community” – which community? The community of reactionary fundamentalist theocratic Islamists? Because it’s certainly not the community of all Muslim women. If “from across the community” is meant to convey “with a range of political views” – as surely it is – then it’s very dishonest.

But at the same time that it’s meant to convey that, I think it’s also meant to convey communitarian majoritarian menace. I think it’s saying “this is how our community sees it, and if you don’t, you are outside that community” – and we will banish you, ostracize you, and when we get enough power, we will execute you.

I hope some of you Londoners are free this Friday evening, and willing to shoulder the burden of attending that panel discussion. You Londoners who are women, that is – note the “women only” on the poster.

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

“Extremist liberals”

Dec 16th, 2013 5:34 pm | By

Maryam was on the BBC World Service yesterday to debate a woman from Hizb-Ut-Tahrir.

Her opponent made me squirm with anger and revulsion.

You can listen via Maryam’s link.

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

That’s not how it happened

Dec 16th, 2013 5:04 pm | By

Amazingly enough, it appears that Gopal wrote that article in complete ignorance of the December 10 protest that got major media coverage and thus the attention of politicians who then firmly rejected gender segregation.

demo            Priyamvada Gopal @PriyamvadaGopal

@dandelionscrews @CEMB_forum @NickCohen4

I have no idea why they are banging on about some demo when I was talking about SR campaign

Ophelia Benson @OpheliaBenson 

“some demo”? Are you serious? you wrote that article w/o even knowing about the demo?

That sheds a somewhat new light on the article, but not in a good way. Apparently she simply had no idea what she was talking about, and made a complete dog’s breakfast as a result. Let’s look at a little bit of it again, now that we know she was unaware of the December 10 protest.

For us, it is especially difficult to practise a commitment to gender equality and social change in a context so heavily shaped by an intolerant Western ‘liberalism’ passing itself off as ‘secular’, ‘enlightened’ and more knowing-than-thou.

I want to raise this because of the deft way in which Student Rights, an offshoot of the bullishly paternalist Euro-American think tank, the Henry Jackson Society, has managed to bring ‘gender segregation’ at some campus events to national attention despite evidence that events in which the audience is so segregated are not numerous.

See? The link in “to national attention” is to channel 4′s story on the protest – it even says that in the url. Yet Gopal apparently somehow managed to miss it, and didn’t watch the channel 4 story. That’s unfortunate for her, because the Henry Jackson Society and Student Rights had nothing to do with the protest. The protest was organized by LSESU ASH and Maryam Namazie.

So the major premise of Gopal’s article is flat wrong, and thus the juddering incoherence of the whole thing is explained.

Nick and LSESU ASH were both asking for an apology from Gopal, on Twitter. She accused Nick of “white boy muscular liberalism” by way of reply. Hmm.


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

Until the West comes along to teach us progress

Dec 16th, 2013 2:41 pm | By

I said I would continue my disagreement with what Priyamvada Gopal wrote, so here I am continuing.

The fact is that challenging traditions and questioning authority are practices common to all societies; changing in response to circumstances is a human capacity and not one limited to a particular culture.

Again – no kidding, and no one who is criticizing gender segregation said otherwise. It’s the other way around: Universities UK are treating authority (in the person of the external speaker who demands segregated seating) as if it is not to be challenged. It is the protesters who are challenging that authority, and the authority of UUK, from the standpoint of universal rights, which is to say, rights common to all societies, limited to a particular culture.

It is at our peril that we, particularly women who come from non-European communities, cede or suppress that capacity in the cause of anti-racism, vital though the latter is.

We know. That was our point. You’re the one who is talking about “an intolerant Western ‘liberalism’ passing itself off as ‘secular’, ‘enlightened’ and more knowing-than-thou.” You’re the one talking about “deeply conservative white males with a commitment to the idea that West is Best.”

It’s a capacity that allows us to ask whether, say, women’s colleges are a useful defence against a wider institutional sexism contexts while simultaneously debating whether there’s anything to be maintained or gained by men and women sitting apart when addressed by religious speakers who demand it, even if voluntarily and non-hierarchically. Are such arrangements always just ‘harmless symbols’ of community identity? Selective attacks on our communities make the job of self-analysis more difficult but we should not let our thoughts and actions be entirely determined by those we oppose.

It’s not an attack on “your communities” – unless you consider iERA your community, in which case I have nothing to say to you, but then why are you talking about challenging traditions and questioning authority? Liberal universalists are not your enemy. We’re not the ones who think you should be at home instead of teaching at Cambridge.

There is no doubt that both racism and xenophobia is on the rise, with Muslims and Islam singled out for attack. It is essential to fight back. But we must also ask ourselves whether, because the evocation of issues of misogyny or gendered oppression within minority communities often plays into the wrong hands, we should let go of our own traditions and histories of self-criticism, internal dissent and change. If we do so, ironically, we play into the falsest imperialist stereotype of them all – the notion that non-European communities are static and unchanging until the West comes along to teach us progress.

But then why are you bashing the critics of gender segregation who reject that stereotype? Why, for instance, are you ignoring Maryam Namazie and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Abhishek Phadnis and focusing on Student Rights who had nothing to do with the protest against gender segregation? Why are you ignoring the very possibility of international solidarity, and the reality of it that is so conspicuous in everything Maryam does? What the hell do you think that accomplishes? Why not drop the fake accusations of imperialism and just join Maryam and the rest?

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

“A context so heavily shaped by an intolerant Western ‘liberalism’”

Dec 16th, 2013 11:52 am | By

Via Helen Dale* on Facebook, Priyamvada Gopal on gender segregation and the politics of same.

Ours is not an easy moment at which to practice a simultaneous commitment to anti-racism, equality and social justice. It’s a particularly testing time for progressive people who affiliate in some way to Britain’s ethnic and religious minority communities, among whom Muslims are under unprecedented attack. For us, it is especially difficult to practise a commitment to gender equality and social change in a context so heavily shaped by an intolerant Western ‘liberalism’ passing itself off as ‘secular’, ‘enlightened’ and more knowing-than-thou.

That doesn’t bode well.

In the wake of Student Rights’ aggressive campaign, which clearly targeted Islamic student groups, Universities UK – not a body known for championing social justice – issued guidance indicating that voluntary gender segregation of an audience at the request of a speaker at guest lectures was acceptable. The advice was withdrawn when the Equalities and Human Rights Commission deemed this advice discriminatory. The battle lines were drawn once again between so-called ‘muscular liberals’ (generally, in fact, deeply conservative white males with a commitment to the idea that West is Best) and defenders of the rights of minorities to their own customary or traditional practices.

I’m not a deeply conservative white male. I’m white, but not the rest of it. Maryam isn’t a deeply conservative white male. Chris and Abhishek aren’t what I understand by “deeply conservative” – in fact, the reality is that people who are deeply conservative approve of gender segregation. One of the ways to be deeply conservative is to oppose all the advances in women’s rights over the past century or two. That’s just a bit of rhetorical bullying.

And then “the rights of minorities to their own customary or traditional practices” – is she really standing up for the  the rights of minorities to their own customary or traditional practice of segregating women from men? Is she really blind to the fact that “minorities” are no more monolithic than any other group, and that people within minorities and communities and all the other buzzwords themselves disagree about customary or traditional practices?

As a matter of fact that last line is far more “deeply conservative” than anything Maryam or I or anyone else said in criticism of gender segregation. On the one hand conservatism is bad when it’s a stick to beat liberals with, on the other hand it’s good when it belongs to imaginary monolithic “minorities.”

I grew up in a context where gender segregation in many public spaces is common and ostensibly voluntary but far from making me comfortable with custom, it caused me and others concern. It did not take the proverbial ‘decent, nice, liberal’ Europeans to get us to ask what segregation meant in both ideological and institutional terms. Many Muslim women and men, individuals and organisations, have also long queried such practices and, regrettably, such voices are often pushed to the side.

No kidding, and we never said it did take the proverbial ‘decent, nice, liberal’ Europeans to get us to ask what segregation meant. We didn’t say that at all. On the contrary, we kept pointing out that many Muslims want nothing to do with gender segregation and that UUK was trying to appease a reactionary faction of Muslims at the expense of more liberal and/or relaxed ones.

To be continued.

*Helen is not a fan of Gopal’s article.

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

“We would not condone that at all”

Dec 16th, 2013 11:02 am | By

The LSE Student Union Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society is not impressed by the way the SU has reacted to the gender segregation controversy. It explains on the SU website.

We are disappointed by the LSESU General Secretary Jay Stoll’s statement that the threat of forced gender segregation is “practically non-existent” (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary) and his accusation that anti-segregation campaigners are ‘Islamophobic’. We also have good reason to distrust LSESU Community and Welfare Officer Anneessa Mahmood’s defence that only “voluntarily segregated” meetings are taking place on the LSE campus, and that there have been “no meetings at LSE where segregation has been enforced upon people“, even if she states that “as an organisation we would not condone that at all, we would break up the meeting.”

They do have good reason. Anneessa Mahmood is the one who first accosted Chris and Abhishek at the Freshers’ Fair and started grabbing their materials off their table. They reported back in October:

On Thursday 3rd of October, we (Abishek Phadnis and Chris Moos) were at the LSESU Freshers’ Fair, manning the stall of the LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society to meet other non-believing students. At around noon, we were approached by LSESU Community and Welfare Officer Anneessa Mahmood, Anti-Racism Officer Rayhan Uddin, and Deputy Chief Executive Jarlath O’Hara and several others who identified as LSESU staff.

Without explanation, Anneessa Mahmood started removing material from the stall. When challenged, she claimed that it was “offensive”.

“Community and Welfare” indeed.

Back to the current post:

Chris Moos, Secretary of the LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society, points out: “It is disingenuous of Anneessa Mahmood to claim there has never been forced segregation. She cannot deny, as a former officer of the LSESU Islamic Society, that that Society regularly conducts“brothers circle” and “sisters circle” events on campus. This is in direct contravention of the LSESU’s policy on inclusivity, which requires that all society events be accessible to all students, no matter what their belief, race or gender is.”

Abhishek Phadnis, President of the LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society, added: “I am saddened, though not entirely surprised, by Mr. Stoll’s reckless and unfounded accusations. His irresponsible statement is emblematic of the flippant manner in which university officials have deliberately ignored the misbehaviour of religious organisations on campus, and have allowed this sordid practice to balloon into a serious menace to gender equality. Mr. Stoll’s allegation of ‘Islamophobia’ is a crude attempt to smear principled opposition to the imposition of religious mores on universities as bigotry, so as to enable him and his fellow officials to continue to abdicate their duty to address the legitimate concerns of students”.

It’s discouraging, seeing officers of the LSE Student Union supporting theocracy and demonizing secularism.

At the end of the piece is a long and useful list of links to media coverage, including one to Maryam on the World Service, which I didn’t know about.

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

Where is your sincerity??

Dec 16th, 2013 10:30 am | By

Want a little more Dave Silverman v Fox News aka Fox News takes the bait over and over and over and over again?

What’s amusing about it is the fake outrage of Hannity at the very idea that American Atheists would say something to be provocative. Really? When Fox haha “News” never does anything else?

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

Better to teach than to mutilate

Dec 16th, 2013 10:14 am | By

A slice of life in rural Tanzania

Lozwi Longinai was preparing for her wedding day last month in northern Lingate village, but at the last minute her groom changed his mind after realising that his 18-year-old fiancée had not been circumcised.

“This is very bad.  We are being rejected by our own society because we have refused to be circumcised,” Longinai complained.

While female genital mutilation (FGM) is on the decline in Tanzania, the practice remains widespread in some rural areas, and in Maasai communities like Lingate in the northern Arusha region, dozens of women are being turned away in marriage because they have refused to be cut, according to an NGO working in the region.

That’s grim. I’m guessing that in rural areas in developing countries there aren’t a lot of possibilities for women who don’t marry.

Women rights groups say the best way to stop FGM is by engaging those who have abandoned the practice to educate society about its risks – including the family of girls like Sara Lukumai, a Maasai woman who narrowly escaped the procedure.

She was 16 when her mother told her it was time to face the knife as part of the Maasai tradition that prepares girls to be women.

“As I was coming from school one day, I saw a group of women gathered at our home singing and ululating. I realised it was my turn, but I strongly refused,” the woman, now 19, told Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

Her father, Lengai Ole Lukumai – a Maasai herder in the village of Oldonyosambu, about 35km from Arusha – supported his daughter’s refusal because his six other daughters did not benefit from undergoing the procedure.

“I have had enough of it. I know it is a break in tradition, but I wanted to show how bad some of our customs are,” he said. “I am still a follower of my traditions, but I just don’t want any more cuts for my children because I have realised it brings more harm than good.”

His wife was not pleased because their daughter’s rejection of the ritual was a disgrace to the family and would be seen as an act of cowardice, but she could not argue with her husband.

The girl, meanwhile, was ridiculed by friends who had been circumcised, but she saw it as a necessary act of defiance to tell villagers that it was high time to abandon outdated traditions.

In her impoverished community, many parents are unable to afford school fees and so marry their girls off at a young age. Uneducated and too young to fight back, many girls undergo FGM as the traditional precursor to marriage.

Grateful that her father supported her, Sara Lukumai sees education as the way to fight poverty and FGM.

“I want to study. It is through education that I can help my family get out of poverty,” said the girl, who is now in her second year at a secondary school in Arusha. “I want to be a teacher so that I can help fellow citizens to reject bad traditions.”

Good luck to her.

H/t leftoverunder.



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

Twitter and the lost bear

Dec 15th, 2013 4:48 pm | By

Have a heartwarming story because why not. It’s a reunion story. I love reunions. I’m like Shakespeare in that way (and no other) – he was always staging separations so that he could stage reunions in Act 5. Cymbeline, for instance; there are so many reunions at the end of that play you have no idea who half the reunited characters are, but you soak your hanky just the same.

This reunion is a little girl and her stuffed friend Roar, whom she accidentally left on a train from York to London. Someone named Lauren found Roar at King’s Cross and posted pictures on Twitter.

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She took a lot of pictures of Roar having adventures while waiting to be found, and they’re very funny and touching. Check them out for yourself. Having tea, at a pub, at the panto, at a hotel, on a morning walk on the quay in Newcastle, on the train back to London.

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The Twitter saga worked and the little girl who lost Roar, who was devastated, is now happy again. Heartwarming eh? Go ahead, laugh; I don’t care.

Update: I forgot to mention: the tweet before the Roar series is an RT of Robin Ince. It all makes sense.

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

Advice from robots

Dec 15th, 2013 4:02 pm | By

Since Maryam saved the original UUK guidance, I’m reading pages 27 and 28 again for the nostalgia. It read as if it had been written by a robot.

The segregation request is not yet in the public domain but the students’ union has an active feminist society which is likely to protest against the segregation request. Other societies are likely to express similar concerns. The event is also due to take place a few days after a number of campus-based activities to coincide with International Women’s Day.

See what I mean? A robot or an extra-terrestrial. There – might – be – some – groups – who – would – not – like – the – idea – of – segregations – by – sex – at – a – public – event – at – a – university. Ya think??? Only it wouldn’t be some groups, it would be everyone. You don’t have to be organized, you don’t even have to be political, to bristle at the suggestion that some reactionary external speaker gets to tell you where to sit and separate from whom.

Things to consider

Legal framework – points likely to be particularly relevant

  • Aside from freedom of speech and the S.43 duty, the paramount issue is to consider how equality obligations apply, and how those interact.

Robot again, you see? As if everyone needed to sit down and think really hard and make a list of issues and decide which ones are paramount.

Some issues have been decided. There’s a ratchet, and where there’s not there should be. We don’t wake up every morning and re-decide what we think about slavery. That’s over. Slavery is out. Burning people for heresy is out, genocide is out, letting children work in factories and coal mines is out. We don’t need self-appointed university unions starting over from scratch; we already know what we think about gender segregation.

Granted there are people who go berserk and dynamite the ratchet, but that doesn’t mean university boffins should be following their lead. We don’t need robots here.

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

Who sits where

Dec 15th, 2013 12:36 pm | By

Kate Maltby on the gender segregation dispute.

I spent much of Tuesday afternoon shivering outside the offices of Universities UK. I was there to protest their publication of guidelines which suggest segregated seating of men and women may be legally required where guest speakers demand it. It’s reassuring to learn that protest sometimes works: by Friday, the beleaguered body had shifted their position twice within 24 hours, thanks in part to criticism by Michael Gove and David Cameron.

It is reassuring, isn’t it. I’m still surprised at the speed with which it happened.

But for all their fair words, I’m told the Cabinet have no plans for legislation to clarify the law. And I hear some members of the Islamic Education and Research Association, the group behind most confrontations over this issue, are agitating to launch a test case, heading to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary, to argue that their Islamist speakers do not enjoy freedom of speech unless they can speak to audiences segregated exactly how they like.

And, if they succeed, setting a useful precedent for racist groups, anti-Semitic groups, the WBC…Oh yes, that should work out really well.

… this isn’t some hypothetical we can forget about: as Nick Cohen notes, a notorious incident occurred earlier this year at my university, UCL. Meanwhile, the University of Leicester’s Islamic Society has been in the spotlight for routinely running segregated events, including several with the iERA.

Most such Islamic societies are affiliated to the student union, receiving funding and support. As I told Radio 4 yesterday, as a member of the same student union, I have a right to engage fully with the intellectual life of the campus. The ECHR protects my right to education regardless of sex – and as a woman, even if I’m allowed the privilege of a seat, I don’t engage intellectually on equal terms at an event whose organisers think I need to be kept away from men in public.

And the union of university vice-chancellors doesn’t get to impose such a situation on students who have the bad taste to be female.

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

There is nothing left for theology to examine in a rational and rigorous way

Dec 15th, 2013 11:44 am | By

Having so appreciated Manfredi La Manna’s comment on the gender segregation issue, I took a look at his website and found a page of contributions to the Times Higher Education Supplement aka the Times Higher aka THES. It’s good value. There’s one on Keith Ward, for instance; Keith Ward is someone I like to see disputed.

Keith Ward’s attempt to portray himself as a persecuted seeker of truth deserves comment (THES, October 11). First, it is misleading to lump theology with the humanities and to see the well-deserved criticisms to the former as a general attack against the latter. The humanities are qualitatively different from theology in so far as they have different methodology, aims and ethos. Indeed, after the phenomenon of religion is explored by history, literary analysis, and moral philosophy (as well as by sociology, psychology, and economics), there is nothing left for theology to examine in a rational and rigorous way. The fundamental difference that seems to escape Ward’s attention is that, unlike the sciences and humanities where the ideal is the rigorous quest for an as-yet-undiscovered truth, theology inverts the process and starts from a revealed “truth” to be imposed on reality.

I’m interjecting here solely to introduce a paragraph break that’s not in the original

Second, it is significant that Ward underplays the moral dimension of religion. Theology is not “an attempt to understand the hopes, desires and feelings of human beings”, but rather the underpinnings of a specific world-view aimed at making human beings conform to some pattern of behaviour. Third, Ward conveniently ignores the fact that, unlike the scientists he quotes, who owe their status to peer-sanctioned rigorous contributions to the advancement of knowledge, his claim to be heard by the scientific community and his own “academic” status are based on the conventions, procedures and values of the religious establishment. People like Ward are best advised to restrict their pronouncements to the self-selected audience of church congregations; serious scientists and humanists should reject the application by theists for membership of the club for the quest of truth and knowledge and remind themselves that behind the mantle of “academic” respectability lurks the very same intolerance that persecuted Galileo and Giordano Bruno and that condemns billions of people to a life of superstition.

I’m very glad to have been made aware of Professor La Manna.

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

Guest post by Manfredi La Manna: gender equality in civil society is not optional

Dec 15th, 2013 9:00 am | By

Originally a comment by Manfredi La Manna on Any Questions.

Hate to self-publicize, but the follow-up programme “Any Answers?” has a brief comment of mine exposing a common misunderstanding about the odious document on gender segregation on UK campuses and criticizing Shami Chakrabarti for not taking UUK to task (24:10 into the broadcast). For a longer comment, read on.

What is wrong with “voluntary” gender segregation?

The recent debacle by Universities UK, who had to withdraw their odious document on gender segregation on British campuses, has highlighted a number of interesting issues on the relationship between universities and the public sphere. Before addressing the issue of “voluntary” gender segregation, a few comments on the governance of British Universities are in order.

British academics and especially University vice-chancellors have not covered themselves in glory during this incident. I have not seen a single public statement by any vice-chancellor denouncing the document, issued on their own behalf by UUK, as contrary to the ethos of British Universities. The opposition to gender segregation was not started by academics (Nick Cohen and Polly Toynbee having played a major role) and some lonely open letters to vice-chancellors asking them to take a stance received no replies and little support.

The way in which the UUK document was prepared gives an illuminating insight into the mind set of the new class of bureaucrats ruling British Universities, who manage to combine illiberal values with practical incompetence, free, as they are, from any form of effective monitoring and accountability.

Who could have predicted that a document mandating compulsory gender segregation on UK campuses would have generated widespread opposition? Not Nicola Dandridge who apparently did not submit the draft of her guidance document to UUK board members for prior approval. Who could have predicted that such inflammatory recommendation as compulsory gender segregation would require scrupulously careful legal advice? Not Nicola Dandridge who consulted a senior legal counsel (Fenella Morris QC, who must be busy clearing egg from her face) after the eruption of public outrage. Who, when consulting on a major policy document on freedom of speech, thought that it would not be appropriate to approach the leading human rights organization, namely Liberty (formerly the Council for Civil Liberties)? Not Nicola Dandridge, who, on the other hand, sought the opinions of the Church of England, of the Union of Jewish Students,  of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, even of the obscure Lokahi Foundation. Not a mention either of the National Secular Society which, one might have thought, could have had something to contribute on freedom of, and from, religion.

Following such a humiliating defeat, that has resonated on a worldwide basis, the resignations of the CEO of UUK, Nicola Dandridge, should have been demanded as a matter of course.

In a sense Ms Dandridge should be thanked for  her incompetence and lack of sensitivity because by recommending mandatory gender segregation she has managed to create a much wider front of opposition than would have been the case had she merely advocated “voluntary” gender apartheid.

So what is wrong with “voluntary” gender segregation? The debate on this matter in the last couple of weeks has, in my opinion, missed the main point at stake, in so far as it has centred on whether women who endorse gender segregation are truly free or whether they display “false consciousness”.

My contention is that gender equality in civil society is not optional, to be adhered to or not depending on one’s religious belief. Whereas the choice of following any one religion (with its own particular customs which may include gender segregation, special clothing requirements, dietary restrictions, etc.) is, obviously, a matter of personal choice and free from any state interference (in a secular state), dispensing with gender equality is not open to any individuals as citizens, i.e., as members of civil and political society. When attending an event organized on a non-religious basis, individuals cannot demand that their refusal to behave as citizens be respected by other citizens. I may want and indeed desire to be humiliated and treated as a sexual object in the confines of my private life, but this does not give me the right to be so treated in the public sphere. Gender equality is not a gift from god, indeed it is an ideal that had to be fought for against almost every religion. Gender equality is a constituent right of individuals as citizens, who may decide not to avail themselves of it in their private relationship but cannot be divested from in civil and political society.

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

Any Questions

Dec 14th, 2013 5:32 pm | By

I’m listening to the bit of Any Questions – starting 38 minutes in – where they talk about gender segregation. I’ve paused it after Amjad Bashir said his piece (he’s the first) because it’s so good. (It made me get something in my eye for a second.) First of all he just said No, and got applause. Then he said about growing up in Bradford (and he has the Yorkshire accent to prove it) and meeting everybody, from primary school on. Mixing. Meeting all kinds of people. And his children, and his grandchildren, they do the same. This is not Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to meet people.

Yes exactly. It’s not just the meddling with everyone’s rights. It’s the horrible narrow pinched impoverished way to live, and way to think about people, that they want to promote as pious and good. It is horrible. Bashir said his time at Bradford University was the best time in his life, meeting people – and you could hear it in his voice. The whole point of this vile segregation nonsense is not doing that, not expanding and broadening and becoming richer.

Down with it!

Having listened to the rest…

Yes Shami Chakrabarti was great – especially when she resisted Jonathan Dimbleby’s attempt to interrupt her by saying she’d talked less than any of the men and then pointing out that oh look we’re all minorities here but I’m still the only woman.

She said what I’ve been saying all along, if this were about segregating by race we wouldn’t even be having this discussion, and why is it so different when it comes to women? Women are the last apartheid, she said.

Thanks Bernard for telling us about it and how many minutes in it starts.

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

Santa just is white

Dec 14th, 2013 4:36 pm | By

Didja see Jon Stewart taking on Fox News on the war on Christmas and Festivus and beer cans and Santa is white god damn it of course he is?

(Before I get to that though – how not to start a piece. Also how not to continue it and how not to end it. The sfgate piece on the subject:

Hide your kids, hide your wives because the War on Christmas is here and no ugly sweater or racial stereotype is safe.

Don’t do that. Don’t assume only men can read. Don’t assume you’re talking exclusively to men.)

Medialite has the clips.

Stewart shows a bit of the “discussion” between Bill “the Catholic League” Donohue and Shmuley Boteach and Dave Silverman. Stewart needs to have Dave on to talk about this nonsense. Stewart’s been a touch Fox Newsy about atheism himself in the past, so he needs to have Dave on.

Pull quote from Fox:

Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it has to change.


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

They do not show women as doctors, engineers or philosophers

Dec 14th, 2013 4:00 pm | By

Taslima is writing a script for a Bengali tv serial about women’s oppression.

Coming slightly more than a year after her book launch was cancelled at the Kolkata Book Fair following protest by religious fundamentalists, the script will deal with atrocities on women. ‘Dusahobas’ (translated roughly as living difficult), which would be shown on the small screen from December 19 on “Aakash Aath” channel, tells the stories of women in distress and how they are fighting against it.

“It talks about courageous women who became victims of various crimes like dowry, forced marriage, trafficking, rape or were forced into prostitution, etc. It shows that women will keep fighting for their rights,” said the feminist author who drew the ire of fundamentalists for her controversial books like ‘Lajja’ and ‘Dwikhandito’.

Talking to PTI from Delhi, the 51-year-old author said the women in her story fight against social evils directed against them. “Unlike other TV serials which glorify women as being submissive or relegate them to the role of housewives, this serial will portray them as strong individuals,” Nasreen said.

I wish we could have something like that on US tv.

Controversy and Taslima go hand in hand. As recently as last month, an FIR was lodged against the author in Lucknow for allegedly hurting religious sentiments in a tweet. She said the idea of the serial had come up in 2006, but after she was bundled out of Kolkata to Delhi by the government after violent protests over renewal of her visa the project could not get going.

“Now once again the producers have taken the courage to start it,” she said adding that although she is not in Kolkata, her adopted home, she would like to connect with the city through her writings. “I am happy if my work reaches people,” she said.

The official release of the seventh part of Nasreen’s book ‘Nirbasan’ (Exile) at the Kolkata Book Fair was cancelled last year following protests by religious fundamentalists.

Because they just won’t leave her alone.

Taslima has opinions on the way women are portrayed on tv.

Kolkata: Foraying into television with the Bengali serial ‘Dusahobas’, based on her story, exiled Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen Wednesday slammed certain serials for “glorifying submissive women” and not portraying women in strong characters.

She felt the makers of such small screen ventures do not see women as figures of authority and emphasised ‘Dusahobas’ will portray women in strong roles, fighting against oppression and demanding their rights.

“Some women-based serials portray women being submissive and glorify submissive women. I will not show the women in my serial like that…I will not glorify submissive women,” she told the media here during a video conference to launch the serial.

“Women are so decked up (in some Hindi and Bengali serials)…the way they are shown to serve their husbands, in-laws as if they are meant to do this.

“I think people, who are misogynist who see women in bad light probably, make these serials. They do not show women as doctors, engineers or philosophers…in majority of Hindi and Bengali serials, women are relegated to the role of housewives,” she said.

But according to Taslima on Twitter, Islamists are trying to get her tv serial stopped.


Islamic fanatics trying to stop my TV megaserial in West Bengal. They shd be challenged. Should West Bengal be silent?

Let’s hope they fail.





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

Classmates were reveling in her humiliation

Dec 14th, 2013 12:23 pm | By

Al Jazeera America reports on online harassment and revenge porn. It’s a revolting read.

Lena Chen, as a freshman at Harvard, started a blog called Sex and the Ivy, where she wrote about her hookups, self-medication with alcohol, recovery from an eating disorder and crushing desire to be liked. All standard stuff for a college student. But then an ex-boyfriend posted naked pictures of her on the Internet.

For some, this was righteous comeuppance for the campus harlot. For others it was just great gossip. Classmates and other titillated parties reposted the images around the Web, and comment threads exploded with colorful debate.

You know the kind of thing. Ugly, whore, disgusting, blah.

Chen wasn’t so shaken by the original sin; the ex-boyfriend was a troubled person, she said. But she was horrified that classmates were reveling in her humiliation. “It was much more dismaying to me that people behaved in the way he wanted,” she said.

Quite. It is dismaying to discover how many people there are who revel in watching and participating in the energetic harassment of total strangers. One starts to think the percentage of psychopaths in the population is upwards of twenty percent or so.

A few months after the photos were posted, the now-defunct online forum JuicyCampus “outed” Chen’s new boyfriend, a Harvard Ph.D. student and her former teaching assistant, Patrick Hamm. For weeks, there were multiple posts a day about how Hamm had supposedly taken advantage of Chen while she was still his student. In some versions, he outright raped her. This blew up into entire blogs dedicated to “exposing” the scandal, which the anonymous harasser, or harassers, then emailed to Harvard deans and professors in Hamm’s department.

The spelling mistakes and gross language were giveaways that this person likely wasn’t an upstanding, whistle-blowing citizen. But if the goal was to make Hamm desperately uncomfortable around everyone he worked with, it was a thumping success.

All for the lolz.

When it comes to being a target of anonymous Internet hate, Chen has some eminent company. Kathy Sierra, a successful Web developer and author, once ran a tech website about software designed to make people happy, called Creating Passionate Users. In 2007, her comment section was overwhelmed with abuse, such as, “fuck off you boring slut … i hope someone slits your throat and cums down your gob.” Someone posted her photo with a noose around her neck and a muzzle over her mouth. Her Social Security number was leaked.

“I have cancelled all my speaking engagements,” Sierra wrote on her blog. “I am afraid to leave my yard, I will never feel the same. I will never be the same.”

Another popular blogger, Anita Sarkeesian, started a Kickstarter campaign last year to make a video about the representation of women in video games. On top of the torrent of rape and death threats, someone went to the trouble of making an online game, “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian,” in which players could bloody her face.

Earlier this year, Emily May, the co-founder of HollaBack!, a nonprofit dedicated to ending street harassment, told Ms. magazine about all the rape threats and comments she’d received, like how no one would bother raping her because she’s fat and ugly.

“Once, after reading all these posts, I just sat in my living room and bawled like a 12-year-old,” she said.

Jennifer Pozner, director of Women in Media & News, a group that advocates for women’s presence in the media, says a man even once placed a letter at her real-life door saying he’d “find you and your mom and rape you both.” In female blogging circles, rape threats are now considered something of a “rite of passage.”

And on and on it goes. All for the lolz.

There’s a lot more. It’s a lengthy detailed report. None of it is happy reading.

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