Notes and Comment Blog

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

“Open to all” does not mean “pleasing to all”

Feb 3rd, 2012 9:33 am | By

The LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society issued a statement yesterday.

It starts with thanks for support from various groups (including One Law for All) and a chronology of the exciting events of the last couple of weeks, the first being an invitation from the SU to come in for a chat.

Friday 20th

In the meeting, the LSESU advanced that we were not providing a safe space for Muslim students to interact, as the pictures on our Facebook page were offending Muslims.

But again – why is an Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society expected to provide a safe space for Muslim students to interact? Why is that an issue? Are all student societies expected to provide a safe space for their own opposites to interact? Wouldn’t such an expectation render all student societies utterly meaningless and void? Or is it only the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society that is expected to do that? But in that case…why the fuck?

On the 25th the SU clarified this point somewhat:

When activity comes under the banner of the Student’s Union it should be open to all members…….. The images which are posted there present a clear barrier to entry for a large number of students at LSE……. the cartoons has caused not only reflects negatively on the LSE SU brand but more importantly has caused significance offence to our members.

So there we have the fundamental confusion: the confusion of being open with having no “barriers” when barriers are understood as “anything some students might dislike.” The activity is open to all members, but that doesn’t require it to be attractive to all members. At that rate there could be no musical society, because some people dislike music; there could be no socialist society, because socialism would “present a clear barrier” to free-market libertarians; there could be no feminist society, for reasons which there’s no need to spell out.

ASH made the same point crisply in response to the SU:

Disagreeing and even being offended by some of the contents of a social space do not represent a barrier to entry.

It must be dispiriting to be at university with people who have to be told that.

January 30th

We asked the SU to “cite the relevant literature that shows conclusively that “Muslim students cannot look at pictures of the prophet Muhammad”.” No answers received.

The LSESU Socialist Workers Society posted the posters on campus that included the following statement:

“The Atheist Society’s efforts to publish inflammatory “satirical” cartoons in a deliberate attempt to offend Muslims serve to highlight a festering undercurrent of racism.”

Budding George Galloways, all of them.

…we have now changed the name of the Facebook group back to “LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society”.

During the two weeks of the on-going investigation, the LSESU has not been able to justify their request to remove the ‘Jesus and Mo’ cartoons from our website and their request to change the name of our Facebook group with reference to the LSESU constitution or bye-laws.

The SU answered our letter, but was still unable to state explicitly the effective and binding bye-laws on which their request has been based. Therefore, we are back to our old name, and will stay with our name until the SU can prove to us that we are in violation of any of their regulations or bye-laws.

We await further developments.


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

Unhand that banker, you filthy cad

Feb 2nd, 2012 4:43 pm | By

Brendan O’Neill is hilarious, in an irritating way. His one trick is Defending the Indefensible. The only surprise he offers is what obviously bad exploitative ruthless item or person he can next find to claim as a victim of the mob.

This week it’s bankers. Yes bankers, who are so hard done by, being allowed to trash the global economy for the sake of stuffing their own wallets and then allowed to keep their wallet-stuffing jobs and continue getting gigantic bonuses to reward them for trashing the global economy in order to stuff their own wallets. Naturally they need defending by the fearless non-conformist quirky gang at Spiked.

The mad pursuit of Fred Goodwin and his ill-gotten knighthood confirms that bankers are the new paedophiles. Bank bosses are to posh commentators what paedos were to hacks at the News of the World – wicked creatures one can rail against in order to feel puffed-up and Good.

Pffffffff. One could just as easily say the same of O’Neill. He doesn’t know that that’s why people “rail against” Fred Goodwin, any more than I know that he writes this kind of coat-trailing shite in order to feel clever and Savvy.

Of course, the difference between the old tabloid wars against paedos and the current moralistic hounding of bankers is that the latter has been sanctioned by the influential chattering classes, giving it a reach and clout the News of the World‘s crusade against paedos never achieved.

Brilliant; he sounds like Terry Eagleton heaping scorn on “Islington man” from whatever blighted slum he would live in if only he hadn’t become so prosperous over the years.

There’s lots more of this formulaic bullshit; read it all if you like that kind of thing.

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

Why a book about censorship?

Feb 2nd, 2012 3:53 pm | By

The Economist talked to Nick Cohen about his new book, aptly titled You Can’t Read This Book.

First question was

What made you want to write a book about censorship?

Now what do you suppose he said.

Firstly, it was watching a Russian oligarch with a criminal record using the libel law in Britain to silence all newspapers that wrote articles about him. Secondly, a great feminist writer, Ophelia Benson, co-wrote a book called “Does God Hate Women?” which was denounced overwhelmingly by the liberal press in Britain, including the paper I write for, the Observer. So once you start with an idea, the logic of the book then takes over.

That’s not bad. Almost worth having one’s book overwhelmingly denounced by the liberal press.

It was you know. I went over it all at the time, naturally, but not everyone who is reading now was reading then, so just by way of a reminder or a quick background – that’s exactly what happened. The Independent denounced it, the Observer denounced it, the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ denounced it. BBC 3′s Night Waves invited not one but two defenders of religion to tell me how wrong we were and how feminist Islam and Catholicism are. One of the best and least mendacious reviews the book got was in – wait for it – the Church Times. Seriously.

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

Taslima’s readers and fans

Feb 2nd, 2012 3:25 pm | By

Taslima Nasreen has a lot of tweets about the cancellation of (or move outside of) her book launch in Kolkata. News media have been quoting her tweets, so I might as well do a few too. (How nice it would be if she had a blog.) She is getting plenty of support. The bullies don’t have a monopoly, by any means.

Wow! Veiled girls buying & reading my books. I hope they would soon remove their veils & start living w dignity.

Dhaka: Eminent writer Syed Abul Maksud holds Taslima Nasreen’s autobigraphy books ‘Nirbasan’ at Ekushe Boimela.

One from twelve hours ago:

Dhaka Book Fair in Muslim Majority Bangladesh now successfully launched my book. Kolkata Book Fair in Muslim minority India could not.

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

More publications that will uphold love for truth

Feb 2nd, 2012 11:40 am | By

Now it’s Taslima Nasreen’s turn.

Taslima Nasreen has faced protests at the launch of her latest memoir, with an event at the Calcutta Book Fair cancelled. Ms Nasreen is not at the event, and tweeted that her publisher was forced to launch the book outside the hall.

It would be nice if she had a blog. Twitter is all very well, but a blog gives a person room to move. I do think Taslima Nasreen should have a blog.

The protest comes in the wake of an intensified debate over artistic free speech in India. UK writer Sir Salman Rushdie recently had to abandon plans to attend a literary festival in Jaipur amid security concerns. On Sunday an artist was assaulted in a gallery in Delhi, where he is exhibiting a number of nude paintings.

And don’t forget Aseem Trivedi.

Ms Nasreen was launching Nirbasan (Exile), the latest instalment of her memoirs that gives an account of her flight from Calcutta in 2007-08…Ms Nasreen has written dozens of books of poetry, essays, novels and short stories in her native Bengali language, mostly in exile. Her most controversial book, Lajja (Shame), was banned in Bangladesh and she fled after Muslim extremists called for her death. The publisher of the latest instalment, Shibani Mukherji, told the Press Trust of India it was “determined to go ahead with more publications that will uphold values, love for truth and social progress”.

Props to Shibani Mukherji!

Now if only Taslima Nasreen had a blog…

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

Treason and offending

Feb 2nd, 2012 11:05 am | By

How not to understand free speech.

The case of a cartoonist charged with treason and offending India’s national sentiments reflects a growing debate over what constitutes freedom of expression in India. His accusers argue that while it is permissible to make fun of politicians, you cannot make fun of the state.

That’s how, right there. No no no, that’s entirely wrong. Yes you can make fun of the state. The state and the church or mosque are right at the top of the list of things you must be able to make fun of in order to have free speech at all. If free speech applies just to things that don’t matter, then it’s not free.

Aseem Trivedi, a 25-year-old political cartoonist, was charged with treason and insulting the Indian national emblems, according to local news reports and CPJ interviews…

Trivedi, a freelancer from the central state of Uttar Pradesh, was inspired by the well-known social activist Anna Hazare‘s fight against corruption and graft. Trivedi drew cartoons criticizing the Indian government, some of which were exhibited while Hazare was fasting in Mumbai in December.

Back in Mumbai, Trivedi faces another legal attack. There, lawyer R.P. Pandey has filed his own complaint, alleging that the cartoons are “defamatory and derogatory” and requesting “strict legal action,” according to news reports. While Mumbai police have yet to file charges, the complaint has had repercussions: Big Rock, a domain name registrar, suspended Trivedi’s website,, citing the criminal complaint, The Times of India reported.

Speaking to CPJ from Mumbai, Pandey said that while parodying politicians was a legitimate pursuit, mocking national institutions like the Indian Parliament and national symbols was “completely unacceptable.”

No no no. You can mock institutions. Mocking institutions is a very important component of free speech.

Certainly, the blocking of Trivedi’s website has caused a sense of disquiet. Sudhir Tailang, a well-known political cartoonist based in Delhi, says, “The very essence of cartoons are their anti-establishment note. Take away that and you take away dissent.”

Exactly. Do better, India.



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

Richard, Nick, Salman, Ayaan

Feb 2nd, 2012 9:51 am | By

Richard Dawkins has a response to “Froborr.”

Ok I’m lying, he doesn’t really, but it might as well be. Plus it’s a response to all the “oh won’t you please think of the poor fragile believers?” wails that keep being wailed.

Actually he’s talking specifically about the Jaipur Festival (where he was one of the speakers) and Salman Rushdie and Nick Cohen’s new book – but he’s also talking generally, as is only natural, since all of those items have wide implications.

I have just returned from the Jaipur Literary Festival, infamous for the recent reprise of the 1989 threats against Sir Salman Rushdie by Muslims the world over, lamentably applauded by leading churchmen, politicians, historians and otherwise liberal journalists. Coincidentally, I am reading You Can’t Read this Book, Nick Cohen’s brilliant broadside against ‘censorship in an age of freedom’.

I’ve already read Nick’s book, because I read it as it was being written. I’ll be reading it again though. Anyway the point is, the subject of Nick’s book keeps being re-enacted, more absurdly and invasively and threateningly all the time.

Richard said at Jaipur:

Our whole society is soft on religion. The assumption is remarkably widespread that religious sensitivities are somehow especially deserving of consideration – a consideration not accorded to ordinary prejudice. . . I admit to being offended by Father Christmas, ‘Baby Jesus’, and Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, but if I tried to act on these prejudices I’d quite rightly be held accountable. I’d be challenged to justify myself. But let somebody’s religion be offended and it’s another matter entirely. Not only do the affronted themselves kick up an almighty fuss; they are abetted and encouraged by influential figures from other religions and the liberal establishment. Far from being challenged to justify their beliefs like anybody else, the religious are granted sanctuary in a sort of intellectual no go area.

Froborr take a bow.

Richard quotes Nick on the new atheists:

The new atheists thought that the best argument against Islamist terror, or Christian fundamentalism, or Hindu or Jewish nationalism, was to say bluntly that there is no God, and we should grow up. Fear of religious violence also drove the backlash against atheism from those who felt that appeasement of psychopathic believers was the safest policy; that if we were nice to them, perhaps they would calm down. Prim mainstream commentators decried the insensitivity and downright rudeness with which the new atheists treated the religious. The complaints boiled down to a simple and piteous cry: “Why can’t you stop upsetting them?”

The answer is simple. If the criterion for what is allowable in public discourse becomes “that which will not upset anyone” then public discourse will be a vast desert of nothingness. We can’t have thought or inspiration or development or change without the risk of upsetting some people. “Not upsetting” is simply the wrong criterion for permissible discourse.

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

Why the Theodosian Code is so hysterically bad

Feb 1st, 2012 4:35 pm | By

Skeptic lawyer went to a really nice reception last night at the Scottish Parliament building, which is apparently almost as ugly as the Experience Music Project here in Seattle, and in much the same style -

…a fellow lawyer suggested that it looked like someone had eaten a giant jigsaw and then thrown up on the Old Town.


Behold the EMP:

 Very much as if someone had thrown up a huge jigsaw.

But that’s not the real subject. The real subject is that reception; what a jolly occasion it sounds.

it was a reception for equal marriage (same sex marriage) held at Holyrood  and co-sponsored by all four parties currently represented in the parliament.

To quote from the linked article in the Scotsman:

Labour’s Johann Lamont, Ruth Davidson of the Conservatives, Willie Rennie of the Lib Dems and the Greens’ Patrick Harvie signed a pledge expressing their backing for homosexual weddings.

The four opposition leaders signed a declaration saying that they would “campaign to beat the ban on same sex marriage”.

At an event in the Scottish Parliament organised by the Equality Network, they cut a wedding cake to symbolise their support for a change in the law. The cake-cutting ceremony was carried out before MSPs of all parties attended an evening reception co-sponsored by the openly gay SNP MSP Joe Fitzpatrick.

That makes me very wistful. Such an event couldn’t possibly happen here, in the land of paleolithic views married to relentless pandering.

It pissed off the right people, too. Guess who got all scowly.

Last night John Deighan, parliamentary officer for the Catholic Church in Scotland, said: “It is disappointing that party leaders have been so cavalier in joining the bandwagon for redefining marriage. We deserve a more reflective approach from those in a position of political leadership.

“Marriage is essentially linked with recognising and supporting the roles of mother and father. There is a lack of real tolerance when that view is sweepingly likened to a form of discrimination or bigotry. This is, of course, an attempt to win a political position by intimidation rather than by coherence of argument.”

Disgusting as always – the bullying Catholic church accusing elected politicians of intimidation.

But the party leaders were unrepentant, indicating their strong support for changing the law.

Oh that makes me so wistful. Here they would be falling all over themselves to apologize and mollify and attempt a compromise.

Skeptic lawyer has some wonderful commentary on Roman law and the Theodosian code.

 Apparently, the reason the Theodosian Code is so hysterically bad is because it wasn’t drafted by lawyers, but by various Christian mates of the emperor. The Roman legal profession kept its paganism with great tenacity, only capitulating when — after repeated professional harassment — they were all threatened with the loss of their practicing certificates (ius respondendii) if they failed to convert. At the same time, women were driven from the Bar and shortly thereafter, the Greek schools of philosophy were closed.

In other words, the conservative Christian attempt to define marriage so that gays and lesbians can’t use it is intimately linked to misogyny and hostility to intellectual freedom. That’s worth keeping in mind.

That’s just a snippet; read it all.

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

This is really true

Feb 1st, 2012 4:15 pm | By

Jesus took a leaf from Jefferson’s book and did a condensed Koran.


Mo said “sheet.” That’s offensive!

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

Ideas that undermine received wisdom

Feb 1st, 2012 10:59 am | By

This claim of “Froborr’s” is really appallingly hostile to a great many of the foundations of a liberal open thoughtful society or culture or world.

First, the move to make a truth claim about reality part of one’s identity (“a huge part of who I am”) is death to thinking. It’s the same move the shouters about “hurting religious sentiments” make: it turns one’s ideas into one’s Self in a move to make it taboo to question them. Making it taboo to question ideas is death to thinking.

Second, the move to equate public discussion with forcible conversion is, obviously, death to public discussion. If all argument that [X is better or more true or more evidence-based than Y] amounts to forcible conversion and thus is “evil in one of its purest forms” – well I don’t even need to say more: the upshot is obvious.

The whole thing is an alarming ploy to make all existing world-views indistinguishable from people’s identities and therefore sacrosanct and not to be challenged. That’s simply a recipe for mental stagnation.

Russell Blackford made a related point the other day, in connection with Elaine Ecklund.

An important component of the role of universities is the creation of a space where what seem like commonsense ideas – handed down through socialisation and tradition – can be held up to the light and challenged. One thing that we want from academics, especially in fields such as philosophy, is the capacity and courage to attack popular ideas, including popular ideas of morality. This kind of intellectual critique, which may involve the development of unpopular critiques of how ordinary people think, is one way that we make progress as a society.

Accommodationist thinkers in the style of Ecklund or, say, Chris Mooney, want to reverse this. The idea is to market a product, such as science, by showing how it is safe for people to consume without it challenging their existing worldviews (which may be based on religion or traditional morality). People with various existing worldviews are taken as demographics, and the idea is to market science to them.

But science and scholarship are dangerous – not necessarily in the sense of creating physical risks, but in the sense that they can lead to ideas that undermine received wisdom. Universities are places where dangerous ideas, in this sense, are created, refined, and tested in debate. To suggest otherwise, and adopt the marketing strategy favoured by accommodationists, is profoundly ignorant and anti-intellectual.

I think that’s absolutely spot-on, and crucial.

It’s really not a good idea to try to persuade everyone that only safe ideas are permissible, much less that potentially unnerving ones are pure evil. It’s a blow for ignorance and anti-intellectualism and against learning, change, growth, surprise, development – and freedom.

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

“Evil in one of its purest forms”

Feb 1st, 2012 10:14 am | By

Are we seeing a new trend? A new variety of passive-aggressive accommodationist mendacious gnu-bashing?

Ray Moscow alerted me to a new* entry in the genre at something called The Slacktiverse by someone called “Froborr.” It starts with: I’m an atheist. That’s my identity. It would be traumatic to change that. It’s just as traumatic to change the other way around. It ends with: Therefore, Greta Christina and other overt atheists are evil.

There’s a lot in between, of course, but that’s where it ends up.

Greta Christina posted last month[1] that, “For many atheists, our main goal is persuading the world out of religion.” She goes on in the same post to establish herself in favor of that position:

We don’t want to see this happen by law or violence or any kind of force, of course. But we think religion isn’t just mistaken. We think it’s harmful. Some of think it’s appallingly harmful. Some of us think it’s inherently harmful: that the very qualities that make religion unique are exactly what make it capable of doing terrible harm. What’s more, we see religion as not just hurting atheists. We see it as hurting billions of believers. So we’re working towards a world where it no longer exists.

So, according to Greta Christina, her primary goal as an atheist is to make most of the world’s population suffer the trauma of losing their faith, so that they can then be better (read: more Greta Christina-like) people with truer (read: more similar to Greta Christina’s) beliefs. And I should be okay with this, because she promises not to use legal coercion or violence to bring it about.

I am not okay with this.

The post in question is What Are The Goals of the Atheist Movement? (Why is there a footnote instead of a hyperlink? What’s that about? The hyperlink is a convention for a reason: it’s much easier. What on earth is the point of reverting to the print convention?)

Now, notice that Froborr misrepresents what Greta said, immediately below the passage where she said it. She said “we’re working towards a world where it no longer exists” and Froborr misrepresents that as “mak[ing] most of the world’s population suffer the trauma of losing their faith.” Here’s the mistake: working towards a world where religion no longer exists means just that, not working towards a world where everyone has been converted from theism to atheism. There’s a whole spectrum of ways that can happen. One is that atheism becomes more visible and available, and people who are lukewarm or doubtful or closeted feel more free to become atheist or secular or humanist (or all three). Another is that as that happens, more children grow up without pressure to be theist. Another is that many people are persuaded by atheist arguments but the process is not traumatic or an experience of “losing” something, but a liberation or a revelation of vast possibilities. And then over all, there is no actual missionary activity. There is public discussion; there is not knocking on the front door with a tract. There are books; there are not atheist gangs invading churches and mosques.

Froborr ends up with:

You do not have a right to make others suffer for your beliefs.

No one has that right. Ever.

If Greta Christina’s assessment of religion were correct–if all religious belief is both false and inherently harmful–then religion would be not only a mental illness, but the most widespread mental illness in history. But even if that were true (and I do not believe it is), you do not have a right to cure people by force unless they are demonstrably an immediate danger to themselves or others.

I cannot reiterate this enough: Proselytizing is yet another word for making people suffer in order to transform them into what you think they should be, for no other reason than because they are not what you think they should be.

What Greta Christina advocates–what any atheist advocates when they suggest “increasing the numbers of atheists” as a laudable goal, what any adherent of any religion advocates when they suggest “increasing the number of members of my religion”–is evil in one of its purest forms.

Evil in one of its purest forms.


*New but brand-new; it’s dated January 16 thus pre-dates Be Scofield’s similar piece.

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

We are all Jay Leno, or at least Craig Ferguson

Jan 31st, 2012 3:24 pm | By

Can I play too?

Want to see Arianna Huffington’s garage?

Want to see where bankers go camping?

Want to see Barbra Streisand’s little house in Malibu?

 That’s enough blaspheming and “hurting the sentiments” for one day.

 The BBC is more sympathetic than I am. The BBC takes it all rather seriously, or pretends to.

The US has defended comedian Jay Leno’s right to free speech after India condemned a reference he made to the holiest Sikh shrine.

A Leno skit showed the Golden Temple of Amritsar as the summer home of Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

Mr Romney has faced questions over his wealth and many Sikhs are angry the temple has been depicted as a place for the rich.

But then the BBC says something predictable but incredibly idiotic.

The Sikh community has launched an online petition over the comment.

It has? The whole community? All Sikhs acting as one have launched a petition?

I don’t believe that for a second. Neither would the BBC if it thought about it. Why does it say things like that? Why does it treat certain perceived groups as if they acted as a bloc? Why does it do that so determinedly and predictably that it ends up saying something as imbecilic as “The Sikh community has launched an online petition”? Why is the BBC so allergic to the very possibility that Sikhs or Muslims or Christian can disagree with each other? Why does the BBC simply assume that all Sikhs take the same view of this ludicrous pseudo-outrage about a minor joke?

An Indian minister called Leno’s comments “objectionable” and said “freedom does not mean hurting the sentiments of others”.

Oh shut up. Just shut up, all of you. Just shut up about the babyish “hurting the sentiments” nonsense. You used that to drive Tasleema Nasrin out of India, you used it to keep Salman Rushdie out of Jaipur, you use it every time some godbotherer takes a deep breath – just cut it out. Shut up.

And by the way -

Take my Golden Temple,  please.


I’m looking for a place to store old magazines, this looks about right.


 I look forward to your letters.


Popehat is way ahead of me.

First up, we have Dr. Randeep Dhillon!  Dr. Dhillon is suing Jay Leno.  Is he suing Jay Leno for being a trite, phone-it-in placeholder?  NO!  There’s no California cause of action for that!  SAG would never allow it!  No, Randeep Dhillon is suing Jay Leno for a lame joke about Mitt Romney suggesting that his vacation home was the Golden Temple of Amritsar, a holy site for Sikhs! …

Congrats, Dr. Dhillon!  You win a date with California’s robust anti-SLAPP statute!  You’re going to pay Jay Leno’s attorney fees in this case, which I will estimate to be $50,000!  And because some people will generalize about Sikhs based on the act of one asshole — you — you’ve just done more to expose Sikhs to hatred, contempt, ridicule, and obloquy than that threadbare hack Leno ever could!  Way to go!

Exactly. That one stupid sentence of the BBC’s did more that way than Leno did or could.

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

An affront to principles of human rights

Jan 31st, 2012 2:47 pm | By

Al Jazeera reports on Baltasar Garzón defending his investigation of Franco-era crimes.

“The amnesty law refers to crimes of a political nature, in no way can it be said that crimes against humanity of the kind that were alleged could have any political nature,” the 56-year-old judge said.

“As such it was not even necessary to make a reference to the amnesty law,” he said on the opening day of his testimony in Madrid.

Victims’ families who filed the case in 2006 had described disappearances, illegal detentions and killings, which amounted “in some cases to crimes against humanity, genocide,” he said.

The judge is being prosecuted for ordering the investigation in 2008 into the disappearance of 114,000 people during Spain’s 1936 to 1939 civil war and General Francisco Franco’s subsequent dictatorship.

Garzón is charged with exceeding his powers on the grounds that the alleged crimes were covered by an amnesty agreed in 1977 as Spain moved towards democracy two years after Franco’s death.

“Garzón showed today that his decision to take up the investigation of the crimes of the Franco era was fully supported by international law,” Reed Brody, a lawyer for Human Rights Watch, who was in the court, said.

“But the spectacle of a judge as a criminal defendant, having to justify his investigation into torture, killings and ‘disappearances,’ was itself an affront to principles of human rights and judicial independence,” he said in a statement.

Remember when Musharraf fired all those judges? For that matter, remember when the Bush admin did the same thing? It’s an affront.

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

There’s an explanation

Jan 31st, 2012 2:05 pm | By

Tarek Fatah posted a photo on Facebook with the comment

Inside Islam’s holiest place of worship, The Kaabah in Mecca. For some a romantic stroll in the park, without the fear of Maya Khan.

Six comments in a guy said, in all seriousness -

Have a close careful look!
This man has only one leg, and is being helped by his wife.
Please think carefully a few times prior to commenting on religious locations and issues.


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

“Unwise and untimely”

Jan 31st, 2012 11:51 am | By

Frederick Sparks has an incisive post on Be Scofield on “new atheists” and racism.

In referring to Dr King and the civil rights movement, Scofield also falls into the trap of “the Civil Rights Movement, Brought To You By Black Church”…a bit of historical revisionism that ignores, as professor Anthony Pinn points out, the secular philosophical influences, and that King himself complained that most the black churches were not involved and were not supportive.

Didn’t he just. In the much-quoted Letter from Birmingham Jail for instance -

My Dear Fellow Clergymen: While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.”…

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist.

And so on.

Frederick concludes with a stem-winder:

When the Scofields and Karen Armstrongs of the world talk about how the new atheists just aren’t aware of the liberal, tolerant, sativa smoking, feminist, genderqueer god concept, my response is “I don’t believe in that motherfucker, either.” She’s just as poorly evidenced as the old fashioned patriarchal god. She’s also not the predominant god concept impacting the African American community.

I don’t see an either or proposition between advocating for rational thought, where beliefs are based on evidence, and confronting issues of social justice. The idea that black people should be left alone in their clinging to Jesus due to their history of oppression smacks of just as much paternalism as what Scofield accuses the white new atheists of here.

More, actually.


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

Not acceptable to all those who believe in respect for all religions

Jan 31st, 2012 10:38 am | By

Via Padraig Reidy at Index on Censorship, a new depth of absurdity.

An Early day motion (query: wozzat?) in Parliament a week ago:

That this House notes with concern the sketch on the NBC Jay Leno Show where the most sacred Sikh shrine, the Golden Temple, was disrespected by Jay Leno when it was referred to as GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s summer home; expresses concern and regret that this depiction of the Golden Temple as a home of the rich shows a complete misunderstanding of the Sikh faith and is derogatory to Sikhs across the world; believes that these comments are not acceptable to all those who believe in respect for all religions; calls on Jay Leno and NBC to apologise to all Sikhs for this disrespectful depiction of the Golden Temple; and further calls on the Government to make representations to the US government that while recognising principles of freedom of speech there should be more understanding and respect shown to the Sikh faith.

What? Are they serious? Can they possibly be serious?

Let’s look at that sketch then.

That’s funny.

It’s also an outrage, in the usual way – it shows how rich religious organizations get and how lavishly they spend their money on baubles for the organization. This is particularly outrageous in India, which has – is it 3 million people? 7 million? – living on less than a dollar a day.

But that’s not what that ridiculous motion, sponsored by Virendra Sharma, was getting at. No, that motion was nagging a comedian and a tv network to “respect all religions” which means making no jokes in any way related to them.

It’s unbelievably pathetic.

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

Some women have a hell of a nerve

Jan 30th, 2012 5:44 pm | By

Just in case you missed this – Afghan woman is killed ‘for giving birth to a girl’:

A woman in north-eastern Afghanistan has been arrested for allegedly strangling her daughter-in-law for giving birth to a third daughter.

The murdered woman’s husband, a member of a local militia, is also suspected of involvement but he has since fled.

Senior officials told the BBC that the mother-in-law, known as Wali Hazrata, tied the feet of the 22-year old woman, who was known as Stori, while Stori’s husband strangled her.

He is thought to be a fighter with an illegal armed militia which is is believed to have some political support. Local villagers say that Stori often urged her husband to lay down his arms.

“She lived in a hell not a house. But then she also asked her husband to stay home and avoid going out with these thugs,” one neighbour who wished to remain anonymous told the BBC.

Those three girls are in for a nice life.

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

Too Westernized, secular and progressive to be authentic

Jan 30th, 2012 4:33 pm | By

This is an outstanding observation from Kenan Malik’s talk at Conway Hall:

In recent decades, faith has, in other words, transformed itself into the religious wing of identity politics.  Religion has, ironically, become secularised, driven less by a search for piety and holiness than for identity and belongingness.  The rise of identity politics has transformed the meaning not just of religion but of blasphemy too. Blasphemy used to be regarded as a sin against God. These days it is felt as a sin against the individual believer, an offence against the self and one’s identity. That is why for Sardar, ‘Every word [of The Satanic Verses] was directed at me and I took everything personally’, why he imagined that Rushdie had ‘despoiled the inner sanctum of my identity’. This is also why many laws these days that ostensibly protect faith – such as Britain’s Racial and Religious Hatred Act – are framed primarily in terms of protecting the culture and identity of individuals or communities. In today’s world, identity is God, in more ways than one.

It sums up so much of what is so godawful about these battles – the narcissism, the petulant self-regard, the insistence on taking everything personally, the inflation of arbitrary outrage into some kind of political principle. Ziauddin Sardar had no right to think every word of Rushdie’s novel was directed at him; that’s a stupid, infantile, pre-theory of mind thing to think. It’s His Majesty the Baby thinking.

People make too god damn much of identity and belongingness. It’s the idol of the age. No doubt that goes a long way toward explaining why there is so much hostility to atheists: we prefer freedom from the celestial dictator to endless coddling of our identities.

What, however, defines a community? And who defines which beliefs are essential to a community? Or to the identity of individuals within it?  These, too, are matters not of theology, or even of culture, but of power. The struggle to define certain beliefs or thoughts as offensive or blasphemous is a struggle to establish power within a community and to establish one voice as representative or authentic of that community. What is called offence to a community is in reality usually a debate within a community. – but in viewing that debate as a matter of offence or of blasphemy, one side gets instantly silenced.

As in the serial fusses about Salman Rushdie.

Back in the 1980s Rushdie gave voice to a radical, secular sentiment that in then was deeply entrenched within Asian communities. Rushdie’s critics spoke for some of the most conservative strands. Their campaign against The Satanic Verses was not to protect the Muslim communities from unconscionable attack from anti-Muslim bigots but to protect their own privileged position within those communities from political attack from radical critics, to assert their right to be the true voice of Islam by denying legitimacy to such critics. And they succeeded at least in part because secular liberals embraced them as the ‘authentic’ voice of the Muslim community.

Huge, huge mistake. Mistake any way you look at it – not just for literature but for all the people who got stuck in those “communities” ande have never been able to escape since. More than twenty years stuck being “authentic,” which means being trapped.

Same thing with Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s play Behzti.

The protestors outside the Birmingham Rep outraged by Kaur Bhatti’s play no more spoke for the Sikh community than did Kaur Bhatti herself. Both spoke for different strands within that community.  But, as in the Rushdie affair, only the protestors were seen as authentically of their community, while Kaur Bhatti, like Rushdie, was regarded as too Westernized, secular and progressive to be authentic or truly of her community.  To be a proper Muslim, in other words, in secular liberal eyes, is to be offended by The Satanic Verses, to be a proper Sikh is to be offended by Behzti.

And that’s where the damn LSE Student Union is stuck now – with the idea that only Muslims who are “offended” by Jesus and Mo are proper Muslims, and all others are inauthentic because secularized instead of theocratic. And they think that’s the more progressive view! It’s tragic.

There’s more great stuff in that article; read it at Kenan’s.

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

Trots fight back

Jan 30th, 2012 12:53 pm | By

This just in, from LSE ASH at Facebook – a poster from the Socialist Workers Student Society advertising an event on Thursday. It reads:

Religious discrimination is irrefutably on the rise at LSE. Both the Atheist Society’s efforts to publish inflammatory “satirical” cartoons in a deliberate attempt to offend Muslims, and the ‘Nazi themed’ drinking games serve to highlight a festering undercurrent of racism.

What does really lie behind the claim that religious communities cannot be the target of racists?

Is atheism the road to social progress?

Why do Marxists defend religion?

Great god almighty. A Nazi-themed drinking game is religious discrimination?! And then, if it is, why the “festering undercurrent of racism”? They don’t seem to be able to remember what they’re trying to talk about for the length of a paragraph. Lev Davidovitch would be so embarrassed.

And as for the rest of the dishonest censorious bullshit…The cartoon was and is not remotely “inflammatory” (and what are Trotskyists doing freaking out about things that are “inflammatory” anyway??!) and that stupid babyish tattle-taleish “a deliberate attempt to offend Muslims” is beneath contempt. I feel like composing a cartoon in a deliberate attempt to offend SWP-ers. What a stupidity-magnet.

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

The believer’s inner needs

Jan 30th, 2012 12:13 pm | By


I’m reading Kenan Malik’s talk at the Conway Hall conference on blasphemy, and it corroborates what I was just saying about contemporary religion (that it’s contemporary religion that is seen as “fulfilling people’s needs” and that it’s reading backward to think religion has always been seen that way).

This intensely personal, deeply emotional response marks a shift in the way that believers understood their relationship to belief. Faith has always had an emotional components and for some faiths such emotional spirituality has been  central to their outlook. Nevertheless there has been a fundamental shift in the character of religious belief in recent decades. Sociologists talk of  the rise of the ‘therapy culture’ to describe the growing emotionalism of our age.  Scholars such as the philosopher Charles Taylor and the sociologist Olivier Roy have described how such emotionalism has become central to new forms of ‘expressive’ faiths.  Faith, as Charles Taylor observes in his book A Secular Age, has become disembedded from its historical culture, and reconstituted instead as part of the culture of ‘expressive individualism’, forms of spirituality grounded in the primacy of individual experience and rooted in the social values of what the writer Tom Wolfe has called the ‘me generation’…

In Spiritual Revolution, their study of religious practices in a small town in northern England, the sociologists Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead show that while traditional religious congregations are on the decline, ‘New Age’ forms of spirituality are beginning to fill the gap. But more than this, many once-traditional believers are beginning to adopt New Age attitudes and rituals, developing new forms of faith that celebrate the emotional aspects of spirituality and seek to fulfil the believer’s inner needs.


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