Notes and Comment Blog

Among the things prohibited

Jan 17th, 2015 12:24 pm | By

Speaking of sausages, and outrage, and women seen cooking sausages on tv, and outrage, and outrage, and outrage, the Oxford University Press has given one of its authors a friendly nudge to avoid writing the words “pig” or “pork” in a projected book.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, presenter Jim Naughtie said: “I’ve got a letter here that was sent out by OUP to an author doing something for young people.

“Among the things prohibited in the text that was commissioned by OUP was the following: Pigs plus sausages, or anything else which could be perceived as pork.

“Now, if a respectable publisher, tied to an academic institution, is saying you’ve got to write a book in which you cannot mention pigs because some people might be offended, it’s just ludicrous. It is just a joke.”

Muslim Labour MP Khalid Mahmood said: “I absolutely agree. That’s absolute utter nonsense. And when people go too far, that brings the whole discussion into disrepute.”

No pigs in a children’s book. So the whole “Freddy” series is retroactively haram. So is Charlotte’s Web. So are the Porky Pig cartoons.

A spokesman for OUP said: “OUP’s commitment to its mission of academic and educational excellence is absolute.

“Our materials are sold in nearly 200 countries, and as such, and without compromising our commitment in any way, we encourage some authors of educational materials respectfully to consider cultural differences and sensitivities.”

Well you can’t do both of those things. Saying “without compromising our commitment in any way” doesn’t change that, in fact it just adds a layer of calculated bullshit. You are compromising your commitment to your mission of academic and educational excellence if you rule out mention of a familiar animal in children’s books because some religions long ago considered them Specially Dirty or some such crap.

Many Muslims also consider dogs Specially Dirty, you know. Should authors of children’s books stop mentioning dogs, too? Should everyone? No more dogs in stories and movies and tv? Everybody forget all about dogs from here on out?

Get a grip.

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

More smoke

Jan 17th, 2015 11:48 am | By

And today in Niger – the protests against Charlie Hebdo continue, with extra added church-burning.

At least two churches have been set on fire in the capital of Niger amid fresh protests against French magazine Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

Saturday’s protests began outside Niamey’s grand mosque with police using tear gas a day after at least four were killed in the second city of Zinder.

The French embassy has warned its citizens to stay indoors.

Charlie Hebdo doesn’t hang out at the church.

In Niger, a former French colony, hundreds of demonstrators gathered at Niamey’s grand mosque, shouting “God is Great” in Arabic.

At least two churches were set on fire – similar to Friday’s demonstration in Zinder where protesters also raided shops that were run by Christians.

The French cultural centre in Zinder also came under attack.

God is great so let’s burn down the churches. Makes all kinds of sense.

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

The competition

Jan 17th, 2015 11:13 am | By

Speaking of the US rivalry with Saudi Arabia over who can inflict the most sadistic punishments, the Death Penalty Information Center gives us some examples of botched executions. Not all; just some.

Be warned – obviously this is not pleasant reading.

NOTE: The cases below are not presented as a comprehensive catalogue of all botched executions, but simply a listing of examples that are well-known.  There are 44 executions listed: 2 by asphyxiation, 10 by electrocution, and 32 by lethal injection, and 1 attempted execution by lethal injection.

  1. August 10, 1982. Virginia. Frank J. Coppola. Electrocution.

    Although no media representatives witnessed the execution and no details were ever released by the Virginia Department of Corrections, an attorney who was present later stated that it took two 55-second jolts of electricity to kill Coppola. The second jolt produced the odor and sizzling sound of burning flesh, and Coppola’s head and leg caught on fire. Smoke filled the death chamber from floor to ceiling with a smoky haze.[1]

The next one is also an electrocution and it’s nightmarish. Why is this supposed to be a relatively “humane” method?

3. Sept. 2, 1983. Mississippi. Jimmy Lee Gray. Asphyxiation. Officials had to clear the room eight minutes after the gas was released when Gray’s desperate gasps for air repulsed witnesses. His attorney, Dennis Balske of Montgomery, Alabama, criticized state officials for clearing the room when the inmate was still alive. Said noted death penalty defense attorney David Bruck, “Jimmy Lee Gray died banging his head against a steel pole in the gas chamber while the reporters counted his moans (eleven, according to the Associated Press).”[3] Later it was revealed that the executioner, Barry Bruce, was drunk.[4]

One more.

18. March 10, 1992. Oklahoma. Robyn Lee Parks. Lethal Injection. Parks had a violent reaction to the drugs used in the lethal injection. Two minutes after the drugs were dispensed, the muscles in his jaw, neck, and abdomen began to react spasmodically for approximately 45 seconds. Parks continued to gasp and violently gag until death came, some eleven minutes after the drugs were first administered. Tulsa World reporter Wayne Greene wrote that the execution looked “painful and ugly,” and “scary.” “It was overwhelming, stunning, disturbing — an intrusion into a moment so personal that reporters, taught for years that intrusion is their business, had trouble looking each other in the eyes after it was over.”[27]

We rival Saudi Arabia.

When you rival Saudi Arabia in the violence and cruelty of your judicial punishments, something is wrong.

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

After being dragged through the street

Jan 17th, 2015 10:44 am | By

Saudi Arabia postponed Raif’s next 50 lashes yesterday, but on Monday they beheaded a woman in public, without anesthetic and taking three blows to do it.

Laila Bint Abdul Muttalib Basim, a Burmese woman who resided in Saudi Arabia, was executed by sword on Monday after being dragged through the street and held down by four police officers.

She was convicted of the sexual abuse and murder of her seven-year-old step-daughter.

A video showed how it took three blows to complete the execution, while the woman screamed “I did not kill. I did not kill.” It has now been removed by YouTube as part of its policy on “shocking and disgusting content”.

There are two ways to behead people according to Mohammed al-Saeedi, a human rights activist: “One way is to inject the prisoner with painkillers to numb the pain and the other is without the painkiller,” he told the Middle East Eye.

“This woman was beheaded without painkillers – they wanted to make the pain more powerful for her.”

So that’s how Saudi Arabia rolls. Not that we do much better here in the US.

In Saudi Arabia a number of crimes, including murder, rape, adultery and armed robbery, can carry a capital sentence.

Beheading is considered one of the more humane punishments the authorities can mete out, a firing squad and stoning are other methods open to judges.

The beheading doesn’t sound so very humane…

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

Sausage outrage

Jan 17th, 2015 10:36 am | By

Yes really: sausage outrage. No, not the sausage=penis kind of outrage, the other kind.

Reham Khan, the former BBC presenter who recently married ex-cricketer and politician Imran Khan, has sparked a backlash in Pakistan after footage emerged of her cooking and selling pork sausages.

There they go again – she “sparked outrage.”

The 41-year-old TV star, who is herself of British-Pakistani decent, can purportedly be seen frying the religiously restricted meat at a country fair in West Sussex for the BBC South Today show in 2011, The Times reports.

In Islamic dietary jurisprudence, the consumption of pork is considered ‘haram’, or ‘unlawful’.

In what? “Dietary jurisprudence”? What the fuck is that? Jurisprudence refers to actual law, real world law, secular law, law that applies to everyone within the borders. Religious boffins would love to make their rules as binding as real laws, but in places that aren’t Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, they can’t. I have to wonder why the Independent is presenting a religious taboo as if it were a genuine state law.

During the film, which, alongside other footage apparently showing Khan wearing “revealing” outfits, has been prolifically viewed in Pakistan over the last week, she is reportedly seen learning how to make and prepare the meat dish by two-time national sausage making champion David Bell.

The horror.

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

The barefaced deceit

Jan 17th, 2015 10:11 am | By

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid, writing in Pakistan’s Friday Times, calls it deceitful to claim that the massacre at Charlie Hebdo and other murderous outbursts “have nothing to do with Islam or Muslims.”

The barefaced deceit gets the backing of the liberal left of the West, that gets extra brownie points for speaking up about the self-inflicted ‘marginalisation of Muslims’, most of whom continue to avoid befriending ‘Jews and Christians’ because their scripture ostensibly prohibits it.

And so when the Charlie Hebdo office was attacked in Paris last week, everything from France’s occupation of Algeria over half a century ago to the economic disparity between Muslims and non-Muslims in the country was touted as the raison d’etre. Fingers have been pointed everywhere except at the awkward truth that the majority of Muslims around the world, and their version of Islam, endorse killing ‘blasphemers’.

I don’t know if it’s actually the majority, but the number is clearly not small enough.

It is the same version that is practised, among many other Muslim countries, in Saudi Arabia, where Islam originated and where the entire Muslim world goes to offer pilgrimage. The same country, facing which all Muslims offer salat; where Raif Badawi, a liberal blogger, has been punished with 1,000 lashes for ‘insulting Islam’ – the same ‘crime’ that Charlie Hebdo’s satirists committed. The same crime that is officially punishable by death in 13 countries – all Muslim states.

If there were a worldwide survey about the punishment that Charlie Hebdo journalists deserved for drawing and promoting those cartoons, the answer of the majority of the Muslim world is common knowledge, should we prefer being honest about it. And when the majority of the Muslims and almost all of the Islamic clergy are ‘misinterpreting’ the text identically, obviously the intelligibility of the scriptures comes under scrutiny.

That’s why holy books are such poison. It’s because the belief that there is such a thing as a “holy book” is such poison.

By that logic all Muslims and their scriptures would be ‘asking to be’ attacked by orthodox Christians for refusing to acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the son of God, or for the ubiquitous bile being spewed against Hinduism, especially in Pakistan.

Would the apologists be consistent in their argument if Hindu or Christian extremists started butchering Muslims because they disrespected their God? What about the nonreligious folk – the nonbelievers that have eternal hellfire sanctioned for them by almost every religious scripture? Should they retaliate with violence after taking offence at the fact that the deity absolutely despises them?

All religions are offensive to every other religion.

And that’s why secularism is needed.

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

Bye bye Pope Fluffy

Jan 16th, 2015 6:17 pm | By

You know all that kakk about the new pope being a kinder gentler pope? It was kakk all along. I knew that.

He’s back to telling us teh gayz will ruin everything. Of course he is.

Francis arrived in the Philippines on Friday for a five day trip and spoke to thousands in the heart of Manila, the country’s capital city. While speaking on the issue of same sex marriage on Jan. 16, Francis went into attack mode. “The family is threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage,” Francis told the crowd. “These realities are increasingly under attack from powerful forces, which threaten to disfigure God’s plan for creation.”

Yup – because when it’s two women or two men, what becomes of the hierarchy? It goes poof. Very very threatening, this idea of marriage between equals.

Or not. It’s just threatening to an antiquated and illiberal idea of marriage – and that’s a good thing.

But of course no pope is going to think so. You don’t get to be pope that way.


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

Let hell engulf

Jan 16th, 2015 6:05 pm | By

Wonderful. There was a protest against Charlie Hebdo in Niger today – at which four people were killed. That’s a fabulous reason to die.

At least four people have been killed in violent protests against French magazine Charlie Hebdo in Niger’s second city of Zinder, officials say.

A number of churches and the French cultural centre were among several buildings raided and set alight.

Over a picture. A picture of a bearded guy in a turban, with a tear on his cheek. That’s worth killing people and setting churches and cultural centers on fire.

One policeman and three civilians were killed in the protests in Zinder after Friday prayers, a police source told Reuters.

“Some of the protesters were armed with bows and arrows as well as clubs. The clashes were very violent in some places,” the source added.

Agence France-Presse quoted a minister as saying dozens of people had been injured.

Local residents told Reuters that demonstrators had set fire to churches and raided shops that were run by Christians.

“The protesters are crying out in local Hausa language: Charlie is Satan – let hell engulf those supporting Charlie,” a local shopkeeper said by telephone.

Love, peace, solidarity, mutual aid, friendship, joy.

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

He must be “thrown from a high place”

Jan 16th, 2015 5:46 pm | By

The Telegraph reports that IS have apparently taken literally the injunction to throw the children of Lot (you know what they got up to, nudge) off a high place. There are photos.

Photographs have emerged that appear to show members of the Islamic State group in Iraq throwing a man from a building in punishment for being gay.

The graphic images, seemingly taken in the northern Isil controlled city of Mosul, show a man being pushed to his death before a large crowd that had gathered in the main square below.

One photograph, taken from the top of the building, shows the man from behind, blindfolded and with his hands tied across his back, being pushed to the ledge by his executioner.

In another photo, a jihadist, his face covered with a balaclava, is shown reading out the apparent sentence that was ruled in the extremists’ “Sharia court”.

There’s that stupid word again – “extremists.” They’re not “extremists,” they’re murderers, criminals, fascist murdering theocrats. Calling them “extremists” is euphemistic.

A caption for another photo says the man had been convicted of the practices of the “people of lot”, a euphemism for sodomy.

I suppose they also say “thank you for flying with us” right before they cut off people’s heads.

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

Guest post: What else have you done?

Jan 16th, 2015 5:11 pm | By

Originally a public Facebook post by Lama Abu-Odeh on January 13, published here by permission.

Ok let’s do these legally. Supposing you pass a rule in France that says any humorous depiction of prophet Mohamad is banned. Based on the idea that life for French “Muslims” is hard because of French racism and any such depiction of the prophet is in itself racist and will only make the effects of the racism worse. You want to make life easier for them so you ban it. What have you achieved? Let’s think of the winners and losers of such a ban.

One primary winner of course are the religious within the “Muslim” camp who find such depictions offensive. Great victory for them and a great concession from the Secular French. The French lose, they win. The French press will have to be self-conscious about its representation of Muslim religious icon, self-censure or face the consequences.

Ok, now think harder, who else loses? Well, the secularists, skeptics, agnostics, atheists within the Muslim community itself.

Religiosity of the kind that gets offended and commits violence as a result is a recent phenomenon within the French “Muslim” community. The community is internally varied and is vibrant with struggle over questions of secularity and assimilation and types of assimilation, not to speak of serious conflicts between men and women especially with relationship to the libertarian sexual mores of the French. All of these people lose because the religious within them win – a rule like that will have a disciplinary effect within the “Muslim” community itself because the religious will invoke in it conflicts and struggles over power, prestige and privilege within the community. The rule at heart is anti-secular, and anti-assimilationist, and deeply particularistic. The rule then would empower all those who represent those values vis a vis those who don’t, or are half-hearted about them, or beginning to question them etc.

But you’ve done something else. You’ve passed this rule following an incident involving gun-toting angry men who then proceeded to kill twelve people and declared they did it for the prophet. Ok, so instead of asking yourself as a progressive interested in empowering the French “Muslim community” – what is happening to the French Muslim community that angry men who kill are the ones avenging the racism? – as opposed to activists mobilizing the public around progressive issues you recognize – and instead of worrying about the implications for the emergence of this violent oomph among the young men – you reward it. Rewarding it means validating it as a practice within the community. It is now a socially validated way of settling internal conflict – between generations, between men and women, between the secular and the religious within the “Muslim” community. Religious rage as a means of settling disputes is now validated.

What else have you done? Your very generous multiculturalist gesture symbolized by the ban has settled the very question of “who is a Muslim” within the community. Not only does the offended Muslim find himself empowered within the community by the rule, but he stands now to speak for and be representative of the French “Muslims” in toto with the outside world. The French can now securely state: The Muslims of France are offended by the humorous representations of their prophet. Ewww.

What else have you done? well, by empowering the offended religious Muslim with his underlying rage, you have alienated those assimilated French Muslims who nevertheless insist on their membership in the community. You have given them a powerful reason to exit – to dissociate – to disown – to leave. Who wants to be around angry men who get offended by pictures???

You say you don’t want to be an Islamophobe? So why are you being so hateful to all these other Muslims then? Whatever have they done to you???

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

What that cover really means

Jan 16th, 2015 4:06 pm | By

And here is Christiane Amanpour talking to Sarah Khan of Inspire about whether or not Muslims have to be “offended” by images of the prophet.

(Spoiler: no, they don’t.)


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

The Islamist equivalent of Animal Farm

Jan 16th, 2015 3:37 pm | By

Imagine my surprise and delight yesterday to turn on Fresh Air (the NPR interview show) and find that the guest was Maajid Nawaz. It’s a terrific interview, in which he covers a lot of ground and says valuable things. That’s one thing about Fresh Air – it gives people a lot of time.

At age 16, Nawaz was transformed from a disaffected British teenager to an Islamist recruiter when he joined the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. Nawaz continued his college studies and spent a year abroad in Egypt, where he continued his recruiting. As a result, he was imprisoned for four years, starting in 2002.

It was while in prison, surrounded by several prominent jihadist leaders, that Nawaz realized he wanted to take a different path. He was reading George Orwell’s Animal Farm and came to a new understanding of “what happens when somebody tries to create a utopia.”

“I began to join the dots and think, ‘My God, if these guys that I’m here with ever came to power, they would be the Islamist equivalent of Animal Farm,” Nawaz says.

Yes. They would create a hell on earth.

He says he began to see that it’s “impossible to create a utopia.”

“I’m living up close and seeing [the radicals’] everyday habits and lifestyle, I thought, ‘My God, I wouldn’t trust these guys in power,’ because when I called it, back then, and said, ‘If this caliphate, this theocratic caliphate, was ever established, it would be a nightmare on earth,'” Nawaz says.

Yes it would – especially for women, gays, apostates, atheists, secularists, people with a sense of humor. Life in a system that treats that many people like shit is a nightmare even if it treats everyone else well – which a theocratic caliphate wouldn’t.

One of the things they talk about is the anger and threats he faced a year ago for tweeting that he wasn’t “offended” by the Jesus and Mo cover in which Jesus says “Hey” and Mo says “How ya doin?” In order to explain that he told about being on that Big Questions in which he supported the woman in the niqab and her right to wear it even though he disagrees with it, and about Chris Moos opening his shirt to reveal the Jesus and Mo T shirt underneath, about Chris’s asking the niqab woman if she supported his right to wear the shirt and her saying no she did not. That’s why he tweeted what he did – he wanted to clarify that Muslims don’t have to try to impose their rules on everyone else and that they don’t even have to be “offended” when people don’t obey their religious rules.

I recommend listening to the whole thing.

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

The most sophisticated variety of racism that exists in France

Jan 16th, 2015 1:23 pm | By

Here’s a marvelous, blistering piece by Zineb El-Rhazoui in reply to the December 2013 one by former Charlie Hebdo editor Olivier Cyran saying CH was racist. Seth Ackerman at Jacobin translated it. Zineb el-Rhazoui is religion editor of CH.

She learned from Cyran’s piece that she’s a racist.

Being of French citizenship, I was anxious to identify, before the malady could advance any further, which races were likely to activate my white-woman antibodies.

She flips sarcastically through many possibilities, then zeroes in on the real one.

I didn’t have to make it far into the piece to be reassured that his diagnosis was more precise: my racism, thank God (that idiot), is only aimed at Muslims, and I  contracted this dangerous syndrome from the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo.

An occupational illness, then. Since Olivier Cyran is himself a veteran of the shop, though I never had the pleasure of meeting him — since he had the luck, and the balls, according to him, to get out before the infection could spread  through the paper — I’ve decided to address him as tu, since we use tu among colleagues at Charlie.

Olivier, you start from the premise that the Muslims of Azerbaijan, of Bosnia, of Malaysia, Egypt or Burkina Faso, represent a single whole that can be designated as a “race.” Well, it so happens that that’s the one I belong to. The fact that I’m an atheist, and proud of it? It makes no difference, since you don’t ask us what we think; you talk about racism, and therefore race. I won’t keep beating around the bush, since I don’t doubt for a second that, like me, you perfectly understand the distinction between a religion and a race. If you make this lamentable conflation, it’s because you engage in a sociological fallacy whose origins lie in the demography of France: our Muslims are most often those we call “Arabs.” I’m sort of starting to understand why you speak of racism. But let’s try to be precise: we’re not talking about the Arabs of Lebanon, who are rarely encountered in the French projects, nor the persecuted Arab Ahwazi minority of Iran, whom nobody in France talks about, and certainly not the Arabs of Qatar who keep Louis Vuitton in business. No, you’re talking about the “Arabs” of North Africa — and here again, it so happens that that is the “race” from which I spring. Moreover, for your information, those “Arabs” aren’t always Arabs. The best-informed people in France know that they are Berbers, a word of Greek origin, “Bearded,” which refers to us Amazighes, Imazighen — Free Men, as we like to call ourselves. I am thus triply qualified to dispel the obvious confusion you manifest when you identify those you claim to be defending: the Muslim race.

We’re all (or most) sick of hearing “Islam is not a race!” from Bill Maher or Richard Dawkins, but hearing it in that style with that panache from a French citizen of Berber origin who is also a woman and an atheist and an editor at Charlie Hebdo – that’s not so boring.

Among the individuals that you assign to this racial category, there are militant atheists like me, obviously secularist (laïque). There are atheists who have other fish to fry, they are secularists too. There are atheists who love Charlie Hebdo and support it; others less so or not at all. There are agnostics, skeptics, free-thinkers, deists; they are secularists as well. There are believers who are non-practicing but politically Islamist, practicing but secularist, or even those with “no opinion,” whose daily lives do not suffer because of Charlie Hebdo. There are converts to Christianity — and oh, are they secularist, for they’ve endured the terrors of theocracy in their countries of origin. And finally there are the fundamentalists (intégristes), the militant Islamists, the adherents of an identity defined above all by religion, and those are the ones you have chosen to defend. Those are the ones who, given the reality of  French laïcité, have no other choice than to cry racism, a tear in their eye and a hand on their heart, on the pretext that their “religious feelings” have been mocked by a drawing in Charlie. Among them you will find many who stand for laïcité in France but vote Ennahda in Tunisia, who do their shopping at a Parisian halal butcher but would cry scandal if a misfit decided to open a charcuterie in Jeddah. Who are outraged when a day care center fires a veiled employee but say nothing when someone they know forces his daughter to wear the veil. They are a minority. But they are the standard to which you have chosen to align the identity of all of us.

Enough generalities, which I didn’t think a man of the pen needed to be reminded of. If I’ve taken up mine to answer you, it is not solely to defend myself from racism, but above all because in my journalist’s memory I have rarely resented an opinion column as much as I did yours. If you will allow an “Arab” to address her own complaint, let me tell you that your rhetoric and arguments are the most sophisticated variety of racism that exists in France. Rare are those today who would risk shouting from the rooftops,”Ragheads Out!” The extremists who would do so would immediately be jeered by you, by me, and by a majority of the French people. First of all, you quote Bernard Maris, Catherine, Charb, Caroline Fourest. What about me, what about me! You preferred to omit my name, when it was my articles that you pointed to as dangerously “Islamophobic,” thus, according to you, necessarily racist. Frankly, I wondered why , and I see only two options. Either you didn’t want to let Charlie Hebdo‘s detractors (who can only subscribe to your thinking if they never read the paper) know that the author of these racist ravings belongs precisely to the Muslim race. Or you simply didn’t think that, as a person, I was worth naming, since in a fascist rag like Charlie I couldn’t be anything but the house Arab.

Wow. I want to be her new best friend.

That’s only the beginning; read on.


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

What we talk about when we talk about offending

Jan 16th, 2015 12:48 pm | By

The BBC tries to host a discussion of free speech but as always it phrases everything in such a fatuously empty meaningless unhelpful way that the discussion is undercut before it starts. They clearly have a mandated list of the correct words to use, and those words are the most anodyne and obfuscatory they can think of. That’s some unfree speech right there.

Am I free to offend you?

Should I deliberately share images that I know will offend others, as a statement of everyone’s freedom to do so?

What about extremists? Should their speech be banned?

“Offend” in what sense? What are we talking about? What does that even mean? Is it even possible to say anything that can’t “offend” someone somewhere?

What can “images that I know will offend others” mean? Again – it’s not possible to share an image that can’t “offend” anyone anywhere. It’s not possible to “know” what will offend whom in advance. None of this is as simple as that; none of it.

What does “extremists” mean? Extremist about what?

The questions are on their face so general that they mean nothing. If you read them through the lens of Charlie Hebdo or Raif Badawi you can attach a specific meaning to them, but the questions are supposed to be general and generalizable, which they fail at.

Questions like this have been dominating social media conversation in the days since the satirists of Charlie Hebdo were attacked and killed.

Ok, so that’s the lens. But the language remains unhelpful and misleading.

But it wasn’t long before much of the debate online became angry and polarised, and people began asking searching questions about freedom of expression in their own countries. There’s been a spate of “Je Suis” hashtags for all sorts of other free speech causes around the world, along with accusations of double standards and strong reactions from Muslims about the new edition of Charlie Hebdo.

See that? That last line? That’s a vice of the media in general, not just the BBC – saying “strong reactions from Muslims” like that. It gives the impression that there are no Muslims in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, and that’s wrong, and not just wrong but harmful. Reactionary theocratic Muslims are not the only Muslims there are. There are also progressive, liberal, secular Muslims. Quit writing them out of the story.

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

How to discourage the dissident voices

Jan 16th, 2015 11:55 am | By

Last week the Beeb took the temperature after the lashing of Raif.

Two Arabic hashtags that translate to “Raif Badawi’s public lashing” and “ lashing Raif Badawi” trended in Saudi Arabia with more than 250,000 tweets after news of carrying out the first round of lashes on Badawi was announced.

Unsurprisingly, there were some hooray tweets.

“He established a network to spread apostasy and to offend religion and the prophet’s verses and some people cry for him, I say he deserves more than this,” one Saudi twitter user commented.

But there were many who expressed their anger and dismay at the sentence, especially at a time when Saudi Arabia is battling with extreme fundamentalism.

“It’s religious extremism that deserves punishment because it’s what brought us the Islamic State and not liberalism which fights extremism” commented another Saudi on Twitter.

It’s odd to talk about Saudi Arabia “battling with extreme fundamentalism” when it’s so extremely fundamentalist itself. Remember: it refused to sign the UDHR when Egypt and Pakistan did. It has never signed it. It uses its oil money to fund Wahhabi evangelism around the world. It’s not an outpost of liberalism and human rights.

And while #JeSuisCharlie trended worldwide after the Charlie Hebdo attack, some of those who support Badawi started #JeSuisRaif to raise awareness about his case.

Je Suis Raif

Maryam Namazie tweeted “All those tweeting #JeSuisCharlie should also tweet #JeSuisRaif. @raif_badawi sentenced to 10 years prison & 1000 lashes. Saudi Govt STOP”.

It’s always good to see the BBC giving a shout-out to Maryam. They don’t do it often enough. Too much Sacranie, not enough Namazie.

Elham Manea, an associate professor of politics at Zurich University, believes that there could be a possible number of reasons why the punishment was carried out.

“It could be because Saudi Arabia wants to show that it will not submit to international pressure,” said Manea, who has been campaigning for Badawi’s release. “It could also be about an internal struggle and rivalry inside the ruling family.”

“But I’d say the most likely possibility is that the ruling family needs the support of the religious establishment against the tides of Arab Spring and dissident voices inside the kingdom, so this is what they are offering in exchange for their support,” said Manea.

The apartheid regime in South Africa also wanted to show that it will not submit to international pressure for years and years…and then changes came.


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

A blasphemous cartoon disrespecting Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him)

Jan 16th, 2015 11:30 am | By

A photographer for AFP, Asif Hasan, has been shot at a protest against Charlie Hebdo in Karachi, Dawn reports.

A protest organised by Islami Jamiat Talaba’s Karachi chapter on Friday turned violent when a clash took place between protesters and police. Security forces resorted to aerial firing, tear gas and water cannons to push back the charged mob.

Three party workers, who were affected by tear gas, have been transferred to the nearest hospital.

Agence France-Presse photographer, Asif Hasan, was shot while covering the rally.

“AFP photographer Asif Hasan suffered wounds resulting from gunshots fired by…protesters, police have not opened fire,” Abdul Khalique Shaikh, a senior police officer in Karachi, told Reuters.

“The bullet struck his lung, and passed through his chest. He is out of immediate danger and he has spoken to his colleagues,” Doctor Seemi Jamali, a spokeswoman for Karachi’s Jinnah Hospital where Hassan was taken, told AFP.

Dawn explains about the protest.

Hundreds of people had gathered at Teen Talwar to register their protest over the publication of a blasphemous cartoon disrespecting Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) by French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

It’s not a “blasphemous” cartoon because the cartoonist and the magazine don’t subscribe to the system of taboos and exclusions that label it “blasphemous.” It’s “blasphemous” only to people who do subscribe to that system. And the cartoon didn’t “disrespect” the self-proclaimed “prophet” – it portrayed him as far more of a mensch than his nightmarish defenders. And never mind peace be upon him; how about peace for the rest of us? How about an end to the war on the rest of us that’s being carried on by his worst followers?

Today’s rally was aimed at registering its protest outside the French Consulate building. City police had blocked all the roads leading to the consulate and had stopped protesters from marching towards the consulate. The protesters were seen carrying batons.

The rally comes a day after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif led Parliament in condemning the cartoons.

Oh shut up. Act like adults. Have some self-respect.

Rallies are also being carried out in the capital Islamabad and the eastern city of Lahore against the controversial cartoons.

Religio-political groups of all schools of thought are observing today as a black day against the French magazine. The Tehreek Hurmat-i-Rasool, a conglomerate of 20 plus groups, Jamaat-i-Islami, Jamatud Dawa, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F, Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan, Sunni Tehreek and Sunni Ittehad Council also announced on Thursday launching a countrywide protest movement against the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo.

Maybe if they unite they can persuade the government to nuke Paris. You know they want to.

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

The Friday flogging is put off

Jan 16th, 2015 10:37 am | By

Sigh of relief: Raif’s second flogging has been postponed “for medical reasons.”

Not a sigh of full relief, obviously, but comparative relief.

Better than that, the king has sent his case to the Supreme Court for review.

The BBC reports:

The case of a Saudi blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes has been referred to the Supreme Court by the king’s office, the BBC has learned.

Blogger Raif Badawi’s wife said the referral, made before he was flogged 50 times last Friday, gave him hope that officials would end his punishment.

A second round of lashings was postponed for medical reasons.

You’ve put on your spectacle, KSA. Now let him go to Canada to join his wife and children.

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

More book-demolition

Jan 15th, 2015 6:23 pm | By

And speaking of silencing writers – in Lebanon the silencers have silenced some dead ones.

Ancient books in a historic library in the Lebanese city of Tripoli have been torched by Islamist[s], after a pamphlet purportedly insulting religion was found inside one of the books.

Security sources say that up to 78,000 books, many irreplaceable ancient Muslim and Christian texts and manuscripts, are now unsalvageable, according to Agence France Press.

The Al-Saeh library in the Serali neighborhood was set ablaze after a local gang to objection [took exception] to a sheet apparently insulting to the Prophet Mohammed, found hidden in the pages of one of the library books.

One sheet in one book, so they destroyed 78,000 books.

Lebanese blogger Elie Fares, who runs the website A Separate State Of Mind, blogged on Saturday night: “The country is burning, let’s not worry about a library. A lot of people might say that. But the library in question was a true national treasure, containing 78000 books, many of which exist in very few copies and many of which are, ironically, books about Islam.

“We just lost 78,000 books. We have lost many innocent lives as well over the past few days. And for the sake of what?

“I’m not Muslim but I’m more Muslim than the lunatics who torched that library and so are most of the people of Tripoli that many Lebanese love to dismiss so easily.”

This is not a good trend.

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

The silencing of Perumal Murugan

Jan 15th, 2015 6:11 pm | By

Soutik Biswas at the BBC has more on Perumal Murugan and his silencing by protesters.

Madhorubhagan, first published in 2010, is set a century ago, It’s a gripping fictional account of a poor, childless couple, and how the wife, who wants to conceive, takes part in an ancient Hindu chariot festival where, on one night, consensual sex between any man and woman is allowed. Murugan explores the tyranny of caste and pathologies of a community in tearing the couple apart and destroying their marriage.

Well we can’t have that – no exploring of any tyrannies, or someone will get pissed off.

One critic said the novel “lays bare with unsparing clarity a relationship caught between the dictates of social conventions and the tug of personal anxieties”. Fellow writers lauded Murugan’s stark and shocking imagery and his “sensitive portrait” of the couple. “Childless couples, especially the women in these marriages, suffer untold humiliation even today. If anything deserves to be banned, it is this control over women’s sexuality,” says Murugan’s translator Aniruddhan Vasudevan.

India has a long and chequered history of banning books – usually for allegedly offending religious and community sentiments, misrepresenting the country or perceived obscenity – but such a drastic reaction by a writer who has been clearly intimidated is unprecedented.

Things reportedly came to a head at a so-called “peace meeting” on Monday between Murugan and the groups opposed to him. The author has not spoken about the meeting – the groups had demanded that he offer an unconditional apology, delete the controversial portions, take back unsold copies and stop writing on “controversial subjects that hurt the sentiments of the people”.

See? What did I say? No you may not explore any tyrannies, because we will give you tyranny if you try. Poor India, full of such horrible shouting meddling interfering demanding people with such easily “hurt sentiments.”

It is also not entirely clear why the groups got worked up over a novel published in Tamil four years ago. Murugan reckons the English translation One Part Woman, which was published last year by Penguin, is probably the reason, and that “somebody who read it could have instigated the local organisations“. He believes caste groups, incensed by some characters in his novel, and pro-Hindu organisations ganged up to force his hand.

“Caste groups” presumably meaning upper caste groups, because what do the lowest castes have to gain from silence?

In December, the right-wing Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, National Volunteers’ Organisation) burnt copies of the book, prompting his publishers and writers to issue a strong statement that cultural vigilantes “have all too often bullied writers and publishers, attacking our fundamental rights and freedoms of speech and expression”.

None of the political parties – regional or national – have spoken in support of Murugan. Many say this conspiracy of silence among India’s political parties when it comes to freedom of speech bodes ill for the world’s largest democracy.


“The silencing of Perumal Murugan,” says historian Ramachandra Guha, “is a sad day for Tamil Nadu and for India.” He and others believe that if Murugan does not return to writing in India’s disturbing climate of increasing intolerance of freedom of speech, it will be a tragedy.

One newspaper sharply reminded that the “spirit of orthodoxy and heterodoxy have coexisted” in the Indian intellectual traditions from ancient times. An online petition is already drumming up support for Murugan’s right to free speech. “Right now Murugan does not need a pep talk,” says Vasudevan his translator. “Perhaps he should be allowed to feel the exhaustion while we speak, write, march and read. Hopefully, after allowing himself to fully feel the sadness and exhaustion, he will emerge.”

Writers of the world unite.

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

Guest post: A Departure from the Humanist Society of South Australia

Jan 15th, 2015 5:36 pm | By

Guest post by Bruce Everett

In November of last year, eight months after resigning from committee, I resigned entirely from the Humanist Society of South Australia (HSSA). Unlike my resignation from committee, my resignation from the organisation was undertaken with nothing in the way of explanation, my intent to leave being stated in only two sentences. Aside from a short status update on Facebook which nobody seemed to notice, up until the topic was raised by one Mark Senior here in the comments at Butterflies and Wheels, I’ve made no public mention of my resignation.

Now, given that Mr Senior has attempted to fill the explanatory vacuum with his own narrative of ridiculous and unverified speculation, I’ve opted to air my grievances with the HSSA in public. Those experiencing discomfort on account of my disclosures can thank Mark for his efforts in making it even remotely worth my time and attention.


Surely I’m just leaving the HSSA because Mark is there, and I don’t like Mark, right? This is only partially correct; I don’t like Mark. I won’t deny this. If you want particulars beyond the immediately relevant, you can use Google.

Late last year, here at Butterflies and Wheels, it was claimed by Mark (writing as “Mofa”) that in addition to my seemingly being a “Muslim apologist”, I left the HSSA in a hissy fit because an anti-harassment policy he opposed, which he’d claimed earlier in the year was rigged to target people like him, was not adopted by committee. The problem with this assertion is that it has been my understanding that the policy was passed as a bylaw by committee around March of last year.

Despite such glaring ridiculousness, Mark’s antics are at most tangential to only a handful of my reasons for departing the HSSA. He’s not central to anything I am or have ever been involved in, and at most points in this post, he won’t feature at all.

This latest case of Mark not knowing what he’s on about can’t all be laid at his feet, and is related to one of my problems with the conduct of the HSSA’s leadership. The HSSA’s anti-harassment policy is a secret policy – it has been passed as a bylaw, but as of last verification (December 2014 – far too late), its implementation has not been announced to the membership. What good is a harassment policy if the membership is unable to know their obligations in relation to standing policy, or what protections they are entitled to under it? How do you square such secretive governance with the IHEU Minimum Statement that affiliated Humanist organisations are supposed to bide by?

“Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality [Emphasis added]”.

(IHEU Minimum Statement on Humanism, retrieved January 2015)

If you can reconcile closed governance like this with the IHEU Minimum Statement, then either you’re a lot smarter than me or you’re just able to twist your mind into knots. At any rate, it’s the Australian Federal Election of 2013 that really brought out the anti-democratic sentiment.

There’s a phrase I loathe, that I’ve heard the Secretary of the HSSA use at least one variant of on a couple of occasions; “…and these people vote!” Despite my sceptical brow-raising at this, all I’ve ever got in response are sentiments like “some enlightenment figures had serious concerns about allowing people to vote” and “perhaps someone should give a talk about it”. Certainly, in the manner of Devil’s Advocate, or in formal debate with speakers from outside the organisation, it would be useful for Humanists to go over the shortcomings of democracy as per certain Enlightenment figures. Ultimately though, if the position you argue from is “democracy; no thanks”, then you can’t affirm the IHEU Minimum Statement, and strictly speaking, shouldn’t even be a member of an IHEU affiliated body, much less be on the committee of one.

More recently, this anti-democratic sentiment has found expression with both the HSSA President and Secretary supporting calls for the current Prime Minister Tony Abbott to release documentation demonstrating his renunciation of past foreign citizenship – members of the Australian Parliament not being able to hold dual citizenship. Aside from the Birther-esque attack on participatory democracy inherent to the sentiments of the campaign, the President and Secretary demonstrate a massive double standard in supporting this initiative.

Through 2013 up until nominations for Australian Humanist of The Year (AHoY) 2014, the HSSA Secretary pushed for the HSSA to nominate former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. A former Prime Minister who, like the current Prime Minister, was born overseas, thus raising the same issues of prior citizenship and documentation. Notably, neither the President nor the Secretary of the HSSA was particularly bothered about Gillard’s non-disclosure at the time.

Don’t get me wrong, I would much prefer a Gillard government over the Abbott nightmare we currently have in power. The Abbott Government is particularly hostile towards people like me, and towards people I care for. My point is, that as ever, double standards are the litmus test for hypocrisy – in this case in terms of the democratic values affirmed by the IHEH minimum statement.


I haven’t even touched on the non-exhaustive list of complaints I detailed in my resignation from committee earlier in 2014; the jokes about Asians cooking people’s pets, the weird body language around People of Colour, the racist dismissal of a Sam Harris talk at the 2012 Global Atheist Convention as “Indian neuroscience”. The response I received to these complaints (and others) was that the people making these comments were busy and hard-working, and hence made mistakes.

“It’s been such a long, hard shift; I just slagged off seven different ethnicities! I couldn’t help myself! What a day! Normally I just slag off three before supper, a Scotch and bed!” – This does not happen.

Not mentioned in my resignation from committee earlier this year, thanks to the timing, was an incident on the HSSA Facebook page, where I argued with the President over my concerns about anti-Semitism on Australian university campuses and over expressions of solidarity with Hamas made by Socialist Alternative. The President’s line of argument was both apologetic and unoriginal; extreme action (by Israel) draws extreme responses; perhaps Socialist Alternative didn’t know about the details of the Hamas charter I cited; etc., etc.

This kind of response is ridiculous, and unbefitting of a Humanist leader. Are we to adopt the fictional assumption that in the last intifada, the middle class suburbs of eastern Australia were heavily bombed, and accordingly, make allowances for agitated Socialist Alternative members? Are we to overlook the fascist pedigree of Hamas that has roots reaching back before modern Israel, or the fact that Hamas also brutalizes the Palestinian population, or the fact that the genocidal content of their charter has been well known for decades?

I guess if like the President, I chose to keep company with people who make statements like “THEEEEEEY have milked the memory of The Holocaust for too long!” I’d be under pressure to learn how to accommodate certain viewpoints.

You have to wonder what former AHoY, Leslie Cannold, would make of all this. Further, given her objections to rape apologetics for Julian Assange, something that was a potential deal-breaker for her joining the WikiLeaks party, the President and Secretary’s views on the relevant rape allegations would probably be cause for further angst. Suffice to say, on more than one occasion, I’ve had to listen to both the President and Secretary go well beyond the kind of defence offered by last year’s AHoY, Geoffrey Robertson.

The most galling thing about a HSSA leader expressing these kinds of excuses and conspiricist ideations though, is the fact that Leslie Cannold’s name, like that of all recent AHoY award winners, has been invoked on more than one occasion at HSSA meetings in order to cast the HSSA in a prestigious light. I regret being as tolerant as I have been towards this disgrace and HSSA members should feel similarly embarrassed.

Writing about this wing-nuttery evokes the memory of an episode involving one of the members retained from the old (pre-2012) HSSA. The issue of Palestine’s treatment at the hands of Israel was raised at a Humanist meeting in 2013, where the mentioned member put his oar in by declaring Israel had no right in law to exist. It was one of those fevered declarations that promised to go off into the lands of legal fiction, historical revisions of UN decision making, and meta-ethical/jurisprudential equivocation. Before it could get that far though, the Secretary interrupted with the suggestion that the member should feature as speaker, on the topic of Palestine, at a future meeting.

As far as I know such a talk has not yet eventuated, possibly having been nipped in the bud on account of the elder member’s expressed views on 9/11, The World Trade Centre, and the strength of steel girders exposed to burning jet fuel. Apparently appealing to prejudice only gets you so far, which I guess is something to be thankful for.


Speaking as a poor person from the Northern Suburbs, I don’t appreciate the hostility inherent in the President inviting me to ‘like’ a Facebook page dedicated to denigrating poor people from the Northern Suburbs. On an interpersonal level, it’s not mitigating that the President is oblivious to this hostility. And if the HSSA is going to give commentary about poverty, something it does choose to do, surely the President’s cluelessness is relevant?

When I raised this matter on the HSSA Facebook page, on a thread about poverty, precisely because the President failed to properly address it at an earlier juncture when given the opportunity, I had my participation condescendingly illegitimated as “nasty” by the Secretary, as if mild sarcasm could ever make such a thing illegitimate.

Conversing down to poor folk, dismissively, in the context of a discussion about poverty, when there is already a neglected track record of classist hostility involved, is not good form. Couple this with the misanthropic and anti-democratic sentiments already in circulation, and you’ve got a serious cultural problem for any organisation professing to be democratic, compassionate and concerned about poverty. A “shut up pleb” wouldn’t have been out of place.

This is hardly the only expression of classism to be instantiated by the President or Secretary, but I trust I’ve made my point sufficiently.


So what now?

I’ve joined an interstate Humanist society so that I can remain IHEU affiliated. I don’t expect much, and being interstate I don’t expect to be able to keep an eye on their inner workings. But if any other HSSA members want to repeat my exodus, they can look me up and I can show them how.

The professional contacts I tried to bring to the HSSA, on account of just a whiff of the problems I’ve mentioned, have to varying extents been alienated. Potential future projects involving them will likely have to be undertaken independent of organised South Australian Humanism. Given the high profile of an education academic who was one of these contacts, their reluctance to renew their HSSA membership is a huge loss for South Australian Humanism. Not that the members have been kept informed about this.

I still have friends in the HSSA, including a couple I have no reason to distrust being on the present committee. I worry about them a little. In the first instance I usually worry that they’ll be having their time wasted, their efforts negated if they don’t fall narrowly in-line with the HSSA hobby-horse regime. But then I remember some of the prejudices in circulation, and my concerns drift to nastier issues.

It’s not that it’s impossible for the HSSA to be reformed; it’s that I don’t hold out much hope. At any rate, reform of the HSSA will necessarily require a change of leadership. The HSSA has potential leaders in its numbers capable of the necessary tasks, but so far, the President and Secretary have been elected unopposed – is there enough will for reform among the members?

If I’m going to be honest, I think the best solution for the HSSA is for decent South Australian Humanists to walk away and let the organisation fall apart. Starting again from scratch would require less energy than trying to launch initiatives from this quagmire.

~ Bruce

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