Notes and Comment Blog

Light the darkness

Mar 1st, 2015 6:05 pm | By

There were rallies for Avijit Roy in Bangladesh, too.

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Also Kolkata:

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

But you cannot kill ideas

Mar 1st, 2015 5:45 pm | By

More from the vigil for Avijit Roy:

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

We mourn but we are not out

Mar 1st, 2015 5:41 pm | By

There was a vigil in honor of Avijit Roy in Trafalgar Square this afternoon.

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

Cage’s unsavoury nature became undeniable

Mar 1st, 2015 5:03 pm | By

James Bloodworth got into a discussion with an Amnesty volunteer last week on the question of whether or not it’s a good idea to collaborate with groups or people who stand for bad things, with Cage being the example of standing for bad things. That’s a difficult and unavoidable question for all movements and campaigns and groups, because there are always going to be differences, and it’s not generally easy to know where to draw the line.

But Cage has made it easier now…

My own argument was simply to ask whether it would be acceptable to partner with an organisation of the British far-right in a similar fashion. Would it really be kosher to share a platform with Nick Griffin simply because of ‘common ground’ over his and  our opposition to, say, the war in Iraq?

Of course not, and I suspect my interlocutor now realises this – ever since Cage’s unsavoury nature became undeniable yesterday afternoon, his tweets defending the group have mysteriously disappeared. Or not so mysteriously; for who really wants to be on the record publicly defending a group which referred to Mohammed Emwazi (aka Jihadi John) as a ‘beautiful man’?

Yes, that makes it a whole lot easier.

Nor can yesterday’s Cage press conference be defended on the basis of putting Mohammed Emwazi’s actions in their proper ‘context’. Contemplate for a second how silly (and how sinister) it would have been to talk about the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik in a similar fashion – not as a ruthless killer but as a misunderstood victim of the system. As a friend put it this morning, the ‘MI5 made me do it’ narrative is also an insult to all of those who fall foul of the immigration system yet do not resort to beheading people.

Many who ought to have known better have coddled Cage in recent years and will no doubt feign surprise at news that the group isn’t so much a human rights group as an Islamist activist outfit. Well I’m sorry to say this but: we told you so.

But there are still people who think Islamist activism is more or less the same kind of thing as human  rights activism. I can never really understand how they manage to think that, but they do.

One hopes that after yesterday’s grim spectacle Amnesty will distance itself from Cage, just as it would any other group that was so closely aligned with (and so ready to make excuses for) dangerous extremists.

There’s that word again. I don’t care that they’re “extremists”; I care that they’re theocratic murderers and rapists and enslavers and colonialists of the most bloodthirsty kind. If they were “extremist” Quakers for instance, we wouldn’t have this problem.

But that’s a quibble. On the larger point, James is quite right.

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

And feel themselves subdued

Mar 1st, 2015 12:35 pm | By

Taslima shares a long string of excerpts from the Koran and the Hadith that mandate the kind of thing the murderers did to Avijit Roy.

The Islamic killers used big sharp knives to kill Dr. Avijit Roy, the well known progressive blogger. ISIS terrorists use sharp knives to behead people. They like knives because Muhammad liked knives to kill nonbelievers. Islamist leaders convince fellow Islamists to kill nonbelievers for the sake of Islam. Allah Himself advise people to kill. There are many Islamic organizations in Bangladesh working to indoctrinate young people with Islam. The leaders of those organizations insist people to believe in the Quran, the words of Allah and the Hadith, the words of Muhammad. Governments and almost all established organizations encourage people to believe in Allah the God and Muhammad the messenger.

If you are a Muslim, you have to believe in the Quran and Hadith. And if you believe in the Quran and Hadith, you have to agree with Allah that atheists should be brutally killed. These are the texts that inspire Islamists to kill Avijit Roy, the freethinker. These are the texts that inspire ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab etc. to kill nonbelievers and non-Muslims.

Read and ponder the whole list in all its horribleness. I’ll select just a few from Taslima’s selection.

Quran (5:33) – “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement”

Quran (8:12) – “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.”

That’s the “prophet” that we are told Muslims love the way they love their parents, only more.

Quran (9:5) – “So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them.”

If that were something written by Plato or K’ung-fu-tzu people would be free to say we’ve outgrown that kind of thing, and just ignore it. But no, it’s in The Holy Book, so it’s a crime and Forbidden and a sin and idolatry and unbelief to say we’ve outgrown it.

Quran (9:29) – “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”

Fight fight fight; conquer; squash; extort money.

Fuck that noise.

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

Maajid Nawaz takes this moment to salute Gita Sahgal

Mar 1st, 2015 11:56 am | By

Remember this? From five years ago? Gita Sahgal told the Sunday Times about her disagreement with Amnesty International over their support for CAGE? And they fired her as a result?

A SENIOR official at Amnesty International has accused the charity of putting the human rights of Al-Qaeda terror suspects above those of their victims.

Gita Sahgal, head of the gender unit at Amnesty’s international secretariat, believes that collaborating with Moazzam Begg, a former British inmate at Guantanamo Bay, “fundamentally damages” the organisation’s reputation.

In an email sent to Amnesty’s top bosses, she suggests the charity has mistakenly allied itself with Begg and his “jihadi” group, Cageprisoners, out of fear of being branded racist and Islamophobic.

Sahgal describes Begg as “Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban”. He has championed the rights of jailed Al-Qaeda members and hate preachers, including Anwar al-Awlaki, the alleged spiritual mentor of the Christmas Day Detroit plane bomber.

The rest is pay-walled, but you get the idea.

Maajid Nawaz wrote a pointed little Facebook post linking to that article yesterday:

I take this moment to salute human rights campaigner Gita Sahgal. Five years ago to the month she was sacked by Amnesty International for exposing their links to Islamist group CAGE (Jihadi John’s friends) in The Sunday Times to Richard Kerbaj
Will you apologise Amnesty? Sincerely, your former Prisoner of Conscience.

Seriously. They should have listened to Gita instead of firing her. Islamists are not allies of human rights organizations. Islamists have human rights, and AI gets to campaign to protect those human rights, but that’s not the same thing as being allies.

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

Very expertly and with ferocity

Mar 1st, 2015 11:31 am | By

Three suspects were arrested in Bangladesh on Saturday but it’s not clear if they were arrested specifically on suspicion of involvement in the murder of Avijit Roy or for Islamism in general.

Three suspected Islamists were on Saturday arrested in Bangladesh in a pre-dawn raid, as authorities intensified a crackdown on extremists following the brutal killing of American blogger Avijit Roy in the capital.

Acting on a tip-off, elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) conducted a pre-dawn raid at a five-storey building in the northeastern port city of Chittagong and arrested three suspected militants.

“We have seized 30 grenades…it appears they (militants) could have made some 300-400 bombs with the explosives we found at the den,” RAB’s commanding officer in Chittagong Lt Col Mista Uddin told reporters in a primary briefing.

Were the police just giving the explosives a pass until yesterday? That seems hard to believe.

A bio-engineer and naturalised US citizen, Roy also earned a repute of being a writer. He was in Dhaka to attend Bangladesh’s annual February or Ekushey Book Fair in memory of 1952 Language Movement martyrs.

Roy’s family and friends said Islamist radicals had been threatening him in recent weeks because he maintained a blog ‘Mukto-mona’ or ‘Freemind’ that highlighted humanist and rationalist ideas and condemned religious extremism.

“They (Islamists) are behind the murder of my son,” Roy’s octogenarian father famous physicist Ajay Roy earlier said after coming out of a police station filing a murder case.

Doctors who carried out the autopsy on the body said professionals appeared to have carried out the murder as they struck three blows “very expertly and with ferocity” on Roy’s head, causing his death from profuse bleeding.

Police said they were investigating the involvement of Ansarullah Bangla Team, an Islamist extremist group based in Bangladesh, that claimed responsibility for the murder.

Allahu akbar.

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

Using religion in the attempt to resist freethinking

Mar 1st, 2015 11:01 am | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free thinking in Bangladesh is become a great danger

Mar 1st, 2015 10:17 am | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A re-trial for apostasy

Mar 1st, 2015 10:01 am | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The country of one million clerics

Feb 28th, 2015 5:49 pm | By

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

Any environment repugnant to mankind soon turns into sheer hell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here she is:


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

That Criminal Court in Jeddah

Feb 28th, 2015 5:41 pm | By

Ensaf Haidar has bad news:

Very Urgent:

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

Free Raif Badawi posted some details:

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

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

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

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

Please take action now.

Thank you.
Admin Antje.

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

Beware the Wheat

Feb 28th, 2015 5:23 pm | By

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

Millions of people are joining the anti-wheat revolution.

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

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

CBC News expanded on the subject.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A dangerous activity

Feb 28th, 2015 11:40 am | By

Deeyah Khan underlines the importance of free expression.

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

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

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

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

And random murderers with machetes.

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

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

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

The Future of Secularism in a Multi-Ethnic UK

Feb 28th, 2015 10:55 am | By

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

The Future of Secularism in a Multi-Ethnic UK

LSESU Atheist, Secularist & Humanist Society panel discussion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suggested hashtag for this event for Twitter users: #LSEAtheist

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

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

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

If everyone could share his story

Feb 28th, 2015 10:35 am | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

H/t Salty Current

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

The cause is highly personal

Feb 28th, 2015 9:29 am | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And my friend.

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

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

But we have to resist.

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

Our art is our humanity

Feb 28th, 2015 8:52 am | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Bystanders stared impassively

Feb 27th, 2015 6:11 pm | By

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another win for hatred and death.

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

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

I wish Taslima were thousands of miles from Delhi.

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

What was destroyed

Feb 27th, 2015 5:31 pm | By

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

Here’s one:


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